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The first chapter of Revelation provides us with a number of images of the Church that reflect its essential nature as the church in mission. Here we find those who belong to Jesus Christ as depicted as:

Servants of God
The church is referred to, firstly, as ‘his servants’ [1:1]. This designation is repeated throughout Revelation. The present context of this servanthood is the unbelieving and at times antagonistic world. Here the servants of God are under deliberate attack by false teaching that aims to corrupt both the beliefs and the practice [2:20]. Here, the servants of God are sealed, and thereby safe and secure, against the preliminary and final judgments of God [7:3]. The servants of God are assured that God will, in those judgments, avenge their mistreatment and their martyrdom [19:2]. Beyond this present context – beyond this age of witness and mission, beyond the judgment, in the new heaven and the new earth, the church, God’s servants, will serve him, forever free from all that inhibits and sullies their service [22:3].

Priests of God
Believers are called ‘priests’ three times in Revelation [1:6; 5:10; 20:6]. In each, there is a connection with service. Historically the responsibility of priests is twofold: to represent man in the presence of God, and to represent God in the presence of men. Again, we are immediately in the context of mission, of serving God in the unbelieving world: the church praying for the world and the church proclaiming the word of God to the world. Also, in each of these three references to the church as ‘priests’ there is a connection with ‘kingdom’ or reigning. In this also, we see the church in mission: the church alone, from among all the people of the world, has in its possession the one truth by which all the peoples of the world will be judged. Its proclamation of that truth is a key factor in the outcome of the final judgment for every human being [see Matthew 16:16-19].

Custodians of the truth
We have seen this fact that the church has and holds God’s truth in a previous meditation. Believers are those who have ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’ [1:9; 6:9; 12:11; 19:10]. This possession of God’s truth automatically infers the responsibility of communicating that truth. The possession and communication of this truth immediately distinguishes the church from the world, and attracts the antagonism of the world. This distinction and this antagonism are essential characteristics of the church in mission. If there is no distinction the church is no longer the church. If there is no antagonism, no opposition, no rejection, the church has ceased to hold the word of God and the testimony of Jesus; it has defaulted as the custodian of the truth.

As ‘lampstands’ [1:12,13,20; 11:4] the church is portrayed as a light shining in the darkness of the world, bringing the light of God into the ignorance, uncertainty and blindness of human atheism, human agnosticism, human relativism and human religion. From its secure position in the presence of God [note the positioning of the golden lampstand in the Holy Place in the tabernacle] the church proclaims the truth of God. In this it follows the example of Christ [John 1:9; 8:12]; in this it reflects the nature of Christ [Matthew 5:14-16]; in this it shares the rejection of Christ [John 1:5; 3:19-21; Revelation 11:4-7]. In all of this the church also shares in the mission of Christ – that by this light men are redeemed from the darkness [John 8:12; 12:46; Acts 26:18; 2Corinthians 4:4-6; Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:13;1Peter 2:9; 1John 1:5].


In its mission, the church is primarily ‘servants’ of God [1:1]. It is God the church serves, not man. It is for God’s sake, for his glory, that the church engages in mission. Just as the primary purpose of Jesus Christ in his incarnation was to glorify God by making him known [John 17:4,6,14] so the primary mission of the church is to glorify God by making him known. When the glory and the truth of God are demonstrated in the life of the church, then the church also most truly serves man as by its witness men see the light of God [Matthew 5:16; 1Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 3:10; 1Peter 2:9,12].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015