The Church's Greatest Need from the Book of Revelation
The last nine epistles of the Scripture have a different tenor than the rest of the N.T. In these final epistles are found the majority of warnings in the N.T. The warnings are not the same as those in the Law of Moses. The law threatened stoning, excommunication, the curse, being cut off from God. N.T. warnings in this dispensation of grace are actually MORE SERIOUS. You may ask what could be worse than stoning to death as an outcast from God’s covenant people, to be left as a curse, a proverb, a byword?
The answer is found in the gospel warnings of Hebrews. Gospel warnings are divine cautions that are intended to show the seriousness of neglecting the remedy that is in Christ Jesus. When the remedy is neglected, there remains no more sacrifice for sin. This is a most fearful thing because the Scriptures indicate that those who broke the Mosaic Law with impunity died without mercy and, “How much more severe?” is the punishment of those who trample the blood of Christ underfoot (Heb 10:26-31).
Death by stoning evokes a hideous image of a mangled visage. What must await those who reject the truth of Christ after receiving it? No defense in the universe, not a drop of mercy, not a whisper of compassion in the conscience. Instead the conscience will take its revenge by God’s approval. The hiding place rejected, the remedy refused.
The book of Revelation is about the day of the Lord and the great distinction between the lost and the saved. It is about heaven and hell.
The last nine epistles also deal with the theme of the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is the “eviction” and destruction of the cumberers of the earth. The earth has been made to wobble because of the heaviness of their iniquity upon it (Is. 24). When the day of the Lord arrives, God will remove all stumbling blocks. The last nine epistles anticipate the coming apostasy.
When the day of the Lord arrives, it will sweep away the refuge of lies (Is 28:16-19) – every false hiding place will be exposed and flushed out. The day of the Lord is an eviction process. “No place was found for them” (Rev 20:11ff).
What terrible words, the creation itself disowns its ungodly inhabitants. The day of the Lord exposes the myth of ownership. It reveals that the human race is owned by God and that every person is but a tenant and a sojourner. The body you thought was yours will be “turned in.” The possessions you thought were yours will burn. The body’s tenancy will be revealed on the last day. Tenancy on the planet, tenancy in your dwellings, tenancy in your bodies – God will reclaim what is His by creation and rule (1 Chron 29:14-16; Ps 90).
Then when the disembodied dust and ashes stand on nothing before the uncreated, self-existent One there will be terror – “how dread are thine eternal years.” The nations will mourn when they see they sign of the Son of Man in the heavens, every tribe. They will seek annihilation rather than face the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 1:7, 8; 6:16, 17).
There is no greater contrast than in the destinies of the righteous and the wicked. There can be no greater discrimination than the state of those in heaven and those in hell. The righteous will shine like the stars, they will go from dust to glory (Dan 12:3). But the cowardly and the unbelieving will go from dust to dung in terms of dishonor. Dust does not offend, but refuse calls for burial, concealment. The moral stench of the wicked is their filth, corruption and eternal shame (Mal 2:3; Ez 32:24-32; Rev 21:8; 22:15). Oh but by the grace of God go we! It is Christ’s mercy alone that takes us from dust to glory (that replaces the Adamic mark of original corruption with the holy mark of God’s perfect image in Christ – Rom 8:29).
The birth pangs that precede the day of the Lord will increase in frequency and violence (Mt 24). The kingdom of God will come with unimaginable terror and tribulation (Zech 14). Christ’s kingdom will grind to powder every human institution and authority (Dan 2:42-45). Unspeakable trauma is coming (Heb 112:25-29). For the nations of the world manifest the attitude of Psalm 2, they will not lay down their weapons peaceably. They will not own the King of Kings as their glorious sovereign.
On the last day, the enemies of man’s soul will take their spoils: the world, the flesh, the devil, sin, death, hell, the condemnation of God’s law. These shall be as wedges of steel that shall cleave what remains of the soul’s unity. The faculties put in the soul by God will increasingly fragment to the eternal agony of the individual. Intellect, will, emotions, conscience and affections will all be at odds – beating the person to bits by the just permission of God. Man shall discover that the flagellants that lash him forever reside within his own soul (Mark 9:42-48).
