The Testimony of Jesus (continued)
For What Does the Church Exist?
Well, that is the answer, very inadequately, very briefly, to the question, What is the Church? The second question is: For what does the Church exist? We have it stated for us by Paul here, have we not, in the very words that we have read: ".... how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and stay of the truth" - and there ought to be no full period there, only a pause to take a breath - "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He Who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:1516). That is the deposit in the Church; that is the testimony of Jesus. For that the Church exists. It is to that the Apostle refers, you notice, more than once, when he says: "O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee..." (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14). 'O Timothy, guard the deposit, the trust ...' The Church is the repository of the testimony of Jesus.
What is the testimony of Jesus? There are, of course, certain statements about it here, in the passage we have just read. But I am not going to take up these different clauses, because I am not at the moment concerned with Christian doctrine, or with the doctrine of the Church. I am occupied with the Church itself. But I turn you now to the Book of Revelation, for, as we have said in our last chapter, the writings of John, written after Paul had finished his work and gone to glory, related to the full development of this very thing whose beginnings Paul had witnessed. The Book of the Revelation is peculiarly appropriate to this state of spiritual departure and declension, and you find that the all-governing thing of the whole book is this one phrase: "the testimony of Jesus."
John said that he was "in the isle ... called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:9). But there is a Divine sovereignty over the Roman Empire, this is what I have brought you here for! They sent you, but I have brought you! This is not their sovereignty that has put you here; this is Mine. I have something to say to the Church, and I have given you a quiet time to say it for Me.' 'I was in the isle that is called Patmos - because the Roman Empire sent me there? because the Roman Emperor sent me there? because the persecutors caught me and sent me there:' Not a bit of it! "I was in the isle ... called Patmos .. for ... the testimony of Jesus". Now that may have been because he had stood for the testimony of Jesus: but it is very impressive, is it not, that that phrase runs through this whole book, as is seen, as we go on, to be the thing by which the Lord is judging, first of all the churches, and then, representatively, the Church as a whole. And, having dealt with the Church on the basis of the testimony of Jesus, He moves on to deal with the nations, and eventually with the devil himself and his kingdom. It is all related to the testimony of Jesus.
The Living Presence of Jesus
What is it? Well, the testimony of Jesus is presented to us symbolically right at the beginning of the book, in the declaration - we will leave the symbolism for the moment - made by the Lord Himself: "I am ... the Living One... I became dead, and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Write therefore ..." What is the testimony of Jesus? The present, living Person of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is where it begins: the living Person of Jesus. Not the historic Jesus of Palestine of centuries ago - no, the right up-to-date, here-and-now living Jesus, manifested, demonstrated, proved to be alive in the power of the Holy Spirit. Is that carrying it too far? Well, then, why, when the seven churches in Asia are challenged, is there the seven times repeated "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches?" The Holy Spirit has got this matter in hand. The Holy Spirit is challenging - not concerning a creed, or a doctrine as such, but concerning the manifestation of the living Christ, there, and there, and there. The testimony of Jesus, whether it be in Ephesus, or Smyrna, or Pergamum, or in any other place, is just this: that the place where that church is - the town, the city, the province - is to know,in the power of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is alive!! That is where it begins. By its very presence, by its very existence, by its very life there in that place, the one thing that people are to know is that they have NOT got rid of Jesus. They have NOT been able to put Him out of this world - He is here, alive!
(continued with # 68)