Big Idea: A Church without Love is Weighed (and Found Wanting)
Intro: Well morning friends, visitors and those joining online. My name is Matt Johnson and today we get into the safe and more predictible part of Revelation – the seven letters to the seven churches. Yet, in some ways this is probably the bit that we need to hear and understand the most – because without holiness – no one will see the Lord. Let’s pray…
Well last week I explained THE SEVENFOLD LAMPSTAND in Revelation 1 is most probably a Jewish menorah. (Slide 2) This was a theologically significant object in Judaism. And last week, Jesus likened the seven churches to the Menorah Lampstand.
Now last week we saw the Menorah lampstand was linked to a prophecy in Zechariah 4. Today, I want to suggest the Menorah is also linked to a story in Daniel 5. But this link is more tenuous than Revelations link to Daniel 7, Daniel 10 or Zechariah 4. Yett nonetheless, (after weighing all the evidence) I believe there is probably a small link between the Menorah in Revelation 2 and Daniel 5.
Let me show you what Daniel 5 says (Slide 3 – Dan.5:5 & 25). Now I’m about 98% sure the Lampstand in Daniel 5 is the Menorah Lampstand. But the middle chapters of Daniel are written in Aramaic, not Hebrew. So the Lampstand in Daniel 5 is not “MENORAH”. It’s just called “THE LAMPSTAND” in an Aramaic word. So I spent some time last Sunday talking to Pieter Reynders (in our church) who used to lecture in Hebrew, Aramaic and ancient Semitic ;languages. My question was – what is the liklihood that this lampstand in Daniel 5 is the Menorah?
What we observed in Daniel 5 is that King Belshazzar is using the plates and cups out of God’s temple (Dan.5:2). So if Belshazzar is using these holy items for a party, there is also a very good chance that he has pilfered the Menorah Lampstand. (I mean who leaves a 35kg gold statement piece like the Menorah, sitting in storage).
What’s more Pieter noted that in Aramaic the DEFINITE ARTICLE has been attached to the word lampstand. So its not just a lampstand. Its “THE LAMPSTAND.” And in Jewish thinking “the Lampstand” equalled the Menorah. Finally, why include the detail that the hand wrote on the wall – opposite the lampstand, unless that lampstand was somehow significant to the story.
So Pieter and I both concluded it is probably the Menorah. The next question is whether there is any links between the Menorah in Daniel 5 and in Revelation 1, 2 & 3. The first thing I noticed was that Daniel 5 and Revelation 2 & 3 – address the same problem; the holy and the mundane are being mixed together. Then I noticed the warning in Daniel 5 is much the same as the warning in Revelation 2 & 3. (Slide 4). Basically, one by one Jesus tells at least 5 of the 7 churches Mene Mene Tekel Parsin. Finally, I also noticed the key verses in Daniel 5 are very similar to the opening verses in Revelation 2. Let me show you (Slide 5; Dan.5:23 & Rev.2:1).
Now I admit this link to Daniel 5 is more TENUOUS than previous links to Daniel 7 and Daniel 10. But nonetheless, I think there is a real legitimate echo of – “MENE, MENE TEKEL PARSIN” – in Revelation 2 & 3. The church’s days are numbered because Jesus will soon return. So the church is WEIGHED and found WANTING primarily because we’ve blurred the lines between holy and profane – (just like Belshazzar). We’ve mixed the holy with the profane – without recognizing the danger…
Point 1: Jesus’ Message for the 7 Churches is Mene, Mene Tekel, Parsin
Show: Rev.2:1 (READ)
Explain: Well as we begin let me remind you the Menorah Lampstand represents the seven churches. Jesus is literally in the mdist of the churches and that is why they need to be holy because he is holy.
The next thing to remember is that the seven churches in Revelation are 7 histiorical churches. (Slide 5 – Map). Now in Revelation 2 & 3, – Jesus will address each church – one by one – in CLOCKWISE ORDER beginning with Ephesus. But Jesus’ message for each individual church is actually a message for all Christian churches. I couldn’t find the exact quote on the internet (this week), but I know an early church father (I THINK IRENAEUS) once said; just as the apostle Paul addressed seven different churches – Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians & Thessalonians, with a message relevant for all churches; so the Apostle John addresses 7 churches, with a message relevant for all churches. I think this is correct. Look at verse 7. (Slide 5 – Rev.1:7).
