Revelation 007 – Misplaced PrioritiesRevelation 2:4-7 • Dr. Andy Woods • July 15, 2018 • Revelation
Misplaced Priorities 7-15-18
Good morning everybody. If we could take our Bibles and open them to the Book of Revelation, chapter 2, God willing looking at verses 4-7 this morning, finishing up as the Lord allows it our study of the church at Ephesus as Jesus addresses that church. The title of our message this morning is Misplaced Priorities. And if you’re tracking along with us through the Book of Revelation you know that we began this series by sort of introducing the book to you, who wrote it, where it was written from, etc. We have gone through what’s called the prologue or the introduction of the book, verses 1-8. And then we entered the first major section of the book where John is told to write down the things that he has seen. And that’s where John, the apostle, on Patmos in the first century gives us a tremendous description of the glorified Christ, chapter 1.
And from there, beginning last week I think it was we moved into part two of the book where John is told to write down the things that are and that would consist of chapters 2 and 3 as John is addressing the seven letters to the seven churches. Jesus, writing a letter to each church. There are seven churches represented and each letter, as I’ll be showing you, is going to follow this eight-part pattern. We talked about that eight part pattern last week but we began with the first letter, the letter to the church at Ephesus.
Here is sort of the outline that we’re following as we examine what Jesus said to that first century church. First of all you have the destination, the church, of course is Ephesus. Some of the most well-known churches of the first century, most likely it was until Rome really got its footing, the most influential church, a church that Paul himself had started and established on his third missionary journey.
And from there we got a description of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ describes Himself as the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks amongst the seven golden lampstands who are the churches. And from there Jesus to every church gives a word of commendation. In other words, He explains to each church what they are doing correctly before He brings a word of rebuke. And the commendation to the church at Ephesus is in verses 2 and 3, and then we’ll skip verses 4 and 5 and look at verse 6. And then after we’re in verse 6 we’ll go back to verses 4 and 5. How’s that for confusing.
But when you take verses 2 and 3 and verse 6 and you put them together Jesus commends this church for four things. Number one, their deeds. Number two, their discernment. They put to the test those that claim to be apostles and found them to be false teachers and liars. Jesus never gets upset at this church for doing that. In fact, that’s basic biblical discernment that all Christians are expected to do regularly. We are called upon to screen all things we hear, including words from this pulpit, through the lens of God’s Word to determine truth from error. In fact, John, in his other book, 1 John 4:1 will say this: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” why? “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” I can’t think of a verse that’s more appropriate for our times than that one.
The Scripture is complete, the Scripture cannot lie to you so if someone contradicts the Scripture they have to not be speaking from God. And so this was a discerning church. They weren’t open to everything and certain of nothing as so many people today are. And you’ll notice that Jesus commends them for it, verse 2. He also commends them for their perseverance. These were people toiling away for the cause of Christ. These were people who were giving their lives away for the cause of Christ, verse 3; toil and perseverance. [Verse 2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”]
Jesus commends them that, and notice, if you will verse 6, this may surprise you as it surprised me the first time I saw this; Jesus commends them for a fourth thing which is their holy hatred. They hated the things that God hated. And notice, if you will, what Jesus says to this church in verse 6, “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Now who are these Nicolaitans? In fact, when you study commentaries on the Book of Revelation what you’ll discover on this is everybody has an opinion but there’s not a lot of proof that they use to back up their opinion. I don’t think with any certainty we can know who the Nicolaitans are; some have speculated that this was a group of people that sort of began with one of the deacons named Nicholas. You’ll find his name mentioned in Acts 6:5 and people will say well, this is a group of people that started off with good teaching but sort of disintegrated into licentiousness. [Acts 6:5, “The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.”]
That’s an interesting theory but nobody really knows that’s true, it’s just someone’s speculation. So we really don’t know exactly who the Nicolaitans are. So who do I think they are? Well, I think the best way to understand who the Nicolaitans are is to actually look at the etymology or the meaning of the word Nicolaitan. Nicolaitan is a compound word which means two words making up one word. The word “Nico” means victory, as in Nike, as in the shoe company. It gets its name from Nike, Nico victory and the word Laitan means laity of the people, victory over the people; superiority over the people.
