Fragment on Revelation 2:1-11

Revelation 2:1‑11  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 7
It is good to be occupied with spiritual affections, or rather with the subjects which vivify them, with those things which are not seen, which God has revealed to us, and which are of the world to come. The Holy Spirit presents to us many of those things which we shall enjoy later, and with much more detail than we can expect.
That which the Spirit says to the churches is for the peace and the joy of the children of God in the glory which is coming. The Spirit says, " He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This, therefore, concerns us individually. According to His faithfulness, the Lord Jesus takes cognizance of the present state of the church. That which is in question here is not accomplished salvation, but the particular state in which the church is found, or even the state of such and such an individual, as we may judge from verse 2. " I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience," etc. Then also, " He that hath an ear, let him hear," etc. At the same time, Jesus is there revealed to us as judging the state of those to whom this is addressed. There are also particular promises fit to sustain the remnant of faithful ones, in the midst of the special circumstances by which their faith is tried. The promises which are presented here, differ from those which are made to the church in an absolute and general manner. They apply also to the church, and the church enjoys them. However, they have particularly as their object to sustain faith in the circumstances in which we may be found, whether as a remnant in the midst of the unfaithfulness of the mass of the professors, or as faithful in the midst of the trials which we are called to pass through. Now, for the conflict, we need discernment, in order to understand where the conflict is found; what is its main point or specialty.
Faithfulness is found in contrast with the evil which the Lord reveals, because we are on God's side in this world.
We need to understand that the interests of Christ are our own-that His battles are our battles; and the more we lay hold of this idea, the stronger and happier we are (Ex. 17:1616For he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. (Exodus 17:16)). Happily, in Jesus these things do not fail us. Although Jesus identifies Himself with the church, He nevertheless judges the state of the church, and here He presents Himself as judge, but in love.
The book is divided into three distinct parts: first, the things which John saw; secondly, the things which are; thirdly, those which are to come. The things which John saw are mentioned in chapter 1; those which are, in chapters 2 and 3, including that which concerns the seven churches; those which are to come begin at chapter 4, and fill the remainder of the Apocalypse. Christ manifests Himself here as judge, not as in the latter day for the wicked, but as a priest who discerns all in order to remedy the evil.
You will find in Leviticus that, after the consecration of the priests, all the things as to which it was a question of being clean and unclean are presented together. It was they who were to know how to discern between the clean and the unclean. The priesthood had to discern everything. And it is also what belongs to the Christian, not as to one who fears the imputation of sin (although he has a responsibility), but because he has been anointed by God to distinguish between good and evil, according to the holiness of the service of God.
That is why Jesus takes to Himself this character of authority; that is the general idea which He gives of Himself. " These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks," v. 1.
We find in all the addresses to the churches these words, " I know thy works." He takes cognizance of all that is done. It is very comforting that God has put us in such a position; and we are responsible according to the grace of the position. This responsibility increases according to the measure of grace in which we are placed. A servant and a slave do that which the master demands; but the child enters more intimately into the interests of the family, and he is responsible according to the position in which he is placed. It is good that we too should consider ourselves under this point of view. An Israelite might have done things which a priest would not have dared to do; many things were required of the priest for the service of God, to which no other man among the people was bound; then he was to discern good from evil, according to his nearness to God, as the anointed of God. We ourselves, also, are priests. We have the knowledge of good and evil- a privilege acquired through sin at the beginning; so that this has been our ruin, but, at the same time, a thing which proceeded from Him who willed it thus-a thing good in itself, and which we possess now according to the intelligence of the Holy Spirit, in virtue of the obedience of the second Adam. When Satan led away Adam to infringe the prohibition which God had made him, Satan added, " God doth know, that, in the day ye eat thereof "-of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil-" then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." The word adds, " The LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."
Two things are always found, as in the garden of Eden, responsibility and life-the two trees. Adam acted in his responsibility, and failed as to it, before having life. This is why God must needs drive him out of Eden, because God did not permit that he should have life together with sin. There are the two great principles, responsibility of good and evil, and life: Christ alone has reconciled them. When the law was introduced, it presented responsibility, and not life. The law places man in responsibility as to his salvation; but instead of life, it pronounces condemnation and death. Christ, on the contrary, takes the responsibility on Himself, and becomes at the same time the source of life. Christ took upon Himself our responsibility before the judgment of God, and has placed us under a much higher responsibility-responsibility according to that life which He has given us. Consequently, He judges Christians, not to condemn them, in their everyday conduct. But treating them according to the holiness of this life, He judges their walk, that grace may always be given them, according to their need, and to maintain them in communion with the Father and with Himself. He intercedes at the same time for His own before God, not to obtain their justification, which He has perfectly accomplished, but to take them out of their difficulties and maintain them in the path of faith.
