"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Thus Says the Lord: I Know

Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea - each of these churches were addressed specifically and individually at the end of the first century, in the work of John that would become known as Revelation.  These very brief epistles contained within Revelation differentiate themselves from the other inspired letters in one dramatic way:  while the others were crafted by godly men who wrote from their own hearts and minds, under the sure inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Revelation epistles came directly from the mouth of none other than the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and John had only to write them down as they were spoken.  Christ addressed these church directly and personally.

These letters (Rev. 2-3) served as encouragement or warning, or sometimes as both, depending upon the course which each church had laid out for itself.  The Lord of glory commends, condemns, and commands as needed, but before He embarks upon any of these tasks, He discloses His close and specific understanding of whatever church He is addressing.  In each letter, He starts this section by declaring, "I know..."  I know your deeds; I know your circumstances; I know your true condition; I know your attitude.  I know

The Greek of the day afforded two very common ways to say "I know" - oida, which connotes a complete knowledge, and ginosko, which suggests a growing sort of understanding.  There is, of course, no need to question Jesus' perfect grasp of the linguistic nuances at His command - John himself recorded His words to the unbelieving Jews regarding His Father in John 8:55a:  "and you have not come to know [ginosko] Him, but I know [oida] Him."

Christ declares His mature knowledge of His churches, then.  Revelation 1:14 recounts that His eyes are "like a flame of fire" - a graphic testimony of His omniscient, omnipresent gaze as He moves among these seven churches (vv. 13, 20).  The truth about each of these churches, then, is laid stark before the eyes of the Lord; nothing can be concealed, exaggerated, or explained away.  The darkest, quietest, most secluded bowers in every human heart of these churches are nevertheless familiar to the Lord; they are continually bathed in the impartial brilliance of His absolute understanding, and they lay immediately before His eyes. 

Consider what effect this complete divine knowledge would visit upon the unfaithful churches mentioned in Revelation (which comprise a shocking five of the seven, to varying degrees), and by logical extension, upon the unfaithful churches of today.  The "I know" statements of the Lord of the church in Revelation should be among the most fearful and sobering pronouncements a church may encounter, but of course the effect of these assertions upon those in unfaithful churches will certainly vary quite dramatically. 

The true believers in these places, anemic or lukewarm, may be galvanized to earnestly pursue a return to faithfulness in their church, or else, in bleaker circumstances, they may be moved to seek out a truer fellowship.  They may choose to do neither because they are unmoved, but they will find biblical assurance dashed from their grasping hands, and may choose to settle for a transient substitute, to their folly.

False professors, on the other hand, may be moved to repentance, or they may perceive the distant pulse of needling but idle fear, and come away unmoved.  They may also scoff and reckon such ideas as naught but fancy, a misguided foray upon the presumably ironclad strongholds of human philosophy and wisdom.  There is tragedy laid up for these last two groups, for they will discern the magnitude of their folly only when their would-be Savior-turned Judge will declare, "I know [oida] your deeds, but I never knew [ginosko] you." (as in Matt. 7:23) Tragically, here ginosko represents intimate connection unto salvation. 

This is a woeful position for a church, for God's displeasure is assured and just.  Think, though, what the "I know" omniscience of God means to the churches that cling to God and His Word!  I know of your faithfulness, in spite of your imperfections.  I know your genuine needs as you work for my kingdom.  I know the difficulties in which you are embroiled at this moment, and I know how to care for you in the fiery heart of affliction.  We need not wait for God to perceive our condition; He understood it completely before He set into careful motion any star in the heavens.  He responds with pleasure to His faithful churches, and will not suffer them to want for what He knows they will need in their zealous bid to worship and obey Him. 

"I know," says our Lord - a simple statement, but one that spells our endurance and lasting comfort in Him. 

1 Vine, W.E., Merrill Unger & William White, Jr.  Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.  “An Expository Dictionary of New Tesatment Words with their Precise Meanings for English Renderings.”  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1996.  p. 346.


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