So who were the Nicolaitans? I think the Nicolaitans were is a group of people who set themselves up as a priesthood between the people and God, and they began to tell the people that you really can’t understand God and you can’t understand God’s Word without us because we have the secret knowledge that’s not accessible to everyone. You might even call the Nicolaitans sort of an early Gnosticism. Gnostic means the secret knowledge, you’ve got to go through us and our system to get through. That’s who the Nicolaitans were.
That’s not just my opinion. I found this quote from Grant R. Jeffrey in his book the Apocalypse, and he says, “There is a lot of disagreement about who these Nicolaitans were… Christ created a universal ‘holy priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:5) where every believer is a priest. The Nicolaitans attempted to re-create the hierarchy of the Old Testament priesthood. They sought to establish a priestly authority over laymen.” The laity. “The Greek word is derived from Nike meaning ‘victory’ and Laos meaning ‘people.’ It suggests a group of people who seek to elevate themselves into a special class of priesthood over other Christians. Jesus told us in 1 Timothy 2:5: ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.’ Such men sought the sole right to interpret the Scriptures for other Christians. Centuries later, after Emperor Constantine‘s conversion, this Nicolaitan heresy produced the Babylonian hierarchy of priests, leading to the spiritual “dark ages“ of the medieval period.” [Apocalypse: The Coming Judgment of the Nations, p. 72-73.]
You have to understand this that prior to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century most of Christendom was captured by this philosophy. In fact, the Bible was not even accessible to the common person. We just heard a testimony of translating the Bible into the language of the common man. That wasn’t even a goal prior to the Protestant Reformation. The priests looked at themselves as the sole interpreters of the Word of God; the people had no access to the Bible so how could the words of the priest even be tested and why did this situation arise? Most likely because of what was happening here at Ephesus called the “deeds of the Nicolaitans.”
In fact, you might be surprised to discover that you are already a priest. Did you know that? You don’t need a priest because you are a priest. How do I know that? We saw that earlier in the Book of Revelation, chapter 1, verse 6, “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—[to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”] Chapter 5, verse 10, which we’ll get to eventually, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests….” You already have access to God through Jesus Christ. You need not go through some sort of manmade system to get to God. And yet the Nicolaitans denied this.
In fact, the Nicolaitans tried to, the best I can tell, reconstruct the Old Testament system. You know, in the prior age, the prior dispensation, not all of Israel was a priest. If you were a priest you had to come from which tribe? Levi. And you had to descend from whose lineage? Aaron’s. So a priest was a particular group within the nation. How different it is in our day where we are all priests. And so consequently over in 1 John 2:27, John’s other book, it says, “…you have no need for anyone to teach you. but His anointing teaches you all things.” Here at Sugar Land Bible Church I am not a priest; I am in my own personal life but I am not your priest. The elders believe that I have the gift of pastor-teacher which simply means the ability to explain what God has already said in a way you can understand it. But I’m not here giving you new truths; perhaps new insights into what God has already said but not new truths. I don’t represent myself as a priest. You don’t have to come through me to get to God.
And it’s interesting how few Christians really understand this. Many times people call the office and they say I want Andy to pray for such and such, as if I have some kind of channel that no one else has. Or sometimes we’re sitting around at meal time and nobody wants to pray; well, we’ll have Andy pray, he’s the priest. The fact of the matter is I may have a spiritual gift you don’t have but that doesn’t give me a special channel or any special access to God. You are already a priest. The Protestant Reformers calls this the priesthood of who? All believers. The Nicolaitans denied that. Roman Catholicism denies that. What was happening in the Middle Ages denied that.
And Jesus here commends the church at Ephesus because they hated, watch this very carefully, not the Nicolaitans themselves but the deeds of the Nicolaitans. God says I hate their deeds. It’s right there in verse 6. [Revelation 2:6, “’Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”] Now the deeds of Ephesus He loves, verse 2. [Verse 2, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;”] The world of the people God loves, “For God so loved the” what? “the world.” God doesn’t hate people. What He hates is the ideas and the sins related to those ideas that enslave the masses. Jesus says I hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans. It’s very clear here.
