As we sort of pull together I guess, in some ways, the strands of the last amazing eighteen months or so—that the church has had to become something a little bit different than it was in the past, we had no idea of what the Lord would do. We’re still in awe of how the ministry of this church has grown and developed over this period of time. I don’t think anybody would have come up with this COVID situation as a strategy for church growth, but it has turned out that way. I’m just kind of curious, how many of you have come to Grace Church during the COVID period, from eighteen months ago up until now? Put your hands up. That’s kind of what I thought, yeah. So I only ask that question because I want you to understand, there’s been a sifting in the life of the church over this period of time; and I don’t think that is accidental because God is in charge of everything. And 1 Peter 4:17 says, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.”
For years all of us who understand the Word of God and who understand what the church is to be, have carried the heavy burden on our backs of unfaithful churches. We have addressed the issues that define and describe unfaithful churches. We have confronted their bad theology, their bad practice. We have confronted their unqualified leadership; we’ve addressed that time and time again through the years. We have had dozens and dozens of Shepherds’ Conferences, pastors from all over the planet coming here, and we have addressed all the issues in the church. And with the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11, we have through the years had to say that in addition to all the physical suffering one in ministry might endure, the worst part of it is the care for the churches because we love the church.
I love the church. I love the Lord of the church, and therefore I love the church. The apostle John said if you love Him, you love those who love Him. The church is not an option for a true believer, it is the very family of God to which every true believer longs to be a part.
And that’s exactly what Grace Church has always been. But we have carried the burden what a church should be, and therefore what churches fall short; and we have addressed those things, as I said—Shepherds’ Conferences; I’ve written myriad books. I’ve written more than I know, trying to address all the issues that are wrong in the church; and it’s been a part of the sadness of ministry to see so much misrepresentation of the teaching of the Word of God, so much bad theology, so much bad practice, so many scandals and all of that in the church. And one would wonder, “What would be a way that the Lord could just sort of bring judgment on that?”
Well in my lifetime I’ve never seen anything anywhere near as effective as this COVID situation. It has shut down more bad churches than anything ever could have done. It has put an end to false churches, narcissistic leadership; and the Lord has sifted and purged His church. Judgment begins at the house of God. That’s not to say Grace Church is perfect; we know better than that. But I will say this church is faithful, faithful to the Word of God because the Word of God dominates our life and our thought and our conversation and our conduct and our relationships. And for whatever may have come along with COVID, for whatever your experience was with COVID, or mine, that was just a blip on the temporal screen. What really matters in the world is the church of Jesus Christ. And the church needs to be the church.
There were some faithful churches who I think acted in a less than courageous way; I don’t know all the circumstances. But there were a lot of unfaithful churches that needed to shut down. Judgment has come in a lot of ways. I have been far more terrified by false doctrine than I have by any virus. Far more damage is done in this world by false teaching, false churches, scandalous pastors, bad theology, churches advocating things that blaspheme the name of God. So I could take two weeks of COVID, to see the hand of God in such a mighty way bringing down what has, among other things, been a judgment on His church. And I think it’s the separating of the true church from the false.
Now we know how the Lord cares for His true church, we read that, Psalm 91. We know the Lord is committed to His true church. He says to the true church, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He says to the true church, “In the world you will have trouble. Be of good courage; I have overcome the world.” He says to the true church, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” He says to His true church through the apostle Paul, “We always triumph in Christ.”
What has happened has certainly, among other things, in part been a judgment on false churches and weak churches and unfaithful churches. And it has been a purging time, and it has featured a spotlight on the faithful. They have been put under duress; not just us, but many churches. Some pastors put in jail for being faithful, all kinds of constraints, all kinds of assaults. But the faithful have been faithful, and the world has seen it.
You know the Lord never hesitates to judge openly. Sometimes you hear people say, “Well some of these bad things that are happening in the church are really concerning to me because the world is watching.” You bet. And God is going to judge His church right in front of them. He’s not going to do it secretly.