Jesus, therefore, takes notice of the state of the church and says, " I know thy works." It is not to condemn, but it is as being priest, and thus having to manifest the new man according to all the grace which is given him, and we shall see how far this responsibility goes.
Verses 2, 3. " I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted." Here are many excellent things, and one might have thought that there was nothing but approbation; but it is not so. " Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee." Christ cannot come down from the height of His love. He would have fruits according to the love which He has for us. A worldly person would say, Is it absolutely necessary that I should do that? Have I need of these things? Am I bound to do that, as a Christian? But the love of Christ cannot be content without seeing fruits. It is like a father who loves that his child should succeed, that he should bear fruits capable of rejoicing him, and in keeping with the love which he shows him. The child may be slothful or lazy, but the father devotes himself to him; if there is not a response to the care taken by that love, neither is there contentment on the part of the father. If there is not with the conscience of that love, the same ready response as at the beginning, there is not the sound which goes to the heart of Jesus. It is better not to play at all than to play false tones. One has abandoned one's first love, and there is not that love which responds to love. Jesus is not a hard Master; He only requires these things from us in love. He says, " I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." It is something which does not suit the ear of Christ, something which is not in tune: it is the first thing of which Christ takes notice-" thou hast left thy first love." They had patience; they could not bear them which were evil; they had labored for the name of Jesus, but-" they had left their first love." If love is wanting, something essential is wanting. The heart has begun to be occupied with itself. A wife may do for her husband all that she did before, work as much, be wanting in nothing as to her duties; but if the husband does not find in her that which satisfies the heart, all is wanting: the wife has ceased to be occupied with him in the same manner.
We love something, and if it is the affections of faith, Christ is the object of them. As soon as He ceases to be the object of our thoughts, the thing is seen; He at least perceives it. After being delivered, we are full of love, and we only see the light. We think that sin is dead within. In the measure that the heart is filled with other things, the springs of this love are weakened; and if we ask ourselves, Do you still think as much of your Savior as when you received Him for the first time into your heart? We notice that we have left our first love. I can be occupied with good things; I may seek souls; but if I no longer think as much about Jesus-about what He is for me- all is marred. If I am before God, I am always little; I feel myself responsible to God, and I am nothing. I judge myself, there is love; but if I get far from Him, I think of myself, and weakness increases. There is no longer the same discernment. There is no longer the same love. One is no longer at a height to view things as Christ views them; one is not at a height to show grace. This is the leaving of one's first love, and of the patience of our hope.
The apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:33Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; (1 Thessalonians 1:3)), reminds them continually of " their work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ." In the Ephesian church are found works, labor, and patience; but they are no longer the work of faith, the labor of love, the patience of hope. The Lord says to them, " Thou hast abandoned thy first love." Each one of us can address the same question to himself, " Am I as much occupied with Christ? Have I not left my first love? " And, if we are in this state, cannot the Lord apply these words to us? " 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."
Verse 7. " To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life." It is not with us as with Adam, who had only a responsibility of obedience: our responsibility refers to a conflict with Satan; and the proof that we are the strongest is that we can conquer the power of Satan. We may fail, it is true. If we were in nowise in the conflict against Satan, it would be because we had not life; but, besides this conflict in principle against him, one must also conquer in the details.
The tree of life, which is here referred to, is no longer in man's paradise, but in God's. In Eden, the paradise of man, there were two trees. Satan succeeded in entering there, and all was marred; but God's paradise was arranged by Him and for Him, after all was lost, and that by a work of love and glory, which causes the other to be forgotten. The paradise of God is a work of grace, which is the consequence of what it is God's good pleasure to do when man has failed. The paradise of man was a test of what man is; that of God is the consequence of the fact that Christ has resisted and overcome all evil. As the other was the place where the responsibility of the first Adam was-responsibility as to which he failed-we are placed with the life of Christ in us, and put to the test in the midst of evil with that life, not as men, but as Christians. The world thinks to be put to the test as men, but they are mistaken; the Christian alone is put to the test, in order to manifest in the world a life which is not of this world. Now let us see how Christ introduces us into the midst of all that.
