Reflections on Revelation #58

Day 58

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, and yet you are dead. Be constantly alert, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.” Rev 3:1-2.

From this testimony of Jesus, it is clear that a church can have a great name and yet die. Just because a church was faithful in times past doesn’t mean it will always be faithful. God can approve of a religious movement at one point in time and yet it can lose its way.

There is an interesting example in Biblical times. John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets and a faithful man. He baptized Jesus when He came and introduced his own disciples to Him. There is no question that God approved of his ministry. Jesus even considered him to be a fulfilment of prophecy. John was the Elijah that was to come, according to Malachi (Matt 11:11-14; Luke 1:13-17, cf. Mal 4:5-6).

But scholars have noticed that John the Baptist is treated a bit differently in the Gospel of John than he is in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Matthew, Mark and Luke John is the exalted prophet who plays the role of Elijah in preparing the way for the Messiah. But in the later Gospel of John, John the Baptist is constantly lowering himself in comparison with Jesus. Speaking of Jesus John says things like, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30, KJV), and “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1:30, NIV).

Why does the Gospel of John highlight John’s self-deprecating statements? Because there is evidence that many of the followers of John the Baptist failed to follow Jesus. The followers of the Baptist considered John greater than Jesus because in the Jewish theology of the time earlier is better. The one who comes first is the greatest. So at the end of the first century there were a number of people still following the Baptist. The author of the Fourth Gospel challenges them to move on and follow Jesus all the way. To continue to “follow” the Baptist was NOT to follow the Baptist. It was to be part of a religious movement that had served its purpose and was now outmoded from God’s point of view.

It is a dangerous thing to follow a religious tradition simply because we have always done so or because our parents did so. Sometimes movements fall back or God moves on. We are each responsible to search out God’s ways for ourselves, we cannot trust in the findings of our spiritual forebears.

No Comments

Post A Comment