It was no secret when Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead in Acts 5. And the whole city said, “Don’t go there, people die there.” God has always judged an unfaithful people openly; His judgment is never hidden. And it’s still going on as we see scandal after scandal after scandal connected to churches and leadership. It’s all exposed. This whole issue of social justice, compounded with this epidemic, has cast a light on the behavior of churches and leaders.
But in the midst of it all we have seen the hand of the Lord in a mighty way, haven’t we? And the question that I want to direct your attention to today is, What is the Lord doing in His true church? What is He doing in His true church? There’s no need to speculate on that. Open your Bible to Revelation chapter 1, Revelation chapter 1. I’ve been holding out this chapter to this particular Sunday—I didn’t know when it would come, but here it is—because this is one of the most magnificent, glorious, dramatic, instructive, Christ-exalting chapters in all of Holy Scripture.
Revelation is, as you know, identified in the first verse, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The book of Revelation reveals Jesus Christ. When you think of Revelation you most immediately think of the revelation of Christ in judgment, coming in the future, and in His return to judge and establish His kingdom; and then the new heaven and the new earth and the New Jerusalem that wraps up the book of Revelation. You think about the future, you think about the future. But the book of Revelation is not all about the future. It’s not all about the future. The first chapter is, in fact, about the present. And if you go down to verse 4, I want to read for you through the verse that ends this chapter, verse 20.
“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before the throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn”—or “the premier one”—“from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’
“I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’
“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.
“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.’”
Hearing that read, I know, raises questions in your mind as to its meaning. Its meaning will become clear to you as we look at it more closely. Suffice it to say, this is a picture of Christ in His church; that is crystal clear.
John is given a vision. He looks at the seven lampstands, verse 13, and there he sees a son of man. The Son of Man is described in detail. We know who it is; it is “the living One,” verse 18, who “was dead,” and is “alive forevermore,” and has “the keys and death and Hades.” It is the very one named back in verse 5: “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth,” the one “who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood,” the one who “made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father,” the one to whom we give “glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” The one who “is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him”—no doubt a reference to the Jewish nation—“and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”
We have a picture here of Christ in His church. This is the only picture in the whole of Scripture of Christ in His church. And when you look at the church in the times in which we live—as I suppose even the apostle Paul did, and everybody between him and me—you could be very discouraged and disillusioned. Paul was. He was heartbroken. He was brought to tears by the issues that the church demonstrated, as evidence of their disobedience and unfaithfulness. And we who preach and we who shepherd the flock of God are continually burdened by the care of the church. This is not administrative; this is spiritual care. We have to give an account to God for the flock that we shepherd.
So what do we long for? Well we long that people in the church would have deep fellowship with Christ, not something superficial or shallow. We desire for people who are the church to see power over temptation, trials, sin. We pray for them to be faithful, to be strong, to be victorious. And of course we desire their holiness, their virtue. We desire the purity of the church, doctrinally and behaviorally. We desire that they understand the authority of the Word of God and that they be sanctified by it. We long for godly leaders to set a holy example for God’s people. We desire that the church be protected from unholy, satanic deception that comes from false teachers on the inside and the outside. And we are concerned that the bride of Christ truly reflect His holy glory, so many will be drawn to His beauty and His salvation. That’s what a genuine shepherd cares for: the fellowship of the church, the power of the church, the purity of the church, the obedience to the Word of God of the church, the example of godly leaders in the church, the protection of the church, and the reflection of the glory of God through the church. That’s what we want to see, because that’s what our Lord desires.
But life can be very difficult, and the church can bring immense discouragement. We could start with John—John’s an old man now. John is at the end of that first century, maybe around 96 AD. He has every reason to be discouraged. He had lived to see Jerusalem destroyed—not exalted, not elevated, but destroyed, and destroyed at the hands of pagan Romans. He had lived to see a bloodbath, depending on which historian you believe—certainly hundreds of thousands of Jews were massacred in Jerusalem by the Romans—and must have been asking himself the question, “I thought when the Messiah came, Jerusalem would be exalted, and the enemies of God would be destroyed, and the people of God would be saved.” The Romans also did a mop-up operation through the rest of the land of Israel, and they basically targeted 985 villages and towns, and went through and massacred the populations there and destroyed everything.
