Here at New Life Church, we care seriously about what those outside our walls think about what goes on in here. For most of us, how you and I personally feel about the church is important to us. There are a multitude of reasons why you come to this church and continue to come.
o It might be because it is convenient.
o Maybe you like the worship style.
o You might enjoy the music.
o Or you might say, "this church meets my needs."
o Maybe its because of the youth or children's programs.
o Or it could be the preaching of the Word
Yes, how you and I think about the Church we attend is important.
But there is Another who's opinion ranks higher than yours or mine. What does Jesus think of New Life Church. Isn't that what's ultimately more important? What does Christ think of our church? What kind of church does Christ want New Life to be in 2005 - 6? What does Jesus want us to do and be?
As we go through our study of the 7 churches of the book of Revelation, I believe Christ is creating a mosaic of what He wants our church to look like. It is a mosaic that can be a guide and a guard to any church, in any place, at any time, in history.
As we study these 7 churches, we will be seriously considering what God expects His church to be. Each of the seven churches represents a particular church in a real place in Asia Minor. They also represent different types of churches throughout the history of the church. One of the churches is a dead church. Many dead churches exist today. Another church is a missionary church. Such churches exist today. Another church is a church where love grew cold. There are many churches today where love has grown cold. Yet another church has allowed the philosophies of the world to make inroads. Such churches do exist today. Each of these churches is characteristic of particular types of churches in any age.
These churches are also characteristic of particular types of Christians. There are Christians whose love has grown cold. Unfortunately there are also people who are near spiritual death, doing very little good for the kingdom of God. Also, there are Christians who are zealous missionaries. Some Christians have also allowed the world's philosophy to take root in their lives.
The seven churches are historical, but they have tremendous importance for the church of Christ today because they reveal the qualities that make up the church. They represent all types of churches and Christians. If New Life Church is going to have the vision for being the church that Christ wants, that vision must flow out of the will and opinion of Christ Himself, and that means it must flow out of the Word of God. Let's see if we can begin to catch a glimpse of that vision this morning.
Let's turn to Revelation 2 and begin exploring what Christ said to the church in Ephesus. As I read the first 7 verses, I will fill in the 8 parts of the pattern we mentioned in an earlier lesson. This pattern is followed in all seven letters to these churches.
Ephesus - Revelation 2:1-7 NKJV
1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, these things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:
2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
3 And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.
4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent.
6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."'
There are so many thoughts that could be addressed in these 7 verses. Many questions could be answered here.
1. Who is the message from?
2. What are the seven stars? Where is their location? What is the significance of the right hand? What does this tell us about Christ's relationship to the Church?
3. How does Jesus know their works?
4. What characteristics of this church are known and praised by Christ?
5. What is the claim Christ has against this church. How are they to correct the situation?
6. How does one leave their first love? (What is "first love?")
7. What does the call to repentance mean?
8. What is the promise to the overcomer? And how does one become an overcomer?
9. How does Christ regard love among His people?
10. Are false apostles a danger today? Just how do we test them?
11. How is your and my love for Christ shown?
12. What are the consequences of not repenting? Why is it so severe?
13. Why is there a tendency for most of us to lose the initial enthusiasm and excitement we had when we first came to know Christ?
14. How does this message from Christ to Ephesus apply to our church? How does it apply to me personally?
There is a lot to think about as we go through these first 7 verses. Let's begin going through the message of this letter.
Verse 1a - "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,..."
This letter is addressed to the "angel" of the church of Ephesus. We talked a little about this word "angel" during the introductory lessons.
WHAT IS MEANT BY THE "ANGEL"?
The Greek word used here is "aggelos" (pronounced AHN gel os).
WHAT DOES THE WORD "ANGEL" MEAN?
In both Hebrew and Greek, it means "messenger."
WHAT IS A "MESSENGER"?
In its broadest meaning, it denotes any agent God sends forth to execute His purposes. Most often, they denote heavenly beings, who, in their normal state, are unseen by humans. But the Greek word angelos is not only used of heavenly beings. There are times when it refers to a human being.
In Matthew 11, Jesus is talking about John the Baptist. And in verse 10, we read:
10 For this is he of whom it is written: "Behold, I send My messenger (angelos) before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.'
SO, IS THE ANGEL OF THE CHURCH OF EPHESUS CELESTIAL OR HUMAN?
There are good Christian theologian, whom I respect highly, on both sides of this issue. There are those who hold that the angels mentioned in connection with each of the seven churches are, in fact, heavenly beings, each of whom has been given oversight of a church by God. In this camp you would find people like Tim LaHaye and David Hocking.
