Christ’s Warning to Erring Leaders
Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
— Revelation 2:16
I have such a heart for spiritual leaders in the Body of Christ. As one who is called to stand in a leadership position myself, I have a burning desire to see men and women raised up who are leaders of integrity and who are taking a steadfast stance of faith on God’s Word. These are qualities that God requires in His leaders, and the world desperately needs leaders of a pure heart and strong faith. That’s why Jesus takes it very seriously when a spiritual leader falls into error and leads others into that same error.
In Revelation 2:16, Christ was speaking to erring leaders in the Early Church about the toxic influence they were having on those under their spiritual care. A group of spiritual leaders in a local body were leading others astray, teaching them that a little compromise with the world — worldliness — would not be detrimental to the spiritual life of the congregation. These leaders propagated among the people a belief that a lifestyle that could “bend” with the times might help them obtain a measure of peace with their pagan neighbors. In essence, this false teaching advocated that separation from the world was not required for the Christian community.
Jesus was firmly against what these errant leaders were teaching; His warning to them is clearly recorded in Revelation 2:16. And for nearly 2,000 years, Christ’s words have sounded a clear alarm for all spiritual leaders who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, lead the flock of God into a position of accommodating the world.
In today’s Sparkling Gem, we’ll look at the warning that Christ spoke to erring leaders nearly 2,000 years ago. And we’ll see that He is still issuing this same alarm to spiritual leaders who deviate from sound doctrine today.
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In Revelation 2:16, Christ told these erring leaders, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
Knowing the tender graciousness of Jesus, I’m confident that before issuing such a stern admonition, He had spoken to these leaders previously about their wrong behavior. Surely He had warned them of the grave error of their ways and had given them many opportunities to change. But after they had ignored the pleadings of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s words became very serious as time began running out for these leaders to respond appropriately and repent.
As we see in Revelation 2:16, a time eventually came when Jesus’ tone of voice changed, and He called on that group of leaders to repent “or else.”
The word “repent” is the Greek word metanoeo, which is a compound of the words meta and nous. The word meta means to turn, and the word nous is the word for mind, intellect, will, frame of thinking, opinion, or one’s general view of life. When meta and nous are compounded, the new word depicts a decision to completely change the way one thinks, lives, or behaves. Thus, when Jesus used this word in Revelation 2:16, He was adamantly and forthrightly calling on those who were in error to change. He was commanding them to stop accommodating the unbelieving world and assimilating that mindset into their midst.
Today the voice of Jesus is still crying out for the Church to repent of worldliness and carnality. As is true in each generation, we have a choice today to harden our hearts and turn a deaf ear to the Holy Spirit — or to allow Him to deal deeply with us and produce true repentance in our hearts and souls. Although Christ is always ready to transform His Church, no true transformation can occur unless we are willing to hear what His Spirit is saying to us. And once we do hear that divine message, we must be willing to respond with humble obedience.
The vast majority of the early believers had repeatedly proven themselves faithful to Christ, even when faced with intense opposition from the pagan government and the unbelieving local community. Yet in their midst were errant spiritual leaders who had become a polluting and adulterating influence on the entire congregation. In Revelation 2:16, Christ issued a stern warning to this latter group, declaring, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly….”
The phrase “I will come” in verse 16 signaled that Christ’s patience with those in error was rapidly reaching an end. This was His final warning — a final opportunity to repent — before He would begin moving in their direction, wielding “the sword of His mouth” — His sharp sword with two edges (see Revelation 1:16; 2:12,16). If those church leaders accepted Jesus’ call to repent and turn from their erroneous position, they would be spared. But if they refused to heed His call to repent, Jesus emphatically warned them: “I will come to you.”
The words “to you” come from the Greek word soi, which conveys a sense of strong exclamation. That phrase literally means, “I will come to YOU!”
There was no misunderstanding Christ’s warning to those erring leaders: If they refused to heed His words and abandon their doctrine of compromise, He would make a direct path to them and personally deal with their sin. The time for repeated warnings was coming to an end.
Jesus’ words were a solemn proclamation to those leaders that they should not misinterpret His past delays in judgment as His tolerance of their sin. For Christ to speak in such strong words reveals that He had already warned them and given them opportunities to respond. But because they had repeatedly ignored His pleas, the opportunity to avoid judgment was swiftly coming to a close. By lifting His voice loud and clear, Christ was providing one last chance to repent and thus avoid the repercussions of His discipline. This was an act of love — a merciful plea to those who were leading others astray to repent and change — before He would take a more severe course of action.
The word “quickly” in the phrase “I will come unto thee quickly” is from the Greek word tachus, which describes a swift, high-speed movement. This word emphatically denotes that the clock was ticking and time was running out. When the sword of justice would finally fall, Christ would not leisurely enact judgment; rather, Christ would come to them with sudden, unhesitating swiftness.
