Revelation 1:19, 20: The Seven Churches

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  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.”  (NKJV)

John had been so overcome by the vision of our Lord that perhaps he had missed part of it, that is, what the Lord was holding in His hand.  He held seven stars and was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands.  Our Lord describes what these things mean:  the seven stars are the “angels” (“angeloi”) of the seven churches and the lampstands represent the seven churches themselves.

There’s some discussion about who these “angels” were.  Some believe the word is simply used in its primary meaning of “messenger.”  These are human messengers sent from the churches.  “Angel” is simply the transliteration of the Greek word into English.  And it’s true that angels often brought messages from God.  Another view is that they are actual angels, who watch over the churches.  We do read in Scripture of the activities of angels with regard to what goes on in this world, Psalm 91:11; Daniel 11:20, many others.  Others believe it refers to the actual pastors and leaders of the various churches.

I tend to the view that it does refer to the actual pastors and teachers.  It teaches us that pastors don’t belong to the church, or to the denomination or even to themselves.  They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  They are His and, though they have responsibility to the church they lead, they are ultimately responsible to Him.  There is no greater calling in this world than to stand before people and open to them the Word of God.  But there is also no greater responsibility than that.  Even the simple posts that I write for this blog have eternal repercussions.  Spurgeon used to say that it crushed him into the dust to stand before eternity-bound men and women with the Scriptures.  I’m afraid we’ve lost that sense of awe in this day of mega-churches and Christian “personalities.”

The churches are depicted by seven individual lampstands.  These were lamps which would have burned olive oil.  This compares to the single lampstand with seven flames which burned in the Tabernacle, Exodus 26:31, 32, 37.  I think these portray the distinction between Israel and the church.  As a nation or as a people, Israel was a single entity.  They had a single “holy city,” and a centralized religion with its headquarters in the Tabernacle, then, later, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later on, in the various dispersions and such, the “synagogue” sprang up as a local focal point of instruction and worship.  But the Jewish heart was always with the land of Israel, regardless of where the body was.

I don’t think Gentiles really understand the attachment the Jew has for his homeland.  I worked for a few months as a janitor in a conservative Jewish synagogue and saw firsthand their love for “eretz Yisrael”.

In contrast to the unity of the nation, “the church” knows no such centralization.  We have no “holy city,” no “headquarters” on this earth.  There is no such structure to the church.  Each church is directly responsible, not to some earthly leader or body, but to the Lord Himself.

Scripture describes the church as both an organism and an organization.  The “organism” is called “the body of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:31.  True believers are members of that one body.  If you are a believer, though you and I may never meet in this life and might be separated by thousands of miles, live on opposite sides of the planet and have different languages and cultures, we are still related through the Lord Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters.  For lack of a better word, the body is “universal.”  There is only one.

But that one body functions in and through the local church, the local “organization.”  The problem comes in with the confusing of the organism and the organization.  There is no universal “organization,” no world-wide “church,” in Scripture.  Each local church is independent.  No other church can tell it what to do, and it can’t tell any other church what to do.  Certainly, churches can cooperate in various endeavors.  The problem is that the “endeavor,” whatever it is, tends to take on a life of its own and to overshadow the local church.

Through John, our Lord addressed each of the seven churches.  He didn’t have John give the message to some centralized authority, which then filtered it down to the various churches.

These were seven local, contemporaneous churches.  They all existed at the same time.  But “churches” are really just the people who make them up.  So our Lord isn’t just addressing some nebulous something out there.  He’s talking through them to you and me.  He’s giving each one of us counsel, warning, encouragement, promise.  We can find ourselves described in one of these churches, with the attendant counsel given by our Lord.

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Jesus and His Revelation

This is the post I started to write under the title “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”  That’s not the first time this has happened – starting off in one direction and winding up somewhere else.  Not complaining, just commenting.

The point I was planning to make in that post, and in this post, too, was that we need to get away from all the inadequate views of the Lord Jesus that are floating around contemporary Christianity, and have been probably have been floating around in different forms since His life and ministry.  We need to get away from the “bumper sticker theology – ‘My boss is a Jewish carpenter'” kind of stuff.  And a lot of the stuff that gets posted on facebook.

Yes, He was a carpenter, although the word behind that translation simply means, “craftsman.”  Yes, He did walk among men and women.  As Hebrews 4:15 puts it, we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He has walked in our shoes.

The thing is, we can never walk in His shoes.  We can never even begin to understand what it meant for Him to leave the glories of Heaven, to inhabit a body formed in the womb of His mother by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can never know what it must have been like for He Who gave men and women legs to have to learn how to walk; for the One Who gave them tongues to have to learn how to talk.  For Holiness to walk among sinners.

He never complained about it, though He did indicate a few times how it affected Him.  For example, in Luke 12:50, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with [referring to His coming Crucifixion and all that accompanied it], and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (NKJV)  In Luke 22:15, He said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  His suffering was about to come to an end, even though the worst of it lay before Him.

