Blackrock Lecture 3: Christ Among the Candlesticks

Revelation 1‑3  •  23 min. read  •  grade level: 8
On previous occasions, beloved brethren, I have sought to bring before you the two great aspects of the church of God as presented in scripture.
First of all, the true thing in its relation to Christ as His body — that which is united to Christ by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; “the assembly which is his body” — and, on the other hand, in its relation to God as His dwelling place on earth, the assembly, or house of God. Of this last, two aspects come out very distinctly in scripture: that which Christ builds, and that which man builds.
They word “church,” or properly “assembly” is used of both the body of Christ and the house of God. That is, if you look into heaven you find Christ gone up there, and the assembly is His body, as seen in Ephesians 1. If you look below here on earth, the house, that is, those who profess Christianity, is “the assembly of the living God” (2 Tim. 3). They are two distinct thoughts, and never confused.
Most of the confusion of Christendom at the present time has come in by the mixing up of these two things. There is also, as we saw, the body of Christ as in 1 Corinthians 12; seen on earth, composed of those who are here, and these only, maintained in power and unity by the Holy Spirit on earth. And Christians on earth were treated practically, as gathered together in any place, as “the body of Christ” in that place: as Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12:2727Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (1 Corinthians 12:27)), “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
We saw too, how man’s responsibility was owned in. carrying out God’s work here below, tracing the house or temple in which man might build and fail in the character of his work, until the complete abandonment of Christianity and the Antichrist.
Now to-night I am about to trace some thoughts from a scripture which is happily more or less familiar to many of us; I mean the first three chapters of Revelation.
I am about to examine it in three ways:
First of all, the attitude in which Christ is seen in the midst of the churches in Revelation, as presented by John.
Then, secondly, what His testimony is to these assemblies: His thoughts as revealed as to the “things that are.”
And lastly, I hope to unfold in some measure what it is to be an “overcomer” in the midst of such a solemn scene.
You will easily accept what I am about to say to you, namely, that Paul could not be the vessel to reveal this aspect of Christ amongst those assemblies. Paul unfolds the Son of God a heavenly Christ, gone up on high, whether as head of His body the assembly, or High Priest. John, on the contrary, speaks of God come down; a Christ walking upon earth, whether manifested there in grace, as in his Gospel; or His judicial dealings as in the Revelation, by which He substantiates His claims here on earth. Paul is “heavenly” in his testimony; with him it is man gone up on high; John is “divine,” and with him it is more God come down, manifestation on earth. This thought is familiar to many.
Hence, in consonance with his other testimony, John is the instrument taken up to show us Christ in this intensely judicial attitude towards the external body which bears His name. We must carefully distinguish Him as Head of His body, ministering nourishment by joints and bands to His “own flesh;” and His judging and scrutinizing, and threatening the external church with excision in result, in her place as a corporate witness on earth.
John is here watching over the fortunes, as it were, of that which Paul had set up; and telling us what Christ will do with it: He is “about to spue” it out of his mouth (Rev. 3:1616So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)).
You will bear in mind the book of the Revelation has specially Christ’s claims upon the earth in view, to be made good when God will bring the First-begotten into the world. But before the visions which point to this end, John is recalled by a voice behind him (his face is with the mind of the Spirit towards the introduction of the kingdom), and he turns about to see the vision; and sees the Lord in this character, and learns what He was about to do with the responsible body here below, which was not emitting the light, to be the responsible vessel of which He had set it up.
“I turned to see the voice that spake with me; and being turned I saw seven golden candlesticks.” They are described as of gold, because set up from a divine source at the first. “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first, and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and having the keys of death and of hades” (Rev. 1:12-1812And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. 17And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Revelation 1:12‑18)).
Here you find Christ’s aspect toward the assemblies as John presents Him. His personal and judicial character, as Son of man, and yet Ancient of Days; judging and discriminating amongst the candlesticks. You do not find His relative characters, such as High Priest, or head of His body the assembly; that is more the Pauline way of presenting Him.
As “Son of man,” He is judge of all — and as such you find Him here. “He hath given him authority to execute judgment also; because he is the Son of man” (John 5:2121For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. (John 5:21)). He is “clothed with a garment down to the foot”; not “laid aside” as for His gracious service of love and washing His people’s feet (John 13); and “girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” His heart and affections are not seen flowing out to His church — His bride, but girded up with a zone of righteousness — not grace.
In Dan. 7, the “Ancient of days” is described as Christ is here; so the Son of man is the Ancient of days as we know even from that prophecy (compare Dan. 7:9, 13, 149I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. (Daniel 7:9)
13I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13‑14)
, and 22). “His eyes as a flame of fire”; this intense personal scrutiny which reached the soul. I dare say some of us may remember (and some may feel it now), when they were uneasy, and conscience was not at rest in the midst of ecclesiastical things around. The effort to explain and excuse matters, under plea that they could not get perfection here, failed to reassure the conscience. They were unable perhaps to account for the sense of disquiet they felt; practices in religious things irreconcilable with scripture, troubled their souls: efforts to be happy and mend matters, and seek personal freedom when in the midst of corporate corruption, were unsuccessful.