Now contrast this to our completeness in Christ. Contrast this tiny chard of perdition to the peace and joy in the Holy Spirit that shall bubble over forever. Contrast it to the ravishment of soul that shall take place when you behold God looking out at you with eyes of flesh and with the marks of your atonement upon His body. Contrast it to the reality of being a partaker of His holiness so that you will be able to gaze without downcast eyes like the mighty cherubim. Contrast it to the sublimity of soul that you will experience when Christ’s love shall possess every fiber of your being so that your soul is ordered and organized around the alpha and the omega – the Son of God who is in you, and you in Him (Col 1:27; Eph 3:19).
And why are these infinite, eternal blessings yours? Because Christ entered the cog-works of God’s justice to be crushed for your sakes. The ineffable turning wheels of God’s justice and wrath, like mountains of iron and granite, fell upon Him so that His life-blood was pressed from His pores and His wounds. You and I had sowed a life of thorns. We deserved to reap a harvest of thorns – we merited an eternal (burning) bed of thorns and fire. Had not the Son of Man reaped our harvest, we would not have been able to escape God’s justice against us for our iniquity.
But Christ reaped our harvest that we might reap His. He sowed righteousness, love and peace – we reap His harvest of glory. Oh unfathomable exchange, that the Lord of glory should trade places with us! (2 Cor 5:21).
Now consider Christian, that Christ is the Physician of the soul. He is infinitely capable of attending the self-inflicted wounds you bear due to your sin. Christ is the Physician of hearts perforated, hearts divided, hearts that are double-minded and unstable. He is able to strengthen hearts weakened by neglect, hearts diseased by idolatry. He is the Great Physician of the sin disease.
His cures and treatments are effectual, but when we refuse them, the medicine He chooses may be very bitter. For when we do not esteem His new covenant love, and we stray from His side as a casual disciple, He brings out His rod of discipline. He restrains us and subdues us – through His mighty providence, He puts upon His beloved the bit and bridle of Psalm 32 in order to keep us in check that we might learn obedience from the heart.
It does not cross our minds enough that His faithful correction is working for our eternal happiness and bliss. For holiness is happiness – God’s way of making His people infinitely happy forever is to make them like Himself in holiness. So it is that Christ by His correction of us steadies our palsied hands that we might not spill the precious wine of the new covenant. In our many furtive glances at the world, we forget the preciousness of what is in our cup by grace. We become reckless with the wine. We forget the olive press of Gethsemene, where Christ was wracked with torment over the conflicting forces that assaulted Him. He knew that His passion demanded He be weak enough to be a victim in the face of His evil tormentors, but also that He be strong enough to bear the wrath and curse. He must bear it long enough to exhaust the justice of God against our sin. His weak human nature needed to be strengthened that He might be slain as a Substitute – but the success of His vicarious work depended upon Him NOT giving up His Spirit before He had drained the cup His Father had given Him to drink. His Gethsemene was about His passion, about laying His life down and bearing up under the torment – not releasing His Spirit until the curse against Him was spent.
Now what is our Gethsemene by comparison. We sweat drops of pride over our love of self and the world. We wrestle with our own wayward hearts that are too willing to entertain other lovers. But God is in all our trials – momentary light affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
Our afflictions take us off of our double-mindedness, they make us declare our loyalties. They contribute to our training as overcomers. They consolidate our hope – hope that we spread over legitimate and illegitimate supports (Heb 12:10, 11).
Those who are overcomers are animated by eschatological hope. Corporate eschatological hope is inseparable from corporate love to Christ. “First works love” is an expression of eschatological hope, because hope is a key revealer of the affections.
(2 Cor. 5:9 – ambition to please the Lord is a function of longing to be with Him. 1 Pet. 1:13 – fix your hope completely on grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ, this is living by eschatological hope, Gal. 5:5.)