He had also outlived his fellow apostles, who had been martyred. He knew that they had all gone on to glory, almost all of them at the hands of Christ-haters. And he is on an island, which verse 9 calls Patmos. I’ve been there a few times. It’s a rock about five miles by ten miles, width and length, juts out of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s just a rock. And he is there as a criminal. He tells you why he’s there; he was there because of his faithfulness, verse 9, to “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” So they didn’t kill this apostle, they exiled him to essentially what was a prison colony. He had very little food, only the clothes on his back, hard labor.
What questions, what eschatological questions were arising in his mind? “Where was the kingdom?” It was all going the wrong way. You say, “Well there were churches, weren’t there?” Yes, there were churches. And in particular, John had oversight of seven of them in Asia Minor, which is modern Turkey. And they’re named in verse 11; and they, by the way, starting at Ephesus, show the postal route through Asia Minor.
Starting from Ephesus, the church that was first established by Paul, other churches were established all along the postal route. But there was some discouragement with those churches because Ephesus had left its first love, and the Lord was about to give John a letter threatening that church that the Lord Himself was going to shut it down. Pergamos was idolatrous and immoral, and they weren’t even out of the first century yet; and the Lord said He’s going to fight against that church. And Thyatira was compromised by sin and worldliness, and also faced judgment. Sardis was dead. And Laodicea was so false as to be nauseating to the Lord Himself.
It’s a bleak picture, really, for John. He’s the only apostle left. All the defection in five out of the seven churches—they had succumbed to all the compromises that the world throws at the church; not unlike today—endless ways you can buy the world’s compromises, whether it’s liberalism, legalism, division, racism, immorality, carnality, materialism, bad doctrine—whatever it is. So John is not unlike Isaiah. He needs some clarity: “What is happening in the church?” And herein lies the reason that I find this chapter so encouraging—because I feel like John, who had to feel like Isaiah, who had to feel like Elijah: “I, only I, am left.”
One of the reasons that we started The Master’s Seminary was there was this passion that lit my own heart on fire, that we have to train faithful men. And a lot of that rises not only out of the sense of duty, but out of discouragement.
So John is discouraged. Let’s pick up the narrative in verse 9. “I, John, your brother.” That’s the third time he’s used his name, and I think there’s some incredulity there: “How did I get to be in this position? I’m just one of you, I’m just your brother.” There’s no rank here; he doesn’t throw around his apostolic authority. He is literally stunned by the fact that, in the midst of discouragement, the Lord came to him and give him far more, infinitely far more than what he could have hoped to have in terms of a vision to encourage a beleaguered apostle.
“I, John, your brother, just a fellow partaker in the trouble and the kingdom and the perseverance. I’m with you—I’m in the trouble, I’m in the kingdom, I’m hanging on. I was on the island called Patmos, and I was there because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus; I had been exiled there. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” We know one thing: It was a Sunday, the Lord’s Day.
What do you mean, John, you were in the Spirit? “Well I don’t know if I can say it any other way. I was not in the flesh; I was in the Spirit. I was in some spiritual zone one Sunday, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.’” He was a discouraged old man sitting in rags. There’s a cave on the Isle of Patmos that goes way back in tradition as one of the places where John, no doubt, spent time. I’ve sat in that cave—an amazing experience.
In the midst of discouragement on a Sunday, heaven opens up. He is taken out of the normal perceptions of time and space, and he’s in the Spirit. In other words he’s about to have a spiritual revelation. And it begins with a voice like a sound of a trumpet, blasting to get his attention. There were loud trumpets at Sinai; this is that kind of loud trumpet, that’s intended to get his attention. And he’s about to find out why he’s not dead. He’s old, but he’s not dead, because he’s not done.