Christ continued his warning by saying, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them….”
The word “fight” comes from the Greek word polemos, which was a well-known word used throughout Greek literature to describe an organized and often prolonged military conflict designed to defeat an opponent. In other words, polemos was no mere skirmish — it was an all-out war ! By using this word, Jesus let these believers know that the situation in their church had grown so grievous that He was armed and ready to engage those individuals in battle.
The time for negotiating had come and gone. Just as a powerful nation sends a pre-war declaration to its weaker enemies, calling for their surrender before they are crushed in battle, Christ was calling for the unconditional surrender of those errant leaders. If they chose to defy Him, they would suffer the consequences of a divine assault and experience the sword of His mouth. If these erring leaders finally refused to hear what the Holy Spirit was saying and repent, Jesus declared He would “fight against them.”
The word “against” is the Greek word kata, which describes something that is dominating or subjugating. In this instance, it depicts a full force that comes to completely subdue and conquer. Based on Jesus’ prior experience with these leaders — and the fact that they had not yet repented — we can conclude that Christ didn’t expect them to respond in obedience to His command. Thus, He warned them that He was going to exert His authority and retake the church for Himself, one way or another. They could repent and surrender, or they could be crushed. Either way, Christ was going to have His way in His Church.
Revelation 1:16 and 2:12 both portray Christ as having a sharp sword with two edges. However, in Revelation 2:16, Jesus says, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
The word “sword” in all three of these verses is the Greek word rhomphaia, which is a very unusual word to be used in the context of the Roman world since the rhomphaia was not a Roman weapon. Rather, this sword originated in Thrace, a region near Asia Minor, and it was so horrible that it was feared above all others, even by Roman soldiers. This weapon was essentially a very sharp, often double-edged, sickle-shaped blade affixed to a long pole. The ruthless effectiveness of the rhomphaia against Roman armies was the result of the sword’s capability to cut through thick armor and its long reach. This allowed the soldier who wielded it — often in a back-and-forth, hacking motion similar to a farmer using a sickle — to penetrate even the tightly compacted formation of the Roman infantry.
Therefore, when Jesus used the word rhomphaia to describe His spiritual weaponry against those erring leaders, He was referring to one of the most feared weapons of the ancient world. This was no accident; rather, it was a clear declaration — and a serious warning — that if those in error chose not to repent, Christ would extend His mighty sword into their midst and remove them.
In light of the truths found in these verses, my thoughts go directly to Eli, Israel’s high priest, and the fact that God removed him and his two sons from the ministry in a single day because they wouldn’t repent of their evil ways (see 1 Samuel 2:12-4:18). They had been given ample opportunity to repent — but, ultimately, a time came when toleration was no longer acceptable. Although God’s mercy gave them a great amount of time to repent and change, they rejected each offer afforded them. Then time ran out. As a result, God’s sword of judgment swung into action, and they were each removed from their positions of spiritual authority.
This is a sobering account from Scripture with a very serious message. We must pray for our spiritual leaders — that they will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and respond to His leading and correction when it is needed. We are living in a day and hour when the Church is sadly compromising on many levels. This is a time — perhaps above all other times — when God’s spiritual leadership needs to stand up on the side of His unchanging truths. If there are spiritual leaders who will not respond to the repeated call and correction of God, Christ Himself will deal with them with the sword of His mouth to bring whatever level of correction is necessary.
So let’s commit to praying diligently for those who are in authority within the Church. Never has it been so crucial that our leaders hear clearly and heed the Holy Spirit as they lead God’s flock in the way that Jesus would have them lead.
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Heavenly Father, I pray for the spiritual leaders over my life. I pray that they will be quick to hear and prompt to obey Your Voice. I ask You to strengthen them with might in their inner man, that they will remain unbending in their commitment to the unchanging truths of Your Word, even if it means they must take a stand that is different from the spirit of the age around us. In this day when morals and beliefs seem to be changing on every side, give my pastor and spiritual leaders the fortitude and courage to stand firm in their commitment to the unchangeable truths of Your Word.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that those who are spiritual leaders over my life walk in divine wisdom, counsel, and might. They are marked by integrity and free from compromise, standing with unwavering commitment to God’s unchanging truths as revealed in the teaching of the Bible. Regardless of what society says, what the courts declare, or what the spirit of the age dictates, my leaders are led by the truth of the Bible and the Spirit of the Living God. I declare that they are sensitive to God’s voice; they are quick to be corrected when it is required; and they will stand the test of time. They are anointed to minister in these last, very critical days of this age!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of other examples from the Bible when God took action against erring spiritual leaders? Who are those examples?
- In your life, have you seen a spiritual leader whom the Lord disciplined or removed because he was leading the flock into spiritual error and refused to repent?
- If you see someone in leadership who is leading others in error, how do you think you should pray for him or her? How would you want someone to pray for you if you were in his or her place?