Last Updated on : Friday, August 15, 2014
|Thirteen Lectures On The Apocalypse|
Revelation Chapters 2 and 3
The message to the seven ecclesias -- the suggestive position they occupy as the preface to the Apocalypse -- the obscure and not the great honoured by Christ's communication in the first century -- the poor called and not the rich -- the rule of action still the same -- Effect of the vision upon John -- his fear and the comfort -- the message considered in detail -- to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, to Laodicea -- value of the messages -- the view that they were prophetic as well as preceptive -- the Laodicean state of contemporary Christendom
LAST Thursday evening we made a beginning in the consideration of the subject of the Apocalypse. We deferred till to-night a glance at the messages Jesus sent by the hand of John to the seven ecclesias of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Those messages are much more interesting than they at first sight appear to be. The position they occupy is very suggestive. They come first in an exhibition of things that were shortly to come to pass among the nations of the earth. Before Christ proceeds to unfold these things, he addresses himself to his own brethren, through one of them exiled in Patmos. Nothing could be more significant of the position the friends of Christ occupy in relation to himself and the purpose of which he is the centre. We do not realize it quite so distinctly perhaps in the nineteenth century as we should have as contemporaries of John. We are apt to think of John as a very exalted personage, occupying a high place among the renowned of the earth. This view is doubtless right in a certain way, but not in the way referred to. John was truly one of the great, but not of this world. Like his master, he was in his day of no account -- despised and rejected of men. Whence came he to Patmos but as an outcast? He was one of the small, not of the great; one of the poor, not of the rich; one of the lambs, not of the lions. And it was to him and not to the great and prosperous and esteemed of men in his day, that Jesus condescends from the height of eternal glory to communicate confidentially the Father's purpose concerning the kingdoms and great men of the earth. This brings to us with much force the truth proclaimed by Paul: "All things are yours;" "All things are for your sakes" (2 Cor. 4:15). The very activity of the nations everywhere--their commerce, their political revolutions, their social transformations--are all so many elements in the preparation of the earth for transfer to the govern-
ment of Jesus and those among mankind whom he honours with his approbation and selection as brethren in the day of his arrival in glory. Those meanwhile are to be found among the poor and the down-trodden as at the first. They are those who have faith in the testimony of God, and who submit daily to His commandments, or as it is Apocalyptically expressed, "who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (12:17). This class is not to be found among the respectable and the learned, though there is nothing intrinsically incompatible with submission to the truth in respectability and learning. The respectable and the learned are surrounded with the views and influences from the very cradle, which bring men into bondage to the traditions and practices of the world, and withhold them from the enlightening power of the testimony of God. The poor are no better off so far as the positive tendency of their surroundings is concerned; but in their poverty, they are at least free from some of the impediments that beset the path of the well-to-do, and their minds are more flexible to the divine bent than where riches foster pride and harden the heart. However we may reason upon the subject, it is the fact that God hath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, to be the heirs of the kingdom promised (Jas. 2:5); and to this class the Apocalypse was sent in the first century and is addressed in the nineteenth.
When John, hearing the first voice that broke upon the meditative solitude of Patmos, turned to see the speaker, he was overpowered with the glory of the symbolic spectacle that presented itself to his view. He fell at the feet of the sunblazing personage standing in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. The power and glory stunned him. Had we been with him we should have been similarly affected and shared in his fear. But presently words of comfort fell upon his ear: "He laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the First and the Last. I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore". How often this cheering adjuration occurs in God's communication with men: "Fear not". There is something to fear in the awful greatness of the unmeasured power of God: but the comforting words in question remind us that this great power is allied with a kindness as tender as that of a father for his children. God is love, as well as a consuming fire. We must pick up the crumbs of comfort as we go. We shall find this comfort grow upon us as we follow and consider the messages addressed to the seven representative
ecclesias. Let us take them in the order in which they are rehearsed. Let us take first, the message
Christ introduces himself as "He who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks". The lesson of this is powerful in view of the interpretation, that "The seven candlesticks are the seven churches." Christ walking in the midst of these candlesticks means that all things among the brethren are as open to his sight and knowledge as they are in each ecclesia to those who constitute that ecclesia. It means more than this. It means that he has not only power to see, but power to control, and to affect everyone as he sees fit. As he expresses it in the message to Thyatira: "All the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts, and I will give unto every one of you according to your works." This power the Lord Jesus possesses by reason of his possession of the Spirit. "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). "He is the Lord of Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17). Consequently, what Paul says of the "word of God" (which he is, made flesh) is true of him: "He is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the hearts, neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight, but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:12-13). This fact is attested by his description as "he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks". He walked in the midst of the brethren in the days of John, in the sense of knowing, and watching, and affecting all their affairs. It scarcely needs to be remarked that if true in the first century, it is true now, and that, consequently, the affairs of the brethren are everywhere open to his view and subject to his manipulation.
