Revelation 2, 3
About one-eighth of the book of Revelation is taken up with these seven messages. The true student of God’s word learns to give most attention to what God most emphasizes. Therefore we beg the reader not to pass lightly over these seven solemn messages from the Lord Himself concerning our own days, nor to be in undue haste to get over into the distinctly prophetic and more spectacular part of The Revelation, beginning at chapter four.
Some one truly says, “There is always a tendency in the human heart to become occupied with the dispensation in which we are not.”
The things that are, the messages to the churches, search us out in a most peculiar way. “Most interpreters pass over this portion of the book slightly.” (Alford)
“In his latter days, Bengel strongly recommended to those about him careful meditation in these messages to the churches. He said, ‘Scarcely anything is so fitted to affect and purify us.’” (Hengsten-berg)
First Love Left
THE ADDRESS: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
This address is general, including all churches: for it was at Ephesus that believers were by Paul entirely separated from connection with Judaism (Acts 19:8, 10). Moreover, Christ is seen judicially walking about (Greek, peripateo) among them.
Ephesus had a great beginning! (Read Acts 19.) Paul, and Timothy, and all truth (Acts 20:20; 1 Timothy 1:3).
But now the Lord must declare to her her present state in His eyes.
CONDITION KNOWN: I know thy works. This word, “I know” is repeated seven times, once to each church. It is inexpressibly solemn, and we cannot avoid the truth that the Lord is directly cognizant of every detail about every assembly of His on earth.
COMMENDATION: Now, there was much to commend in Ephesus. It would be a flawless church in the eyes of many! Thy toil and patience. They were a working church, and they went steadily on. Patience is mentioned twice: in connection, first, with service; and second, with suffering. Thou canst not bear evil men. There was holiness there—a precious character! To permit men known to be bad to be in fellowship or even in office, is common today, but is treachery to Christ—whom the Church represents. Further, it is deadly wrong instead of kindness, to the unsaved and evil, to have them in “fellowship.” Some day they will curse you for such unfaithfulness!
Didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false. “Ministerial courtesy” had no place at Ephesus! Plain scripture tests are given. The saints have “an anointing from the Holy One.” They may know, if they will, false teachers, those who are “abiding not in the teaching of Christ.” We are not to receive them into our house, and we are to give them no greeting (2 John 10); much less are we to suffer them to preach and teach in our assemblies. Ephesus had both the discernment and the spiritual energy to reject those whom she “found false.”
Thou hast patience and didst bear for My name’s sake, and hast not grown weary. To suffer steadily is harder than to serve sturdily. Not growing weary was certainly a mark of vigorous life.
CONDEMNATION: But I have against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. Note, the word is “leave” not “lose.” To love lies in the power of the will, otherwise it would not be commanded. Now the love of Christ and the Church is that of bridegroom and bride. You cannot judge by what you see in the lukewarm churches today of the intense devotion to Christ’s Person into which such assemblies as Ephesus were brought by the Holy Ghost. You may see it in the martyr days, sometimes today on the mission field, and in supremely devoted souls like Samuel Rutherford, Fletcher of Madeley, Madame Guyon, Brainerd, Payson, McCheyne, and Cookman. We regard such cases of devotion as unusual; no, we should say they are normal. Christ has immeasurable love, and that continually, for every redeemed one; and love yearns for love.
Consider newly-married people. Their life is one continuous story of affection-delight in one another. Service is not service, but gladness, for such a bride. Two New England girls worked in a textile factory. Mary went away on a visit of several months. Returning, and meeting her friend on the street, she asked her,
“Maggie, are you working at the same old factory?” “I’m not working at all,” burst out Maggie: “I’m married!”
Doubtless such a one was busier with her housework than ever she had been at the factory! But she toiled unconscious of the work as such—it was for him. She parted from him with an embrace as he went to work in the morning, and she prepared the evening meal ever looking out at door or window for his coming. As he neared home, she went to meet him. All her labor was a mere circumstance, swallowed up in her devotion to her husband.
But days, weeks, months pass, and she becomes occupied with the details of her housekeeping, of her own life. She prepares just as good meals, keeps the house in as good, perhaps even better, order; but she has gradually changed her habit of watching for her husband at night, or going eagerly to meet him. She calls, “Goodbye” from somewhere upstairs in the morning, instead of holding him fast every moment she can.
Now this was Ephesus; and this was the departure from first love: while Christ, the Bridegroom, has love in all its freshness, and will evermore have, for the Church. It was Ephesus, leaving that devoted pouring out of response to His love that grieved His very heart!
This is the beginning of that decline which ends in Laodicea, and Laodicea’s awful state: “I have need of nothing,” yet loathsome, in poverty, wretchedness, misery, blindness, nakedness! Men that question the very virgin birth, and the deity of Christ, and His physical resurrection, are suffered today! The “Christian religion” has taken the place of personal devotion to the Bridegroom.
LOVING COUNSEL: Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent.
“Fallen”! With all their earnestness and activity, the leaving of their first intense love made them a fallen assembly! “Remember—repent—do first works!” Recalling, even with severe effort and anguish, our moments of greatest devotion to our Lord, the hours when we felt most deeply His tender love, and our own response—to remember such times—this is our first task. Thus His love, His goodness, will lead us to repentance. Repentance is not mere sorrow (though godly sorrow works repentance—2 Corinthians 7:10); but repentance is a changed state of soul. It is “the judgment we have passed, in God’s presence, under grace, upon ourselves and all we have done and have been.” In this case especially it will be “the goodness of God that leadeth us to repentance.” Christ’s unvarying, undiminished affection for us, even through our coldness and neglect, will break us up. If not, nothing will!
And do the first works. Instantly let us say, this is not a call to “Christian service” or “renewed activity.” Ephesus had toil, patience, intolerance toward evil, patience in suffering,—everything. But the “first works” are the goings forth of affection to Christ, freely, devotedly, as in our first love. It is the story of the bride of the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 5:2-16). Her slowness caused His withdrawal, and it caused her much trouble; but it brought her at last to cry, “My beloved is the chiefest among ten thousand; he is altogether lovely!” “First works” with her, were, finding again Him whom her soul loved! Most Christians—yes, real Christians—let Christ go, when He “makes as if He would go further.” This, those walking to Emmaus did not: “They constrained him, saying, Abide with us.” And He went in with them. In Laodicea we shall find Him standing without. Astonishing! Outside of the Church when His place is in their midst!
PROPHESIED ACTION: I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent. The words “I come to thee,” correspond to the judicial, personal visit of the Lord to Sodom ere its destruction (Genesis 18). These words do not signify operations by the Spirit, but an act of Christ, who is head over all things to the Church, and who is judging over each assembly. The fatal visit would not be recognized by the church, but it would definitely occur. After the Judge’s visit there would be no more assembly there in Christ’s eyes. The Spirit would be withdrawn, and darkness and desolation follow. So it happened at Ephesus, and, alas, to how many thousands of other careless “Christian” assemblies in the centuries since! No longer a lampstand!
This “coming” is not His coming again at the rapture, to receive His own; but His special, necessary, judicial action toward an assembly persisting, after much light, and blessing, in neglect of Himself. Alas, the lampstand removed! The priceless privilege of setting forth such a Christ before a dying world, gone forever. I have before me a picture of the Ephesus of today—a ruined archway, a Moslem dwelling, and a forbidding castle, ‘midst desolate hills. No lampstand for Christ where once Paul labored three years, night and day with tears!
But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. What Nicolaitanism was, let us consider under Pergamum, the third church. We only stop to note the tender consideration of Christ: He cannot refrain from noting Ephesus’ common feeling with Him in the matter of a certain terrible evil. “This thou hast”: if we have the least jealousy of love for our blessed Lord, He notes it. Let this comfort us.
CALL TO HEAR: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. This is most solemn. Evidently not all the Ephesus assembly is meant; but only those who had gotten life by hearing—hearing the voice of the Son of God (John 5:25); for “belief (faith) cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).22
Moreover, those who can discern when the Spirit is speaking—being born of the Spirit and led by the Spirit (all God’s real saints being “not in the flesh but in the Spirit,” though they do not always walk by the Spirit, sad to say)—know the Spirit’s voice in the Scriptures. They are not Sadducees,—“Modernists.” To such, even Christ’s servants, are the messages of The Revelation really addressed. These only have “an ear.”23
In emphasizing this, let us note how to Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, “he that hath an ear” is addressed to the whole assembly; while after Jezebel is admitted as a prophetess (Thyatira), “he that hath an ear” comes still more privately, at the very end of the letter.
PROMISE TO OVERCOMER: To him that over-cometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God. There are those who overcome, and there are those who are overcome. These latter are lost (2 Peter 2:20). They give up Christ’s words (1 Corinthians 15:2, Colossians 1:23, Mark 8:38). We note two classes—and only two—in Revelation 21:7, 8. The tree of life (not a symbol, but a reality) is seen in Revelation 22:2. When the first Adam sinned, we were shut out from the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24) lest we should “live forever” in this sinful state. This tree, under divine wisdom, sustained humanity in physical immortality, i.e., invulnerability to bodily dissolution. Now, in the last Adam, we already have eternal life as to our spirits (John 3:6); but we look forward to bodily immortality and incorruptibility; for redemption of the body is part of our salvation in Christ: 1 Corinthians 1:30.24
The Church in Suffering
ADDRESS: These things saith the first and the last, who became dead, and lived (literal translation). How fitting a title! The church at Smyrna was troubled, poor, and blasphemed by false Jews, and some were to be martyred. But Christ speaks as having endured the same thing and risen triumphant over all, even death itself!
CONDITION KNOWN: I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty. How blessed that Christ keeps saying, “I know”; no matter what the troubles and the poverty. He had no place to lay His head. But thou art rich—spiritual riches: they had the “gold refined by fire” which wretched Laodicea so woefully lacked. Riches in grace come when patience has its “perfect work” in trial (James 1:2, 4).
