“According to Your Works” – Revelation 2:18-29

by Roger McCay
16 May 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 2:18-29
Link to Audio Version

Life outside of Jesus Christ is but a mimicry of life—a shadow—a vapor. In contrast, the reality of life in Christ is invested with rock-like solidity—a fulness and vitality that has ramifications towards a powerful, glorious, eternal life. As such, faithfulness to Christ is the highest calling of the redeemed, even over our mortal lives, as we are the immortal heirs of God with Christ, our bridegroom.

The implications of this truth are seen in the rebuke that Tertullian, an early church leader, gave to “a believer participating in idolatry because of his business.” As it is told, “The man defended his sin, saying, “After all, I must live.” Tertullian answered, “Must you?”[1]

Evil in our midst threatens the purity of Christ’s bride. Tolerating evil in the church’s midst is to mix lie with truth, debasing the life bought by Christ on the cross, and betraying the marriage union of Jesus and his bride.

The redeemed are justified by faith and saved by grace through faith. United with Christ, exalted into heavenly glories, integrity calls for our works to flow from the state of grace in which we stand—a harmony of sound and color against the darkness and silence of those who have life in their body but are still in the grave.

In v. 18 of our passage today, our gracious bridegroom describes himself as “the Son of God.” He is the Lord, the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God, the incarnate one conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary (John 1 & Luke 1). He is the prophesied Son of God, who is the Son of Man, the Son of David, sitting on the eternal throne of the Kingdom of God (Ps. 2; Dan. 7; 2 Sam. 7). Jesus, in describing himself here as the Son of God, contrasts himself against the local Thyatiran guild deity Apollo Tyrimnaeus, and [likewise] the … emperor [who claimed divinity], both of whom were referred to as sons of the god Zeus,”[2] and both of whom were stamped upon the local coins.[3] Jesus, the eternal, true Son of God, is making a point to his preeminence (Col. 1:15-20). In that vein, he then describes himself, in the manner he revealed himself in Rev. 1:14-15 to John, as having “eyes like a flame of fire,” and “feet … like burnished bronze.”[4] The imagery is vivid. The feet of Jesus are “like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace,” symbolizing his divine embodiment of strength and stability, indicating his indomitable movement and immovable stance, as he tends his lampstands, the churches, with justice and mercy. What is more, as divine Lord, his flaming eyes symbolize his vigorous intensity and clear vision, as he sees the deeper things, beyond all obfuscation, with sovereign insight into all of history. Thus, Jesus is the one “who searches mind and heart, and … will give to each … according to [his or her] works” (v. 23). He is the Judge of all the earth; his judgment is sure and true—his justice untainted.[5] And he is the head of his body, the Church, his bride.[6]

Jesus demands that his bride be pure. “Be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16). For it is an abomination to join the Holy with pollution. Thus against OT Israel (a people the Lord chose unto himself, redeemed from Egypt, covenanted with at Sinai in marriage, and blessed with the promised land), who debased herself with idolatry and immorality generation after generation (but for a few exceptions and always the remnant – Rom. 11:1-6) … against OT Jews, the Lord called them harlot, whore, prostitute—the unfaithful bride of the Holy God (cf. Isa. 1:21; Jer. 3:1-3; Ezek. 16; and Hosea). John continues with this theme in Revelation, as the Jews who rejected Christ had again proved faithless, whoring with the beast, having crucified the bridegroom and continually persecuting Jesus through his redeemed people, among other things. Indeed, the Great Harlot of Rev. 17 is an image of apostate Judaism, whom the Lord divorced in the heavenly court (Rev. 4-5) and upon whom he brought down the sevenfold judgment promised in Lev. 26, revealed as Revelation unfolds through chapters 6-19, albeit “with some interruptions and interludes” (as Kenneth Gentry puts it).[7] And if you’re wondering about the language of God divorcing, this is not a new concept, as you’ll see in Jer. 3:8. Thus the Harlot of apostate Judaism (whom Christ calls “those who say they are Jews but are not;” Jerusalem), is a major character in the theme and flow of Revelation. The Lord was coming in judgment upon her soon, culminating in the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 (Rev. 1:1, 3 & 7, Matt. 24:30). So, in the context of this divorce and judgment, Jesus was adamant to ensure his bride (the church, true Israel, who is new Jerusalem – Rev. 21:2) … he was adamant to ensure his bride of the New Covenant would not follow the path of his former wife of the Old Covenant into adultery—all part of the one Covenant of Grace.