- Sermon Notes
The Church in the Latter Days
God gave this book, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, to Jesus, to show to His bond servants the things which must shortly, or quickly, take place.
John had been exiled to the island of Patmos by the Roman Emperor Domitian who was concerned because the church was growing and beginning to influence the Empire.
John wrote that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and heard a voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches.”
John turned to see the voice that was speaking, and having turned, he saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands there stood One like the Son of Man, His voice like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and His face was like the sun shining in strength.
The Son of Man is described with such glory and power in these verses that John fell at His feet. Jesus then said, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
The voice, like the sound of many waters, told John to write to the angels of those seven churches. There were more than seven churches, but these represent the church in its entirety.
This book is the Revelation, the revealing of Jesus Christ in the latter days. He is the center of this book and of the events that will take place in the end times.
The description of Jesus in chapter 1 is filled with symbolic meaning.
When John turned to see the voice that was speaking, he saw seven golden lampstands. In the middle of the lampstands was one like the Son of Man. This is a picture of Jesus in His authority and glory standing amongst the churches. Notice what that says about the relationship Jesus has to His church; He stands in the center of the churches.
We know there is a great Tribulation coming upon the whole world. It is the wrath of God poured out on unbelieving people. But the church is not destined for wrath and will be removed before the great Day of the Lord.
But there is much that will be happening in the world leading up to those days. The church must understand that there will be many troubles and trials that lead up to the latter days. Jesus describes the events leading up to the latter days as the birth pangs of a woman in childbirth. I am convinced we are living in those days now.
Therefore, God wants to prepare the church. These letters to the seven churches are written to prepare the church and to bring revival, to strengthen faith, but also to bring correction.
In other words, He sends words of commendation, but also words of correction. If the church is going to be prepared, if the church is going to be ready, it must be strengthened spiritually and that includes bringing correction.
At this point, the church has been gaining strength throughout the entire Roman Empire. Though the church suffered persecution, the gospel was transforming lives. They were making an impact and believed with all faith that their Lord was ruler of the kings of the earth.
But success can also be negative; it can make people rest on their laurels and no longer have the zeal they once had.
In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said, “Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect Him.” This book begins with these letters to the churches that bring correction and commendation. There is much for us to apply as well.
He writes first to the church at Ephesus, a port town near the Mediterranean and a main highway from Rome to Persia. It was the largest city in Asia Minor. A city of about 500,000 and the capital of the Roman government in that area.
The church in Ephesus was founded by Paul and later pastored by Timothy. John Himself lived there before he was captured by the Romans, boiled in oil and exiled to the island of Patmos.
I. Do Not Grow Weary in Doing Good
There was much to commend about this church. They had done well in their serving; they toiled hard at good deeds and they toiled with perseverance, and they endured for the sake of the name of the Lord and did not grow weary.
I think there are many who are growing weary of what is sometimes called the “new normal.” But there are principles of the Kingdom at work. Press forward with diligence and stay on the alert.
- Perseverance and endurance are great qualities. Be steadfast in doing that which is good and right…
Galatians 6:9, Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
A. Serve with the right heart
- Verse 2 – “I know your deeds and your toil and your perseverance…” The Lord is very much aware of our works – or lack of them.
Matthew 25:37, 39-40, “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?… When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them, you did it unto Me.’”
- This is part of being ready for the Lord’s return; spend your life well and have the right heart toward others.
- The context of Matthew 25 is that when the Son of Man comes in His glory at the end of the age, He will sit on His glorious throne and the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
- When Christ returns, He will commend those who have a heart for the least and the lost because that’s His heart as well.
- The problem is that we live in a society that is fixated on celebrities and the most important people. The media track their movements, entire magazines are written so people can follow their lives, but God’s heart is quite different.
Ezekiel 34:15-16, “I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord God. I will seek the last, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick.”
- The church in Ephesus did much for which God commended them. They fed the poor, they reached out to the lost, they helped the orphan and the widow.
- They were commended also because they did not grow weary in doing good.
B. Stand strong in the truth
- Another commendation of the church in Ephesus was that they could not endure evil men; they tested those who claimed to be apostles but were false.
- This church was discerning because they had the truth and they stood on the truth.
- The apostle Paul himself founded that church and Timothy was their pastor for many years. Then, after the Apostle John was released from Patmos, he lived out his final years there. Talk about great teachers!
- They had the truth and they stood on the truth.