And the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue25 of Satan. Terrible words! Satan early entrenched himself against Christ and His gospel in Judaism,—”those who pretended to have the legitimate, hereditary claim to be God’s people.” They were the not Jews who were Jews “outwardly” (Romans 2:28, Matthew 3:9). In John 8:44, our Lord said to the Messiah-rejectors of His day, “Ye are of your father the devil.” Believers today need to be faithfully warned regarding their attitude to the Jews: (a) not to join at all in that Gentile envy and hate lying at the root of “anti-semitism”; and (b) not to give special place to Jews, even Jewish believers, as such; but (c) to glorify God for the “remnant according to the election of grace,” among them, now being saved; and (d) to remember that the most of the nation is to be cut off as apostate before the Millennium sets in; (e) to believe that God’s words in Romans 3:22, 23, and 10:12 are true today: “There is no distinction … for all have sinned”; and, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all … that call upon him.” Jewish sinners, Irish sinners, American sinners, Hottentot sinners, Hindu sinners, English sinners, Scotch sinners: no difference at all! Just sinners, all!
But alas, the early Church speedily became Judaized. There is great appeal in a visible temple, gorgeous ritual, an accredited priesthood ready to assume responsibility for you in divine things. And when all this was yoked to such a mighty past history as had the Jewish nation; and,—most potent of all, the possession of the Old Testament oracles, which all Christians accepted as inspired of God,—the influence of these lying Jews may easily be imagined! Especially so (and alas!), because of the wealth Judaism could, and did display, to make contemptible the “little flock” of Christ!
These false Jews are called liars twice by the Lord,—once as to their claims, and once as to their character (Romans 2:9 and 3:9). They were liars because they denied the truth of the absolute deity of Christ; because they perpetuated the lie that Christ did not rise, but that His disciples stole His body away; because, further, they said that His miracles had been wrought by Satanic agency; because also they rejected all the mighty works wrought after Pentecost in the Name, Jesus of Nazareth. The Lord stamps their very claim to be Jews as a lie. He only is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is inward, not outward in the flesh (Romans 2:28, 29). There are not many Jews in God’s sight. You have seen very few! Most of the so-called Jews are “chaff and dross,” and the “liberal” Jew is worst of all. The fact that some preachers make up so easily with liberal Rabbis labels both!
Yes, Judaism is more acceptable to the flesh than faith in an unseen Lord; an earthly “religion” is more attractive to a carnal heart than a heavenly walk!
Christ, whom these Jews at Smyrna had rejected, calls their opposition to His Church, also their daring to sub- stitute their synagogue for the assembly that owned His Name, one simple, awful word—blasphemy. And so it is today!26
LOVING COUNSEL: Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer. Count up Christ’s “fear nots”: they include everything. The world is always in fear—of disease, of disaster, of death. God’s saints should not be so. The Captain suffered: so shall the soldiers; but (unlike Mohammed’s deluded followers) fullness of joy awaits them.
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take!
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessing on your head.”
Therefore fear not! Remember Hebrews 2:14, 15. The devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried. But, “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20). The binder shall be bound (Revelation 20:1-3). Do not stumble because the adversary is still permitted to oppose you. He opposed your Lord, but only brought out your Lord’s supreme choice of holiness and His Father’s will. “The trial of your faith worketh patience.”
Ye shall have a tribulation of ten days. Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life. How good it is to know that “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” Every trial is measured by the heart of infinite love in a hand of infinite care!
The early Church did indeed have just ten great persecutions under the Roman emperors, beginning with Nero and ending with Diocletian, whose last persecution, and probably the most terrible of all, was just ten years long! Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Severus, Maximum, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and Diocletian, were the ten principal Pagan persecutors. However, there was constant, though not always general, trouble until Constantine’s edict of toleration.
“Faithful unto death.” This means to the point of martyrdom: It does not mean “holding out to the end” of our lives, according to the old expression. In that sense, many who have failed have been saved—1 Corinthians 11:30, 32. The crown of life is “the special prize promised to the faithful.” James 1:12 shows this crown of life to be a special mark of approval after a saint’s enduring the Lord’s prescribed trials through love to Him.
CALL TO HEAR: He that hath an ear. Not all would hear in the days of terrible trial, so they needed the words of their loving Lord. Like Israel, “they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.” It is our profound conviction that not only in Russia and Germany but in other countries there are terrible days of trial directly ahead for the Church of God. It is our proper portion—all the day (of grace) long are we to be killed, counted as sheep for slaughter. There- fore, remember the exhortation of Peter (who at the first, fled and denied, but later was crucified for his Lord): “Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind,” or “thought,” “intent,” “resolution” (1 Peter 4:1), that is, with the same “expectation,” when necessary.
He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. There is a double negative in the Greek—“not at all be injured.” The saints may have to bow their heads to those who execute the first death—who “kill the body”; but over these, we read, “the second death hath no authority” (Revelation 20:6). No real believer is coming into judgment. See John 5:24, R. V. Believers’ works will be examined, but not as sin: that is gone forever, borne on the cross! Hebrews 9:28: “so Christ … shall appear … apart from sin.”
It is striking to notice that the name Smyrna is simply the Ionic Greek for myrrh, a fragrant gum in common use. So, “perfumed with myrrh.” Note Song of Solomon 3:6 and 1:13 with Matthew 2:11; Psalm 45:8; and, especially myrrh as used at our Lord’s burial—John 19: 39. The Smyrnan church represents the martyrs, and the fragrance of their affection fills the whole house of God, even today! Have you read, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”? The Bible and Foxe’s book were all John Bunyan had! I beg you, read the story of the martyrs. You will need it.
Idolatry and Clerisy Arising
ADDRESS: He that hath the sharp two-edged sword. The sword is Christ’s word in its stern, judging character. Therefore in Pergamum let us expect evil to be dealt with. In Ephesus, first love was left; in Smyrna came chastening—the fires of Satan’s opposition: if perchance there might be recovery; but it proved unavailing. The Pergamum period may well be looked upon as beginning with Constantine’s “embracing Christianity”27 in 313 A.D., when the Church settled down in the world. The enemy’s plan now was to favor the faith he had fought and defile what he could not destroy. The Christian “religion” became that of the Empire that had slain the Lord!
CONDITION KNOWN: I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is. The Devil is not yet “in hell,” nor even shut up in the abyss (Revelation 20:1-3); but he is the prince of this world, the god of this age. He walks up and down in the earth (Job 1:7), where he yet has his capital and also his throne28 whence he directs the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies. (Compare Ephesians 6:12.) When Israel was owned of God, when the Jerusalem temple stood, Satan’s great opposing city was Babylon, on the Euphrates. See notes on Revelation 17 and 18. “Pergamos (properly called Pergamum), was a sort of a union of a pagan cathedral city, a university town, and a royal residence,” says Blakesley. The title, “chief temple-keepers of Asia” was held by its inhabitants, showing “the supreme importance of Pergamos to heathendom.” When the Babylonian cult of the Magians was driven out of Babylon, they found a haven at Pergamum, and Pergamum’s king, Attalus III (B.C. 133), willed his kingdom and title into the hands of the Romans (Justin p. 364, Strabo). The title of the Magian high priest was, “Chief Bridge Builder,” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts. In Latin, this title was written, Pontifex Maximus.29
COMMENDATION: And thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth. Five of these seven cities “contended for the privilege of worshipping the emperor,” and that Pergamum was the most prominent in this; yet the church there as a whole held fast Christ’s name as the deity, and His work alone as the object of faith, and that even amid most terrible persecution. Antipas’ name was dear to Christ, as is the name of each who suffers for His sake. Let us see in this scene anew the absolute present enmity of this world toward Christ!
CONDEMNATION: I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam … idols … fornication. So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner.30 Over against the faithfulness of the martyrs of Smyrna and Pergamum, stands the beginning of actual tolerated evil. “Thou canst not bear evil men” was written of Ephesus, but of no other church. You know the history of Balaam, the mysterious prophet of Numbers 22, 23, 24, who, prevented from cursing God’s nation Israel, counselled the king of Moab to entice Israel into Moab’s heathen idolatry, with its obscenities and abominations (Numbers 25), bringing death by plague on twenty-four thousand Israelites! Satan, failing to overthrow the church by persecution in Smyrna days, snares the Pergamum church into idolatry and fornication. To “eat things sacrificed to idols,” in the sense of Revelation 2:14, is to engage in idolatrous worship, feasting in the idol’s temple. Outside, “in the shambles,” saints could buy whatever they pleased, even though it had been previously offered to idols (1 Corinthians 10:25). In Pergamum, however, they sought to “drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons,” and thus “provoke the Lord to jealousy” (verses 21, 22). “Idolatry” is here to be taken literally, as is “fornication.” It is astounding how early was the invasion of idolatry into the Church, and the defense of it, even by some so-called “church fathers”!
Idolatry was always accompanied with utter fleshly license and often nameless abominations, just as with Israel at Sinai and in Canaan,—just as is religious idolatry today, both Romish and that of heathen countries.
Those who would make the idolatry and fornication of this “teaching of Balaam” mere worldliness, should be more careful in their study of church history, and more observant of what idolatry has brought to every nation (see notes on chapter 13).
2 Peter 2:10-15, 18, 19, and Jude 4-11, show how literal is to be our interpretation of our Lord’s words to Pergamum concerning the teaching of Balaam! All through the Church centuries, we find such as the Mormons of today, or the “House of David” associating with Christ’s Name the very abominations He denounces.
Now, as to the Nicolaitans, their works Ephesus had, but hated; Pergamum had not their works only, but also their teaching. Moral energy is waning. “Ye that love Jehovah, hate evil.” Literally, in Revelation 2:15, it reads, “Thus you are having—you!” The emphatic expression indicates the astonished, indignant, grief of the Lord.
Again, regarding the Nicolaitans: who were they?
1. The old writers tried to connect them with Nicolas of Antioch,—but unsuccessfully.
2. There is really no known record, except in The Revelation, of any sect by this name in the early Church.
3. It is not the manner of Scripture to compel its readers to obtain wisdom for its interpretation from outside history. Therefore, if we do not find a direct Bible allusion, as in the case of Balaam, we may look for the meaning in the structure of the word, as, for instance, in the name Melchizedek, “king of righteousness,” from the meaning of his name; and “king of peace,” from the city (Salem) he rules.
4. We would in this way find “Nicolaitan” derived from nikao, to conquer; and laos, people; and the meaning, rulers of the laity, indicating that dire clerisy which very early sprang up. A priestly caste was formed, corresponding to the priests and Levites in Judaism.