There is a tension between eschatological hope and present tyranny of the urgent.The tension is expressed by Paul as a “scale” or a computation sheet – he daily weighs eschatological hope against present gain and concerns (Phil. 3:17-21). (To not “love one’s life unto death” is to not love one’s life in this world. Revelation martyrs overcame by the blood of the Lamb – by a hope that was willing to hang onto nothing temporal – Rev 12:11.)
Eschatological hope orients us toward our true treasure. PRINCIPLE – the heart follows its true treasure with the enthusiasm of a puppy dog (eschatological hope is imbued with “eagerness,” Romans 8:23,25; Jude 20,21).
Eschatological hope is joined to our labor (2 Thess. 2:16,17; 1 Cor. 3). Hope is joined to our labor and work ethic. Orthodoxy without a fervent hope is not adequate insurance against compartmentalization (outward order and religious labor with internal truant affections).
Fiery trials have the effect of an “investment broker” who reinvests and consolidates your holdings in a superior account. Trials make us choose the eternal value system over and over again. Under the Lord’s providential guidance, the trial places our holdings into the account of heaven where its value is protected from wavering and failure (see 1 Pet. 1:4). Thus, trials wean us from temporal hope by fastening our affection more firmly on eternal hope.
The redeemed have a consuming sentiment for God’s glory. They desire that the outshining of His majesty and the knowledge of Him fill the universe (Rev. 7:12).They magnify God with endless thanksgiving because they themselves are not detached spectators of His majesty, but partakers of His majesty in the sense that the exercise of that majesty is the ground of their glorified existence. They are the OBJECTS of God’s wisdom, power, love, holiness -- these attributes have acted upon them in their salvation (2 Pet. 1:1-4). These attributes have determined their destiny. Christ has conducted the infinite riches of the Godhead into time-space history that the elect may be conformed to the image of God’s Son (and “gain the glory of Christ,” 2 Thess. 2:14).
Only when Christ is our “first love” are we safely building upon Him as our foundation (1 Cor. 3). What is it about us that makes us rather work than worship, preach than pray, achieve than adore, conquer than commune. Our natures would rather see how far we can carry the ark than take two steps, sacrifice and worship. We all carry a propensity for merit mongering that secretly (or openly) wants a part in our eligibility for divine favor.
The LAST thing we would admit in our zeal for the truth is that we have elements in that zeal that compete with the sufficiency of Christ and His honor. (Our esteem for the Lord is inversely proportional to our esteem for our own doings.)
This is not an appeal to quietism, but a desire to take the rebuke of our Lord in Rev. 2:4,5 with utter seriousness. We need to be ruthlessly honest about the fact that our passion for precision in orthodoxy is not immune from corporate pride. Zeal for doctrinal accuracy and confessional unity, for all its heat and light, may not succeed in loving Christ supremely.
Such is the “law of worship” that if Christ is not loved supremely, orthodox ministry can become an unchallenged forum (or form of) for self-adulation.
Perfectionism in all its forms, including the orthodox formalism of Ephesus, involves a looking away from Christ and looking unto religious endeavor. The church of Ephesus had temporarily lost its ability to focus upon Christ. It had begun to arrogate to itself a degree of credit for its works. (There is nothing more natural to the flesh than to burn incense to our accomplishments and erect a monument to our works.)
Our lower nature is at war with grace. It has a lust for law that craves making a contribution to our favor and acceptance before God. It ever seeks to make a scorecard of its achievements. In that sense, it works against the knowledge of Christ’s sufficiency. There is the frequent danger of building so as to have the stones we lay stray off of the foundation of Christ (1 Cor 3:10, 11).
When we do not love Christ supremely, and then attempt to serve Him, we have the internal posture of heart that Peter did when he uttered, “Never shall you wash my feet!” Peter had boasted that he would serve the Lord more loyalty, more courage, less care for his own safety than any of the other disciples – certainly a noble goal. But within Peter, like us, is an inclination for establishing and proving our value and lovability to the Lord. Not that our desire to serve does not flow from gratitude, it does. But there is an inner resistance to the notion that Christ came to serve and not to be served (Jn 13:8).
We say wholeheartedly, “Yes Lord we love you because you served us by laying down your life for us. By that service unto death you have made us yours forever, now we want to say ‘thank you’ by serving you.” Christ’s death made us His servants.
