The Christ Among the Lampstands
There’s never been a more dangerous time for the church. It’s swimming against the moral tide of culture, and is, frankly, struggling to keep its head above water.
From the outside it faces growing oppression from tyrannical rulers and the reality of increasing persecution at the hands of an anti-Christian majority. From within, some church leaders are leading Christians astray with new and seemingly more attractive interpretations of Scripture. And those who are trying to stay faithful are left scratching their heads in bewilderment, at a loss over how to respond. The situation looks incredibly bleak.
But here’s the thing: the church described in the paragraphs above is not, as you might have assumed, the church in the West today. It’s a church in an entirely different time and place – Asia Minor in the 1st century – and the original recipients of the book of Revelation.
And this was a church in danger. They faced the pressures of living in a culture of rampant immorality and idolatry (‘the great prostitute’), the tyranny of an oppressive Roman regime (‘the beast’), and discrimination from both the pagan Roman religious leaders and the Jewish synagogues (‘the false prophet’), as well as the population at large.
But behind the scenes, all these pressures were merely tools used by Satan (‘the great dragon’) in his attempt to destroy the church (‘the bride of the lamb’).
Another church, two thousand years ago, and yet something in their experience rings true with our own today. And it’s no surprise, because our church faces the same dangers at the hands of the same enemy, employing the same methods, using the same tools. Except that nowadays, that looks a little different.
It looks like Christians being mocked on talk shows or sneered at on social media. It looks like Christians cowed into silence in their workplace because they fear losing their job. It looks like church leadership teams falling out over theological differences. It looks like denominations embracing a new definition of marriage. It looks like churches closing down and being snapped up by developers to be converted into something more ‘relevant’. It looks like congregations losing heart because attendance is dwindling and the soul of their nation just seems so irreversibly lost.
There’s no denying it. There’s no point burying our head in the sand. Every church is in danger, writes Juan Sanchez. In fact, there are only really two kinds of churches: those who are soberly aware of the risks and are prepared to face them, and those who are carrying on completely unaware. The devil is prowling on both. The question is: what are you going to do about it?
The good news is that Jesus has done something about the dangers facing our church – he wrote us a letter. But this letter is unusual in that it is written in the style of apocalyptic literature, which reveals both present and future events of judgment and salvation in vivid and memorable visions, dreams, images, and symbols.
John opens this letter by telling us that the person who reads this letter and who keeps what is written in it will overcome (1:3). In other words, the one who keeps what is written in this letter will not be overcome by the dangers. We will conquer; we will receive what God has promised; we will be blessed.
So what exactly is it that we so badly need to hear? What is it that the church needs when it’s distraught, weakened, threatened, and caused to wonder if God is in control? We need a vision. When there are many who are against us, we need a vision of the One who is for us: Jesus Christ. John gives us this vision in the opening chapter of the book of Revelation. This Lord’s Day we will revisit this opening chapter as we explore what Jesus has to say to the seven churches in the book of Revelation – or, in John’s language – to the churches of all ages and all places.
I hope you can join us this Sunday as we look at an overview of the letter to the seven churches in Revelation from chapter one. Please keep us in prayer and invite your friends to come with you as we talk about ‘Christ among the Lampstands’.
For Christ and for the Kingdom,