5. That no notice should be taken by the Lord of this particular evil, which, beginning in Ephesus, ripens so fully in Thyatira, the next church, would be almost inconceivable. It is not the Lord’s manner to denounce evil fruits without having remarked upon the tree.
6. Inasmuch, also, as the Lord selected these seven churches to represent all the assemblies of the church dispensation, He would scarcely choose an assembly in which two “teachings” of practically the same moral corruption, existed.
LOVING COUNSEL: Repent therefore. This call is directed to the whole assembly, as if recovery were yet possible for the whole. The deeper the evil, however, the more difficult the self-judgment!
PREDICTED ACTION: Or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth. This “coming,” like that of verse 5, is not our Lord’s second advent, but His entering personally and that quickly, upon their affairs judicially: affairs which otherwise would continue unchanged under the ever-present, although grieved and vexed, Spirit. “War … with the sword of my mouth,” brings to mind at once the angel of the Lord standing with his sword drawn against the mad prophet, Balaam, in Israel’s days! The targets of Christ’s sword would be chiefly those practicing these evils,—“against them.” The exact way in which Christ would use the sword of His Word against these corrupters, He does not explain. However, we know Christ’s words to the Jews, “if I had not come and spoken unto them … but now they have no excuse for their sin.” And we know that Paul and his company were “a sweet savor of Christ unto God, … in them that perish … a savor from the death unto death” (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16), as well as the opposite to those being saved. Doubtless faithful preachers minister death to as many as they save—perhaps many more.
CALL TO HEAR: The Spirit is still speaking, and “to the churches,” that is, to all of them throughout this church age: let him hear!
PROMISE TO OVERCOMERS: The hidden manna. “Hidden” is a reference, perhaps, to the wilderness manna preserved for a memorial in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 16:32, 34; Hebrews 9:4). There was an especial reason for the Lord’s setting before the mind of these Pergamean believers that secret and blessed relationship into which the heavenly saints are brought by the Spirit while on earth, and, more wondrously, at Christ’s coming; because of the hidden things taught and gloried in by the Babylonian system of idolatry, and the “mysteries”31 taught its initiates, there at Pergamum, “where Satan’s throne was.”
A white stone and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it, was promised. Christ is infinite in His excellences; and each member of His Body sets forth what no other member could. Also there is a personal character in all trials, through which the overcomer (that is, the true believer), will be brought to know the Lord in a peculiar way shared by no other. Dean Alford beautifully comments:
“These very terms (a new name written) seem to require that it should be the recipient’s own name,—a new name, however; a revelation of his everlasting title, as a son of God, to glory in Christ, but consisting of, and revealed in, those personal marks and signs of God’s peculiar adoption of himself, which he and none else is acquainted with. If the heart ‘knoweth its own bitter- ness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy,’ (Proverbs 14:10), then the deep, secret dealings of God with each of us during those times by which our sonship is assured and our spiritual strife carried on to victory, can, when revealed to us in the other blessed state, be known thoroughly to ourselves only.”
The Papacy in Power
ADDRESS: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire. Here we have Christ in the most searching and terrible aspect of any He assumes toward the churches. He is “the Son of God,” the Deity. He is also the Son of man, but His eyes as “a flame of fire” search this church—the holy jealousy of infinite love. We remember the words of the Song (8:6):
“Love is strong as death; Jealousy is hard as Sheol; The flashes thereof are flashes of fire, A very flame of Jah.”
And his feet are like unto burnished brass. They stand to judge in Thyatira according to His own glorious holiness. For there sin is tolerated. And not only so; but an authority permitted that supplants Christ!
CONDITION AND COMMENDATION: I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first. We have come with Thyatira to the papal period of church history, and before our Lord brings this hateful system before us, mark how He cherishes such devotion (and it was, here and there, very great), as marked this dark time. Notice that “love” here comes before “faith,” as if it were only those in whom intense love for the Saviour burned, who had faith to outlast those days. Then “ministry,”—and we remember with tender hearts the amazing, self-denying lives of many who, having not much light, yet loved: i.e., Bernard of Clairveaux, Mechtilde of Helffde. How well the reader of church history remembers their patient endurance and increasing works!
CONDEMNATION: I have against thee that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel (literally, “thy wife,” as Jezebel to Ahab). This reference in the local assembly, was undoubtedly to a literal woman whom the Lord calls by the hated name of the seducing queen of Israel of long ago.32
Who calleth herself a prophetess. Now to do this was to take the place of the Spirit, who indeed spake “not from Himself,” but “what He heard” from the Lord in glory. This is exactly Romanism. The Word of God teaches that “pastors and teachers” are given to the Church: that is, she must herself BE taught! Rome’s doctrine is that the Church is the teacher. “The Church is your mother,” “You must hearken to her,” “She alone knows the voice of God,” etc., etc. THIS IS NOT TRUE. It is the denial of all divine truth. Rome holds no doctrine unleavened with error.
The same rebuke Christ gives Thyatira applies to all who turn to human authority, rather than opening the ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. You may be thinking of “Christian Scientists,” and their “Mother Church”; of the Mormons, with Joseph Smith and Brig-ham Young. But the Lord may be thinking of you, devoted as you are to “Doctor So-and-So,” or to “my church.” An old Puritan preacher used to say, “I want to hear but two things: First, does God speak? Second, what does God say?” Unless we have this attitude, we place ourselves in Thyatira.
“Thou sufferest the woman Jezebel”: here was the cause of blame. Whether from sympathy with the evil, or lack of moral fibre to resist it, it is all the same: they suffered it. Today the so-called Protestant is as weak as, weaker often, than the Romanist, because he suffers some “great” denomination to hold him in its clutches, though he knows sects are directly contrary to the Word of God (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). “Be loyal to your denomination” is mere whip-cracking over you. Their shallow pretentious “educational” systems; vast anti-Scriptural debt-incurring “church” building plans; their huge, bossed organizations, and ecclesiastical wire-pulling, keep their votaries in spiritual babyhood. “Our standards” are more to them than direct Bible study. The “Federation of Churches” (??) conceived and controlled by “modernism,” (which is Tom Paine infidelity in a pulpit coat33), is “suffered,” despite the methods by which it procures godly but simple-hearted speakers to place on its platforms beside its trusted “modernist” deceivers. (Thank God, some have revolted from this self-appointed “Federation.” If you would know the real “Federation,” read Col. Sanctuary’s “Tainted Contacts.”)
Now you may say that in speaking thus we are departing from exposing the direct evils the woman Jezebel brought into Thyatira—idolatry and fornication. True: and we shall note those evils; but we have spoken as we have lest any one might think that in escaping these particular sins he had not suffered any “Jezebel” system.
And she teacheth and seduceth my servants to commit fornication! This, of course, in Thyatira’s case, was literal, and in Rome’s case is literal. The confessional teaches children to discover and speak of the lowest abominations of the human heart; the result of which is to familiarize them with such things, stifle conscience, and finally open the flood gates to indulgence of the flesh, especially with Rome’s Babylonian priests, with whom to sin, is, by their teaching, no sin.34
In the face of the revealed corruptness of the history of the confessional, and its results in Catholic lands, the Vatican’s plea against the terrible evil of divorce, is seen to be a “play to the galleries.” The papal decree “Ne Temere” (warning against adultery!) of Pope Pius Tenth, in which honest marriages, blessed by God and by years of marital uprightness, happiness, and fruitful-ness, are declared to be nothing more than adultery because between a Catholic and a Protestant, shows up real Jezebel deceitfulness.
Next, as to idolatry: note the order is changed from Balaam’s teaching, verse 14, where entering upon the idol worship was first, and the licentiousness followed. In Thyatira, fornication is first, then idolatry. I quote from McClintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia:
“Images were unknown in the worship of primitive Christians, who abstained from worship of images because they thought it unlawful in itself to make any images of deity. By the steady pressure of the heathen ideas and habits upon Christianity, emblems such as the dove, the fish, the anchor, vine, lamb, etc., formed the first step; then, paintings representing great Biblical events, saints, martyrs, which were placed in the vestibule of the church. Yet this practice was unfavorably regarded by the synods of the fourth century. When, however, in the same century, Christianity was proclaimed (by Con-stantine) the religion of the state, the use of painting, sculpture and jewelry became general for the decoration of the churches, resulting in the adoption of a regular system of symbolic religious images. The teachers of the church became gradually more accommodating in their relations with the heathen, allowing them to retain their old usages, while conforming to the outward forms of Christianity. Thus the worship of images became so general that it had to be repeatedly checked by laws. In the sixth century, it had grown into a great abuse, especially in the East, where images were made the object of a special adoration: they were kissed, lamps were burned before them, incense was offered to them,—in short, they were treated in every respect as the heathen were wont to treat the images of their gods. The same arguments now used by the Romanists to defend image worship were rejected by Christians of the first three centuries when used in defense of image worship. The heathen said. We do not worship the images themselves, but those whom they represent. To this Lactantius (third century A.D.) answers, ‘You worship them; for, if you believe them to be in heaven; why do you not raise your eyes up to heaven? Why do you look at the images, and not up where you believe them to be?’ Thomas Aquinas, a Roman Catholic (13th century), declared, ‘A picture, considered in itself, is worthy of no veneration, but if we consider it as an image of Christ, it may be allowable to make an internal distinction between the image and its subject, and adoration and service are as well due to it as to Christ.’ Bonaventura the Franciscan, said, ‘Since all veneration shown to the image of Christ is shown to Christ himself, then the image of Christ is also entitled to be prayed to.’ Bellarmine: Rome’s principal authority in dogmatic theology (1542-1621), writes, ‘The images of Christ and the saints are to be adored, not only in a figurative manner, but quite positively, so that the prayers are directly addressed to them, and not merely as representatives of the original.’” De Imaginibus.
Idolatry, the worship of images, is a primary teaching of Romanism. “Jezebel” then, which truth-enlightened men acknowledge to stand for Romanism, introduces un-cleanness through the confessional first; then the adoration of images, and thus a proceeding ever deeper into idolatrous superstition; for idol-worship ever degrades its devotees (see Revelation 13 and 17).
