Two Addresses Revelation 2-3: Part 2

Revelation 3  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
I remarked yesterday afternoon that the Revelation is very little read; in fact, you may say it is the most neglected book of the New Testament. Practically, it is not read, and yet it is of the deepest importance that it should be. This chapter is full of instruction and encouragement, calculated to minister to our hope, to strengthen us, and raise our hearts and thoughts, and help us on our way. In the strictly prophetic part of the book, there is instruction, but we will not look into that now. A word is necessary as to the “angel of the church” in the first verse. A good many are mystified as to this. What is the angel of the church? The general character of the book is based upon the forms and figures of the Old Testament, and the Jews, you know, had a good deal to do dispensationally with angels. The law was given by the disposition of angels, and Jehovah Himself takes the title of angel. In the 22nd chapter of Genesis we read, “And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.” So you see the angel of the Lord, here, is the same as God Himself. God Himself, sometimes shrouds Himself by the title of angel; so the angel of the Lord is frequently Jehovah Himself, and we get a good deal about angels in the Revelation. In scripture “angel,” besides meaning an order of beings a little higher than man, is also used for the mystical representative of one (or more) not actually seen. So it was of Jehovah; so of Peter in Acts 12:1515And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. (Acts 12:15), and of little children in Matt. 18:1010Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10).
What, then, is the angel of the church? It is not the separate order of beings called angels; for how could John have sent a letter to an angel? Some state it was the principal officer of the church, but we find no such thing in Scripture as a principal officer of a church. Man has appointed officers and dignitaries of churches, but the modern idea of a bishop is without authority in Scripture; there we find several bishops in one church. Similarly, in the epistles to the churches. There are twenty-one epistles in the New Testament, but only six are addressed to individuals. The rest are addressed to the saints, or laity. That is the contrary of Romanism, which says that the people cannot understand the word. God, on the contrary, sends His instruction directly to the people of God; and the mere addresses of the epistles in the New Testament refute thus a cardinal error of Romanism. This by the way; but the angel cannot be the head of a church; it is a mystical representation, a symbol. It means an assembly of God's people, and not a particular individual, for in addressing the angel it is said the devil shall cast “some of you” into prison (2:10), and again, Antipas is spoken of as having been “slain among you.” It may be, indeed, that “angel” symbolizes, also, the responsibility of the church, and in that sense would particularly imply all those who are specially responsible for the condition of the church. However, I think I have said enough to show that it does not mean a person, but that it is a symbol, a mystical representation of an assembly, or the responsibility of an assembly.
I tried to explain yesterday afternoon that we get a new departure in the epistle to the church of Sardis. Now in the epistle to Ephesus the Lord had adopted a title which relates to the seven churches—that is to the whole church: it is “he which holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” —there it is not special, applying to a particular church, as in the case of Smyrna for example. But Sardis represents Protestantism. That was a movement which affected the whole of Christendom; and consistently with this the Lord resumes His position towards the whole church, under the title “he that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars.” In Thyatira, where we have Romanism, then, for the first time, a remnant is distinguished; and this remnant under Romanism, becomes the church of Sardis in the succeeding epistle. His word to Sardis is—and it is a word for Protestantism universally— “I know thy works that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” That is a remarkable feature of Protestantism. The work of the Reformation was a great and noble work; it recovered the truth of salvation by faith instead of by works. The reformers also taught that the word of God was our sufficient guide. Those were two great principles to recover out of the wreck and ruin of the church of that day. It was a great and noble work, but it was marked by one thing—it was obviously incomplete. What the Church was, was not found. The position of the Holy Ghost, the coming and abiding of the Holy Ghost in the church, as the power of worship, was wanting. The Lord's coming was not brought out: these principal truths were deficient; and glorious as the work of the reformers was, it was incomplete.
Then again, there is another thing that marks Protestantism. “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” We know what the state was in what is called the Establishment in England —deadness. They had come out from Romanism, and rested at that, perfectly satisfied; went on with their forms of worship Sunday by Sunday, but where was the life? We know what the state was when God raised up Wesley, and Whitfield, and others like them. The remarkable characteristic in Sardis was incompleteness of works and deadness. But there is an exhortation: “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” Now that coming is contrary to the hope of the church. We do not look for the Lord to come as a thief. For us His visit is one of love to “receive us to himself, that where he is we may be also.” The threat to Sardis is to be left behind at the rapture, to meet the Lord afterward as Judge. You will find it mentioned in Luke, chap. 12, vers. 45 and 46. It refers to the dead profession of Protestantism going on after the church has been caught up. It is a sweet thing to notice that in the midst of Sardis there were those who did not defile their garments, and we have the promise that he that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment, “and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” That is a verse that has puzzled many. What is this blotting out? I believe it is a reference to what has just gone before: the fate of the dead professors. They will indeed be blotted out, no matter how bold their profession, if not ready to meet the Lord at His coming, they will indeed be blotted out. But He says to the others: that will not be your fate, but I will confess your name before My Father and before His angels. Of course, it does not imply that any believer could have his name blotted out of the book of life, but marks off the living as distinct from the dead profession of Sardis. The dead ones, the blotted-out ones, of Sardis, are simply the foolish virgins of Matt. 25.