And I think we’ve developed such, kind of a cozy view of Jesus that we forget that Jesus hates certain things. Read Matthew 23 some time, the whole chapter. You’re going to see a side of Jesus that you probably will never see in other parts of the Bible. He’s not exactly the meek and mild Jesus there; the whole thing is a diatribe where He’s going after the teachings of the Pharisees. And let’s not forget that it was the meek and mild Jesus who went into the temple and saw how it had been sort of recreated to a place of merchandising, which misrepresented God, and how He over-turned the tables of the money changers. In fact, if I’m reading my Bible right Jesus did that twice, once at the beginning of His ministry and once at the end. Kind of a nice bracketing, if you will, of what Jesus Christ was all about.
Let’s not develop such a cozy cushy view of God and Jesus to the point where we forget that God Almighty hates… NOT people, but certain things. It’s very clear, He says I also hate them and you know what, Ephesus, you hate it as well. He never corrects them for this, He never condemns them for this, in fact, He commends it. In fact, in God… did you know this, that you have permission to hate certain things? I don’t know how a person can drive by… for example, planned parenthood, we have one of the greatest abortion mills, probably in the whole country, right here in Houston called (misguidedly) Planned Parenthood, baby killing around the clock, tax funded by the way. I don’t know how a person can drive by that and understand it and not hate what’s happening there. Not the people, not the people that are being victimized by all the false information, not these young women that are being told a bunch of lies but the actual deed itself. How could a child of God understand that and not hate it. I would say that such a person is not being responsive to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Paul himself hated certain things. Acts 17:16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” Does anything provoke you today? Does anything that’s taking place in our world, does it bother you? Is there some sort of internal consternation that happens. Don’t neglect that, don’t deny that, that’s the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Or how about David? You know David hated certain things. He said, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” [1 Samuel 17:26] David hated, not Goliath himself but what Goliath represented. Psalm 119:104 says, “From Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.” What does your Bible say? It says “be angry and do not sin.” [Ephesians 4:26, “”Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Well how can anger turn into sin? It turns into sin when the animosity you may feel against a sin is directed towards a person. That’s the problem. But as long as anger itself is directed towards things that rail against the knowledge of God, as a child of God it is a biblical expectation that we would hate such things. In fact, I’ll tell you what you love based on what you hate. If you love life and its sanctity then you automatically hate what is called the abortion mill around the clock here in the United States. And I could give many, many examples of this.
And so many of us are so calm and cool and reflective and are always smiling; I wonder if we’re really being sensitive to the ministry of the Holy Spirit because if something challenges what you love which should be the representations of God and His Word, then what should rise up within you is a holy hatred. And what did Jesus say to those at Ephesus? He doesn’t condemn them for it, He commends them for that. Their heart broke for the things that break God’s heart. He commends them for their deeds, for their discernment, for their perseverance, for their holy hatred.
But then He goes on and He begins to reveal to them something that’s not working within the church, something that’s very severe. And that’s where we back up from verse 6 back to verse 4 and we get the rebuke. Notice if you will, Revelation chapter 2 and verse 4, notice what it says here. “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” So all of the good things were happening. On the surface we would probably step back and call Ephesus a successful church. But Jesus says, “I know” remember what He says there back in verse 2, “I know,” I know the good and I know the bad and there’s something in this body that is destructive.
There is a virus there and the virus is of such a degree that I can’t simply ignore the virus because of all of the other good things that are taking place in Ephesus. So I have something “against you.” And what is it? They have left, not just their love but notice what it says, verse 4, the adjective “first” proton, their first love. The verb “left” kind of gives you the impression that this was not accidental but this is something that deliberately happened on their part. It was what we would call a slow leak. How do I know that? Because the church at Ephesus has quite a paper trail. In fact, thirty-five years later there was a book written to this church, called The Book of Ephesians, and these is no sign thirty-five years earlier, when Paul wrote that letter, that there was anything wrong in Ephesus. In fact, Paul had commended them, Ephesians 1:15, “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,” no love problem in Ephesus thirty-five years earlier.
But you see, sort of like a tire that’s punctured by a nail and yet the air doesn’t escape right away, you gradually over time start to recognize a problem. These folks had left their first love. What does that even mean, leaving your first love? Probably the best example I can think of is marriage. You know, you meet your life partner, you go down the road of dating, engagement, and the only thing you can think about is that other person. You can’t wait to be with that person; you can’t wait to be together, you spend every waking moment thinking about that person. Then you get married and life starts to happen, doesn’t it? Children are born, mortgage payments are due, careers take off, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. And somehow the business of life has eclipsed the former intimacy that you had with your marital partner.