I gave her time that she should repent; and she will-eth not to repent of (literally, out of) her fornication. The chief hold, after all, of false religion, is the liberty it gives to the lusts which the heart loves. Repentance, which is God’s way out, the human heart hates.35
Behold, I cast her into a bed. “Will change her bed of whoredom into a bed of anguish: so most commentators.” (Alford) The Lord often deals thus with wicked leaders; He was even more abrupt and condign with Ahab’s wife (2 Kings 9:30-37). (He will yet deal effectually with the female leaders “suffered” in our own day, who center attention upon themselves, and pose more and more as prophetesses, using all sorts of meretricious showmanship to hold the poor people spellbound.)
And them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. Here is a most terrible threat! We know of The Great Tribulation; and I cannot avoid the conclusion that this warning points to it. For we read in Revelation 17 that the Babylonian harlot is to be hated and made desolate by the Beast and his ten kings (Revelation 17:16).
Please note at once that these last four churches look toward the end—that is, to the closing of church testimony to give way to the kingdom. Thyatira, impenitent, is threatened with the tribulation; Sardis, with Christ’s coming as a thief—that is, (after the true Church has been raptured) they will be “caught” like the world—1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; Philadelphia, faithful though weak, has the promise of the Rapture, to escape all the trouble of the awful “hour” that is coming; while Laodicea is spued out as lukewarm, irrecoverable—ending the history of the Church as Christ’s earthly witness.36
And I will kill her children with death. Jezebel’s punishment is distinct from that of her proper adherents (not those who suffer her, but those who are begotten of her). “There is a transition from literal to spiritual fornication, as appears in these verses” (Fausset). Some commentators believe that the whole passage refers to “spiritual fornication,” that is, union with the world. Others, and I can but agree with them, insist that a prominent, gifted, strong-willed, evil woman was permitted in Thyatira (as such are often today “suffered”). Her “children” are evidently those whom she seduced subtly into the wickedness described, and who clung to her. These the Lord threatens to kill with death, which seems to me spiritual, eternal—“except they repent of her works.” The “death” was to be so evident that all the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts.37
Note, “all the churches,” not these seven representative ones merely. How dull our spiritual perception, not to understand why candlesticks have been removed, and personal judgment executed, before our very eyes! David’s child by Uriah’s wife was publicly smitten and slain by Jehovah (2 Samuel 12). The “angel” of the Thyatiran church was good, personally; but he “suffered” his wife to teach and practice fornication,—even to bearing adulterous seed. These would be slain by the Lord: and the woman herself be fittingly dealt with. And she would become a warning, as did both Lot’s wife and Jezebel. But the evil would go on into a system, to be judged finally (Revelation 17) as a great whore that corrupted the earth!
And I will give unto each one of you according to your works. Here is judgment, certainly—whether to Jezebel herself, to her children, or to those real servants of the Lord who suffered her either in Thyatira, or now, as a system: to each, a just dealing. None of Christ’s own will be lost; but responsibility in church life on earth is solemn: for the Church represents Christ.
To you I say (the godly ones who will really hear) to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, who know not the deep things of Satan, as they are wont to say. The Magians from Babylon continually spoke of their “deep things,” their “inner knowledge,” just as the Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, and “Unity” devotees do today (simply ancient Gnosticism revived!). The Lord sees through all the enemy’s delusions and “mysteries”; they are not “deep” to Him. His real saints are simple-hearted (blessed simpleness!). It is no sign of spirituality to be familiar with Satanic psychic or demonic “depths.”
I cast upon you none other burden,—quoted from the decision of the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:28, 29). “This act of simple obedience (keeping from idolatry and fornication) and no deep matters beyond their reach, was what the Lord required of them.”
LOVING COUNSEL: Nevertheless that which ye have, hold fast38 till I come. How easy to let truth and devotion slip in Jezebel surroundings! Christ’s sure and imminent personal coming again is the tonic for faith! “Hold the fort, for I am coming!” We shall see that from Thyatira on, our Lord’s return, and not the recovery of the Church to her first estate, much less the conversion of the world, is the only object of hope.
PROMISE TO OVERCOMERS: And he that overcorneth, and he that keepeth my works unto the end. “It is not enough to deny Jezebel in doctrine and works, but ‘he that keepeth unto the end my works’ is crowned at the end: ‘my works,’ evidently in contrast to the works of Jezebel, verse 23. Her works were unholy; His works, holy.”—Scott. To him will I give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of my Father. Here is the first definite view in The Revelation of the coming millennial kingdom to be established by the Lord at His return to the earth (Revelation 19:15; 20:4-6). The papacy has ever grasped at “temporal power.” She wants to rule the world now, before Christ comes—thus proving herself false; not a church, but Babylon. God’s saints, with their Lord, await expectantly the Father’s time (Hebrews 10:13, Psalm 2:7, 8). Those who learn Christ’s patience become trained and fit to rule. Recall, “He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32); although man despises this path (Luke 22:25, 30).
And I will give him the morning star. When the Millennium comes, it will be broad day—the Sun will have risen, with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2, 3)—but now it is night. And, although we know “neither the day nor the hour” of our Lord’s coming, yet into the heart of the faithful believer comes that wondrous expectancy of His coming, which John elsewhere describes as having our “hope set on him” (1 John 3:3). This is the experience of the believer who awakes out of sleep (Romans 13:11), who by the grace of God hears His voice when He says, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead (ones), and Christ shall shine upon thee” (Ephesians 5:13). To such, Christ becomes indeed the Morning Star, the harbinger of the glorious coming day, though the night be yet all around us. Just as the multitude lie physically asleep, while here and there one, watching all night, or risen very early, sees the blazing beauty of the morning star, so these spiritually awakened or aroused find Christ’s coming arising as the day-star in their hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
Nowhere in church history appears so intense a devotion to the person of Christ in a time of great deprivation of a free Bible and preaching, and the so-called “means of grace,” as in the dark ages Thyatira stands for. All around was night, in the world and in the Church; the threat of death was over all, but Christ was known, loved, served and sung. He was the only light; but He was enough!39
CALL TO HEAR: He that hath an ear, let him hear. Note the change in place now! Jezebel and her “children” will go on as they are (Rome’s motto is Semper Idem—”Always the Same”), but “the rest,” the remnant, will hear.
ADDRESS: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars. This is the designation of the Spirit as before the throne in heaven (Revelation 1:4, 5). We have noticed that it is not as the indwelling Comforter (although He is such to all believers), that He appears in Revelation. The Spirit is subordinate to the Son, as the Son to the Father, in the divine creative and redemptive arrangements, although all are equal in the fact of Deity. Christ now begins anew, as it were: He has the seven stars, as in Ephesus, but He has also the seven Spirits of God. There will be utter searching, which is here emphasized (Zechariah 4:6-10).
We have, in Sardis, what has often been called a new beginning. God leaves the Jezebel corruption and the ecclesiastical hierarchy behind, with Thyatira; and takes up what is known as “Christianity” since the Reformation.
CONDITION KNOWN: Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. Nothing could describe “Protestantism” more accurately! As over against Romish night and ignorance, she has enlightenment and outward activity: the great “state churches,” or “denominations,” with creeds and histories, costly churches and cathedrals, universities and seminaries, “boards,” bureaus of publication and propaganda, executors of organized activities, including home and foreign missions, even “lobby” men to “influence legislation” at court! You and I dare compare the Church with no other model than the Holy Spirit gave at Pentecost and in Paul’s day! And compared to that—it has a name, but is dead—not to speak of being “filled with the Holy Spirit,” “admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Pass through the churches of Christendom and ask one question: Are you born again? Are you a new creature in Christ Jesus? Like the Philistine-yoked Jews of Nehe-miah’s day: “I saw the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, of Moab: and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people” (Nehemiah 13:23, 24). So with church-membership of our day, yoked with the world by marriage, by lodge-fellowship, by narrow sectarian bigotry and crass ignorance of the Word of God and even of the gospel of salvation. “Thou art dead.” Awful state! Given to recover the truth at the Reformation in the most mighty operation of the Spirit of God since the days of the Apostles, Christendom has sunk into spiritual death!
LOVING COUNSEL: Be thou watchful, and establish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine perfected before my God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. Notice here first, “no works … perfected” Neither in doctrine nor in walk did the Reformation go back to the early days of the Church. In doctrine they did teach (thank God!) justification by faith apart from works. Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians” is in many respects the most vigorous utterance of faith since Paul. Yet the Reformers did not teach Paul’s doctrine of identification,—that the believer’s history, as connected with Adam, ended at Calvary: that he died to sin, federally, with Christ; and died to the law, which gave sin its power. All the Reformation creeds kept the believer under the law as a rule of life; and “the law made nothing perfect.” Whereas, Scripture speaks of a perfect conscience, through a perfect sacrifice; of faith being perfected; of being made perfect in love; of perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Of course, there is no perfection in the flesh, but Paul distinctly says concerning believers, “Ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you”; and, “if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”
Furthermore, the Reformed creeds did not get free from Rome40 as regards what they still called “sacraments,”—a Babylonish term. For sacramentum was the Latin word for a mystery of the pagan religion. “The grand distinguishing feature of the ancient Babylonian system was the Chaldean mysteries, that formed so essential a part of that system” (Hislop, p. 4). “Even in the prayer-book of the Church of England, the Lord’s Supper is called ‘these holy mysteries’! But such a term for it is unknown in the New Testament, and was subsequently introduced merely because the initiates (of Babylonish idolatry) fixed upon the Memorial Supper as the one thing in Christianity which they could most easily metamorphose into a Mystery, or Sacrament. Then, associating Baptism with the bath which preceded (pagan) initiation, they called it, also, a Mystery, or Sacrament,—though they often dropped all disguise, and spoke of it plainly as initiation.” (Pember)
Consequently neither is the walk perfected. Not knowing that they died with Christ and are risen ones, their walk is pitifully short of Paul’s: some, worldly and wholly shallow; some, even sincere souls, using man-made prayers by rote, and even man-made festival days, which belong to Paganism or Judaism; regarding really devoted souls as fanatics,—especially those who live in view of, and speak of, the imminent return of the Lord, as did constantly the early Christians!
Note watchfulness, that hardest of spiritual tasks to a drowsy soul, is enjoined by the Lord that “the things that remain”—those few “fundamental” doctrines still known and preached, may not be wholly lost, but established. “Remember”: like Ephesus, they must go back to the beginning. Protestantism did receive, and did hear. In the Reformation days, all Europe was stirred concerning divine truth. People crowded halls for four or five hours at a time to listen to discourses and debates upon Scripture. Alas, the deadness, the ignorance, the coldness and the carelessness today! “Keep it and repent”: to recover truth once lost and especially the love of it, so as to hold the truth fast, is a deadly difficult task! Protestantism— Christendom—is giving it up.