Now we come to the epistle to the Philadelphians, which is very interesting. “These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no one shutteth, and shutteth, and no one openeth; I know thy works.” It is a precious thing that the Lord could leave it at that with those of Philadelphia. It is quite enough for the faithful to know that He knows. “Behold I have set before thee an open door, and no one can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” This open door is one of the great privileges of the present moment. If you have looked at all into the future, after the church has gone, you know what a different state of things there will be then. Now, you can get into a railway train, and speak to someone about the gospel; you can preach in the streets, if not hindering traffic, and no one complains. You can print the gospel, and circulate it far and wide. There is, then, an open door everywhere, but there is this—we do not know when it may be closed. We do not know the moment when the Lord Jesus may come and catch up the church out of the world. The whole state of things will then be altered, and in the days of the Beast, nothing will be allowed, religiously or commercially, that has not his awful mark. Christian, use while you have it this great privilege of an open door. “For thou hast a little strength” —it is not much strength— “and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” All these things are most precious to the one who has walked according to Christ's word.
Then there is a prophecy. “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” That refers to a revulsion of feeling toward those who have the particular testimony of Christ. The time would come when opponents would be compelled to own that the despised ones were loved by the Lord. Have we not seen something of this sort? I remember when the Lord's coming was a thing absolutely unknown, and when mentioned was scouted; when in every pulpit it was taught that the coming of the Lord meant death, and the real truth about the Lord's coming was ridiculed and opposed. What do we find to-day? The truth has spread everywhere, and people are acknowledging what fifty years ago they rejected; and not only so, they now acknowledge in great measure their indebtedness to those who have been God's instruments for bringing out this and other truths. So we can see before our eyes some fulfillment of the Lord's promise that He would extort an acknowledgment from those who had opposed the truth. Indeed one may say that there is danger to ourselves in this; some would even give place and recognition to “the Brethren,” as a new, and now acknowledged, denomination of Christendom. But we do not want this. It may be pleasing to the flesh to be spoken well of, but we do not want acceptance by, and incorporation into, the Babylon of Christendom. “Come out of her, my people,” is the standing cry with reference to Babylon. Babylon and Philadelphia are at the opposite extremes of the scale, and we would at least aspire to, make our aim for, the character of Philadelphia, however earnestly we repudiate any claim to be Philadelphia.
In the next verse we read, “Because 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.” What does that mean? Some think it means the “great tribulation"; it is not, however, tribulation, but temptation. There is going to be an hour of terrible temptation in this world, when God will be given up, and the name of Christ will be absolutely abandoned. After the church has gone, a Satanic flood will come across the earth, and the temptation will be to give up God altogether. But it cannot come while we are here. “I will keep thee from the hour of temptation.” Atheism is rife, and there is a general tendency to give up Christianity altogether. The great temptation seems to be throwing its shadow before, and we do not know how soon the church may be caught up. Immediately following that is, “I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no one take thy crown.” You see there is a crown; a crown of life as was seen yesterday afternoon, and it will be given to everyone that awaits Christ's coming.
Laodicea represents the last state of the church, which will be rejected at the translation of the church. Christ will tolerate it no longer. “I will spue thee out of my mouth.” When that takes place, the people of God will have been caught up. He will spue out deadness, but it is a different deadness to that found in Sardis. These were boasting of richness, and we have a reflection of it in what we see around us to-day: people are becoming more blatant and boastful; they do not want truth at all. That is like those of Laodicea. But there's another mark. “Neither cold nor hot.” Well, I am sure we should be very sorry to be lukewarm, but there is a great danger of getting into that state. We do not like such a character ourselves. We do not value a person who is neither one thing nor the other. If there is a thing in this world which is worth being hearty about, it is Christianity, and remember the testimony which God has given us in His word. Oh, let us see that “neither cold nor hot” does not represent our state. We want to be more warm towards Christ. “Anoint thine eyes with eyesalve.” There is inability to see things as they are; but there is this blessed remark, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.”
There is a blessed promise for the worst state of the church, and of the individual. Christ is outside the church, but He is knocking at each individual door, and “if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” There is many a church in a state of deadness. The minister over it is dead; perhaps there are hardly any in his congregation that are not dead. Perhaps there is not one, and what is to prevent the same thing going on when the living ones have been caught away? Of course, we know that at the Apostasy dead profession will be thrown off, with Romanism at its head, but that will be later. Meanwhile, when all the living are caught away to meet the Lord there is nothing to show, as I see, that the dead profession may not continue for a brief time. Brethren, we occupy a very solemn position. Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea are all around us. The first three churches pass into one another (and indeed the third into the fourth), but the last four run on concurrently to the end. We have not to wait for Laodicea to be manifested. Laodicea is here already, and no one can tell whether the Lord may not at any moment descend into the air and catch us away forever, spuing the corrupt profession from Him. Meanwhile let us not be Laodiceans; let us seek to be true Philadelphians. We do not know when the Lord Jesus may come. There are symptoms visible which seem to indicate that it may be very near. Remember the state of Christendom. What a change has come over it during the last twenty years! And some years before that, to be an infidel was thought a strange thing. Now it is common. Now you have denominations giving up Christianity. Well, the time will come when Christ will stand it no longer; He will take His people up, and spue the others out of His mouth. May the Lord give us greater earnestness suitable to the times. May He remind us of the open door, that great privilege which we have now, and grant that we may use it, not being ashamed to confess Christ. “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father and before his angels.”
E. J. T.