The Things Which Are: Church History
Revelation 2 – 3
 
 
The Seven Churches of Asia. There are a number of ways these seven letters can be applied:
  1. Historically: as seven literal churches in Asia Minor with their respective vices and virtues.
  2. Allegorically: as moral principles from each letter that can be applied to us at any time.
  3. Prophetically: as a concise yet complete history of the Church on earth from God’s viewpoint.
Church History. The Bible itself affords us a concise history of the Church. These seven churches are one of three great “sevens” in scripture. It has been said, that if you get a solid grasp of the seven feasts of Jehovah (Lev. 23), the seven parables of the kingdom (Matt. 13), and the seven letters to the assemblies of Asia (Rev. 2-3), you will have a solid outline of God’s ways with His people on earth. The Lord is walking in the midst of the candlesticks with His all-piercing eyes, and demanding from the Church; “give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward (Luke 16:2). The seven addresses are the Lord’s assessment, as Son over His own house, of the Church’s conduct here in this world. The first three churches represent successive periods in church history. In the first three letters, the call to repentance holds out the possibility for the whole Church to return. The last four Churches coexist until the Lord’s coming. All have a mention of the Lord’s coming showing they each continue on until the end. Also, in the last four, God begins to work with only a remnant. We can see this in that with the first three churches the call to “hear what the Spirit saith” precedes the word to the overcomer, indicating that there is still hope for the whole. In the last four, the word to the overcomer precedes the call to hear, indicating that only the overcomers will hear; by that point the whole is beyond hope.
 
General Failure. The details will be taken up in the commentary for each verse, but suffice it to say that the general trend is decline. The The decline begins with leaving our first love, and ends with complete indifference to Christ. Although there have been revivals along the way through the grace of God, the decline has been steady. As will all other dispensations, in the Church period, man once again has failed in his responsibility. If Christ is not retained in the heart (Ephesus), He will be left outside the door (Laodicea).
 
The First Three Churches. The following progression can be seen with the first three churches:
  1. Ephesus    = Christianity
  2. Smyrna     = Christianity + Judaism
  3. Pergamos  =  Christianity + Judaism + Paganism = Christendom
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Historical Context: At this point all the apostles had passed off the scene and John alone was left to watch the decline. John was now on Patmos, watching over Asia, which was the greatest sphere of Paul’s labors, where Paul worked hardest to spread the gospel and the mystery. Earlier, Paul had said that all in Asia Minor had turned away from his doctrine; i.e. the heavenly character of the Church. In spite of the decline, there were overcomers among the churches, and John wrote to encourage them, and to warn those who walked carelessly. John tells them about the rewards to the overcomer but does not tell them how to overcome. For that we have to go back to Paul’s Doctrine.
 

Ephesus: The Church in the Wake of the Apostles (67 A.D. – 167 A.D.)

Ephesus. This first great period of Church history (67 A.D. – 167 A.D.) was characterized by great faithfulness to the Lord, attempts to bring in the clergy, and a loss of first love. Overall, the Church was going on well, but there was a deeper heart-issue that the Lord was seeking to correct.

Greeting and Presentation of Christ (v.1)

CHAPTER 2
To the angel of the assembly in Ephesus [‘desireable’] write: These things says he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamps: v.1 The first assembly addressed is Ephesus. The word Ephesus means ‘desireable’. It represents the period when the Church was in its most desirable state; after the apostles had finished their labors, and the Church had been established in the freshness of divine revelation. This short letter can be thought of as the “second epistle to the Ephesians”, because the Paul had already written one to them. In Paul’s epistle to the believers in this capital of Asia, he unfolded the highest truth that God has in his heart; that of the mystery… of Christ and His Church. The Lord presents Himself to each church in a different way, in keeping with their state. To Ephesus, the Lord is presented as the One who holds “the seven stars in his right hand” or holds the angels (oversight) responsible, but also “walks in the midst of the seven golden lamps” or is interested in testimony of the assemblies. These two characteristics are more general than in the other six letters, perhaps because Ephesus is the church in its most comprehensive form, at the very start of the decline.

Commendation: The Lord Commends before He Reproves (vv.2-3)

¶ 2 I know thy works and thy labour, and thine endurance, and that thou canst not bear evil men; and thou hast tried them who say that themselves are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars; v.2 The Lord first of all commends what He can before He reproves the assembly in Ephesus. And there was much to commend, mainly that they were going on faithfully. They were active in service, patient in trials, ruthless against evil. We will find in v.4, that while they were continuing in all the “right” Christian activities, but the proper spring was gone; compare with 1 Thess. 1:3. I think we all understand this in a practical sense. We do not always walk in communion with the Lord, due to the weakness of the flesh, the temptations of the world, and the devices of Satan. Somehow, there is a separation between our hearts and the Lord. But after we lose our “first love”, we do not instantly fall into practical ruin. We still want to maintain a clear conscience, and so we persist for a time in faithfulness to the Lord’s name, doing what is right. That is what we have in vv.2-3. Note also that, as soon as the apostles began to pass off the scene, Satan was quick to raise up false apostolic successors. The Ephesian saints (the leaders particularly) were faithful in dealing with these false apostles. The force of the text is that these false apostles were “tried” or tested, branded “liars”, and overthrown. The Lord can say, with regard to this, “Good job!”
 