Verse 11 he is told by this loud voice, “Write in a book what you see. You’re about to write all the visions that are going to come to you, all the way through the end of the book of Revelation. Make seven copies, and send them to the seven churches. And in those copies there will be letters to each of those individual churches, and there will be the rest of the visions that you are given. Write the book of Revelation.”
Seven golden lampstands then appear in verse 12: “I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me,” and he “saw seven golden lampstands.” What are they indicating? Well down in verse 20, “The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches.” So they’re symbols of the seven churches. And because seven is the number of completion, they’re symbols of all churches in all periods of time.
These lampstands are portable lampstands. They had little oil lamps—a little jar filled with oil. They put a wick in it and light it, and they would put it on a lampstand. It would be elevated like you elevate a lamp to get the light above where you need it, so you can see. He sees the lampstands. And then this is the most important moment: “In the middle of the lampstands,” in verse 13, “I saw one like a son of man.” He saw Christ. This is Christ in the middle of the lampstands. The lampstands represent the church, the light in the world. This is Christ in His church.
And the question in John’s mind is, “Does He care about His church? Does He know about the condition of His church? Does He understand what’s going on and how bad it is?” And John had oversight of those seven churches. “Does He understand what’s coming from the outside and what’s coming up from the inside, that can do so much damage? What is the Lord doing in His church now?” Creation is finished. Atonement is finished. His life on earth is finished. So what’s He doing now? Well clearly, He’s moving in His church.
The lampstands are golden, which speaks of the costliness of the church, purchased with His own blood. Seven churches, again, speak of the symbolism of the whole church. And John sees Christ in His church, and that’s the setup for understanding this incredible passage. What I’m saying to you is the Lord is in His true church. That’s the first point I want you to notice: He inhabits His church.
“In the middle of the lampstands,” verse 13, “I saw one like a son of man.” “Son of man” is taken from Daniel 7:13 and 14, where the prophet Daniel says, “One like a Son of Man”—speaking of the Messiah—“was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, and all people and nations and men of every language would serve Him. And His kingdom is everlasting and will never be destroyed.” So Daniel introduces us to “Son of Man” as a messianic title.
John’s first encouragement is, the Lord is in His church. He inhabits His church. He has redeemed His church. He owns His church by the purchase of blood. He lives in His church. He is the one who said, Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I’m with you always.” Right? “Lo, I’m with you always.” Or John 14:18, “I will not leave you.” Or John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me, I will make My abode with him.” Or Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and in all.”
No matter how the church struggles, the true church, no matter how it vacillates, Son of Man is alive in the midst of His true church. He brings heaven to earth. And when you commune with the true and living church, you’re communing with the true and living Christ. I love what Paul says in Colossians 3; he says, “Christ, who is our life.” Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” He is in His church—not in the building, but He has taken up residence in the people. If you have Christ, you have the Spirit of Christ—Romans 8:9—living in you.
Christ cannot, will not forsake His true church. John says that we have fellowship with Him and with the Father. This is communion, partnership—and it is unbreakable. You could never be out of fellowship with the Lord. People used to talk like that: “Are you out of fellowship with the Lord?” That’s impossible. If you are a Christian, Christ is in you, you are in Christ; that’s forever. So I want to encourage you, folks. Whatever you see that’s going wrong is purging. But the Lord is alive in His true church, which means in true believers.
As we read a little further in verse 13, we see that not only is He in the midst of His church, alive in His church, but He’s clothed in a robe, and that robe reaches to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. Podērēs is the robe. Could be the robe of a prophet; it’s used that way in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. It could be the robe of a king; it’s also used that way. But most Old Testament uses of podērēs in the Greek version of the Old Testament refer it to the high priest. In fact I think six out of seven times where you see this term, it’s referring to a robe worn by the high priest. What is even more distinguishing is the comment in verse 13 that “girded across His chest was a golden sash.” If you go back to Exodus 28, Exodus 29, Exodus 39, you will see that that sash is what the high priest wore.
