The Prophetic History of Christendom
As Seen in the Seven Churches of Asia - Revelation 2 and 3
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John" (Rev.1:1). This verse shows us that the whole book of Revelation deals with things which must shortly come to pass; that is, it is of a prophetic character regarding future things. The subject of the messages to the seven churches of Asia, which shall be before us in these studies, is prophetical in character as well as historical. We have not only an historical account of conditions that existed in these seven churches at the time when the apostle John was given this vision and these messages, but a prophetical picture of the history of the professing Church, or Christendom, from the apostolic times down to the end. This will be before us in detail later.
"I John. was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks" (Rev. 1:9-12).
The Church as a Candlestick
Here in Revelation we have the church or assemblies symbolized as candlesticks or as "golden lamps" (N.Tn). "The seven candle-sticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" (Rev.1:20). This means that the Church is regarded by the Lord as a vessel of testimony bearing light in this dark world. That is what the Church and every believer should be, a light in this world. The Lord said. "Ye are the light of the world. . Let your light so shine before men" (Matt.5:14-16). This is a privilege and a responsibility and the Lord addresses the Church in its responsibility to bear light and testimony for Himself. He has something to say to each of the seven assemblies in this respect and to all of us today as well.
The Lord in the Midst of the Candlesticks
"And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow: and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength" (Rev.1:13-16).
This is the vision that John saw of the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man, standing in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Here we have the Lord in a special character and it is important that, before we take up the subject of the addresses to the seven churches, we consider Him in this special character. As we consider this seven-fold description of the Lord which we have just read, we can readily see that it is not the Lord Jesus as the bridegroom loving His Church that is before us. He is not before us in His character as the great High Priest either. He is seen here in the long judicial robes and garments of a judge that is beholding all that is going on in His Assembly.
It is a solemn thought for us as believers to realize that we have to do with the Lord, not only as the Head of the Church, or as our beloved Bridegroom, but as our Judge to whom we must give an account. The vision of the Lord here is something like the thought expressed in James 5:9, "Behold, the judge standeth before the door." He sees all that is going on and sends a message to each of the Assemblies regarding what He beholds among them.
The Lord is seen clothed with a garment down to the feet and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. He is the Judge, and the girdle about His breast indicates a restraint of affections. He is not free to let His love go out to His Church, because there are things in it with which He is not pleased.
In this delineation of His person that follows, we have first, His head and hairs described as being "white like wool, as white as snow." This reminds us of Daniel 7:9 where the Ancient of days is described in similar language. He is the One who is from all eternity. We have to do with the eternal One, the Ancient of days. Second, His "eyes were as a flame of fire." Fire is piercing and consuming, a figure of the holiness of God searching all things. Third, "His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace." That speaks of judgment, for brass in Scripture is a figure of the righteousness of God in connection with man in judgment.
Fourth, His voice was "as the sound of many waters." This speaks of majesty and might with which the sound of many waters impresses one. Fifth, "He had in his right hand seven stars." This speaks of power, the right hand of power. He has all things in His right hand. "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches" (v.20), the messengers or representatives of the churches, as we shall consider more fully later. He is the One who said before ascending to heaven, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth" (Matt.28:18). He is the One who should be looked to and depended upon, but the Church soon forgot its Lord with all power and turned to man for help.
Sixth, "Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword." This is the Word of God that judges all things. So we find that in these messages to the seven churches, He speaks, His Word judges and His eye discerns everything, even through that which outwardly seems very good, as we shall see with Ephesus, where He could commend all the wonderful things, but that holy eye could see underneath it all the root of deterioration and departure, the leaving of the first and chief love, and judge it. Oh, that we would realize more that we have to do with the Word of God, this sharp two-edged sword and that we would use it more in self-judgment.
Seventh, "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." Here we have the thought of supreme authority, for in Gen.1:16 the sun was appointed to rule the day and the moon, the night. Thus the sun in all its power and brightness speaks of supreme majesty and authority. Such is our Lord and the One to whom His Church should ever look and heed.
"And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead" (v.17). Such was the effect upon John of viewing the Lord in this judicial character of majesty, greatness and authority. We also need to see the Lord more in this holy, judicial character in the midst of His Assembly and fall at His feet in submission and reverence. We like to think of the comforting promise of Matthew 18:20, that the Lord whom we love is in our midst to guide and minister to us when gathered to His Name. But let us not forget the holy character of the One who is in our midst, as presented here in Revelation 1:13-16. He is the Holy and the True One and of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Hab.1:13; Rev.3:7). Thus there is a responsibility connected with having the Lord in our midst.
Then if we too fall down at His feet, as John did, we will also hear the wonderful words, "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev.1:17-18). Then we shall realize His resurrection power among us.
"The Mystery of the Seven Stars"
"The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks." The seven stars and sticks of the vision were symbols of the seven churches.
But the word "mystery" would also suggest that something more than just messages to these seven literal Assemblies in Asia is involved. We have something more than just the present condition of these seven Assemblies of that day set before us in chapters two and three. We shall see that they give us a prophetical picture of seven distinct periods in the history of the whole professing Church. Thus there is a mysterious character to this whole scene of the seven stars and the seven golden candlesticks and the messages that follow to each Church.
Surely there were more Assemblies in Asia than these seven that are before us in Revelation one through three. Why then were just these seven picked out by the Lord and messages sent to them? We shall see that Revelation is a book of sevens, the seven churches, the seven-sealed book, seven trumpets and seven vials of wrath. Seven is a complete number, and the different conditions found in these seven particular Assemblies in Asia present a complete prophetical view of seven distinct stages of the professing Church from the time of the apostle John to its end.
We have called our subject "The Prophetic History of Christendom." We apply the term "Christendom" to all that claims to be Christian and professedly embraces Christianity. We know that much of it is false and not truly Christian or true to Christ. It is the history of this professing mass of true and false believers, which we call "Christendom," that is before us in the messages to the seven Churches of Asia in their prophetical aspect. The true Church of Christ is composed only of genuine believers who have been baptized by the Spirit into His body (See 1 Cor.12:13; Eph.1:13, 22-23).
Angels of the Churches
Let us inquire further into the meaning of the term "the angels of the seven churches." The Greek word here translated "angel" also means "a messenger" and is thus translated in other passages. So we could read "the messengers of the seven churches." The messenger would be the responsible element in the Church or Assembly, its representative before God. As another has written, the angel of the church would represent "those to whom, from nearness to Christ and communion with Him and responsibility for it, Christ looks to for the state of His Assembly." It is the symbolical representative of the assembly seen in those responsible in it, which in one sense all really are.
In Acts 20 we read of the apostle Paul calling for the elders of the Church of Ephesus and giving them a special charge, saying among other things: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God." They were especially responsible to care for the flock among whom the Lord had set them as overseers.
So it is in the messages to the seven Churches. They are addressed to the angel of the Church, to those bearing responsibility in the Assembly and to whom the Lord looked for the state of the Assembly. They, undoubtedly, would convey to the whole company what the Lord had to say and would labour for the correction of the wrongs.
All this is full of meaning for us today as well. There are those whom the Holy Spirit has made overseers among the flock of God and whom He holds responsible for the state of His Assemblies and looks to for the spiritual condition of His people. May we answer to this privilege and responsibility.
"The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." Stars are heavenly luminaries and would convey the thought of those who are set in the Church to give heavenly light. These stars are in His right hand. The Lord has authority over all the representatives of heavenly light; He holds in His hand all His servants and controls them.
Outline of the Seven Periods
As we have previously stated, the conditions found in the seven Churches of Asia, as set forth in Revelation 2 and 3, present a prophetical view of the condition and state of the whole professing Church at seven different periods of its history. We shall here briefly speak of these seven periods which will be before us later in detail as we take up each Church.
In the Assembly at Ephesus we have a picture of what was true of the whole Church at the time when the apostle John was given this vision and up until about 167 AD. The Church at Smyrna presents to us what was true of the whole Church during the time of the Roman persecutions which lasted till about 313 AD. In the Assembly at Pergamos we have a different condition. This describes for us the state of the professing Church after the cessation of the Roman persecutions and takes us to about 600 AD. During this time idolatry came in and the Church and the State became united and the Church began to walk with the world.
The next Church is Thyatira which sets before us the fourth period in the history of professing Christendom. The period began around 600 AD and continued to the eve of the Reformation. During this time heathenism came into the Church and the papal system of Rome fully developed.
The fifth period is given us in the state of the Assembly at Sardis which sets forth the condition of Protestantism after the Reformation of the early sixteenth century. In the Church of Philadelphia we have a prophetical picture of the revival period in the Church's history. This took place in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth century when God worked in a wonderful way, bringing revival out of the deadness of Protestantism and a remnant returned to Christ and His Word. This is the sixth period.
The Church of the Laodiceans presents to us the seventh and last stage of the professing Church, or Christendom. This began in the nineteenth century and continues on in our present day. It is the state of luke-warmness, indifference, materialism and apos tasy which characterizes the professing Church today.
There are three ways in which we can consider these messages to the seven Churches of Asia. (1) We may look at them as describing what was actually true in these various Assemblies at the time they were written. This is the historical view. (2) We can consider them from the prophetical viewpoint as outlined above. (3) We may view them as applying in a practical way to any Assembly or individual at any period whose state might correspond with that depicted therein. This would be the practical view with lessons for ourselves from each Church. Thus we can see we have a very fruitful study before us in this most instructive and interesting portion of God's Word.
The Character of the Messages
In considering these messages to the Seven Churches we will find a general pattern of five characteristics running through nearly all of them.
First, the Approach of the Lord - In each message the first thing we read is the way the Lord presents Himself to the particular Church. Each presentation is different and we will do well to carefully note how He approaches or presents Himself to each Assembly, for therein is the key to the situation and also the remedy for what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord.
For instance, to Ephesus the Lord presents Himself as the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. In the beginning of the Church and during this first period of Ephesus, the Lord was known and owned as the Head of the Church, as the One who was Lord of all and had everything in His right hand. The Church looked to Him and depended on Him for everything, so the Lord could present Himself to Ephesus in this way.
Now notice in contrast the way the Lord presents Himself to Sardis in chapter 3, verse 1. There He says He has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars and knows her works, but He does not say that He has the seven stars in His right hand. The reason for this omission is that Sardis did not own Him as the Head of the Church, and this is especially true of Protestantism which Sardis represents in the prophetical view. The Church after the Reformation failed to own and recognize the Lord as its sole head and did not depend upon Him for guidance, power and protection, but looked to heads of government, etc. So the Lord presents Himself to Sardis as the One who has the seven Spirits, all power and all wisdom and guidance.
Second, the Commendation - In the communication to each Church the Lord commends what He could. If He has to criticize, censure or blame, He first of all commends all that was good, a very practical point to notice in the ways of our Lord. It would be well for us to remember this, for oftentimes we begin with the censure or criticism and forget what is commendable in one and fail to mention it. Our Lord does not do this. So often we read in these messages, "I know thy works." He knows all things and commends all that is good before speaking of that which displeases Him.
Third, the Censure or Blame for that which the Lord does not approve of. To all but two of these seven Assemblies the Lord speaks of things that He had against them or that He did not approve of. This characteristic is an important part of the messages and is full of instruction and learning for the Church at all times. The two churches not censured are Smyrna, the suffering church, and Philadelphia, the feeble remnant; both are much encouraged by the Lord.
Fourth, the Call or Promise to the Overcomer - In each message the overcomer is addressed, and special, encouraging promises are given to cheer him along amidst the difficulties and evil he is called upon to overcome. This special characteristic of these messages shows us that God looks for overcomers in every age of the Church's history and counts upon some to overcome by His power the evil conditions displeasing to Himself. To such He holds out wonderful promises of future award and blessing. These promises are a wonderful study in themselves and a source of much encouragement to saints at all times.
Fifth, the Call to the Hearing Ear - This is found in all seven communications - "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." The Lord looks for the exercised heart and the hearing ear to hear and consider what He has to say as to what pleases and displeases Him. It is the call to the individual to be exercised about what the Spirit saith unto all the seven churches, not just to one church. When the Lord was on earth He said, "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 7:16).
Divided Into Three and Four
We should notice that in the messages to the first three churches the call to the hearing ear precedes the promise to the overcomer which is the last word. Thus we have the seven messages divided into two groups of three and four, a division that is often found in the Word of God. The parables of Matthew 13 and the seven trumpets and seven vial judgments of Revelation are examples of such division.
The conditions found in the first three churches do not continue on to the end of the Church's history, whereas the conditions manifest in the last four churches do. The Ephesus period passed into the Smyrna condition of persecution when the whole Church suffered cruel oppression and sometimes death for the Lord. When the period of persecution stopped, the Smyrna condition ended and the Pergamos period of the Church and the State united began. The Church joined hands with the pagan world, and out of this condition the Thyatira state and system of Romanism emerged.
Thus the conditions described in Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos have passed away, while that set forth in Thyatira has continued to this day and will to the end. So also has the condition of Sardis (Protestantism) continued on to this moment. And we believe that at least something of the moral conditions of Philadelphia have continued in an individual way and will till the Lord comes for His true Church. Then we have the last stage or condition of Laodicea, which goes on to the very end.
In the first three churches the call to the hearing ear is addressed to the whole Church, but in Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea the overcomer is addressed first, which means there is a remnant of true believers that overcomes. Then follows the exhortation to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. This marks out the position of the remnant in these last four churches as being separate from the general body of the church. The call to hear is especially addressed to the overcomers, for only they will hear the voice of the Lord by His Spirit.
Beginning with Thyatira there is no hope of the recovery of the whole church. The condition of apostasy is irreparable, so a remnant is recognized and the Lord's coming introduced as the only hope (Rev.2:21,24-25).
Having had before us these general observations on the messages to the seven Churches, we are now ready for a detailed study of each communication.
The Message to Ephesus
Meaning of the Name
Ephesus means "full purpose" and in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which the apostle Paul wrote to them, we have the full purposes of God as to His Church fully brought out and developed. The apostle had spent much time there and God wrought a great work in that city. The Word of God grew mightily and prevailed (Acts 19). The Assembly at Ephesus was in a wonderful spiritual condition in the days of Paul, and thus he was free to unfold to them the highest spiritual truths as to the Church and the counsels of God. We have then the full purposes of God in Ephesus . Ephesians 1:9-11 and 3:10 -11 contain the very word "purpose" and tell us something of God's purposes in Christ.
But now at the time of the revelation here given to the apostle John, some thirty-two years after the Epistle to the Ephesians had been written, the root of spiritual decline and departure had already set in among this wonderful Assembly at Ephesus . Amidst so much that was highly commendable, the divine eyes "as a flame of fire" discerned that they had left their first love. Of this we shall speak later in its proper place.
The Approach of the Lord
"These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Rev.2:1). He presents Himself to Ephesus as the One who has the seven stars, the angels or representatives, the responsible element in the Assemblies, in His right hand, and, as the One who walks in the midst of the Churches and beholds what manner of light and testimony their candlestick is giving forth. The Lord presents Himself here in the general character in which He presented Himself to the whole Church in chapter 1. He walks amidst the candlesticks to survey the condition of the Churches, to test their state by His Word and His infallible standard of holiness, and to judge their character as His responsible light-bearers in a dark and evil world.
The stars and candlesticks are explained to us in their symbolical meaning in chapter 1, verse 20, which we have previously considered. Stars give light and rule the course of time (Gen.1:14-18) and would represent those whom the Lord has set in the Church for giving the light of His Word, for teaching, and for government. The gift and authority for these purposes belong to Christ - the stars are in His right hand. This was known and recognized in the apostolic period when the Lord was owned as the Head of His Church. The making of rules for the government of the Church and the ordination of teachers and pastors, which has since come in, is really a usurpation, however unintentionally, of Christ's authority.
"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. . But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate."
Such are the wonderful words of approval and commendation the Lord could say to the Church at Ephesus and of the whole Church of God in this first epoch of its prophetic history. There were works pleasing to Himself, labours, patience, abhorrence of evil, testing of profession in godly care, long-suffering, devotion to His Name, and perseverance in difficult labour. Wonderful features indeed were found in the Assembly at Ephesus, and in all this there is a pattern and example for the Church at all times. Oh, that such exquisite characteristics were found in Assemblies of believers today!
They not only laboured, but continued in labour and fainted not amidst difficulties and discouragements. They had endurance in labour for His name's sake. How many times we have laboured, but have grown weary in it, fainted and given up. It is a great thing to persevere in work for Christ. "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal.6:9).
"Thou canst not bear them that are evil." Ephesus realized something of the holy character of the Lord to whom they were gathered and who was in their midst, and thus they were not careless or indifferent to evildoers. This feature should be found in us today also when the tendency is to wink at evil, let down the bars, make excuses for many things and be indifferent about that which the Lord hates. There was an abhorrence of evildoers at Ephesus, and the Lord commends them for it.
"Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." This was another commendable feature found in the Assembly at Ephesus . They tested profession and didn't take everyone at his own say-so. Some even claimed to be apostles, but they were tried and manifested as liars. They examined all who came before them as Christians. The apostle John had written, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
This trait of godly care is missing in most of evangelical Christendom today, for in most places the Lord's supper is left open for any to partake of, who so desire, to any who say they are saved. On their own profession they are allowed this holy privilege, but that is not according to the Word of God, or the way Ephesus and the early Church did. They tried those who professed to be Christians and found out, as much as possible, those that were true and those that were false.
In the days of Nehemiah, porters were placed at the gates of Jerusalem to watch them so that the enemy would not gain entrance (Neh.7:1-3). Likewise porters are needed in the Assembly of God, who, with godly care and love, will watch and examine those who seek to be admitted to the privileges of God's house. Our concern should be that none should be brought into the Assembly who have no title or right to be there, those who are not the Lord's or whose walk and associations are not right, and that none should be kept out whom the Lord would have inside. The Lord said, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father" (Matt.7:20-21). The Scripture, "Judge not, that ye be not judged," found in the same chapter, verse 1, does not apply in this connection, but to one's inward motives. The outward life and actions are the fruits by which we are to judge Christian profession.
"Thou . hast borne, and hast patience." Patience is a wonderful virtue and a characteristic of God. The Assembly at Ephesus was characterized by it, and so should it be with believers today. We often get impatient when we are tried. They had to contend with evildoers at Ephesus, but they endured and had patience. Patience in evil is characteristic of the Lord and His dealings with man. He looks for this feature in His saints too. Ignorance of the truth of God by many also calls for patient instruction on our part. "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Tim.2:24-25).
"Thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate." Here the Lord speaks of the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, and in the message to Pergamos he speaks of those among this Assembly that held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. What the deeds or doctrine were we are not told. Many conjectures have been made as to this, but nothing is known with real certainty from church history as to any such sect, its deeds or doctrine. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who died around 200 AD, is the earliest Christian writer to mention the Nicolaitanes. He says: "It very clearly appears from the Apocalypse that the Nicolaitanes held fornication, and the eating of idol sacrifices, to be things indifferent, and therefore permitted to Christians."
All early writers agree on the main features of Nicolaitanism as being of an impure and licentious character, combining the profession of Christianity with the impurities of Paganism, "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" as Jude warned (v.4). In the 18th and 19th century other ideas as to this sect were brought forth. Some scholars conjectured that the Nicolaitanes were of similar character with the followers of the way of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15 ), and that "Nicolaitanes" is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew "Balaam," both signifying "conquerors or masters of the people." In Rev.2:14-15, the doctrine of Balaam and that of the Nicolaitanes are spoken of together, yet distinguished.
Others confining themselves to the meaning of the name have pointed out that "Nicolaitanes" comes from "nikao," meaning "to conquer", and from " laos," "the people," or "laity." Thus the term would refer to the development of a class, which we know as "the clergy", rising up in the Church above the laity and ruling over them.
There is ample evidence in church history that the system of the clergy, as separate from the laity, sprang up early in the Church. The common priesthood of all believers, as taught in Scripture (1 Peter 2:5,9), was soon set aside, also the presence of the Holy Spirit and His free ministry in the Church, and the unscriptural distinction between clergy and laity fast became a regular thing. Thus the belief so prominent through the centuries that only a certain class, humanly ordained, have the exclusive right to preach and teach and administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper in the Church.
Ignatius, a disciple and friend of the apostle John, who survived him only by about seven years and was Bishop of Antioch, metropolis of Syria, wrote seven epistles on his journey to martyrdom, around AD 107. Therein he stressed submission to the bishop, and "to look upon the bishop even as we do upon the Lord Himself." Another sentence from his letters shows how a clerical system, not found in Scripture, had already formed in the Church at this early date: "I cried whilst I was among you; I spake with a loud voice, 'attend to the bishop, and to the presbytery, and to the deacons.'" (See Miller's Church History, Vol.1, pages 150-157). (It may be of interest to know that the Episcopal form of church government is based on Ignatius' writings.)
Believing the subject of Nicolaitanism to be of vital importance, the writer has searched into this matter and taken some space to give the two main views of Bible scholars thereon. It may well be that both views are embraced by the term Nicolaitanes in a literal and symbolical sense. The writer is convinced that the system of the clergy, which certainly began in this Ephesus period, is referred to by this symbolical term, though not necessarily limiting it to this.
What is most important to notice is that the Lord commended Ephesus for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitanes which He also hated. He speaks of this after the necessary censure and warning of verses 4 and 5, which is the more touching as an added appreciation of His wounded heart. We are to hate what the Lord hates, not the persons, but the deeds. The Psalmist could say he hated "every false way," "vain thoughts," and "lying" (Ps.119:104,113,163). Everything not according to Holy Scripture is a false way, vain, a lie and to be hated, even though it may boast of antiquity as from the church fathers.
"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (Rev.2:4). Here we have the reproof and censure of the Lord against the Assembly at Ephesus . This is the third characteristic of these messages to the churches. In spite of all that was so commendable in Ephesus, which we have previously noted, the Lord has to say, "but I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love." So the more correct rendering of the New Translation reads. The word "somewhat" in our King James Version is in italics, showing that it was supplied by the translators and is not in the original manuscripts. It weakens the force of the Lord's reproof and should be left out.
"Thou hast left thy first love." This is what the Lord had against Ephesus . What does this say to us? It tells us that, though the Lord appreciates all the wonderful features of works, labours, patience, abhorrence of evil, etc., which were found in the Assembly at Ephesus, He looks for that first love in our hearts. He wants the best love which springs from a heart fully enamoured and taken up with Himself as its object.
The word "first" here is the same word in the original as that which is translated "best" in Luke 15:22, "the best robe." So it is our best or chief love which the Lord desires. It is not first love as to point of time, as when first converted, though the love of the newborn convert is very wonderful and fresh, but first in quality. He wants our best and chief love and will not be satisfied with anything else.
So, if we have ever loved the Lord better than we do today, this word of censure and blame; "thou hast left thy first love," is directed to us also. The Lord says to us, "I do not have the same place in your heart which I once had; that place I desire again." He is a jealous God (Ex.20:5) and wants our whole heart, our chief love in all its freshness.
As another has well said, "The first love is that absorption of heart with Christ which is ever produced by an overwhelming sense of His grace and love in redemption" ( E. Dennett ). It is the result of coming under the powerful and personal influence of His love, that character of love which His love gives impulse to. As His love fills and floods our souls, a responding love will be produced in our hearts, the best love He is looking for. Thus the exhortation in Jude twenty-one is, "Keep yourselves in the love of God."