It is possible to approach our serving without a spirit of utter dependence. (The disciples argument over who was the greatest as well as Peter’s boast of fearless loyalty stemmed from a dependence upon self in serving.) The saints must be brought to see that they are as dependent upon the Lord now as they were the day of their new birth.
Repenting of leaving Christ as first love (Rev. 2:5) involves doing the first deeds. Those deeds were characterized by the overflowing gratitude that accompanied their new betrothal to Christ.
Our flesh has secretive machinations that seek to manage its own dereliction through religion. Like Peter, the pendulum swings back and forth from pride to despair (Matt 26:75). At one moment, he vaunts his superiority over the other disciples (Matt 26:33-35). He seems to have forgotten the view he had of himself when the Lord called him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). (When his eyes were upon his Savior, he was mighty for the Lord. When he looked away, he sank beneath the waves of Galilee or he stumbled over Galatian legalism (Gal 2:11-14).
Perfectionism in all its forms strays from utter dependency upon Christ. Perfectionism maintains an uninformed optimism that the flesh is perfectible through religious exertion. These are subtle workings, for the flesh can have as its perfecting object such noble things as doctrinal precision, confessional purity or a creedal legacy, etc.
What perfectionism does is unconsciously look away from Christ (as in the imperceptible drift of Hebrews 2). Perfectionism always entertains an optimism that some virtues will be found in us that will commend us to God. Peter hoped that his claim to fearless loyalty would commend him above his brethren. Orthodox formalists hope that their zeal for doctrine will commend them above their less precise (and perhaps less productive) brothers.
Perfectionism takes spiritual pride in personal adequacy. It refuses to accept that Adam’s wound in Eden was mortal (today toy stores are filled with super-human action figures – little “plastic Nimrods” that can subdue the earth and their enemies with a “pumped up” arm of flesh). Do our achievements in doctrine make us adequate? OR do we daily say along with the Apostle Paul that we do not have personal adequacy and regard no good thing as coming from ourselves.
Is it too humbling to see ourselves as charity cases, in need of Jesus washing our feet each day – our completeness is in Him (Col 2:6-10).
Perfectionism seeks to outgrow utter dependency upon Christ (and Him serving us). Jesus is still washing our feet so to speak by His union with us in His Person and work. Our utter dependence makes us uncomfortable – we wish to work our way out of the arrangement that we are so beholden to Him (as a charity case) everyday.
A fall from grace is the unconscious goal of perfectionism – the use of religious instruments to perfect the flesh is a slur upon the sufficiency of Christ (Gal. 3:1-4; 5:4). If we began by the Spirit, we must continue by the Spirit (the Spirit always lifts up Christ and points to the blood).
The preponderance of perfectionism in the church reveals a radical inadequacy in our anthropology. We’ve not adequately considered how pervasive an effect our depravity has upon our search for security and identity (ontological issues of personhood, lovability, significance etc.).
We’ve failed to take the Galatian error as a warning about our own lower natures. The Galatian error reveals just how driven human nature is to take charge of managing its own dereliction (depravity, brokenness and ruin).
The church’s failure here reveals a naïve spirit that winks at how the Christian religion can be used to manage dereliction. The truth is that the flesh is always searching for fig leaf score cards.
Evangelicalism is the most covert in concealing the manner in which the flesh manages its own dereliction. The scorecard is nearly “invisible” in evangelicalism because the areas of “credit” are so noble (note the list of the Ephesian Church’s accomplishments). Christ, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, sees fig leaf score cards and the perfectionistic approach to the Christian life.
Christ is scraping down His servants, so to speak, to ontological “bedrock.” He’s protecting them from biblical eloquence without Christ as first love. That is a mercy, because service without supreme love always degrades into perfectionism. He’s “dynamiting” them off of their fleshly foundations and resetting them upon Christ alone, not on the works of their hands or upon their talents and gifts. Ephesus rested upon a pseudo-foundation of orthodox accuracy and works of ministry. There is a battle front in this lesson of ontology, the issue is that Christ’s man must be solely grounded upon Christ’s covenant and His dimensionless love – not personal performance. Inner resistance to this dependency is the same resistance our flesh has to being utter beholden to Christ for breath as well as standing. Our communing with Him must have the interface of our comprehensive sinnership.