Most Bible scholars I have read, believe it is referring to a human being. Most likely it represents the pastor or elders of each local congregation. Those holding this view are:
o C.I. Scofield
o John Walvoord - President of Dallas Theological Seminary, Professor of Systematic Theology
o Warren Wiersbe
o Jack Van Impe
o Charles Ryrie
o Finis Dakes
o John MacArthur
Then there are a few that can see the argument on both sides, and, after seriously studying the issue, will not commit themselves to either side. Among these are John R. W. Stott and William Barclay.
I mentioned in earlier lessons that I personally believe it must be a human being. But I haven't, up to now, given you my thought process to arrive at that conclusion. Let me give you three reasons why I believe they are human.
1. The New Testament nowhere teaches that angels are involved in the leadership of the church. They do not fully understand everything about the relationship between the Church and Christ. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that angels have a desire to know more about that relationship.
2. The angels in heaven do not sin and have no need to repent. But in Revelation, both the angel of the church and the congregation are told to repent. Revelation 2:5 (in Ephesus) is one example.
3. The distribution of the message of Christ is cumbersome if it is a heavenly angel. When John receives the revelation about which he is to write in a book, sometimes the message came to John via an angel. Sometimes it came directly from Jesus - as is the case in Revelation 2 & 3. And John is told to send these letters to the angel at each church.
If it is a heavenly angel to whom the letters are sent, here is the sequence of events. Christ gives the revelation to John, the apostle, an earthly agent, who sends the message to an angel, a heavenly being, who takes it to the earthly church filled with earthly humans. From a heavenly Savior - to a human agent - who gives it to a heavenly angel who delivers it to human beings.
No, I think it makes more sense to accept the angel as being a human leader of each church. And these leaders were to read the letter to their congregation.
This church was founded by the Apostle Paul and they were taught solid doctrine.
WHO ELSE MINISTERED IN EPHESUS?
Their first pastor after Paul was Timothy (See 1 Timothy 1:3). Other outstanding Christians who ministered to that assembly included Apollos, and Aquila and Priscilla. Later came the apostle John. The combination of that kind of ministry made the church at Ephesus tremendously strong. It was a Christ-honoring church.
Verse 1b - "…These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands."
As we noted in an earlier lesson, Jesus gives a portrait of himself that is different to each of the seven churches. Undoubtedly, Christ revealed Himself in a particular way to each particular church for a particular reason. Even today, Jesus reveals himself differently to different people.
WHAT ARE THE SEVEN STARS IN THE RIGHT HAND OF CHRIST?
WHAT DO THE SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS REPRESENT?
We learn their identity in the verse directly above it. That would be the last verse of chapter 1.
Revelation 1:20 NKJV
20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.
This verse interprets for us the mysterious images of the 7 stars and 7 lamp stands. Christ tells us, "the seven stars are the angels of the 7 churches." Then He says, "the seven lamp stands are the seven churches."
A moment ago we discussed how the seven stars are probably used to identify the human leadership of each church. The second of these is not difficult for us to grasp. When He speaks of the 7 lampstands, He is referring to the seven churches, which, back in chapter 1, verse 11, are named. And in chapters 2 & 3, He addresses each of these seven churches, with comments and instructions tailored for each individual church. So, understanding what the lampstands represent should not be a problem.
With regard to the seven lampstands, let me add to what has already been said about what they represent. Unfortunately, today the word "church" is often used to describe other things than that which a lampstand usually symbolizes. So often, people use the word "church" to refer to a building which was built for the purpose of worship. But the word is never used in that way in the Bible. God has something completely different in mind when He uses the term "church" in the Scripture.
So, the seven golden lampstands do not represent seven buildings, at least not the kind made with brick, wood and stone. Concerning the church in Jerusalem, the Bible says, "And fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard these things." (Acts 5:11). We can be fairly certain that we are not talking about a building here! Building don't have fear come upon them.
In Acts:22, we find these words: "And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem..."; This verse would be rather funny if the word "church" meant a building. Church buildings do not have ears.
The word "church" refers to people. In the universal sense, it refers specifically to those people who have obeyed the gospel by putting their faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ. In the local sense, as the word is used in Revelation, the word "church" refers to a local body of believers who fellowship together in both work and worship in a specific city.
One more thing: a local church can cease to be recognized by the Lord as being His. Due to ongoing sin, without repentance, Jesus told the church at Ephesus to "repent……or else I will come to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place" (Rev. 2:5).
One additional thing needs to be mentioned concerning the lampstand as a symbol of the church. Lampstands are not hidden - they are visible. In the Old Testament, a lampstand - called a menorah - was in the Tabernacle and also the Temple. The priests were responsible to make sure it is kept burning - 24-hours a day. This was also true of the fire on the Brazen altar in front of the Tabernacle. It must also remain burning 24-hours per day.
The priests had to be constantly aware of the condition of the flame. He was responsible to trim its wick and make sure the oil supply was sufficient.