In his Epistle to the Assembly at Thessalonica, written to those newly converted, the apostle speaks of their "work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess.1:3). There was faith, love and hope. In Ephesus there were works, but they are not called the "work of faith." There was labour, but it is not called "labour of love"; there was patience, but it is not spoken of as the "patience of hope." Christ was ever before the Thessalonians and thus faith, love and hope were all connected with Himself. Some of this was still left at Ephesus, but it was ebbing. The first love for Christ, as the spring from which all must flow, was missing. His discerning eyes detected it and this was charged against them.
Work for the Lord is necessary; there is much to be done for Him and the Lord is looking for servants, but our service must spring from love to Himself. Self and rivalry with others may enter into our service. Then love for the Lord is not the spring of our labours and they do not have the same value to the Lord as when done out of love to Him.
It should be noted that the Lord does not say they had lost their first love, but that they had "left" it. Something lost may never be found again, but anything left somewhere can be obtained again, generally speaking. So we can go back to the place in our soul's experience where we may have left our best love and return to it again by self-judgment This is encouraging, is it not?
The Call to Remembrance and Repentance
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Rev.2:5). The Lord calls Ephesus to remember the place where they once were in the enjoyment of first love and to repent about their fall from it and to return to those first works of that best and chief love. The Lord would have us realize that leaving our first love is the root of all departure and decline. From that condition of heart flow all backsliding, sins and apostasy. The downward movement and apostasy of Christendom, as set forth in the prophetic history of these seven Churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3, begins with leaving the first love in Ephesus and goes on to the awful evils found in the following churches.
This is a solemn and searching word for our hearts. If we leave our chief love and do not repent or return, other things will come in and the departure from the Lord will increase. When first love is departed from, many wrong things come in among the saints of God, all because the Lord does not have the chief place in our hearts. But when we return that first and chief place to Him, everything else will fall into its proper place: service, worship, separation from the world, all will follow, but only as we return to the Lord in repentance and first love.
This word of censure and call to remembrance and repentance, spoken to Ephesus, is very applicable and needful to as today as well. And it is the word of the Lord to His people today as well as to the Assembly at Ephesus in the first century. First love has been left; we have fallen and need to repent and return to the Lord. Surely the Spirit of God would lead us in these last days to realize that what we need individually and collectively is to give the Lord the first and chief place in our hearts and thus return to the first love. May there be genuine repentance, a change of mind, thoughts and of heart about ourselves, and a doing of the first works that flow from the best love for Christ.
Or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev.2:5). What a solemn warning to an Assembly where there was so much good. Just one vital thing was wrong, but the Lord says, as it were, "If you don't repent, I will remove your candlestick," meaning that the Church would be given up as a light, or vessel of testimony in the world. If Ephesus did not recover her first love, she would be refused as the Lord's witness and testimony. Her light would be removed because she could no longer be regarded as bearing a true testimony for the Lord.
When we come to Laodicea, the seventh church, we find that the Lord says to her, "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of My mouth" (Rev.3:16, N.Tn). This is the final condition of the professing Church, and the Lord is about to give it all up and spue it out as something nauseating and undesirable. Then the candlestick of the Church will be fully removed because she is a faithless and untrue witness that the Lord cannot own as His. In the very beginning of decline in Ephesus, in the first period of the whole Church, the Lord warns the Assembly that He would remove its candlestick unless it repented. We will later see that there was a measure of recovery in the next period of Smyrna and the candlestick was preserved.
Speaking of individual Assemblies, it is a sad day for any Assembly when it comes to that place where it no longer is a testimony or light in the world and the candlestick is removed by the Lord. One sees Assemblies where the light has been so faint and flickering for years, faithful believers finish their course and pass on, new converts are not added and the company decreases and finally there is no Assembly left - the candlestick is completely removed. The root cause is because first love was left long before. May we heed the warning lesson!
The Call to the Hearing Ear
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev.2:7). This is the fourth feature of these messages. The individual who has an ear to hear is appealed to to listen and to heed what the Spirit says unto the churches. It is a voice to the individual, and the one who has an exercised heart to hear is to hear what the Spirit has to say.
In Matthew thirteen the Lord concluded the parable of the sower with the words, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (v.9). He also spoke of some who "seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand" (v.13). The Lord looks for those who have opened ears and hearts to hear and consider what the Spirit has to say to the churches. Such will, in communion with the mind of Christ, judge their state by the light of the written Word. This appeal would indicate that every believer is here made responsible to understand the state of things around him in the professing Church. The whole Assembly is addressed by this call to hear, but only the exercised individual with an opened ear will respond to it.
Promise to the Overcomer
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev.2:7). This is the fifth characteristic of these messages. The overcomer is always addressed, and here the cheering prom ise of eating of the tree of life is given to the overcomer in Ephesus . Adam lost the right to eat of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden when he sinned and was driven out of it. The overcomer here is promised the tree of life in the paradise of God which will never be lost. It is Christ Himself that the overcomer will feed upon and enjoy forever. In this way the Lord seeks to encourage believers to overcome. This blessed promise would cheer their hearts and sustain them in their conflict as they sought to overcome that which the Lord pointed out as displeasing to Himself. It is only the overcomer that has this promise of the tree of life for present comfort and encouragement in the sphere of responsibility and conflict.
Overcoming here is overcoming the evil specified in the Assembly. What the Lord deplored in Ephesus was the loss of their first love. Whoever, by grace and the Spirit's power working in the opened ear and heart, regained the condition of first love, would be an overcomer in the sense of this Scripture and be entitled to the special promise here given. May we all desire and endeavour to be overcomers and return to the conditions of the first and best love to our worthy Lord and Saviour.
The Message to Smyrna
"And unto the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer" (Rev.1:8-10).
The word " Smyrna " means "myrrh", which is an aromatic gum that exudes from a shrub which has to be crushed in order to emit the full, sweet fragrance. So the Church of the Ephesus period had to be crushed to be brought back to the first love. In Smyrna we come to the second period in the prophetic history of Christendom. Here we find the Church crushed in the fiery trials of persecution and martyrdom and fragrant incense rising up to God therefrom. Myrrh was used in burials, and in the death of these martyrs in Smyrna sweet incense of myrrh went up to God. Smyrna is the suffering church.
When the Lord first spoke of His Church in Matthew 16:18, He said, "Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell (Hades) shall not prevail against it." Satan hated Christ, the rock, and he has ever hated the true representation of Christ in the world, so the gates of hades were unleashed and opened against His Church in the awful persecutions of the Romans against the Christians. This period was from about 167 AD to around 313 AD, when the persecution stopped. There was a double assault upon the Church during this time. From without it was oppressed and persecuted by pagan Rome ; from within it was attacked by the blasphemy of those who said they were Jews, but were of the synagogue of Satan. This we shall consider in detail later.
God allowed Satan's persecution of His Church and used it to arrest the decline which had started in the Ephesus period. His love for His people allowed Satan to stir them up by persecution so that He might accomplish the purification and restoration of His saints and that the light of the Church might shine brighter. The afflictions and fiery trials they passed through brought out wonderful faithfulness to the Lord. Thus the testimony of the Church shone bright and the candlestick, that was in danger of being removed in Ephesus, was preserved. Satan's object was to destroy the testimony of the Lord, but God wrought in blessing and used His efforts to awaken and brighten His Church. So God ever overrules Satan's efforts and brings about greater blessings.
We will find a similarity in the seven parables of the kingdom of heaven, which the Lord spoke of in Matthew thirteen, and in these messages to the seven Churches of Asia. In the first parable we have the activity of the sower sowing the good seed. This corresponds to the Ephesus period when there was much labour for the Lord. In the second parable we see the enemy active sowing tares or darnel, a poisonous kind of rye. This corresponds to the Smyrna period of the Church when the enemy, Satan, was especially active in persecution and in corrupting the pure Gospel of God's grace. As we continue our studies of the seven Churches we will make further comparisons with the parables of Matthew thirteen.
The Approach of the Lord
To Smyrna the Lord presents Himself as "the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive," and as the One who knew their works, tribulation, poverty and the blasphemy of those of the synagogue of Satan. As in each Church, the character in which the Lord presents Himself is always suitable to the conditions, circumstances and state in which the particular Assembly is found, so this approach of the Lord to Smyrna is so in keeping with the need of this Assembly. What a comfort to those facing martyrdom for the cause of Christ, persecuted unto death under ten consecutive Roman rulers, to have their hearts thus directed to the One who was the first and the last and the One who had gone down into death and was alive for evermore.
The Lord in presenting Himself thus to Smyrna would draw their hearts away from their afflictions and sufferings and occupy them with Himself, the all-sufficient One. We need not fear death, the wrath of man, or the power of Satan when our eye is upon the One who has met all the power of the enemy, even the last enemy, death itself, and we see Him who is alive for evermore, the eternal One.
Undoubtedly these words of the Lord were a real cheer and comfort to His people going through this time of awful persecution. And they are for the comfort and encouragement of saints of God at all times. For even in our day, many of God's people have been called upon in various countries to lay down their lives for Christ. Our blessed Lord took part of flesh and blood that "through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb.2:14-16). He has met the whole power of the enemy and overthrown him and would have His people trusting in Himself who can say, "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (hades) and of death" (Rev.1:17-18).
Thus the Lord encourages His saints not to fear Satan, who once had the power of death, but to look to Himself who died to deliver them from its fear and bondage. We would also think of His words in Luke 12:4-5: "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But . Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell." Satan was seeking to terrify the believers in the time of Smyrna and sought to use the fear of death to turn aside the Assembly from faithfulness to Christ. To meet this effort of Satan, the Lord called the attention of His people to Himself as the One who had risen out of death and was alive for evermore.
The Lord's Commendation and Encouragement
"I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)" (Rev.2:9). Thus the Lord in wonderful grace encourages and commends this tried Church. Their works were wrought in the fiery furnace of affliction and trial and pleased Him. Their tribu lation and poverty was great, but the Lord comfortingly says, as it were, "I know your works of faith and your sufferings and poverty." He beheld it all as He had beheld His disciples of old toiling in rowing amid contrary winds, and came to them, saying, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid" (Matt.14:23-27). Thus these tried saints were sustained by the Lord's love and His knowing their tribulation and poverty.
The poverty of God's saints was indeed great in this Smyrna period. They were regarded as enemies of their neighbours and of the State, and their enemies surrounded them like a pack of hungry wolves ready to devour them. They had to flee to the underground catacombs where they lived in darkness. At night some of the strong and brave ones would venture out for food. Some of these and many others of the Christians were captured and thrown to the hungry lions before thousands of spectators. Others were wrapped in cloths soaked in oil, hung up on poles, and lit as torches to light the arena for the Roman games. What poverty in earthly things! But the Lord said they were rich.
Hebrews 11:35-39 describes the sufferings of men and women of faith of old, who did not accept deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. They were stoned, slain with the sword, wandered about, were destitute, afflicted and tormented. They wandered in deserts, in mountains, dens and caves of the earth. These things were also true of the Christians during this period of the Church we are considering. They did not accept deliverance, which was offered them if they would renounce Christ, but their faith triumphed in death and they await the full victory in resurrection. "Of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb.11:38); such is God's estimate of all such faithful martyrs.
Though the material poverty of Smyrna was great, the Lord in commendation says, "but thou art rich." In His estimation they were rich in good works, rich in faith, rich in God. James 2:5 says, "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?" And in 1 Timothy 6:18 there is the exhortation to be "rich in good works."
Smyrna stands in contrast with Laodicea, the Church of the present period. To her the Lord says, "thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev.3:17). The professing Church of today can boast of great earthly riches, but what spiritual poverty the Lord sees. Perhaps it is true of us as believers also; we may proudly point to much material goods, but how much spiritual riches are we in possession of?
The Church always prospers more spiritually in times of persecution and distress than it does in times of prosperity. When every thing goes well, God's people are often lulled to sleep, they become careless and indifferent and drift away from the Lord. When wealth, fame and positions of honour are obtained in the world, the Christian is in danger and spirituality tends to decrease. When Christians are poor and little thought of in the world there is not such danger spiritually. The trials and persecutions cast one more upon the Lord and reveal the true character of the world.
"Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev.2:10). Thus the Lord further encouraged the Church of Smyrna to be faithful to Him unto death and not to fear the things the devil would cause them to suffer. Christ was allowing Satan to persecute them for a limited time, figuratively, ten days. He was allowing it for their spiritual and eternal good. How good to know that our God is over everything, over all the devices, power and purposes of the enemy, and that only what He allows falls upon us, and only as long as He allows it.
The prophetic, stipulated ten days of tribulation were fulfilled in the ten different edicts of persecution against the Christians under ten Roman Emperors, beginning with Nero and ending with Diocletian. The last persecution of ten years duration was the most violent of all as the enemy sought to uproot and wipe out Christianity. But under the Emperor Constantine the persecution ceased entirely around 313 AD.
"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." The Lord holds out to the martyr that which is beyond this life and death, the crown of life. This is one of five crowns spoken of in Scripture as encouragements for the faithful. The crown of life is for those willing to lay down their lives for the Lord. Another has beautifully written the following as to this crown:
"The crown of life - life in its full fruition, crowned, as it were, with His own special approbation; life, eternal life, disencumbered from all entanglements, feasting to the full on its own proper objects, and displayed in all its perfections in its own proper sphere in the Lord's own presence in that special place in glory, which the Lord in His grace may award to those who are faithful unto death. This is the crown of life" (Edward Dennett).
As a practical consideration for ourselves on this subject, we might well ask, How much does the Lord mean to us? Does our faith in Christ mean more to us than life itself? The apostle Paul said, "neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy" (Acts 20:24 ). Life is very dear to the natural man, but the Lord should mean more to us than life itself. May we seek grace to be faithful unto the Lord, even unto death, as the saints in Smyrna were in days of old.
The reader will notice that the Lord does not have any censure or blame for the Assembly at Smyrna . In their sufferings and tribulation He only encourages and commends them.
In our next study we will consider those whom the Lord speaks of as "the synagogue of Satan," and the call to the hearing ear and the promise to the overcomer.
The Double Assault
There was a double assault of the enemy against Smyrna . Besides the persecutions of the heathen enemy from without, which we considered in our previous study, there was an effort and attack of Satan from within. So the Lord says, "I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (Rev.2:9). These who claimed to be Jews (the term is used symbolically) were impiously railing against the true Church and causing them to suffer thus.
There are two diverse ways in which Satan works. The apostle Peter tells us that "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). A lion is bold and powerful, pouncing on his prey with all his force and fury. That would represent Satan as a persecutor of God's people. In this character he was behind the persecutions of the pagan emperors and sought to crush and devour the Church of Christ .
The apostle Paul informs us of another way in which Satan carries out his work. In speaking of false apostles, deceitful workers, who transform themselves into the apostles of Christ, he writes, "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2 Cor.11:13-14). Satan often works in this character, through his workers; as an angel of light, pretending to have the light of God, quoting the Scriptures, but corrupting the Word of God and deceitfully handling it (2 Cor.2:17; 4:2), with the pur pose of deceiving and perverting the truth of God.
The Assault From Within
The attack of the enemy from within in this Smyrna period was in the character of an angel of light and deceitful workers. There was the activity of those who assumed a religious form, those who pretended to have the legitimate, hereditary claims of being God's people, Jews.
They railed against the Christians and slandered the Assembly. In this way the true believers in Smyrna suffered from the blasphemy, hatred and ridicule of these religious people who corrupted the pure Gospel of the grace of God. This was a trial by false claimants within the professing Church whom the Lord strongly labels as "the synagogue of Satan."
Since these false claimants called themselves Jews, it will be helpful to us if we refer to Romans 2:28-29 which gives us the marks of a true spiritual Jew. "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." These spiritual characteristics were not found among these pretenders, so the Lord says they were not Jews at all.
In comforting assurance to these afflicted believers, suffering from this double assault of Satan, the Lord says, "I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not," I know your sorrows and trials. What a comfort for the Lord's people at all times to hear His, "I know"! He knows, He feels and sympathizes with His suffering and tried people and will deliver in His own time.
The Synagogue of Satan
The Lord says that those who were blaspheming against the true Church in this Smyrna period were the "synagogue of Satan." This is strong language and we need to inquire more fully as to the char acter of this group and the significance of this term.
In these messages to the seven Churches of Asia we can observe the development of the evil which has come into the professing Church. When we behold what characterizes Christendom today, we see much that was not found in the Church of the apostle's day, as recorded in Scripture, and we wonder how this came about. In the prophetic history of Christendom, which is before us in these communications to the seven Churches, we can trace out the origin and development of these evil things and unscriptural principles found in present Christendom. We have already seen in the Ephesus period the rise of Nicolaitanism, that unscriptural system of dividing the Church into the two classes of clergy and laity. Now in Smyrna we have that which is called the "synagogue of Satan."
These who said they were Jews were claiming to be the real people of God, the inheritors of the spiritual privileges of ancient Israel . They were insisting on Jewish principles and sought to put the Gentile believers under the law and on the same ground as Israel of old under the covenant of the law of Sinai. They were active already in the days of the apostles who had to contend with these Judaizing teachers.
In Acts 15 we read about men who came down from Judæa and taught the Gentile believers at Antioch that except they were circumcised after the manner of Moses they could not be saved (v.1). Paul and Barnabas dissented and disputed with them over this. At Jerusalem some spoke up in the Church and said that it was needful to circumcise the Gentile converts and command them to keep the law of Moses. Peter replied that this was putting a yoke upon the disciples "which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear, but we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they" (v.5,9,10).
In the epistle to the Galatians the apostle Paul contended strongly against those who were preaching another Gospel than that of the grace of God which he had received from Christ and preached. "There be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ: But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal.1:7-8). It was these Judaizing teachers of the law who were likewise troubling the Galatian saints and perverting the Gospel. To add one single thing to the Gospel of Christ's death for our sins, His burial and resurrection for our justification, as that which is necessary for salvation, is to pervert the Gospel.
Satan was thus at work in the very early days of the Church seeking to distort and corrupt the pure Gospel of the grace of God. This effort of the adversary continued against the Church and the Gospel, and now it had become a systematized thing in the time of Smyrna as these teachers sought to bring Judaism into the Assembly of God and mixed law with grace, and blasphemed against the faithful believers. A party of highest pretentions was now formed and they were the corrupters of the Gospel, the destroyers of living Christianity and deceived by Satan. The Lord pungently calls them the "synagogue of Satan," for that is what they were morally, as led on, gathered together and energized by Satan for his evil purposes.
The Patristic party, commonly called "The Fathers," were the leaders in this evil of systematically Judaizing the Church. This evil work had already gained a foothold in the professing Church in this Smyrna period, and today we find Christendom permeated with Judaism, or Judaistic principles, mixed up with true Christianity, law and grace mingled and the Gospel of the grace of God perverted and corrupted thereby.
Contrast of Christianity With Judaism
The Church of the living God is not a continuation of Judaism which was established by God in the Old Testament; therefore its principles cannot be carried over into the Church or adapted in any form. The Church is in greatest contrast with Judaism.
Israel, or Judaism, was an earthly body, a company on earth, a nation with earthly hopes. There was a special class of priests, the inner sanctuary where the priests alone could come, and the people worshipped afar off. There were continual sacrifices for sin and a veil that shut the worshipper out from the presence of God. The congregation was composed of a mixed company of those who had true faith and those who did not, be lievers and unbelievers mingled together on a national basis, and seeking to keep the law as a ground of acceptance before God. The term "synagogue" means "a gathering together," and that was the principle of Judaism, a mixed people gathered together with nationalistic hopes on earth.
The Church, or Assembly of God, is in vivid contrast to all the foregoing characteristics of Judaism. It begins with the foundation of the cross of Christ, a complete and finished work for sin, the resurrection and ascension of Christ into heaven for us, the descent of the Holy Spirit, Who has formed the One Body of believers and indwells and unites them to the risen, glorified Head in heaven. The veil is rent and all genuine believers in Christ are priests and are privileged to draw nigh to God into the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus (Heb.10:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). As united to Christ in glory, the, Church is called to be a heavenly people and given the heavenly hope of being with the Lord in His glory. Its hopes and blessings are not earthly at all as Israel 's are.
The word translated "church" in our King James Bible is "ecclesia" and means "a called out assembly." It signifies a people called out of the world to be true to their rejected Lord, and who are joined to Him in the glory and are waiting for His return. The true Church is not a mere gathering together of a mixed company of converted believers and unconverted or natural men, as in the Jewish synagogue. Thus we see that there is the greatest difference between the Assembly of God; the Church, and Judaism with its temple and synagogues.
Christendom Characterized by Judaism
Today we find that the professing Church has lost most of the characteristic features which should distinguish her from Judaism, and that for the most part Christendom is characterized by the principles of Judaism. It has become a mere synagogue, a gathering together of a mixed company of believers and unbelievers, seeking to keep the law of commandments for salvation or as a rule of life. It has settled down on earth and does not look for the Lord to return. It has become a camp like Judaism of old, though wearing the cloak of outward Christianity. The revival of Judaism and the bringing of its principles into the professing Church has destroyed the true character of Christianity, and this system and state of things is morally that which the Lord called the "synagogue of Satan," in Smyrna .
Thus the call to the believers of old to leave the camp of Judaism and go forth unto the rejected Christ is applicable to Christians today. "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb.13:13). The earnest believer, who would honour Christ and keep His Word, must go forth unto Christ alone and separate from the camp of Christendom with its Judaistic principles.
The Call to the Hearing Ear
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev.2:11). Here, as in each of the messages to these Assemblies in Asia, the Lord calls for the hearing ear to hearken to what the Spirit has to say to the Churches. The individual is made responsible to hear and to yield obedience to the message of the Spirit. We are to hear the words of comfort, encouragement, promise of future reward, and the exhortation to be faithful unto death.
The Promise to the Overcomer
"He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Rev.2:11). Such was the encouraging promise to each believer who would overcome the fear of physical death in faithfulness to Christ, and the temptation to deny Him and live on earth. It was also for the one who would overcome the blasphemy and ridicule of those of the synagogue of Satan, the perverters of the Gospel.
The second death, which should not touch the overcomer according to the promise here, is spoken of in Revelation 20:11-14. There the great white throne judgment scene is described when the unsaved dead will be raised and God will deal with the resurrected body and the soul and spirit of those whose names are not found written in the book of life. "And death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."
Death is the place of the body in the grave and hades is the temporary abode of the departed souls and spirits. At the time of the great white throne judgment, the graves will give up the bodies and hades will give up the souls and spirits of those who had no part in the previous first resurrection, spoken of in Revelation 20:5-8. Then the complete person, body, soul and spirit, of all these resurrected dead will be cast into the lake of fire forever. This is the second death of eternal separation from God, the awful, everlasting portion of all who die outside of Christ the Saviour.
Though many of the Christians in this Smyrna period were killed because of their faith in Christ and thus experienced physical death, they became overcomers and were given the blessed assurance of immunity from this second death of eternal judgment. Blessed and comforting hope for them and for believers at all times.
The Message to Pergamos
"And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is" (Rev.2:12-13).