So here we see, not only is Christ in His church, but He is interceding for His church. He is interceding for His church. He is acting in behalf of His church. That is so comforting. I pray for this church without ceasing. We all, I trust, pray for the well-being and blessing and usefulness of the church. And while our prayers are inevitable because we care, there is One whose prayers are infinitely greater than ours, and that is the Son of Man Himself, who intercedes on behalf of His church.
Hebrews 2:17 identifies Him as a merciful and faithful High Priest, able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. He’s always interceding with the Father. Jesus the High Priest of our confession, faithful over His house, whose house we are; always interceding for us, always before the throne. Satan the accuser may come and accuse believers. Christ is their defender. Hebrews 4:15, a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.
What are those prayers like? Turn to John 17. John 17 is the only sample in the entire New Testament of the priestly ministry of Jesus for His church. Jesus comes to the Father and out of His betrayal. And He says in verse 6, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. And they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.” So they accepted the truth.
Now verse 9, “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world”—“I’m not interceding for the world”—“but for those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” “I am praying for them.”
“What am I praying?” Down in verse 15, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” Verse 17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Verse 18, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” Verse 20, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone”—these disciples—“but for those also who believe in Me through their word”—the next generation of believers—“that they may all be one”—for their unity—“even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they may be in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” “I’m praying for the sanctification and the understanding and the power of each successive generation of believers.”
“Father,” verse 24, “I desire that they also, who You have given Me, be with Me where I am.” “I’m praying them into heaven. I’m praying them into heaven.” Do you think the Father hears the Son’s prayers? The Son always prays according to the will of the Father. You even have a promise in John 14 that if you pray according to the will of the Son, your prayers will be answered. The Son always prays according to the will of the Father, and the will of the Father is that none of these perish. They are secured not by the statement of that fact, but by the intervention of the High Priest.
Those who are the true church will not be lost. “All that the Father gives to Me,” John 6, “will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will not turn away. But I will raise him in the last day.” From election to glorification, that’s settled. Whom the Father chose, He justified. Whom He justified, He sanctified, Romans 8, whom He sanctifies, He glorifies. Nobody falls through the crack. It’s good to reflect on Romans 8 with that regard.
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who didn’t spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died”—then this—“yea, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. So who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No.
“In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come . . . nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are secured in that relationship by the intercession of Christ. So the good news, folks: The church is still the church, right? It’s still the church. He will lose none of them.
There’s a moment in chapter 18 that has always struck me, chapter 18 of John. Judas betrays Jesus, and Jesus protects His disciples. It’s a pretty amazing scene. They come into the garden, the soldiers, Judas having betrayed Jesus. “He said to them, ‘I am He’”—“I’m the one you look for.” “They drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore again He asked them, ‘Whom do you seek?’”—same thing He asked them in verse 4, a second time. “They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’” Why did He ask them twice? Verse 8, “Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am He; if you seek Me, let these go their way.’” That is an incredible moment.
Jesus knew that the disciples could not withstand what would happen if they were arrested, so He made sure it never happened. You understand that? We are secured because He controls the circumstances. Twice He makes the Romans say publicly they have no warrant for anybody else but Him, and He said that to protect them, to fulfill Scripture in verse 9, “Of those whom You have give Me I lost no one.” It isn’t just that He doesn’t lose you because He says He won’t, He doesn’t lose you because He controls the circumstances by which you could be lost.
What is Christ doing in His church? He’s alive in His church, giving life to His true church, interceding to the Father on behalf of His church, to bring them to the new Jerusalem. And that takes us to verse 14. And we go from what He was wearing to His own person: “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. And His feet were like burnished bronze.” John has gone from His clothing now to His person—His head, His hair, His eyes, His feet. And soon it’ll be His voice, His hand, His mouth, His face. We’re getting a picture of the exalted Christ.
“His head and His hair were like white wool, like snow.” Daniel 7:9, that messianic passage where we find the term “Son of Man,” describes God the Almighty in the same way. So Christ bears the same characteristics as God the Almighty. The “white” here is leukon, not a flat white but a blazing white, a shining white, like light, white. What does this mean? Well it means He’s uncorrupted by evil. Pure light, a blazing glory, the white light of His eternal, glorious, pure holiness.