PREDICTED ACTION: If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Notice three things: watchlessness, visitation, and ignorance. To the Sardis church, unheeding, the words, “I will come as a thief” meant, not our Lord’s second coming, but visitation in judgment like that to Ephesus in 2:5, and Pergamum in 2:16. The processes of divine judgment we cannot by any faculties given us discover; the only thing for us to do is to receive divine warning. Now a thief takes away secretly our property—what belongs to us: so would Christ come suddenly, secretly, and remove everything of value from the Sardis assembly. So He did, for that assembly is gone—the very place of it!
But there is a wider application: to Protestantism, with its “name to live, but dead,” Christ threatens that aspect of His coming which really belongs not to His saints but to the world. “Ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief … ye are all sons … of the day” (1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5). To be overtaken, then, and judged as the world, is the doom of dead Protestantism, just as the tribulation was the destiny of Romanism in Thyatira.
PROMISE TO OVERCOMERS: But thou hast a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments: and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy. Here we have the faithful remnant—“a few,”—like “the rest” in Thyatira. Faithful preachers know them in every assembly. They hearken. They are separate from the world. They pray, go to prayer meetings, work for their Lord, and love the Word.
Note that this remnant were not “defiled.” “They are not in contact with the spiritual death around them which is here counted defilement, as in the Old Testament was considered the touch of a dead body.” (Ottman.)
“With me in white.” Here it represents manifested victorious righteousness. Compare the white robes of Revelation 6:11; and that public association with Christ of Revelation 19:14. Note rejection of defilement constitutes “worthiness,” (Christ Himself of course being our only righteousness).
PROMISE TO OVERCOMER: He that over-cometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. These promises, of course, are all to be taken literally. “Thus” as befits Christ’s presence,—“with me in white,” they shall be arrayed and walk! Also, “in no wise blot out” releases from anxiety. “The Lord will deliver from every evil work, and will save … unto his heavenly kingdom” (I1 Timothy 4:18). As to “book of life,” see Revelation 20:12. “Will confess … before my Father and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5). What a day! As one very near to me said, after a meeting in which some had been urged not to be ashamed to confess Christ: “I am not ashamed to confess Christ, but my wonder is, how He can ever confess me!”
CALL TO HEAR: Again note that it is after the remnant has been addressed: for real saints only will truly give ear to the Lord by His Spirit,—in any age, but with peculiar difficulty when deadness holds most professors. He that hath an ear, LET HIM HEAR!
Awakened Saints of the Last Days
This name Philadelphia at once arouses our interest! It is the seventh (and last) occurrence of this Greek word in the New Testament. (The other passages are Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7, twice.) Hebrews 13:1 reads: “Let brotherly love (Greek, Philadelphia) continue.” Surely God speaks to us in this name, as we read the character of the saints at Philadelphia, their devotion to Christ,—His name and His word, and their consequent love for one another,—in circumstances such as theirs so precious and so necessary!
ADDRESS: He that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth. Christ remains holy, even if the church has left her first love, hearkened to Balaam, suffered Jezebel and her whoredoms, and has only a name to live, but is one with the world in the defilements of death. Christ still is true: though the church has listened to the enemy’s lies through the centuries! Ah, if it were not for CHRIST! The church has a history that is worse than Israel’s, which was worse than the heathen! (2 Chronicles 33:9). But the Lord is unchanged; He is true. The more you read church history the more you realize that absolutely everything depends on CHRIST HIMSELF!
And here we find Him opening this out to us. He said to John in 1:18, “I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Now He has the “key of David.” While those spoke of His salvation-power as Victor over Death and the unseen world—this announces His royal claims as Lord and Head of David’s House and looks toward the kingdom to be established on earth. Even now, when men, in their arrogance, and especially in ecclesiastical position, would “shut out” Christ’s servants (and do they not seek to do it?) it is a blessed thing to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David” as Paul commanded us (2 Timothy 2:8). Although He has not yet come to take the throne of His father David, He yet has all royal authority in heaven and on earth, and He will open before His faithful servants, doors which none shall shut! All is in His hands, which exceedingly comforts saints in this world’s “Vanity Fair”!
Also, mark, our Lord can shut: and then none opens. How He opened and shut for the apostles, in the early days! (Acts 16:6-10; 18:9, 10; 19:8-20; 1 Corinthians 16:8, 9). So, also, Christ may shut doors in lands where His gospel has been known and despised, and His saints slain,—as in Spain and France, and in those lands He gave over to the false prophet Mohammed.
So their Lord, whom they loved, had opened a door for these Philadelphians, which none could shut: no power of earth or hell! So they could go right on in the truth and in service, despite the devil, the world, and false professors!
CONDITION KNOWN: I know thy works (behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name. Here we have another spirit than that of Sardis,—yea, better even than Ephesus! Philadelphia lacked the energy of Ephesus of the early church days, but it had three precious things: first, a little power; second, obedience to Christ’s word; third, not denying His name.
As to “little,” see the same Greek word about Zacchaeus (Luke 19:3)—he was “little” of stature; and about the Lord’s company in general—a “little” flock (Luke 12:32). The Philadelphian assembly was unimportant in the world’s eyes, probably few in number, poor in property, and low in the social scale. Moreover, the spiritual power they had was feeble compared to Pentecost. But the Lord has nothing but commendation for them. They loved Christ. Jesus answered and said, “If a man love me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). Mark again the contrast with the indifference of Sardis toward the word they had received (as Protestantism in general); and also, contrast with Thyatira (Romanism), where Christ’s word had been supplanted by Jezebel’s. Here, in Philadelphia, instead of ecclesiasticism or indifferentism, we find a living response to the known word of the blessed Lord.
Also in a world that says of Christ, “He was a good man” “a great teacher,” etc.; and surrounded, as we are today, by other assemblies with merely “a name to live,” willing to have Christ’s Deity doubted or denied, His virgin birth assailed, His atoning death rejected, His bodily resurrection mocked at, His all-prevailing Highpriestly work in heaven disdained, His headship over all things to the Church despised, His second coming as Bridegroom of the Church and King of kings over all the earth ignored or decried,—amid all this, Christ was at home in Philadelphia, as in the household at Bethany! His person worshipped, delighted in; and His coming expectantly awaited!
Precious assembly! Our Lord’s words of greeting to them are personal, as their devotion to Him was personal! No wonder that they have special promises—Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they 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. Again those truly awful words, “synagogue of Satan”! “Salvation,” said Christ to the woman of Samaria, is “from the Jews” (John 4:22). But their sun had set. Again, (to Israel,) “I have loved you, saith Jehovah. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). And again, “When he drew nigh, he saw the city (Jerusalem) and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known the things which belong unto peace!” (Luke 19:41, 42).
But now they had seen and hated both Christ and His Father, and their house was left to them desolate! Nay, they were “the synagogue of Satan.” If they had been like Nathanael, “Israelites indeed,” they would have believed on the Lord Jesus, and have proved themselves of “the election of grace” of Romans 11:5, and have been part of that assembly which, as Jews by falsehood only, they reviled. Doubtless their predicted coming and worshipping before the feet of the Philadelphian church had a local, historical meaning. We also know that the day will come when the saints will judge not the world only, but also angels (1 Corinthians 6:2), and this only because of Christ’s special love for the Church! (So also the persecuting Gentiles will be compelled to treat the godly remnant of Israel in the coming day! [Isaiah 66:14.])
SPECIAL PROMISES: Now, most wonderful, cheering song to the hearts of the faithful today is the Lord’s promise to deliver His true saints from The Great Tribulation! Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. As we saw in 1:9, “tribulation, kingdom, and patience” are connected in Jesus. Compare Acts 14:22. We who believe are in the kingdom,—by birth, by new creation, already. But both for our Lord, and for us, there is patient waiting for the kingdom’s setting up. And as for Him when on earth, so now for us, there is tribulation from Satan and the world. Patience (connected with saints seven times in The Revelation), is a prime virtue. Listen: the good ground hearers “bring forth fruit with patience”, “with patience we wait for that which we see not”; “strengthened with all power unto all patience and longsuffering”; “who through faith and patience inherit the promises”; “let us run with patience the race,” “let patience have its perfect work.” This Philadelphia assembly steadily, unfalteringly, lovingly endured, and waited for( Christ; as Christ waited and is yet waiting His Father’s time to give Him the throne long promised to Him, of His father David.
This is a beautiful, reciprocal promise of their Lord to them: Ye kept my patience, I will keep you out of the coming hour of trial. This “hour,” coming as it will, upon the whole earth, is seen in Revelation 13:7, 8, in the permitted frightful career of the Beast. Two things identify this hour: first, its extent; second, its object. It is to come upon all “the inhabited earth” (Greek, oikoumenee).41 It is to try the “earth-dwellers,” whether they will follow Satan’s Christ or not—since they have chosen earth where Satan is the prince and the god, as their “good things” (Luke 16:25). Fearful trial! Read Revelation 14:9-12, where the issue is finally pressed home—an issue involving eternity!
Now, our Lord promises to keep Philadelphian believers out of42 this coming hour.
Inasmuch as this verse (10) holds forth the great promise of being kept from The Great Tribulation, it behooves us to inquire most diligently about it.
1. What is the hour of trial, or temptation, of which our Lord speaks? There is no reasonable doubt that it must refer to The Great Tribulation of which Daniel wrote (12:1), and to which our Lord referred in Matthew 24:15-21. This “hour” extends to the whole inhabited earth,—so does that. See Revelation 13:7, 8. And this is an hour of trial—the earth-dwellers, having rejected, or neglected, the Lord of heaven, and heavenly things, are now to be given Satan’s Christ. A “strong delusion” will be sent by God; and all not God’s elect will believe “the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-11).
2. What is meant by being kept from that terrible “hour”?
A. It cannot mean merely, preserved in and
through it: for the remnant of Israel, God’s earthly
people, will have that preservation (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1), whereas this is a promise given by a
heavenly Christ to His heavenly saints.
B. It is from a peculiar hour, or season,
not merely from trial, but from the hour and scene of the trial, Christ’s faithful are to be kept.