The name Pergamos means "much marriage." Paul wrote to the Corinthian Assembly that he was jealous over them with a godly jealousy, for he had espoused or betrothed them to one husband, that he might present them as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor.11:2). The true Church is engaged to Christ and will be married to Him, its Lover and Bridegroom, following His coming for His bride. But this blessed espousal and marriage was quite forgotten during this third period in the history of the professing Church, which is prophetically before us in Pergamos. It was indeed a time of "much marriage," for while professing to be true to Christ, the Church became united and married to the world, and that the heathen, Pagan world.
The Changed Conditions
In Pergamos we have quite a different state of things from that of the previous period given in Smyrna . There the Church was relentlessly persecuted by ten Roman emperors for over one hundred years. But now with the victory of Constantine over Maxentius for the throne of the Roman Empire, the persecution against the Christians ceased. Constantine claimed to have had a vision of a flaming cross with the inscription, "By this conquer." He then adopted the sign of the cross as the imperial standard of his armies and declared himself a convert to Christianity, though he was never baptized until near the end of his life.
He was victorious in battle and a public edict in favour of the Christians was issued in 313. Constantine soon saw the superiority of Christianity and that the Christians were better citizens, etc., so he issued an edict against Paganism in 324. Christians were given posts of honour and bishops of the Church sat on thrones with the nobles of the empire. Constantine took his place, now more openly to the whole world as head of the Church; but at the same time retained the office of the Pontifex Maximus - the high priest of the heathen. This he never gave up.
Thus the Church and State became allied. The Church and the world joined hands in an unholy marriage. Allegiance to Christ and His Word was sacrificed, and the Lord had to say Pergamos was dwelling where Satan's seat was. History records the accounts of gorgeous heathen temples and the vestments of its priests consecrated for Christian service. In order to reconcile the priests and the people of heathenism to the new order of Christianity, many Pagan rites and ceremonies were adopted by the Church. Heathen festivals were changed into Christian days, a notable example being so-called "Christmas."
December 24 or 25 was observed among all Pagan nations in honour of the birth of the son of the "Queen of heaven." No such festival as Christmas was ever heard of in the Christian Church until the fourth century. It was then in the time of Constantine that December 25, the Pagan holiday, was adopted by the Church, and called "Christmas" and made the birthday of Christ. (See "The Two Babylons" by Alex Hislop.)
In this way the Pagans and the Christians were united in an unholy alliance and Pagan corruption with a Christian name attached to it. In Pergamos Satan is within the Church as a deceiving serpent and seducer. He could not crush the Church by persecution, but he now succeeds within by corrupting it.
The Presentation of the Lord
To this Assembly at Pergamos, and to the professing church of this third prophetical period, the Lord presents Himself as the One who has "the sharp sword with two edges" and as the One who knows their works and where they were dwelling, how they had settled down into Satan's throne in compromise and indifference to His glory and holiness. As previously remarked in these studies, the approach of the Lord to each Assembly is always in keeping with the condition He finds, and therein is the key to the situation and the remedy for what is wrong.
The sharp sword with two edges is the Word of God (Heb.4:12). Revelation 18:15 tells us that when the Lord comes in judgment He will smite the nations with a sharp sword that goes out of His mouth. In addressing Pergamos as the One who has the sharp sword with two edges, the Lord is warning the Assembly that He is about to search into and declare her true spiritual condition and judge her state by the Word, which is sharper than a two-edged sword.
Because His holy Word was no longer the standard of judgment in the Assembly, He comes with the sword to prove that the Word never lost its power in His hands. If Pergamos had been under the action and power of the Word of God, they would not have compromised and come under the power of the seducer, Satan, and fallen to where his throne was. The Word of God is the detective power of God to deal with evil; it is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" and reveals everything. The Assembly of Pergamos had failed to use the sword of the Word; it had not tried those who said they were apostles and were not, as Ephesus had done, and was commended of the Lord for it. Therefore its condition was very serious and evil. Paganism had now become mingled with Christianity, as well as Judaism, which we saw coming in the Smyrna period.
This is a practical word for the Church of Christ at all times. The Word of God is the sharp sword which we must depend upon and use against the enemy and his wiles. If we cling to His Word and abide by it, we will be preserved from the evil of Satan's world. It is by the neglect of God's Word and indifference to its precepts that the Church falls into seductions and snares of its arch-enemy and becomes corrupted as Pergamos was. The Psalmist could say, "By the Word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer" (Ps. 17:4). So we are exhorted to "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," and to take "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Eph.6:11,17). The remedy for every wrong and evil condition is the Word of God and its use in the power of the Spirit.
The Lord further says to Pergamos, "I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat (throne - N.Tn) is". Pergamos was the capital of the Roman province of Asia at this time and was famous for its Pagan rites and ceremonies. From this centre heathenism reigned and idolatry spread all over Asia . The persecutions against the Church had issued from Pergamos. Now in this Pergamos period of the Church it was dwelling where Satan's throne was.
Satan is now "the god of this world" (2 Cor.4:4); therefore the world is the place of his throne. The force of the Lord's words, then, is that the Church of the time of Pergamos was dwelling in the world of Paganism; Judaism and Christianity had united under Satan's seductions. The Church had thus forgotten her heavenly calling and her heavenly character and had settled down in the world where its Saviour and Lord was rejected and cast out. The professing Church and the world had joined hands and enjoyed themselves together.
The result of this unholy alliance was, as another has said, "the world has become a little churchy, but the Church has become immensely worldly." If this was true in the Pergamos epoch of the professing Church, alas, how definitely the Church of this present, age is characterized by union with this present evil world system. May the Lord's presentation to Pergamos with the sharp sword, and His words as to where it was dwelling, speak to our hearts and consciences with "the sword of the Spirit; which is the Word of God" (Eph.6:17). The remedy for every wrong and evil condition is the Word of God and its delivering power of the Spirit.
The Lord's Commendation
"Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth" (Rev.2:13). In spite of the declension in Pergamos and their settling down in the world and dwelling where Satan's throne was, there was still that which the Lord could commend. They held fast to His Name and had not denied the faith. This was especially true during the great Arian controversy that took place in the fourth century.
Arius held that Christ was the first and noblest of all created beings which God had made and thus denied Christ's Godhead and deity. The council of Nice, Bithynia was called in June, 325, by Constantine to consider this grave error. 318 bishops and a large number of priests and deacons were present. Many bore the marks of suffering from the former persecutions. Constantine acted as moderator and the doctrine of the trinity and the true Godhead of Christ was maintained by this council.
We may observe in passing that this serious and erroneous teaching as to the Person of Christ which Arius promulgated early in the Church's history, and was defeated at the council of Nice, is actively being propagated today by so-called "Jehovah's Witnesses." It is an old lie of Satan to rob Christ of His glory as the Creator and Son of God and should be vigorously resisted, as it was in the Pergamos period when the commendation of the Lord, of holding fast to His Name and not denying the faith, was given.
The name "Antipas," whom the Lord speaks of as "my faithful martyr, who was slain among you," means "against all." Nothing else certain is known of him, but he apparently stood alone for the Lord and suffered martyrdom for Christ. This name, it would seem, stands for the individual faithfulness of many during this time of general declension and activity of Satan as the seducer.
Athanasius, who became the bishop of Alexandria and was greatly used of God in preserving the Church from the Arian heresy, is a notable example of one standing against all, as the name of "Antipas" indicates. He disregarded the imperial edict of Constantine, who changed his mind two years after the Council of Nice as to Arianism and commanded that Arius and his friends be received into the Church. Athanasius endured persecution, calumny, exile and frequently endangered his life in defence of the great fundamental truth of the Godhead of Christ. Many years after the council of Nice, when the Arian party was gaining influence, Athanasius was summoned before the Arian emperor who demanded that he cease his opposition to the teaching of Arius and receive Arians. When Athanasius refused, the emperor reproved him bitterly and said, "Do you not realize that all the world is against you?" The champion of the truth answered, "Then I am against all the world." He was a true Antipas and a noble example for believers at all times. Thus the faith of God, the revelation of Himself in Christ the Son, was maintained amidst much evil and the Lord noticed it all and commends it.
"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate" (Rev.2:14-15).
We read about Balaam in Numbers 22-25; 31:16; 2 Peter 2:15 -16 and Jude 11. There we learn that he was a hireling prophet that hired out to Balak, king of the Moabites, to curse the children of Israel because he loved the wages of unrighteousness. Failing in this, he gave counsel to seduce Israel into uniting with the Midianites and the Moabites and brought about the evil of Israel joining themselves unto Baal-peor and the judgment of God thereupon in the plague (Numbers 25; 31:16). He thus sought to break down Israel 's separation from the heathen nations and succeeded in measure in this by teaching Balak to put a stumbling-block before the children of Israel and caused them to eat things sacrificed unto idols and commit fornication.
Association with the world is the doctrine of Balaam and the breakdown of separation from evil. It is the hireling prophet who for his own ends seeks to destroy all godly separateness. There were such in the Church of Pergamos who held Balaam's doctrine, and the Lord held the Church responsible for this evil tolerated in their midst. Those who held this doctrine were undoubtedly such of the clergy who preached for hire and advised the mingling of the Church with idolatrous temple worship. History records that many new ceremonies, the burning of candles in daylight, incense, images, processions, purifications, and innumerable other things were introduced into the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries.
Idolatry and fornication were the two sins Israel was led into by the counsel of Balaam. These evils were strongly denounced by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:15-18 and 10:19 -28. In Pergamos the teachers of these impure practices were sheltered in the Church and the result was the moral ruin of all contaminated by these unholy and evil teachings and practices. The angel, or representative of Pergamos, is not charged with this evil of Balaam, but with allowing it. They had not resisted this evil. They were indifferent to these evil teachers of Balaamism and Nicolaitanism, and thus the sin of Pergamos was toleration of evil and evil men. Alas, how true this is of the professing Church of today. May we heed the censure of the Lord to Pergamos. From 1 John 5:20-21 we learn that any object outside of Jesus Christ is idolatry, and 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 and James 4:4 would teach us that friendship and illicit intercourse with the world is fornication.
The Lord further charged Pergamos with having those who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing He hated. We noticed that in Ephesus there were "the deeds of the Nicolaitanes" and they were hated by the Assembly and commended of the Lord for it. Here there is an advance in this evil, for it is now "the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes" and the propagators of it were in the bosom of the Church. It was now systematized evil taught and practised. The Assembly had settled down in the world where Satan's throne was and was tolerating what the Lord hated. It cannot be otherwise when the Church abandons its pilgrim character; separation from evil cannot be maintained while dwelling in the world. This applies individually and collectively. As we have fully gone into the meaning of "Nicolaitanism" in the message to Ephesus, we shall not speak further of it here.
Parable of the Mustard Seed
We have been drawing attention in previous studies to the similarity between the seven parables of Matthew thirteen and these seven Churches. The third parable likens the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed, which the Lord says "is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof" (Matt.13:31-32). How true this is of the state of the professing Church in this third period of Pergamos. Christianity and the Church had spread from the small, genuine mustard seed to a great tree of prominence and now was giving shelter to evil teachers and evil doctrine, which the birds symbolize. How true also of Christendom today, and how sad that it is so!
The Call to Repentance
"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth" (Rev.2:16). The Lord thus seeks to arouse the whole church to self-judgment for allowing the evils of Balaamism and Nicolaitanism among them and for their dwelling where Satan's throne was. He calls upon the entire church to repent, to change their mind about these allowed evils, to judge them, and to take sides with Himself against them.
The Lord was still looking for repentance in the Church during this Pergamos period: there was the possibility of recovery to proper conditions and characteristics of the Assembly pleasing to the Lord. This was only possible by genuine repentance and clearance of the evil.
Confession of sin, self-judgment and godly sorrow is true repentance. This is ever the only way of recovery from evil and its snares. If things come into our lives or into the Assembly of God that are contrary to the Word of God, we must exercise self-judgment and repentance, individually or collectively. Thus we shall be delivered from them, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of" (2 Cor.7:10).
The Lord said to Pergamos that if they did not repent and judge the evil among them, "I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth." Notice, He did not say, "I will fight against you," but "against them." He never fights against His own people, but He will fight against those who bring in evil doctrines and practices, such as those who held the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes at Pergamos. If we do not judge evil that may arise in the Church, the Lord will do it Himself, and then it will be to our shame. He is zealous of His glory and of the holiness that becomes His house.
The sword of His mouth, with which He will fight against evil doers, is the Word of God. His Word is "sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb.4:12), and has come from His mouth (Deut.8:3); it is God-breathed. He presents Himself to Pergamos as the One who has the "sharp sword with two edges" (v.12), and when He comes to earth in judgment He will smite the nations with a sharp sword that goes out of His mouth, as we have previously noted in Rev.19:11-15. That living Word we have and must use it against evil that may arise in our lives or in the Church.
There is a remarkable example in the history of this Pergamos period of the Church of the Lord fighting against evil doers with the sword of His mouth. Arius, who had held the evil teaching of Christ being a created being, later presented a plausible confession of belief in a general way in the Holy Trinity. Constantine accepted his confession and sent for Alexander, Bishop of Constantinople, and told him that Arius must be received into communion on the following day, which was Sunday. Alexander, who was almost 100 years old, was greatly distressed by the Emperor's orders. He entered the church building and earnestly prayed that the Lord would prevent such a profanation. During the evening of the same day, Arius was talking lightly and triumphantly of the ceremonies appointed for the morrow. But the Lord heard the prayer of His aged servant and that same night the evil Arius died. The Lord stepped in and did not allow the reinstatement into the Church of this heretical teacher. ( Miller's Church History, Vol. 1.)
The words of the Lord in this verse of Revelation 2:16 give us a principle of utmost importance as to cases of discipline in the Assembly, or as to the state of the whole Church. As another has remarked: "If evil is permitted to pass unjudged in the Assembly, owing to the indifference or laxity of the saints, or from unwillingness to face the difficulty, the Lord will first wait in His long-suffering, and seek through one and another, by whatever means He may choose, to awaken the consciences of His people; and then, if they fail to respond to His exhortations, He will come in Himself and deal with the evil which the Assembly had failed to judge, and in which all, by refusing to judge, had become implicated. It should never be forgotten that holiness becomes the house of God and that 'our God is a consuming fire'" (Ps.93:5; Heb.12:29) (E. Dennett).
Further Errors in Pergamos Period
Before going on with the message of the Lord to the Assembly at Pergamos, we desire to draw attention to further errors which came into the professing Church during this third period of its history. As Christianity outwardly flourished under the protection of Constantine and the profession of Christianity became the sure way to wealth, honours and positions of eminence in the empire, thousands flocked around the churches at the Easter and Pentecostal festivals waiting to be baptized. Some writers speak of twelve thousand men, besides women and children, having been baptized in one year in Rome . As the Church gained in numbers, power and popularity in this outward way, the Bishops said, "We have been looking for Christ's reign, but we have been wrong. Constantine 's empire is Christ's kingdom." Thus the hope and truth of Christ's coming was given up by the Church at this time and it no longer looked for His promised coming and reign. The term "catholic" was now invariably applied in all official documents to the Church also. It was now the universal official Church upheld by the State.
During this period superstition had by this time taught men to connect the forgiveness of sins with the rite of baptism. In the fourth century the observance of this rite had an immense place in the minds of professing Christians. They believed that the waters of baptism purified the soul completely. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who died around 200, is the first of the Fathers that alludes to infant baptism. "Regeneration, born again, baptism, are used as interchangeable terms, and as meaning the same thing, in the writings of the Fathers" ( Miller's Church History, Vol. 1).
Anxious parents hastened to have their delicate infants baptized, lest they should the under the curse of original sin, and the man of the world delayed his baptism until the near approach of death so that he might pass from the waters of regeneration to the realms of blessedness untainted by further sin. Thus this serious error of baptismal regeneration, instead of the Scriptural teaching of regeneration and new birth by the water of the Word of God and the Spirit's power, came into the professing Church so early and remains the accepted doctrine of multitudes in Christendom today.
It was during this time that the unscriptural system of monasteries, nunneries and asceticism sprang up. Such austerity of life, of harsh treatment of the body, etc., was more an offspring of heathen philosophy than of the teachings of Christ. The words of the apostle in Colossians 2:23 surely apply to these things.
The Call to the Individual
"He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev.2:17). In such a state of ruin and declension, as found in Pergamos, the Lord appeals to the individual, to whoever has an opened ear to hear what the Spirit has said to the churches, and will heed and consider the censure of the Lord. He that has an inward ear opened by the Holy Spirit will listen and receive the communications given by the Lord. We are thus reminded of our individual responsibility. The Lord speaks to us individually, even today, about the state of His Church and would have us hear the voice of the Spirit and overcome evil.
The Promise to the Overcomer
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Rev.2:17). The Lord always looks for overcomers. Those who heed the Spirit's call and message are empowered to overcome the evils pointed out and are given precious promises. The overcomer in Pergamos would judge the evil of the doctrine of Balaam and of the Nicolaitanes and mourn about the dishonour done to the Lord's name by toleration of them in the Assembly. We become overcomers by faith, and by the power of the Spirit as we act upon God's Word (1 John 2:14 ; 4:4; 5:4).
The teachers of the doctrine of Balaam in Pergamos taught Christians to eat things sacrificed to idols, but to the overcomer of this evil the Lord promises the hidden manna for his food. This would remind us of the pot of manna that was laid up in the ark as a witness and memorial of God's faithfulness in giving Israel manna for forty years in the wilderness. The manna was Christ in His walk down here in humiliation in wilderness circumstances. The hidden manna is Christ in heaven, hidden from the eyes of men, but treasured by the Father. As we behold Him there by faith, we are reminded of what He has been down here, tempted and tried in all points as we are, but victorious over all. Recalling Him thus to mind, we feed upon Him and are sustained and strengthened in secret communion. Christ the great Overcomer is the food for the child of God, and as he feeds upon Him strength is gained for overcoming and he too becomes an overcomer.
If we think of the hidden manna as that which the overcomer will be given in heaven, it would tell us of how wilderness experiences of feeding on Christ down here will bloom afresh in glory. There we will enjoy anew all that Christ has meant to us in this wilderness life, how He sustained us as the manna for our souls.
The Lord also promises the overcomer a white stone with a new name written thereon. A white stone was used in the social life and judicial customs of the ancients. Days of festivity were noted by a white stone and a host's appreciation of a special guest was indicated by a white stone with a name or message written on it. A white stone meant acquittal in the courts and a black stone, condemnation. Voters would also indicate on a white stone the name of the candidate they approved of and put it into an urn. This promise of the Lord thus indicates His personal delight and approbation of each individual overcomer. It is a precious, secret token of His approval, a secret between Himself and the faithful heart, for no one knows the name written on the stone but the recipient. What an encouragement for the overcomer who incurs the disfavour and opposition of those who tolerate evil. May we seek to be overcomers for Christ in every evil day.
The Message To Thyatira
We have previously pointed out that these messages to the seven Churches are divided into two groups of three and four, and that the conditions found in the first three churches were temporary, whereas the state of things manifest in the last four continues on to the end of the Church's history. In our present studies we come to the fourth Church, Thyatira, which thus stands in the middle of the whole series of the seven. Three Church periods preceded Thyatira and three other prophetic periods follow it. The first three culminate in Thyatira and she becomes the embodiment of the three stages of departure which we have seen in Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos. The last three Church periods spring from Thyatira.
With this fourth prophetic period of Thyatira there is thus a change, for we have here a condition of things that continues on in Christendom to the coming of the Lord for the true Church and goes on to its culmination in Babylon the great of Revelation seventeen. In that chapter we read of its destruction shortly before the Lord's coming to earth in judgment. The development of evil in the professing Church, which we shall find set forth in the message to Thyatira, is therefore a permanent condition and represents a system of religious evil that is with us today.
We shall see that there is no hope of recovery held out in Thyatira; there is no prospect of deliverance of the whole Church from its evil condition, for the Lord gave her space to repent and she repented not, therefore there is the pronouncement of judgment to come. But a remnant is recognized within Thyatira that is not characterized by the evil and for the first time we hear of the Lord's coming in these messages to the seven Churches. His coming is held out as a bright hope of full deliverance from the ruin and departure that has come into Christendom. This hope is given to the remnant and overcomers.
The Name Thyatira
One authority on the meaning of names has given the meaning of Thyatira as "odour of affliction" (JB Jackson). Another has said that it comes from two words, one of which means "a sacrifice or incense offering," the other word meaning "that which goes on continually." Combining these two thoughts, the suggested interpretation of the name Thyatira would be "continual sacrifice." Another suggested meaning is "one unwearied in presenting sacrificial offerings." All these meanings point us to that which characterized the system of religious teaching which sprang up in this Thyatira period.
Thyatira gives us a picture of the professing Church during the Middle Ages, the period in history called the Dark Ages. The Thyatira period began around 600 AD and continued to the eve of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. It was in the seventh century that the Bishop of Rome was first recognized as the vice-regent of Christ on earth. He became the pope and the acknowledged head of the Church. This was the beginning of the Roman system of the Papacy. It is during this period of Thyatira that Roman Catholicism developed and became the corrupt Church of systematized evil which we know today. During this time Christianity became heathenized.
One of the great characteristics of the Church of Rome is the sacrifice of the mass which it is always offering for sin. This is truly a distinguishing feature of the Roman system, and thus the meaning of Thyatira, "continual sacrifice," "one unwearied in presenting sacrificial offerings," aptly characterizes the Church of this period. The continual or oft repeated sacrifice of the mass is Satan's insult to the one perfect and complete offering of Christ for sin and is a denial of the finished work of the Saviour for sinners. "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all. . By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb.10:10,14).
The Approach of the Lord
"Unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass" (Rev.2:18). The character in which the Lord presents Himself to these Assemblies of Asia is always in keeping with the condition and state of the Church addressed. Here He presents Himself in the most searching and positive character of the Son of God with absolute authority and penetrating judgment. The Lord approaches Thyatira in a sterner and severer manner than He does to any of the other Churches, for there was the greatest wickedness and presumption here.
The woman Jezebel called herself a prophetess and was teaching and seducing God's servants into spiritual fornication and idolatry. This is what the system of Rome has ever done. She claims to be a prophetess and to speak with authority from God and puts the seal of God on the most terrible iniquity. The Church of Rome presumes to be the chaste bride of Christ and against this self-asserting, pretentious bride the Lord has to assert His authority as the Son of God in judgment. He is "a son over His own house" (Heb.3:6), and as such He wields authority and is judicially prepared to act against evil. The Church of the living God is the house of God on earth and holiness becometh His house (1 Timothy 3:15 ; Psalm 93:5), therefore the Lord will not tolerate evil in His house, but will judge it in His own time. Here in Thyatira the Lord presents Himself in His full Deity and in all the power of His person as Son of God. He comes in all His authority and exaltation and would assert His headship over His rebellious Church that was setting up her own authority.
His eyes are like unto a flame of fire. Eyes speak of intelligence, understanding and discernment, and the symbol of a flame of fire would convey the thought of all-searching, penetrating, discerning judgment. The prophet Habakkuk said, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (ch. 1:13 ). "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Prov.15:3).
The feet of the Lord like fine brass indicates the firmness with which He deals with sin in divine righteousness. Brass typifies God meeting man in his responsibility according to divine righteousness. This is set forth in the brazen altar of the tabernacle. There God met man in his sins and His claims in righteousness were met by the offered sacrifice.