Now out of that blazing, pure holiness, the shekinah, that appeared even in the garden, came two penetrating streams like lasers. John sees this. And the face of Christ is a blazing light, and coming out of it are two laser flames. “His eyes were like a flame of fire,” “like flaming torches” in Daniel 10:6. What is this? Penetrating, holy intelligence. This is omniscience. Hebrews 4:13 says, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, and all things are . . . laid bare to His eyes.” He misses nothing.
He intercedes for His church, and at the same time nothing will cause Him to stop loving His church. Nothing will cause Him to take back forgiveness for the sins of His church. But that does not mean He is indifferent to their sin. Jonah tried to hide, didn’t he, to run from God, and then to go down deep in the ship to hide. You can’t hide from God.
The Lord is present in His church, He’s interceding for His church, and He’s also looking with laser holiness at the behavior of His church. According to 2 Corinthians 11 He wants the bride to be a chaste virgin. He wants to present a chaste virgin to Christ; that’s Paul’s desire. The Lord Jesus Christ gave His life to sanctify and cleanse the church. He wants, Ephesians 5, a pure bride, as in 2 Corinthians 11. He wants the church holy so that the first instruction that comes to the church is Matthew 18: And if somebody sins, you go to them; you confront the sin. If they don’t repent, you take two or three witnesses. If they don’t repent, you tell the church. If they still don’t repent, you put them out.
He wants purity in His church to the degree that if you’re a sinful Christian you could lose your life, as some in Corinth did, because they desecrated the Lord’s Table—they were sick, and some of them died. Ananias and Sapphira died in front of the whole church for lying to the Holy Spirit. Another way to look at that metaphorically is in the language of John 15, where our Lord says, “Every branch He purges.” For love of Christ, for joy, for usefulness, for witness, He confronts the sin of His church, and He acts.
“His feet,” verse 15, “were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace”—red-hot, gleaming brass. Judgment in the church; He will judge. How does He judge? Could be by death; could be by illness; could be by exposure, just exposure. But His judgment is severe, blazing, molten, pure, refined—gleaming feet of judgment. He wants His church so pure that He will not hesitate to bring judgment on the church.
Is Christ moving in His church? He is. He’s alive in His church; He’s interceding for His church; and He is, with pure holy omniscience, fully aware of the sins of His people and will bring judgment on them. Doesn’t mean the loss of salvation; does mean the loss of joy, and could mean the loss of life. John is being encouraged—the Lord wants the purity of the church more than he does.
As you come to the second part of verse 15, there’s a fourth picture: “His voice was like the sound of many waters.” One of the things you notice if you visit Patmos, and you would see it on any island, the waves are pounding that small rock on all shores; and because there’s no beach, it’s noisy. It’s actually thunderous. “The sound of many waters.” We find that all the way back in Ezekiel 43. That was a metaphor that people used when they wanted to talk about something that was loud and commanding. What is this telling us? That He commands His church. He speaks with authority to His church. His voice is like the sound of many waters.
I’ve been watching some of the nonsense going on with some churches trying to downplay homosexuality. And what’s become a popular phrase is that “God speaks loudly about a lot of sins, but He whispers about homosexuality.” That’s been on the Internet. That folly has been spread around: “God whispers about homosexuality”? I don’t think He was whispering in Sodom and Gomorrah. Before the lava buried them all, the noise would have been more than anyone had ever heard perhaps in their entire life. God’s doesn’t whisper about transgressions, He speaks with crashing authority, like waves pounding the shoreline of rocks.
The voice that John heard back in verse 10 was loud, perhaps an angelic voice, or perhaps the voice of the Lord. This takes it up a few notches. “All authority is given unto Me in heaven and earth,” He said, didn’t He; and His Word speaks with authority. That’s why Titus says, “Speak . . . with all authority.” So the good news is the Lord is speaking to His church, His true church, with authority. We know where that comes from. It comes from His Word.