C. It is as direct a reward to His saints for their “keeping the word of his patience,” as was Christ’s own exaltation because of His patiently doing His Father’s will (Philippians 2:6-ll). The word “keep” used in this promise is the same word our Lord applies to “keeping the word of his patience,” which His faithful saints had done. It is, as we have said, beautifully reciprocal; but notice that Christ’s “keeping” in His action toward them, was to protect them
D. He says, “I will keep thee out of” or
“away from” that dread hour.43
This hour, we read, is “about to come.” “While those ignorant of it are painting vain pictures of the happiness of earth, close at hand, to appear under the ordinary operation of the causes and agencies now at work, the student of prophecy knows that this expectation will never be realised; nay, that evil is about to expand itself to prodigious and overwhelming magnitude. The Lord, in vengeance for His truth rejected, is about to send on the earth an energy of delusion which seals all who receive it to utter damnation.” (Govett)
LOVING COUNSEL: I come quickly. From Thyatira on, the eyes of the saints are directed to the Lord’s return as the only hope, as it has really always been! To the faithful assembly at Philadelphia, the words were a thrill of cheer. One well says: “These words, ‘I come quickly,’ which in different senses and with varying references form the burden of this whole book (of Revelation) are here manifestly to be taken as an encouragement and comfort to the Philadelphian church, arising from the nearness of the Lord’s coming to reward her.”
Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take44 thy crown. “What thou hast” refers to spiritual possessions only,—to truth known, to progress in grace, to service to Christ already rendered. Intensely important this warning, that a crown may be won and lost through later watchlessness! “Take away from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.” I cannot agree with Alford that “it is not for himself that the robber would snatch away the crown, but merely to deprive the possessor.” Service to the Lord will be rewarded, but the Lord may have to go further back to confer the reward,—perhaps to the person who brought to Him this worker who lost his reward. Doubtless also 2 John 8 teaches us that in order to “receive a full reward and lose not the things which we have wrought,” we must be on our guard against wrong influences—we must “look to ourselves.”
“Thy crown.” All instructed believers know that the several crowns spoken of in the New Testament represent rewards for service, and not eternal life, which is a gift. Revelation 2:10; James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Peter 5:4.
PROMISE TO OVERCOMER: I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more. “A little strength” on earth, (but true love to Christ) and now made a pillar! This is, to be established in honor forever in the very presence of God, whose presence is the essence of bliss to a holy creature. All saints are being built therein as living stones, Peter tells us. Pillars (like Boaz and Jachin) in Solomon’s temple, exhibited permanency, strength and beauty.
And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem.45 We see this fulfilled in Revelation 22:4.
And mine own new name. The meaning here, it seems to me, is opened out by the excellent note by Darby: “He who was hardly accounted to belong to the holy city (others had had the pretension to be the people of God, the city of God, by divine religious title on earth), has its heavenly name written on him, too, and Christ’s new name—the name not known to prophets and Jews according to the flesh, but which He has taken as dead to this world. Associated in Christ’s own patience, Christ confers upon him what fully associates him in His own blessing with God”!
Now who are the Philadelphians? We believe they are all Christ’s faithful through the dispensation. If these promises were made to such saints then, they cover all saints since. Philadelphia was a local assembly at the same time with Ephesus and Smyrna. Let us not forget in viewing these seven messages, in their prophetic succession, that all existed together. Remember also that all have existed through the dispensation, so that not only is the hope of the imminent coming of the Lord preserved to all, but the promises to the overcomers are for all the saints. For example, no saint shall be “hurt of the second death,”—not Smyrna saints only! Those in Christ are already new creations, their history in Adam having ended at Calvary (Romans 6); and they, made alive together with Christ, raised up with Him, made to sit with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: but it is “not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that if he shall be manifested we shall be like him, for we shall see him even as he is.” We have, now, “newness of life” in Christ. But what His New Name is, or will be, remains yet to be revealed!
CALL TO HEAR: He that hath an ear, let him hear. The Spirit keeps speaking to all opened ears and willing hearts in all these wondrous, solemn messages. Are we really listening?
The Last State—”Lukewarm”
The name comes from loos, people, and dikao, to rule: the rule of the people: “democracy,” in other words. (It is the exact opposite of Nicolaitan!) We come now to the sad and awful end of church testimony. That leaving of first love in Ephesus, comes now to being left by the Lord!
THE ADDRESS: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. Nothing of His appearance among the churches in the vision of chapter 1 remains here. The Church has failed; Christ remains. “The Amen.” It is the language of the faithful God who brings things to pass as He has promised. See Isaiah 65:16; and 2 Corinthians 1:20. There we read “How many soever be the promises of God, in him (Christ), is the yea; (that is the possibility of their being fulfilled) wherefore also through him is the Amen, (the certainty and actuality, of their being fulfilled) unto the glory of God through us.” This is a great announcement, for in ourselves we are worse than failures, but in Christ all God’s plans are made good!
As the Faithful and True Witness, Christ is giving now this seventh one of the searching messages to His assemblies on earth: He will see all; He will withhold nothing profitable; He will warn with perfect fidelity; He will commend with absolute kindness. This is why we can delight in The Revelation. It is not only the word of God, but it is the testimony of Jesus. He speaks all with unswerving faithfulness. He is also the Head, because the Beginner, of all God’s creation. Here is a title far above all dispensational responsibilities of creatures, whether of Israel or of the Church—Christ speaks as Creator. This puts us all in the dust. It likewise gives our hearts hope. He who created all things can make good the high calling of the Church as His Body and Bride, despite the corporate failure of the Church’s testimony on this earth.
CONDITION KNOWN: Thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So, because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spew thee out of my mouth. To Philadelphia our Lord had spoken in personal fellowship, “I am he that is true.” To Laodicea, lukewarm, having no real heart for Him, He says, “I am the true witness”: solemn difference!
Thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Here we have, first, their spiritual state; second, their supreme self-confidence; third, their awful ignorance of their true condition; fourth, their imminent danger. The meaning of “hot” is seen in Romans 12:11, where the same Greek word is used—fervent (burning) in spirit. The word translated cold is used in Matthew 10:42, “a cup of cold water”; (“as cold waters to a thirsty soul,” Proverbs 25:25). Either a hot drink on a cold day, or a cool one on a hot day, is acceptable and refreshing; lukewarm is neither, and disgusts. These Laodiceans were lukewarm: chliaros—a Greek word used only this one time in the Bible. It is the last stage of the Church’s existence recognized by the Lord.
Note their proud, blind pretensions (although Christ is on the outside!): “I am rich”—become wealthy. Is not this a description of the professing church today? How they count up their numbers, the wealth and worldly importance of their “membership”; their great churches, cathedrals and universities; their worldly influence—even to the extent of having a lobby at the seat of government to “control legislation”! The Laodicean church would fain “reform” the world that crucified the Lord. It denounces as “pessimists” those who would show from Scripture that “evil men and seducers are waxing worse and worse,” “the love of the many waxing cold,” “the rulers of the age coming to nought,” and Christ’s personal return the only hope either for the Church or for the nations.
“Need of nothing”: the loss of a sense of need, as the drowsiness that besets a freezing man, is fatal. People blindly go to hell in droves, in the Laodicean churches of these last days. With liars, blasphemers of the Lord, and teachers of pagan evolution in the pulpits, and the people “loving to have it so,” we would cry, as of old, “What will ye do in the end thereof?”
“The wretched one”—of all the seven! That is, of all possible church states represented by these seven, Laodicea is the worst off! Worse than Thyatira, than Romanism, this last lukewarmness.
“And poor,” alas! the poverty, in view of their possible riches in Christ and His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit! The poverty of the Laodicean churches of this hour! Whole years, and no one born again! Whole denominations shrinking in numbers! “And miserable,” literally, proper objects of pity. “Blind,” looking at stones and towers and organs, and pews.
PREDICTED ACTION: I am about to spew thee out of my mouth. Darby says that “this threat is peremptory, not conditional: it brought irreconcilable rejection.” The book of Revelation indeed plainly shows that the Church, having failed, will give way to the kingdom, to the Lord’s personal appearing. But Christ does not say, “I will”; but, (mello) “I am about to.” He says, “I am ready to: I have it in my mind, implying graciously the possibility of the threat not being executed if only they repent at once. His dealings towards them will depend on theirs toward Him.” These words from Fausset more nearly express what the text sets forth.
LOVING COUNSEL: I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich. Grace is ever free. We buy it “without money and without price,” although it cost Christ the fire of God’s judgment to get it for us. And white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest. White garments in the Bible, and especially in The Revelation, stand for manifested righteousness. If they would repent, and rely wholly upon Christ as the only righteousness of sinners, the world would see that instead of the shame of their nakedness. The world today sees the nakedness of the Laodicean church and has contempt for it, but the full shame of that nakedness will not be made manifest till the false church is rejected as Christ’s witness on earth, and hated as a harlot by the Beast and his ten kings (Revelation 17:16).
And eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. “The Holy Spirit’s unction, like the ancient’s eye-salve, first smarts with the conviction of sin, then heals.”
As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent. Astonishing love of the Savior! Loving even the lukewarm! Loving an assembly that has really no heart for Him! “I reprove”—Christ’s wounding is the faithful wounding of a friend. “The ear that hearkeneth to the reproof of life shall abide among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).
How many preachers love the saints enough to risk their resentment by obeying 2 Timothy 4:2: “reprove, rebuke”? I fear that we who preach are rarely as faithful in our love as our Lord!
“And chasten.” As long as one’s conscience feels the reproof of faithful preachers; as long as the Lord does not say, “He is joined to his idols, let him alone,” there is hope. “Be zealous, therefore, and repent.” I believe that “no word from God shall be void of power,” and that some Laodiceans, through the church centuries, have, by divine grace, become zealous and repented. Only a godly sorrow, working the seven-fold result of 2 Corinthians 7:11, avails in such a case.
LAST YEARNING PLEA: 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,46 and he with me. Here we have Christ in all His tenderness, His unfathomable devotion! In these last words to the Church, the love of the Bridegroom makes Him forget wholly the work of the Judge. It is The Beloved, of the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 5:2).
This final plea of the Lord Jesus to the individual heart, where He has been shut out of the love and fellowship of the general company, should win every heart that UNDERSTANDS!