3 and endurest, and hast borne for my name’s sake, and hast not wearied: v.3 The Ephesians showed no sign of giving up in the conflict with evil. They were faithful! There was great opposition to the truth in Ephesus, from both Jews and Gentiles, so much that Paul was forced to leave the city in Acts 19. This persecution came, Jesus tells them, “for my name’s sake”. Yet the brethren there had not wearied. 

Rebuke (v.4)

4 but I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love. v.4 In the entirety of this short letter to Ephesus, this verse gives us the only symptom of a problem there, and it is a problem with the heart. What does is mean that “thou hast left thy first love”? To leave our first love is to let Christ slip in our heart from having the first or best place in our affection. The Lord considers them a “fallen” church (v.5). This departure in affection is the root of all failure. Declension did not begin with a lessening in activity or service, but with the lessening of affection for Christ (see Luke 10:42). Sometimes our “first love” is what we have when we are first saved, and it is chronologically first. But not always. The word “first” here is similar to ‘best’ as in the ‘best robe’ (Luke 15:22). Historically speaking, the “first love” is a place from which the Church has fallen, and to which she has never corporately recovered.

Exhortation (v.5)

5 Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works: but if not, I am coming to thee, and I will remove thy lamp out of its place, except thou shalt repent. v.5 What was the assembly in Ephesus to do? How could they be recovered? Firstly, they must “remember from whence” they had fallen; i.e. think about the enjoyment of first love. Secondly, they were to “repent”; or have a change of heart and mind about their course. Thirdly, they were to “do the first works”, works that characterize those to whom Christ means everything. Clearly, there was a possibility that the assembly would not remember, repent, and do. “But if not”, what would happen? The Lord would come and remove their candlestick. The removal of a candlestick occurs when the assembly forfeits its place as a public lightbearer. At such a time the Lord Jesus would no longer be in the midst (v.1). There is a word that was inserted in the Authorized version that should not be there; the word “quickly”. Why is this important? The Lord does not come quickly to remove a candlestick – He suffers long, as with the Corinthians. He does come quickly for other things; such as to fight against corruption in the assembly (v.16) or to take the assembly to heaven (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20).

Second Commendation (v.6)

6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitanes, which “I” also hate. v.6 The Lord gives the leaders in Ephesus a second commendation, and it is an important one. They hated the works of the Nicolaitanes. What were the Nicolaitanes? It is possibly a reference to the beginning of the clergy, because the name means ‘to conquer’ (nico) ‘the people’ (laitanes). Mr. W. Kelly says it was evil teaching from within the assembly turning the grace of God into licentiousness (see v.15). I am not sure which is correct… perhaps both are. Notice the progression with regard to the Nicolaitanes. Here in Ephesus they hated even the tiniest deed, but in v.15 there are some in the church of Pergamos that hold the doctrines of the Nicolaitanes (see 1 Cor. 15:33).

A Message to the Overcomer (v.7)

¶ 7 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him that overcomes, I will give to him to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God. v.7 Those in Ephesus were called to listen to what the Spirit of God was saying to them. Who do we to listen to? Notice the following contradiction: in the papal system, people are taught to listen to what the church says to the people (they abuse Matt. 18:17), but in the Word of God, people are taught to listen to what the Spirit saith to the churches. If we compare with the gospels (Matt. 11:15) we find that there were “ears to hear” in the Lord’s day, but now there is only “an ear” in Rev. 2-3… only one ear is open now! The promise to the overcome is to eat of “the tree of life which is in the paradise of God”. This speaks of the enjoyment of Christ risen (a source of resurrection life), as the Head of a new creation… a sphere of perfect holiness and joy, where death can never come.
 

Smyrna: The Church under Persecution from Rome (167 A.D. – 313 A.D.)

Smyrna. This second great period of Church history (167 A.D. – 313 A.D.) was characterized by deep suffering of the saints under persecution from from. Ten pagan persecutions unfolded, intermingles by brief periods of rest. The Lord has no rebukes for Smyrna, only commendation and comfort. The persecution helped the church to prosper, but eventually it came to an end.

Greeting and Presentation of Christ (v.8)

¶ 8 And to the angel of the assembly in Smyrna [‘suffering’] write: These things says the first and the last, who became dead, and lived: v.8 The second assembly was Smyrna, which means ‘suffering’. It comes from the word “myrrh”, which was a fragrant herb whose odors were not released without crushing force. As such, myrrh is often a type of suffering in scripture. The assembly is Smyrna suffered greatly under Roman persecution, and so to these suffering saints, Christ is presented as: (1) “the first and the last”, the One who is unchangeably the same, and (2) the One who suffered ultimate defeat and rose triumphant over the grave! If the saints in Smyrna were going to face martyrdom, they would have for a Leader one who suffered death Himself, and was victorious!

Commendation (v.9)

¶ 9 I know thy tribulation and thy poverty; but thou art rich; and the railing of those who say that they themselves are Jews, and are not, but a synagogue of Satan. v.9 The Lord has much to commend them for, because they were faithfully enduring extreme persecution. But there was more than persecution… Satan unleashed a double attack: from without (persecution) and from within (Judaizers). The external attack ultimately failed, the internal attack succeeded. The “tribulation” spoken of here was sent by the Lord to bring the Church back to first love. Who is the “them” in this verse? It refers to the bane of Christianity, those who bring the Church and the believer down to earth. They were not really of Jewish descent, but who mixed Christianity and Judaism (Luke 5:36-39). Through their influence, many of the early Church fathers systematically Judaized the Church. These Judaizers “say they are Jews”; i.e. they claim to be exclusively the people of God… but the Lord says “and are not”! Rather, they are identified with Satan, because they are really doing his work. “Synagogues” in scripture are connected with teaching or doctrine (Matt. 4:23, Acts 6:9). We could summarize this attack as a concerted effort to Judaize the Church through false doctrine.

