Sermon. Will the Church Survive Covid 19?
Text: Revelation 1:1-20
Introduction: Of all the writing of the Bible, the book of Revelations is the only book that assigns a special blessing to those who read, hear, understand and keep the word of these sayings. The theme of the book is the mystery of the kingdom of God. It shows that this whole world, every continent of it, every foot of it, all the places that are on it, lost through the first Adam’s sin, will be reconciled to God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ and that the instrument used to banish the gross darkness in the world is the Spirit filled Churches reflecting Christ the Sun of Righteousness, and the preachers here on the earth empowered by the Holy Ghost.
Although we do not know the exact year Revelations was written. We do know by this time John was an old man. He stood alone; all the other apostles had long since passed away. The progress of the gospel, that was mighty and triumphant in Paul’s day, had been blocked; edicts went forth forbidding every word of New Testament writing, requiring it to be burned. Women were dragged before the legal tribunals and commanded to reject Christ and worship heathen gods or be thrown to the lions. Many were wondering “Will the Church survive?
Every effort was being made by Domitian, the new Roman emperor, to stamp out Christianity. This was a time of great discouragement. God sends this revelation and prophesy to his servant John. At a time when John himself had been arrested and banished to the isle of Patmos for preaching the word of God, He is given the word to reawaken faith, hope, love, and courage in himself and in God’s people. It is to show them that the clouds will pass away; it is to show them that, however heavy the hand or the heel of the tyrant, truth will yet prevail, and that ultimately the whole wide world will be conquered for our Lord Jesus Christ. The whole book testifies that in the end, we win!
We, like the Apostle John had only seen Jesus Christ the way he was. When we think of Him, we remember him as a babe in Bethlehem, as a boy in the temple, as a worker of miracles, and as a teacher of parables. We remember him is his earthly ministry, persecuted, as a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected. We remember him crucified, dead and buried. All of our memories, like John are of the way he was. But now John sees him the way he is!
This is the revelation of God the Father as revealed to Jesus Christ and transmitted to his servant John. This brief analysis is given by our Savior himself. In Rev.1:19: “Write, therefore, (1) the things which thou sawest; (2) the things which are; (3) the things which shall come to pass hereafter.” The things which John saw, refers to the vision, (vv. 12-16) inclusive:
“I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” That is what he saw.
The second division was “the things that are.” “The things that are” are set forth in chapters 2-5. These are the things that are, and consist of two subdivisions: First, the state of the churches, not as they seem to be to themselves, but as God saw them to be. That is the earth scene of the things that are, and a very discouraging view it is.
In chapters 4-5, among the things that are, is a heavenly scene – it reveals the throne of grace, with all of its agencies and activities in behalf of the imperfect churches – and that is an encouraging view. Then the things that shall be hereafter commence at chapter 6 and extend to the end of the book. That is the prophetic part of the book.
Revelation 1:12-16, is a vision of our Lord in his glory, and in his relation to the churches and pastors, with an indication of the mission of the churches and the pastors. That is the first great revelation of the book. The revelation of our Lord, not in his humiliation, not in the state that he was in before he came to the earth, not in the state that he was in while on the earth, but in his glorified humanity. We have before us a vivid picture of Jesus as the one who was dead, but is alive to die no more. This first revelation is intensely interesting – a revealing of Jesus as he now is in his glorified state, and in his relation to the churches and the preachers that are to reflect his light in the world. How intensely important to us, then, is a vision of Jesus now.
The elements of the vision are, first, seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst of the candlesticks a vision of Christ as the Sun of Righteousness. He holds in his right hand seven stars and out of his mouth proceeds a sharp two-edged sword. This vision Christ explains himself: The candlesticks represent the churches; the stars represent the messengers or pastors of the churches; the two-edged sword represents his word, or the gospel. The whole vision is one of light. The central light – Christ, the Sun of Righteousness; the lower lights – the churches and’ the preachers; the instrumentality of dispensing the light – the Word of God. It teaches that the Spirit dispensation, or Word dispensation through the churches and the preachers, is to accomplish the whole work of the application of the salvation achieved by our Lord’s vicarious death. We will find in every subsequent revelation this ruling thought; the world to be illumined by these light-bearers.
There is no hint of any other source or medium or instrumentality of light. There is no hint that the churches will fail on the earth and that some other divine interposition must take place to finish the mystery of the kingdom of God. This is in accord with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:
“Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo! I will be with you all the days, even unto the end of the world.”
