Regaining True Intimacy with Him
Christ gave his life for the church and said the gates of hell will not prevail against it. He is its foundation and cornerstone, and scripture tells us his glory and wisdom dwell in it. It is clear the Lord loves his church and desires to bless it. So why does Revelation 2 present such a fearsome picture of Christ as he appears to his people?
“In the midst of the seven lampstands one like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes like a flame of fire; his feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and his voice as the sound of many waters; he had in his right hand seven stars, out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:13-16, NKJV).
Why did Jesus appear so foreboding and speak so piercingly? As the author of this book, John, testified that Christ’s words were as sharp as a sword, cutting down to the marrow. Remember, this was the apostle who once leaned his head on Jesus’ bosom, but now he found himself flat on his face. “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 2:17).
The Lord himself explained his awesome appearance. “All the churches shall know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23).
The reason Jesus comes to search his church is because he loves it.
Christ comes to correct his people in love so that they may be purified. When he gave John the book of Revelation, he said first of all not to be afraid. “But he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last’” (Revelation 2:17). Jesus then said, in essence, “I want everyone in my church to know I have come to search their inner man. I do it with eyes of fire and a thunder that shakes the soul. I won’t mince words; what I have to say will pierce, but it will also heal. I won’t allow any child of mine to continue in apathy or blindness. My eyes and mouth will pierce through every facade.”
Christ instructed John to write down what he saw in his church and to send letters to the seven “angels” of the churches. This refers to his ministers, calling them the stars in his hands (see Revelation 2:16). He was telling John, “I love these servants. I have called and anointed them. Now, you must deliver my words to them.”
Take, for example, his words to the minister at Ephesus. As this shepherd read John’s letter, he saw Christ rejoicing over his church. The Lord commended the Ephesians for being hardworking, patient and discerning. They hated evil, and they stood up for the cause of Christ. Through the years, they had never stopped doing good deeds. At first, this pastor must have marveled at what he read. He thought, “Wow, the Lord is pleased with us. He wrote us a letter of commendation.”
As he read on, however, he came upon piercing words. “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus warned the pastor, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).
This Ephesian pastor must have been aghast. He thought, “Repent, or our witness will be removed? What shocking judgment! How could this be? We are covenant believers, justified by faith. We’ve been charitable, loving and caring. Are we now supposed to go back and be as we were at the beginning? What does that mean? How can this be what Jesus means? How could I possibly read this letter to my congregation?”
Keep in mind, these words were directed to a shining example of a godly congregation.
This had to be a deeply serious matter in the Lord’s eyes. He was telling the pastor, “Your love for me is not what it once was. You have neglected communion with me.” Jesus was making clear that their service, worship, and works all had to do with his presence. Yes, the Ephesians had labored diligently in doing good works, but they were no longer intimate with the Lord.
In the next chapter, Christ summed up his message to all seven pastors and their congregations with words that were telling. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
Christians whose faith has become complacent no longer open the doors of their hearts to Jesus. When he knocks, they aren’t even at home. Instead, they leave a sign on the door reading, “Dear Lord, I’m off to minister at the hospital, then later at the jail. See you in church.”
So many churches do so many charitable things in Christ’s name. They have programs for almost every human need. The congregation lives clean, upright lives, careful to avoid sin. Despite all this, something has changed about them. At one time, these believers were devoted to communion with Jesus. They wouldn’t go a single day without spending time with him before thinking of doing ministry. Now things are different. All they give him is a quick greeting on their way to some outreach. How serious of an issue is this to Jesus?
Christ takes our communion so seriously that he will remove the one element that reaches lost souls: his presence.
Jesus was warning, “Something has been lost in my church, and that is my awesome presence. You have to get back to the secret closet, back to supping with me. Otherwise, I will remove my presence from you. All your good works – your preaching, evangelism and giving – must flow out of our time together. It has to come from my table.”
The church at Ephesus had lost the manifest presence of Christ in their midst. They took Jesus for granted, and it affected their ministry. At one time, they loved and cared for one another, but they began taking each other for granted as well. That had a disastrous effect on their labors of good works.
They were so busy serving people that their deeds became the focus rather than the love of Christ. His powerful presence was missing.
Jesus warned them, “If you don’t make changes, if you don’t return to your hunger for me, I am going to take away what you have. You’ll no longer have any authority when you do your good works. It will all be for naught.”
I see a parallel in the world today. Some of the hardest people I have known are those who worked for welfare departments and social agencies. This is especially true of those who worked in mental wards or with abused children. These people were sincere, dedicated workers, but it became too painful for them to face the suffering they witnessed daily. Over time, they hardened themselves.
The same thing can happen to Christians. Ministers and lay servants alike see so much pain and sin in the people they minister to that they can grow hard. Jesus was addressing this hardness to the pastor at Ephesus. “You once were so tender with others. You had such a love for people and listened to them. Now you turn a deaf ear. You sit with them, but you’ve hardened yourselves to their cries. You’re doing ministry on a treadmill, with no life. I have no choice but to remove my presence from you.”
I tell you, God won’t hear any excuses from anyone. Jesus can be anybody’s all-in-all if they continue communing deeply with him. They need to drink of his presence if they want his word to come alive to them.
In light of Revelation 2-3, every believer must ask themselves, “Have my good works, my Bible studies and service robbed me of communion with Jesus? Do I still hunger for him as I once did, or have I lost something?”
Of the seven churches in Revelation 2, the congregation in Ephesus sinned by losing intimacy with Jesus.
Picture a congregation that sits comfortably through a one-hour worship service. These Christians hear a short sermon on how to cope with life’s stresses, and then they rush out the door. They don’t sense any need to be broken or contrite before Christ. They aren’t compelled to be stirred or convicted by a piercing message. There is no cry of “Lord, melt me, break me. You alone can fulfill my hunger.”
Where is the zeal they had before? These believers were once eager to pore over God’s Word and lay their hearts bare before the Spirit’s searchlight. Now they think they have outgrown all that. So they restrict their Christianity to Sunday mornings.
Jesus so loved this pastor and his congregation that he let them know he was bringing drastic measures. Beloved, Christ is speaking to us with the same urgency today. He is telling us, just as he told the Ephesians, “This is all about supping with me. It is about answering the door when I knock. I am calling out to you now to come and commune. I have everything you need. Whatever quality time you spend with me gives you power through my resources. Our fellowship gives you what you need to continue in ministry. It all has to come from our time together.”
This is how Christ’s church will maintain its testimony in these last days. Return to your first love, and see him move in your life again. Amen.