Are there any places where we are not broken by sin? NO – therefore our dependency upon Christ ought to be coextensive with our sinnership. The bulk of our angst and anxiety in ministry is based upon the misinformed notion that God is waiting to mix His power with ours. Such is not the case. We are slow to learn this. Christ’s sensitive servants are frequently pulled into the same whirlpool of self doubt – “am I holy enough, this enough, that enough?” “Have fulfilled all of the exponents necessary for spiritual use and power?” Our problem is that we pour over ministry absolutes instead of making knowing Him our primary objective. In Acts it says of the rulers and elders of the people, that they began to recognize the disciples as having been with Jesus. Should there be a different standard of usefulness, power and confidence for us? Unless knowing Him is my priority, other “dung-refuse” goals will fill my frontal vision – Phil 3. The battle is actually flesh versus Spirit. To press on to know Him is to be radically identified with Him and the power of His resurrection. It is to be willing to suffer the loss of all things that used to be gain -- that is the price of knowing Him. Idolatry of self keeps us from esteeming the prize Paul spoke of in Philippians 3. Only by a proper esteem of the prize can I answer the upward call.
The Ephesian error is ubiquitous in the church today. Evangelicalism’s corporate pride is evidenced in its preference for ministry over abiding in Christ. There’s a greater devotion to ministry, than to the Lord.
By contrast, Paul’s ontological stress was, “To know Him, to suffer the loss of all things, to answer the upward call, to exalt Christ in his members.”
When we assume that Christ’s love and presence are not available, and that the church is not His present habitation, then religious activity will replace living, vital communing with Him. There will be an accompanying waning of desire to know Him in the new covenant (2 Cor 3:16-18) – less of a desire to delight in God, more of a tendency to take satisfaction in the fact that we have “done church and done it well.”
To be truth-oriented as a church is not a guarantee that we will not be wed in our affections to things below. Orthodox formalism reveals how devastating it is to have moved away from Christ as first love. Eschatological hope was a missing factor -- hope fixes the heart on the object that fills it with eager expectation. Truth without hope can catapult into formalism. (Note the example of Princeton Seminary’s historic slide into apostasy, see also examples of decline from the Boice-Ryken book, The Doctrines of Grace.)
Revelation joins OVERCOMING to eschatological hope (which is also joined to sanctification, see also 1 John 3:2). The Bride who has no consuming thoughts about the honeymoon (marriage supper) has left her first love in her affections.
Can the true church have only apathy instead of eager anticipation for the nuptial chamber? If that anticipation is absent, what does it say about her? If she busy serving and working for her Husband without a compelling heart longing for Him? That situation better describes an executive secretary than a bride to be.
The church’s retrograde slide into formalism means that its affections are secretly somewhere else (with the world and the flesh). Oh this is covert, for there is no apparent interruption in the church’s fidelity to the truth, BUT, there has been a radical interruption in constantly fixing the mind upon things above. The ravishment of heart at the thought of resting on Christ’s bosom has all but evaporated.
Christ is the revelation of God – the more we know about our triune God, the more we will hold fast to Christ. For Christ exegetes God! (Jn 1:18). God is known by a deeper knowledge of Christ our Mediatorial King, our City of Refuge, our Paradise, our Life.
Outside of clinging and fleeing to Him, the world’s lusts deceive, its idols woo our admiring glances. Do we forget, God’s wrath burns because of the world’s idolatry. Sinners will justly reap the consequences of their sins.
The church is to return to her first love – contenting herself in His love, consenting to be loved by Him – only then will the wine of heaven flow through us to others.
God’s will is communion with the Son – all of our working must be subordinate to that goal.