Exhortation (v.10)

10 Fear nothing of what thou art about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give to thee the crown of life. v.10 The saints in Smyrna could expect great suffering, but the Lord tells them to “fear nothing of what thou art about to suffer”. The devil would “cast into prison” some of them; Satan would not do this personally, but rather he would stir up the Roman government to persecute Christians (compare Rev. 12:3). The persecution would last “ten days”, which implies a brief and limited time; see Gen. 24:55, Neh. 5:18, Jer. 42:7, Dan 1:12, and Acts 25:6. The Lord assures them the tribulation has a limitted duration. Also, each day may represent on of the ten pagan persecutions, under: Nero (54), Domitian (81), Trajan (98), Adrian (117), Septimus Sevarus (193), Maximin (235), Decius (249), Valerian (254), Aurelian (270), and Diocletian (284). The “crown of life” is for the martyr who makes the ultimate sacrifice, but it is also for any believer who faithfully endures the trials of this life (James 1:12). 

Message to the Overcomer (v.11)

¶ 11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He that overcomes shall in no wise be injured of the second death. v.11 To the suffering saints in Smyrna, the reward held out to the overcomer is the enjoyment of eternal security. Persecutors may kill your body, but they can never kill your soul. The second death is eternal separation from God (Rev. 20:14). You might ask, doesn’t every believer have eternal security? How can this be a special reward? It is a special reward in the same way the overcomer in Sardis is promised that his name would not be blotted out of the book of life. It is the enjoyment of the fact in addition to the fact itself.
 

Pergamos: The Church Settles Down in the World (313 A.D. – 580 A.D.)

Pergamos. This third great period of Church history (313 A.D. – 580 A.D.) was characterized by increasing worldliness in the Church. Constantine became emperor of Rome in 306 A.D. partly through his popularity with the army. In 312 A.D. he united the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire by putting down Maxentius’ rebellion, at the battle of the Milvian bridge; where he became convinced of the value of Christianity (“in this sign conquer”). One year later, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan (Feb. 313 A.D.) which was the agreement to treat Christians benevolently within the Roman Empire. This changed the Roman Empire’s policy toward Christians. This was the great relief Christians had earnestly desired for decades in the Smyrna period. It was around ten years later, in 324 A.D., that Constantine forced Christianity on his empire through baptism. Roman persecution stopped, the ranks of Christians shot up, and empty pagan temples and feast days were offered to the Church. Outwardly, it was a great success. But inwardly, there was a great danger in all of this worldly favor. Satan had failed to undermine the Church through persecution, but now the test of prosperity was succeeding. Sadly, the Church took the bait. For the first time in Church history, we see a union between Church and state; a union which is obnoxious to God. Furthermore, Constantine became the head of the Christian church, yet never relinquished his place as head of the pagan church. Therefore, we see in the Pergamos period, not only a union between the Church and state, but between Christianity and Paganism. This mixture is called Christendom.

Greeting and Presentation of Christ (v.12)

¶ 12 And to the angel of the assembly in Pergamos [‘marriage’] write: These things says he that has the sharp two-edged sword: v.12 The third assembly addressed is Pergamos, which means ‘marriage’. Throughout this period of Church history, the church was drawn into an unholy union with the world; a place that was completely untenable with the heavenly calling and hopes of the Church. There was great outward growth, but much of it was not real. Accordingly, the Lord is presented as having “the sharp two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), because much of the “growth” was portentous and corrupt. The sword of the Spirit alone can discern where there is reality in the heart.

Commendation (v.13)

¶ 13 I know where thou dwellest, where the throne of Satan is; and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in the days in which Antipas [‘against all’] my faithful witness was, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. v.13 In spite of the worldliness, there was much that Pergamos could be commended for. Firstly, the Lord could say, “thou holdest fast my name”. Although they were in a compromised position, the Spirit saw to it that the doctrine of the Person of Christ and the Trinity were preserved and that the word of God was canonized (see below). “Satan’s throne” is the world’s system, and that is where Pergamos dwelt. A precarious place for a Christian to be, let alone dwell. We cannot forget that Satan is the god of this world religiously (2 Cor. 4:4), and the prince of this world politically (John 12:31). By getting entangles with this world, Christians fall into the domain of Satan. In the Pergamos period, for the first time, history witnessed a union between Church and State. Yet, in spite of all this mixture, there was “a faithful witness” (see Rev. 1:5). A faithful witness is what Christ was to God, and also what the Church should have been but failed to be. In those days, there was tremendous pressure to give up the fundamental tenets of Christian doctrine. Antipas was on an island… so faithful that he was murdered right under the nose of the angel of the church in Pergamos.
 