There’s a fifth aspect of this vision that encourages John and us: “In His right hand He held seven stars.” Let’s just say He controls His church. He controls His church. What are these seven stars? Down in verse 20 it says they are “the angels”—or better, “the messengers.” They are the leaders, the shepherds. It’s the word angelos, and it is often translated “angels,” of course; but it’s the same word for “messengers.”
This is good news; He controls the leaders in His church. He will never be without faithful leaders; He will always have faithful leaders. He will always have godly leaders. He may have to sort through the pile to get to them. But He gave, Ephesians 4, to His church evangelists-pastors, evangelist-teaching pastors, as He gave apostles and prophets in the past. He always has faithful leaders.
So what is He doing in His church? He’s alive in His church, purifying His church, interceding for His church, proclaiming truth to His church, disciplining His church when necessary, and then—I love this; back to verse 16—protecting His church. “Out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” What’s that for? The feet were the instruments of judgment in the image. What is the sword for? Turn over to chapter 2, verse 16—we’ll hurry through this.
Chapter 2, verse 16: “I’m coming to you quickly, and I’ll make war against them.” Against what? False teachers, false teachers that have been mentioned in the previous verses. “I’ll war against them with the sword of My mouth.” “I’ll war against them with the sword of My mouth.” This is a two-edged rhomphaia—big, huge, broadsword that cuts every way.
He—I love this—is the primary protector of His true church. He will protect His church. He gave His church instruction, in 2 Peter, to be able to recognize false teachers. He repeated it in the book of Jude. He warned in the final epistles—1, 2, and 3 John—about how important the truth was, and not to listen to anybody who said something that wasn’t true. But as much as we’re concerned about that, He’s even more concerned about it. And so He protects His true church, and He does it by faithful shepherds, faithful messengers that He holds in His right hand, the hand of power and the hand of authority. They’re out there.
Number seven in the picture, back to verse 16: “His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This is the sum of it: He displays His glory through His church. You know, we all—we want to be glorified; and we all feel like we fall so short, don’t we? But John saw the face of the Son of Man, and it was like blazing sun at noon on a crystal-clear day. Matthew 13:43, the faces of the righteous are said to “shine . . . like the sun.” Second Corinthians 4, He shines in us “to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
The Lord has not given up on His church. I hate when I hear these people say that. “Come join our little cult, because the church is no good anymore—apostatized, become too organized.” So many people picking at the church. The Lord is still shining the light of His glory through His church, which is to say that at the end of everything, evangelism is the purpose—that people might see the church and see, through the church, the glory of the Lord of the church.
So we who are part of the church don’t need to be discouraged. And through this last period of time we might have had a lot of reason to be discouraged, but just the opposite has turned out, hasn’t it? We’ve seen the Lord do all these things. It’s been an incredible journey. And He’s been alive in our midst—many have come to faith in Christ. He has enriched our fellowship beyond what we could ever imagine. He has disciplined us. He has purified us. He continues to speak to us with authority through His Word—commanding, controlling sovereignly. And He has allowed His face, the face of His glory, to shine through His church. And we give Him all praise and all glory.
I cannot imagine, in all the life of ministry that I’ve lived, any greater display of the Lord’s work in His church than I’ve seen in the last eighteen months. Fear not, the Lord is in His church.
Father, we thank You for the truth. We thank You for giving us a vision that comforts us. It could overwhelm us—and like John we could fall down like dead men. But if we do, You would pick us up and say, “Wait a minute, you don’t need to fall down. I am alive. I am alive. I have the keys of death and Hades. You don’t need to fear. I died for all your failures, and I live to bring you to glory.” Father, we thank You for the fact that Christ died and bore our sins in His own body, and that He rose from the dead, is alive forevermore, and we rose in Him; we have nothing to fear. Thank You for showing us, in Your Word and in our experience these many months, the glory of Christ in His church. Amen.
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