In this presentation of the Lord we see that He comes to deal with the public state of the Church as His responsible light-bearer and witness in the world. He would remind her of His absolute authority over the house of God, of His discerning and piercing judgment and of His firm purpose not to pass over sin. Though He is the God of all grace and love, He is also holy and righteous and will deal in justice and judgment. These solemn characteristics are ever true of the Lord and abide as principles in His dealings with single Assemblies and with individual believers everywhere.
"I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first" (Rev.2:19). Following the severe presentation of the Lord to Thyatira in the previous verse, which we dwelt upon in our last study, it is rather astonishing to read these wonderful words of commendation. But it is ever the way of our Lord to commend first all that which is good and worthy before dealing with that which is grievous and evil to His holy eyes. In spite of the awful evil system that was rising up and ruling during this Thyatira period of the dark Middle Ages, there was a faithful remnant of true believers (spoken of as "my servants" and "the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine"), whose faithfulness and piety shone out the brighter in the increasing evil.
It is ever a principle in Scripture that whenever there is corporate failure, the faithful remnant becomes invested with the collective position before God. So on this principle the Lord is able to impute to Thyatira all the merits, faithfulness and activities of the devoted saints in her midst, and speaks of their work, charity, service, faith and patience as that of Thyatira. This group of faithful souls is looked at positionally as the true Church of that period; the Lord recognized them as His people in that day.
Of this class of faithful witnesses another has well written: "Nowhere, perhaps, is there a more deeply interesting story; nowhere longer and more unwearied patience; nowhere truer, or perhaps so true, hearts for Christ and for the truth, and for faithfulness to Him against a corrupt Church, as in the saints of the Middle Ages. Through toil and labour, hunted and punished in spite of a system far more persevering, far better organized, than heathen persecutions, violent as for a time they surely were; with no fresh miraculous revelation, or publicly sustaining body, or profession of the Church at large, clothed with universal acknowledgement as such, to give them confidence; with every name of ignominy that people or priest could invent to hunt them with, they pursued their hemmed but never abandoned way with divinely given constancy, and maintained the testimony of God and the promised existence of the Church against the gates of Hades, at the cost of rest and home and life and all things earth could give or nature feel. And Christ had foreseen and had not forgotten it" (JND).
Of the things which the Lord commends among these faithful believers in Thyatira, love is mentioned first. It is the great characteristic of the divine nature and of God who is love. From it springs all spiritual activity. In the more correct translations, faith is mentioned next. It is "faith which worketh by love" (Gal.5:6) and is manifested in service to God and man. Then there was patience, or endurance amidst much persecution. "And the last works (to be) more than the first" (N.Tn). There was increasing devotedness amongst these saints. As the evil increased, their energy and zeal for the Lord also increased, so that the Lord could say their last works were more than the first. Love and faith, which were missing in the Assembly at Ephesus, were found amidst this remnant in Thyatira, and in this sense their state was above that of Ephesus where first love had been departed from.
One of our wonderful hymns was written by Bernard of Clairvaux during this dark and evil time. The following lines of its first and second verses are a sample of the devotion which the Lord was commending as answering to the love of His heart:
"Saviour, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
"No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the mind conceive,
A sweeter sound than Jesus' name
To sinners who believe."
Church history records the names of many of these faithful witnesses who remained true to the Lord Jesus and did not go on with all the evil of the corrupt Church of this period. Some of these were known as Nestorians, Paulicians, the Albigenses of the southern province of France on the western side of the Alps, and the Waldenses of the valleys of Piedmont on the eastern side of the Alps . Multitudes of these faithful ones were slain by the wicked Roman System during these Dark Ages. This faithful remnant is another evidence of the truth of the oft-mentioned statement that God never leaves Himself without witnesses. No matter how dark and evil the days may be, God ever raises up some faithful ones who walk in separation from the evil and bear testimony to Himself. Such witnesses of faith stand out like bright, shining stars on a dark night. May we seek to be such in the present evil day.
The Lord's Censure
" But I have against thee that thou permittest the woman Jezebel, she who calls herself prophetess, and she teaches and leads astray My servants to commit fornication and eat of idol sacrifices. And I gave her time that she should repent, and she will not repent of her fornication. Behold, I cast her into a bed, and those that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and her children will I kill with death; and all the assemblies shall know that I am He that searches the reins and the hearts; and I will give to you each according to your works" (Rev.2:20-23, N.Tn).
Having expressed His appreciation and commendation of faithful devotedness of the godly remnant, the Lord now speaks of that which He had against the angel or messenger of the Church in Thyatira. He points out the grievous evil that was permitted in the Assembly, which called forth His severe condemnation and impending judgment. A wicked woman Jezebel was allowed to teach and to lead astray God's servants into spiritual fornication and idolatry.
The apostle Paul was led by God's Spirit to write: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1.Tim.2:11-12). Thus for a woman to teach in God's Assembly is definitely contrary to God's Word, not only in the days of Thyatira, but in the present day. The evil results of a woman teaching in Thyatira were manifest in her leading astray servants of the Lord into the worst evils. As Eve was deceived by Satan and led Adam into sin, so Satan has often worked since. When the woman gets out of her ordained sphere and takes the place of a teacher, she is often deceived by Satan and leads others into evil teachings of which he is the father. Many of the false and unscriptural religious cults of our day were started by women.
But there is more serious evil here than just the matter of a woman teaching in the Assembly. It is a principle in Scripture that a woman in a type is expressive of a state and condition of things, whereas a man indicates more the activity and conduct in that state. Remembering also that the state in each of these seven Assemblies of Asia is prophetical of the various conditions that would exist in the whole professing Church in its seven different stages, we have here in the activity of the woman Jezebel a state of things set forth that was to be found in the Church at large of the Thyatiran period in the Middle Ages. The professing Church as a whole was to be characterized by this thing of Jezebel claiming to be a prophetess and teaching and seducing the Lord's servants into idolatry. It is the Church taking the place of a prophetess and teaching.
In Ephesians 5 we are told that "the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands. . This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (v.23-24,32). This Scripture teaches us that the Church as the bride of Christ is to be subject to Him as its Head and Bridegroom. Therefore the Church is never to teach or to set herself up as an authority of Christ her Head. The Word of God has come from Christ to the Church and she is to be subject to it. Christ teaches by His Word, as ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of His servants. In Thyatira we have the woman in the man's place and the Church substituting herself for Christ, claiming the authority of a prophetess for her teaching.
As previously pointed out in our introductory remarks on Thyatira, it is the Church of Rome that is clearly symbolized here by the woman Jezebel teaching and leading astray God's people into idolatry and evil. In Romanism it is the Church that teaches and sets herself above the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. Their subtle propaganda is set forth today in national magazines and newspapers, claiming that the Roman Catholic Church existed before the Bible, and that "the Catholic Church is the mother of the Bible." Rome claims that she has given us the Bible, that she has sole authority from Christ and alone can interpret the Scriptures, that all other interpretations of it are private interpretations and wrong. This is the evil woman teaching and usurping authority over Christ and His Word.
In Pergamos the Lord spoke about the doctrine of Balaam and his activity of evil in the Old Testament. Here in Thyatira the Lord speaks of the evil of Jezebel. This was the name of a well-known wicked queen in the days of Elijah the prophet of the Lord. She was the "daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians" and wife of Ahab, king of Israel (1 Kings 16:31 ). Her father had been a priest of Astarte (Venus) and the family was famous for intense devotion to Baal. She fed 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah at her table and slew the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:13,19; N.Tn). Her whoredoms and witchcrafts are spoken of as "so many" by king Jehu who was used of God to execute judgment upon her and the whole house of Ahab (2 Kings 9:22). We are also told that she was the instigator of all the evil which her husband Ahab did. "There was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up" (1 Kings 21:25 ). Such was the character of wicked Jezebel and such has been the manifested evil, idolatrous and murderous character of the wicked, ecclesiastical system of Rome which Jezebel typifies in Thyatira.
The Woman Leavening The Meal
The fourth parable of Matthew 13 is similar to what we have set forth in the activity of Jezebel in Thyatira, the fourth Church. The Lord said, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened" (v.33). Leaven is always a type of evil in Scripture (1 Cor.5:6-8), The three measures of meal speak of Christ the Corn of wheat, the Bread of life, or the doctrine of Christ. The woman here is doing that which was forbidden in the Scriptures; she was stealthily hiding leaven in the pure meal, a thing prohibited in the meal-offering (Lev.2:11). The purpose was to leaven and corrupt the whole of the pure meal. Thus there is the thought of evil and opposition to the Word of God in the activity of this woman.
This is what we have in Romanism as presented in the figure of the woman Jezebel and her activity. The Papal system has corrupted the pure doctrine of Christ by introducing into it her evil doctrines one by one. She has ever mixed into the truth of God the leaven of her own heathen ideas and then presents this mixture as a dogma of the Church, which must be accepted under pain of excommunication. It is a system of development as can be seen by an examination of the origin of her doctrines and practices. One discovers that they came into being one by one through the centuries.
Prayers for the dead began around 300 AD; the worship of Mary and the saints around the fifth century; Lent was imposed around 998; priests were forbidden to marry by Gregory VII in 1079. Prayer beads were invented by Peter the Hermit in 1090 and auricular confession to the priest was instituted by Pope Innocent III in 1215. The sacrifice of the mass came into existence in the eleventh century and the doctrine of transubstantiation was made an article of faith in 1215. At the Council of Trent in 1546 Roman Catholic traditions were placed on the same level with the Holy Scriptures and the Apocryphal books were added to the Bible. At this same Council command was given that the doctrine of Purgatory be held, taught and preached everywhere. It had been formally received as a dogma of the Church in the time of Gregory the Great in 600. (See Miller's Church History, Vol.2, and "Roman Catholic Inventions.") Thus the woman has been busy mixing leaven into the pure meal and Jezebel has taught and led astray souls into idolatry.
In spite of this history of development in doctrine and practice over a period of centuries, the Church of Rome claims to be the first Church and that which Christ established on earth with Peter as the first pope. As Romanism has greatly revived and presses its claims with great activity in our present day, many are becoming ensnared and led astray by its subtle propaganda. Therefore it is necessary that we speak out clearly and faithfully in warning souls as to this false and evil system of Jezebel teaching which the Lord condemned in Thyatira. The true Church, founded by Christ on Himself as the Rock foundation (Matt.16:16-18; 1 Cor.3:11), is found in the book of Acts and in the Epistles of the New Testament. It is "the church, which is His body" and the glorified Christ is its only head. It is the "church of the firstborn," those born again and baptized by the Spirit of God into this divine body, and whose names are written in heaven (Eph.1:21,22; 1 Cor.12:13; Heb.12:23). In the Epistle to the Romans, written by the apostle Paul around 60 AD, we can see what characterized the first Church there and note how vastly different are the doctrines and practices of the Papal system at Rome today. The Church of Rome developed out of the evils which came into the professing Church in the Pergamos period. It is the first corrupt and idolatrous Church, where the elements of Judaism and heathenism were combined into a fixed, systematized teaching under the garb or cloak of Christianity.
"Leads Astray My Servants"
This is what the Roman system has done according to God's indictment. She has turned the great mass of professing Christians from Christ to Mary; from Christ to the Pope; from the one offering of Christ to the continual sacrifice of the mass; from the Word of God and its certainty to the uncertainty of the traditions of men; in a word, from Christianity to Christianised and Judaised paganism.
"She teaches and leads astray My servants to commit fornication and eat of idol sacrifices." The end result and aim of popish error, blasphemous teachings, and wicked practices is to get her adherents to "commit fornication and eat of idol sacrifices." Fornication, used as a symbol here and elsewhere, signifies for those naming the Name of the Lord: forbidden intercourse with the world. What was begun by Constantine in the Pergamos period was consummated in the papacy. Its taking upon itself to combine secular and spiritual power universally was the masterpiece of the papacy. The unholy union of the Church with the world was perfected as a system in Catholicism and this is spiritual fornication which the Lord abhors. Eating of idol sacrifices is association with heathen idolatry and fellowship with demons, for "that what (the nations) sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God" (1 Cor.10:20, N.Tn).
"My servants" were those who were pious and groaned and suffered under the forced worship of images and the idolatry of this Jezebel system. They were God-fearing and had a conscience about God's Word and a love for the Saviour; yet they never left Romanism and their consciences were stupefied by the acceptance of the clergy and the doings of Jezebel. The Lord regarded their piety and felt it keenly that they were led astray by this evil system.
In the messages to the first three Churches the call to repentance is addressed to the whole Church, for there was still hope that they would repent and return to the Word of God and forsake the evils. But there in Thyatira the Lord has to say, "And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds" (Rev.2:21-22). Opportunity had been given to the Jezebel-system of Rome to repent of her evil deeds, but she was hardened in her sinful ways and would not repent.
God raised up numerous witnesses for Himself during this period of Thyatira, in Church history, who spoke as men of God and cried against the evils. In the fourteenth century John Wycliffe boldly spoke out in England against iniquities of the Church of Rome and maintained the absolute supremacy of the Holy Scriptures, which he succeeded in translating into English, giving England its first complete Bible. Jerome Savonarola faithfully preached in Italy in the fifteenth century against the evils of the Church, but was hung and burnt by order of the pope. There was John Knox in Scotland, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingle and Calvin in Switzerland and many others who were mighty reformers whom God raised up to call Rome to repentance; but instead of heeding the call and repenting, she persecuted God's servants and slew many of them.
Papal Rome has continued unto this day unrepentant and will do so until its final judgment as given in Revelation 17 and 18. Therein we see her character is darker and her deeds blacker than in the past. Popery is utterly corrupt and her character fixed and unrepentant to the end. Therefore her judgment is fixed also.
We should notice in passing that it is a principle with God always to give opportunity for repentance before judgment is executed. "I gave her space to repent." Thus He has ever acted from the beginning of time and so should His Church and His people act. Even when speaking of the judgment that He would execute upon Jezebel, the Lord adds, "except they repent." Such is His long-suffering and yearning over His professed people for their recovery from evil.
The Threatened Judgment
"Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds" (Rev.2:22). This is judgment of the severest character upon Jezebel and those that committed adultery with her. There would be forced association with those she seduced into evil with her, and great tribulation and desperate distress for those who tampered with this evil system. All who in the public Christian world of the day meddle and associate with the corruption of Christianity, represented by Jezebel in Thyatira, will be cast into great tribulation and distress, unless they repent. Besides general tribulation, there may be a reference here to the time of great tribulation that shall come upon apostate Christendom after the Lord has come for His bride, the Church (Matt.24:21-31).
And I will kill her children with death" (v.23). There are not only those who have had to do with this Jezebel system and associated with her in evil, but there are her children, those who have been begotten and formed by her evil teaching and are the expression and proponents of her views. There is full judgment for such who have become the devotees of Rome and perpetuate this evil system. There is spiritual death as well as physical death, and also the second death of eternal separation from God (Ezek.18:4; Rev.20:12-15).
This judgment may be twofold, present judgment in divine government in time, and future judgment when every one will receive according to his works. The Lord adds, "and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works" (v.23). By divine visitation of judgments in time all the churches would know that they have to do with a holy and righteous God who searches the hearts and is not indifferent to evil. He deals with each one individually in discriminating judgment, according to each one's works. Though God moves slowly in utmost patience, judgment is sure to come.
Encouragement To The Remnant
"But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come" (v.24-25). Here the Lord addresses in tender and gracious tones the faithful remnant, which we have previously spoken of as existing in this period of Thyatira, and which may have its representatives or counterpart even in this present day. They did not have this evil doctrine of Jezebel and had no part in the iniquity which the Lord charged Thyatira with. Their piety and other commendable features we have already noticed in the first part of the Lord's message. They were hounded and persecuted by the papal system; and it would seem were accused of being linked up with the depths of Satan. So the words of the Lord, "The depths of Satan, as they speak," would imply.
But the Lord saw and knew everything and vindicates these faithful ones. He knew it was a great effort for them just to hold on to what they possessed in the Lord, so He considerately and tenderly says, "I will put upon you none other burden, but that which you nave already hold fast till I come." The Saviour would encourage this godly remnant to hold fast, to persevere amidst the corruption, subtle seductions and persecutions until He would come.
Here for the first time in these messages to the Seven Churches we have the remnant specially marked out as separate from the body in general and as no longer in connection with the Church as a whole. Until now there was held out the possibility of recovery of the Church from its fallen condition, but now the Church-State corruption had become so hopeless that the Lord directly addresses the faithful remnant and points them to His coming for encouragement and hope. All hope of recovery of the whole Church from its fallen condition is abandoned now.
For the first time also in these epistles the Lord's coming is spoken of. They were not to expect the Jezebel system to get right; they were to look for His coming as the only deliverance out of evil. This was and is the comfort held out to the saints in the midst of the wreck of everything here. The fact of the Lord's coming being brought in is also an indication that the Thyatira condition of things will continue until His coming for the true believers. So we have in Thyatira a state of things that goes on to the end. But there is also a godly remnant there that the Lord recognizes and will come for.
Promises To The Overcomer
"And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father. And I will give him the morning star" (v.26-28). With such precious promises the Lord would encourage the overcomers in the evil day of Jezebel rule of corruption. They were to hold fast and keep His works to the end and thus overcome by the Spirit's power the evil about them and the seductions and persecutions of papal Rome and of the nations around.
With Christ they would have power over the nations that were now persecuting them by the false Church's instigation, The time shall come when Christ will rule over the nations and execute judgment upon them and set all right. When He does so, the Church of the true believers and overcomers will be associated with Him in it. The overcomer shall share in the glory of the Messiah's kingly rule, and receive power from Him to rule as He received power from His Father. (See Psalm 2:8-9 which is referred to here.)
The large, grand and public character of the promise of authority over the nations exceeds anything we have yet had in the previous promises to the overcomers in these messages. This is the very thing that was the goal of the corrupt Church in the Thyatiran period and has ever been the goal of papal ambition - power over the nations. She literally and metaphorically put her foot on the neck of kings, and in the coming day of satanic rule Babylon the Great will sit upon the beast, the head of the revived Roman Empire . What the corrupt Church seeks in her own power, Christ promises to the overcomer that walks in separation from evil and takes the place of reproach now. Precious encouragement to every overcomer in any period of the Church's history
"And I will give him the morning star." This speaks of more intimate and more heavenly blessing, for it is Christ Himself in His heavenly beauty as the proper portion and hope of the Church while waiting His return. He says, "I am the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning Star" (Rev.22:16). The morning star shines in the last hours of the night and is the harbinger of coming day. It appears before the rising sun. So the coming of Christ for His Church shall precede His coming to earth as the "Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:2), His coming to rule the nations. They undoubtedly did not understand all this in the Thyatiran period (this truth was fully brought out in the Philadelphian period), but the blessed person of Christ as the morning star was the portion of the overcomer to enjoy here. It is the watcher who is awake when all are slumbering that sees the morning star. May we today be such overcomers who enjoy Christ as the morning star in our hearts and look for His coming to receive us unto Himself in the Father's house on high.
The Call To Hear
"He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (v.29). As in each of these messages to the churches, there is the appeal to the hearing ear to heed the voice of the Spirit. But here we have a change from the order of things in the previous three churches. There the call to the hearing ear precedes the promise to the overcomer, but now in Thyatira we have the call following the promise to the overcomer. The exhortation to hear the call of the Spirit is no longer addressed to the whole Church, as previously, but follows the word of cheer to the remnant and the promises to the overcomer. It is therefore spoken to the overcomers, for only such could be expected to have a hearing ear to truly hear and consider what the Spirit had to say to the churches. The professing body of the Church is treated as incapable of repentance; space was given her to repent and she willed not to do so. Hence the separated remnant who overcome are appealed to, to hear what the Spirit has to say in this message to Thyatira and to the other churches also. As ever, it is an appeal to the individual to have an opened ear to the words of the Spirit. May our ears be such in this present evil day of Laodicean lukewarm indifference to Christ.
The Message To Sardis
In the message to Thyatira we found that great evil had come into the professing Church during this period of its history. Elements of Judaism and heathenism were adapted and a fixed system of evil teaching had grown up under the form of the wicked prophetess Jezebel who led God's servants into spiritual fornication and idolatry. This we have seen has its full counterpart and fulfilment in the Roman Catholic system which continues today unrepentant and unchanged as to its evil character.
In the Church at Sardis we have prophetically set forth a fifth period of the professing Church or Christendom. In this Assembly, and the period of time it represents prophetically, we find nothing of the great evils the Lord spoke of to Thyatira. It is evident from the message to Sardis that there has been a new and fresh beginning The Lord says, "Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard and hold fast, and repent" (Rev.3:3).
Between the periods of time in the history of Christendom, which were characterized by Thyatira and Sardis conditions, there was the mighty work of the Spirit of God which is known as The Reformation. This developed over a period of several hundred years and reached its fullness and climax in the early part of the sixteenth century. At this time the Protestant movement came into being. It is important to notice that the Church at Sardis does not prophetically represent the Reformation itself, but rather the state and condition into which Protestantism afterwards fell when the power and impulse of that mighty movement of the Spirit of God had died down.
Before considering the Lord's message to Sardis, it will be helpful to us if we contemplate for a little some of the features of the work of the Spirit of God in the Reformation and the instruments which He used. In our previous study we spoke of John Wycliffe, born in England around 1320, who first translated the Bible into English. He was called "The Morning Star of the Reformation." John Huss, born about 1373, and Jerome (1363-1416), both of Bohemia, carried on the torch of truth from Wycliffe. Then there were the Moravian brethren who were distinguished by missionary zeal and labours. They published in the Bohemian language a translation of the Bible around 1470.
One of the greatest and most valuable accomplishments of the Reformation period was the translation of the Scriptures into the languages of the day and the multiplication and dissemination of the Bible into the hands of the rank and file of the people. During the Thyatira period the Bible was practically a lost book. It was only translated into Latin, which very few people knew, and only a few copies were in existence as everything had to be copied out by hand, for the art of printing was not yet invented. This period is known in history as the Dark Ages. Then evil flourished because the Bible was a hidden book and its light did not shine forth abroad. The Psalmist says, "The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple" (Ps.119:130). When the Word of God shines out, it gives light which dispels the darkness and evil. When it is withheld, evil flourishes.
God was going to recover His truth and give the light of His Word to the people. For this the Scriptures had to be translated from the original Hebrew and Greek tongues, also from the Latin, into the vernacular of the common folk, and means devised for rapid multiplication of the translated Bible. So He raised up men of God who were able to translate the Scriptures, and He so ordered that the art of manufacturing paper was developed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and that the art of printing was also invented. The first book to be printed was the Holy Bible, which Gutenberg printed in German around 1456. Now the Word of God was rapidly multiplied and placed in the hands of the people.
One of the most prominent figures of the Reformation was Martin Luther whom God used mightily to recall souls to the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures and to the recovery of the great gospel truth of justification by faith alone. Born in Germany in 1483, he saw a Bible for the first time in a library at Erfurt in 1505. After years of deep exercises of soul, he was brought into true peace with God by the words of Romans 1:17, "The just shall live by faith." Henceforth he became the great proclaimer of justification by faith as the peculiar doctrine of the Gospel and exposed the falsehoods of Popery and brought the reign of Rome to an end. In 1517 Luther nailed his theses to the Church door at Wittenberg . Therein in ninety-five propositions he challenged the whole Catholic Church, as to its sale of indulgences. In 1520 he burned publicly the papal bull which ex-communicated him from the Church and thus threw off the yoke of Rome and became an open and uncompromising antagonist of this evil system. This was a bold and courageous step and the nation of Germany rallied around God's faithful servant and the power of Rome was broken for the first time in one thousand years.