I think that’s what happened to the church at Ephesus. I think they became so preoccupied with the good things they were doing, there were at least four, that somehow in the process the cord was snipped in the area of intimacy; activity replaced intimacy. I can’t tell you what an easy path that is to fall into, not only in marriage but in the Christian life. And what is Jesus Christ all about? What is the first love? What are the first things? It’s about a relationship. If you don’t have a relationship with God it doesn’t matter what you do for God. Doesn’t Jesus say that in Matthew 7:22-23 of who I think are unbelievers pleading their self-righteousness before God. “[Many will say to me in that day] “Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in Your name and cast out demons and in Your name perform many miracles.?” What would Jesus say, “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; [depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.]” You never had a relationship with Me and that is what I value over all things. Aren’t we the bride and He is the groom? Isn’t that the most intimate human relationship analogized to our relationship to the Lord? And isn’t it interesting how that can be eclipsed so fast through activities that on the surface are very good and deserve commendation but they’ve eclipsed the first thing, the first love.
What did Ephesus forget? The “first love.” What did Ephesus forget? They forgot that being precedes doing. Being with God is more significant than doing things for God. In fact, John, in his other book, records the words of Christ in John 15:1-8 where Jesus in the Upper Room begins to talk about the vine and the branches. What does the branch do? The branch “abides,” the Greek word men.
[John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”]
What does the branch do? The branch “abides,” the Greek word menō, abides in the vine and what happens is the fruit comes naturally, doesn’t it. It comes spontaneously, it comes organically. Producing the fruit was never the goal. What was the goal was the abiding. But isn’t it interesting how fast our eyes are taken off the first things of abiding, we get our eyes on the fruit and if you’re not careful what you’ll find yourself doing in the Christian life is you’re doing a bunch of stuff for God but you’re no longer abiding. Activity has replaced intimacy. And believe me folks, the Bible is pro good works but good works are always to flow out of the abundance of our relationship with God. They were never designed to eclipse our relationship with God and anything we place before God, even something as benign as good works becomes a what? It becomes an idol.
And what happens if you start trying to produce fruit for God over time, not immediately but suddenly you find yourself doing it through your own strength. You do it through your own power. You try to get your flesh to try harder. And Jesus says you’ve got your priorities out of order. I never called you to produce fruit. I called you to bear fruit; bearing fruit and producing fruit are two completely different things. Bearing fruit comes from the priority of intimacy with God; the fruit comes naturally. So many of us, and I have gone down this road many times in my Christian life where the focus is on production, not Jesus. And although there were some good things happening here in Ephesus, likely the most influential church of the first century, Jesus says this is not right, I have something against you.
In other words, verses 2 and 3 and 6, those four things, deeds, discernment, perseverance, holy hatred, had eclipsed verse 4, intimacy with Christ. And so what follows is number five on our outline, an exhortation to change. Jesus never pulls the plug on any church without giving them a specific warning. And notice what He says there at the beginning of verse 5, ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first;” He gives them here three verbs which are in the imperative mood meaning these are commands. Something to do, three things, you want to correct the ship then do these three things.
Number one, first verb is remember, “remember from where you have fallen,” go back to the honeymoon period, recollect, reflect what it was first like when you fell in love with Christ. I mean, all of these wonderful activities, that’s not what you need right now; what you need is to go back to first things, before the stresses of life drove a wedge between you and Jesus Christ. You need to go back to that before this tire started to leak. And this is the significance of journaling, keeping a diary, keeping photographs, anything it takes to recollect what it was once like.
You know, Dr. Jim McGowan and myself, on one of our recent pastor’s points of view did a study of American history, the Christian origins of America and how important a study is like that because unless you compare that to where we are now you have no incentive to repent. National repentance takes place through a national recollection of history. That’s how it always works in God, that’s how it works in your personal life. “Remember from where you have fallen.”
Verb number 2 is to repent. Now there’s a word, to quote OB1 Ben Canova, that I haven’t heard for a long, long, long time, I just saw that movie, by the way I’m not promoting it, a long, long time. What does that word “repent” even mean? The people that use it today, most of them don’t even know what it means. What does it mean to repent? It’s the noun metanoia, it’s the verb metanoeō, it’s a compound word meaning two words making up one word.