1. It is the plea of One who is meek and lowly of heart,—of a humility that is boundless and absolute. If we find ourselves shut out, where we have a right to be, we either rise to assert our rights, or leave in wrath. Not so Christ! After all the centuries, He still stands meekly knocking!
2. It is the plea of an active, yearning love. If the Lord Jesus did not love those who profess His name, even His lowliness would not keep Him at the door which is shut!
3. It is the plea of deepest concern. He knows what losing Him will mean,—what a Christless future will be. He was troubled over even Judas, who had already bargained to sell Him for the price of a common slave!
It is deeply instructive and touching to note the verb tenses here: it is literally, “Behold I have taken my stand at the door and am knocking”: the first denoting an attitude deliberately taken, and the second, an action continually going on.
While the whole assembly in the person of its angel is addressed, we all instinctively feel and know that the words are personal to us,—yes, to the innermost heart of each of us, of you, of me. For the pleading voice goes on, “If any man hear my voice and open the door.” Here we are face to face with three great facts: First, the awful fact that people can “belong” to an assembly of Christ’s, and yet not hear, never hear, Christ’s life-giving Voice; Second, the blessed fact that anyone may hearken who will; and, Third, the eternally solemn fact that the opening of the door is from our side, not from Christ’s.
It is the action of unbelief to abuse the glorious truth of electing grace by making fatalism of it, thus seeking to lay the burden of an evil heart’s unwillingness upon God. “How often would I—but ye would not!”
“I will sup with him”: and what have we to give Him? What have we that He could wish, what that would give Him, delight,—the Lord of glory? He loves thee! It is as the Bridegroom of the Church that He speaks,—“who loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Of course His joy will be the first, and infinitely the greater! So He puts it first. Then, “he with Me.” Those who open the door to Christ are the happy ones of the earth!
“I sat down under his shadow with great delight, And his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting-house, And his banner over me was love.”
Song of Solomon 2:3, 4
Here, at the end of these seven church epistles, in this twentieth verse, we have the second of the two great truths of Paul’s gospel: (1) ye in Christ, and (2) Christ in you. Paul begins to develop this second truth in Galatians: “It was the good pleasure of God … to reveal his Son in me” (1:16); “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” (2:20); “My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (4:19); then in Ephesians 3:14-19, “that Christ may make his home down in your hearts”—a definite thing, as yet unaccomplished in the Ephesian believers to whom he wrote; and in Philippians 1:21, “for me to live is Christ”; and in Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”! In a real definite sense Christ is in every true believer. See Romans 8:9, 10; where we read that all of Christ’s own, because they have the indwelling Spirit, have Christ in them as their life (Colossians 3:3, 4). “Know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobate” (2 Corinthians 13:5). But in Revelation 3:20 there is a personal call, like that of Ephesians 5:14: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.”
How our poor selfish hearts turn to the next verse—about the coming kingdom, and our reigning with Christ; and forget His present, tender pleading for real, inward fellowship with Him now!
PROMISE TO OVERCOMERS: He that over-cometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. Christ’s throne is the throne of His father David at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:12, 13, 16; 1 Chronicles 29:3; Jeremiah 3:17; Luke 1:32; Acts 15:14-18). But our Lord’s royal inheritance by the Davidic covenant extends to His heavenly Bride, the Church, as Eve shared the dominion that God gave the first Adam. In his first epistle (first in divine order), Paul writes, “Concerning God’s Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3); and in his last epistle, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). We shall consider the millennial order in Revelation 20. Here, in 3:21, at the close of the unfaithful corporate testimony of the Church, we are again overwhelmed at this infinite grace of Christ. “The assembly whom Christ just before threatened to spew out of His mouth, is now offered a seat with Him on His throne.”—Fausset. Trench truly says, “The highest place is within the reach of the lowest; the faintest spark of grace may be fanned into the mightiest flame of love.” Let not the most wretched, defeated believer despair,—if only there be the least yearning for Christ. The most tender plea of all the seven is made to a lukewarm assembly. And the most distinct promise of actually sitting down with Christ upon His throne is given at the very close of the Church’s testimony. Note that our Lord speaks as one who Himself overcame, and is therefore now sit- ting upon His Father’s throne.47 As a Victor He calls to you and to me. It is only in sharing by faith His victory that any saint ever overcame! As Christ warned in the upper room, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He also triumphed over Satan and all his hosts at Calvary, and gives us the benefit (Colossians 2:14, 15; Hebrews 2:14, 15). “And this is the victory that over-cometh—even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
THE FINAL CALL TO HEAR: Saints of God beloved, let the world go by and give ear: “The time is short!” Your salvation is nearer than when you first believed: “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” The world is full of voices today, calling you to hearken to what man is, and has done, and will do, but be thou one of whom some day your Lord will gladly say: “He had an ear, and heard My Voice!”
THE LAST KNOCK
Art thou weary, sad, and lonely,
All thy summer past?
One remaineth, and One only—
Hear His Voice at last.
Voice that called thee all unheeded,
Love that knocked in vain;
Now, forsaken, dost thou need it?
Hear that Voice again.
“Open to Me, my beloved,
I have waited long,
Till the night fell on the glory,
Silence on the song;
“Till the brightness and the sweetness,
And the smiles were fled,
Till thy heart was worn and broken—
Till thy love was dead.
“Thou wouldst none of Me, beloved,
Yet beloved wert thou;
Thou didst scorn Me in the sunshine,
Wilt thou have Me now?
“Soul, for thee I left My glory,
Bore the curse of God—
Wept for thee with bitterest weeping,
Agony and blood.
“Soul, for thee I died dishonoured,
As a felon dies;
For thou wert the pearl all priceless
In thy Saviour’s eyes.
“Soul, for thee I rose victorious,
Glad that thou wert free;
Entered Heaven in triumph glorious— Heaven I won for thee.
“Soul, from Heaven I speak to woo thee— Thee, the lost, the lone;
Earth may fail thee, sin undo thee,
All the more Mine own.
“Sorrow, sin, and desolation,
These thy claim to Me;
Love that won thee full salvation,
This My claim to thee.
“Soul, I knock, I stand beseeching,
Turn me not away;
Heart that craves thee, love that needs thee— Wilt thou say Me nay?”
By V. M.
From Hymns of Ter Steegen, Suso and Others published by Loizeaux Brothers, New York. Used by permission.
One of the most solemn studies in. the whole Bible is that concerning the hearing ear. At the end of the forty years in the wilderness Moses tells Israel that although they had seen all the mighty miracles, Jehovah had not given them, as a nation, eyes to see and ears to hear! (Deuteronomy 29:4.) Neither did they hearken in the land to God’s messengers, the prophets; and Isaiah was commanded judicially to “make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see … hear … understand … turn … and be healed” (6:10). Jeremiah cries, “O foolish people, and without understanding; that have eyes, and see not: that have ears, and hear not.” The Lord Jesus preached openly at first, (Matthew 4:17, with 13:3): then He turned to parables, “because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand … for this people’s heart is waxed gross (literally, ‘grown fat’, from prosperity), and their ears are dull of hearing (literally, ‘hearing heavily,’ that is, sluggishly and imperfectly),and their eyes they have closed” (Hebrew, “smeared over”). “This citation (from Isaiah) gives no countenance to the fatalist view of the passage, but rests the whole blame on the hard-heartedness and unreadiness of the hearers, which is of itself the cause why the very preaching of the word is a means of further darkening and condemning them” (Alford).
Jehovah said to Ezekiel (12:2), “Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of the rebellious house, that have eyes to see, and see not, that have ears to hear, and hear not.” There is nothing more awful than to be hearkening to God’s words with an unopened or uncircumcised ear! Hearing without response brings the fatal delusion—the ability to forget, of James 1:22, 24. “They would not give ear” is God’s continual complaint through the prophets.
Our Lord even says to the disciples in the boat (Mark 8:17, 18), “Do ye not yet perceive, neither understand? have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?” Divine truth enters by the ear: and that act of the will which receives it, is called hearkening, which sometimes involves inclining the ear (from all else).
Now, seven times in the gospels, and eight times in The Revelation—seven times to these churches!—comes this eternally vital, open, yet private call to any opened ear: “He that hath an ear let him hear.”
Know you not that the most of the readers and hearers of the book of the Revelation will not really HEAR, in the sense in which the Lord means—a personal, separating word to “sink down into their ears”?
Seiss remarks, “Fishermen and taxgatherers, by listening to Jesus, presently find themselves in apostolic thrones, and ministering as priests, and rulers of the dispensation, wide as the world and lasting as time.”
I have again and again looked the New Testament through for it, but I can find no Sadducee saved! Can you?
One of the great proofs of the pagan ignorance of the Word of God that obtains everywhere in so-called Christendom, is the readiness of tens of thousands to listen to Eddyism, talking of “mortal mind”! The Bible never applies the word “mortal” to either spirit or soul, but to the body only. See for yourself. The Greek thneetos, mortal (liable to death), is used six times,—Romans 6:12; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 5:4; and the word for immortality (not liable to death,—Greek, athanasia), three times,—1 Corinthians 15:53, 54, and 1 Timothy 6:16; and incorruptibility—Greek, aphtharsia (not possible of corruption), eight times,—Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15: 42, 50, 53, 54; Ephesians 6:24; 2 Timothy 1:10; and Titus 2:7.
Contrast “synagogue,”—a gathering together, the Jewish thing—with “ecclesia,” the called-out-from, away-from, which is God’s word for the Church: “called out” from Judaism and all earthly religion, as well as from the world.
26 The ancient account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, in A.D. 168, eighty-six years after his conversion, is very definite, that the Jews “joined the heathen in clamoring for his being cast to the lions; and, when there was an obstacle to this, for his being burned alive; and with their own hands they carried logs to the pile: the Jews being most desperately forward, as is their custom, to render this service.”
