This week I want to pick up and flesh out something that Ian brought to us at the recent church breakfast.
Read Rev1:1-20, Rev2:1, Rev2:8, Rev2:12, Rev2:18, Rev3:1, Rev3:7, Rev3:14
At the beginning of the book of Revelation there is a description (starting at verse 4) of Jesus. There is a certain amount of ‘apocalyptic’ language used in this description, some of which we will delve into to gain a full picture of who Jesus is. So before we go too much further here are some quick (but not exhaustive) guides on how to read this passage.
- The use of the number ‘7’ in apocalyptic literature in the bible speaks of ‘fullness’ or ‘completeness’. The first and most obvious example of this being that creation was complete on the 7th day. So in Rev 1:4 the ‘seven spirits’ can be understood as the fullness of the spirit, and Rev1:11 the ‘seven churches’ can be understood as the complete church.
- Whenever apocalyptic literature explains and gives meaning to its own vocabulary then that’s what it means and we should try and find some other meaning! In Rev1:20 we are given the interpretation that the ‘seven stars’ are the ‘angels of the seven churches’ (which does beg the question what the angel of the church is!) and the ‘seven lampstands’ are the ‘seven churches’. With this established every time we read lampstand in this passage we understand it as church and every time we read star we can read it as angel. All clear!?
In Rev1:12 John turns to find where the voice that is speaking to him is coming from and he sees ‘seven golden lampstands’ ie the completeness (seven) of the church (lampstand) and (:13) in the midst of the lampstands ‘one like the son of man…’ ie Jesus. This is a fascinating revelation that Jesus is found in the completeness of the church here on earth. It seems to indicate that the place to find where Jesus dwells and speaks from on earth is the completeness of the church. It seems to indicate that the fullness of Jesus isn’t found in anyone one local church, but that only when the church is viewed as a whole do we fully see Jesus – He dwells in the midst of the lampstands. This point is emphasised further in Rev2&3 where each of the seven churches is addressed individually and each church is uniquely associated with different characteristics of Jesus mentioned in Rev1:
Rev2:1, the church in Ephesus – corresponds with Rev1:16&13
Rev2:8, the church in Smyrna – corresponds with Rev1:17-18
Rev2:12, the church in Pergamum – corresponds with Rev1:16
Rev2:18, the church in Thyatira – corresponds with Rev1::14-15
Rev3:1, the church in Sardis – corresponds with Rev1:4&16
Rev3:7, the church in Philadelphia – corresponds with Rev1:18
Rev3:14, the church in Laodicea – corresponds with Rev1:5
The picture that grows out of this is that each and every local church enjoys and is associated with a part of who Jesus is. But no single local Church has the fullness of who Jesus is, that is only found in the fullness and completeness of the church ie in the midst of the seven lampstands. You will observe that many of the churches addressed in these chapters were far from ‘perfect’ and needed to be rebuked and corrected. But nevertheless Jesus is found in the completeness of these far from perfect churches.
The practical outworking of this for us as a church has some helpful and cautionary applications:
- We must celebrate the unique characteristics and qualities that God has given us as a church that reflect Jesus. However, we must also be careful to not become proud that these characteristics are of our own making or in some way better than the different characteristics of other local churches. For instance, we can enjoy the benefits of being a small family like congregation, but we mustn’t therefore write off all large congregations and the dynamics within them as inferior.
- We must focus on confidently growing into the church that God has made us to be and not be distracted by trying to be what other churches are being and doing.
- We can confidently grow into who God has called us to be recognising that we are never going to represent the fullness of Jesus in our church alone but that that only comes through the churches uniting and working together in a local community.
- It releases us from feeling guilty about all the things we don’t and cant do as a church (that all the other churches in the town may well be doing) and enables us to live freely in the things that God has called us to be and do. This isn’t a mandate to rest on our laurels but to move forward into all God has given us to be and do.
Let’s meditate on these verses and allow them to inspire us to grow more fully into the fullness of Christ as a church.
Let us remind ourselves what the collective ‘angel’ or ethos (using Ian’s interpretation of angel) of our church is. What do we do well as a church? What are our key characteristics (‘Jesusistics’) as a church?
What are the roots of these characteristics of our church? Where do the characteristics of our church comes from? (Think in terms of collective and individual experience, journey of faith, sanctification, personality)
In light of this are we limited to only just having these characteristics and not growing and developing others? Do we recognise any seedling characteristics that are wanting to grow in us?
What are the characteristics of some of the other local churches that we can celebrate and rejoice over? (Not so that we want to be like them but to recognise the attributes of Jesus in them and therefore something of the completeness of Jesus in our town).
What can we learn from and be enriched by from other churches and church traditions?