Arius and Athanasius. Throughout the Pergamos period, the Church of God was assaulted by one attack after another against the Person of Christ. In the late third century, a storm was again brewing in the Church. Two schools had emerged, one centering in Antioch with a strong Judaizing focus, and the other in Alexandria with a strong Hellenistic focus. A young man named Arius arose as an instrument of Satan from the Jewish corridor, and God raised up Athanasius of Alexandria, another young man, to counter this attack. Arius said, “If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he had his substance from nothing”… thus denying the eternal existence of the Son of God, and the Trinity. It was based on a human, experiential view of the Father-Son relationship, rather than a scriptural view. Arius taught that the Father “begat” or gave being to another god, called God’s Son, who in turn created everything else, including the Holy Spirit. Arianism spread quickly, and soon Christendom was divided. The Emperor Constantine called the first ecumenical council in Nicaea in A.D. 325 to sort the matter out. The Emperor personally subscribed to Arianism, but really wanted to see the empire united. Athanasius was seen running from room to room over the month-long council, defending the eternal deity of Christ. After much bickering and long deliberations, the council produced the Nicene Creed which, for all its flaws, affirmed that Jesus Christ was homoousios (same substance) as the Father, and affirmed the Trinity as one God, with three co-eternal, co-equal Persons. It also anathematized Arius and his followers. Athanasius spent the rest of his life combating Arianism, and was exiled five times for his faithfulness. He is probably not the same person as Antipas who was martyred, but it is significant that Athanasius became known to history as Athanasius Contra Mundum, which is Latin for ‘Athanasius Against the World’.
 
Canonization of the New Testament. While the Old Testament was canonized in the first century before Christ, the New Testament was left to languish for many years. It was through the faithfulness of some in the Pergamos period (chiefly Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria) that the canon was formally received. In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius gave a list of exactly the same books that would formally become the New Testament canon. He even used the word “canonized” with regard to these books. However, it wasn’t until Pope Damasus commissioned the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible in A.D. 383 that the canon was really “fixed” in the West. The first ecumenical council that accepted the canon was the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa in A.D. 393, twenty years after Athanasius’ death.

Rebuke (vv.14-15)

14 But I have a few things against thee: that thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a snare before the sons of Israel, to eat of idol sacrifices and commit fornication. v.14 There are two doctrines that Pergamos is rebuked for: the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. Evil doctrines are like bananas… they come in bunches. When we give up one part of the truth of God, soon we will give up more. This is because the truth of God is interconnected. Read more… The doctrine of Balaam had two parts, which are listed in reverse order from the story in Num. 25. Here the more serious part is mentioned first.
  • Part II: get the people identified with pagan idols through rituals.
  • Part I: get the people going after the pleasures of Satan’s world (v.20).
15 So thou also hast those who hold the doctrine of Nicolaitanes in like manner. v.15 A second brand of evil doctrine is “the doctrine of Nicolaitanes” (c.p. v.6). In Ephesus, the assembly hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, but now it has been systematized into a doctrine held by some in Pergamos. Note that the angel didn’t hold it, but tolerated those who did. We cannot know for sure what the doctrine of Nicolaitanes is. It may be the teaching that sin is acceptable (Jude 4), which is the view of William Kelly. Another possibility is that the name (“nicol” – to conquer, “laity” – the people) indicates that this is the start of the clergy; a class of those who set themselves above the people.

Exhortation (v.16)

16 Repent therefore: but if not, I come to thee [the angel] quickly, and I will make war with them [the corrupters] with the sword of my mouth. v.16 The exhortation is to repent, to change their thoughts, to turn away from the world to Christ. If they did not repent, the Lord warns that He would come to the angel (“thee” is singular), and “make war” with those who held and taught the evil doctrines (“them” is plural). This “coming” is not at the rapture or the appearing, but an immediate governmental dealing with these ones by the Lord.

Message to the Overcomer (v.17)

¶ 17 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him that overcomes, to him will I give of the hidden manna; and I will give to him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he that receives itv.17 The overcomer is promised a portion of “the hidden manna”, which is a contrast with eating things offered to idols. Manna generally is a type of Christ, who said “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51). Jesus showed that, as a man on the earth, He was the antitype of the manna that fed Israel in the wilderness. We can and must feed on Christ in this way, occupying ourselves with Him in His humility and perfect grace. The manna ceased when Israel entered the land of Canaan. The hidden manna (Ex. 16:33) was a special sample of manna that was put into the ark of the covenant “before the Lord”, where it remained until the ark was taken away. It speaks of a future enjoyment of Christ in His pathway down here, which we will have in heaven after the struggles are over. We will have a greater appreciation of His pathway in that day than we do now! The “white stone” is a figure taken from Roman culture. Stones were used in voting, etc., and a white stone symbolized approval or agreement. For the overcomer, a white stone with a secret name is the expression of Christ’s personal approval of our walk as overcomers; secretly between us and the Lord.
 

Thyatira: The Church Rules the World – Dark Ages (580 A.D. – mid week)

Thyatira. In this fourth great period in Church history (580 A.D. – middle of the tribulation) we see the lowest point in Church history. This is the longest letter of the seven, and it is primarily occupied with rebuke. The worldliness in Pergamos threw open the door for Satan to invade the professing Church. A false ecclesiastical system called Popery arose in the Thyatira period, which continues to this day. The clergy, which we saw the beginnings of in the Ephesus period, now seized full control of the Church. In this system, the Church arrogated to herself political power, and ruled the world from that position in corruption and deceit. Subjects of this wicked system were forced to agree with the decrees of the papal authorities, or face punishment, torture, and death. A vast system of commerce and taxation arose for the enrichment of those at the top. Many of those at the top had little care for the common man, and deep darkness covered the moral landscape. The doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone was almost completely lost. The authority of the Word of God was completely cast aside, and replaced by the teaching of the church, or Catechism. Islam was founded in 612 A.D. and rapidly began pushing into “Christian” territories through the use of violent force. Rather than turn to Christ in repentance, the Church undertook military campaigns against the Muslims which lasted for centuries. The Great Schism occurred in 1054 A.D. dividing the church in its outward testimony; the Western (Roman) Catholic Church was separated from the Eastern (Orthodox) Church. The eastern branch of the Church became very much frozen in time, though beaten down in many areas by Islamic forces, while great changes lay in store for the western church. In the West, the grip of the wicked Papal system stunted the entire development of the Western world; morally, academically, and technologically, resulting in what is called “the Dark Ages”. The west launched a number of disastrous crusades to the Holy Land at the request of the Byzantine emperor for help against Muslim invasion. In the later middle ages, Europe was wracked with political and social upheaval, and epidemic disease (the Black Death). The church remained in a very low condition until God, in His great mercy, gave a recovery beginning in the late 15th century and more fully in the 16th century called the Protestant Reformation.