Notice the focus on “WHOEVER” and “CHURCHES” plural. The idea is – if you see similarities between these churches and yourself – 1) HEED the warnings and 2) BE BLESSED by the encouragements. These letters apply to all churches…
But let me say there is nothing here to justify the idea that these seven churches represent seven different periods of time (as Dispensationalists often claim). Dispensational Pre-Millennial Christians (who have a particular way of understanding Revelation) divide all of human history from Adam until Jesus’ return into 7 periods of time, which they call dispensations. Hence the name dispensational. They then claim that in each dispensation God relates to people in a slightly different way. Now let me say – there is nothing in the Bible (in my opinion) to support the idea that Goid relates to human beings in 7 different ways across human history.
The only division in the Bible where God CLEARLY changes the way He relates to man is between Old Covenant and New Covenant. But Dispensationalists who believe there are 7 different dispensations in history, often also interpret the 7 churches in Revelation symbolically as representing 7 different time periods in church history. (Slide 6).
Now I find this incredibly ironic, because dispensational Christians generally pride themselves as being the only Christians who always interpret Revelation literally. But the minute you interpret the seven churches as the seven ages of church history your now interpreting Revelation symbolicly or allegorically. That’s the very thing Dispensationalists claim they never do. What’s more, I believe there is absolutely nothing in Revelation or Scripture – ZERO, ZIP, NADa – to warrant this symbolic interpretation. It is pure allegory.
Now let me again say – I think you can be a born-again Christian and be A-Millennial, Pre-Millennial and even Dispensational. There are sincere Jesus following Christians in each camp and we need to show one another some grace. This is really important. But I want to point out that for all interpreters of Revelation whether A-Millennial., Pre-Millennial or Dispensational we need to be very honest about how we are interpreting this book. Dispensationalists can’t accuse others of interpreting Revelation allegorically if they are doing the same thing. My principle for Revelation is nether literal or symbolic, but allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. So I’d say that throughout church history there are some churches that look like Ephesus and some churches that look like Laodicea, or Smyrna etc etc. The 7 churches are not 7 dispensations, they are just 7 churches…
Apply: But in these 7 letters we actually get a preview of the final judgment. When Jesus returns, we are going to be WEIGHED on God’s scales (just like these 7 churches) and we really don’t want to be found WANTING. Jesus shows us (in advance) how he judges, so that we have time to get our house in order.
Now in these 7 letters – Jesus main focus is on holiness. Look again at verse 1 (READ; Rev.2:1). Jesus walking amongst the churches raises holiness issues, because Jesus is holy. This takes us back to the HOLINESS CODE in Leviticus. Let me show you; (Slide 9 – Lev.26:11-12). Notice the similarity. Throughout Leviticus the Jews are urged to live holy lives, that are different to the surrounding nations because God intends to walk and dwell among them. Because God is holy, they must also be holy. Now Jesus is walking and dwelling among his churches – which means we must be holy as Jesus is holy. Paul says a similar thing in 2 Corinthians 6 (Slide 10 – 2Cor.6:16-17).
Now I’d say – this is the BIG MAIN POINT to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 – “Come out from them and be separate.” 1) Although the church needs to be in the world for the sake of evangelism, 2) the church needs to remain holy and different to the world – especially as things go from bad to worse (in the last days). The Bible says “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb.12:14) If we compromise holiness for the sake of evangelism (or simply because we love the world) we will be in trouble. The letters to the seven churches are not about church history, they are about church holiness – because without holiness no one will see the Lord – face to face.