The Spirit, through the churches and the gospel, will accomplish all the conquests that are to be accomplished and then Christ will return to raise the dead, judge the world, and wind up the affairs of his kingdom and to turn it over to the Father. We may count, therefore, the whole book of Revelation as a vision of ever-increasing light until by the gospel through the Spirit the whole world is flooded with light.
This vision represents our Lord, as a royal priest on his throne. The glory of his exalted state, and of the authority with which he is invested when understood by faith, dispels fear; though the saint is so imperfect, his voice comes:
“Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the Living One, and I was dead and behold I am alive for ever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades and I have the keys of David, with power to open so that none can shut, and power to shut so that none can open.”
To the despondent Christian, a vision of this exalted Christ is a sure cure of both his despondency and of his fear. It is a vision not of our Lord in the days of his humiliation when he had not where to lay his head, when he was emptied of the glory of his original state in heaven, but it is a vision of the risen, ascended, and exalted Jesus on the throne of the universe, and as his presence is felt in the churches. Through the Spirit the word preached by the churches is the power of God unto salvation. The things which are, were: First, the revelation of our glorified Lord, in his relation to the churches and pastors, and their consequent mission as light-bearers. As we pray and study and have faith, the assurance will settle upon our hearts that whatever may be the temporary ebbs and flows, the outcome will be that all the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ through the work of the churches and the preachers, and that earthly imperfections are more than compensated for by the great power of God from the heavenly throne of our Lord, keeping the lamps filled with oil and trimmed and burning.
John was on the island Patmos placed there under the reign of Domitian. And there he saw and wrote all that follows in a single setting. Many prophets received a series of prophesies, but John receives a single vision of the end time. He is positioned so that he is only a short distance from Asia and the seven churches on the east, along with Jerusalem and the land of Canaan and Antioch. Then to the west, he had Rome, Italy, and all Europe; to the south, he had Alexandria and the Nile with its outlets, Egypt, and all Africa; and to the north, He had Constantinople. There he had all the three parts of the known world associated with all Christendom before his eyes. Patmos serves as an observatory for the apostle.
There he finds himself, in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. This prophetic vision so overwhelmed him with power filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, that the world around seemed to disappear. He is engulfed, wholly taken up with spiritual and divine. What follows is one single, connected vision, which St. John saw in one day; and therefore, he that would understand it should carry his thought straight on through the whole, without interruption. Some believe the Lord's day refers to the day our Lord rose from the dead, others believe John was transported to see the Day of the Lord.
John is facing the east, probably thinking about his ministry, and also the persecuted Church, when he heard behind a great voice, as of a trumpet, a sound usually associated with the proclamation of the entrance of the great King announcing his victory over all his enemies. The voice commands John, to write down what He sees and hears, then send the revelation to the Churches of Asia Minor. So, all the Revelation is but one book: the whole book was sent to them all. Mr. Thomas Smith, who in the year 1671 travelled through all these cities, observes, that from Ephesus to Smyrna is 46 miles; from Smyrna to Pergamos, 64; from Pergamos to Thyatira, 48; from Thyatira to Sardis, 33; from Sardis to Philadelphia,27; from Philadelphia to Laodicea, 42 miles.
John turns to see where the voice is coming from, and being turned, he saw the vision presented itself gradually. First, he saw the golden candlesticks, and then, in the midst of the candlesticks, which were placed in a circle, he saw one like a son of man. That is, he saw a human form. Jesus Christ presents himself as the head of his church. John next observed that our Lord’s garment. He was clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt with a golden girdle, similar to those worn by Jewish high priests. His were marks of royal dignity, the girdle breast was an emblem of solemn rest. It seems that the apostle having seen all this, looked up to behold the face of our Lord: but was beat back by the appearance of his flaming eyes. He describes his feet, then receiving strength raises his eyes to see the stars in his right hand, and the sword coming out of his mouth, then he "fell at his feet as dead." He saw His head and his hair, glowing white as white wool; wool is commonly supposed to be an emblem of eternity and white speaks of his spotless purity. John saw his eyes as a flame of fire, piercing through all things and a token of his omniscience. And his feet like fine brass denoting his stability and strength. John heard his voice; a voice of comfort of his friends, and a voice of terror of his enemies. Then John noticed His hands. And Jesus the head of the Church had in his right hand seven stars under his divine favor and powerful protection. Besides that, John saw that out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, signifying his justice and righteous anger, and his countenance was as the sun shining in its strength. John fell at his feet as dead. John’s human nature was not able to sustain so glorious an appearance. St. John who before his Lord suffered had been so intimate with him, leaning on his breast, and lying in on his bosom. Yet now, near seventy years after, the aged apostle is by one glance struck to the ground. What a glory must this be! Ye sinners, be afraid cleanse your hands: purify your hearts. Ye saints, be humble, prepare: rejoice.
