"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).
Christ to the Churches about His Will
Lessons from the Letters
Considerations Provoked by Albert G. Stoner, Jr.
"What thou seest, write in a book [roll] and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia" (Rev. 1:11).
Our Lord's messages to the seven churches, recorded in Revelation 2 and 3, were addressed to congregations of the first century. In their application, however, they are fully relevant to the church of all time. Indeed, some think that the seven churches so addressed were chosen "to represent the entire church of God," as it was to exist through the succeeding centuries.
Be that as it may, it is certain that the letters have much in them for our learning, comfort, and admonition, "upon whom the ends of the ages are come" (I Cor. 10:11, ASV). We do well, therefore, to give due attention to them.
At the outset, it is to be noted that a glorious title of Christ, taken from the imagery, or vision, of chapter 1:12-16, 18, is used to identify Him in each of the seven letters.
The Ephesian Church. The church of Ephesus, after being apprised that Jesus knew its works, was commended for its acceptable state and performance (ch. 2:2-3).
It had labored for Christ's "Name's sake," and "not fainted." It could not "bear them which are evil," and had tried and rejected the false apostles. These certainly are exemplary traits, and were duly applauded by the Lord. They also hated "the deeds of the Nicolaitans," a sensuous cult of the times, which Christ likewise hated (v. 6).
"Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee," the church was told, "because thou hast left thy first love" (v. 4). Losing the ardor of spiritual devotion to Christ, it seems the Ephesians had degenerated into a personally-detached form of religious orthodoxy. That condition was not acceptable to Christ then, and neither is it now.
The Ephesians were told to consider whence they had fallen, to repent, and recover themselves from their present state. The penalty for not doing so was removal of their candlestick, which would be for Christ to suffer them to cease to exist. Calling upon them to "hear what the Spirit saith," He promised the overcomers the right to "eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (v. 7).
The Church in Smyrna. One of the two churches against which the glorified Lord brought no charge, the one at Smyrna was unqualifiedly approved and comforted (vv. 8-11). They were poor in this world's goods, but "rich in faith," as James would say, as well as in uncompromising commitment to Christ (Jas. 2:5).
The Smyrneans were warned that the Devil was to cast some of them into prison, and that they were to "have tribulation ten days" (v. 10). It was not promised that they would be spared such suffering for Christ's sake-a circumstance refutative of some modern preaching that holds forth nothing but good to the faithful.
Instead, they were told to be "faithful unto death," and they would be given "a crown of life." The overcomers "shall not be hurt of the second death," it was promised (v. 11).
The Pergamos Congregation. Although situated "where "Satan's seat" was, the church in Pergamos had some things distinctly in its favor (vv. 12-17). They had not denied Christ's Name, despite the martyrdom among them of Antipas, the Lord's faithful servant (v. 13).
Against the Pergamos church was the fact some held "the doctrine of Balaam," and that of the Nicolaitans, both of which doctrines the Lord said He hates (vv. 14·15). It, thus, is to be noted that for us to be against what is displeasing to the Lord is commended by Him, as well as our being for what He delights in.
The church was told to repent of its shortcomings, or He would come to it "quickly," and fight against it with "the sword" of His mouth (v. 16; cf. ch. 1:16). The overcomers were promised to be given to "eat of the hidden manna" and to receive "a white stone, and in the stone a new name" (v. 17).
The Brethren in Thyatira. The congregation in Thyatira was one having works, love, ministry, faith, and patience-an excellent combination of fruitage, indeed. And its "last works" were "more than the first" (vv. 18·19). That is, rather than growing "weary in well-doing," they were increasing therein (Gal. 6:9).
A serious count was lodged against the church, though. Like Pergamos, with reference to false doctrine, they permitted "that woman Jezebel," posing as a prophetess, to teach and cor• rupt the brethren (v. 20). The allusion, of course, is to King Ahab's wicked wife (cf. I Kgs. 16:31; 18:13; 21:5·15; etc.). From this circumstance, it is clear that the Lord holds a congregation responsible for any and all teaching done in it.
"I will give unto every one of you according to his works," was the word to the church (v. 21). "Power over the nations" was promised to those who overcame the opposition, and kept Christ's works "unto the end" (vv. 24·28).
The Sardis Saints. The brethren in Sardis were spiritually dead, though professing life in Christ (ch. 3:1), like some in Ephesus to whom Paul had written (Eph. 5:14; cf. I Tim. 5:6). They were urged to "be watchful, and strengthen the things" that remained, and that were "ready to die" (v. 2). If they failed to do that, the Lord would "come on" them "as a thief" (v. 3).
A heartening word is added, which serves to stress the fact that, ultimately, every one of us is personally responsible to God. We, thus, stand or fall before Him in consequence of our individual relation to Him through Christ. "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments: and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy" (v. 4; cf. vv. 5·6).
The Philadelphia Assembly. The church in Philadelphia, along with that in Smyrna, was one of the two congregations uncensured by the exalted Christ. That is to say, it was "without fault before the throne of God" (ch. 14:5).
A highly significant circumstance is to be noted here. Because the church had been faithful to Him, Christ had set before it "an open door" of further service, and "no man" could "shut it" (v. . That certainly is encouraging and impelling for those today who are fully committed to Him.
Eventually, the Master would make their enemies to "come and worship" before their feet, and to know that he had loved them (v. 9). And, because the Philadelphians had "kept the word" of His patience, the Lord would keep them "from the hour of temptation" (v. 10), and make them "a pillar" in the temple of His God (vv. 10·12).
The Lukewarm Laodiceans. The Laodiceans, caught up in the snare of fleshly sufficiency, had lost their love for and devotion to the unseen God (vv. 14·22). Although actually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, they thought that they "had need of nothing" (v. 17). Such is the state of all who are not in personal fellowship with the Father through the Son, having "their portion" only in this life (Ps. 17:14).
Thus, Christ's counsel to the Laodiceans-and to all people of kindred spirit with them. It was, and is, to "buy" from Him "gold tried in the fire," that they may "be rich," and "white raiment," that they may "be clothed," and to anoint their eyes "with eye-salve," that they may see (v. 18).
It is encouraging that He held out to the alienated Laodiceans the call to repentance, and recovery of themselves from Satan's snare. Standing at the heart's door, He knocks. And, "if any man" hears His voice, and opens the door, He "will come in to him, and will sup with him," and he will be given to sup with Christ (v. 20).
The overcomers at Laodicea-and everywhere-were promised an eternal reign with Christ. They will "sit with Me in My throne," He said, "even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" (v. 21).
So are given to us "exceeding great and precious promises," that, by them, we may become "partakers of the divine Nature." And, in that capacity, inherit the blessing which God has prepared for them that love and identify with Him through Christ His Son (II Pet. 1:4-6; cf. Mt. 5:34; II Cor. 7:1; I Pet. 3:9).·
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).