Many years ago I read a travel magazine about a cruise someone took which finally led to several side trips to ancient Asia Minor cities. The author wrote about being in the ruins of the amphitheatre at Ephesus and hearing someone at the very top singing amazing grace. I think of this when I read Jesus’ words to the seven churches of Asia Minor.
Jesus calls Ephesus to repentance because she no longer loves him. He sees the church, buried and busy in good works and correct teaching, but fallen. If she does not repent, her lampstand will be removed from its place. For Ephesus, really for any of us, to repent means to return and love Jesus again.
In two places, in Revelation, there is grave sin within the church and the Lord calls the sinners to repentance and threatens them if they do not, but he does not threaten the whole church. He, in fact, commends those who are faithful.
To the church at Pergamum Christ points out that there are members who “hold the teachings of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.” The church also has some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Although scholars are not sure what the teaching of the Nicolaitans was, we all know from the Old Testament that Balak was involved with seducing the Israelites to commit sexual sin as well as the worship of false gods.
But what is interesting here is Christ’s words to Pergamum. He does not say he will come and make war against that church, but rather, while calling the whole church to repentance he says, “I will make war against them [those who hold the false teaching] with the sword of my mouth.
And his promise is that those who overcome will receive hidden manna and a white stone with a new name on it that only the overcomer knows. Christ has this intimate relationship with the faithful in his church. He knows who they are and they know him. Christ makes a separation simply by his own knowledge and relationship with his people. It isn’t the sheep who separate from those who teach idol worship or immorality. It is the certain knowledge of God which separates.
Another church where this is more clearly seen is Thyatira. Christ accuses Thyatira of tolerating “the woman Jezebel.” Whoever or whatever this woman is she also teaches church members to worship false gods and commit sexual sin. Once again it is only those involved in this teaching, those who tolerate, that Christ makes war against. The separation isn’t physical, it is spiritual, but with a reality that God himself will supply.
The text states, “I gave her time to repent and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each of you according to your deeds.”
But to those in this particular church who have not taken up the sins of Jezebel he promises no other burden. And Jezebel and her false teaching are burdens. The promises he gives here are interesting. “Authority over the nations,” which is equated with the authority Jesus has now been given by his Father. But beside this the morning star. He gives of himself. In Jesus Christ we have the authority to overcome both idolatry and immorality. We walk in him and wear his righteousness. He is the morning star.
Recently, I read a letter written to those evangelicals who are staying in the PCUSA. The person who wrote the letter was condemning them for staying. While some have left because they believe that is God’s call on their lives, and I think there is faithfulness in that, many are called to stay. It is after all Jesus who is the Lord. And he is the final great separator, not his people. What Jesus Christ asks for is simply faithfulness and our love. He does not call us away from our calling.
The amphitheatre may lay in ruins but amazing grace is sung. It may lay in ruins but there is a permanent place filled with grace.
We have a permanent place in Jesus Christ: “He who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God and my new name. “ (Rev. 3: 12)