Since the time of Christ, all believers are priest unto God. And Christ is our High Priest. And we are also the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). And as Jesus walks among the 7 golden lampstands, He is inspecting the flame from each. His work is not occasional, but constant.
In Revelation 1:13 (NKJV)
13 And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.
As we noted in an earlier lesson, this is the garment of a High Priest. And the completely gold band across His chest speaks of Royalty. In these garments, Christ inspects the flame, sometimes cutting the wick. This might be like a farmer who prunes the fruit trees in order to help it grow more fruit. He is also concerned about the flow of oil, which the Scriptures liken to the Holy Spirit. And, wherever necessary, He removes impurities which would dim the light. The job of performing these tasks were given to the priests who were not the high priest. Today, we are priests before Him. And now it is our responsibility to keep the fire of God burning in the church.
So, the lampstand also symbolizes members of the church, for in the Sermon on the Mount, we are called "the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14-16). Christ cares for His churches, and walks among them. He is not just some bystander. He personally gets involved with them.
IN CALLING US THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, IS JESUS SAYING WE ARE THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF ITS LIGHT?
No, we are not the source of the light. We make up the lampstand. The light is place upon the lampstand, but the two are not synonymous. The lampstand holds the lamp in such a way that those nearby are blessed by the light upon it.
John 1:1-9 (KJV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
When John writes this gospel, he is very, very careful when he speaks about Jesus as the light of the world. Very emphatically, he states that Jesus, and Jesus alone is that light. John the Baptist, who came to herald the coming of Christ, "was not that light." He only came to bear witness of that light (John 1:8). Jesus is the true light. Not John or anyone else. He is the ultimate source of spiritual light in the world.
The apostle John has much to say about Christ being the light. In his first epistle, in 1 John 1:5, (NIV), we read:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
Over and over again, the Scriptures teach us that God is light, that He dwells in light which is unapproachable (1 Tim. 6:16), that He covers himself with light as a garment (Psalm 104:2). The Psalmist declared that the Lord is our light (Psalm 27:1). Thus we are told to walk in the light of the Lord and as children of light (Isaiah 2:4; Eph. 5:8)
All light, therefore, comes from God, and if man is to find light in the spiritual or figurative sense, he must come to God as the source of light. The tragedy and the judgment of God on man is that the light, Jesus Christ, has come into the world, and man consistently loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
If we look at what John 8 & 9, along with the Sermon on the Mount has to say about the light of the world, we may get a fuller picture of what Jesus had in mind by calling us the light of the world.
John 8:12 NIV
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Then in John 9:5 (KJV), He adds: As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Did you catch the significance of this verse. As long as He lived here, He was the light of the world. BUT WHAT'S THE IMPLICATION OF THAT STATEMENT?
Put those two passages with Matthew 5:14, which speaks of us being the light of the world, and what do you have? As far as God's light in this world is concerned, we are now what Christ was then. He was talking about his followers having a ministry that continues what He was when He was here. While He was here, HE was the light. Now that He is gone, WE are the light.
As the Holy Spirit lives within us, we are to continue what Jesus started.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7 (NIV) says:
6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Notice again that last phrase - the light is not from us. For each of us Jesus is the source of light. Any light in us, or reflected through us, comes from Him.
Again, we are not the light - Jesus is. We make up a lampstand on top of which is placed the light. Christ cares for His churches, and walks among them. He is not just some bystander. He personally gets involved with them.
Paul ministered for 3 years in Ephesus, but Christ had been with them since the gospel was first preached here, and He will still be walking among this congregation long after Paul dies. In the Old Testament - the Old Covenant - God says, in Leviticus 26:12, "I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be My people."
Jesus is not a god who is just out there, aloof. He is Emmanuel, which means "God with us." In Matthew 28:20, He promised: "I will be with you always."
It should also be clear to us that our risen Lord is in a position to evaluate each church - each golden lampstand. He walks among them, watching them, caring for them, concerned about them. No one knows as much about these golden lamps as the person who constantly walks among them to watch them and trim them. No one knows the churches as Jesus does. And He holds their ministers as stars in his right hand. His eyes are perpetually upon the churches, so that he knows their works, their sufferings, and their sins. And those eyes are as a flame of fire, so that he sees with a penetration, discernment, and accuracy to which no other can attain. We don't have the ability to make this assessment without Him. Our eyes are dim with the world's smoke. But his eyes are as a flame of fire.
He sees the churches through and through, and knows their true condition much better than they know themselves. The Lord Jesus Christ is a most careful observer of churches and of individuals. Nothing is hid from his observant eye.
Let me quote from a sermon preached by C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892 - the prince of preacher. These comments are taken from a sermon preached on October 24th, 1886.