What was it that caused this exercise of conscience? Simply this — Christ’s eye was turned upon them; and though they might not have known it, they felt it, and felt too they could not be happy in such connection any more; they could not stand His gaze. How solemn and sad, when you know of those who were once exercised about the evil in which they walked, settling down into it, and the exercises of soul passing away, and conscience acting no more! Christ’s eye has been removed from them, as it were. They did not accept the light, and bowed not when the heart was sensitive to the evil, and now they are left where they desired! How solemn.
He holds all subordinate power — the stars, in His right hand of power; His voice is heard in majesty, and He judges by the word of God the sharp two-edged sword; while His countenance was as the sun shineth in its strength, the symbol of supreme authority.
I pass over the details, desiring only to present the general thought as to the aspect in which He is here seen.
When John saw Him he “fell at his feet as dead.” It was the same disciple whom Jesus loved, and who leaned on His breast at supper in his own familiar place, accepted in the grace of the Lord. Converted by the apprehension of the person of the Lamb of God, and attracted to Him from that moment; here all is changed. This terrible aspect of Jesus as judge, causes him to fall at His feet as dead. He is reassured by “Fear not” — He was the living One who had died, and held in His own hand the keys of death and of hades; He had never given them up. “Hades gates” could not prevail against the Son of the living God; Christ had the keys of all! He had never given them to Peter, nor to any. He gave “the keys of the kingdom of the heavens” to Peter — never the keys of death and hades.
Now He sends seven messages to seven assemblies in Asia through John. There were many others in those provinces, but these are chosen as presenting, in their then state, what will serve the Spirit of God to give us, as in a lengthened out picture, the history of the profession of Christ s name on earth and its responsibility, with His thoughts and judgment of it from the start to the finish.
They may be looked upon in three distinct ways:
1st. As seven existing assemblies whose condition needed the words spoken to each, at the moment.
2nd. As messages containing words to him that hath an ear to hear what the Spirit saith, at all times: and,
3rd. As affording in completeness a prophetic delineation of the history of the whole church in responsibility from immediately after the apostolic times, until its final excision, as a false witness for Christ: “I am about to spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:1616So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)).
Seven (churches) are chosen as the number of spiritual completeness, here conveying the completeness of God’s thoughts as to the subject of which He is treating.
This manner of presentation of what has become history is wise and beautiful, as everything of God must be. For if so many successive and varied phases of the church’s history on earth had been presented as such prophetically foretold, what would have become of the hope of the Lord s coming, given to the saints to be their constant expectation from the time He went away? How be looking for Him if there had been the express revelation that all these things had to take place in the church’s state before He came? The answer is, that in the wisdom of the Spirit of God, the moment they were uttered, all the features were there, and no delay was needed to unfold and develop them; so that He might have come at the moment the messages were penned. And at the same time they would afford a word of encouragement and warning to him that had an ear to hear at all periods; while they would convey, as the “long-suffering of our God waited,” to those who were called, near the close of the period, the most important instruction as to what had passed in successive phases of the church s history, accounting for its state at the end and marking out the path of God in it for any who had an opened ear.
We will take a rapid glance at them, as I do not mean to go into details; this has been ably done by others.
Ephesus presents the state of the church immediately after the first planting of it in apostolic days. Active enough, but her first love for Christ had waned. No activity could compensate for this. He seeks to recall her; “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly and will remove thy candlestick out of his place except thou repent.” She had allowed the light to flicker and grow dim, and there is no more said as to a candlestick in the messages; for from the moment of failure of heart for Christ it was treated as such a departure of the general body, that it ceased to be a true collective and corporate testimony to Christ on earth, though having the place of the candlestick in responsibility till the close.
In the second assembly, “Smyrna,” which answers to the early persecutions of the church which followed, from Nero to Diocletian, you find the Lord turning to account times of tribulation to restore if possible the church’s heart to its normal condition; and Satan the instrument of it. How often it is thus with individual souls. When there is a decline of soul and the danger is of its slipping away from Christ in practice, then comes trial in mercy; the sorrow and tribulation are for good, even to drive back the soul to Christ, from whom it had departed. So with the saints here; though there was poverty in the eyes of the world, Christ could say “Thou art rich”; far different from Laodicea in the end, boasting of herself that she is rich; to her the Lord shows she is poor and miserable and blind and naked.
