The world in which they lived–the world that had existed in this form for almost seven hundred years but was itself the zenith of the world as it had existed from the beginning of time–this world was about to end. The entire created order was being shaken. The epicenter of this quaking cosmos was Jerusalem and its temple. Tribulations would accompany this transformation of the world order, and God’s people would have to endure them, especially as the hatred of those who didn’t want to let go of the old order was directed toward them, God’s new creation.
Jesus prepares his servants for this tribulation in his revelation to John on the isle of Patmos (Rev 1.1). Homing in on seven churches in Asia, Jesus speaks by the Spirit to all the churches everywhere (cf. e.g., 2.7). The world as they know it is about to be completely changed, and they need to be ready for it.
Jesus has established his churches in the world as a new temple. They are seven golden lampstands (Rev 1.20) among which he comes to walk as a priest whose responsibility it is to trim the lamps to keep them burning. In the midst of the darkness that is about to come upon the world, these churches need to shine as his light. The only way to shine as they ought is for judgment to begin at the house of God (1Pt 4.17). As a good priest, he comes to inspect the temple of God .in order to encourage, rebuke, admonish, and exhort.
His walking among the golden lampstands looks back even further to life in the Garden of Eden. The lampstands in the tabernacle and temple were stylized almond trees (cf. Ex 25.33). Jesus is not merely a priest in the temple, he is YHWH who is coming in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day to call to account his “Adams,” the angels or pastors of the churches (cf. Gen 3.8; Rev 1.10). He has left them with a task to tend and guard the garden-bride, to cultivate holiness in her, and now he is coming to inspect the work in order to commend or rebuke.
All of this is necessary for them to overcome in the coming troubles. They must know the weaknesses and sins that they have in their churches in order to deal with them so that they don’t fall with the rest of the world. They must know where they are doing well so that they can maintain and strengthen those areas.
The fundamental posture that the angels and the churches they pastor must take before the exalted Jesus is one of humility. Whatever Jesus reveals, whether good or bad, they must accept and, consequently, conform their lives together accordingly. Some things he reveals will be uncomfortable. They may not want to deal with this person in this church because he is influential. Jezebel in Thyatira might be a pretty powerful person in the church. Their doing what Jesus says may upset all the wrong people and make life difficult.
Then there is the matter of taking seriously what Jesus takes seriously. When he tells you that you are doing well in hating all the right things and dealing with obvious sin in the church but that you have left your first love, you might be tempted to say, “Is that really that big of a deal?”
There are many things Jesus says to deal with when he makes them aware of them. He doesn’t say, “Be patient with them.” When Jesus reveals them and tells you to deal with them, the time of patience has come to an end. At this point it is, “Deal with them or die.” He promises death to those in Thyatira and the removal of the lampstand in Ephesus.
Jesus is still exposing us in our churches. He is exposing the angels of the churches and the churches they pastor through his word. We must be ready to humbly receive his exposing of us when we are faithful as well as when we are in sin. We need to be encouraged when he tells us, “Well done.” But we also need to be ready and quick not to hide ourselves from his gaze when he is exposing sin. We can’t ignore it and think that it will just go away. We must have the courage of faith–faith that Jesus wants what is best for us as his church–to deal with whatever sins he exposes.
Let us then have the courage of faith to ask him to expose whatever needs to be exposed in us in order that we might be what he has called us to be.