"Certainly no observer can be so tender as the Son of God. Those lamps are very precious to him: it cost him his life to light them. "Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it." Every church is to our Lord a more sublime thing than any constellation in the heavens; as He is precious to his saints, so are they precious to him. He careth little for empires, kingdoms, or republics; but his heart is set on the kingdom of righteousness, of which his cross is the royal standard……He ceases not to watch over his church: his sacrifice is ended, but not his service in caring for the golden lamps. He has completed the redemption of his bride, but he continues her preservation."
The fact that he holds them speaks of his control over his church. And Christ's message would remind them that he alone is the head of the body of believers.
Does God care about our church here at New Life? If you are tempted to doubt it, look more closely at these seven letters. The Lord of the universe knew each church and its precise situation. He praised believers for their successes and told them how to correct their failures. Just as Jesus cared for each of these churches, he cares for ours. He wants it to reach its greatest potential. The group of believers with whom we worship and serve is God's vehicle for changing the world. Take it seriously - God does. Just as He did 2000 years ago, He still walks among us.
As I was studying for this series of lessons, I sometimes found myself wondering what Christ would say about New Life Church. Along with that, I wondered how a church is characterized. If New Life Church is characterized by our worst members, then we are a bunch of backslidden, unfaithful and selfish members. If we are measured by our most devout, then this is a phenomenally devoted and loving group of people, the best there are anywhere in King County.
Sometimes I would get more personal. What if God judged New Life Church by me. What now would He say about us? Would we be a witnessing church, or one that never lifted a finger to reach this community? Would we be a generous church or a selfish one? Would we be a church that prays or one that ignores God? Would we love the Word of God, or never crack the covers of the Bible? Are we a people that loves the house of God, or do we prefer the beach? Are we looking for an opportunity to be in church, or looking for an excuse to stay away? Yes, what if Christ judged New Life Church by me? What would be the description if judged by your life?
So, one very important message to the church in Ephesus is to remember Who's in charge. That needs to be kept in mind here at New Life Church as well. It is so easy for a good church to forget that basic truth. It's all about Him - it's not about us.
Let me relate a true story.
One of the greatest legal battles was once fought over a terrible automobile accident that involved a train at Blue Mountain. The accident happened on a dark rainy night as a fast moving car came down the mountain road, around a sharp curve, and ran head long into the train. Several people were killed in the accident.
In the fiery contested court battle the railroad flagman told precisely how he got off the train before it reached the railroad crossing and stood in the highway swinging his lantern back and forth to signal any approaching vehicle. This was his customary behavior whenever the train approached this notoriously bad intersection. On this particular night he had done precisely as he had been instructed, and as he had on many previous occasions.
Under determined cross-examination he consistently answered each question as to his procedures that particular night. Yes, he got off the train ahead of the crossing. Yes, he stood in the highway. Yes, he swung his lantern back and forth in a cross manner. He even jumped out of the way of the speeding automobile before it hit the train. The jury deliberated, and the railroad won because of the testimony of this flagman.
About a year later the flagman who had now retired from the railroad was fishing on one of the beautiful lakes. The attorney who had represented the families saw him and asked how the fishing was. The attorney said, "You were a witness at a railroad accident last year. You know, that was the best-fought trial I have ever had. I should have won that case. You were the best witness I have ever cross-examined.
You were great. I lost that case because of your splendid performance. You were a determined and a perfect witness."
The humble flagman squirmed a little and said, "Oh, man was I scared that day. I have never ever been so frightened in all my life."
The lawyer replied, "No one would have ever known it. You were great the way you handled me."
"Oh, I was scared," the man said. "I was so scared you were going to ask that question."
"What question?" inquired the attorney.
"You know," the man replied. "I was scared you were going to ask, 'Did you have your lantern lit that night?'"
Each of us need to pray for our Lord Jesus to come into our midst and put our light in order. Oh for a visit from Him like He paid in vision to the seven churches of Asia! With him comes the oil to feed the living flame. And he knows how to pour it in according to proper measure. Oh, that He would remove our impurities, so that our lights may so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Oh how we need His presence now, to search us and to sanctify us, to cause us to shine forth to his Father's praise! We could and should pray this morning, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." O great High Priest, come into our sanctuary, and look at your lamp in us this morning.
In a spiritual sense, fire is often used to denote the presence of God. The influence of the Holy Spirit is likened to fire in Matthew 3:11. And the descent of the Holy Spirit was denoted by the appearance of "tongues of fire" (Acts 2:3). Though we no longer are required to bring burnt offerings, the symbolism of perpetual fire is a powerful expression of our life in Christ.
When Paul wrote to his young friend and colleague, Timothy, he urged him "to stir up the gift of God which is in you" (2 Timothy 1:6). He used the same word that would be used to describe rearranging the sticks on a fire to rekindle the flames. I like Clarence Jordan's translation of this verse. "I'm reminding you to shake the ashes off the God-given fire that is in you."
So my question for you and for me is: How's your fire? Is it still burning brightly?