After Luther's courageous and firm stand before the august assembly of over five thousand of the great ones of the day at the Diet of Worms in April 1521, he was carried off by friends to the Castle of Wartburg where he was secretly kept in safety for nearly a year. Here he commenced the greatest and most useful of all his works, the translation of the Bible into the German language. He published the New Testament in September 1522 and a second edition appeared in December 1522. It spread from one end of Germany to the other and to many other countries, and was read by almost everybody throughout Germany . It became the book of the people, a national book, the Book of God. The Reformation was now placed on the solid foundation of the Word of God. By 1533 fifty-eight editions of the New Testament had been printed. By 1530 the whole Old Testament had been translated by Luther with the help of Melanchthon and other friends and published. Now the complete Word of God was in the hands of the people in their own tongue and God Himself could thus speak to the hearts and consciences of men.
We should also state that previously the Bible was translated into various languages by individual reformers in different countries. An Italian version appeared in 1474, a Bohemian around 1470, a Dutch in 1477, a French in 1477, and a Spanish translation in 1478. Thus the Spirit of God wrought and heralded the approach of the coming Reformation. Now through the work which God wrought by Luther and the awakening in the German Empire, the revival of the Gospel and the work of the Reformation spread and deeply affected the general state of Europe . Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, France and the British Isles were affected by this movement of God's Spirit and "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed," as in the days of Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:20).
However, the Papal party of Rome continued in hateful opposition to the reformers and determined to exterminate by fire and sword the Lutherans. The first Diet of Spires was called in June 1526 and a second Diet was convened in the same place in the spring of 1529. The immediate extinction of the heresies of the Reformation by the sword was the avowed purpose of the Roman party at the second Diet. The German princes united and protested and then presented in writing a noble manifesto of remonstrance and protest. On this account the Reformers were designated The Protestants. Thus the term originated which is still used to denote all Churches and groups which protest on principle against the doctrines, rites and ceremonies of the Church of Rome.
The principles of the protest of the Reformers at Spires and that of the Confession of Augsburg of 1530 were embodied in the national constitution of Germany and the German princes pledged themselves to defend these beliefs by the armed might of governmental power. Now Protestantism assumed a political form and the moral glory of the Reformation declined. National Churches were formed in various countries with evangelical creeds as part of the government's statesmanship, and political power to back them up.
When the political element entered and soon dominated, when the outward aggressive action and protection of the Reformed Churches fell into the hands of the princes of governments, "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph.6:17), was exchanged for the carnal sword and the arm of flesh, and there was no further spiritual advancement after that. The glow and fervour of the truth of God and the first flush of blessing soon passed away and a cold, lifeless formalism and empty profession set into Protestantism. The Lord was not depended upon, the Spirit of God was grieved and there was no longer the power of the Spirit of God manifest as in the previous days.
Thus the words of the Lord to Sardis, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Rev.3:1), aptly describes the state of Protestantism when the power, bloom and impulse of the Reformation had died down and dead formalism and empty profession, devoid of spiritual life, had set in. This is the state and condition of Christendom in the period which Sardis prophetically sets forth.
With this brief outline of the Reformation as a background before us, we will be better enabled to understand the message of the Lord to Sardis and to enter more fully into the significance of its details which shall occupy us in our next studies.
The word " Sardis " is thought to come from a Hebrew word "saird" which means "a remnant." A remnant has been drawn out of the awful system of evil that developed during the Thyatiran period, out of the Jezebel system of Romanism. But, as we saw in our previous study, many joined themselves to this true remnant of Protestantism for political and other reasons, and it was now in the main a lifeless profession which the Lord characterized as having "a name that thou livest, and art dead."
The Presentation Of The Lord
"And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Rev.3:1). The Lord presents Himself to Sardis as the One that has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. The Spirit of God speaks of power, for the Lord told the disciples, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1:8). The seven Spirits of God would indicate fullness of power, so the Lord would remind the Church at Sardis that He has fullness of power and that fullness was available for them in the Spirit of God. In Revelation 5 the Lord is seen as the Lamb "having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth" (v.6).
The Church is composed of believers "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph.2:22), and is the sphere of the Spirit's operations and power. But the Assembly at Sardis showed no sign of the Spirit's activity. It was cold, formal and dead. The Spirit of God had been grieved, neglected and set aside. The arm of flesh had been relied upon by the Protestant movement of this Sardis period as the power to combat the evils and power of Rome, instead of counting upon the power of the Spirit of God. In the beginning the reformers were empowered by the Spirit of God, but as the Reformation continued they made the great mistake of leaning on the arm of secular governments for protection and help. The Spirit of God had raised up a testimony against the evil in the professing Church, but He was not counted on or depended upon to maintain this testimony. Kings and princes of governments were tired of the heavy yoke of Rome and were glad to get rid of it, so joined in with the Protestant movement because of natural animosity against this evil system. Thus men not born of the Spirit of God or led by the Spirit became a vital part of the Protestant movement of this Sardis period and it soon became a lifeless profession devoid of spiritual power.
Because of all this the Lord presents Himself to Sardis as the One who has the seven Spirits of God, fullness of power. If they needed strength and power in the great conflict against evil, it was available for them in the Spirit of God. The same is true for the Church of God today, and for the individual believer. We can "be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph.3:16). The professing Church today is characterized by the same neglect of the Spirit of God and leaning on the arm of flesh as was true of Protestantism in its early days, so the Lord's words to the Church in Sardis are of practical application in the present time also.
The Lord also says that He has the seven stars. We noticed in our earlier studies that Revelation 1:20 says: "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." They are the messengers, or those bearing responsibility in the Assembly and set therein to give heavenly light. He would remind us that He is the One who gives gifts to His Church and that all who would be instrumental lights for Him must connect everything with Himself and own His authority and count upon Him for every need. He has the seven stars. All true ministry must come from Himself by the Spirit of God. Do we need teachers to teach the Word of God? Do we need pastors to shepherd and care for the flock of God? Do we need evangelists to preach the Gospel? Are overseers needed in the local Assemblies? Yes, all these gifts and ministrations are needed in the Church and are to be had from Christ, the living Head of the Church. He can and does raise up such and we are to look to Him for them instead of establishing a ministerial system as Protestantism has done. The Lord would cause the Assembly at Sardis and ourselves today to realize that, though there is failure and lack of power in the Church, there is neither failure nor lack of power or ministry with Himself. All fullness abides in Him for His Church, but He must be counted and depended upon in faith to receive of His fullness.
The reader will remember that we pointed out in the introduction to these studies the contrast between the presentation of the Lord to Ephesus and to Sardis . In Ephesus the Lord presents Himself as the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, but here to Sardis He does not say that He has the seven stars in His hand. The reason for the difference is that in the time of Ephesus, the period following the apostles, the Lord was owned as the Head of the Church and relied on as such. But this was not true of the Church in the Sardis period, and neither is it true of the professing Church today. Christ is not owned as the living and only head of the Church. Men are given that place and looked to instead of the living Lord of glory. The stars are not seen and owned as being in the right hand of the Lord. The real failure of Protestantism has been, and is, in not giving the Lord Jesus Christ the supreme place of authority and headship and depended upon as such.
The Lord's Censure
"I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Rev.3:1). This is the Lord's estimation of the works and state of Sardis, of the professing Church of the Sardis period, yea, of Protestantism. He who has eyes as a flame of fire that can pierce through everything, and He who alone can fully perceive and give a right estimate of every action and work has this to say about the works of Sardis .
It surely is not a commendation that the Lord gives here, as we have seen He always gave first in His messages to the previous four Churches in connection with the words, "I know thy works." It would seem that there is practically nothing of commendation in the Lord's message to Sardis . The only word of approval He could give was the recognition of the little remnant in verse four "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy." These few the Lord could commend for their separated walk, but the general state of Sardis was displeasing to Him and He could only speak words of censure, exhortation and warning to this Church as a whole.
"Thou hast a name that thou livest." There was much orthodoxy and correctness of doctrine in the creeds of the Protestants. Much truth was expressed and owned as facts, and is still found among some Protestants today, but there was no spiritual life. It was, and is today, a cold, formal, lifeless, orthodox thing without the power of the Spirit of God. There is the appearance of life, but He who pierces through the outward covering of formalism says, Thou art dead. The name and outward profession belies the actual condition. There was a name to live, but it was only a name, a profession without spiritual life. Protestantism that began with the Reformation, which was in the power of the Spirit at first, now was in the sleep of death. It settled down in worldly associations and had a reputation of life, but without spiritual vitality.
Such was Protestantism after the freshness and impulse of the Reformation passed away, and such is Protestantism, and worse, today. The evangelical movements of the day are outside the recognized organizations of Protestantism and are not properly represented by Sardis . It was the formation of National Churches, supported by the State, which enrolled practically everyone, regardless of spiritual life or regeneration by the Spirit of God, that characterized the Protestant movement in the Sardis period and helped bring about this lifeless profession of dead orthodoxy which is still with us today.
The Call To Watchfulness
"Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God" (Rev.3:2). The assembly at Sardis had not been watchful, other wise the condition of lifeless profession that prevailed would not have developed. The result of this lack of watchfulness was that the things which remained were drooping and ready to die out. There had been activity of spiritual life, but now only forms of life remained and these were languishing and needed strengthening. So the Lord calls this assembly and the church of the Sardis period to watchfulness and activity in the Spirit, also to repentance, as we shall later see.
The call to watchfulness and to strengthening the things which remain is a practical word for the church at all times. In Mark 13:33-37 the Lord spoke to the disciples and exhorted them four times to watch. "Take ye heed, watch and pray . commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore . And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." The apostle Paul warned the elders of the church of Ephesus about men that would arise, "speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them," and then exhorted, "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:30-31). The enemy of our souls is ever busy to corrupt and destroy and has many subtle ways of working. It was while men slept that the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat as our Lord foretold (Matt.13:25). May we heed His call to watchfulness, individually and collectively, and seek to strengthen the languishing testimonies to His Name that remain. Let us not seek to tear down and just criticize, but to labour to build up and strengthen what is of God. "Let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober" (1 Thess.5:6).
"I have not found thy works complete before God" (N.Tn). This is the Lord's estimation of the works of the Sardis period. Though there had been a work of God during the Reformation time, there was much incompleteness that characterized the teaching of the Reformers. There was a great lack of Scriptural fullness on the great doctrines of divine revelation. There was gross fundamental blunder about what they called "the sacraments" - retaining baptismal regeneration and the error of consubstantiation as to the Lord's supper. There is not a trace of the true doctrine of the church of God in the history of the Reformation. The exalted truths of the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, where the characteristics of the Church and this present dispensation of grace are set forth, were unknown to the mass of the Reformers.
Then as regards Christian practice, believers were put under the law as their rule of life, and remain so even today in Protestantism, whereas Christ Himself is the rule of life for the Christian. The universal doctrine of all Protestant bodies is to put souls justified by faith under the law as a rule to live by. The effect of this is a ministry of death, for the law is called "the ministration of death" in 2 Corinthians 3:7. Souls under the law never enjoy settled peace and the walk is enfeebled.
Thus there is an incompleteness of works. The believer has in Christ a complete sacrifice, a perfect conscience ("hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience"), and is "perfected for ever" by one perfect offering (Heb.10:10-22). This is practically unknown in Protestantism, for the pure and full Gospel is not preached when grace and law are mixed together.
Remember - Hold Fast - Repent
"Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent" (Rev.3:3). The Lord recognizes that there had been a work of grace in the Reformation period. Much truth had been heard and received. There was now the light of the open Bible and all Europe had been stirred by the Reformation. People crowded into halls and listened four to five hours at a time to discourses from the Bible. The truths of the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures, justification by faith and liberty of conscience were among those heard and received.
But now these truths that had been recovered and rejoiced in were fading from memory and conscience. Protestantism was now living on its fame acquired by her successful conflict with the papal system of Rome, living on her name and forgetting the precious truths that had been revealed to her. The Lord therefore calls Sardis to remember how she had received and heard, to hold fast to the truths given forth by the Spirit of God, and to repent as to her declension and fall from her former condition. This was the way of recovery and restoration which the Lord in grace set before Sardis . He would lead them to repentance by reminding them of how they had received the Word, of the heartiness, fervour, zeal and love with which they had received the truth when the light of the open Bible had shined upon them and delivered their souls out of the darkness of Catholicism.
Another point to observe here is that the Lord holds individuals and assemblies responsible according to the light received. Sardis will be judged by the light it received at the Reformation and according to the privilege of the light of an open Bible. What declension and apostasy one finds in Protestantism today, where in many places the Bible is no longer believed to be the inspired and infallible Word of God, and the doctrine of justification by faith is regarded as a relic of a past age. What judgment will befall such.
Applying the words of the Lord to Sardis to ourselves individually today, how searching is the call to remember how we have received and heard, and to hold fast and repent! How much precious ministry we have heard during our years! Do we prize and value the truth of God made known to us and do we hold it fast? Or do we prefer earthly and temporal things above the revelation of Christ and His Word? Many things in our lives show that we do not value the truth we have heard and received. Therefore the call to repent in self-judgment is the word of the Lord to us personally,
"If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" (Rev.3:3). The Lord had counselled the assembly to watch; now they are threatened with judgment if they do not do so and recover themselves from their fallen state. He would come upon them as a thief unexpectedly. This is very solemn, for the Lord will come upon the world "as a thief in the night" (1 Thess.5:2). Sardis is thus warned, that if she does not watch and repent, she will be treated as the world and judged by His coming upon them as a thief, unexpected and unwelcomed.
What a sad thing when the professing Church, yea, Protestantism with its great name, is reduced, in God's estimation and judgment, to the level of the world. The church in the Sardis period was one with the political powers and was thus identified with the world. It would therefore have to share the world's judgment when He comes in sudden surprise as "a thief in the night." The present state of Protestantism is no better, but worse than after the Reformation, and the Lord's warning of coming judgment is of solemn present application.
To the faithful remnant in Thyatira the Lord spoke of Himself as "the morning star" and called upon them to "hold fast till I come" (Rev.2:25,28). How lovely is the way He presents Himself to them as regards His coming. To the true believers who look for their Lord and Bridegroom to come again, He will appear as "the bright and morning star" (Rev.22:16) and translate them into the glory of His Father's house (John 14:2,3). But to the world and the professing church that does not know Christ and is not looking or waiting for His coming again, He will come as a thief with sudden destruction and judgment.
The Lord's words to Sardis, as to His coming upon them as a thief, shows that they were not looking for Him to come again. Surely this is true of present day Protestantism at large and of the world. They are not looking or waiting for the Lord to come again, and His coming will be unwelcome and unexpected as the coming of a thief.
But the word to the true child of God is, "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day (the day of the Lord) should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light" (1 Thess.5:4,5). May we be as the Lord exhorted his disciples in Luke 12:35-36: "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord."
"Thou hast a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy" (Rev.3:4). As in Thyatira a faithful remnant was marked out by the Lord, so in Sardis there were faithful individuals whom the Lord distinguishes from the professing mass as pleasing to Himself. They had not defiled their garments by association with the world as the rest in Sardis had, but maintained personal purity by separation from the evils about them. Holiness of walk and conduct characterized them as they kept themselves, not only from the evils of the world without, but from the contaminations within the sphere of God's professing people. They were thus separated ones, though few in number and unpopular down here, but personally known to the Lord and worthy to walk with Him in white. They had learnt what James describes as "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is . to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27 ).
"They shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy." Such is the precious promise of the Lord to these faithful ones in Sardis, and to all who endeavour to walk in separation from evil and keep themselves unspotted from the world which has Satan as its god and prince, be it in the commercial, political or religious aspect. This promise shows how much He appreciates such fidelity to Himself, and the reward is that of closest association and identification with Himself. They had preserved their integrity and moral purity here, and would walk with Him there in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. Their distinguishing recompense in glory is thus related to the moral separation and purity which they maintained down here. Such faithfulness to the Lord will not be forgotten, but marked out forever above. May these precious words of Christ encourage believers today to walk in separation from all that is displeasing to the Lord and not of Himself.
It is noticeable that in the message to Thya tira the Lord addressed the faithful remnant with the words, "as many as have not this doctrine" etc., while to Sardis He says, "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments." Would this indicate that there were more faithful ones in the godly remnant of the Thyatiran period than in the remnant of the Sardis period? Are we to gather from the words "as many", said to Thyatira, and the words "a few names", spoken to Sardis, that there were, and may still be today, fewer godly, separated souls in formal Protestantism than in the Roman system of the Thyatiran period? This implication would seem to be there. At any rate, there were only a few in Sardis who were found pleasing to the Lord. The surprise is that there were not more separated ones in the midst of the Protestant movement that had rebelled against the corruptions of Thyatira.
We have been pointing out a similarity in the parables of Matthew thirteen to what we find in the seven Churches. Sardis is the fifth Church. And the fifth parable in Matthew thirteen says, "the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field" (Matt.13:44). This parable pictures the Lord Jesus Christ giving up all and buying the world, the field, with His blood that He might have the treasure hid therein, His saints individually, or, as some believe, Israel .
The similarity of this parable with Sardis seems to be in that of the treasure hid in the field. Amidst the great professing mass of lifeless Protestantism that was walking with the world, there were these few hidden ones of the remnant who were true believers. They were like a treasure buried in the field, known and valued by their Lord.
Promises To The Overcomer
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Rev.3:5). A threefold reward is promised to the overcomer here. (1) He would be clothed in white raiment. (2) His name would not be blotted out of the book of life. (3) The Lord would confess his name before His Father and before His angels. Those who would remember how they had heard and received and held fast and repented and acquired the condition of those who had not defiled their garments, would thus be manifest as overcomers and be brought into the class of the faithful remnant who shall walk with the Lord in white.
The white garments, which the Lord promises to clothe the overcomer with, are the appropriate and public recognition by the Lord of the pure character of their walk down here. In Revelation 19 the wife of the Lamb is seen arrayed in "fine linen, clean and white," and this, the explanation that follows says, "is the righteousnesses of saints" (v.8, N.Tn). The Lord thus assures that every act of faithfulness of the overcomer, which led to separation from unholiness here, shall have its future recompense in an eternal display in His presence.
The second promise to the overcomer here is that his name would not be blotted out of the book of life. This raises the question as to what the book of life is and whether it is possible to have one's name blotted out of it. Careful study will show a distinction between the book of life mentioned here and the "book of life of the Lamb," or "the Lamb's book of life" which Revelation 13:8 and 21:7 speak of. These are two different books or records.
The book of life seems to be a general registry of profession, where a name may be enrolled, but upon investigation the title to such enrolment may prove false and it will have to be erased. Of old the thought of being blotted out of God's book has been expressed. Moses, in a wonderful moment of intercession for sinful Israel, said to God, "if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." To his plea Jehovah replied, "Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (Ex.32:32-33). In Psalm 89:28 David requests for the enemies of the Lord, "Let them be blotted out of the book of life, and not be written with the righteous" (N.Tn). Then in Revelation 22:19 the following warning is given that, "if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city," etc.
All these Scriptures indicate the possibility of the Lord's blotting one's name out of the book of life, which is a general book of profession of divine life. God always takes people up on their profession and holds them responsible accordingly. It is a book of life the Lord is speaking of, and if it becomes manifest that persons are not characterized by divine life, but are dead as the mass in Sardis were, their names may be blotted out as no longer entitled to remain on the register.
The Lamb's book of life contains names written therein before the founding of the world, as Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 tell us: "written from (the) founding of (the) world in the book of life of the slain Lamb" (N.Tn). This is the book of the counsels and purposes of God, who knows the end from the beginning and wrote therein, before the course of human responsibility began, the names of all who were chosen in Christ before the foundations of the world were laid (Eph.1:4). These are true, born-again believers in Christ, whom He calls, justifies, and glorifies (Romans 8:30 ), and works in their hearts by His Holy Spirit that has sealed and marked them off as His own forever. The Lamb's book of life is the record of reality and out of that book no name is blotted out.
The book of life is the record of the true and false confessors of Christ. Those who have only a false and lifeless profession will have their names blotted out of that book. Those in Sardis who overcome, by hearing the call to repentance and reality of life in Christ, are assured that their names will not be blotted out of God's book of life. How comforting and assuring is the promise to the overcomer.
There is another comforting thought in this promise. Those who seek to be true to Christ and in obedience to Him are compelled to stand apart from evils and religious corruptions. This incurs the anger and opposition of religious leaders and such an one's name may be blotted out of human Church registers. The Lord assures such an overcomer that, though man may blot out his name and excommunicate him as an evil one, He will not blot out his name from His book of life.
The third promise given to the overcomer in Sardis is, "I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Not only will the Lord keep the overcomer's name in His book, but He promises to confess that one's name before His Father and His angels. It is like a commanding general that gives reports of the battle to headquarters of the commander-in-chief, and mentions for recognition the names of those who were outstanding in duty. Such names come up for honourable mention and reward. How cheering to the soldier, who under fire of great difficulty has remained at his post of duty, to have his name thus cited before his superiors and commander-in-chief. But such a mark of earthly honour and distinction is not to be compared with the unspeakable honour and favour of grace that will be bestowed upon the overcomer by the Lord when He confesses his name for faithfulness and obedience and recognition before His Father and His angels. May we value the Lord's approval, recognition and promise of reward and honour, and be satisfied to be little thought of here, but stand as true overcomers for Christ.
The Call To The Hearing Ear
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev.3:6). The message of the Lord to the Assembly at Sardis closes with the call to the individual that has an ear to hear, to heed and consider what the Spirit says to the Churches. This appeal to the individual ear is a manifestation of the intense yearning of the Lord over His saints, and of His eager desire that His words of warning, reproof and exhortation might find an entrance into their hearts and produce a full response to His faithful love. The Lord always looks for those who have opened ears to hear and consider what He has to say. He once called people unto Himself and said, "Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand . If any man have ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 7:14 -16). All have ears that can hear, but who has an ear to hear and heed what the Lord has to say? To such who have opened ears and hearts the Lord appeals, even today in this day of Laodicean indifference. There is much for present day believers to hear, heed and lay to heart of the Lord's words to Sardis .
"Unto The Churches"
May we call attention at this point to the words, "what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This phrase is found in each message to the seven Churches in connection with the call to hear what the Spirit has to say. Notice, it is not what the Spirit saith unto the Church, to the particular Church addressed, but "unto the Churches." What the Lord had to say to each Assembly was to be heeded by the hearing ear in all the Assemblies. What the Spirit spoke to each particular Assembly is thus designated as addressed to "the Churches" and was for the concern and the exercise of heart of all, not just for the local Assembly spoken to.
This shows that there is a local and a corporate responsibility in the Church and that there is no such thing in Scripture as independency of Assemblies. The teaching of some, that each Assembly is an independent unit, responsible only to the Lord for its own affairs, and having no responsibility as to the affairs of another Assembly, is unscriptural and not in harmony with the call of the Lord to each of the seven Churches in Asia to "hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." The primary responsibility, of course, rests with each local Assembly, but responsibility as to maintaining the holiness of the Lord's house, etc., does not end with the local Assembly. There is also a collective and corporate responsibility of Assemblies as members of the One Body of Christ.
