Notes on Revelation 2 and 3

Revelation 2-3
I avoided in my lectures saying anything on the seven churches as not being strictly part of the prophecy. For the satisfaction of my readers I shall add thereon only a few thoughts. There were doubtless seven churches thus named; but they were selected in order to present the thoughts of God to the whole church. The number seven is expressive of something spiritually complete. The seven churches are " the things which are," and " the things which are " end with the history of the seven churches. " What was to happen after these " (chap. 1: 19) cannot be considered as belonging to the present time in the sense in which this expression refers to the position in which John found himself. The prophetic details were outside of that period. They were the things which were to happen after it; that is to say, the prophetic details of this book were not comprised in " the things which are " considered severally as the time present of the churches.
But the seven churches may be viewed under a twofold aspect. First, there were seven churches existing at that very time. But, then, the glory of Christ, judging in the midst of the churches, was certainly not confined to this; and the number seven guides our thoughts towards something which is complete. Are we then to think of all the churches at that time, or of the general history of the church on the earth? In the first place, it is the moral condition of the church, wherein that is to be found which is spoken of; and the judgment pronounced is pronounced upon such a condition, and is addressed to " all that have ears to hear," and would thus morally extend to all the churches existing at that time. But, inasmuch as it describes states distinct, differing one from the other, it is difficult to apply it to the whole church at any given period; and the thoughts are very naturally directed to periods in which the condition of the professing church may have been characterized by what is said concerning the churches placed in succession before us.
The expression " the things which are " very naturally adapts itself to this; for, as we have seen, it is difficult to apply, at any given time, seven very different states to the general condition of the church, and it is evident that the expression " the things which are " comprises more than what is understood by the seven churches in Asia. Now the state of the professing church, until it is rejected as a witness on the earth, is naturally described by " the things which are," as contrasted with the intentions of God in bringing in a new dispensation by the exercise of His power into the world. And this it is which distinguishes these two chapters from those which follow. The church is seen in a state of declension until she is spued out of the mouth of the Lord. Then comes the history of the throne. We may distinguish the seven churches of that time as presented to us historically (which do not perfectly set forth all God's thoughts) from the history of the church in general until the end: each of these things presents to us " the things which are."
There is here, with regard to the form of prophecy, an important observation to be made. When the people of God are more or less still recognized by Him, the prophecy is addressed to the people. When they are no more recognized of God, then the ways of God are communicated to the prophet who declares His counsels concerning the world. Thus the prophets of the Old Testament speak to the people, while the people are recognized of God. Daniel, a captive in Babylon, receives visions concerning their relations with the nations, and the history of those nations: but the prophecy is not addressed to the people. Thus also the Apocalypse no longer recognizes the church upon earth in the prophetic part of the book, and is not an address to the church itself. " The things which are," and what John saw of the glory of Christ, judging in the midst of the churches, no doubt, is addressed to the churches. In the prophetic part, the testimony is given to her- is deposited with her, so to speak; but the word is not addressed to the church. The Lord had said, speaking of John, " but if I will that he tarry till I come "; John, the last of the apostles, bears personally to the churches the last testimony of Christ's relationship with them (according to their present state-a state, it may be said, of transition, and where the churches are seen quite in a new light). As a symbolical person, his testimony lasts until the church is no more recognized at all; and prophecy takes the place of communication made direct to the church, and announces the introduction of the Firstborn in judgment (judgment of the apostasy and of the world), and the events which proceed from the throne and precede His introduction. It was necessary that the church should be put aside in order to speak of those things. Otherwise everything would have been done with a view to the church herself. The Lord is seen as the Lamb in the throne at the very beginning of the prophecy, as the One who has suffered in His own Person on the earth, and not as judging in the churches on the earth.
It would be impossible here to enter in detail upon the seven churches; it would be to write a book. The varied promises, descriptive of the heavenly portion that is to come, would deserve protracted study, as well as the peculiar insignia by which Christ is designated, and the relation between the two; and also the connection of the latter with the state of the church in which they are severally found. I shall only endeavor to give a general outline, according to what we have seen. It is a state of transition. Christ is represented as a Judge in this book, judging either the churches or the world. He is no longer as the Head of the church communicating, in grace, blessings and precepts, or exhorting by the chosen members of the body, or girded with a towel washing the feet. He is judging the state of things and threatening them. At one time He threatens to remove the candlestick, when a church is not faithful to that which has been entrusted to her, as bearing testimony before the world.
There is another remark to be made here: God's candlestick. His government in the world was no longer at Jerusalem. God will govern the world by His Firstborn, and will prepare the way for Him by these judgments. But judgment begins at the house of God. The light-the candlestick of God-was there, and His name was upon them in the sight of the world. And whatever be its unfaithfulness, and however God may act in raising a testimony elsewhere before the world, until such a system be judged, as a system established of God, it bears its responsibility, and God acts in judgment towards it. Jerusalem was the seat of God's testimony. His candlestick had been there. I need not insist amongst Christians that the light and the presence of God were spiritually dwelling in the midst of Christians. Nevertheless, Jerusalem's responsibility and her position before the world only ceased in her destruction by the judgment of God. After this, God's candlestick, in a terrestrial sense, was in the professing church. Till then, Christians had been, to the eye of the world, a sect of the Jews. Thus we see Aquila and Priscilla at a distance from Rome, because Claudius had commanded that every Jew should depart from it. At Antioch, in the midst of the Gentiles, which was the starting-point of the labors of Paul, apostle of the Gentiles, the believers begin to have a peculiar name. They were first called Christians at Antioch; Acts 11: 26.