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John is functioning as a prophet of God – he is calling the church back to pure, simple devotion to the Lord. This is marital fidelity to God (2 Cor 11:3). The prophets of God are the watchmen on the wall who identify the ways that the world has crept in unnoticed. The prophet has a super-human task, for he must expose the ways that the world has legitimized its adulterous existence to the people of God. The world offers itself for status, security, significance, source, power and satisfaction. The world always seeks to supplant Christ as Source. The evil one is always attempting through his solicitations to cause the church to commit spiritual adultery. Though God has deeded to us all we need through the new covenant in Christ’s blood, the world competes for our time, talent and affection.
This is precisely why the doctrines of grace must be kept before the people of God. Believers must continually apprehend by faith the heart of God toward them. They must be able to recline upon Him as their refuge and Source. They must be able to learn how habitually to rest upon the Father’s perfect satisfaction and delight in our Suffering Substitute. This is the only basis for our working, worshipping, seeking, piety and delighting. Our faith must be able to see past our depravity to His kind intentions toward us the covenant. We must behold the Son as our sole source of unlimited access to God (Eph 3:11, 12).
In Christ, God has joined His glory to our highest good, therefore, the kindest thing you can do for your soul is love God. Keep Him supreme in your affections – love, honor and obey Him as in the marriage vow.
Rejoicing is our duty, it keeps us navigating toward the celestial city. Rejoicing keeps our affections united, rejoicing keeps our hope strong and it fixes our minds upon the disposition and posture of God’s heart towards us. It prepares us for spontaneous worship, it glorifies God (Who is most honored when He is most enjoyed. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Joy strengthens the heart to trust more and more – it prevents double-mindedness and discontent. Have you accepted the assignment, “Enjoy God every day.” That enjoyment of God is only possible while under affliction IF the heart is feeding upon the doctrines of the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are you stuck in affliction and trial and darkness? Pray, praise, preach worship and rejoice your way out. What Jesus says to Laodicea, He says to His church universal, sup with Me, commune with Me, meet with Me for intimate fellowship – understand that you were created anew for fellowship with Me.
1.) Hope is a Person (Titus 2:13).
2.) God’s dream – that He be our eternal dwelling place and that we be His eternal dwelling place. God’s dream is reciprocal dwelling (see Rev. 21:1-7; Eph. 2:18-22).
3.) The rewards are relational – see the heavenly promises to overcomers in Rev. 2-3.
4.) Your greeting when you see the Lord “is your reward” (see 1 John 2:28; 2 Thess 1:10; Heb. 10:35-39; 2 Pet 1:11).
5.) The more God is seen as your portion, the greater will be your hope in Him (see Phil. 3:8-11 and Lam. 3:24).
SUMMARY – Rev. 2:1-4 - Precision in orthodoxy is not a guarantee that the heart is not attached to things below. When the church descends into formalism, it is a most subtle declension because there is no apparent interruption in fidelity to the truth. But the declension reveals that truth has become separated from the Person of Christ. What is absent is the constant fixing of our minds upon things above so as to have our affections anchored to them. Otherwise, we will be subject to compartmentalization, intellectual pride and cooled affections.
Rev. 2:5-7ff. – Eschatological hope is inseparable from love to Christ. Hope is a barometer of the affections – the heart inevitably follows its affections (Matt 6:21). Revelation joins overcoming to eschatological hope. The bride with no consuming thoughts of the joys of the honeymoon has left her first love. Christ gives content to our eschatological hope – He inflames and enlivens it – He gives the descriptions of heaven here. Overcomers are animated by this hope. If we are not beholding Christ, it is a matter of course that our affections like water will flow to the lowest paths of physical sense – they will settle onto things below.
Declension in true religion is when the discipline of grace is neglected. It is when the soul becomes contented in the world and apathetic about gathering the heavenly manna each morning. When the discipline of grace is neglected, religion becomes cold and formal. Simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, (a devotion like an betrothed bride), becomes replaced and substituted with the duties of religion performed with outward efficiency (2 Cor 11:3). However noble these duties manifested by the Ephesus church (doctrinal purity, zeal for accuracy, ability to resist heretics), without Christ as first love, formalism allows the heart to stray further from the living God (Is 29:13).