We have come now in our studies to this wonderful Assembly at Philadelphia to whom the Lord could address such commendatory words of approval. It is the Church of Sardis the Lord found practically nothing which He could commend them for; in the Assembly at Philadelphia there was nothing He needed to censure them about. In the message to the former we find no words of commendation to the Church as a whole; in the message to the latter we find no censure or blame, but words of greatest comfort and encouragement, because, though there was great weakness, all was pleasing to the eye and heart of the Lord.
In Sardis there was the coldness of spiritual death, but in Philadelphia there is found the fervent warmth and glow of devotion to Christ. Christ Himself is all the glow and beauty in this Assembly, for He was everything to them. Sardis had a name to live, was occupied with her reputation in the world and a place among men. Philadelphia says nothing about herself, but sought to keep His Word and honour His Name. Therefore the Lord speaks for her and commends all that was so pleasing to His heart. Everything commendable in Philadelphia is connected with Christ.
Philadelphia means "brotherly love." This gives us a key to the lovely features and characteristics of this Assembly. Divine love was known and manifested. We shall speak more of this later.
The Lord so ordered it that, at the time when the apostle John was given these messages to write to the seven Assemblies in Asia, there was actually in the city of Philadelphia an Assembly in this good spiritual condition which Christ speaks of with divine pleasure. This good state of things in the Assembly at Philadelphia was prophetical of a revival period in the history of the professing Church when the Lord recovered a remnant to the full truth of the Gospel and of the Church of God, and there was a return to the original, spiritual features of the Assembly. It stands for a broad and well-defined movement in the history of the Church that was characterized by moral suitability to Christ rather that ecclesiastical position. That is the prophetica1 aspect of the message to Philadelphia .
Looking at the Assembly in Philadelphia from the practical viewpoint, we can observe that which meets the Lord's approval and notice the features which delight His heart and merit His commendation. The Philadelphian Church is a marvellous example of devotion and faithfulness to Christ for Christians at any time and in all ages. Its beautiful characteristics, as set forth with such joyful approbation by the Lord, must have always appealed to Christians. This Assembly represents a moral condition which in a remarkable way is suitable to Christ and merits His own approval. It does not set forth a mere ecclesiastical position, which would mark one out as a Philadelphian, but portrays for us those moral features of godliness and devoted obedience to His Word, etc., which draw out the Lord's acknowledgement and praise.
All this should exercise every believer individually that we might measure up, at least in some degree, to what characterized the Assembly at Philadelphia . We need to test ourselves by these beautiful moral features presented here, and ask, Are we such as keep Christ's word and do not deny His name, and also keep the word of His patience? We ought to strive to be Philadelphian overcomers, even in this age of Laodicean indifference and self-satisfaction.
The Philadelphian Period
As all of these seven Churches of Asia have their counterpart in successive stages or periods in the history of Christendom, we believe that the Philadelphian period has had its prophetic fulfilment in the revival period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Following the time of cold, lifeless formalism that seemed to settle down over all Protestant Christendom, which we have seen set forth in the Sardis condition, God began to work afresh in mighty power. There were great awakenings all over northern Europe and the British Isles . Later the same mighty power of God wrought in America . Spirit-filled men of God went about calling on sinners to repent and saints to awaken from their lethargy. Finding the churches closed to them, men like the Wesleys and George Whitefield preached in the open air to audiences of ten to twenty thousand and led thousands in England and America out of moral darkness to Christ during the eighteenth century.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, the Spirit of God wrought in a special way and many believers were aroused to a deeper sense of the value and all-sufficiency of the Scriptures for their complete guidance in all phases of life. As they gathered together in many places in simplicity to study the Word of God in dependence upon the Holy Spirit to teach them, they discovered that Christ Himself is the gathering centre for His people (Matt.18:20; Ps.50:5), and that there is but one body of true believers in Christ. There was recovered to these earnest seekers in the power of the Holy Spirit, not only the pure gospel in its fullness, but the precious truths of the true character, heavenly calling and hope of the Church of God, of the place and work of the Holy Spirit in the Church as the true vice-regent of Christ, and of the coming of the Lord as the Bridegroom for His bride, the Church, before His public manifestation as King of kings and Lord of lords.
The Holy Spirit brought to light again the blessed truths found in the epistles of the apostle Paul, which set forth the characteristic features of Christianity and of the Church of the living God. These truths had been lost sight of and unknown to the Church since the days of the apostles, but were now recovered in this mighty movement of the Spirit of God and acted upon and enjoyed by multitudes.
In obedience to the Word of God, thousands left all human systems and denominations of men and began to meet in simplicity around the person of Christ alone, as members of His body only, and in dependence upon the Spirit of God to guide and minister to them through whomsoever He would. This work of the Spirit spread to many countries and to many parts of the world.
These believers were but a feeble remnant amidst the masses in Christendom, but they enjoyed the Lord's presence, power and blessing when Philadelphian features were realized and manifested. We do not claim for this movement that it alone represents Philadelphia, but that Philadelphian conditions were realized in the early days of this revival and recovery to the spiritual features of the apostolic Church. Along with the above characteristics, there was manifested an energetic missionary spirit of going forth into the world with the glorious Gospel of Christ and the blessed truths of His Church and His coming again.
Brotherly Love The Basis
We have already stated that Philadelphia means "brotherly love," and that this gives us a key to the spiritual features of this period. We believe that what is involved in the words "brotherly love" formed the basis of the fellowship that found expression among believers in the Philadelphian period and gave character to all that followed. Divine love in all its aspects is a holy love and intolerant of evil. God is love, therefore brotherly love must partake of the character of its source, which is God Himself. God is also light, therefore the love that flows from God will be characterized by obedience and separation from iniquity. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments" (1 John 5:2). Thus as believers acted upon the Word of God and manifested real love toward God by obeying His commandments, they found themselves knit together in the bonds of brotherly love.
One is reminded of the words of the Lord in Matthew 12:47-50. When one came to Him and said, "Thy mother and thy brethren stand without desiring to speak with thee," His reply was, "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." This is true brotherhood in Christ wherein divine brotherly love can be enjoyed. Those who are disciples of the Lord and do the will of the Father are manifested as Christ's brethren and prove themselves to be members of His body, which is the "Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" (Eph.1:22-23; Heb.12:23).
In the Philadelphian period there was a return to the true basis of fellowship according to Scripture. Believers discovered from the Bible that those who are truly saved by living faith in Christ, and manifest reality by fruit of the Spirit in their life and walk (even though in imperfection and feebleness), are members of the body of Christ and brethren in the Lord whom we are to own and love. This they saw from the Scriptures to be the divine basis and ground of practical, Christian fellowship. Membership in denominational bodies of men they saw to be unscriptural and a denial in practice of the great Biblical truth of Christians all being members of the one body of Christ.
In the Thyatiran system of the evils of heathenism and the forms of Judaism combined under a cloak of Christianity; people are received who submit to its dogmas. In the State and National Churches of the Sardis condition of Protestantism, individuals were, and are, enrolled upon profession of faith in the National creeds and catechisms. Thus saved and unsaved, true Christians and mere professors, were mingled together in that which was but a dead profession. Such was the basis of the membership and communion together in these systems of men. But in Philadelphia we have a return to the Scriptural ground of fellowship in the Lord as brethren in Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit.
The Presentation Of Christ
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth" (Rev.3:7). The Lord presents Himself to this Assembly in a way that is quite different to His approach to all the other Churches of Asia. To Ephesus He comes as the One that holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; to Smyrna He speaks as "the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive"; to Pergamos He appears as "he which hath the sharp sword with two edges"; to Thyatira He speaks as "the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass" and to Sardis He presents Himself as the One "that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." In these presentations it is what the Lord has that is pre-eminent, but in His presentation to Philadelphia it is what He is in His own blessed Person that is foremost and outstanding "he that is holy, he that is true." What He is in Himself is ever greater and more precious than what He has.
Thus at the very outset of this tender message to Philadelphia we have the wonderful Person of Christ brought before us. We will notice that the whole message centres around Christ and shall point out ten things in connection with Himself. Here we have the first one, THE PERSON OF CHRIST, what He is intrinsically and essentially in His glorious Person. The Lord could present Himself in this intimate and personal way to the Assembly at Philadelphia because there was an appreciation of Himself in this Church and moral suitability to His holy character.
In the period in the history of Christendom, which Philadelphia prophetically points to, there was a return to Christ and His Word, not just to His Word, but to Christ Himself as the centre of everything. So we find that there was a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ during this era than perhaps since the days of the apostles. One has only to read some of the wonderful ministry which the Spirit of God gave in that period of the nineteenth century, which is preserved for us in printed form, to see therein the spirit of deep, reverent and heart-felt appreciation of the adorable Person of Christ and the wonderful revelation of Himself which the Spirit of God gave to these Philadelphian believers. We may mention here two outstanding books, written during this time, and still available today, which give a unique and exquisite presentation of the marvellous Person of Christ, and are a prominent example of how Christ revealed Himself to these separated believers. They are "The Moral Glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ" and "The Son of God" by J. G. Bellett.
The highest and most important truth in Scripture is that of the Person of Jesus Christ. It is the foundation of all truth and is the highest ministry in the Word of God. Believers in the Philadelphian period valued Christ and His Word and separated from all that was contrary to His will and rallied around His blessed Person. In response to this obedience and devotion to Himself, Christ revealed to them in this special way what He is personally and intrinsically. Wonderful recompense indeed!
Where is there such an appreciation of Christ as the Holy and True One today? May it be found in the heart of the writer and each reader of these lines. The Lord wants our hearts, so He presents Himself personally to stir up and draw out our affections towards His Person. This is the only way we can be made an adequate witness for Himself in a time of ruin, for when we see the Lord, and what He is personally before our souls, there is strength to serve Him with gladness and respond to His holy character.
In Hosea 11:9 we read of "the Holy One in the midst of thee," and in 1 John 2:20 we are told we "have an unction from the Holy One." Mary was told "that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35 ). In 1 John 5:20 we read of "him that is true," and "This is the true God." The Lord Jesus Christ is the embodiment in His Person of holiness and truth, but more than that, He has the moral glory of being The Holy One and The True One. These words are really divine titles of Christ and not just divine attributes. No created being can claim this essential moral glory. What a glorious Person for our heart's affections to be engaged with!
But we can only appreciate and enjoy this ineffable Holy and True One when there is separation from evil and a walk in holiness and truth. A divine principle is set before us in the words of Isaiah 1:16-17, "cease to do evil; learn to do well." We cannot learn of the Lord if we continue in what we know is wrong and evil according to the Word of God and our own conscience. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you" (2 Cor.6:17-18). Beloved saints of God in the Philadelphian period, at great cost and pain to themselves, separated from that which they found was not according to Scriptures, because they valued the Word of God and the Person of Christ and sought to please Him. Thus they ceased to do evil and learned more of Christ and His holiness. So every believer must do if he would know the Lord better. When walking thus, the Lord is free to reveal Himself to such obedient ones, and walking with Him we take character from Christ and are formed by Him in holiness and truth.
Christ is the True One, "the faithful and true witness" (Rev.3:14). "Whatever He presents Himself as being or doing or saying, Godward or manward, that He is in the fullest and most genuine sense. He is the true Light, the true Bread, the true Vine, the true God, the true Witness." Thus another has well written. We can rely and fully depend on the Lord. Philadelphia depended upon Him as their only stay and support and they proved Him to be the faithful and true One. So also will everyone that trusts Him fully.
"He that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." We have seen what the Lord is, now we come to what He hath . In these two thoughts, what the Lord is and what He has, we have two wonderful themes wherewith to occupy our hearts. The hymn writer has expressed it beautifully thus:
"All Thou hast done, and all Thou art
Are now the portion of my heart."
"All that Thou hast Thou hast for me.
All my fresh springs are hid in Thee."
The Lord thus goes on to present Himself as the One that has the key of David, that opens and shuts, and no man can shut what He has opened, or open what He has shut. Here we have THE POWER OF CHRIST, our second point in the series. The key of David speaks of the power of administration and of government. All things are in His hand; Christ has the key to everything. All power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth (Matt.28:18) and is at the disposal of those who depend fully upon Jesus the Lord. What an encouragement to the feeble remnant of Philadelphia is found in this presentation of the Lord, and also to all who trust fully in Him for everything in any age.
The Assembly here had but a little strength, but their confidence was in the Lord and He encourages their trusting hearts by presenting Himself to them as the One who has the key of government and all administration and as the master of every situation. The Church of the Sardis period looked to secular governments and powers for protection and help, but the weak remnant of the Philadelphia era looked to the Lord for strength, help and opened doors, and He answered their faith in this cheering way. Having no human influence or support, and no human organization to promote success, the Lord alone was counted upon, and He manifests Himself to such as the One who has the key to all the treasures and can unlock each door, or close it, and act in all finality.
In the key of David there is an allusion to Isaiah 22:20-24, where under the figure of Shebna and Eliakim is set forth God's rejec tion of man after the flesh, and His causing all the glory of the Father's house to hang upon Christ. "The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place. ... And they shall hang upon Him all the glory of his father's house."
This implies administrative authority in connection with royalty in Judah in the coming day, when Christ will come in Messianic glory and be established as a nail in a sure place that will uphold all the glory and the vessels of His Father's house. He has complete sovereignty and undisputed right to enter and exercise all needful authority. He is, however, not yet exercising this power in worldly government, but having been exalted in the heavens as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:33-36), He now uses His lordship on behalf of feeble believers who trust in Him and He removes obstacles out of their way. He is indeed "as a nail in a sure place," upon whom we can fully rely and, as it were, hang all our confidence upon.
While on the subject of Christ and the key, we would add that Christ is also the key to all the Scriptures. Perhaps we may say that He is "the key of knowledge" (Luke 11:52 ). Seeing Him as the theme and subject of all the Bible is the key that unlocks its treasures to us, especially the Old Testament. Believers in the Philadelphia period discovered this and the Scriptures were marvellously unfolded to them.
I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (Rev.3:8). What a comforting message of approval from the Lord for the weak, but faithful, Assembly at Philadelphia, and for the feeble remnant testimony in the prophetical period to which this Church points! He whose holy eye sees, knows and rightly evaluates everything, says, "I know thy works, I have set before thee an open door." The works of obedience to His Word and faithfulness to His Name were so pleasing and de lightful to the heart of Christ that He cleared the way for these believers to go right ahead in service and testimony for Himself. He set before them an open door that no man could shut. Though they were so weak they could not push the door open, they looked to the Lord in dependence and obedience to Him, and He gave them a wide open door that no one could close.
The door was opened to Philadelphia for testimony to Christ and for all that was for His glory. The way was opened for them to separate from all that was contrary to His Word and Name and to gather in simplicity to His Name alone. The apostle Paul spoke of a great and effectual door that was opened to him at Ephesus and also of a door that was opened to him at Troas to preach Christ's gospel (1 Cor.16:9; 2 Cor.2:12). So also today, He opens doors for those who obey His Word and go forth in dependence and in devotion to His Name.
An open door characterized the nineteenth century in a special way. God so ordered everything, even the governments, that the greatest liberty was granted Christians by the authorities to assemble together for worship and service. Great missionary movements took place during this time as believers realized afresh the hope of the Lord's coming for His Church and the imminence of it. Christians went forth to distant lands to preach the Gospel and "all the counsel of God," trusting in the Lord alone for support, and doors were opened to them everywhere.
Open doors for testimony and opportunities for service should not be our primary concern, however. Sometimes believers stay in places where they disobey Scriptural principles because they think they have greater opportunities for service and a wider sphere of activity there. They reason that if they separate from what they know to be wrong they will be restricted in their activities and have a narrow sphere of service. This is false and unscriptural reasoning. Our primary concern should be that our personal state and associations are such that the Lord can approve of and use us in testimony and service. When we walk in obedience to His revealed will and Word, the Lord will open doors for us to enter into and give us more opportunities for service to Himself than we will be able to avail ourselves of. God's Word instructs us, that if we separate ourselves from vessels to dishonour, we shall be "a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim.2:20,21). The Lord wants clean and sanctified vessels that are separated from what is defiling and dishonourable. Such vessels are suitable for the Master's use and ready for every good work.
We may call this assurance of the Lord setting an open door before the Church of Philadelphia THE COMFORT OF CHRIST, the third point in our series. Surely it is a divine comfort to know that He gives open doors which no one can close.
In the Lord's commendation of Philadelphia there are three features which He mentions that delighted His heart. (1) "Thou hast a little strength," or "power," (2) "hast kept my word," (3) "hast not denied my name."
There was no pretension to great power or energy, as was displayed in the Church in Pentecostal days. As we think of the Philadelphian period, how becoming was this feature of a little strength when the whole professing Church was in ruin and Philadelphian believers were but a feeble remnant amidst that which was characterized by abhorrent Thyatira and Sardis conditions. To make an outward show and claim great power would be a virtual denial of the ruin and corruption of Christendom. A little power and the absence of outward display and pretentious claims is what should ever characterize Christians who seek to please the Lord in the present chaotic state of the professing Church. Those who walk in obedience and humility will be granted a measure of spiritual power, which will be manifested as it is employed for the Lord.
The second feature of keeping the Lord's Word is what truly imparts strength and power to the soul. The apostle John wrote, "I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one" (1 John 2:14 ). The Word of God in the heart as a governing and controlling force in the life is what makes one a strong Christian. The Lord said, "If any one love me, he will keep my word" (John 14:23, N.Tn). Thus our love to the Lord is shown by obedience.
As another has well written: "Keeping His Word means treasuring it up in the heart so that it moulds, governs, and produces obedience. The term 'word,' moreover, is very comprehensive; it includes the sum and substance of all the Lord's communications to His people. When therefore He says to Philadelphia, 'Thou hast kept my word,' He signifies that this assembly prized it as their greatest treasure, and that they were corporately, and individually governed by, and in subjection to it; and that consequently He had His rightful place of supremacy in their hearts and in their midst. Happy assembly! Would that there were more collective purpose of heart to win the same blessing and the same approval!" (Edward Dennett)
In this Philadelphian era Christians became exercised about "what saith the scripture?" as to all phases of their lives, personally, and collectively as to Church order and fellowship. They desired a "Thus saith the Lord" for all that they believed and practised, and whatever did not have the sanction of the Word of God was given up as mere tradition and the teaching of man without divine authority. Thus they acted upon the Word of Christ and obeyed it, oftentimes at great cost, forfeiting social and civil distinctions and giving up positions in the professing Church and in the world. Such actions manifested how highly they regarded the Holy Scriptures and how much they valued Christ and His Word. The Lord sees all such sacrificial obedience and devotion and His deep appreciation is expressed in this warm commendation to Philadelphia, which believers in every age can find comfort in if such is their case.
Having considered the fourth point in the Lord's message, which is THE WORD OF CHRIST that Philadelphia prized and kept, we shall now notice the fifth feature, THE NAME OF CHRIST that He said they had not denied. A name is the expression of what a person is. Thus Christ's Name expresses explicitly what He is and who He is. The Name "Christ" is the Greek form of the Hebrew "Messiah" and speaks of Him as the One anointed of God to be a three-fold Deliverer: a Prophet to bring out of error; a Priest to open the way to God; a King to govern for God. The wonderful Name of Jesus means "Jehovah is salvation." "Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt.1:21). Thus His precious Name of Jesus Christ is a remarkable declaration of the truth of His Person, His work and His authority, and is committed to His people to hold fast and maintain in the midst of a world that has rejected Him. We are to confess and not deny His magnificent Name before men.
To confess His Name means to own His absolute deity, His perfect humanity, His salvation of His people, and to acknowledge Him as our Saviour, Teacher, Lord, Advocate, High Priest and King. The believer's whole standing and walk is connected with His marvellous Name. Our sins are forgiven for His Name's sake (1 John 2:12); we are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor.6:11); our prayers are to be presented in His Name (John 16:23); our every word and work are all to be done in His Name (Col.3:17); and our gathering together as Christians is to be in His Name only (Matt.18:20; 1 Cor.5:4). Our Shepherd leads us in "paths of righteousness for his name's sake" (Ps.23:3), so in order to not deny His Name we must walk in holiness and righteousness. We believe the foregoing are some of the moral features which were found in Philadelphia and indicated in the Lord's words of commendation that they had not denied His Name.
The inspired writer James speaks of "that worthy name by the which ye are called" (James 2:7), and Peter writes of being "reproached for the name of Christ" and of one suffering as a Christian (1 Peter 4:14,16). The name "Christian" indicates one who belongs to Christ and is "that worthy name" by which a believer in Christ is properly called. Disciples of Christ ought to delight in that name and to refuse all other names than that blessed name of "Christian," or such names as "disciples," "brethren" and "saints" which are used by the Spirit of God in Scripture relative to all believers (Acts 9:10,25; 11:1,26,29; 16:40; 20:7; 28:15; Eph.1:1).
For a Christian to call himself by any of the numerous, current names of man's sects or denominations is sectarianism and to virtually deny the precious Name of Christ as the One to whom he belongs and to whom he owes everything. The Church is the bride of Christ, and He has called her by His Name. For her to call herself by any other name would be denying His wonderful Name, just as a wife would if she took someone else's name than her husband's and called herself by it. If Christians gather to other names than the blessed Name of Jesus Christ and uphold such names, they are surely denying His matchless Name. Philadelphia owned the Name of Jesus Christ in every way; may we also do so.
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (v.10, N.Tn). Here we have another beautiful moral feature which the Lord could commend in the Assembly of Philadelphia. They had kept the word of His patience. This brings us to the sixth point in our series, THE PATIENCE OF CHRIST.
Revelation 1:9 will give us some light on the meaning of the "word of my patience." John there speaks of himself as "your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." The Lord is the rightful king, but the only kingdom He now has is the kingdom of patience. His own people rejected Him and said, "We will not have this man to reign over us"; "Let him be crucified" (Luke 19:14; Matt.27:22). So Christ was given the cross of rejection by the world, but the Father raised Him from the dead and highly exalted Him in heaven. The promise to Him, as stated in prophetic language of old in Psalm 110:1, is "Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool," and again, "Ask of me, and I will give thee nations for an inheritance, and for thy possession the ends of the earth" (Psa.2:8, N.Tn). The Lord is patiently waiting for this time when the Father will put His enemies under Him and give His beloved Son His inheritance, possession, kingdom, and above all, His heavenly bride, the Church. Thus the whole of this present period of grace since the cross is the time of Christ's patience, "the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ."
The Church of Philadelphia entered into the thoughts of the Lord and had fellowship with Him in keeping the word of His patience. They waited with Christ in patience for His return. They did not look for a place in this world, for Christ their beloved One has no place here. Their Lord was patiently waiting the Father's time for the kingdom of power and glory on earth, so they would wait with Him in patience amidst evil and man's ambitions and exaltations. This is a blessed state of soul and pleases the Lord and merits His approval.
May we as believers in this present day also know what it is to keep the word of Christ's patience. We will then be separated from this present evil world and all the ambitions of religious man and patiently wait for the coming of our Lord and Saviour to receive us unto Himself, and then to reign with Him. Saints thus characterized will not want to reign now where Christ is despised and rejected. They leave the politics of the world to those who are of it and walk as strangers and pilgrims here, waiting for the "King of kings, and Lord of lords" and His kingdom of righteousness. So Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ" or "into the patience of the Christ" (2 Thess.3:5, N.Tn). May the Spirit of God truly be allowed to lead our hearts into this blessedness.