Thus God was preparing little by little, and especially by the mission of Paul, another candlestick before the world. Jerusalem, laboring under the weight of her sins and the guilt of the blood of the Just One, by the judgments of God upon her, disappears entirely from the scene, and the professing church is the only witness for God remaining before the world. The judgment of God upon the earth consequently connects itself with the professing church. The position of the church was perhaps more happy before, when she had only to seek her blessings from house to house, (Acts 2:4646And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (Acts 2:46)), and while the temple remained the public place of the testimony of God; yet God is always faithful to His own, and wise in His ways. It is, however, under this new character that the church is considered in the Apocalypse. Christ is there judging in the midst of the candlesticks. In the prophetical part, the church is no more seen on earth. The judgments concern the world, and the events proceed from the throne on high, not from Christ walking on earth in the midst of the candlesticks, which shone very little perhaps, but which still were there.
Thus the addresses to the seven churches, while applying to the seven churches in Asia, and severally to any one, are applicable to the professing church so long as she retains this place manifestly on the earth. In detail it may be removed from one place and carried to another, as has been the case. We must remember also that the characteristic condition of one church may begin, and that of another still continue. Alas! the state of the church at Ephesus has continued to the end, and the candlestick will be removed. Many more sorrows have occurred in the meantime. One thing more is to be remarked. The characters according to which Christ acts in the midst of the churches until Thyatira are those found in the revelation of His glory in what preceded; chap. 1. This is no longer the case from Sardis, save the fact that He retains in His hand the authority over the churches; the seven stars are still there. But the names He takes (that is to say, the character according to which He acts, and which is the object of intelligent faith in the church) must always be looked for farther off in the knowledge of Christ. They are beyond that revelation of Himself which constitutes the basis of His relationship with the churches in the normal position which He takes towards them here.
In the church at Sardis then, the testimony of the churches, in a certain sense, begins as it were anew, while still remaining part of the whole. The Spirit repeats this characteristic trait- Jesus holds the seven stars in His right hand. But the position is less ecclesiastical, and has more of what is essential in the nature of His relation with the churches. There is an exception to be made to what has been said in the case of Thyatira. " Son of God " is not part of the revelation of Christ in the preceding chapter. But it seems to me that the apostasy in principle which characterizes the church in Thyatira (association with idols, and this being tolerated)-this fact had its place when a well-known ecclesiastical relation was coming to an end. Christ is the Son of God; it is under this essential title of the glory of His Person that He laid the basis of the church, and was the object of her faith. Thus the claims of the church, as being associated as co-heir with Him, in contrast with the nations, come in entirely in their place, when the professing church was abandoning her only faith, and the hope which was hers as set apart to God. The Morning Star, the dawn of a new day, shone in the heart of him that overcame under such circumstances. (Compare chap. 22: 16.)
These seven churches, considered as a continued series of the history of the church, would then present to us the following epochs. Her first declension already in the time of John; the time of persecution; the professing church established in the empire or in the world, and the germ of the ecclesiastical apostasy; the time of this ecclesiastical apostasy, when Jezebel is seducing and tolerated; Sardis, the time of Protestantism as a system established in the earth; the time when, deprived of strength, faithfulness to the word of the patience of Christ characterizes those who knew it; the time of saying We are rich, when, in true riches, everything is wanting. This last is the final state-the lukewarmness which Christ spues out of His mouth.
Observe, that we must not look for energy producing effects, but for the effect produced by that energy. This is what God judges. He acts in energy. Thus the Reformation was the energy of the Holy Ghost; the state of Protestantism is a thing which He judges. The churches characterize the state, the position of the Christian testimony which attracts the attention of the world-the candlestick which is there to give light. If this is the case, it is evident that the study of the specialty of these churches is of the utmost interest to my reader. I earnestly entreat hire to make it his study-so much the more, because the most precious traits of the heavenly joy are found therein.
I shall only add a few words more in general on the whole. The promises made to the first two churches relate to the general recompense, and are, of course, so to speak, for every Christian. The promise made to the third relates to a personal and individual knowledge of Jesus, which supposes that strength for faithfulness of walk is already found more in the faith and in the faithfulness of the individual. Jesus is known alone, and also enjoyed alone. There is in the church of Thyatira, amidst the general iniquity, a remarkable faithfulness and devotedness; and the Spirit of God, while leaving to the body the character of the candlestick, that is to say, the responsibility of witnessing before the world, distinguishes entirely those who had not taken part in this iniquity. Observe chapter 2: 24, where the lesson is still stronger, or at least more clear, in all the critical editions.
We may observe that in the last three churches that of Sardis is threatened with the judgment of the world. (Compare Thess. 5.) That of Philadelphia becomes of an inestimable price for the faithful of this time. The coming of Jesus is declared therein to sustain faith in a peculiar manner. And, finally (showing at the same time His perfect patience, if any of His abode there still), we see in the case of Laodicea the professing church spued out of the Lord's mouth.