- This is great example for why it’s essential to teach through God’s Word in its entirety, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. You must have the truth to be able to discern the false.
I John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Illus – Today there is much focus on “fake news.” In those days, they didn’t have fake news, they had false prophets. Both are dangerous.
Illus – There have been several denominations founded on truth at the beginning, but then became diluted. To become more socially acceptable, they veered from the truth.
Instead of changing the world, they themselves were the ones that were changed. You can almost hear God saying to them, “I sent you to change the world; make sure it doesn’t change you.”
Illus – In Africa, there is a custom of allowing visiting “pastors” to be introduced and then given the pulpit.
As soon as we discovered this, we put an end to it. Healthy churches are very careful who teaches from the pulpit.
2 Timothy 4:2-4, Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort; with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
Illus – I’ve been in ministry long enough to have seen many spiritual fads come and go in the church. There was the ‘get drunk in the spirit’ movement; there was the laughter movement, then there was the movement where everyone was barking like dogs. That was a hoot. Then there was the emerging church fad.
But God’s purpose has never changed; He is transforming lives and using the word of God to do it.
- The gospel doesn’t change. God still sends it with power to transform lives.
- Jesus stood amongst the lampstands, which was a picture of the churches. We are to be a place where the light and glory of the Lord shines out to the community.
C. Hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans
- Vs 6 — Jesus commended them for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans; but who were the Nicolaitans? They were followers of Nicolas who had distorted the truth and taught that it was permissible to lead lives of unrestrained indulgence.
- In other words, he tried to put a spiritual covering over worldly and licentious living.
- God is strongly against those who distort the truth to justify sinful living. He commends them for hating the Nicolaitans.
- The false teaching of the Nicolaitans was in several churches. The church in Pergamum also had some who held to this teaching…
Revelation 2:15, “Thus you also have some who in the same way hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”
- It’s one thing to come up with a strange way to justify sinfulness, it’s another thing altogether to draw other people into it.
- If there’s anything that gets God angry, it’s when a stumbling block is placed in front of those who sincerely desire to worship God.
Illus – When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he chased out the money changers and those selling doves from the temple, turning over their tables in the process.
Matthew 18:6-7, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”
- The church in Ephesus hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. They encouraged one another to stand for righteousness.
- That’s a sign of a healthy church. I love that our men are standing with each other, encouraging one another to stand in righteousness.
II. Return to Your First Love
- After the commendations, Jesus addresses what He did not approve; that they had left their first love.
- There is real danger of allowing religion and ritual to creep into people’s lives.
- Busy-ness without love is the beginning of religion.
- Jesus told them how to change direction, how to get back on the right track spiritually and in their relationship to God.
A. Remember the love you had at the first
Illus – Things can change over time; marriage can become routine; the job that was at first exciting can become mundane.
The first child is so special; flash cards are brought to the hospital and everything is written in a book. By the time the third or fourth one comes along, everything changes. Why? Partly because you’re so busy; your hands are full with so many kids.
- The same is true today, people’s lives become so busy that they have left their first love.
- The first thing Jesus wants them to do is to remember.
Psalm 44:20-21, If we had forgotten the name of our God or extended our hands to a strange god, would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.
- If we have forgotten how wonderful things were at the first, one thing is for certain, God hasn’t forgotten.
Jeremiah 2:2, Thus says the Lord, “I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown.”
- We need to remember the love we had at first. That’s why communion is so important, because it reminds us again of the great price that Jesus paid for our salvation.
B. Repent and do the deeds you did at first
- Many people don’t like the word, ‘repent,’ but it’s a word with a simple meaning, ‘to change direction,’ or ‘to have a new mind.’
- John the Baptist was anointed by the Lord to call the people to change their heart.
Luke 1:17, It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the father back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
- Jesus told them to do the deeds they did at first.
- What were you doing when you were on fire for the Lord? Do those things again.
- Were you worshipping the Lord and singing with all your might? Do that again.
- Were you hungry after God’s Word and reading it with an eager heart? Do that again.
- God wants you to fall in love with Him all over again.
Illus – There is a beautiful trend of renewing marriage vows. It’s a way of saying, “I love you and I would do it all over again.” In a similar way, there is something beautiful about falling in love with the Lord all over again. Return to your first love.
Revelation 2:1-7 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks [a]among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and [b]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; 3 and you have [c]perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the [d]deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’