We have previously spoken of the recovery during this Philadelphian period of the blessed truth of the Lord's coming for the Church before His public appearing on earth as Judge and King. This blessed hope had been lost since the Pergamos period when it was thought that the kingdom of Christ had come in the form of Constantine 's empire as thousands outwardly embraced Christianity. But now the Lord by the Holy Spirit awakened His people again to the discovery of the hope of His coming to the air to rapture His blood-bought Church unto Himself and bring His bride into the Father's house (John 14:1-3; 1 Thess.4:16,17). As in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, there was the sounding of the midnight cry at this time by the Holy Spirit, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." Christ's slumbering Church was awakened and lamps were trimmed and hearts of at least a remnant went out in expectation to the Lord as the coming Bridegroom. Like the early Church at Thessalonica, they waited for God's Son from heaven and had "patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess.1:3,10). In a very real way there was a practical manifestation of keeping the word of Christ's patience.
The Promise Of Christ
As an encouragement and incentive to perseverance in the struggles and conflicts of Philadelphia in keeping the word of His patience, the Lord gives them and His Church the blessed promise of being kept out of the hour of trial which is to come upon the whole habitable world. "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial."
The hour of trial, which is to come upon the whole habitable world, would seem to be a period of testing and trial preliminary to the time of "great tribulation," spoken of by the Lord in Matthew 24:21, a time "such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." Besides this time of great tribulation, when the woes, misery and awful evil of man under Satan reaches its dreadful climax, there will be preliminary troubles, called by the Lord, "the beginning of sorrows," when "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places" (Matt.24:7,8). This time will be marked by a special energy of Satan and his evil agents, preparing the hearts of men for the great culmination of wickedness when Satan, the beast and the antichrist will be worshipped. Undoubtedly the events of Revelation 6 to 12 will take place during this hour of trial upon the whole habitable earth.
The object of this hour of trial is stated in the Lord's words, "to try them that dwell upon the earth." Here a special class is singled out by the phrase "them that dwell upon the earth." This expression is found repeatedly in Revelation and marks out those who are morally characterized as having definitely chosen earth instead of heaven, those who have settled down on earth and have their thoughts, affections and desires confined to this present world (see Rev.6:10; 11:10; 13:8; 14:6; 17:8). Undoubtedly this class of people have their origin in those whom the apostle Paul speaks of in Philippians 3:18,19: "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." They are a religious people with a walk of the profession of Christianity, but in reality they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Having refused God's testimony in the Gospel of Christ, they mind earthly things and become earth-dwellers. The Lord will try all this empty profession of Christianity in this hour of trial, and it would appear from Revelation 14:6,7 that even the truth of God as Creator of all will be given up by apostate Christendom during this time.
But the blessed promise to those that keep the word of Christ's patience and look for His coming is that they shall be kept out of this awful hour of trial and the great tribulation that shall follow. The Lord will come for His true Church before this dreadful hour begins and thus deliver them from its woes and horrors. We do not read of the true Church being on earth after Revelation 3. In the beginning of Revelation 4 a door is opened in heaven and the apostle John was told to come up hither. The rapture of the Church undoubtedly fits in here as to point of time in the Revelation, and then will follow the hour of trial and great tribulation.
The Lord does not promise Philadelphia that He will keep them through this hour of trial, but that He will keep them out of it. This is the precious hope of the Church. Believing our Lord's cheering promise, we do not look to go through any or all of the hour of trial and great tribulation, but wait for His coming beforehand to take us to Himself in the Father's house. "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess.5:9). The tribulation period will be the time of His wrath poured out upon apostate Christendom. True believers are not appointed unto this, but unto the obtaining of that full salvation in Christ which shall be fully ours at His coming and deliverance from the very presence of sin in this world. We do not look for the appearance of the antichrist, but for the coming of the Christ, our Bridegroom.
"Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee" (v.9). We were last considering verse 10 where we have one of the commendable features of Philadelphia and the Lord's promise of keeping them from the hour of trial. In this verse 9 we have another of the Lord's promises to this faithful Assembly. The intimation here is that there were those who opposed these faithful believers who sought to honour the Lord and obey His Word. These opposers claimed to be Jews and were not; they took Jewish ground in their sacerdotal orders, robes, rites, ceremonies and sacred buildings, and made an ecclesiastical pretension to a successional God-established religion. In their religious pride and pretensions, they scorned and despised the Lord's devoted Assembly, but Christ here promises that He would display to their adversaries how much He loved them. He would make them come and worship before their feet and to know that those whom they despised and maligned were the objects of the Lord's love and affections.
Thus does the Lord minister comfort to His true-hearted and afflicted people. In the coming day of manifestation and glory all will be changed. Those now despised and ridiculed for Christ will be exalted, and those who have exalted themselves in their claims and pretensions will then be debased and forced to own the true believers who honoured the Lord and His Word in the day of His rejection. The Lord will ever vindicate in His own time those whose hearts are set on pleasing Him.
The reader will remember that we noted in our study of the Church of Smyrna a similar class to those whom the Lord speaks of here in connection with Philadelphia . There he spoke of "the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (Rev.2:9). They are really of the same character as those before us here in Philadelphia . We have fully discussed this class of religious pretenders, based on authority derived from tradition and ordinances of man's devising, in our meditations on Smyrna and would refer the reader to the remarks there given. This system of earthly religious pretensions developed itself first in the Smyrna era of heathen persecution, and now when the Spirit of God wrought a recovery to the first principles of the Church and a return to the Word of God in the Philadelphia period, it came up again as the enemy's counterfeit, the real antagonist of the Lord's testimony. With this system Philadelphia struggled and the Lord termed it as "of the synagogue of Satan," that which is morally under Satan's power.
We may also remark that this church-party of traditional, successional order and position of pretended ecclesiastical superiority is present and active in our own day as Satan's counterfeit and antagonist of the Lord's true believers. So the encouraging words of the Saviour to Philadelphia are of comfort and value to us also.
"Behold, I Come Quickly"
After commending Philadelphia for all that pleased His heart and giving them the blessed promises we have considered, the Lord further encourages His faithful ones in their struggles and conflicts with these blessed words of His coming quickly for them. "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Rev.3:11). He knows and sees the stress of the conflict and the difficulties of His own in keeping His Word and not denying His Name. In beholding it all, He would cheer His faithful ones on in the maintenance of the struggle by the prospect of His soon coming. It is as if one saw a person desperately hanging on to a limb over a precipice, and cried, "Hold on, I am coming!" He is coming to rescue us from all that is trying and distressing down here and to bring us to Himself in the Father's house on high. Precious hope! Here we have THE COMING OF CHRIST as the eighth feature in our series.
We have previously noted that the hope of the Lord's coming was first mentioned to the faithful remnant in Thyatira when there was no hope of recovery of the whole Church. To cold and dead Sardis, prophetical of formal Protestantism, the Lord warned that He would come upon them as a thief. Here in the message to Philadelphia there is an advance in the matter of His coming. For the first time Christ says that He is coming " quickly ." It is a sign of how the time of His patience is coming to an end. His coming is near at hand.
It may be asked how the promise of the Lord's coming quickly can be reconciled with the delay of nearly nineteen hundred years since He spoke these words to Philadelphia ? To the Lord, who counts not time as we do, it is ever "quickly" - ever near to His affections, and He would have it to always be likewise "quickly" to the affections of His saints. To those who ask, "Where is the promise of his coming?" the apostle Peter's words give a divine answer: "Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:4,8,9). "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Heb.10:37).
Exhortation To Hold Fast
Connected with the promise of the Lord's coming quickly is the exhortation to "hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." We may call this THE EXHORTATION OF CHRIST, and the ninth in our series. Amidst the conflict, struggles and opposition of the adversaries, there is ever the danger of giving up and becoming weary of the battle for truth and the maintenance of what is due the Lord. The Lord could commend Philadelphia for keeping His Word, not denying His Name and keeping the word of His patience, and He had given them much light and understanding of His Person and His Word. All this must be maintained unflinchingly to the end, to His coming.
Sardis had lost much of what she had received in the days of the Reformation and was exhorted to remember how she had heard, received and to hold fast and repent. In the Philadelphian period there was the fullest recovery of all the truth of God. We believe that the Lord's words to Philadelphia, that He is coming quickly and they were to hold fast what they had, indicates that no new truth was to be revealed or recovered beyond that which the Spirit of God so fully brought to light during the era which this sixth Assembly prophetically speaks of. We should not look for new revelations and so-called "new truths" or "new light," but see that we hold fast to what has been fully revealed and act upon it. In seeking to get something "new," souls usually end up losing what they did have. Therefore the importance of holding fast what we have from God and His Word.
The great danger for Philadelphians and for all believers is to lose what we have received. We know that in natural life also it is one thing to gain something and quite another matter to preserve and retain it. It is very easy to lose precious things. In the spiritual realm the same thing is true. It is one thing to have received spiritual blessings, light on the Scriptures and understanding of the truths of God. The important thing is to hold fast to the truth day by day and to have it all as living truth in our souls and as a governing power in our lives. Then we shall not lose what we have, but come into greater enjoyment of it all. We are not only to hold fast to Christ as the Saviour and to maintain the truth of the Gospel, but we need to hold tenaciously to the truths of the Assembly of Christ and maintain "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27 ).
The Lord warns us to hold fast, "that no man take thy crown." If we do not hold fast, we will lose our crown. Another has written: "The 'crown' is the distinction and glory which saints have as cherishing Christ and His thoughts of the Assembly. There is an unremitting effort to take it, and it is needful to 'hold fast.'" (CAC). From the pen of Walter Scott we read these stirring words: "It is not the start, but the end which determines the fitness to wear the crown. A true Philadelphian is one who continues to struggle on to the end. How needful, therefore, the admonitory words to one and all, to leaders and followers alike: 'Hold fast what thou hast, that no man take thy crown.' Let go the truth and you lose the crown. What an irreparable loss!
It is important that we notice the exhortation to hold fast what we have and the warning as to losing our crown is all connected with the promise of Christ's coming quickly. It is only as we are looking for His coming as a present thing that we can hold fast and not lose our crown. In this connection JN Darby has aptly written: "If the devil could take away the hope of the Lord's coming as a present thing, this would be taking away our hope and crown. No man or devil can take away anything from us, if we have but that clear sense of faith which connects us with the coming of the Lord as a present thing. To lose this is to lose spiritual power; and anything that robs us of spiritual power in our association with Christ, is to rob us of present blessing, and of that which is the path towards our crown."
Promises To The Overcomer
"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name" (Rev.3:12).
In each of the messages to the churches we have noticed cheering promises to the overcomer. God is always looking for overcomers in each changing period of the Church's history. He looks for those who will overcome the various conditions of displeasure or evil and holds out to them precious encouragements. Here we have THE REWARD OF CHRIST, the tenth feature in our series in the message to Philadelphia . It would seem that to this Assembly the Lord has given a most wonderful cluster of promises, perhaps the greatest of any given to the seven Churches. Why is this? Because I believe Philadelphia has the most to contend for. The fullest revelations were given in this period, truths about the Lord Himself, His Name, the word of His patience, the hope of His coming, etc.
Therefore the greatest encouragements and future reward are promised to those who hold fast to what they have received and overcome.
But it may be said that each Church has had things which the Lord condemned, which the overcomer had to contend against and be victorious over, and that in the Assembly of Philadelphia there is nothing which the Lord censures or blames them for. What then is there for the overcomer to overcome in this Church or period? That which the true Philadelphian ever needs to overcome is the great tendency to give up the truth and thus lose what we have, as we pointed out in our last meditation. Any slackening in ardent devotion to Christ or loyalty to His Name and Word must be overcome if one would be a Philadelphian overcomer.
The apostle wrote to the Hebrews that "we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip," or "slip away from them," as it may be more correctly rendered (Heb.2:1). To let anything slip away or to slip away from something is a gradual, gentle process and is often unnoticed. We must overcome all such tendencies to slip away from the power of the truth of God in our souls and lives and not let the precious truths of Christ's Person and Word and the bright hope of His coming quickly slip away from us. Philadelphian light without the power of the Holy Spirit will soon lead to a Laodicean condition of luke-warmness and indifference which is very serious.
As the ruin increases in the professing Church, greater effort has to be put forth to remain true to the Lord and the divine precepts. Accordingly, great and surpassing promises of reward are held out to the overcomer in Philadelphia, and of such a nature that should touch the innermost recesses of the soul and stimulate one on to renewed devotedness to Christ.
"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God." A pillar suggests strength, support and steadfastness, and being in the temple of God would speak of the sanctuary where the mind of God is known and where there is worship. The overcomer is thus going to be marked out before the whole redeemed host as one that stood as a pillar for God down here, as one who was steadfast and gave support to the whole truth of Christ, His Person and His Word, held it up before men, knew the mind of God in the sanctuary and was a worshipper. He was characterized by weakness here, had a little strength, was despised by the religious world, but found his strength in God and shall be established as a pillar in the eternal sanctuary of God. In Solomon's temple there were two vast brazen pillars set up in the porch. They were named "Jachin," meaning "establish," and "Boaz," "strength" (1 Kings 7:21 ). There is undoubtedly an allusion to these pillars in this promise, yet also a contrast, for these pillars were removed when the temple was destroyed, but the promise to the overcomer here is "and he shall go no more out." It is a fixed and eternal position.
The Church should be "the pillar and ground of the truth" of Christ and of God in the world (1 Tim.3:15,16). Our Lord is looking for pillars who will be steadfast, strong, unmoveable and hold up the truth of what real Christianity and the true Church is. But it would seem that some Christians are looking for a pillow to have ease and comfort in their sleepy condition. Others may need a pill because they are spiritually ill. May we be true overcomers, real pillars for Christ who display in a living way to the world the truth of God.
"And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem . and I will write upon him my new name." All this denotes special approval and most intimate association with Christ. The word "My" occurs five times in this verse 12, showing how our Lord loves to connect us with Himself in these rewards. The overcomer will be made a pillar in "the temple of my God," Christ will write upon him "the name of my God," and also the "name of the city of my God," which comes out of heaven "from my God." He also promises to write upon him " my new name." We notice also that the term "my God" is spoken of three times here by the Lord. He, of course, knew His God in a most intimate way and will bring the overcomer into this intimate fellowship with Himself.
"The name of my God" is the expression of all that God is as revealed in the Son and made known to us in His Word. This is the first line of the divine writing and is primary and fundamental. The second line of writing, as it were, is "the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem." This concerns the Assembly where God's glory is disp1ayed in the Church in her glorified state, the new Jerusalem. It is the heavenly city which faith ever looks for. This heavenly citizenship will be stamped upon the overcomer publicly. The glory of the city of God will be seen upon him in a distinctive way. All this is in contrast to man's corrupt, religious city, "that great city Babylon " (Rev.18), which is marked by the glory of man. The third line of writing is Christ's "new name." It is not the old name of Messiah, known to the prophets and the Jews according to the flesh, but His wondrous "new name" taken in death, resurrection and heavenly glory in connection with what is entirely new and eternal, the new Jerusalem, the new creation, the new heaven and earth. The precious name of Jesus is connected with all this and at that name every knee must bow in the universe. The overcomer will have His new name written upon him so that it can be read in him in a distinctive way.
All this precious, promised writing upon the overcomer indicates in a distinct way the Lord's heartfelt approval and appreciation of such a faithful disciple. It denotes close identification, for when we write our name upon anything we indicate thereby that we approve of it and are not ashamed to be identified with this particular thing or person. The Lord says, as it were, "I am going to put upon the faithful overcomer all that is precious to My heart; I will bring to the front and into prominence him that was shoved in the background down here and despised of men because of obedience to Me." Wonderful encouragement indeed which should energize us on in devotion to Christ and cause us to be true in heart and practice to every bit of truth we have learned, to be unmoveable in this slippery day of apostasy and man's rights which claim a broader path, and to seek the Lord's approval and not man's thoughts or applause.
The Call To Hear
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev.3:13). Thus closes the Lord's tender message to Philadelphia . As in all the communications to the previous Assemblies, the call is given to the individual with an exercised and hearing ear to heed what the Spirit has to say to the churches. May we have ears and hearts to hear the soul-stirring message that would call us to true Philadelphianism, to the moral features that please the Lord and delight His heart.
The period in Church history which Philadelphia represents is passed and gone forever. The time when there was a broad, well marked and manifest movement of the Spirit of God in Christendom, characterized by the features of the Church at Philadelphia, and when companies of the Lord's people were practically manifest as such throughout the world and united in the bonds of brotherly love and devotion to Christ, is no longer here. That era is passed and the Laodicean period, which we shall consider in our next studies, is here.
But, as the Lord exhorted Philadelphia to hold fast that which they had until He comes (Rev.3:11), we believe it is thus indicated there will be a remnant Philadelphian testimony of true overcomers continuing until the Lord's coming. The Lord knows every such individual who is truly Philadelphian in heart and life, who struggles on, holding fast that which he has and is an overcomer. No mere ecclesiastical position will make one such; it is a moral position and state of soul pleasing to the Lord. May every believer today heed the call of the Spirit to hear what He has to say to us and endeavour to be true Philadelphian overcomers.
We close our meditations on Philadelphia with the following quotation from W. Kelly: "I do not believe that Philadelphia is gone. I believe that Laodicea is come, but that Philadelphia is not gone, and will never go until the Lord Jesus comes; and that what He has set forth as a testimony, by revelation of His person, will never be rendered void. I do not believe that Philadelphia will go, but that the souls that fall short of attachment to Christ there revealing Himself, will go, and that grace will bring others to fill up more worthily their place. ... If the worldly-minded slip into Laodicea, God is working to bring out of it also, and into Philadelphia, just as those who become more simply set for Christ must do."
The Message To Laodicea
"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God" (Rev.3:14). Laodicea means "the people's rights" and aptly describes the seventh and last period of the history of professing Christendom, which is prophetically set forth by the characteristics of this Assembly as revealed in the Lord's message to it. It is an era of democracy, both in the world and in the professing Church. It is a time when the masses of the people are rising up and claiming their rights and power as never before.
Self-assertion and man's will is what characterizes the last days as the apostle Paul was inspired to describe them in 2 Timothy 3:1-8. This corresponds with what we find in the meaning of the name " Laodicea " and in the Lord's words to this seventh Church. There is no thought of what is due to the Lord or concern for His rights and will. The voice and will of the people is heard and followed in their clamour for "people's rights." All this is in sharpest contrast to what we found in the Philadelphian Assembly where the Lord's Person, name and word of His patience were deeply regarded and kept.
We shall find that there is the greatest indifference to Christ and His glory and comfortable self-complacency and latitudinarianism in Laodicea . This arises from despising the testimony to the Lord's Name and rejecting the light of truth recovered in the Philadelphian period. The Laodicean condition and period is the fruit of the rejection of the Philadelphian testimony. It is the last state of things in Christendom, which brings the time of Christ's patience to an end and the rejection of it all by the Lord. The Laodicean period began in the latter half of the nineteenth century and has steadily developed in our twentieth century, so that today we see a full manifestation of the real Laodicean features in Christendom about us.
Presentation Of Christ
To the Assembly at Laodicea in this lukewarm, indifferent, self-sufficient attitude, the Lord presents Himself as "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." This is what the Church should have been for God in the world. The Lord said to His disciples, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). But the Church has failed to be a true witness for God; it has been an unfaithful and false witness. This is especially seen in this last state of the professing Church as portrayed in Laodicea . The Church should also have been the "Amen," the verifier of all the promises of God, but having forgotten her heavenly calling and settled down in a scene where the Lord is rejected and relying on her own resources, she has become in this way the denial of, instead of being the Amen to, the promises of God. As united to Christ risen and glorified, who is thus the "beginning of the creation of God," the new creation, the Church ought to have displayed the power of the new creation by the Holy Spirit, for "if any one (be) in Christ, (there is) a new creation" (2 Cor.5:17, N.Tn) Instead of this, as is fully manifested in Laodicea, the professing Church has become the expression of her own grandeur, avarice, earthly-mindedness and materialism.
The Church having so greatly failed in all the above, the Lord presents Himself to the Assembly at Laodicea, which prophetically presents to us the last phase of professing Christendom, as the One who is the true Amen, the faithful and true witness, and the beginning of a new creation when all has failed of the old creation. All has been secured and verified for God in Christ, the faithful One amidst man's unfaithfulness. God will have His glory maintained; if His people fail in upholding that glory in true witness-bearing, He will Himself vindicate His own Name in His beloved Son.
As God cannot leave Himself without a witness, Christ immediately presents Himself as the "Amen, the faithful and true witness," when the professing Church has failed in giving a heavenly witness. This is a great comfort to faith. The devoted and exercised child of God, distressed by the Laodicean condition of Christendom about him, can thus look to Christ for the verification of all the promises of God, for the true witness to Him and for the bringing in of the new creation that cannot be touched by man's failure.
In 2 Cor.1:20 the apostle Paul tells us: "For all the promises of God in him (the Son of God, Jesus Christ) are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us." Jesus Christ is the affirmation and confirmation of the truth of all that God has spoken; He is the fulfilment and the verifier of all the promises of God. Amen is from a Hebrew word that signifies what is fixed, true and unchangeable. Its equivalent in Greek is the translated word "verily," found duplicated so many times in John's Gospel. It implies divine certainty. In Christ we have the guarantee that every promise and every truth of God will be Amened, fully carried out. Christ is God's last word, His Amen.
The book of Revelation opens with a message from the eternal God, from the seven Spirits before His throne, "and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth" (Rev.1:4-5). A risen and glorified Man is "the faithful and true witness." His life and death here was a perfect witness of all that God is, of the grace, love and holiness of God's heart. His death witnesses the total ruin and failure of the first creation, of all pertaining to "the first man Adam," and of the setting aside in judgment of man after the flesh. Christ, the glorified Man in heaven is a witness that all blessing, joy and delight is found now in "the second man," "the Lord from heaven," "the last Adam" (1 Cor.15:45-57).
In the Gospel of Christ He is preached as the faithful and true witness of what is in the heart and mind of God for man. All true witness, individual or assembly-wise, is presenting in testimony what Christ is. The Church should have been the continuation of Christ here in faithful and true witnessing. Having utterly failed in this, Christ abides faithful, and the ministry of Himself as the faithful and true witness brings hearts back to Him the unfailing One. This is the stay of the heart of faith and firm ground for the believer amidst the wreck and ruin of Christendom. Here faith is sustained amidst the rising tide of evil. Christ is "the beginning of the creation of God." As another has well said, "He is the starting-point of all that God has ever done or will do." He was the beginning of the first creation of Genesis 1, which has been ruined by man's sin. In Colossians 1:18 we see Christ risen and glorified as the Head and Beginning of a new creation: "And he is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." Here He is the Beginning, the Firstborn and Head of a new order of things, a new creation, according to the power of resurrection from among the dead, into which man is brought into a new position gained by the redemption of Christ.
This epistle to the Colossians was also to be read to the Church of the Laodiceans (Col.4:16). Had they heeded it and realized Christ therein presented, they would not have fallen into the awful state we find this Assembly in at the time of the apostle John in Revelation 3. This is a practical word for true believers today. If we are in the good of the ministry of Christ set forth in the Colossian epistle, we will be preserved from the Laodicean state of Christendom about us.