Greeting and Presentation of Christ (v.18)

¶ 18 And to the angel of the assembly in Thyatira [‘continual sacrifice’] write: These things says the Son of God, he that has his eyes as a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass: v.18 The name Thyatira means “continual sacrifice”, which may refer to the Catholic mass… a continual re-sacrificing of the Lord’s body and blood each weak (read more…). The Lord presents Himself to Thyatira as “the Son of God”; which is His eternal, ontological, intra-Trinitarian identity. As Son of God, Christ is the true Rock on which the Church is built (Matt. 16:16-17). Notice that the Lord generally presents Himself to the Churches in a character seen in the vision in ch.1, but “Son of God” is a distinct title not mentioned in the vision (contrast “Son of man”, Rev. 1:13). Why bring out His title in Divinity rather than manhood? Because the evil in the Church had risen to such a height in Thyatira that Christ was now retreating from the human side into the Divine side. Such is the result of the evil man has brought into association with His Name. But His eyes and feet are taken directly from the vision in ch. 1. His eyes are piercing, His feet are treading out judgment. What His eyes discover, His feet tread upon.

Commendation (v.19)

¶ 19 I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service, and thine endurance, and thy last works to be more than the first. v.19 This commendation has primarily to do with helping those in need. It is interesting that the Catholic church has often been a charitable organization. The sense of “thy last works to be more than the first” is that as the day gets darker, the last or more recent works shine brighter.

Rebuke (vv.20-23)

20 But I have against thee that thou permittest the woman [‘thy wife’] Jezebel, she who calls herself prophetess, and she teaches and leads astray my servants to commit fornication and eat of idol sacrifices. v.20 The rebuke to Thyatira for allowing a corrupt ecclesiastical order to arise and seize control of the assembly. This corrupt ecclesiastical system that aligns the Church with the world and promotes idolatrous practices is called “Jezebel”. It is a reference to the Catholic system. William Kelly says there is sufficient manuscript support to render v.20 “thy wife Jezebel”. The angel was married to this woman. Just as Ahab allowed himself to be controlled by his wife, yet was responsible (1 Kings 21:25), so the angel of the assembly in Thyatira was responsible for “permitting” this false system to go on. She called herself “prophetess”; claiming that she was the mouthpiece of God. One cannot help but think of the dark ages where Catholicism squashed any ministry that was not sanctioned by the clergy. It says “she teaches”… teaching is a role she assumed for herself. The Church scripturally doesn’t teach, it is taught. What did Jezebel teach? She taught the assembly to “commit fornication” and “eat of idol sacrifices”. These are the same two elements of the doctrine of Balaam (v.14), held by some in Pergamos, now taught by the woman Jezebel in Thyatira. The order is reversed again (same as in Num. 25) because it is in practice; the people go after worldly pleasures, then get involved in idolatry.
 
21 And I gave her time that she should repent, and she will not repent of her fornication. v.21 The Lord has been very patient with Thyatira; she has had 1400 years to repent. But Christ declares beforehand that there is no repentance or reformation for this awful system; “she will not repent”. What is it that Jezebel clings to particularly, and will not give up? She loves power, and the pleasures that power affords; she will not repent of “her fornication”. Therefore, a remnant is distinguished in v.24. But before the remnant comes into view, the judgment of Jezebel must first be declared vv.22-23.
 
22 Behold, I cast her into a bed, and those that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and her children will I kill with death; vv-22-23a The full details of the judgment of Jezebel are given in Rev. 17-18. Notice that she is pictured as a mother. The true Church is called the bride and the wife of Christ, but never a mother. Later we find that the false Church is called “the mother of harlots”. Let us remember that the ecumenical movement is nothing less that the mother of harlots calling her children home. Three classes are judged:
  1. Jezebel herself; the false system.
  2. Her lovers; the businesses and organizations that profit from relations with her.
  3. He children; the souls that are ‘born’ of her false principles.
note: (1) + (2) appear to be judged around the middle of the week while perhaps (3) may be judged at the appearing. “With death” – total apostasy, they will worship the beast. “WITH DEATH” – TOTAL APOSTASY, THEY WILL WORSHIP THE BEAST.
 
23b and all the assemblies shall know that “I” am he that searches the reins and the hearts; and I will give to you each according to your works. v.23B forseeing the judgment that will fall on jezebel and her  relations in the great tribulation convinces all the churches that Christ searches (1) the reins – the controlling motives, and (2) the hearts – the affections and objects, and… “I will give to you each” – there is a coming day of examination and reward, be it good or evil.

