The King and his Church (Revelation 2-3)


And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11

The book of Revelation has always been one of my favorite sections of Scripture. From the vivid imagery that captured my attention as a kid to the deep riches that it enfolded as I grew older, I have always found the vision of John to be particularly soul-stirring and heart-enflaming for ‘the testimony of Jesus Christ’. Last week for a Sunday meditation I posted a section from T.F. Torrance’s collected sermons on the book of Revelation that, in my view, well summarizes the central message of the entire book: the revelation of the risen and glorified Jesus who brings his revealing and reconciling work to consummation by the Spirit to the glory of the Father. I have found myself so greatly blessed by Torrance’s powerful and poetic expositions that I have decided to turn this into something of a series of Sunday meditations. Last week I began with Torrance’s sermon on chapter 1 of Revelation, and this week I will quote a section from his second sermon on chapters 2-3. My hope and prayer is that by reading these, you will be as blessed and challenged as I have been!

The New Testament never lets us forget that Jesus Christ is the King and that in Him the Kingdom of God has decisively broken into our world. No doubt, as the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ is the One who suffers for the sins of the world, bearing them away, but as such He is the absolute Sovereign over all, the invincible, almighty King.

The Christian Church, even in her tribulation, is the place where the King reigns and holds His court, the King who is the First and the Last, and who has the keys of life and death. Let us never forget this supreme fact: Jesus Christ has come on earth to do a tremendous deed which will reverse history. He is here to break the power of evil and to set the prisoners free. He is here to strip principalities and powers, to nail them to His Cross, and to triumph over them openly. He is here for war, to be baptized with a baptism of fire, a terrible baptism with which He is straitened until it be achieved. He is the great stone flung out of Heaven that smites the image of human empire so that the iron and brass, the silver and gold, are broken in pieces and become like summer chaff. The supreme act of judgment in the Cross remains as the abiding force to determine all history, and every crisis in human affairs falls under its action and reflects its meaning. Let us make no mistake about it. The Cross of Jesus Christ is still in the field. Jesus Christ still holds the sovereign initiative in history. No doubt the fire rages in the world, but in the heart of the fire there is one like unto the Son of God, and out of the heart of it there comes the shout of a King: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”…

Go back again to the Gospel story of the historical Christ and watch Him as He strides toward the Cross. See how, during the last week especially, Jesus deliberately threw down a challenge. He marched straight upon Jerusalem and flung everything into the battle, pressing the nation to come to an ultimate decision. So Jesus kept the finger of God pressing hard upon the people, deliberately provoking evil to its final and complete reaction, and then set Himself to deal with it by the power and holy love of God Almighty. It was an act of aggression on His part. He invaded the realm of the strong man in order to bind him. The Cross is the culminating point of His attack upon man, touching him at the very roots of his being, at the point of sin.

That is the light in which we are to view the part of the Church in the world today. Just as Jesus pressed relentlessly toward the Cross with His face set like a flint, His whole being taut with anticipated climax, when He would endure the full burden of our sin and guilt, so, too, the Church of Christ must press on in desperate urgency challenging the nations to come to an ultimate decision, even though it means unbelievable upheaval and the decimation of the Church…”Behold, I stand at the door and knock”…The Christian Church that has ears to hear will always hear that knocking, but surely at no time more loudly or desperately than in the crisis of our times. Let the Church capture again the urgency of the Gospel. Let her be prepared to fling everything into the conflict.

T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 23-26.