Now mark in Pergamos how Satan changes his tactics. If he cannot succeed by persecution (which only made Smyrna brighter in testimony, as nearer to Christ), he will try seduction. If he cannot be a lion, he will be a serpent. Here she has settled down to dwell where Satan has his “throne.” It answers to the time of Constantine, when the empire took up the profession of Christianity and patronized the church. Thus, instead of being a thing persecuted and despised by the world, the friendship and patronage of the world became hers and her ruin. In the midst of all an “Antipas” (which means “against everyone”), can be recalled, a faithful witness for Christ, who had suffered death in the place where an unfaithful church was content to dwell. The world which her Lord and Master had refused from Satan’s hands had attracted and overcome her (Matt. 4). She should have trodden in His lowly footsteps. More difficult, therefore, for the faithful ones to stem the torrent of corruption now setting in; yet those that did would be fed by the hidden manna — a humbled Christ — in their lowly path. The doctrine of Balaam was tolerated, and that of the Nicolaitanes — the abuse of grace once hated (vs. 6). Grace was so full that they said in principle, you may live as you like, it will only enhance the grace.
In Ephesus you find they hated the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes; in Pergamos “Thou hast them that hold” it. Alas, how the atmosphere into which the church had slipped had darkened her perception of what was due and suited to Christ! We feel the slightest soil when the heart is with Him. Let the heart start aside like the bow that is broken, and things we would have shuddered at are allowed, and conscience grows dull. Balaam’s seductions were getting a place; indeed they had one already; and yet in the midst of all, “Antipas” — strangely significant his name! — was slain for his faithful testimony of Christ. It was a great thing to be an “overcomer” in such a state of things. An overcomer was one who was stemming the tide and swimming against the stream. Such an one would know what it was to feed upon the “hidden manna,” and to have the “white stone” from Christ. He could understand the path of a humbled Christ, who had refused the seductions of the, world, as the church should have done. None knew the value of the secret approval of Christ, but the one who deserved it and got it.
When Thyatira comes you get another thing. It is the complete corruption of the Popery of the middle ages. You find that instead of being seduced into corruption as Pergamos, the church was now the originatress and propagatress of it. It took its origin in her. Children were born of the corruption (Rev. 2:2323And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:23)). Still Christ owns even increasing devotedness of faithful ones in the midst of such a scene, but evil was allowed. “I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service, and thy patience, and thy last works to be more than the first. Notwithstanding, I have against thee, that thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess; and she teaches and seduces my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not” [as the passage must be read] (Rev. 2:19-2119I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. 20Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. 21And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. (Revelation 2:19‑21)). Up to this message we find the Lord seeking to recall the church to her original condition; now, there was no hope of this, “She repented not,” or more correctly “her will was not to repent.” The corruption had come in and finding a lodgment there, fresh corruption took its rise in that which bore His name on earth: hope, therefore, of recovery is past.
Now, we find two things for the first time mentioned.
First, a remnant in the. midst of the scene of corruption, owned of the Lord; and
Secondly, the Lord s coming as the only resource for the faithful, and instead of any recovery of the church, the kingdom, and the morning star, are presented in hope.
Here I would venture to use a figure, to illustrate the varied states of the professing church. A rainbow is seen to present a number of colors, of which one special color is prominent at a given moment. If you watch it, you will remark that the prominent color softens, and another stands out, and so on. So with these churches: some characteristic which stands out prominently at a given moment is before us, then comes another. All the colors are there at the same time, but a prominent one stands in relief amongst the rest. So all these various features may be found at one and the same moment in the professing church; but at certain moments one stands out markedly from the whole.
Thyatira here is complete corruption and the authoress of it, and no hope of return. The faithful have to hold fast till the Lord comes again. She, was assuming “power over the nations” — the Papacy in the middle ages did this; the faithful would have this, when He came back to whom of right it belongs, but not as in the scene of His rejection, where the corrupt church was usurping it. The “morning star” given them meanwhile would speak of Christ known in heavenly glory, and of the heavenly side of His coming before He appears to take the kingdom, the harbinger of that bright day of earthly glory in which they would be associated with Him in all that He received from His Father.
Read Revelation 2:2424But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. (Revelation 2:24) thus, “But to you I say, the rest [or remnant] who are in Thyatira.” “That which ye have hold fast till I come,” is the word that would test them. It would be time enough to have the kingdom when Christ gets it instead of “reigning as kings” with the church unfaithful to its absent Lord.
When we come to Sardis, which gives us Protestantism since the Reformation, we find that they had “received and heard” much. What use did they make of it? God had wrought, and out of the effect produced in man’s hand came this Sardis state, of which death was the chief feature. Sardis had a name to live, and was really dead before God. The church in Protestantism had not assumed power like Thyatira, but had appealed to the world, and was of the world, and would be treated as the world when He came upon it as a thief.” Their works might look well before men, but they were not perfect before God. If of Thyatira He says, “I will put her into great tribulation”; of Sardis He says, I will treat her as the world, because she is the world and nothing else. This is what is before Protestantism, with a decent outward profession, but wanting in all that would give it reality before God. The Lord’s coming, you will note, is mentioned here, as to the character in which He would come on Sardis. “Till” that event was the thought prominent in Thyatira: “As a thief” in Sardis. See 1 Thess. 5:2-52For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:2‑5) for the solemn force of it.
