The Head of the Church
Text: Revelation 1:9–20; 2:1–7
Main Idea: Jesus is the sovereign head of the church and he is intimately involved in the life of the local church.
I. The Resurrected Christ is Co-Equal with the Father (Revelation 1:12–16)
II. The Resurrected Christ is Actively Tending to the Needs of His Church (Revelation 1:17–18)
III. The Resurrected Christ is the Undisputed Head of the Local Church (Revelation 2:1–7)
Good morning. Today we are going to be transitioning in our study of the church, from the Universal Church to the Local Church. And as we do, I’d like to clarify two things related to our constitutional revision this year. To begin with, I’d like to highlight what it is not. It is not a revision of our doctrinal statement. And this is because even though we have the freedom within the Free Church to: (1) call our own pastors, (2) organize our governmental structure, and (3) our ministries in the local church. We do not have the freedom to modify our doctrinal statement and still remain in the Free Church. And to be honest, we don’t want to. We believe it is an accurate, biblical representation of the gospel.
The second thing I want to clarify is what the constitution really is. It’s a man-made document that describes (1) our reason for existence as God’s church, (2) how authority works in the church, (3) and the way we make decisions as a church… It’s not holy writ. And as I understand it, it has been modified more than once over the years.
And just in case that word “authority” makes you feel uncomfortable, I want you to know that this rewrite is intended, in many ways, to clarify and elevate the true, biblical authority of the gathered membership of the church. See, in a congregational church, the congregation is the highest authority under the ultimate authority and head of the Church Jesus Christ. Yet, at the very same time the congregation doesn’t make every single decision in the church, rather it rightfully delegates authority to biblically qualified elders and deacons whose spiritual leadership is both described and constrained by God’s Word.
Therefore, to put it clearly, we are currently organized as an elder-led, congregationally ruled church and after the revision we will be the same. But, hopefully with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the congregation’s true role… Don’t miss this, you and I have a vital role in the life and leadership and ministry of Olympic Evangelical Free Church.
Yet, as we turn our attention to our passage, this morning, we are reminded that our authority is not ultimate, is it? Jesus is the highest authority in the church (Main Idea): Jesus is the sovereign head of the church and he is intimately involved in the life of the local church. (Revelation 1:9–16)
The Resurrected Christ is Co-Equal with the Father (Revelation 1:12–16)
So who is John seeing in this vision? It is clearly not a vision of God the Father; it is a vision of Jesus Christ. And we know this for certain when we finally make it down to verses 17–18. “I am the Living One, I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” See, God the Father cannot say this about himself, only Jesus can. And as we press deeper into this vision, the imagery points us to the glorious truth that: The resurrect Christ is co-equal with the Father.
The OT Background
Notice, as we read the description of Jesus in verses 12–16, we quickly run into a number of cross-reference tags in our Bibles. And what do they do? They help us see an important link to a similar vision in Daniel 7, where the Ancient of Days, God the Father, gives a kingdom to one like a Son of Man. And how is Jesus described in Revelation 1:13? “One like a son of man.” Therefore, this vision points us to the truth that, Jesus is the long-promised Son of Man from Daniel 7 and he has received the Kingdom from his Father and he is actively reigning over his blood bought people!
But, at the same time this vision reveals the fact that Jesus is more than a prophetic figure, in that, many of descriptions of God the Father in Daniel 7 are now applied —without reservation or excuse— to Jesus Christ. Jesus is co-equal with the Father. And even more, if we press into these descriptions of Christ, we are able to see and grasp and savor the true magnitude of his reign over his church.
What does this imagery reveal about Jesus Christ? Well, let me summarize centuries of scholarly work AND a truckload of OT cross references into a few paragraphs:
This long robe and golden sash typically denoted one of two things in the ancient world— priestly (Exod 28:4; 29:5–9) OR kingly status (Isa 22:21). And in the case of Jesus Christ both images apply he is our priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:6) and he is our reigning king.
His white hair, is a sign of his perfect wisdom.
His flaming eyes are a vivid indication that no one can hide their actions or inner motives from his penetrating gaze (2:18; 19:12; Dan 10:6).
His bronze feet emphasize his steadfastness and stability. No one can knock him over and nothing can upset his balance (Dan 10:6; cf. Rev 2:18).
The description of his “voice like roaring waters” is a very ornate way of emphasizing the overwhelming power and authority of Jesus’ word. Jesus gets the final word because he is the highest authority.
The seven stars in his hand symbolizes his absolute power and control over all things (cf. v. 20; 2:1; 3:1).
And the sword coming out of his mouth is a vivid reminder that Jesus will execute his just and righteous judgment against anyone who rejects his sovereign rule. Whether that be on wicked and sinful nations (19:15; Isa 11:4; 49:2) or on those who are propagating false teaching and immorality within his church (2:12, 16).