Point 2: Jesus commends the Ephesus Church for being Orthodox
Show: Rev.2:2-3 & 6 (READ)
Explain: Well before Jesus focuses on the NEGATIVES, he speaks about the POSITIVES, As I was growing up – my Dad used to say – if you’ve got to rebuke someone, always begin with the positives, before you get to the negatives – that way you’ll get a more receptive hearing when it comes to the hard stuff. (Just a little bit of wisdom for relationships for those who have ears to hear). Always lead with the positives…
Anwyay, Jesus begins by commending this church for both their moral and theological orthodoxy. Despite the growing persecution in Turkey – the church has continued in good deeds, hard work and perseverance. But the real commendation comes in the second half of verse 2. It says “I know you cannot tolerate wicked men and that you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and have found them false. PLEASE NOTICE 1) Jesus commends this church – for NOT being tolerant. 2) Jesus commends this church because they have NOT TOLERATED moral or theological heresy.
Now when I talk about orthodoxy – I’m not talking about the Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox church. The word “ORTHODOX” simply means in line with Scripture. MORAL ORTHODOXY means we accept that what the Bible calls sin, is sin. Theological orthodoxy means our Christian worldview is in line with the Bible on all matters. Deviation from the Bible is called heterodoxy or heresy.
So the first thing Jesus commends is the Ephesian churches moral orthodoxy. The church does not tolerate WICKED MEN.But what do we mean by wicked? These days the world calls good – bad and bad – good. Aborting babies and having sex with anyone I want, whenever I want – is now considered moral. The world used to define morality by saying – so long as your not hurting anyone else – it’s moral. But you can’t claim your not hurting anyone – when you’re aborting a baby or euthanizing a sick person. So what is moral?
Jesus is clear – 1) that obeying the Bible is moral and 2) disobeying the Bible is immoral or wicked. Now that means you need to know what the Bible says about morality before you become a Christian, because Christians obey the Bible.
Of course, for the sake of evangelism – the church does have an open-door policy to absolutely everyone including the wicked. Everyone needs to hear the gospel. (GOSPEL) Everyone needs to understand that Jesus took the punishment for their sins when he died on the cross. Jesus died in your place for your sins because he loves you. This means if you believe in Jesus and begin to obey Jesus you will be saved (and you will get to go to heaven, rather than hell). And that offer is on the table for everyone here today – no matter who you are or what you’ve done. If you believe in Jesus and repent of your sin – God will save you. But each person needs to decide for themselves whether they will trust Jesus and repent, or not.
If a person refuses to trust Jesus and repent – there comes a point where they can no longer be a part of the church, otherwise A) grace towards sinners becomes B) tolerance.of sin. Sadly, some people who call themselves Christians (want to continue life in blatant sin) and they say things like 1) “do not judge” or 2) “you’ve got to be more tolerant” or 3) “aren’t you meant to love everyone?” But grace is not tolerance. GRACE loves. TOLERANCE is indifferent.
So please note (in verse 6) Jesus also commends the church for their HATE. The church is commended for HATING the practices of the Nicolatians, which Jesus also hates. HATE the sin. LOVE the sinner enough to call them to repent. Despite what the world says there are some things orthodox Christians must hate. I hate abortion. I hate domestic violence and I hate paedophilia. We are meant to HATE everything the Bible calls sin. The more the church tolerates sin AND condones sin – the less brightly the Menorah light of God shines in the world. And the Menorah must shine – until Jesus returns.
Apply: Sadly, in the last week or two we’ve seen the ANGLICAN CHURCH in England has no moral compass. At Lambeth, the church could not articulate a biblical position on sexuality, gender or basic morality. There is almost no light left in the Anglican church of England. Its now useless. It’s bankruptcy was on display last week for all to see. Thankfully, the Church in Ephesus is NOT like the Church of England.
But the church in Ephesus is also commended for their theological orthodoxy. It says they have TESTED those who claim to be apostles and found them false. Now the way we test Bible teachers is by comparing what they are saying – against the truth of the Bible and by comparing their life – against the truth of the Bible. If there is inconsistency in teaching or life – they are a false teacher.
