Revelation 2:1 – 7
How do we gain eternal life?
Do you want to get to heaven?
Do you want eternal life? Life that isn’t spoilt by sickness, and death, and relational turmoil?
It’s a bit of a silly question isn’t it?
I think we all want that!
What we understand of that might vary, perhaps depending on whether we’ve been around church for a while, or if we’re here today because we’re trying to find out what Jesus is on about,
But I think, that pretty much no matter who we are,
Life forever, sounds good!
Life at peace with God, sounds pretty good!
Life in God’s paradise, well, where do I sign up?!
Back in the dark ages, when I was in high school, at the end of year 9, the very last week of school, we experienced something that was commonly known as “bludge week.”
We didn’t do anything remotely recognisable as school work, just played games and watched movies.
Perhaps my year 9 cohort was such an advanced bunch that we had learnt everything there was to be learnt already!, and so we got a week off, which, on reflection seems, very unlikely,
Perhaps actually it was a way of giving us school work cleverly disguised, as “fun activities”, a bit like how you hide vegetables in your toddler’s custard.
Whatever the reason, we watched the move Ghandi, the story of the Indian Nationalist leader Mohandas Ghandi.
And the only thing that I remember about the movie is that it begins at the end. The opening scene, show Ghandi’s assassination, and we then jump back (RIGHT) 55 years, and play through the events of his life, until once more, we come to his death.
I suppose it was some sophisticated, story-telling technique that was supposed to communicate something profound, but it was .obviously lost on me!
But, having said that, it’s what I’m going to do today! I want us to start at the end.
Look with me if you will, at the second half of verse 7. Jesus makes a promise To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Even before we get to the detail, which we’ll come back to, that’s a great promise isn’t it?
Eternal life, God, and paradise.
In 1979, Billy Graham visited Australia, and was interviewed on TV by Mike Willessee, and Willessee asked him, "Dr Graham, do you think you'll be going to heaven?"
And without a moment’s hesitation, Billy Graham responded,
"I don't just think I'm going to heaven, Mike., I know I'm going to heaven. And it's not because I'm Billy Graham, and I've preached to a few people in my time., I know what my future holds because I'm trusting Jesus.
I know I’m going to heaven,
What a great confidence!
The question is, Who gets it?
Who gets this life, and a welcome into God’s own paradise?
Well let’s have a look at how Jesus works his way up to that promise.
Jesus is among his church
They say a week is a long time in politics., It can be a long time in church life too. Where chapter 1 finished last week, Jesus was speaking, and now he’s still going, even though it’s a new chapter and a new paragraph.
Jesus says, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand
The word “angel” simply means a messenger, and in the Bible, when we meet an angel, that’s generally what they’re doing, bringing a message to someone, Think of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary with the news that she will give birth to Jesus.
But the same word can refer to human messengers. So in Luke chapter 9, Jesus sends messengers ahead of him into a village to get things ready for his arrival.
So the angel of the church in Ephesus, could either mean, a heavenly being, who has some kind of care or oversight of, some spiritual relationship with the church in Ephesus, if you like, the heavenly representative of this local church, or Jesus could be speaking about a human messenger:, a leader, perhaps the pastor of the church in Ephesus.
Which one of these Jesus has in mind, we don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter!
What we do know, is that the whole church is addressed through the messenger, and that this person who has whatever kind of responsibility for the church, They’re not independent from Jesus,
They don’t need to touch base with Jesus every now and then,
Jesus holds them in his hand. Chapter 1 tells us the stars are the angels of the churches.
That’s how closely connected Jesus is to his church.
But wait! There’s more!
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:
The lampstands are the churches, again, chapter 1, and Jesus walks among them.
When you think about it, a lampstand is a pretty good image for a church!
You don’t often see it on a church sign, maybe we should put it on our A-Frames!
The church brings light into a dark world.
But it’s also just a lampstand, Jesus himself is the light.
No one gets excited over a light bulb, it’s the light that the bulb gives us that is its reason for existence.
Without light, the bulb is useless. It’s why I seem to be always chucking out bulbs, that no longer give light!
Jesus is pictured here among the church, maintaining the spiritual life of the church,
But also present to judge, correct, and praise, where appropriate.
Those opening words though, These are the words of him etc etc, They’re lifted straight out of the Old Testament and always introduce a message from God to his people.
So in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel alone, those words occur close to a hundred times.
You could say it’s God’s “trademark phrase”, that says “here’s a message that comes with all the authority and power of the creator of the universe”. It’s a bit like how the President of the United States begins a speech with “My fellow Americans”, and if someone else were to use that phrase, we’d think they’re trying to be like the president.
These words tell us, Jesus speaks from the same position, with the same authority, and in the same way as God, Yahweh, spoke in the Old Testament.
Jesus commends the church for their good works
And so Jesus, from his unique position as Lord of the universe, and also among the, the churches, he commends the Christians in Ephesus for their good works, for the way they’ve been conducting themselves as they wait for Jesus’ return.
I know your deeds says Jesus, your hard work and your perseverance and then in verse 3, You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Reading that immediately made me ask, “Well how have I been conducting myself, as I wait for Jesus’ return?
Ephesus was a city famous for its worship of false gods, and the opposition to Christians there could be terrible, but that didn’t mean that the Christians there just kept their faith to themselves, or made sure that their Christianity didn’t kind of spill over into the rest of their lives. It absolutely did spill over into the rest of their lives, their confident hope in the future meant that they spent their time doing good works.
Sometimes you hear the accusation levelled at Christian people, that they’re “so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good”!
Well, not the Ephesians! They were very heavenly-minded, no doubt about that.
They were persevering in their faith despite opposition and hardship,
They’d heard Jesus’ promise of eternal life with God,
They were waiting for Jesus’ return.
But it spills over into good works, just the hard slog of bringing the light of Jesus into a community that isn’t interested in him.
For their spiritual discernment
But most especially, Jesus commends the church in Ephesus, for their spiritual discernment. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
Apparently in Ephesus, there were some teachers, who called themselves “apostles”, but after listening to their message, the Ephesian church had been able to discern that they weren’t apostles, they weren’t commissioned directly by Jesus for eye-witness testimony, they weren’t associated with that group who were sent out by Jesus. In fact, they were just plain and simply, liars and false teachers.
And it wasn’t that the church had rejected these teachers immediately, some kind of knee-jerk reaction to maybe new teaching.
That’s a temptation that some Christians fall into today isn’t it? We hear something that cuts across everything we’ve ever believed about who God is, or the Christian life, and immediately we dismiss it without ever considering, “Actually, have I been wrong all along?”
But the Ephesians, they tested those who claim to be apostles, and found them false,
Down in verse 6, Jesus repeats his praise in a slightly different way, you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
There’s a lot of speculation about who the Nicolaitans are. We’re not told, and it’s quite probable, that the name “Nicolaitan”, is, like most of the names in Revelation, intended to be symbolic, because the name sounds like the words “destroyer of people.”
That’s what false teachers do, don’t they?
They destroy people.
They destroy faith,
They destroy hope,
They destroy confidence and assurance, as they lead people away from Jesus.
And so the Ephesians knew that here was a message that could not be tolerated.
Tolerance is the supreme virtue in the 21st Century isn’t it? But the Church in Ephesus knew there were some things that can’t be tolerated.
They’d considered the message brought by these men claiming to be apostles, but, just as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian church a few years earlier, in 2 Corinthians 11, the church in Ephesus realised that this new message, was about a different Jesus, and a different gospel, and so they rejected it.
And they rejected,
If that kind of knee-jerk reaction against new teaching isn’t a risk for us, perhaps the opposite error, is more of a danger.
And that’s the danger of swallowing up novelty.
We hear something new,
Perhaps what the church down the road is teaching makes the same old message about Jesus that we get every Sunday in our own church sound boring!
Sadly I know lots of Christians who have had their discernment clouded by glitz and glamour, and the appeal of promises, that, well they offer me what my selfish heart desires, and so off they go, after a different Jesus, clinging to a different gospel, but one that doesn’t come from God, and therefore can only lead away from him.
One of the books on Revelation that I had sitting on my desk this week, has on its over, a picture of two sheep grazing in a paddock. I have no idea what the significance of the two sheep is, all I could think of, was that sheep are famous for being stupid, and following blindly one after the other.
So back in 2005, a Turkish newspaper reported that a flock of 1500 sheep had jumped off a cliff, simply because one sheep had for some reason, jumped off the cliff.
By the time 450 sheep had fallen to their deaths, the pile of sheep at the bottom of the cliff was so big, it cushioned the landing of the eleven hundred who followed, and those ones didn’t die!
So I thought, maybe that’s why the sheep are on the cover of my book about Revelation, to warn us about blindly following off after another Jesus,
The Apostle Paul had founded the church in Ephesus, it was a church plant, a bit like us really, just without the Apostle Paul! But interestingly, in his farewell speech to the leaders of the Ephesian church, Paul had warned them specifically, of the danger of false teachers.
Luke records for us in Acts 20, Paul says to the Elders of the church Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers., I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth
John’s writing 40 years after Paul’s started the church, but just because they’re older than us, doesn’t mean we’re free from this danger.
Paul knew that false teaching could even arise within a church, from your own number.
Here is our warning, to test and discern the message we hear.
It’s your warning to test and discern what I say,
It’s our warning, to test and discern what we hear from those who lead us and teach us in any forum, Bible Study Groups, Youth Group, Kids Church, even the way we seek to encourage each other in our every day conversations.
Is the Jesus we’re being pointed to the Jesus of the Bible?
The Jesus as he’s presented here, among the churches,
Jesus as he’s pictured in chapter 1, receiving dominion and authority Jesus who commands honour from every nation and people and language,
Jesus who says “hardship and suffering will come”,
Jesus who has triumphed over Satan.
Those who bring any other Jesus, are wicked people , and we are to be intolerant of their message.
See the church doesn’t control the truth, the truth controls the church.
The church isn’t free to decide what it thinks is true, and what’s false. “We like the sound of this new message we’re hearing, so we’ll add this in to our collected body of truth.”
A couple of years ago I heard one of the leaders of a major denomination in the US, speaking about a new Bible translation that his denomination was connected with, and he said it will be important for the denomination to support this new venture because he said, “we will have a major translation we can control.”
Now that set alarm bells ringing for me!
The church doesn’t control the message that has been passed down to us. We are to test what we hear, and discern if what we’re being taught, is the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
But Jesus knows their love has gone
But even though Jesus was able to commend those in Ephesus for their discernment, he brings a complaint against them, verse 4, Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
Perhaps like how your annual performance review unfolds at work, we’ve had these words of praise of Jesus, and now a complaint.
And although it’s just one sentence, it’s a serious complaint isn’t it?
We can tell how serious it is by what Jesus says about what will happen if the problem isn’t solved!
They’ve forsaken their first love.
So who was their first love?
Who was your first love? I’m sure many of you can remember that first flush of love, when you were perhaps a teenager, and who knows, some of you may even be sitting next to that person now, maybe, some decades later.
So you haven’t forgotten your first love! But the Ephesians had, or perhaps to be more accurate, they had forgotten “the love they had at first.”
It’s not the first person they ever loved, that Jesus wants them to remember, but the love they first had, when they came to faith.
Still the question remains doesn’t it? Who did they love?
Is it their love for God that’s gone cold?
Or is it their love for other people that’s waning?
Well, we can’t really separate them, can we?
When Jesus was asked, what’s the most important out of all of God’s commandments in the Old Testament, how did he answer? Luke chapter 10, Jesus said: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’;, and,, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Genuine, heart-felt love for God, necessarily overflows into showing love to those around us.
And showing genuine, heart-felt love to those around us, is one way of expressing our love for God, our all-of-heart, soul, strength and mind love for God.
And that’s how the church had started out! That’s what their first love was like.
Like I said, it was a church that by now was 40 years old, it’s filled with 2nd and 3rd generation Christians.
And what do they say? What’s assumed in one generation, is lost in the next?
Sure they loved Jesus, and they loved each other, but not with heart, and soul, and strength, and mind.
Their hearts had gone cold,
Their minds were distracted,
Their souls were divided,
And their strength was expended on other things.
Sound like something we might be at risk of?
Well the failure of their love for God and love for those around them, threatened the very reason for their existence as Christ’s church. So much so, that if they do not Remember, and repent, and do the things you did at first., I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
If they don’t live up to their calling, to shine the light of Christ’s love into a dark and hurting world, well, then they have no reason for existence, and Jesus will remove their lampstand altogether.
Christ will judge his church
And if we were tempted to think for a moment that this probably wouldn’t happen, that this is perhaps hyperbole, Jesus exaggerating for emphasis, that he probably wouldn’t extinguish a church, remove a lampstand from its place,, take a look at our city.
Adelaide was once called the City of churches, and now scores of buildings which once housed churches, once housed lampstands, are now restaurants, and nightclubs, and bridal boutiques.
The churches have gone.
The light of the love of Christ no longer shines from those places.
And if we don’t think it could happen to us, we are sadly mistaken.