Yet when John has no power to stand, Jesus lays his right hand upon me. It’s the same hand holding the seven stars. His look seemed to terrify, but his speech strengthens. John recognized his well-known master as Jesus strengthen and encouraged him. Jesus speaks of his own glory, without any veil, in plain and direct terms. He is the first and the last. He is the one, and eternal God, who is from everlasting to everlasting who has the keys of death and of hades. Christ has all power over the living and dead.
John must write the things which thou hast seen-The description of the glorified Christ, Re 1:11-18. And which are-The instructions relating to the present state of the seven churches. These are written, Re 1:20-3:22. And which shall be hereafter-To the end of the world; written, Re 4:1 and the end of the book. “Seeing Him as He is” prepared John for his new assignment. First, John realizes that Christ’s Victory is Sure. Jesus is no longer bruised or battered. He is Almighty.
Christ’s Victory Was Sure – Tribulation, hardships and persecution can cause us to feel hopeless during the present season. Evil seems to triumph; injustice seems to run rampant. The church in John’s day looked like it would be destroyed. There was no hope for its survival. The Emperor Domitian was trying to stamp out church and the memory of Jesus. All the other apostles were dead, and John was banished on the isle of Patmos. He sees Christ as He is, no longer battled and bruised. No longer blood and bowed. His body is not the same, his voice has changed, his eyes and his hands are changed. He is unlimited in power and authority. He is no longer hidden by a veil of flesh…He is the Almighty. You and I are serving a victorious King. He is in total control. Not only was Christ’s victory sure, His church is secure.
Christ’s Church is Secure – The seven churches who were confused about who they were. Each church had distorted view of itself. Some thought they were poor and they were rich, while others thought they were rich, but they were poor. Some only had a few things that remain, but they were still secured because of who they belong to. The church was begun by Christ, sustained by Christ and were in His presence. The Roman Empire, the anti-Christ, nor the Devil himself can destroy a church held together by the presence of God. John may be worried, distressed and anxious about the future of the Church, but Jesus says, “I got this!” It might look bad, but we are going to make it. Though these churches have made mistakes, allowed false prophets, got weak in faith and even tolerated Jezebel, but God’s got this! Jesus himself is in the midst of His Church. Mt 16:18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Evil will not always win and trouble will not last always! The Church is Secure.
The seven candlesticks are seven churches, though they are golden, yet none of them has light of itself; All that they are and shall be comes from Christ. They receive from Christ the light of truth, holiness, comfort, that it may shine to all around them. Not one church was in competition with the other. Jesus Christ has given to each one its place, and space and assignment. He is in the midst of all of them.
Christ’s Messengers will Endure – The seven angels, messengers, preachers or pastors are in his hand. Jesus himself explains the mystery. The seven stars are angels of the seven churches. In each church there was one pastor or ruling minister, who had the peculiar care over that flock. The prosperity of that congregation in a great measure depended on Him. He was to answer for all those souls at the judgment seat of Christ. Notice how they resembled each other though they may differ in magnitude, brightness, and influence, they are all in His hand. Each one was called by Him, appointed by Him and equipped by Him. Some may appear more gifted or anointed or talented, all are in his hands. There is no need to compare ourselves with ourselves or measure ourselves by ourselves, we are in his hand. When your time of increase comes, He knows where you are!
These things should encourage all of us that He alone is the great support of his ministering servants and directs their various situations and controls every motion of the churches. He alone walks among of the seven golden lamps fills each with his presence. He alone performs his particular inspection over them and knows how to guide them.
When the revival fires burn low, the membership seems to scatter, the funds are low, the assessments high, we can feel overwhelmed. It is good to know that Christ was completely victorious. His victory is sure, His church is secure, and so every one of this messenger will endure. We must rise up with a new assurance. We are his servants, called by him, empowered by him and we are going to make it.
1Jo 4:4 ¶ Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
But as for you, my dearly beloved children in Christ, you will make it because of who you belong to. You have overcome them. Their assaults have been many, confusion, pestilence attacks, false teachers, yet you are still standing. Why? Because that Spirit of God, which is in you and hath taken upon himself your safeguard. He is greater and more powerful, than that Wicked One, which stirs himself to do you harm. Satan has been constantly working to do mischief to God and his Church. We are still standing because the greater one lives in us.