It has been around for centuries, this idea of devotion for Christ and apathy for his church. Dan Kimball, for example, wrote a book a few years back entitled They like Jesus but Not the Church. This dislike for the local congregation but interest in Christ is certainly widespread today. From a perspective that is very subversive to the individualistic practices of many modern believers and para-church ministries, God reveals to John a Son of Man who has planted himself directly in the midst of churches.
John leaves no doubt about this since those 7 lamp stands where the Son of Man resides are interpreted as the 7 churches of Revelation (Rev. 1:12-13, 20). Far too many lifetimes have been wasted by individuals desperately wanting to interpret the symbols of Revelation while all the time ignoring one of the few symbols that Revelation itself interprets for the reader. Christian pietists have always been excited about John’s earlier scene with the Son of Man “coming with the clouds” (Rev. 1:7), but they seem to lose interest when he is to be found dwelling among congregations.
Jesus’ choice to hang out with the saints is even more startling in light of the poor performance and patent heresy of many of these congregations. Some of these churches had people who had turned their backs on Christ, yet there he still is among them. While Christ was never known to make choices based upon the “cool factor,” he truly chose some of the un-coolest folks in Roman Asia to hang out with. Had Christ wanted to be worshipped with excitement and style, he clearly would have chosen to hang out with those worshipping the Emperor or with those where truly exciting worship took place like in the Mystery Religions.
This apparent desire of Christ to shun individualism and to be seen with his people is highlighted in John’s use of other collective images and illustrations. It is impossible to make any sense out of Revelation’s use of the 144,000 without noticing that it points to 12 thousand from each of the 12 tribes (Rev. 7:4-8), and not just 144,000 individuals. Even the image of the Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17) is built upon Old Testament nuptial ideas where the corporate people of God are taken as the Bride. As with the Apostle Paul (Eph. 5), for John we are only the Bride of Christ as the church.
Revelation 14:1-5 has a powerful scene that depicts the saints in heaven. Among the many descriptions of this group of the saved is that these are “the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev. 14:4). Unlike many of their modern counterparts, these believers and martyrs in John’s vision were willing to follow the Messiah anywhere without reservation, even into the life of the local church.