So, even though a large portion of professing Christendom still has Him on the Cross, we’re not dealing any more with that One Who hung naked on a Roman cross, to the jeers of His enemies and the tears of His supporters.  We’re not dealing with a Christ Who still lies in the tomb or Who never actually existed.  That’s what the world thinks.

We’re not dealing with the incarnate Christ Who lived in obscurity, but with the glorified Christ, Who again resides in the heavenly splendor He left when He came to redeem us.

As we wrote in the other post, “the people to whom John wrote needed to know they served a Christ Who was greater than what they were going through.  They needed to know that what they were suffering, and were going to suffer, wasn’t just some ‘accident of history.’  They needed to know that when Satan did his worst, he was still a defeated foe and that his wouldn’t be the final word.”

So John describes the Lord Jesus as He is, not as He was.

I started this post a few days ago.  It’s been simmering on the stove since then.   In the other post, I divided the Revelation as “the revelation of Jesus Christ to the reader, to the churches and to the world.”  It occurred to me, though, that not only does “the reader” need to understand Who the Lord Jesus is, so do the churches!  Too often, we have more a Christ of sentiment or supposition or Sunday School than of Scripture.  That’s why, in chs. 2 and 3, in each letter to a church, there is reference to the vision of ch. 1.

I was going to write about each aspect of that vision in some detail, and still might, but the whole picture tells us what we need to know.  It all points to one thing.

In Revelation 1:13, John said he saw One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band, standing in the midst of seven lampstands.  This is somewhat reminiscent of the attire of the High Priest in Israel, and, indeed, it’s in that role that the Book of Hebrews presents Him – not only as Prophet, nor even yet as King, but as High Priest, interceding for His people at the right hand of the throne of God.

One of the duties of the High Priest was to make the lamps burn continually, … He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually, Leviticus 24:3, 5.

So John presents our Lord as examining His churches to see if and how they are “burning”.  And He has a lot to say to each one of them.

But “churches” aren’t about buildings or denominations, but about people, the people who are their members.  Each believer can find himself or herself in the descriptions of the seven churches.  What the Lord said to them, He says to us.

 

 

 

The Stranger

[This was e-mailed to me by a long-time friend, who received it from someone else via email.  My friend mentions seeing something like this about 30 years ago.  Some of the things as it must have been originally written have changed.  I’ve edited it a little because of that.  Nevertheless, it’s still true.]

A few years after I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small town.  From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family.  The stranger was quickly accepted and was around from then on.

As I grew up, I never questioned his place in my family.  In my young mind, he had a special niche.

My parents were complementary instructors:  Mom taught me good from evil and Dad taught me to obey.  But the stranger…he was our story teller.  He would keep us spellbound for hours with adventure, mysteries and comedies.

If I wanted to know anything about politics, history or science, he always knew the answers about the past, understood the present, and seemed to be able to predict the future!  He took my family to the first major league baseball game.  He made me laugh and he made me cry.

The stranger never stopped talking, but Dad didn’t seem to mind.  Sometimes, Mom would get up quietly while the rest of us were shushing each other so we could hear what he was saying, and she would go into the kitchen for peace and quiet.  (I wonder if she ever prayed for the stranger to leave.)

Dad had certain moral convictions, but the stranger never felt obligated to honor them.  Profanity, for example, wasn’t allowed in our home, not from us, not from our friends, not from visitors.  The stranger, however, got away with four-letter words that made my ears burn, made my dad squirm and my mother blush.

He talked freely (much too freely!) about sex.  His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing.  I know now that my early concepts about relationships were strongly influenced by the stranger.

Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents, yet he was seldom rebuked, …and NEVER asked to leave.

More than fifty years have passed since the stranger moved in with our family.  Though he has gotten much worse, he continues to blend right in, though he’s not nearly as fascinating as he was at first.  Still, if you could walk into my parents’ den today, you would find him in his corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.

His name?  Well, I don’t remember a name.  It seems we just call him…uh, er, well, “TV”.

(NOTE [part of my friend’s email]:  This should be required reading for every household!)

He has a wife now…we call her “Computer” [with her friend, “Internet” – my addition].
Their first child is “Cell Phone”
Second child: “I Pod”.
And just born: a grandchild: “I Pad”.

MY NOTE:  I, too, remember the first TVs.  About 1950: “Death Valley Days,” hosted by Ronald Reagan and sponsored by 20 Mule Team Boraxo.  A little black and white TV with a screen not much bigger than some of today’s electronics, to say nothing of the gigantic HDTVs now available, and a terrible picture.  My, how things have changed!  Things which were generally scorned even by general society in my youth are now accepted and promoted by many “churches”.

If you don’t think TV has changed (for the worse), just check out the “old programs” and see how different they are in content.