The first part of it is meta, you recognize the word meta, it means to change, doesn’t it, as in metamorphosis, metabolism, change your diet, you’re eating something it’s changing within your body, sadly people get the bad news that their cancer has metastasized, in other words it’s changed from one part of the body to another. Meta means to change and it’s connected to the word noaio where we get the word notion or idea. Ideas come from where? The mind. In fact, from that word, noaio we get the noun nous in Greek which means mind or understanding.
And you put those two words together and what it means is to change your mind. It doesn’t even mean to feel bad; in fact in Greek there’s a completely different word for feeling bad, it’s called metamelomai, you recognize the word mellow as in telling kids you need to mellow out. Metamelomai is what Judas experienced through remorse. You’ll find a reference to that, he felt remorse when he betrayed Christ, Matthew 27:3. [Matthew 27:3, “Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.”]
But feeling bad is not the same thing as repenting. Judas felt really bad about what happened but he never repented. A lot of people feel bad because they’re caught but that’s not repentance. Repentance is an authentic change of mind. And folks, unless you’ve repented or changed your mind about Jesus you’re not even a Christian. The great Lewis Sperry Chafer said “repentance is a synonym” different word, same meaning, “for the word believe.”
When I was sixteen I heard the gospel, I quit trusting in myself and I trusted in Christ, which is what believe is, to trust, and simultaneously I repented, my mind changed. It changed from trust in self and works and religion to Christ. People say well should we believe or should we repent? Or should we repent or should we believe? The answer is yes. There cannot be authentic faith without repentance and if that’s never happened in a person’s life they’re not even a Christian.
But isn’t it interesting how the Lord loves us as we are but loves us too much to leave us as we are, where after a person is saved and the Holy Spirit comes inside of them then the Lord moves us from justification to sanctification. That’s our growth in Christ. And here you discover a lifestyle of repentance, not to get saved, that’s already happened, but to grow. You come to a Bible teaching church like this and the Holy Spirit uses it in the life of the believer and you walk out of these doors saying no, this part of my life is not right, that part of my life is not right, that part of my life is not right, I’m going to change my mind about those things and I’m going to ask the Lord this week to help me with these problems. I don’t have the strength in myself but the Holy Spirit is inside of me.
You don’t just repent to get saved; the Christian life is continual repentance because we drag a bunch of poor thought patterns and poor lifestyle choices and lifestyles with us from the unsaved life into the saved life. He’s not telling Ephesus to get saved; this was the greatest church of the first century. He’s dealing with them in the middle tense of their salvation, progressive sanctification. By the way, your growth as a Christian is determined on whether you’re going to have a lifestyle of repentance or not. Some Christians make great progress in this; others do not. And that’s what the Bema Seat Judgment of rewards is there to determine.
And by the way, your growth in Christ is not automatic. The Reformed Calvinist camp will tell you that, it’s their doctrine of the perseverance of the saints; if you’re in Christ you’re automatic persevere. I’m here to tell you that that is a bunch of nonsense that has been foisted on the body of Christ. If your sanctification or your growth in Christ was automatic why would Jesus tell this church to repent? It would just be a done deal, right, their growth? So as Christians we are called to believe in Christ for salvation but to grow in Christ is not just a single act of repentance or trust but it’s a continual lifestyle. That’s why Jesus tells five of these seven churches you need to repent or what? You’re going to lose something. What are you going to lose? Not your salvation but something valuable. There’s a lot of things that can be lost that are of value, that don’t necessarily relate to our arrival in heaven and the church at Ephesus is about to lose one. We’re going to discover what that is in just a moment.
Verb number one, remember. Verb number two, repent. Verb number three, repeat. Now it doesn’t say “repeat” but I just summed it up, it says do the things you did at first. That’s another way of saying repeat. These are action items. Go back to the first deeds. It’s interesting how interested Jesus is in deeds; He commends Ephesus for their deeds, verse 2. He condemns Ephesus for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, verse 6. Then he tells them in repentance you’ve got to go back to the first deeds, verse 5. What first deeds is he talking about? How could you explain this? I don’t even know if I have an answer to this. What first deeds is it that they’re supposed to go back to? I do have a theory though. I think it’s the Lord’s table. What does the Lord’s table do? What did Jesus say concerning the Lord’s table? Do this “in remembrance of Me.”