Exhortation (vv.24-25)

24 But to you I say, the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I do not cast upon you any other burden; v.24 his eye now turns to a remnant company. there were a few – perhaps the Albigenses and Waldenses – who stood aloof from the mother of harlots… and suffered for it. “this doctrine” – Jezebel’s two-part doctrine (see v.20). “depths of Satan” – the deepest, darkest evil that has ever existed in Christendom. “as they speak” – as Jezebel had falsely accused the overcomers of heresy. “none other burden” – no fresh development of truth (like Ephesus) is laid upon them. but in v.25, a holding fast of the fundamentals. There are some too in the Catholic system who are real believers, but they are afraid to leave the system. He wasn’t going to put a burden on them that they couldn’t bear. They should hold fast what they have until the Lord comes to take them out of the system. In Ezekiel 9, the man with an ink horn was to go through Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who “sigh and that cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof”. They hadn’t left the city, but they were marked by hopeless resignation. By God’s mercy, when the moment of judgment came, they were not judged with the city. However, this verse cannot be used to allow evil to go on in the assembly. The assembly is responsible to deal with evil. 
 
25 but what ye have hold fast till I shall come. v.25 The Lord’s coming is presented to the last four churches because a representation of each will be on earth at the rapture. whole recovery is out of the question, but the rapture is not.

Message to the Overcomer (vv.26-29)

26 And he that overcomes, and he that keeps unto the end my works, to him will I give authority over the nations, v.26My works” – compare with “your works” in v.23. The reward is “power“. to the despised overcomer in the time when the false church rules the world is promised the future portion of reigning with Christ over the nations.
 
27 and he shall shepherd them with an iron rod; as vessels of pottery are they broken in pieces, as I also have received from my Father; v.27 This reward is given to the son (v.27, compare psa. 2:9) and then shared with us!
 
28 and I will give to him the morning star. v.28 an enjoyment of Christ in the hope of his coming for the church (see rev. 22:16). the morning star, VENUS (THE RAPTURE) precedes the RISING OF THE sun (THE appearing of Christ, mal. 4:2). It is more the person than the event. Those in this remnant of Thyatira that lived before the recovery of the truth did not have “the morning star” in its detail; but they knew that they would be vindicated in a future day (e.g. John Huss).
 
¶ 29 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. v.29 With the last four churches, THE CALL to hear comes after the message to the overcomer indicating that the mass won’t hear. the only listening ears are among the remnant – the overcomers.
 

Sardis: Dead Protestantism (1529 A.D. – Appearing)

The Reformation. In the dark ages two critical truths were lost that were recovered in the reformation: (1) the authority of the scriptures, and (2) salvation by simple faith. (not justification by faith, because the reformers really didn’t understand justification in its full sense: our position ‘in Christ’. Sardis is not the Reformation but what the Reformation deteriorated into when Protestant appealed to the national government for protection from Rome. It became dead FORMALISM. they had come out of Catholicism, but Catholicism has not come out of them. The reformation of a corrupt system is futile. A dead body with a face-lift. God starts fresh with Philadelphia.
 
The Reformers. There is an Old Testament type of the reformers in the person of Jehu, God used Jehu to break the power of Jezebel and her daughter. Jehu was raised up by God, as the Reformation began as a work of God. But Jehu used fleshly means to break that power, just as the Reformers later set up national churches to gain the protection of the secular powers from the persecution of Rome. This was the downfall of the Reformation, and it resulted in spiritual deadness.

Greeting and Presentation of Christ (v.1a)

CHAPTER 3
¶ 1 And to the angel of the assembly in Sardis [‘those escaping’] write: These things saith he that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: v.1Aseven spirits” – inward power… “Seven Stars” – outward authority. Compare with the presentation of Christ to ephesus. Here the emphasis is that Christ is the only one who holds the source of light and power for the souls (vs. national governments). They are at his disposal to bless.

Rebuke (v.1b)

I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. v.1b They had a name (stood for reality, separation from corrupt rome) but inwardly they were just as dead.

Exhortation (vv.2-3)

2a Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die, v.2a The things that are ready to die refers to the godly exercises of the reformers. They read the scriptures, accepted them as the inspired Word of God, and applied it to themselves. An attitude of living reality vs. dead formalism. Be watchful concerning the disease of spiritual deadness.
 
2b for I have not found thy works complete before my God. v.2b They failed to go all the way back to the apostles’ doctrine.
 
3a Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and keep it and repent. v.3a It was a question of walking in the truth they had already received. Walk in the light we have and God will show us more, E.G. Josiah II Kings 22 + 23.
 
3b If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I shall come upon thee. v.3b for those who are not watching for his coming (for his saints), they will be surprised as a thief at the appearing (with his saints) – e same way he comes on the world, I Thess. 5:2-4.

Commendation of a Remnant (v.4)

4a But thou hast a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, v.4a The defilement of garments here is not so much the defilement of the flesh (Jude 23) – although perhaps included – rather it is the defilement of death, an outward form with no inward reality.
 
4b and they shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy. v.4b A present walk with the Lord Jesus in separation from evil: a present privilege.

Message to the Overcomer (vv.5-6)

¶ 5 He that overcomes, “he” shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, and will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. v.5 The promised reward is three-fold (all to be received future):
  1. A public reward for walking down here separate from evil.
  2. Many of their names have been blotted out of church registers… Never out of God’s (mere professors will be.)
  3. A despised name before men (Luke 12:8) at the present time, an elevated name before God in that day.
The Lamb’s Book of Life has the elects’ names written from the founding of the world, Rev. 13:8. This book, another aspect of the same, has names written upon profession, then blotted if unreal when the door of mercy closes.
 
