Two Addresses Revelation 2-3: Part 1

Revelation 2‑3  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
I will first say a few words about the Book of Revelation itself. I suppose you know that it is nearly the most neglected book in the entire Bible, and yet it is the only book to which there is a very special promise of blessing attached. It commences, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy.” It is very full of symbols and figures, and that, I suppose, is one reason why people have neglected it, and also because they have not had the key to understand it; but of late years God, in His grace, has opened it up very much, and given a much better understanding than, perhaps, there ever was before, and as the age proceeds, it becomes increasingly important. There are developments which we see before our eyes which we could not clearly see previously in this book. I do not intend to go into the whole book, but offer these preliminary remarks about the book itself. The promise may encourage us, however, to look a little into the book.
In the second and third chapters we have seven churches, and probably, as seven is a number signifying completeness, it is here a symbolic number. The number seven is used as a figure more than fifty times in the book of Revelation. No doubt there were seven actual churches in Asia, indicated in their names here, but there were several more that are not included. Why, then, should these seven be mentioned? They have been selected to give a picture of the history of the church from its first setting up to its rapture. The number is symbolical, and here indicates that it is the entire church that is looked at.
We find Christ taking different characters in the respective epistles to these several churches, and there are two characters distinct from the others in this first epistle to Ephesus and in that to Sardis. Much there is that indicates He has the seven churches under his entire purview. When He comes to Smyrna He drops the general character, and takes a special character according to the character of the church. “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the First and the Last, which was dead and is alive.” Smyrna is written to about persecution, and therefore the Lord takes a special character to them— “the One which was dead and is alive.” He had Himself experienced persecution in its furthermost form, and, similarly, to the church in Pergamos and the other churches.
But to the churches of Ephesus and Sardis He takes a general character. Why did He take a general character for Sardis? I believe He referred to the Reformation. At the Reformation a new commencement was made. That was a great work of God that Luther did. In Sardis Christ takes this character— “He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.” You see, that is general, and does not relate to the specific state of the church. The moral teaching to the several churches is exceedingly important, and exceedingly blessed. It gives both judgment and encouragement.
The Lord, in the epistle to the Ephesians, takes the character of one who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and He holds the seven stars in His right hand. The golden candlesticks, I need hardly explain, represent the seven churches. There is the Lord, passing and re-passing up and down through the churches. He knows all that is going on, the particular state of everyone; not only of the church, but of the individual. He has eyes like unto a flame of fire, and sees and judges everything; and that he is so discriminating, so piercing in His judgment is full of gracious and blessed exhortation to the individual. Take, for instance, the second verse of the second chapter. “I know thy works,” etc. It illustrates the way in which the Lord recites the several virtues and merits of each particular church. He knew them all, and though He proceeds to judge them, He first of all sets down every item in their favor. Is not that a very encouraging thing for us, a blessed thing that when dealing with our faults the Lord will have in remembrance everything that is true to Himself?
The church at Ephesus was a remarkable church. Ephesus is, I believe, to be in the foreground of all the churches. It was the scene of three years' labor by the Apostle Paul, and he was the one to whom was given the revelation of the church. It is a representation, a symbolical representation of the church in its first state, and we all know what a blessed state of love, and faithfulness, and devotedness there was in the church at first, so that it came to be said, “Behold how these Christians love one another!” So Ephesus takes the first place, but already there was a symptom of decay. There was the beginning of retrogression, of spiritual decay. When the soul is first converted how full it is of love for Christ. There seems to the man when he gets deliverance from his sin nothing so great and blessed; but, by and by, too often the world begins to steal upon his heart. He leaves his first love; and that which so often happens to the individual has happened to the church collectively.
Now here we get an important thing to notice; that if the church did not repent, the candlestick would be removed from its place. That is, the church having failed, and not having repented, will, as a vessel of testimony be removed. This first epistle indicates that that is the liability of the church. And so it will he. The church as a vessel of testimony has failed deeply and will ultimately be removed. “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes.” Many might say, “What are these deeds of the Nicolaitanes?” And in the epistle to the church of Pergamos we have the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. I believe that God has intentionally concealed these. They are not explicitly stated. There have been various efforts to discover them from the derivation of the name, and those who are pleased with that can accept it. To my mind, God has purposely left the statement indefinite so that it may apply to unknown evils that may occur.
Then we come to the first of the promises. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” There are three forms of overcoming mentioned in Scripture. John speaks of those who overcome the world, and he also speaks of overcoming false prophets, but what is this overcoming? It is an important thing to see that it is overcoming in a lapsed church. Ephesus had fallen, but there is a word of promise held out to those who overcome. Is not that an important exhortation to us? We also are in the midst of a lapsed church, but “to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” There was a tree of life in man's paradise, the garden of Eden, but this is the tree of life in the paradise of God, where there will be no going out. So that promise is exceedingly fine and blessed.