What is the Lord’s table? Why do we do this once a month here at Sugar Land Bible Church? Is it just another empty ritual within Christendom? No, the Lord’s table, as you well know, is designed to trigger your memory of what Jesus did. The sacrifice that He made for you and for me, the bread represents His body that was sacrificed in our behalf, the cup represents His blood that was spilled on our behalf and what does that whole ritual do? It’s for the believer. It’s a remembrance of what Jesus has done for us. And I tell you, you live a life thinking about that, which is what the Lord’s Table is designed to produce in us and inculcate in us memory wise and you’re going to have a different week, I guarantee you, Monday through Saturday if the Lord’s Supper is a priority in your life on Sunday. That’s what brings you back to your first love, not going to another ritual, understanding intellectually what Jesus has done. That will cause you to fall in love with Jesus all over again. I mean, isn’t that what sacrifice does. I think of a lot of sacrifices my wife has made for me, and there’s been a lot, believe me. Thinking about that, reflecting upon that, what does that do? It causes me to love her all the more. It is His kindness, Romans 2, that leads us to repentance.
Sometimes what we need is not another help, fire, damnation sermon; sometimes what we need is just a simple reflection on the love of God. Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His love for us, that while we were yet sinners Christ” what? “died for us.” How can a person understand that and be calloused to it. It’s impossible. So go back to those things, go back to the first order of things that remind you of that first love. Number one, remember; number two, repent; number three, repeat or else what? Or else there’s a consequence. What’s the consequence? It’s the end of verse 5, “or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”
What does he say here in verse 5? I’m coming! Now is that the Second Coming, Revelation 19? That’s not the Second Coming in my opinion; that’s a personal private coming to this church in discipline. “I’m coming” He says, and what does it mean when He says I am coming to “remove your lampstand out of its place,” a lot of people say they’re going to lose their salvation. How could that be when John, in his other book, chapter 10, verses 27-29 tells us that we are in Christ’s hand, we are in the Father’s hand, we are in the double grip of grace and nothing can take us out. [John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;  and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”]
How could somebody compare that verse to this verse and say well, these folks are going to lose their salvation. Salvation is secure at initial repentance or changing one’s mind or believing in Christ. That’s never going to be revoked. But they can lose something of value, not necessarily related to salvation. And keep in mind who these lampstands are; they’re the churches, the seven churches, we saw that last week in chapter 1 verse 20. The Bible interprets itself. [Revelation 1:20, “…the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”] I’m going to remove your lampstand from its place, I’m going to remove your church from its place. Didn’t Jesus say that we are “the light of the world”?
Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”]
If all of that is true what does He mean when He says I’m coming to remove your lampstand from its place? I’m coming to the church and I’m taking away your sphere of influence. I’m taking away your lighthouse capacity. Keep in mind these words are written to Ephesus, the most influential church, most likely, of that whole era. And Jesus says I’m coming and I’m going to shut the whole thing down. I’m not going to take away your individual salvation but the witness that this church has been, the influence that this church has been, the light is about to be extinguished.
But doesn’t the good things they were doing outweigh the bad? Not in this case because God is relational; the first priority in God is a relationship to God. And if that gets jeopardized you lose your capacity to be the light bearer that God has called them to be. You know folks, there are Christians all over this country that God has taken and He hasn’t removed their names from the Book of Life but they’ve been put on the bench. And I know about being put on the bench as an ex-basketball player. You’re not in the starting five any more, you’re on the bench. You’re on the shelf. Yeah, you’re living a life, you’re going through the motions but you’re not going to be used in any meaningful capacity because you left your first love.
I made the point last week that all over Europe the light has gone out; the light is out in Europe. Oh, there’s little pockets of it that you can point to of faithful people but Europe was the cradle of the Protestant Reformation. Where would Christendom be without Europe. Look at the architecture in Europe. And yet tell me the condition of Christianity today in Europe. Christianity is probably less than 1% of the population. You say well that can’t happen in the United States can it? Folks, beloved, I’m not a prophet of doom and gloom but the light is already going out; it’s not a matter of it will go out, it’s being extinguished as we speak.