To Philadelphia it is more the Person who comes that is before the soul; and He comes quickly. This is the calling of God in the closing scenes of the church’s sad history; the prominent color, so to speak: the power of Christ resting upon them in weakness. “A little strength,” is her character, but she uses it, and keeps His “word,” and does not deny His “name.” Beautiful and blessed testimony of His heart to the feeble ones! Philadelphia (“brotherly love”) is not a perfect state of things, but it is God’s state of things;1 and this is what we want.
Silently and quietly she walked in what was suited to His name — the Holy and the True. She could not say, Jehu-like, “Come and see my zeal for the Lord:” which, after all, was characterized at bottom by ambition and cruelty. Nor could she, like Laodicea, boast that she was rich and increased with goods, and had need of nothing.
Thyatira may go into great tribulation — Sardis be found as the world, and treated as the world — Laodicea be ready to be spued out of His mouth: in the midst of all, Philadelphia waits for the Lord, she observes His word and walks in what is suited to His name, and He will keep her out of the hour of temptation (Isa. 24), which comes upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (Rev. 3:1010Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. (Revelation 3:10)).
Christ presents Himself to her as one outside the whole scene — not in an ecclesiastical way as walking amid the candlesticks, but morally according to that which He is in Himself, and as one who disposes of all. Both positively and negatively she is faithful to Christ; yet to others has no apparent strength. She had but little, and she used it for Christ! This was power. People are attracted by power. But how do they look for it? In some great display with brilliant effects, and manifestations of it. Did they ever think of power being manifested in patience? Patience is a sign of power when the church is in ruins. It is to produce this in His people that God puts forth all the resources of His power. “Strengthened with all might according to the power of his glory” (Col. 1:1111Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; (Colossians 1:11)). To what end? you say; “to patience and long-suffering with joy.” What a descent in man s estimation, expecting some brilliant result to draw the attention of all! But patience was the first sign of apostolic power even (2 Cor. 6:44But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, (2 Corinthians 6:4)), and is of more account with God than the most striking manifestation of power.
In Laodicea you find what Satan can do with flesh in man in a religious way. Of her He says, “Thou art neither cold nor hot” and He is about to spue her out of His mouth! The church was called to walk in the Spirit, outside of man and his sphere of things. Here she has completely gone back to walk in the flesh, and is a false witness for Christ. He stands at the door and knocks; He is outside the whole scene, shut out by what bears His name. When this phase of evil is fully manifested, He can bear with the profession no longer. And the judgment threatened in Ephesus is executed with every mark of His disgust. The corruption of the best good is the worst evil, and He treats it as such.
To return to the attitude of Christ among these candlesticks. It will be seen that He calls upon the individual who has an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the church as a whole: not the church, at least from Thyatira down,2 she is corrupt; the overcomer would have his reward. The rewards are suited to the peculiar difficulties each has passed through in faithfulness to Him.
But it will be noted that in all this scripture there is not one single instruction to the individual but to “hear”! Some have found it a matter of much difficulty, why, in the midst of so much that is evil, no directions should be given to clean oneself from it, and to depart from such a state of things. While other scriptures, are clear enough as to the principle, here where such flagrant evil is disclosed, why are there no directions how to act?
The answer is simple. John is watching over the fortunes of that which Paul had been used administratively to set up, and we learn from these addresses what Christ will do with it. He does not unfold what I am to do, but tells me what He will do, and calls upon me to hearken and overcome. If I want to see my own pathway, and what I am to do, I must seek it elsewhere when I have heard what the Spirit says to the churches. I should more likely find my path from Paul, through whom, if he had laid the foundation of the church which had now fallen into decay, we also learn that this would be its history and have inspired directions to meet the changed state of things. To him then, I must turn; as also to other scriptures, to see what the path of an overcomer should be in an evil day. This I hope to enter upon at another occasion.
1. It would be this at any time, and wherever found; but specially characterizing those who go on with Christ, a true remnant at the close; as Laodicea characterizes those who sink into the worldly religion with much boasting around us. These two branch out of the state of things that made Sardis. All four states, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, are contemporary and run on to the end, while commencing after each other in point of time. All are in existence now, for who can deny that Laodicea is manifested?
2. The call to hear hitherto addressed to the whole church is from this point (Rev. 2:2929He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 2:29)) only sounded in the ear of the overcomer. The church as a whole is given up as even having an ear to hear.