¶ 6 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.
 

Philadelphia: The Recovery of the Truth (1827 A.D. – Rapture)

No call to repent for philadelphia. In Smyrna it was because the persecution was so intense. But in Philadelphia it was because they had already repented of proceeding evil: Sardis – repented from dead formalism – making the King the head of the Church, appealing to governments for protection. Thyatira – separated from the wickedness of the Catholic system. pergamos – separated from pagan practices that had the mixed in. Smyrna – separated from the Judaistic practices that had been mixed in. Ephesus – they emphasized communion.
 
The synagogue of Satan rejected the Lord to keep their place and nation (see John 11:48). The clergy rejected the Philadelphians for the same reasons.

Greeting and Presentation of Christ (v.7)

¶ 7a And to the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia [‘brotherly love’] write: v.7a philadelphia is characterized by a practical expression of love and unity (see eph. 4:2-3).
 
7b These things saith (1) the holy, the true; (2) he that has the key of David, (3) he who opens and no one shall shut, and shuts and no one shall open: v.7b A moral progression is seen with this company:
  1. their heart engaged with Christ they got a sense of who he is as the Holy one and true. This led them to separate from anything inconsistent with himself (II tim 2:21). this was very painful, see reward, v.12
  2. He gave them to see that the government of the world will be given to Christ in the millennium (see eph. 1:10)
  3. Understanding this key, god threw open the door (v.8) of the treasure house of the Scriptures to enjoy and keep: first prophecy, then the identity and hopes of the Church, the Rapture, the activity of the Spirit, the individual standing of the believer, assembly order, etc.

Commendation and Encouragement (vv.8-10)

¶ 8a I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an opened door, which no one can shut, v.8a God’s sovereignty set before them an open door for worship in service; an open door to practice the recovered truth. But they were (and we are) responsible to use that door.
 
8b because thou hast a little power, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. v.8b Three characteristics. Several important commendations are given to the Philadelphians:
  1. A little power. Philadelphia was marked by having power, but only in small proportion. It is actually the same word as “power” in Acts 4:33 at the beginning of the Church period. It is the same power, just a smaller scale (little vs. great). This is consistent with God’s ways. It is not His way to produce great power in a time of general ruin (Ezra 4:11-13). Likewise, it is not the Churches place to seek greatness in light of the collective failure that has come in. Nevertheless, they did have “a little strength”, and that strength was a result of communion (John 15:4-5). 
  2. Kept His Word. The second thing that marked this assembly was that they “kept” the Word of Christ. The idea of keeping the Word is to treasure it (Luke 2:19). They were not merely hearers of the Word, they were doers (Jam. 1:22, John 14:21-23). Notice that it is the ‘logos’ (word) here, as opposed to the ‘rhema’ (words). Read more… They kept the Word holistically. They did not pick and chose which parts to treasure and practice.
  3. Did not Deny His Name. A name has the thought of character. They practically reflected the character of Christ to the world. It means honoring his name: in thought, in doctrine, in practice, in gathering, in discipline, etc.
There is a path without evil (Job 28:7)… and the Philadelphians had found it. 
 
9a Behold, I make them of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie; v.9A The same evil that was introduced in Smyrna (rev. 2:9) rears its head to try to ruin the recovery. “Synagogue” – a form of Judaism pressed on the church. “Of Satan” – he is behind it. “Say they are Jews” these claimed to be exclusively the people of God. The synagogue of Satan treated the Philadelphians as Nabal treated David, I Sam. 25:10.
 
9b behold, I will cause that they shall come and shall do homage before thy feet, and shall know that “I” have loved thee. v.9B Not that the saints of God will be worshiped, but that the Lord will compel recognition of his faithful witnesses perhaps rejected now. He loves all his people but has a special affections for these.
 
10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, “I” also will keep thee out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. V.10 living as waiting for his coming, we have fellowship with him in his patience – ii thess. 3:5. hour of trial – refers to the entire portfolio of judgement from the beginning of daniel’s 70th week through the indigna-tion. whole habitable world – there will be no escape. only way to be exempted is to be “kept out of” it, like enoch was kept out of the flood. earth dwellers – those who have rejected heaven’s offer in favor of earth. mentioned ten times in revelation (rev. 3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10, 13:8, 13:12, 13:14, 14:6, 17:2, 17:8). they have “re-ceived not the love of the truth, ii thess. 2:8. a special class.

Exhortation (v.11)

11 I come quickly: hold fast what thou hast, that no one take thy crown. v.11 Points to the immanency of the Lord’s return. With joy, not a threat. The danger is to let slip on parts of the recovered truth. The crown is for those who carry the treasure safely across the wilderness – Ezra 8:24-34. There will be opposition? Or maybe if I am unfaithful the Lord will raise up another.

Message to the Overcomer (vv.12-13)

¶ 12a He that overcomes, him will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more at all out; v.12a Of all the rewards for overcomers, this is the highest! A “pillar” is a symbol of strength (I Kings 7:21 Jachin and boaz) in a future day, in contrast with “a little power” now. Also: “pillar” is the thought of testimony. “temple” – A place of the worship of God – contrast with a synagogue of Satan. “go no more out” – A fixed state – a contrast with the “going out” required in separation from evil.
 
