In my previous post, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you,” I asked, “Is it possible for God to â€œremove the kingdomâ€ from a portion of his kingdom today?”
First, I want to make clear that I am not talking about personal salvation. I am not asking if it is possible for God to remove salvation from someone. Instead, I’m asking if its possible for one group of people to cease to be God’s church. In fact, I would assume this would happen over time, not instantaneous, much like we see God removing his kingdom from one group – i.e. the Jews – and giving it to another group – i.e. the Jews that followed Jesus.
So, to answer my own question, I would say, “Yes, it is possible for God to remove his kingdom from one group.” In fact, I think we see Jesus warning about this very thing happening.
In Revelation, John records the following words of the risen Jesus:
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Revelation 2:1-7 ESV)
Notice that Jesus has several positive things to say about the church in Ephesus. They work hard; they are patient; they cannot stand evil; they test apostles and point out the ones who are false apostles; they have not grown weary; they hate the work of the Nicolaitans.
However, Jesus says that he has one thing against them: they have left their first love.
He says that if they do not repent of this one thing, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Now, there is alot of symbolism in the book of Revelation, but we do not have to wonder what the lampstand symbolizes, because John has already told us: “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20 ESV)
So, the lampstand represent the church of Ephesus. Jesus warns the church at Ephesus that he will remove the church from them. Wow… this is a big deal… all because they turned away from their first love… even though they were working hard and standing up against evil and false teachers.
But, does this connect to what I said previously about God removing the kingdom from those who are disobedient and giving it to the remnant who remain obedient? Yes. Because some of the Ephesian Christians had a problem with love, and love is related to obedience.
John wrote elsewhere that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He also wrote, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” (1 John 2:4 ESV)
John even tells us what he means by “keep his commandments”:
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him… (1 John 3:23-24 ESV)
So, what does it mean to love God and keep his commandments? It means to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. In fact, if we do not demonstrate love to one another, then we can assume that we do not love God. Again, John writes:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the worldâ€™s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does Godâ€™s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)
So, Jesus warns the Ephesians that even though they think they love God (as demonstrated by the good things they were doing), they had actually lost their first love. More than likely, they had lost their love and concern for one another, given John’s understanding of loving God.
By failing to love others, John says that they are being disobedient – they are no longer “keeping his commandments.” Because of this, Jesus says that he will remove the church, unless they repent and become obedient by returning to this kind of love.
Now, I do not know what it would look like for God to “remove his lampstand,” but it seems to be a possible outcome, especially if the Ephesian church did not repent. We have to assume that it could also be a possibility today.
A church that ceases to love God by ceasing to love one another (regardless of how much truth they proclaim) could be in danger of having their “lampstand” removed. Why? Because just as in the case of the Old Testament, the kingdom is removed from those who are disobedient (failing to love others, according to John) and given to those who are obedient.