In the presentation of Christ as "the beginning of the creation of God" there is the true antidote for the disease of materialism, occupation with the things of the old creation, which so characterizes Laodicea and Christendom today. Enjoying, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ and the blessings that are ours in Him, the Head of the new creation, is the only way of being kept above the power of materialism that so enthrals and characterizes the Church today. This is the only power of deliverance from it.
We would reiterate what we have often observed and stated in these studies of the Lord's messages to the seven Churches of Asia, that in the character of the Lord's approach to each Church, in the way He presents Himself, we have the key of the situation and the remedy for the spiritual condition and the wrong which the holy eyes of the Lord see. Thus it is important for us to notice carefully the character in which the Lord presents Himself to Laodicea, as we have done in the foregoing. Therein we find the correction for the bad state and the character of ministry suited for the needs of this Laodicean period.
In this message to Laodicea we do not find the promise of Christ coming to take the Church to Himself, as in Philadelphia, "but Christ Himself taking the place of full and perfect testimony for God, and as the accomplisher of all God's promises. . In this character, Christ, as it were, supplants the Church in the manifestation of the purposes and promises of God, which cannot fail. If the Church be irrevocably gone, the witness remains, and that will be the stay of the faithful." (JND).
The Lord's Censure
"I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev.3:15,16). In each of the messages to these seven Churches we have the expression "I know."
In our King James translation the words "I know thy works" are found in each message, but in more critical versions of the Scriptures the words "thy works" are not found in the address to Smyrna and Pergamos. Proverbs 15:3 tells us "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good," so He who is divine and omniscient can say, "I know," "I know thy works." He sees and knows everything and evaluates all according to the holy standard of the sanctuary of God.
We see in verse 17 that the Church at Laodicea had a very good opinion of itself; it was saying that it was rich, increased with goods, and had need of nothing. But the Lord who searches hearts and wants reality says, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot . thou art luke-warm." Such is the real state of the Laodicean Church, of the present condition of Christendom, which Laodicea portrays. This is its true condition as discerned by the all-seeing, all-knowing Christ.
"Neither cold nor hot" - it is not the cold of no profession of allegiance to Christ at all, nor the hot of hearts that truly love Him. The state is lukewarm; this is indifference and latitudinarianism which comes from want of heart for Christ. There is no zeal for Him, no hatred of sin, but rather an easy, self-satisfied toleration of everything, which regards all religious beliefs as alike good, provided there be sincerity. Modernism with its denial of the deity and virgin birth of Christ, etc., is characteristic of the Church today. It is not ignorance that produces luke-warmness, but the heart remaining indifferent to the truth after it has been fully brought out. Such an one does not want the truth, because he is not willing to make the sacrifice it calls for, or separate from the present evil world.
This Laodicean luke-warmness of indifferent, neutrality towards Christ and the truth of God, which is so characteristic of the professing Church of our day, is the result of the rejection of the truth and testimony to Christ which was brought forth in the preceding Philadelphian period. There is not the coldness of the dead state of the Sardis epoch. A stimulating effect was felt in the professing Church by the warmth of the revivals in the Philadelphian age. Much truth was heard and ardent devotion to Christ was witnessed. But the masses in Christendom have not had their souls touched by God's testimony to Christ and His truth recovered in the Philadelphian era. The result is lukewarm indifference to Christ with a false pretension of the truth; there is light but not that which the light should produce. There is much intelligence, but not the love of the truth, nor life in the Spirit or walking in the truth. As another has said, "The Laodicean picture is, of course, most distinct, but seems to be largely the result of dislike and contempt for the testimony that the Lord had previously raised up" (W. Kelly).
This lukewarm state of indifference of heart to Christ, coupled with a boastful profession of riches, is so nauseous and repulsive to the Lord that he says to the Church of Laodicea, "I am about to spue thee out of my mouth" (N.Tn). We do not know of such a contemptuous expression used by the Lord anywhere else. It would indicate that to be luke-warm to Christ is the worst condition of all and draws forth all His indignation and utter rejection. This condition in Christendom is the last state of decay which the Lord will not let go on any further. He has resolutely declared that He will spue the Laodicean, professing Church out of His mouth, which means He will entirely reject it as His public witness, as His responsible light-bearer in the world. This has not yet taken place, for the Lord has not thus far come for the true believers, for His blood-washed Church, His bride. He will never spue one of His own out of His mouth, for He has promised, "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37 ).
The following comment by Walter Scott is helpful at this point: "It has been remarked more than once that the last four phases of the Church run on concurrently to the end. The mass in Thyatira and Sardis are involved in the doom pronounced on Laodicea, whilst the remnants in these churches equally share in one distinctive blessing of Philadelphia - 'caught up'. The Lord's coming is not referred to in the address to Laodicea . Its public repudiation as God's witness will be effected by the translation of the heavenly saints. In other words, the removal of Philadelphia and the rejection of Laodicea are coincident events, the latter being dependent on the former."
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev.3:17). Thus the Lord continues in His message of censure to the Assembly at Laodicea . In the foregoing words He exposes her true state of boasting, self-satisfaction, and points out the Church's real spiritual condition of misery, poverty, blindness and nakedness. In their estimation they had need of nothing; they were satisfied with their material attainments, numbers, gifts, intellectual acquirements, influence and earthly riches and possessions. Undoubtedly they thought themselves wealthy in spiritual riches also. Learning and intellectualism in religion they prized and great pretensions to spiritual riches were made. The source of her wealth was forgotten and all was ascribed to herself. Laodicea speaks of herself and not of Christ. It is the "I" of the first man, fallen Adam, that has displaced Christ. Man is made much of and exalted in his reasonings and attainments in science, philosophy, culture and progress in civilization.
How true all this is of the professing Church to today! The foregoing characteristics of Laodicea are surely evident in the present state of Christendom. What boasting there is in intellectualism, material riches and possessions. What vast building programs and architectural beauty is displayed. The Church may be rich in the culture of its ministers with their degrees in theology and education, so that they can decide which part of Scripture is inspired and which is not, or whether any of it is. Besides the learned minister, there is the minister of Christian education, the minister of music, and the minister of pastoral services in today's modern Church. But oh! what spiritual poverty and lukewarm indifference and disloyalty to Christ is manifest. In all her possessions she has not Christ; He is outside its doors, though outwardly proclaimed within.
Laodicea says she has need of nothing. This is manifest in the lack of a prayer meeting in the busy schedule of the weekly activities of the average Church of today. Prayer is the expression of felt need and dependence upon God. Where there is no realized need, but self-satisfaction instead, there is little or no real prayer. Even amongst true regenerated Christians today the prayer meetings are poorly attended. Some are never or rarely found present in the weekly prayer meeting. Are not such saying by their actions, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing"? nothing to pray for! How easily the spirit of Laodicea creeps in amongst Christians in this day of materialism and prosperity. If we are neglecting individual, private prayer we are approaching the spirit of Laodicea also.
The Lord's words to this complacent Assembly manifest its lack of discernment and spiritual blindness "knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." There was no realization whatever of their true condition in the sight of the Lord. While Laodicea was revelling in her fancied wealth and claims of superior knowledge and attainments, the Lord surveyed this Assembly with eyes that were as a flame of fire which tested and penetrated into the real character of everything. His infallible estimate of its state is that they were totally ignorant and did not possess one single thing of true riches. Their miserableness, poverty, blindness and nakedness were fully manifest to His holy eyes.
Such is the Lord's estimate of boasting and proud Christendom of our day which is so characterized by the marks of Laodicea . Though filled with self-satisfaction and glorying in man's attainments, and having no need of atonement by blood, or of being born again, the Lord sees all such as wretched, impoverished, sightless and standing before Himself in all the shame of their nakedness. Perhaps the worst feature is the insensibility and utter ignorance of the true condition before God of unregenerate, religious man as he rests in his fancied riches and spiritual attainments. Having no need of Christ and His redemptive work, there is no hope, but ultimate rejection by the Lord of Christendom's empty profession without divine life.
The Lord's Counsel
"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (Rev.3:18). Though the state of Laodicea was so repulsive and grievous to the Lord that He was about to spue her out of His mouth, in tender grace and long-suffering mercy He offers divine counsel to this self-sufficient, lukewarm Assembly and would draw her attention to Himself as the only source of recovery and true riches. He does not as yet give them up, but graciously offers that which would fully meet their need.
In the counsel of the Lord to Laodicea we observe three main needs of this Assembly, (1) their poverty, (2) their nakedness, (3) their blindness. These He tenderly offers to supply - "I counsel thee to buy of me." "Gold tried in the fire" is a symbol of divine righteousness. Isaiah truly declared, "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa.64:6). For the believer in Christ the word is, "of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor.1:30). So the apostle Paul desired to "be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil.3:9). All who have this imputed righteousness of Christ are indeed rich and all who are without it and trust in their own righteousness are wretched, miserable, poor and naked as the Lord told Laodicea . How many in the professing Church of our day of the Laodicean period are without this gold of divine righteousness and thus so very poor and naked before God! Should any such read these lines, we would urge you to heed the Lord's counsel and obtain of Him by faith this divine righteousness - "gold tried in the fire."
As to the Lord saying, "buy of me gold tried in the fire," etc., Isaiah 55:1 gives us the terms upon which He sells. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." If one owns his poverty as a bankrupt sinner, and comes to Christ in true soul thirst and need, he finds he can buy or obtain divine righteousness without money or price, because the great price of it was fully paid by the Saviour at Calvary .
"White raiment" sets forth the practical righteousness of believers in Christ. Revelation 19:8 tells us that the wife of the Lamb, the true Church, will be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; "for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints" (N.Tn). When one is in possession of divine righteousness by faith in Christ, there will be manifest in that one's life fruit of believing in the Saviour, by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Holiness and the moral features of Christ will be seen in the life and such will be seen clothed before men in white raiment which the Spirit of God produces in the believer consequent upon the possession of divine righteousness.
The two things of divine righteousness and practical righteousness of life go together. Without divine righteousness in Christ there can be no practical, spiritual righteousness, no saintly works of white raiment. And if one has the gold of divine righteousness by inward faith in Christ, there should be seen the outward clothing of the white raiment of practical righteousness of life. Both are obtained from Christ alone. The believer is not only in Christ positionally before God, but Christ is in the believer and is to be manifest in one's life. "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love" (Eph.3:17).
Though Laodicea thought itself rich and in need of nothing, they did not have this white raiment which alone could cover the shame of their nakedness. They were clothing themselves with works, seeking like Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness with fig leave aprons of their own making. But the Lord saw them naked and seeks to arouse their conscience as to this that they might receive from Him the white raiment they needed. What a word for Christendom today so busy with a social gospel of works for the betterment and improvement of man in the flesh, and rejecting the Gospel of salvation by the blood of Christ and regeneration by the Spirit of God! God sees all such in the shame of the nakedness of sinful man with no covering in His holy presence, just as it was with our first parents after the fall in Eden . But the eyes of the Church of Laodicea, and of religious man today, are blinded with self-conceit and cannot discern its nakedness and need of divine clothing. So the Lord speaks of the third need of having their eyes anointed with eye salve that they might see. This is the spiritual discernment which comes from the "unction from the Holy One," "the anointing which ye have received from him" (1 John 2:20,27). It is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that alone can take away the blindness of nature and give one true, spiritual sight. The vision of the Spirit of God is needed, first of all, as to one's own natural condition, and then as to God and His truth. In this Laodicean period there is boasting in the abilities of the human mind and its competency to judge things, but the need of being born again by the Spirit of God and having spiritual vision by the Spirit is ignored, so there is the blindness of nature amidst all the religious pretensions. The Lord gives this anointing of the Spirit to those who come to Him in true faith as needy sinners, poor, naked and blind.
We believe the following description of a present movement in Christendom gives a vivid picture of religious activity in this Laodicean period and shows us where it is heading for.
"The movement for a world church fostered by the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches - They desire to rephrase the old truths of the Bible, traditions of the Church, modern liberalism and neo-orthodoxy, into a new ecumenical language and restating in a new eclectic philosophical and theological apologetic for the coming great Church - rethink the Christian faith till we all have one mind in Christ, the ecumenical mind. The ecumenical double talk of today is far more treacherous than the double talk of the modernist. It is being devised for the purpose of eventually delivering Protestantism into the clutches of a new Romish hierarchy and building a Church which is not the Church of the New Testament" (John I. Paton).
Another has well written: "The giving up of 'the blessed hope' (the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church) is helping to prepare the way for the ecumenicalist's dream of one world and one church - in other words, " Babylon the Great"(PW). Such is the development of the Laodicea of our present day which will end up in Babylon the Great of Revelation 17.
Note: Since these articles on Laodicea were written and first published in 1959, much has happened in Christendom in apostasy from the true Christian faith and in developments of a great ecumenical movement. These rapidly advancing efforts for a united World Church have taken definite form and shape. Ecclesiastical machinery has been set up and the formation of "Babylon the great" of Revelation 17 and 18 is going on under our eyes today. This we made brief reference to in 1959 under the heading PRESENT LAODICEA . Much more has developed since that time which we will endeavour to point out in future issues. (R. K. Campbell, January, 1971).
Dealings With His Own
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev.3:19). Up to this point the Lord addressed His message to the angel of the Church in Laodicea . Now He announces a general principle of His governmental dealings with His people, that of rebuking and chastening those whom He loves, and calls upon those individual believers that may be found in this corrupt Assembly, to be zealous and repent. The Church as a whole is not called upon to repent here; He is about to spue it out of His mouth as a nauseating thing. But grace is always available to individuals, especially to His redeemed ones, to whom He ever remains faithful, however far they may have fallen into the coldness or carelessness of the religious profession around them. He ever seeks to awaken the consciences of such whom He loves, by chastening and rebuking discipline in order to bring home to the soul how much they have grieved Him and to deliver them from the evil they are associated with, or from the lukewarm state.
It was stated in the Old Testament and also in the New, that "whom the Lord loveth he correcteth" or "chasteneth," and that we are not to despise His chastening or faint when rebuked of Him (Prov.3:11,12; Heb.12:5,6). He never afflicts willingly, but if His saints continue to remain unresponsive to the entreaties and appeals of His loving heart, He cannot allow them to go on unrebuked and without chastening. So the Lord here warns true believers as to His rod of discipline and the need to be zealous and repent, or His hand would fall in chastening dealings with them and in rebuke.
The purpose of God's chastening of His children is "that we might be partakers of his holiness" (Heb.12:10), and that by trying and difficult circumstances and unpleasant situations of His chastening dealings with us, we might be delivered from our own wills and become yielded to God's "good, and acceptable, and perfect, will" (Rom.12:2). Chastening is not just punishment or chastisement; it is really child training, instruction and discipline, which every child of God must experience from the Father who deals with us as sons (Heb.12:7).
In this Laodicean period of our day, one sees that this chastening and rebuking by the Lord of those who are truly His redeemed ones is much in prominence. It is His way in faithful love with His own to deliver them from the characteristic evil features of Laodiceanism which surrounds them everywhere. Many difficulties, trials and distresses are allowed to befall the Lord's people in these closing days of the Church. All of these things are part of the Lord's discipline with us as He seeks to bring us to the end of our own wills and of confidence in the flesh, whether in self or in others, that we might find rest in the will of God and heart satisfaction in Christ, the "faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." In His governmental ways with His people He would work repentance and zeal for Himself in their hearts.
We must notice that there is no note of commendation from the Lord in His message to Laodicea . Unlike all the other Churches, where there was something which the Lord could commend, there was nothing in this Assembly pleasing to Him for which He could praise it. Its state was so bad that He was outside of it all, appealing to individuals to hear His voice and open their door to Him. This action indicates a moral disowning of the professing Christian body of the Laodicean period.
The Appeal To Individuals
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev.3:20). These words indicate that the Lord has taken a place outside of the Church of Laodicea, a solemn thing indeed. Its wretched moral state compelled Him to assume this position. On the other hand, it is equally true that the door of Laodicea is closed upon Christ; He is shut out and left outside.
The following quotation from E. Dennett is very helpful on the verse before us: "If, however, the Lord has definitely taken His place outside of Laodicea, He has not abandoned any of His own who, failing to discern that the Lord has departed, may still be inside. Hence He says, 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.' Full of longsuffering and grace He waits upon any who may have been carried away by the seductions around them, lulled to sleep by the atmosphere in which they have been living, and with urgent appeals seeks to arouse them out of their lethargy.
"He thus stands at the door, the door closed upon Himself, and knocks, if perchance any true-hearted but slothful saint, like the bride in the Canticles (ch. 5) may respond. Should there be even one such as may hear His voice and open the door, He says, 'I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' The order of the possible response is to be observed. There is first hearing His voice, and then opening the door. Now, the bride heard His voice, but lacked the energy to open the door until it was too late. It is not enough therefore to hear His voice; many believers, found, alas! in evil associations, do this, but remain where they are; and so it might be with saints in Laodicea, unless indeed in His mercy the Lord lays hold of them, as the angels did Lot in Sodom, and compels them to open the door.
"The door being opened ('if any man open the door'), how rich the blessing realized. First, 'I will come in to him' - not into Laodicea ; its doom is sealed; but in to him, to him who, by grace had opened the door. And coming in He will manifest all His grace. 'I will sup with him;' that is, 'I will come down to where he is .' How wondrous His condescension! But if He first will sup with him who has opened the door, it is that He may lead him up into the higher blessedness of supping with Himself, of having fellowship with Him in His things, communion with Himself, the most exalted privilege, though intended for every saint, and the most blissful enjoyment that any can possess whether in time or in eternity; for it is the realization of our perfect association and fellowship with Christ."
This is the present position of the Lord today. He has placed Himself at the door and continues knocking, appealing to individual hearts to let Him in. This He will continue to do until He comes for His bride, the true Church of redeemed ones. Then the Laodicean profession will be utterly rejected and spued out of His mouth.
Individual supping with the Lord will surely bring one into communion with what is in the heart of the Lord in regard to the Church which He loved and gave Himself for. So that such an individual will not remain individual as to the sphere of his thoughts and affections, but have his heart expanded into the breadth of the interests and affections of Christ. The Lord would bring us individually into the good of what pertains to the saints collectively and corporately as the house and family of God, as the body of Christ, as His temple. Individual faithfulness and the enjoyment of individual privilege of supping with Christ, can never lead to isolation or independency of fellow believers. It should lead one to an increased appreciation of other believers and of every link of fellowship which one can take up with brethren that is in keeping with the truth of the assembly of God and the holiness of our Lord.
Promise To The Overcomer
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev.3:21). As in each message to the previous six Churches, so we find here in Laodicea the Lord looks for overcomers and gives an encouraging promise to such. Those who hear His voice in the chastenings and rebukings and repent, those who hear the Lord's knockings and open the door to Him and sup with Him will become overcomers in the power of the Spirit of God. Such will overcome the Laodicean state of lukewarm indifference to Christ and all the characteristics we have considered. The overcomer will judge the condition of Laodicea and separate from it morally.
The promise to the overcomer in Laodicea is that of association with Christ in His throne in the public display of His glory in the kingdom reign. It is not as high and great a promise as that given to the overcomer in Philadelphia or in Pergamos, but it is a cheering reward for overcoming that which the Lord condemned as so repulsive to Himself.
The Lord Himself is brought before us in this promise as the great Overcomer. He overcame the Jewish world of profession, self-righteousness, unreality and enmity of religious Scribes and Pharisees. Having overcome all opposition and the world of Satan, He has been granted the blessed reward of sitting down with His Father in His throne. So he that overcomes for the Lord now will be privileged to sit with Him in His own throne when He shall reign on earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.
The Call To Hear
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev.3:22). As in the messages to the three previous Churches, the call to hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches closes this communication of the Lord to the Assembly at Laodicea . As the exhortation is to hear the message of the Spirit unto the Churches, not just the word to the particular Assembly at Laodicea at that time, it is evident that these messages have been recorded and preserved for the benefit of the whole Church at all times, even for ourselves today. So we do well to give heed ourselves to the message of the Spirit in this epistle, that we may be overcomers for the Lord in this evil day of luke-warmness and indifference to Himself.
Parables Of Matthew Thirteen
We have been pointing out in this series the similarity between the seven Churches of Asia and the seven parables as to the kingdom of heaven in Matthew thirteen. As we did not speak of the comparison of the sixth parable of the pearl of great price to the Church at Philadelphia, when considering the message to that Assembly, we would draw attention to it at this point. The pearl of great price, which the merchant found and sold all that he had and bought it, is a type of the Church of Christ in its unity and beauty, also in the cost necessary for the Lord to have it. In the Philadelphian period the truth of the one body of Christ, the oneness and unity of the true Church was realized in a great way. The Church was seen as "one pearl of great price."
The seventh parable is that of "a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world (age - N.Tn), the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just" (Matt.13:47-49). The last stage of the great profession of the kingdom of heaven is likened by the Lord to a dragnet that gathers in the sea of every kind, good and bad. How like the Laodicean period of the professing Church where great efforts are made to attract people of "every kind" into the various denominational "nets," regardless of their being converted to Christ or not.
In the parable the good fish are gathered into vessels and the bad are cast away. While this will be fulfilled at the coming of the Lord to set up His kingdom on earth and the wicked will then be cast by the angels into everlasting fire, we may make a comparison with what we have in Laodicea . When the Lord comes for His own and gathers them to heaven, He will spue the unsaved professors out of His mouth. The bad will be cast away, as in the parable, and later taken by the angels into "the furnace of fire."
We have now come to the close of our studies of the Prophetic History of Christendom as seen in the seven Churches of Asia and the messages to them from the Lord recorded for us in Revelation 2 and 3. The condensed prophetic outline of Church history contained in these two chapters is marvellous and invaluable. As another has well said, "To have Heaven's light thrown on the state of things during the whole of this Church period of nigh two thousand years is a mercy almost second to none. What lessons are here gathered up! How needful the warnings in a day of moral relaxation! How strengthening the promises in seasons of weakness!" (Walter Scott).
The message to Laodicea brings us to the close of the second division of the book of Revelation, "The things that are." This takes us to the end of the Church period. The third division is described as "the things which shall be hereafter," or "after these" (Rev.1:19, N.Tn). This third section of the book begins with chapter 4, verse 1, which begins with the words, "After this." After the Church dispensation is over and the Lord has come for His true bride, all the redeemed, as is symbolized by the call to John to "Come up hither" into the open door in heaven (ch. 4:1), the judgments from the throne of God will fall upon this earth, as chapters 6 through 19 set forth. These are "the things which shall be after these," after the close of the age of grace, the Church epoch.
We do not read of the Church on earth after Revelation 3. The redeemed saints are seen in heaven in chapters 4 and 5, and the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, the Church, takes place in heaven in chapter 19 (v.7-9). A woman is seen on earth in Revelation 17, which represents a great religious system. She is called " Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." This is the final issue of Christendom when the Lord has taken every child of God out of it unto the Father's house on high. It will end up in this awful corruption of Babylon the great, which becomes "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Rev.18:2), The judgment of God upon it is given us in Revelation 17:16-18:24 .
May reader and writer be found in the good of the word to Philadelphia : "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Rev.3:11).
-R. K. C.