You say well, you’re pretty hopeless here. No I’m not because if you look at verse 5, “or else I am coming and will remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent.” Now here the verb “repent” switches into the subjunctive mood. We’ve moved from the imperative a command, to a subjunctive. You say well who cares? Subjunctive is the mood of possibility. In other words, maybe they’re going to repent, maybe they’re not. That’s what the verb tense and mood demands in the second use of repentance there in verse 5. In other words, there was still hope. The ship could be righted. And sadly what happened? You want to take a trip today to the church at Ephesus? What are you going to find? A pile of rocks in a predominantly Islamic part of the world.
This church, as much truth as it had, as great as it was, as many quality spiritual leaders were leading this church, the Lord pulled the plug. Did these people go to hell? No they did not! But the lighthouse got dimmed and believe me, it is DIM today. How many people today, in our world, are enslaved to Islamic doctrine in that part of the world, in complete and total spiritual darkness because these people, 2,000 years ago did not do what the Lord said. They didn’t remember, they didn’t repent, and they didn’t repeat. And that’s true folks, not just for the church at Ephesus, that’s true for any church in the United States of America, it’s true for your personal life, it’s true for my personal life. God help us, it’s true even at Sugar Land Bible Church. This is serious business here, folks; we’re not playing church.
And that’s why you have number 7, the exhortation to listen. Look at verse 7, “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” How frequently do you find the exhortation to listen in the Bible. I would be afraid to even find out. You know, the word “listen” or “hear” is the Hebrew word Shammah, it’s where we get the Hebrew word Shammah as a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4-7, a tremendous passage on the rearing of children. How does that passage begin? “Hear, O Israel.”
[Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”]
It’s interesting how frequently we are challenged to be listeners in the Word of God. James 1:19 says, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” now I hate that verse…. [laughter] because I’m always the last to listen, the first to speak, and the first to get upset. It’s almost like James, the Lord’s brother, knew what the sinful impulses in people were. You remember the story of Mary and Martha? The busy sister, Luke 10:38-42, Martha was distracted by all the preparations; she got so upset that her sister was not helping, she was listening to Christ, Lord, make her help me! And what does the Lord say? Mary has chosen the better way.
[Luke 10:38-42, “Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.  But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”  But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”]
Notice the word “chosen.” The two of you had a choice. You could either be a busy Christian or an [can’t understand word] Christian. Or better yet, you can be a Christian that’s intimate with Christ and your works, John 15:1-8, are produced with great business because you were first intimate with Christ. That’s what we ought to be doing; it’s not busy versus intimate, it’s intimate first which leads to right motivated business. She’s chosen the better way that will not be taken from her.
[John 15:1-8, ““I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”]
You know, one of the things that I’m afraid of as the pastor of this church is that this church would become a busy church. And we’ve got a lot of stuff going on here and a lot of it’s great but quite frankly if that becomes a substitute for listening and hearing the Word of God you don’t have church any more. If you are not in an environment where the Word of God is being taught faithfully, consistently verse by verse and being applied to a person’s life it doesn’t matter how many activities you have. That’s not even a church any more.
People kind of get mad at us, you know, because we put signs out front that say please keep it quiet during the worship service, things like that. Why do we do that? I mean, what kind of legalists are we? Because you have to have a place like this, for example, to hear the Word of God. That’s so important. How important it is to have a place come and simply to receive from God. No obligations are placed on you other than what you want to do out of the abundance of your relationship to God. And how that needs to be protected because your mind is under Satanic assault the rest of the week. Do you think that six straight days of a satanic assault on your mind can be erased through a twenty minute sermon with three points and a poem, where the pastor doesn’t get deep in the shallow water? How are you going to grow in that environment?
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [Revelation 2:7] As my mother used to say, and still does, “God gave you one mouth and two ears, use them in proportion.”
And finally, this letter concludes with an exhortation to the overcomers. Look at the second half of verse 7, “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’” Now you might recall from last week who the overcomers are. Is this people that strive and strain and prove themselves holy? Not at all, in fact, every Christian is an over-comer already. That’s your identity. The Book of Revelation is set up so that we would interpret phrases in the last Book of the Bible based on how those phrases are not explained in Revelation but explained elsewhere. John wrote another book, didn’t he? And he says, “For whatever is born of God” what? “overcomes the world.” [1 John 5:4, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.”]
And then he goes on, verse 5, and he says, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” If you are “in Christ” according to John’s own definition you’re already an overcomer. You’re on a fast track to glory. You can’t get much more of an overcomer than that. And beyond that you have all of the riches in Christ and the resources in Christ and everything necessary to live the kind of life that God would call us to live in this world.