Now I’d almost say we MUST be in the last days because the world is now full of FALSE APOSTLES and FALSE TEACHERS. Lots of mega-Church pastors now claim to be apostles (AND I’d say they’re all liars). I know some Pentecostal churches believe the fivefold ministry in Ephesians 4 (of apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists) is still alive today. But Id say every pastor who claims to be an APOSTLE is simply doing a power grab, plain and simple. Have a look with me at Revelation 21:14 (SLIDE 13 -Rev.21:10). Now how many apostles make up the foundation of the New Jerusalem (PAUSE) That’s right 12! Not 17, Not 68. 12. When JOSEPH SMITH of the Mormons, or LEE MAN HEE of the Shincheonji church in Korea or even BILL JOHNSON of Bethel Church California claim to have special words from God and elevate themselves to the status of an apostle – its time to walk away. Find a church that sticks with the teaching of the 12 apostles – adding nothing and subtracting nothing – and when you are eventually weighed by Jesus – you will not be found wanting. Jesus commends the church in Ephesus because they have maintained their moral orthodoxy and theological orthodoxy. BUT….
Point 3: Jesus rebukes the Church in Ephesus for their lack of Love
Show: Rev.2:4-5 (READ)
Explain: Well OUR FIRST LOVE as Christians is simply our love for God, for saving us. “OUR FIRST LOVE” as Christians is simply that moment where God takes out our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. The technical word is regeneration. Through the gospel we actually fall in love with God (and Jesus) for saving us AND we express that love, by loving our neighbor as ourslves. But Jesus now rebukes the church in Ephesus because they have let go of this love. Although they are incredibly orthodox – their hearts are dead.
This takes us back to God’s words in 1 Corinthians 13. Even if 1) we can pray in tongues, and 2) have faith to move mountains and 3) we are morally and theologically orthodox – WITHOUT LOVE – we are nothing but a clanging gong and a resounding cymbal. The first fruit of the Holy Spirit is not orthodoxy, but love. And the greatest proposition when it comes to faith, hope and love – is still love.
Now I believe – that of all the churches in the New Testament – EPHESUS probably had the best teaching. The Apostle Paul spent more than 2 years teaching the church in Ephesus. Then Paul sent his number 1 student Timothy to lead the church in Ephesus. And we know that apart from his imprisonment in Patmos – the apostle John spent most of ministry in and around Ephesus. So the church in Ephesus probably prided themselves on their moral and theological purity. But the more we grow in biblical knowledge and orthodoxy – the more we need to watch out for pride and self-righteounes. Pride and self-righteous orthodoxy destroys love. So Jesus rebukes the church in Ephesus, because although they are truly orthodox, their hearts towards God and neighbor have grown cold.
Now what sort of church is like Ephesus – big on theology and orthodoxy, but often light on love.
Apply: I’d say 1) FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCHES in the American south and 2) REFORMED EVANGELICAL CHURCHES elsewhere are probably close at times to the failure of the church in Ephesus. We get big on orthodoxy and biblical faithfulness – but often light on real, practical love. We need to remember Jesus didn’t say “the world will know you are my disciples if you are theologically orthodox.” No! Jesus said “the world will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”
Now I am a huge advocate for moral and theological orthodoxy – because it is desperately lacking in the modern Christian church. But without real love for God (and love for our neighbor) dry orthodoxy very easily becomes proud, judgmental and self-righteous in its attitude to others. This is not love. So Jesus says that if the Church in Ephesus does not demonstrate a truly regenerate heart (that really loves God) – Jesus will come and remove them from the Menorah Lampstand. That’s a real warning. MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN. The problem is the closer we get to the last days – the more we are going to have to HARDEN OUR RESOLVE and FIGHT for moral and theological orthodoxy. But as we harden our resolve, we cannot afford to harden our hearts. I don’t think the church fully comprehends how hard this fight for truth and fight for love is going to become.
I guess the question for us all to ponder is this: if Jesus put you on the scales and began to weigh your life right now – would you be founding wanting on the truth side or found wanting on the love side. (PAUSE) Much of mature Christianity is about getting two conflicting things right – SIMULTANEOUSLY. God is three and God is one. Jesus is fully God and fully man. You must remain soft in your heart and yet hard and unflinching with the truth. Getting one side of the equation right – is not enough. MENE, MENE TEKEL PARSIN. Let us address our errors (and repent ofour mistales) so that we may one day soon truly eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God.