Now we come to Smyrna. Notice I have left out the words, “I know thy works.” A translator or scribe thought to improve by putting in “works” in several places. He has put in “works” where it is not wanted, and where it detracts from the value of the parts that should be in. The Lord wished them to know, no doubt, that there was a particular trial of which He knew, and that He was not oblivious of that. And so He does not say anything about their works, but He does say, “I know thy tribulation and poverty (but thou art rich).” That is another illustration of how the Lord has complete knowledge of us. They might be ever so poor in this world, but they had an unfailing inheritance; they were rich for they had eternal wealth which could not pass away.
Then He goes on to say, “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan.” The word “Jews” may be symbolical or actual. They might be Jews, and not true Jews; but I believe the word has a symbolical meaning towards the traditionary Christianity around us. When merely formal Christians come into contact with real, vital life they do not like it, and they speak and rail against it. That is what we have here. That is a solemn thing. There may be bodies of professing Christians who are of the synagogue of Satan. “Fear not the things which 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 thee the crown of life.” Notice here the Lord knew they were in tribulation, and that they would be put into prison, but it was all under His control. The limit was appointed by Him, and could not go further: they should have tribulation ten days.
So it is with others, as is illustrated by Satan and Job. “He is in thy hand. Do what thou wilt with him, but on his life lay not thy hand.” Satan can only move against the children of God within the limits permitted by God. God's hand is over it all. God has his eye upon you, and you will not be tried more than He permits; and it will be for your blessing. Here, in the case of Smyrna, they were to be cast into prison ten days, but the exhortation is “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” In the earthly law of Israel, faithfulness was rewarded by continuance of life. Speaking of the general status of the people, faithfulness was rewarded by earthly success, but now we have a new standard. We are not under a dispensation when God rewards faithfulness by earthly success. Often it is just the contrary. It is often very different indeed, for tribulation and persecution may proceed as far as death. The crown of life is also referred to by James. So there is a crown of life to those who endure temptation.
The names of some of these churches have a proper significance. In the case of Philadelphia, for instance—one of the best of the churches —the word means “brotherly love.” People suppose, and I do not say they are not correct, that the word Pergamos is significant. It means “marriage,” and here we have union with the world. That is what was the matter with Pergamos, for they held the doctrine of Balaam. Those who overcame were to eat of the hidden manna. That represents Christ, but Christ down here, in His life on earth. The blessed Lord Jesus is now in heaven, and we shall have communion with Him when we get there about the trials of this life. “I will give him of the hidden manna.” Then, again, the next promise is equally precious. I “will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it.” This is very remarkable—to receive a specific name from Christ; and not only that, but a name which no one knows but he that receives it. Is there not something beautiful in that? When you think of the Lord Jesus Christ and the millions around Him, you think He cannot possibly know each one, but here we find there is a sweet and individual token which Christ gives to the faithful, one which is known only by you and Christ. The white stone was a token of approval in those days, and it is also a token of His personal knowledge. There is something very special and blessed in that. It will be very blessed in the disposition of rewards, when Jesus stands with the faithful around Him to go up and receive your reward, and to have your name confessed before the glorious multitude in heaven. What an honor, what a scene that will be! when the Lord shall stand in the midst of the throng and confess your name. But sweeter than this we have a private reward, a secret name which only we and the Savior know. Is there not something truly encouraging and blessed in such a thing?
Then we come to Thyatira. Those who study the epistles in the light of the theory that they represent church history all agree that Thyatira represents Romanism. One need hardly explain that an eye like a flame of fire illustrates a penetrating eye. “His feet are like fine brass.” That is a symbolical representation of the judgment of the Son. “I know thy works.” Here works is properly put in. There was still a great deal of activity, a great deal of service, but what else was there? “Thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” False teaching was permitted. In Thyatira there was a new feature; there was a remnant that feared God. There is also another feature—the Lord's coming. The Lord's coming is brought in as a hope, and something to direct the mind to. “That which ye have, hold fast till I come.” This, I need not say, is an exhortation which applies to all times, to hold fast to that which we have. Whatever we have, do not let it slip—do not be a backslider. If you have the truth, hold it fast. Then there is the promise— “He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.” This is a remarkable promise. It is to share in Christ's judgment of the nations mentioned in the Second Psalm, vers. 8, 9. It refers to Christ's coming and the judgment of the world, it does not refer to Christ's coming to fetch the church which will be caught away to be with Christ before that. There is the promise that the church will come with Him, and share in the work of judging the nations. Then, again, you get the Lord's coming, but now in a different way. “And I will give him the morning star.” The morning star refers to Christ in the character of His coming and receiving the church to Himself, before He appears to the world.
I will only slightly refer to Sardis. Thyatira represents Romanism, and Sardis shows what follows. It this case there is no error of doctrine; there is formal correctness. I may appeal to you; is it not very much the state of Protestantism in general? How many there are that are not alive! There is the ecclesiastical church, but where is the life? How much deadness there is. I do not mean the individual; I do not think it refers to the individual, although it may come down to that. The Book has a very close application to everyone of us. The exhortation it gives shows Christ's perfect knowledge of our state. I will give unto every one of you, He says, according to his works. There is nothing overlooked; no fault is overlooked. Christ's knowledge is perfect, and there is blessed encouragement and promise to press on and fight the good fight of faith. E. J. T.