门徒们也抱着这个期盼。在基督生平的服侍中，他们常在神所应许的国度中争先恐后，抢夺高位（参：太18:1-5；路 9:46-48）。约翰和他的兄弟雅各甚至让他们妈妈来，替他们向主提出请求（太20:20-21）。使徒行传 1:6告诉我们，直到基督升天的那一刻，他的门徒们还指望着他彰显他的权能，并在世上引进他的国度。
Judgment Begins with theHousehold of God
by John MacArthur
Monday, October 22, 2018
By the time the apostle John was nearing the end of hisearthly life, he was acutely aware that “all who desire to live godly in ChristJesus will be persecuted” (2Timothy 3:12). He told people in his pastoral care, “Do not besurprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1John 3:13). But as John was living out his final days in torturouslabor on the Isle of Patmos, he may have looked back in amazement at howdifferent his circumstances were from what he expected when he set out tofollow Jesus.
Israel had very high expectations for the Messiah and thekingdom He would institute. They eagerly anticipated the arrival of an heir tothe Davidic throne who would overthrow Rome’s occupying forces, wipe outIsrael’s enemies, and usher in the fulfillment of all God’s promises toAbraham, David, and the prophets. The salvation they awaited was temporal, noteternal.
The disciples held that hope. Throughout Christ’sministry, they frequently jockeyed for supremacy in the promised kingdom ofheaven (see Matthew 18:1–5; Luke9:46–48). John and his brother James even enlisted their mother topetition the Lord on their behalf (Matthew20:20–21). Acts 1:6 tells us that right up to the momentChrist ascended into heaven, His disciples expected Him to unleash Hissovereign power and inaugurate His kingdom on earth.
In the years that followed, as the church exploded intoexistence and the Holy Spirit authenticated the apostles’ ministry throughmiraculous gifts, it must have seemed that the Lord’s return was imminent. Butalmost immediately the church was inundated with false teachers. Before long,many of John’s apostolic brothers were dead at the hands of Rome—by the time hereached Patmos, he was the only apostle still alive.
With believers on the run from merciless persecution andwith churches in serious spiritual decline, John might have had every reason tobe disappointed and depressed. Had the Lord’s plan for the church failed? Itwould be easy to imagine him crying out for a vision of what the Lord was doingin His church—some divine insight to encourage and comfort him in the twilightof his apostolic ministry. No matter how seasoned and spiritually mature hewas, he surely could have used some hope and solace.
Instead, what he saw was utterly terrifying. John tellsus it caused him to fall to the ground “like a dead man” (Revelation 1:17). What he saw was the glorifiedChrist, appearing as ruler, judge, and executioner. John saw the Lord in allHis glory as the Head of the church, ready to mete out righteous judgment—noton the world, but on His church!
Christ’s message to the church, through John, isunequivocal: “Repent.” Over and over, Christ calls these wayward churches torepent and reform. To the church at Ephesus, He said, “Therefore remember fromwhere you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first” (Revelation 2:5). He had a similar message for thechurch at Pergamum: “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, andI will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (Revelation 2:16). He warned the church at Thyatiraof the severe judgment that awaited “unless they repent” (Revelation 2:22). He charged the church at Sardis to“remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent” (Revelation 3:3). And He gave a final warning tochurch at Laodicea, reminding them that “Those whom I love, I reprove anddiscipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation3:19).
These were not casual, dispassionate warnings. Each callto repentance was accompanied by the devastating consequences that awaited if achurch failed to reform. In that sense, what John saw and heard was thefulfillment of Peter’s words decades earlier in his first epistle: “For it istime for judgment to begin with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Like Paul, Peter knew the manylooming spiritual dangers that threatened the church, even from within. He alsoknew that churches would in some cases succumb to temptations, false doctrines,the lure of the world, or the assaults of the evil one. Peter called hisreaders to persevere under persecution, which he saw in part as God’s judgmentagainst the unfaithful church. Moreover, Peter understood that this is how Godalways operates with His people.
As a good student of the Old Testament, Peter would havebeen familiar with the prophecy of Ezekiel 9, which was another terrifyingvision of God’s judgment: “Then He cried out in my hearing with a loud voicesaying, ‘Draw near, O executioners of the city, each with his destroying weaponin his hand’” (Ezekiel 9:1).Writing during the Babylonian captivity, Ezekiel saw a vision of God callingforeign powers to execute His judgment on His people. The vision continues,
Behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gatewhich faces north, each with his shattering weapon in his hand; and among themwas a certain man clothed in linen with a writing case at his loins. And theywent in and stood beside the bronze altar.
Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from thecherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called tothe man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. The Lord said tohim, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem,and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all theabominations which are being committed in its midst.” But to the others He saidin my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eyehave pity and do not spare. Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, littlechildren, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and youshall start from My sanctuary.” So they started with the elders who were beforethe temple. (Ezekiel9:2–6)
God’s wrath had reached a boiling point with apostateIsrael. He made a provision to mark out the few who had remained faithful, buteveryone else would face the fullness of His judgment. Moreover, the slaughterwould start at the very seat of His authority and the center of worship, withthose most culpable for Israel’s apostasy.
In essence, that is the same vision John saw—the Lord asthe righteous judge, coming to call His churches to repent of unfaithfulness toHim.
Most people who go to a church believe it is a safeplace—perhaps the safest place—when it comes to threats of judgment from theLord. It’s almost like climbing aboard the ark; once you’re safely inside,you’re untouchable.
But that’s not true. Frankly, it’s a foolish anddangerous notion. Just because you are in a church—or something you call achurch, where Jesus’ name is invoked and songs are sung about Him—does not meanyou’re safe against threats from God. Here in the opening chapters ofRevelation, the Lord makes some very strong, direct threats against churches. Achurch is no safer than the world in that regard, and its transgressions oftendemand a swifter judgment.
That’s why this passage is so often overlooked and rarelydiscussed. While the Lord repeatedly called for Israel to repent and return toa right relationship with Him, the early chapters of Revelation are the onlyplace He employs similar language when dealing with the sins and failures ofchurches. It makes us uncomfortable to think about God calling His church torepent and reform, and threatening them with judgment if they don’t. But it iscritically important that we heed the warnings Christ delivers to us throughthe pen of John in Revelation.
Yes, these were letters written to specific localcongregations about their particular issues. But they also stand as warnings tothe entire church throughout its history. And as we’ll see, the rebukesdelivered to the churches of Asia Minor are just as applicable to the modernchurch, if not more so.
The issues that corrupted churches in the first centuryare the same threats facing the church today: idolatry, sexual immorality,compromise with the world and its pagan culture, spiritual deadness, andhypocrisy. Over the intervening centuries, the church has not outgrown thesefamiliar pitfalls. Nor has God lowered or softened His righteous standard.Regardless of when and where it exists, He demands a pure church.
That was His message to the churches in Revelation.Roughly two thousand years later, Christ is still calling churches torepent and warning us about dire consequences if they don’t.
(Adapted from Christ’s Call to Reform the Church)