12b and I will write upon him (1) the name of my God, and (2) the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven, from my God, and (3) my new name. v.12b Three inscriptions on the pillar:
  1. A special enjoyment of fellowship with God.
  2. a special enjoyment of being part of the Church of God as the Bride of Christ (rev. 21:9-10). the “latter glory of this house” – see hag. 2:9.
  3. A special enjoyment of relationship with Christ as a glorified man in the new creation, II Cor. 5:16-17.
¶ 13 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. 
 

Laodicea: The Church in a Lukewarm State (1848 A.D. – Rapture)

laodiceanism is characterized by: substituted humanity for christ; denying the total depravity and ruin of man; denial of eternal punishment and the necessity of atonement; denial of the apostasy of the successive dispensations; etc. it is possible – perhaps common – to be in a philadelphia position but a laodicean condition. the colossian epistle is a good remedy for laodicea.

Greeting and Presentation of Christ (v.7)

¶ 14 And to the angel of the assembly in Laodicea [‘rights of the people’] write: v.14a Speaks of how democratic ideas have influenced the church. Laodicea seems to rise up out of contempt for Philadelphia.
 
14b These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: v.14b Christ presents himself in three ways:
  1. The one who will fulfill all the promises (II cor. 1:20).
  2. In contrast to the church’s utter failure as a candlestick.
  3. Everything connected with the first man has failed, but Christ in resurrection began a new creation – it can never fail.

Rebuke (vv.15-17)

¶ 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; a|b I would thou wert cold or hot. v.15 Lukewarmness is Neutrality – complete indifference to Christ. The Lord would prefer love, but even hatred over indifference.
 
16 Thus because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of my mouth. v.16 Like eating a cherry and spewing out the pit, Laodicea will be formally disowned by Christ at the Rapture – left behind.

Two assessments… man’s and god’s (v.17)

17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and am grown rich, and have need of nothing, v.17a The Church’s assessment: Note that while Philadelphia doesn’t say a word, Laodicea boasts. Only head-knowledge. “I am rich” – Spiritually rich. they thought they had a great deal of gift and truth. “Am grown rich” – Not only took credit for what they had but with how they got it. “Have need of nothing” – Completely self sufficient.
 
17b and knowest not that “thou” art (1) the wretched and (2) the miserable, and (3) poor, and (4) blind, and (5) naked;  v.17b The Lord’s assessment: They were unaware of their true spiritual condition (Jud. 16:20, Matt. 25:3). A five-fold assessment: (1) wretched – at the end of oneself having utterly failed every attempt. (2)  miserable or pitiable – such a bad condition it draws pity or mercy from others. (3) Poor – possessing nothing of spiritual value. (4) Blind – to their state and the Lord’s glory. (5) Naked – their condition exposed… destitute of divine and practical righteousness.

Exhortation (vv.18-20)

18 I counsel thee to buy of me (1) gold purified by fire, that thou mayest be rich; and (2) white garments, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not be made manifest; and (3) eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. v.18 Very tender. If they would take it, his counsel would meet their needs. “BUY”: a solemn transaction between the soul and god.
  1. divine righteousness in Christ – The purest kind, for their salvation.
  2. Practical righteousness displayed in the life (Rev. 19:8) produced by the Spirit (Gal. 5).
  3. Anointing of the Holy Ghost – to have discernment in spiritual things… To be able to perceive what it is that God values.
19 I rebuke and discipline as many as I love; be zealous therefore and repent. v.19as many as i love” – The angel and the mass are false professors… in this verse he speaks to those who are real but have a Laodicean spirit. The Lord’s love is always put into juxtaposition with his people in a day of ruin (Rev. 3:19, Jer. 31:3, Mal. 2:1, John 13:1) Why? See Rom. 2:4. “rebuke and chasten” – The motive for both is love. In this case he is doing it through this letter.
 
20 Behold, I stand at the door and am knocking; if any one hear my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with me. v.20 He is outside the door of the assembly – they had shut out the head of the Church! How sweet… He does not walk away but begins to knock (continues to the rapture) and speaks softly. “any one” – it is Individual. There is no call for collective restoration. He will not force his way in. The thought of “sup” is fellowship. He awaits the response of the heart.

Message to the Overcomer (vv. 21-22)

¶ 21 He that overcomes, to him will I give to sit with me in my throne; as “I” also have overcome, and have sat down with my Father in his throne. v.21 The Laodiceans said dethroned Christ in their hearts. The overcomer (any saved person) will share Christ’s throne. However, this is perhaps the lowest of all the rewards, because everyone that has part of the first resurrection will reign with Christ (Rev. 20:4), even Old Testament saints. For those who are thinking “I don’t know if I can humble myself to do that”, JUST think about the Lord Jesus and what He had to do to overcome… Phil. 2:5-11.
 
¶ 22 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.
 
Who at my door is standing, by Mary B. Slade
 
Who at my door is standing,
Patiently drawing near,
Entrance within demanding?
Whose is the voice I hear?
 
    Sweetly the tones are falling;
    Open the door for Me!
    If thou wilt heed My calling,
    I will abide with thee.
 
Lonely without He’s staying;
Lonely within am I;
While I am still delaying,
Will He not pass me by?
 
All through the dark hours dreary,
Knocking again is He;
Jesus, art Thou not weary,
Waiting so long for me?
 
Door of my heart, I hasten!
Thee will I open wide.
Though He rebuke and chasten,
He shall with me abide.
 
 

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