Text: Revelation 1:11-20

The Church
The term “church” is translated from the Greek noun ekklēsia. This Greek term is based on the root word ekkaleō which means “to call out”. When used in the context of believers, it refers to how they are an assembly or a body of people who are called out from the world and consecrated unto God.

The Bible employs the term church in two senses:

1) The Universal Church: The universal church “consists of the whole number of elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof.” (Westminster Confession of Faith 25:1). In other words, it is the body of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ past, present and future. It is also known as the invisible church.

2) The Local Church: It consists of the gathering of professing believers in a location as a visible witness for Christ. Thus, it is also known as the visible church. Unlike the universal church which consists of only the elect, there may be false believers in a local church (see Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43).

The following table summarises the differences between the universal church and the local church:


Differences Between the Universal Church and the Local Church
The Universal Church The Local Church
Composed of Christians worldwide, past, present and future. (Universal/Invisible) Matt. 16:18 Composed of Christians presently at one location. (Local/Visible) 1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1
Consists of only true believers. Eph. 5:27; Rev. 7:9-17; 21:1-22:21 Composed of true and false believers (Matt. 13:24-30; 36-43)
Universal, and thus no address affixed to it. Local, and thus has an address affixed to it.
A person becomes a member only when he is added to it by the Lord. Acts 2:41;47 A person can become a member when he joins himself to the congregation. Acts 9:26-28
Death does not end a person’s membership. Phil. 1:21-23 Death ends a person’s membership in the local church. Acts 8:1-2


The Local Churches of Asia
The letters written by John were addressed to seven local churches in Asia. They are located in modern day Western Turkey. For their locations, see Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 The Seven Churches of Revelation (Source: www.biblestudy.org)

As these churches were local churches, you would expect a mixed multitude to be present in their congregations. The purpose of the letters was to present the Lord’s assessment of their spiritual condition. The Lord expects them to persevere in the areas in which they had done well. However, where they were found lacking, the Lord expects them to repent and return to Him. Otherwise, the Lord will take away His witness from the midst of them!

The Accountability of the Churches
Christ as the Head of the universal church is also the Head of every local church. Every local church is therefore accountable to him for her works. It is a matter of utmost seriousness, for Christ will judge the churches for everything they have done. 

In this passage, the seven churches are described as “seven golden candle-sticks” (v.12, 20). Candlesticks or lampstands (luchnias) were often used to light up a house at night. Moreover, there are seven of these lampstands in this passage, alluding to the seven-branched lampstand or menorah that stood before the veil of the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle of Israel (Exodus 25:31-40). The same menorah is also seen in the presence of the Lord in the prophecy of Zechariah (Zechariah 4:2). Thus, this points to the purpose of the seven local churches to be the light in a dark world that is full of sin. Every Christian is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world to point others to Christ. (Matthew 5:13-16) Are others able to see the light of Christ in us?

We also observe that the churches were described as candlesticks that were made of gold. Gold is regarded as the most precious metal on earth. The fact that each lampstand is made of gold points to the preciousness of the witness of Christ, for it is by this testimony that Christ is glorified. Without churches bearing this light of Christ, there would be no salvation for man on the earth. Every local church must make sure that it lives for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:9).

How then did the seven churches of Asia fair in the purpose that has been given to them by the Lord? The coming letters will soon reveal the truth.

Similarly, every local church must make sure that it bears a pure witness for Christ Jesus. They must ask themselves honestly whether they have truly followed the Word of God and magnified the name of Christ. Is the love of Christ shining in the congregation? Otherwise, God may just take away His light. The Son of man would no longer walk in the midst of the church. Such a church may rightly be described as “Ichabod”, that is, “the glory of the Lord has departed”.

Believers also should be careful of their choice of local churches. If they should join a local church which is false or grossly in disobedience, all their efforts would be spent promoting darkness rather than light. For ex-ample, if you know that Charismatism is unbiblical and would be used of Satan to promote the end-time apostasy, and yet you choose to join the church in worship, are you not promoting falsehood and aiding the cause of the devil? Believers should therefore endeavour to attend Bible-believing, Christ-centred and God-honouring churches so that they may bear a pure and precious witness of Christ Jesus.

The passage also talks about “the seven stars” which are the “angels” of the seven churches (v. 16, 20). As mentioned in the earlier articles, the term “angels” (angeloi) should be understood as “messengers”. The seven stars are thus the pastors of the seven churches.

Let us observe that the “seven stars” are held in the “right hand” of Christ. The right hand signifies authority. Christ is thus the one who has the authority over the church as well as the pastors who are meant to be the under-shepherds of the flock. The pastors are not free to do whatever he wants. He must answer to the Lord concerning the purity of the witness of the local church that is placed under his care. He is accountable for the spiritual state of every member in the congregation – “… for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.” Thus, the pastor must be faithful to his task as the “messenger” of God. He must never shun from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27; c.f. 1 Samuel 3:18). He must also be diligent to feed and guard the flock of God. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4:2) Pray for your pastor just as he prays for you.

Some food for thought:
Are we bearing a good testimony for Christ in Tabernacle BPC? What will be the Lord’s assessment of His Church?

Yours affectionately,
Pastor C. Chew