Hebrews 4:12–13 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Friends, this is not the Precious-Moments picture of Jesus that many of us have grown up with since our earliest years of Sunday School. Nor is it the namby-pamby, blindly accepting, sin-ignoring Jesus of liberal and progressive mainline denominations. This is the resurrected Christ in all of his glory and majesty and authority and power. This is the Christ who is the rightful and ruling head of every local church.
The Resurrected Christ is Actively Tending to the Needs of his Church (Revelation 1:17–20)
The Seven Stars
Now, for the sake of time and our focus on the local church, I’m going to limit our focus this morning to verse 20. And I’m doing this because it’s the only place in this initial vision that Jesus provides some interpretation. See while the imagery of his resurrected glory is anchored in the OT. There are two images that necessarily require clarification— the seven stars and the seven lampstands.
I wish Jesus had gone into further depth about the seven stars. Because Jesus’ answer still leaves us with the question, what does it really mean that the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches? Are these angels: (1) heavenly angels, (2) human messengers/ministers, or are they (3) personifications of each church’s identity…
Well to be honest, I’m not really certain. The only thing I do know is that, the Greek term behind “angel” in this verse (ἄγγελος) is consistently used through the entire book of Revelation to denote heavenly beings. And I’ll simply leave it at that because the mystery of the seven lampstands is incredibly clear. Right?
The Seven Lampstands
The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches. And what do lamps do? They exist to radiate light. They help us see at night and they expose countless dangers that lurk in the darkness. And when we apply this to the church it is easy to see that the local church is supposed to have a light bearing-role in the local community.
Matthew 5:14–16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Church this is our calling as a local church. We exist to have a gospel impact on the unsaved world in which we live. We exist to have a Christ-exalting, gospel impact in the face of political polarization, pandemic obfuscation, racial divisions, religious discrimination, and ever-growing inflation. And the most encouraging news in this vision is that we are never alone and we are certainly not left to our own power and resources!
Look back at Revelation 1:13, where is Jesus in this vision? He is standing “in the middle of” the seven lampstands, that is, he is standing in the middle of the seven churches. He is not merely over the churches. He is not distant from the churches. He is in the middle of these churches. But what is he really doing? I am asking this because chapters 2–3 might lead us to think that Jesus is judging and inspecting these churches. And if this is case, it certainly affirms Christ’s headship over the church but at the very same time this headship might not feel very encouraging.
Well, if we link the priest-king imagery of verses 12–16 with the lamp stand explanation in verse 20, we begin to see an entirely new and encouraging picture. What I mean by this, is that, the imagery is anchored in the OT tabernacle and the temple; both of which contained a seven-branched lampstand that was continually maintained by the priesthood (every single day for hundreds of years). The lampstands did not fill themselves with oil or tend their wicks. No, the priests trimmed the lamps, removed the old wick and old oil, refilled the lamps with fresh oil and diligently relight the ones that had gone out.
He doesn’t snuff out a smoldering wick (Isa 42:3), no he nurtures it. See, Jesus cares more about the local church than you and I could ever fathom.
See, this vision is intended to comfort these seven churches (and the church of every age) with the glorious truth that Jesus is intimately involved with the local Church. Jesus is not far away in time or space NOR is he merely abiding with us in an expressly theological or ethereal sense. No. He is with us in a purposeful, empowering, active sense. And this is because he is like a priest, moving among his lampstands, trimming the wicks, replenishing the oil, and breathing life back into the flickering flames of his beloved but every imperfect Churches.
This is so important because it reminds us that no good thing comes out of a church apart from his power OR provision. Even more, it reminds us that Jesus is here this morning. We do not need to summon him like spirit or beg him to show up. He is present in his authority and power. And he is intimately aware of our true condition, our true successes and even our failures as his church.
Olympic, this means that the ultimate reason we still exist today as a gospel-centered, discipleship–focused church —for all the ups and downs of our 35-year existence— is because Jesus has graciously kept us going.
But, lest we take this to mean that Jesus will keep us going no matter what we do as his church. Chapters 2–3 quickly remind us that the resurrected Christ is the undisputed head of the local church. And as such, he will not bless every decision the local church makes NOR will he continue to mercifully tend and empower local churches that abandon his sovereign headship.
This is one of the major differences between the universal and the local church. The universal church will continue to grow and mature no matter what happens in this world. Whereas the gospel ministry and impact of local churches (their lampstand) is dependent on their obedience to Jesus Christ.
Let’s take a quick look at how this plays out in the life of the church in Ephesus.
The Resurrected Christ is the Undisputed Head of the Local Church (Revelation 2:1–7)
The Church in Ephesus
Notice all the positive things that Jesus has to say about the church in Ephesus. They have been working incredibly hard and patiently enduring the cultural shame and discrimination that flow from their commitment to Jesus Christ. They are making every effort to walk purity and holiness and avoiding those who want to drag them into sin. They have been tenaciously committed to the purity of the gospel and sound doctrine, even to the point of denouncing false apostles.