So when you see the word “overcomer” in the Book of Revelation just substitute word “a born again Christian.” “To him who overcomes… will eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.” You see what Jesus is doing in the midst of their struggle? He’s comforting them with a prophecy of their future. He’s dragging in, bringing in if you will, information from Revelation 21 and 22, the eternal state, when sin exits the world and he’s comforting them in the present with an awareness of their future. And life can be lived if there’s hope. Scientists have looked at this and studied this, if a human being runs out of hope they run out of life. Animals are like that as well. And animal will fight longer and struggle more and let’s say in an environment where they’re drowning, if they have the hope of an immediate release or rescue.
But if hope disappears productivity in life itself disappears. That’s why a lot of people are telling me, Andy, you need to tone it down in this prophecy stuff. Tone it down! Well, the last time I checked Titus 2:13 says the rapture is “the blessed hope” of the church. [Titus 2:13, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”] Why would I tone that down? Quite frankly I think we need to tone it up because there are many people that are running out of hope in our world.
Our hope, according to 2 Peter 3:11 is the new heavens and a new earth. [2 Peter 3:11, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.”] Think about that! Do you struggle with traffic? Think about living in a world that’s perfect. That’s your hope. That’s what Jesus is doing and He reminds them that when they are in the eternal state they will eat freely from the tree of life. Now, after the fall of man, Genesis 3, you can study it for yourself, Genesis 3:22-24, man was barred from the tree of life because God said I’m going to station angels preventing you as a fallen human being from re-entering Eden to eat from the tree of life. Why? Because the tree of life is what gave people the capacity to live forever.
[Genesis 3:22-24, “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”]
And by being barred from the tree of life God is saying that death is a certainty. The mortality rate is still 100%. If the rapture doesn’t come first death is going to take every one of us. And yet access to the tree of life is another way of saying you’re coming into a world where death will no longer be a reality. In fact, every tear will be wiped from your eyes; there will no longer be any death, mourning, crying, pain, for the first things have passed away.
Think of a world where there’s no tears. I mean, there’s not even a Kleenex box. Where death has gone, mourning is gone, crying is gone, pain is gone. The first order of things has passed away. That’s your destiny! This life is just like mist that appears for a little while and then it’s gone. You live your life this week with that perspective you can handle your trials. You’ve got help. You can struggle longer, you can fight harder because you know that what you’re going through, whatever it is, it’s just a blip on the radar screen.
Paul, the apostle, would say our present struggles don’t even compare to the glories that await us in Christ Jesus. So a tremendous word to this church, the destination, the description of Christ, the commendation, the rebuke, the exhortation to change, the consequence, the exhortation to listen and the word to be overcomers. Next week as God allows it we’ll be taking a look at the second church, the message to the church at Smyrna, the persecuted church, having dealt with the loveless church, moving to the persecuted church.
And how we, at Sugar Land Bible Church want this to be more than a study for the Christian. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the what? The Word. Some of you may have heard something, even as an unbeliever, even listening online, where you recognize that the gospel is your answer; not the world’s answer, your answer specifically. The gospel, of course, is Jesus did it all. He died on a cross, He paid the penalty for our sins, He rose from the dead to authenticate who He was and He leaves the world with its message, don’t trust in yourself, trust in what I’ve done… faith! Change your mind about who I am, trust IN a person. It’s not a matter of having knowledge of what Jesus historically did. There’s a lot of people in this world that will tell you a lot of information about Jesus and if they were to die today they would go straight to hell, because the difference between heaven and hell is the difference between the head to the heart. It’s not just an intellectual assent; it’s trust IN a person for the safe keeping of one’s soul. That’s salvation. And if that’s never happened in a person’s life our exhortation right now, even as I’m speaking, as the Holy Spirit convicts is to trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. The initial act of repentance, changing one’s mind about Christ and then God loves us as we are but He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He says there’s some things in your life that need to change or you’re going to forfeit, NOT salvation but temporal consequences. This needs to change. That needs to change. And that’s called growth in Christ. And I hope that’s a trajectory that we’re all on. Shall we pray.
Father, we are grateful for Your truth and Your Word, how it speaks to our lives. I pray that we would be good stewards of these truths this week as we walk with You. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen!