THE CHRIST OF CHURCH
October 15, 2006
We often use the phrase “the church of Christ.” That phrase is not the name of some sort of a religious schism. It speaks, instead, of people who are the Lord’s. It speaks of people who have been bought with his blood, purchased to be his own at the cost of the sacrifice of himself. It speaks of people who have been saved by the work of Christ and who, because he has saved them, are his body (Eph. 5:23, 25). This phrase is not a proper name. It is a descriptive term. It is altogether Biblical, for it is used in scripture to refer to these people who are the Lord’s. It certainly is appropriate that we would refer to the church in the same ways in which the New Testament does.
But what if we turned that phrase around? It would still teach a lesson that is of crucial importance. The Christ of the church is the one who gives any meaning to the phrase “the church of Christ.” In the great book of Revelation, the closing note of the Bible, the inspired writer lays before all of us forever “the Christ of the church.” It’s as if the Lord is saying “Here’s the way I want my people to continue to think until I come; here’s how they stand in relation to me.”
In this great book, as you know, there are letters in chapters 2 and 3. But before those letters are set down, what the Lord has John do is to describe what he has seen of the Christ, and then each one of these letters to the churches will begin with some detail that John has seen in the character and nature of the Christ. Then these letters will end by saying, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, all of us need to hear and to apply this picture of the Christ. This morning as we set before our mind’s eyes the Christ of the church, let’s start with those pictures of him that inspiration has provided for us, then consider what they mean to us.
First, in Revelation 1:5 notice that Jesus Christ is described as the faithful witness. This is a part of the picture that appears again in Revelation in chapter 3, verse 14. But it also comes up over in chapter 19 where the rider on the white horse appears, and the one sitting on this white horse is called “faithful and true.” That would mean that he is one who can be trusted. Here is someone who can be relied upon, and whatever he says can be taken as the truth. It actually goes a little farther even than that. You may be aware that the word for witness here is the one in scripture which is used to describe a martyr. For example, over in chapter 2 of this book we meet a man by the name of Antipas who lived at Pergamum. Antipas has already been killed because he wasn’t willing to deny the faith of Christ. Antipas is called by the Lord “my faithful witness.” This good man was willing to suffer the penalty of death rather than to deny the faithful testimony he bore to Christ.
If Jesus is the faithful witness, then, that means that he is willing to give up his own life in order to tell us the truth about the God of heaven. He is willing to pay the penalty of death, to shed his own blood in order to give us an accurate picture of our heavenly Father. In John 18:37 when Jesus stood before Pilate, he told Pilate that he had been sent to bear witness of the truth. He was talking about the picture of God which he brought.
Jesus is someone who cuts through the confusion of this life. Don’t you get confused from time to time? You can listen, for example, this time of the year in this country to the political ads, and you come away shaking your head with dizzy confusion wondering who can be trusted. If that is the case in the political world, then it is more the case in the spiritual world. Here is Revelation’s answer. Jesus is the faithful witness. It is interesting that as this book winds down, in chapter 21:6 and chapter 22:5, the proclamation is that “these words are faithful and true.” If you take what the faithful witness says, then the application has to be that his words are as faithful and true as he is, and they can be relied upon as a safe and solid guide.
We just made a trip. We are thankful for the time to go see our kids. We got a map off of Map quest in order to make the trip. After we were half way there, we realized that we could have gone a shorter way. We didn’t know. A faithful witness is what we have in Christ. The one who is the way for us to live our lives!
Secondly, notice also in chapter 1, verse 5, he is the firstborn of the dead. Again, we are dealing here with a thought which is crucial in the New Testament. Here it says that he is the firstborn of the dead, but in Colossians 1:18 the Bible tells us that he is the firstborn from the dead. That may seem like two statements of the same thing, but there is a little bit different application with each one. The firstborn from the dead means that the rest of us are going to come along with him, that he has been given life, he has been raised up first, but then the rest of us will be, too, because of his work. I Cor. 15:20 uses the picture “the first fruits” to illustrate this point. When one apple on the tree gets ripe, you know that the others will after awhile. And, the idea is that just as Jesus has been raised up, we all will be in our own order – first Christ and then those who belong to Christ at his coming – according to I Cor. 15:23.
But Jesus is not only the firstborn from the dead. He is also the firstborn of the dead. In Psalm 89:27 this picture of the firstborn is used to say that he is the supreme one, that Jesus is the supreme one in the life beyond the here and now. We don’t know what life will be like on the other side. I can’t describe everything about it, but I do know who is first there - the same one who is first here and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Third, notice that he is the ruler of kings on earth (Rev. 1:5). That rider on the white horse over in chapter 19 comes along, and we see all the glorious details about him. And then we notice in verse 16 that on the bottom of his robe and on his thigh as he rides, he has a name written: “King of kings and Lord of lords.” That means that it is not the Caesar of Rome at this time who is in charge of everything, but it is Jesus Christ. And however things may look to us, history is under his control. Events may seem to us to be swinging completely out of control with nothing to hold them together, but this statement means that Jesus is the one who is in control of history.
I read that about the year 362 AD, Julian the Apostate, the Roman Emperor, camped north of Syria to prepare his army to fight further against the Syrians, who were his terrible enemies at the time. And as the Roman Emperor, this man happened to be strongly anti-Christian and pro-pagan. He reinstituted the pagan cults and he rebuilt the pagan temples which had been demolished. The story is told that “one day while he was near Antioch, he dressed as a civilian and went into Antioch to visit an old acquaintance who was a Christian merchant. Julian was pleased on his way to see the pagan temples attended by hundreds of people and churches closed. When he saw his old acquaintance, he asked him sarcastically, ‘Where is the carpenter of Nazareth? What is he doing these days? I saw his church buildings closed on my way to Antioch.’ And the Christian merchant answered the emperor, ‘He is building a coffin in which to bury your empire.’” The poet put it this way: “The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. A royal diadem adorns the mighty victor’s brow. The highest place that heaven affords is his, it is his by right. The king of kings and lord of lords and heaven’s eternal light.” That’s who he is.
Fourth, notice that Jesus is one like unto a son of man (Rev. 1:13). This great image is perhaps the most famous of the great book of Revelation, and the details of it have been studied. Each one of them has an impressive meaning about the Lord’s power and his authority. For now, I just want to mention to you that this picture has as its background the vision of God in the ancient of days in Daniel 7 and then the vision of the Lord’s worker among men in Daniel 10. And I would like you to notice that the real point of this picture is how John responded when he saw it. The real message here is the effect that this one should have on a thoughtful man. Look at this: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” We sometimes try to paint that picture. That is really not the point of this passage, though. John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” There was no strength left in John. The power and the impact of the one like to the Son of man was so great, the holiness and the authority and the power and the majesty and the greatness of the one John saw was such that nobody had to tell him to humble himself. He fell on his face like a dead man, like someone in the presence of God always does in the Bible. Jesus is now the glorified ruler. We remember that he gave himself for us in the humiliation of the cross, but we look to now the one who has been exalted to God’s right hand who rules there.
Notice next that Jesus is pictured in verse 17 as the first and the last of all. John, like a dead man, has the Lord lay his hand on him and say, “Fear not, I am the first and the last.” Jesus is the first in importance in the world, he is the last, and he is everything in between. In Revelation 22:13 when the Lord himself speaks, he says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." We would say he’s “what it’s all about.”
Then notice next that Jesus says, “I am the living one. I became dead and behold I am alive forevermore.” The meaning of that statement has to be placed in the shadow of the Old Testament. In Isaiah especially, the God of heaven, the almighty, holy, eternal God speaks of himself as “the living God.” When Jesus says, “I am the living one,” he is making a claim to having that eternal nature of God in him. “I became dead” (and that is literally what the passage says; he accepted death; he offered himself; he submitted to it.) But now he is not that sacrifice anymore. He lives. He is the living one, the one who has life in himself.
And then notice that he says, “I have the keys of death and Hades.” To have the keys means to have the authority to open and close, to have dominion over something, the power of it. It means that where Jesus is, death cannot destroy and Hades cannot hold. Jesus now has dominion over both death and the unseen world beyond. He is the one who has all power in heaven and on earth, according to Matthew 28:18. There are many scriptures on each of these statements. But there you see the picture of the Christ of the church.
Now, the question is, “What does that mean to the church?” What should happen to us when we contemplate who Jesus is now? I suggest that Revelation chapters 2 and 3 make three strong applications of this point. First, the Christ of the church is the comfort of the church when it feels the pressure that the enemies of the Lord put on it. In these letters I have mentioned, for example, Antipas at Pergamum. According to Revelation 2, verses 13 and following, he was a man who already had suffered the supreme penalty. But this was not an unusual case for Christians. At Smyrna, for example, in verses 9 and following, the church there was dealing with the slander of Satan’s servants. Some were in prison, according to verse 10, and others were facing tribulation. And being faithful to the Lord was going to require the willingness even to face death, verse 10 says. There were other kinds of pressure being put on people at Philadelphia. According to chapter 3, verses 7 and following, there were people who were threatening them and making it impossible for them to make a living. How does a Christian meet that kind of trouble and that kind of pressure and difficulty? The answer is by his focus on the Christ of the church. We believe these claims that Jesus has made so much that we are willing to trust in them more than we are to fear and to dread the opposition.
Secondly, this picture of the Christ of the church is a challenge to the worldliness which sometimes invades the Lord’s people. In these letters there are problems with worldliness, the spirit of worldliness. There is the willingness to tolerate, for example, immorality. That problem existed at Pergamum and Thyatira. There is a willingness to tolerate the teachings of falsehoods which deny the deity of Christ and the will of Christ at both of those places. It apparently is the devil’s way to first put pressure on, and then try to mislead. To mislead into falsehood or into immorality would be the terrible work of our enemy. The answer to it is the Christ. He is wise enough to be respected and listened to. He is great enough to be imitated and followed.
Third, this Christ is not only the comfort in the time of difficulty and the call to faithfulness in the time of worldliness, but this Christ is also the call for renewal within the life of the church. In these letters, I can see several illustrations of this point. At Ephesus there was the spirit of people who didn’t love like they used to. In verse 4 when it says “you have left your first love,” it doesn’t mean that they have gone off into unfaithfulness, because verses 2 and 3 have just commended them for those very things. What it means is they have let a spirit creep in where they are suspicious of each other, and they don’t love each other like they used to.
Then remember that at Sardis there is a situation where no works of the Lord’s people are ever brought to completion, verse 2 says. There is a kind of carelessness and inattention which takes away from any zeal or spirit of devotion among the Lord’s people which would cause them to dream great things and then to follow through with it and then to finish it. Then notice that at Laodicea there is that spirit of lukewarmness which says, “We’re fine; we’re satisfied with ourselves; we have no urgent needs; things are comfortable for us right now.” Jesus rebuked that careless spirit in the strongest possible terms, as you know.
The church of Christ is a wonderful blessing. For God to plan and purchase and add people to a kingdom for his son is a wonderful statement of God’s wisdom and power. But the church needs the picture of the Christ of the church. Vance Havener some years ago in a book he wrote on the seven churches made the point that “some people are trying to follow a Galilean teacher, but a lot has happened since Jesus walked on earth in the days of his flesh. Calvary has taken place and the resurrection and Pentecost. We are not dealing now with the meek and lowly Jesus going about doing good with nowhere to lay his head and upon whose breast John laid his head. That chapter is past. We are dealing now with a crucified, risen, ascended, glorified and coming Lord with his countenance as the sun, his eyes like fire, and his voice like the sound of many waters and before whom John fell as a dead man. In the gospel we have Christ the example, and that is important for us if we are to walk as he walked. We have to know how he walked. In Acts we have the Christ of evangelism, the complete gospel message. In the epistles we have the Christ of Christian and church experience, but in Revelation we have the Christ of revival and the coming king who will return to destroy the powers of evil and put the devil out of business and reign forever. And while he still says, ‘Come unto me and I will give you rest,’ and while he still says, ‘Go into all the world,’ his last word to us is a call to repentance.” Then Havener observes, “A lot of Sunday morning Christians who want to sit with folded hands and listen to a mild discourse on the teacher of Galilee need to be aroused from their stupor by a vision of the flaming Christ of the candlesticks.”
Let’s be the church of Christ, but let’s remember the Christ of the church. Maybe today you need to respond to him in some way. If it is either in becoming a Christian or if it is in coming home as a Christian, if we can help, let it be known while we stand and sing.