Having lost earthly power under Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews felt nothing was left them but their religious preeminence, which meant their self-righteousness. Now, religious righteousness will do anything, as history fully reveals. For this, “the Jews … killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us (the apostles), … and are contrary to all men; … forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). The Jews are unchanged—except the “remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5). If missionaries to the Jews would pursue Paul’s method of “provoking them to jealousy” by boasting of a Savior they had nationally rejected, instead of offering them the “Messiah” (which God is now not doing!) they would quickly find the same deadly enmity and persecution and violence which Paul suffered. When the opportunity offers, the majority of the Jews will go over openly to Antichrist, as we well know from Daniel 9:27, Isaiah 28:14, 15, and many other plain prophecies. We do well to have “great sorrow” for them as did Paul in Romans 9; to remember that nationally they are “beloved for the fathers’ sake”; and to labor to reach them. But it is folly to close our eyes to their blinded, deadly state! The nation that crucified Christ, stoned Stephen, and most bitterly hated and opposed the gospel of grace preached by Paul, remains unchanged. The fountain for sin and for uncleanness is not yet open for them nationally, nor will it be until “that day” of Zechariah 12:10 to 13:1, when, beleaguered by all the hostile nations of earth, and in despair, they at last “look upon him whom they pierced,” and fall into such mourning as has never been known! They will not believe until they see.
Today Laodicean lukewarmness admits Rabbis, Swamis, Unitarians, and “modern” Bible disbelievers—infidels—to its “religious platforms.” Nevertheless, “synagogue of Satan,” our Lord’s awful name for the Jews that opposed the gospel (that is, the deity, virgin birth, blood atonement and the physical resurrection of our Lord), still remains.
That this Roman Emperor was ever truly a believer one doubts. Fisher (History of the Christian Church) says: “He was never fully weaned from the cultus of Apollo. There were occasions on which he ordered the Pagan soothsayers to be consulted. That he did not receive baptism until the day before his death, was not due, however, to a lack of faith (1) but to the current belief, in which he shared, that the holy laver washed out the guilt of all previous sins.” (Faith in a “holy” vessel, and “water” is not trust in Christ’s blood.)
28 Observe carefully that the true reading is thronos, “throne,” not “seat.”
29 in the bloody conflict for the bishopric of Rome, Damasus, one of the Babylonian priests or Magians, in 366 A.D., secured the office, and finally was conceded from the emperor, the title Pontifex Maximus. According to Zosimus, Constantine had assumed the title in 325, as the heathen emperors before him had appropriated it, “because it contributed to exalt at once the imperial and the episcopal dignity, and served to justify the interference of the emperor in ecclesiastical counsels and in the nomination of bishops.” Gratian was the last emperor to whom the title was applied. The medals of Constantine and his successors, down to Gratian, and the inscriptions relating to them, gave them the title of Pontifex Maximus. Thus was Babylonianism, begun by Nimrod, perpetuated in that which had the name of the Church!
A good deal turns on the position of the last word homoids in the original. It seems to me that the peculiar emphasis in the first part of the sentence on Pergamum’s having, that is, permitting, these Nicolaitans, might be strong enough to attach this last adverb to the fact that she suffered them, rather than to what they taught. Otherwise, we must conclude that the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans taught and practiced the same things: viz. idolatry and license. Whereas, it seems probable that the name Nicolaitans, as we say elsewhere, holds its own interpretation:—laity-bossing clerisy.
See the subject of “mysteries” in Hislop’s “Two Babylons,” or Pember’s “Church Churches, and Mysteries.” (The latter securable second-hand only.)
32 This name “Jezebel,” applied to this Thyatiran, is proof again that God expects us to read from Scripture the deep meanings of the names He uses.
“Jehu answered, “What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?” (2 Kings 9:22).
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name … saying, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people … and stone him to death.” (I Kings 21:5-10; 18:4, 13).
Whoredom, witchcraft, religious fasts,—and murdering Gad’s prophets,—this was Jezebel. Is not this also Rome! Jezebel also supported a horde of idolatrous priests of her own—Babylonians all. See Baal in “The Two Babylons,” Hislop, and “Great Prophecies,” Pember, pp. 138-139.
See “The Deadly Parallel,” G. W. Dowkontt, where Fosdick’s and Paine’s beliefs and teachings are compared, column by column, with Paine preferable!
34 I defy any sincere one to read McGavin’s “Protestant,” or “Fifty Years in the Church of Rome,” by Father Chiniquy (F. H. Revell & Co., New York), or the writings of Liguori, the Roman Catholic “theologian,” and deny that Rome teaches, as well as seduces, to fornication and immorality, in the confessional.
Hear the testimony of an earnest lad:
“When I had confessed all the sins I could remember, the priest began to ask me the strangest questions on matters about which my pen must be silent. I replied, ‘Father, I do not understand what you ask me.’
‘I question you on the sixth commandment’ (in the Bible, the seventh).
Thereupon he dragged my thoughts to regions which, thank God, had hitherto been unknown to me.
I answered him, ‘I do not understand you,’ or, ‘I have never done these things.’
Then skillfully shifting to some secondary matter, he would soon slyly and cunningly come back to his favorite subject, namely, sins of licentiousness.
His questions were so unclean that I blushed and felt sick with disgust and shame. I was so filled with indignation that, speaking loud enough to be heard by many, I told him: ‘Sir I am very wicked; I have seen, heard, and done many things which I regret; but I never was guilty of what you mention to me. My ears have never heard anything so wicked as what they have heard from your lips. Please do not ask me any more of these questions; do not teach me any evil that I do not already know.’”—“Fifty Years in the Church of Rome,” pp. 26-27.
Mr. H. A. Ironside well says, “Romanism is Christianity, Judaism, and Heathenism joined together; and the Lord abhors the vile combination. God gave her (Rome) space to repent, and she repented not. Go back to the days of Savanarola in Italy, Wickliffe and Cranmer in England, John Knox in Scotland, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingle in Switzerland, Calvin in France—all those mighty reformers whom God raised up throughout the world to call Rome to repent of her iniquity, but she repented not. If she had had any desire to get right with Him, she would have repented in the 16th century.” Lectures on The Revelation.
Seiss well calls the attention of those who question whether the seven churches of The Revelation stand for the entire Church in its whole history, to the words of Victorinus, bishop of Petavium, martyred in 303 A. D., and the first church commentator on The Revelation known to us: “Paul first taught as that there are seven churches in the whole world, and that the seven churches are the one entire Church. Paul wrote ‘Ad Romanos, ad Corinthios, ad Galatas, ad Ephesios, ad Thessalonicenses, ad Phillipenses, ad Colossenses’; and John, obeying the same method, has not exceeded the number seven.”
Grotius well says, “Through the reins (Latin, renes) the desires become known; through the heart, the thoughts.”
“‘Hold fast’—aorist: more vivid and imperative than would be the present, setting forth the renewed, determined grasp of every intervening moment of the space prescribed until the time when ‘I shall come’: the aorist gives an uncertainty as to when the time shall be, which we cannot convey in our language.” (Alford)
39 Concerning this De Wette says, “Arriving at full conviction of the certainty of the coming of Christ.”
Luther: “Two degrees of the Christian life: in the first, faith rests upon outward evidences; in the second, on inward revelations of the Spirit.”
Jonathan Edwards: “When Christ was going to heaven, He comforted His disciples with the thought that after awhile He would come again and take them to Himself, that they might be with Him.”
And again: “I have sometimes a sense of the excellent fullness of Christ whereby He has appeared to me far above all, the chief of ten thousands. Once, as I rode out into the woods I had a view that for me was extraordinary of the glory of the Son of God. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought or conception—which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud.” And his seraphic wife thus testifies: “Mr. Sheldon came into the house about ten o’clock and said to me as he came in, ‘The Sun of Righteousness arose on my soul this morning before day’; upon which I said to him in reply, ‘That Sun has not set upon my soul all this night: I have dwelt with Him in heavenly mansions; the light of divine love has surrounded me; my soul has been lost in God and has almost left the body.’” (See Memoirs of Edwards, in his Complete Works.)
See Samuel Rutherford’s Letters, Finney’s Autobiography, especially his last meetings in Boston. See also the hymns that came out of the darkest papal times. These all had The Morning Star! (Appendix I.)
J. A. Froude, the historian, says, “Protestantism has made no converts to speak of in Europe since the sixteenth century. It shot up in two generations to its full stature, and became an established creed with defined boundaries, and it has come about that the old enemies have become friends in the presence of a common foe (anti-churchism and atheism). Catholics speak tenderly of Protestants as keeping alive the belief in creeds, and look forward to their return to the sheepfold, while the scarlet woman on the seven hills, ‘drunk with the blood of the saints,’ is now treated by Protestantism as an older sister, and a valued ally in the great warfare with infidelity. The points of difference are forgotten; the points of union are passively dwelt upon; the remnant of idolatry, which the more ardent European Protestants once abhorred and denounced, are now regarded as having been providentially preserved, as a means of making up the quarrel and bringing back the churches into communion.”
This word, oikoumenee, used fifteen times in the New Testament, seems to be set over against “the wilderness” … “where no man dwelleth. It is in the latter that God will miraculously preserve the remnant of Israel (see chapter 12).
The Greek preposition eh,” says Winer, “denotes procession out of the interior, the compass, the limits, of anything; and is the antithesis of eis (which means into, or into the midst of).”
43 We would add still further that it cannot have the sense of dia—through. Note the Septuagint of Jeremiah 30:7 has apo—“out of it,” in describing Jacob’s preservation in his time of trouble. This seems to be in the sense of removed from it, as the remnant will have a “place in the wilderness” to flee unto! The preposition ek used in Revelation 3:10, describes those who are not in the trouble, but kept away from it.
It is well to note that Noah s family was preserved through (dia) water; whereas Enoch was translated that he should not see death!
The Greek word for take generally indicates receiving, not seizing, as in 1 Corinthians 3:8, 14; and 4:7, three times; and 9:24. Of the twenty-three times it is used in The Revelation, twenty-one describe receiving.
Bengel says, “John in the gospel applies to the old city the Greek name Hierosolyma, but in the Apocalypse always to the holy city the Hebrew name, Hierousalem. The Hebrew name is the original and holier one; the Greek, the recent and more secular and political one.”
“The supper is the evening meal, it is the last taken before the morning breaks and the day dawns. It is long since the apostle said ‘the night is far spent, the day is at hand’: to sup with Christ before morning breaks is a foretaste of the coming glory—the antepast of heaven.”—Ottman.
Our Lord is not now on His own throne, the throne of David. He is at the Father’s right hand, on the Father’s throne, and is now the Great High Priest, leading the worship of His saints; and also our Advocate against the enemy. But He is there in an expectant attitude, as we read in, Hebrews 10:12, 13: “He, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.”