I look forward to my regular reading of Revelation 1-3 as much as any portion of Scripture. The description of The Lord Jesus Christ in chapter one ought to become familiar to any believer who is waiting for His return—for that is how He will appear when we see Him. And we ought to desire to become like Him because, as John wrote earlier, when he shall appear, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). We will not see Him as He was in His earthly flesh, for Paul has written, yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more (2 Cor 5:16). We will see Him as John saw Him on the isle of Patmos, in all of His eternal glory and splendor.
The purpose for Christ’s appearance to John was that His manifest presence would be the gauge by which the local churches would measure themselves. Each letter to the churches begins with a selected characteristic of Christ’s eternal appearance which is applied to the condition of that church. Each letter ends with an admonition to overcome the problem by striving for eternal rewards awaiting the believers in heaven.
The local churches at the end of the age, existing at the time Christ returns, are going to be fraught with the problems of these seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. They will not be expecting the Lord’s countenance to be as He pictures it in these chapters, as He takes the pastors in His hand and searches the works of each congregation. They will not be expecting to see those eyes that appear as flames of fire!
We need churches today that want to convey the character of Christ to the world, not amalgamate with the world. We need churches today that offer the lost a place of change. I agree with A.W. Tozer when he wrote, “Our meetings are characterized by cordiality, humor, affability, zeal and high animal spirits; but hardly anywhere do we find gatherings marked by the overshadowing presence of God.”1
I am thankful for the local New Testament Church. I think the Christ of Revelation 1 would be pleased with the church that strives to be like Him and is uncomfortable when the likes of Balaam, Jezebel and the Nicolaitans feast with them, feeding themselves without fear, teaching unsuspecting believers to sacrifice unto idols and commit spiritual fornication. Such churches have left their first love and are in need of renewing the first works of ministry. The churches of Christ can be salt and light in their generation, they don’t have to become sand and glitter.
The Christ of Revelation 1 is seeking local churches that will reflect His own attributes. His words to the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 are sometimes loving and sometimes harsh but His instruction to them is left without recourse. They are overcomers or they are not. I find at least seven characteristics of this heavenly Christ which He expects to find in each church that calls itself by His name.
A church of modesty and propriety
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle (Rev 1:13). Both the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira allowed believers to be drawn into fornication. Familiarity and nakedness is opposite to the fully clothed Christ. Spiritually the church at Laodicea was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (3:17). They were to buy of their Lord pure raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear (3:18).
It is because physical nakedness and immodesty is sin that it is a fitting analogy for spiritual nakedness (see Rev 16:15). Today’s church sanctuaries are filled with uncomely parts which have need of more abundant comeliness (1 Cor 12:23). We spend more time defending David’s naked dancing than we do condemning our own shamefulness! In a day when nakedness is becoming a national sin,2 I would think that believers would want to be even more modest than we are. Cyprian once wrote, “It is evident that there true patience cannot be, where there is found the insolent daring of a claim of liberty and the immodest forwardness of an exposed and uncovered [believer].”3
The overcomers in the church of modesty and propriety will sit with the Christ of Revelation 1 in the holy place of the Father’s throne (3:21).
A church of conviction and judgment
His eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass (1:14-15). When Jesus addressed the worldly church at Thyatira He used these symbols of His character to point out, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel (2:20). This false doctrine was led by false women prophets who seduced the people of the church. The Lord’s righteous anger and judgment are evident from His words, And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts (2:23).
Though the Lord will do the ultimate judging, it is the church’s responsibility to judge sin and false doctrine in their midst. When the Corinthian church failed in this, thinking their slackness was actually a loving spirit, Paul wrote, ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned . . . . Your glorying is not good (1 Cor 5:2, 6). True love builds the erring brother, pride of knowledge puffs up the church (1 Cor 8:1).
A church of pastoral leadership
And he had in his right hand seven stars . . . . The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (1:16, 20). In Ephesus they had fallen prey to the Nicolaitans, Pergamos to Balaam and the Nicolaitans, Thyatira to Jezebel. Sardis sought a name for themselves and Laodicea trusted in their riches alone. The Lord addresses the “angel” of each church with these problems of leadership, and the Spirit witnessed to whoever had ears to hear.