Friends, this is a glowing picture of faithfulness that exceeds countless American churches today. What pastor today would not be elated to hear that his people not only understood and valued the great truths of God’s word. But, that they were trying to live a life that reflected those Biblical truths and were carefully measuring any teaching by them? Yet, there is a significant deficiency in the Ephesian Church… isn’t there?
Revelation 2:4–5 I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Are they are tirelessly fighting for ethical and doctrinal purity? Yes. Are they persevering in the face of discrimination and in some cases persecution? Yes. But, their problem is this: they have “lost their first love” AND reduced the Christian life to a never-ending fight for ethical and doctrinal purity.
So what does Jesus mean by “the love you had at first?”
The Nature of this “First Love”
Some theologians believe it means that they were no longer sharing the Gospel message. Some have taken it to mean that the years of religious discrimination and the unending struggle to guard and protect sound doctrine had produced an attitude of edgy, intolerant indifference within the church. Which in turn eroded the very bonds of brotherly love and compassion that used to define their worship and fellowship.
Well, don’t know that we have make a hard decision between these two options. Because the fundamental truth of the matter is that gospel proclamation and brotherly love are ultimately fueled by a much greater and praiseworthy love— a Christian’s love for AND joy in Jesus Christ! After all, we do what we do, because we want what we want, because we love what we love. To put it in medical terms: absence of personal evangelism and brother love are, in fact, merely the external symptoms of a much deeper spiritual disease.
See, there was a time when the Church in Ephesus was turning the 4th largest city in the Roman empire upside-down because they overjoyed in their new-found relationship with Jesus.
Acts 19:17–19 People openly confessed their evil deeds and publicly burned their magic scrolls.
Acts 19:23–27 So many people were turning from Idolatry to Christ that the pagan silver smiths in Ephesus were virtually driven into bankruptcy. Because no one was buying their little statues of Artemis.
Notice, what is the heart of problem? It’s not that doctrine and ethics are bad. It’s that they have severed their affections for their all-satisfying Savior from the ethical standards and doctrinal truths they so adamantly defended.
What is the Nature of Christ’s Threat to Remove their Lampstand?
What does Jesus want this church to see? He wants them to see that their role as his lampstand is under threat, because dead orthodoxy inevitably drifts into outright apostasy. And when this happens, the church in question ceases to be —by any true biblical definition— a true church. And the sad truth of the matter is that this story has played out countless times in the 2,000-year history of the Church. Right? We’ve seen it happen to individual churches and entire denominations as they exchange the sovereign headship of Jesus Christ for whatever seems right in their own eyes.
Notice, what is ultimately at stake? It’ not the title “church. It’s the very presence and power of the resurrected Jesus Christ, the One who empowers our gospel witness, brotherly love, and life of obedience.
So let me tie this passage into where we began this morning because I want you to know my heart and the heart of your leaders as we work through these revisions. Let me be clear, I am not trying to imply that we are on the verge of apostasy and losing our lampstand. Rather, my goal in this message is to emphasize the very-real presence and headship of Jesus Christ over Olympic Evangelical Free Church. He is the one —the only one— we are to love, worship, and obey.
Any spiritual good and gospel-witness that has ever come out of this church was a result of his active work within us as we faithfully and joyfully pursued his glory. Apart from him we can do nothing! This is the fundamental key to a healthy, vibrant, Christ-exalting church. And this deep-seated love for Christ is the only means by which we will persevere as a faithful gospel-witness into the future. Right?
Yet, there is an aspect of Christ’s headship that we do not always consider, his sovereign design and lordship over every “authority structure” in the local church. On the one hand, this means that every authority structure in the local church must conform to AND be measured by God’s revealed Word, whether that be the authority of the membership, the elders, or the deacons. And on the on the other hand, it means that the local church functions best as it conforms its structures, goals, and ministries according to God’s revealed design.
See, if Christ is the one who founded his church, purchased his church, is building his church, and empowering faithful churches, shouldn’t we make every effort to follow his design for the local church? I firmly believe the answer is yes. And I believe as we better align our structures to God’s design in this revision, that over time, it will increasingly foster the kind of unity within our church, which will in turn catalyze us for mission both inside and outside the church.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 88–93; G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary On the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 208–12.
 Buist M. Fanning, Revelation, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament, ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 101.
 Brian J. Tabb, “Revelation,” in NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 2286.
 Revelation 2:1, 5; 11:4; Matthew 5:14–16.
 Exodus 25:31; 1 Kings 7:49; 2 Chronicles 13:11; Zechariah 4:2.
 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 208.
 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 230.
 Beasley-Murray cited by, Osborne, Revelation, 115.
 Osborne, Revelation, 118–19.