When Jesus says I will come to you, in the original it’s actually recorded in the present tense, not the future tense like our NIVs, I am coming, and will remove your lampstand from its place. John sees it as if it’s already happening.
There was an article in the New York Times this past week, about the Episcopal Church in the US, a denomination which, on the whole, decided a few decades ago, to sideline truth, in the name of suppose-ed relevance, and now there are church leaders who practice both Buddhism and Christianity, or Islam and Christianity,
The Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is ignored or ridiculed,
And in the last 10 years, those churches have emptied, by on average, nearly one quarter.
I am coming, Jesus says, and will remove your lampstand from its place.
Of course, the building doesn’t have to be empty, for Christ to have extinguished his light and removed his lampstand.
There may be no church of Christ there, even though people are sitting in the pews on Sundays.
There might be a building filled with people,
And yet it can be as devoid of Christ, as the temple in Jerusalem became devoid of God’s presence in the 6th Century BC, before God allowed it to be destroyed. The prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision, God’s glory leaving the temple.
The building is still there, but Christ’s people aren’t,
No longer, do the people there have relationship with God,
The hope that Jesus brings,
The life that Jesus offers,
Eternal life is for those who overcome
Once Jesus departs from his church, they will no longer be those who overcome, who will be given the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Overcoming is a huge theme in Revelation. And we should be able to get a sense of what it means, with the Olympic Games about to start. To overcome is an athletic metaphor, that means to be victorious over your opponents. I imagine we’ll see lots of that in the coming days.
But for the Christian person, the ultimate overcoming, the ultimate victory, is with God. The Lamb, Jesus, will overcome all his enemies we’re told in chapter 17, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings.
Jesus’ victory over sin, the world and the devil on the cross is complete. That final battle pictured in Revelation 19 is one last act of defiance by an already beaten enemy.
And so to overcome, means to live daily in a way that reflects Jesus victory over sin and death.
In fact “overcome” in the original language is a participle, it’s an “ing” word, literally it’s “the overcoming person.”
Our overcoming is not a finished action somewhere in the past, it’s an ongoing, continuous action.
The one who overcomes, is not some super-spiritual Christian who does battle with evil, and leaves all the regular everyday Christians in their wake, as they chase off seeking their next great spiritual victory.
The one who overcomes, the one who will eat from the tree of life, is the person who says, my life, is going to be shaped daily, by Christ’s victory over sin and death.
The one who overcomes, the one who gains God, and eternal life, is the person who says I can trust God, and so live faithfully for him, through all the difficult situations I face as a follower of Jesus.
The one who overcomes, the person who gets welcomed into God’s own paradise, is the person who discerns the truth, and clings to the truth, even when everyone around them is chasing off after new and novel teaching.
The man or woman who overcomes, is the one who knows Christ’s love, and so loves just like that.
And so we’re back where we started.
The great hope held out before us,
And God himself.
That is what we want, isn’t it?
If you’re here this morning because you want to find out what Jesus offers you, I imagine this is what you want, isn’t it?
It’s what we as Christian people want for our friends who don’t know Jesus.
Jesus uses an unusual word for tree. It’s the word usually used in the New Testament to describe the cross of Christ.
See in Ephesus there stood the temple of Artemis, and it was for this temple that Ephesus was famous around the world.
In the temple, was a tree, that supposedly gave you access to the life of God.
But Jesus says, the tree of Artemis isn’t the source of life, the cross of Christ, is the source of life.
The pathway to life with God isn’t through the tree in the temple in Ephesus, but through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, through the reconciliation with God that he offers through his death in our place.
Here is the promise that God’s original intention for humanity will be restored.
Adam and Eve were driven away from the tree of life, because they rejected God, but the one who overcomes, the person who trusts in Jesus’ victory, and lives that out daily, they’ll be welcomed into God’s “paradise”, that’s the same word as for “garden” , back to God’s beautiful intention.
About 10 years after Jesus sent this letter, one of the first Christian bishops, a man named Ignatius, also wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus.
It turned out some men from Syria had come into that church, and tried to spread false teaching, teaching that wasn’t about Jesus.
And in his letter, Ignatius commended the church in Ephesus, for holding firmly to the message of Jesus as they had been taught, and letting it shape their lives and their love for God and for others, and for letting their first love shine out from their lampstand.
Apparently the Christians in Ephesus had taken seriously Jesus’ words, his encouragement, and his warnings.
My prayer is that we will do exactly the same.