Paul reminded the Galatians that they had received him as an angel of God (Gal 4:14), but he scolded the Corinthians for allowing false teachers who appeared as angels of light (2 Cor 11:14-15). The climate at the end of the age will require ministers of unusual insight and courage. Vance Havner wrote, “Any preacher who shows signs of being original in this assembly-line age will be frowned upon and viewed with suspicion by all operators of ecclesiastical armories. ‘Ready-made clothes are for those of average size.’”4
A church of Biblical priority
And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword (1:16). Pergamos was a church with serious doctrinal error and Christ addresses them as he which hath the sharp sword with two edges (2:12). They had allowed some to come in and do as Balaam had done, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel (2:14). That is, this church had allowed teachers from outside to teach the church to sin by idolatry and fornication. They also allowed the Nicolaitans to spread their doctrine, God says, which thing I hate (2:15).
Last Sunday morning a generic-named evangelistic team I did not know at all, walked into my church and asked if they could teach my people that night in the evening service! The air is thick with pestilences that spread biblical error. Not long ago I heard a man from a well-known organization recommend to pastors a writer who has taught many wild and unbiblical things. Such “Balaamizing” can come from any direction.
The book of Hebrews says the Word of God is like a two-edged sword that pierces the heart, and neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:13). The Christ of Revelation 1 sees these doctrinal errors and will fight against them with the sword of [his] mouth (2:16).
A church of heavenly and worldly contrast
And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead (1:16-17). Even though the Lord assured John he did not need to fear Him, it would be better for our churches today to begin with holy fear and find assurance, than to begin with self-confidence and find
holy displeasure. J.S. Whale said, “Instead of putting off our shoes from our feet because the place we stand is holy ground, we are taking nice photographs of the burning bush from suitable angles.”5 C.S. Lewis wrote, “The man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow, is a prosaic barbarian.”6
In too many ways the new Post-Modernism is actually a Neo-Paganism. There ought to be a definite heavenly/worldly contrast about the church as there is about the Christ of Revelation 1. It ought to draw us to bowed heads and bended knees. Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).
A church of eternal perspective
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending (1:8). Fear not; I am the first and the last (1:17). The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is all about perspective! John, like apostles and prophets before him, is allowed to see the bigger picture. He can see the throne of God as well as the altar of the local church. He can see the unholy trinity of the dragon, the beast and false prophet and well as persecuted believers whom the devil will cast into prison and unto death.
The Laodicean church had lost its perspective. It boasted, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing (3:17). But the Lord said, thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (3:17). Like many churches today, they needed trial (gold tried in the fire), purity (white raiment) and eternal wisdom (eye salve, that thou mayest see). To poor, despised Smyrna the Lord said, I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but thou art rich (2:9). Indeed, through His poverty, the church has been made rich!
A church of baptismal identification
I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death (1:18). Local church congregations consist of saved, baptized believers. They have identified with their crucified, buried and risen Lord in the watery grave of baptism. It has buried their attachment to this world and has raised them to walk in newness of life. This picture of the crucified and risen Lord is given to the church of Smyrna who will have to face death for their faith. The Lord said, fear none of those things . . . Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life (2:10).
It will be said of future Tribulation saints, And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death (12:11). The Lord said to Smyrna, He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death (2:11). Believers baptized in water have also committed to a baptism of blood (see Matt 20:22-23). So now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death (Phil 1:20).
And So . . . .
The Christ of Revelation 1 says, I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come (22:16-17).
Notes: 1. A.W. Tozer, Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill: Christian Pub., 1997) 30. 2. For example, the American Association of Nude Recreation claims 50,000 members. 3. Saint Cyprian, “On the Benefit of Patience,” Orations from Homer to McKinley, M. Hazeltine, ed (NY: Collier, 1902) 1115. 4. Vance Havner, In Times Like These (Old Tappan: Revell, 1969) 40. 5. Quoted by Robert Wenz, Room For God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994) 195. 6. C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns (New York: HBJ, 1986) 18.