The question is not, if I conduct myself well, I shall be accepted. No, it is not a question of that. The world thinks that it is a question of a conflict, destined to satisfy certain demands of God; it is an error. For the Christian, the conflict is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in him who has already eternal life, who obtains the victory over the world, of which Satan is the prince and the head. In order for us to enter into the conflict, it is necessary for Christ to take away all our sins; for if any remained, it would be with God that we should have to do. The difficulty was found on that side, and it is the practical state of souls not set free; but we must be without sin before God; and being His in this world, and He being for us, we can enter into this conflict-where evil does not enter at all, where flesh cannot subsist-and there have the victory over Satan.
Verses 8-10. The Lord addresses Himself here to the church of Smyrna, as being " the first and the last, which was dead and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich), and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." It is very evident that the promises, and the character of Christ, apply to the circumstances of that church. Here is something striking. It is not a question of knowing how far the heart responds to Christ; but of knowing if it is worth while leaving everything, even one's own life, in order to enjoy the privileges which are in Christ.
That which comes in here is the result of leaving the first love, as a church: for it is not necessarily true as to individuals. Persecutions follow as the consequence of that which is not in the mind of God. The widows complain of being neglected in the daily ministration; Acts 6:11And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. (Acts 6:1). It is no longer Christ who alone occupies the thoughts: they have left their first love. When that happens, the world holds somewhat the place of Christ.
The church must learn that everything is above. " Fear none of those things which thou shalt have to suffer." Christ might have said, Thou shalt not suffer; but He wishes us to understand that we must be little, poor, and despised, and that one cannot be rich. I do not speak of temporal riches, but of that poverty which has nothing but its faith to present; and that is what God wishes. If the church suffer, if it is tormented in different ways, there is also another suffering. The church had nothing to present but its faith, which could sustain it. Now the Jews who were there boasted of being the true people of God; they said they were rich, and blasphemed. The Christians, for them, were only miserable heretics, and sectarians: and the church felt its position contemptible in the eyes of those who, according to appearance, were the people of God. That is more painful than when the world speaks evil of us. The church was afflicted, persecuted, and poor; but Jesus says to it, " Fear none of those things." The Jews said insulting things; but the Lord said, " Thou art rich." In this we have a lesson. Christ does not prevent our suffering: we must make up our minds to suffer; but if Christ says to us, " Thou art rich," that is enough for us. And He will only have for disciples those who are content with what He says, " Thou art rich." If any one is not satisfied with that, well, let him go to the world.
There is, however, something remarkable here. Jesus says to them, " The devil shall put some of you into prison." He attributes it to Satan, as if He were not able to prevent it. He says you shall be tried (v. 10). I leave thee to suffer; it is the time of the power of darkness, but it will end. Whatever, then, may be the power of Jesus, He changes nothing in the position of actual suffering. It is necessary that the moral ways of God should have their course, and that the work should be accomplished according to the good or the evil which is found in those in whom it takes place. It is necessary that He should leave to the enemy his own part, according to that which is due to him, so to speak-according to the state of those who are the objects of the government of God. He leaves power to Satan in order to manifest the glory of Christ by the church; and if we are not near Christ, Satan gets the victory as to things present, and Christ is not glorified.
All power belongs to Christ: we have nothing to fear. But Satan is there, and the church is responsible for the manifestation of the glory of Christ; and as soon as we leave Christ, we can no longer do it. It is a question of realizing all this power of Christ, according to the position where we are individually; and we must be near enough to Christ to get the victory over Satan, and to do perfectly well all that we are called to do according to our position. It is not a question of leading or of being a general. If each soldier does his duty in his own place, the victory is won; and that may go so far as to lay down one's life. It is not a question of getting life: we have it; and we shall reign. It is a question of the church placed there to manifest the power of Christ by the Holy Spirit, to manifest His glory where evil exists, before spiritual wickednesses, and to enjoy the same results of the victory as Christ Himself: the crown of life in the paradise of God, as Jesus has Himself, and with Him.
It is not only not being lost; but it is to be with God, and to get the victory over Satan, who has the power of death. What we have to understand is that each one in his place, from the head down to the skirts of the garment, and however little he may be, has his place and his responsibility to manifest the power of Christ; and if he is not in the power of Christ, he is overcome. May God give us this strength, and render us capable of accomplishing in all things His will!