"I know thy works:" this fact follows from Christ's relation to the seven candlesticks. It is a comforting fact to everyone who is striving to walk acceptably before God, and perhaps failing to secure the approbation of men. It may seem to us as if our affairs were unknown and unheeded. Time goes on and nothing comes of it, and we may become "weary and faint in our minds". Perhaps there were some in Ephesus who felt like this. They had been forty or fifty years in existence as an ecclesia before receiving this indication of the Lord's mind concerning them. We have not had so long a career as that. Let us bear up against the effects of apparent delay. The Lord is noticing, and so to speak, recording proceedings from day to day. When he comes, He will let us know what He
thinks, and give us the results in a very substantial form. He will express His approval if our course admit of it. He commended the Ephesian ecclesia for some things. He approved of their "labour and patience:" "Thou hast borne and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted." He also spoke approvingly of them on this head: "Thou canst not bear them that are evil, and thou hast tried them that say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." This is the best answer to those who accuse us of uncharitableness on account of our hostility to that which is opposed to the revealed will of Christ, and because of our application of the test of truth to the modern professors of apostleship or successorship to the apostles. If the Ephesian attitude in these matters secured the approbation of Christ, a British attitude will do the same if righteously sustained. And if we secure Christ's approbation, it matters nothing if the whole world condemn us.
Christ had "somewhat against" the brethren in Ephesus. They had "left their first love". We must understand this in the light of scriptural definitions of love, and not according to the modern notion which limits love to sentiment. It means more than affection: it means love in practical manifestation. "This is love", says John, "that we walk after (in accordance with) his commandments" (2 John 6). Jesus also says, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (John 14:21). Hence a return to first love is a return to first acts. This is the interpretation Jesus gives of it in the message, "Repent, and do the first works" (verse 5). Christ requires a continuance -- a patient continuance, in well doing (Rom. 2:7). He declared it expressly in this form, "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved" (Matt. 24:13). This is reasonable: for where would be the value of a man's friendship which cools off with time and tires in those practical manifestations which give it value?
Jesus threatened the removal of the candlestick in case of non-reformation (verse 5). As the candlestick stood for the ecclesia, this was equivalent to saying that he would break up the ecclesia if the brethren were not earnestly attentive to his requirements. This is another indication of Christ's control of providence; for how would he remove the candlestick? Not by open visitation but by the disintegrating action of adverse circumstances regulated by him. As he said to Sardis: "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" (chap. 3:3). The threat however involved a further point.
That is, it meant more than merely interfering with the existence of the community. It referred particularly to the withdrawal of that symbolic oil for the combustion of which in light-giving, the candlestick was a mere apparatus, and without which it was of no use. To withdraw the oil was practically to remove the candlestick. Oil symbolically used stands for the Spirit of God, as proved in many ways which we need not refer to. The Spirit of God was bestowed upon the ecclesias in the first century. It was this that constituted them the Spirit's candlesticks. Hence the threat was a threat of the withdrawal of the Spirit. The threat was duly carried into effect. The reformation desired did not set in. The Apostasy, which Paul declared to be in active progress before his death, got the upper hand everywhere, and the candlesticks were removed in all senses, since which day, the light of inspiration has been extinct, except in so far as it survives in the writings of the Spirit -- the oracles of God which are to us a treasure beyond price.
Jesus expresses his satisfaction that the brethren in Ephesus "hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes" (2:6), which he adds he also hated. Who these were in the specific sense, is a matter of some doubt. The name is a compound of two Greek words, nikh and laoV, signifying victory and the people; and the Dr. [Thomas] suggests that it stands generally for those who obtained the victory over the people by their corruption of the truth. The objection to this lies in the mention of Nicolaitanes as a class extra in addition to the corrupters of the truth in general. They come after the reference in this message, to "them which are evil" and those "who say they are apostles". Also in the message to Smyrna, they are mentioned in the same special way after the enumeration of other corrupters. "So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which THING I hate" (chap. 2:15). This seems to point to a special feature. In the enumeration of the early sects to be found in ecclesiastical history, mention is made of one Nicolaus, who taught the community of wives among Christians, and whose followers are said to have been called Nicolaitanes. If there was such a doctrine and such a sect among the ecclesias, it would be easy to understand how it came to be singled out for such emphatic reprobation in the messages sent by Christ to them; for nothing could more powerfully tend to the demoralization and disruption of society or the corruption and destruction of individuals than the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes.
The promise to the Ephesian ecclesia, like the other parts of the
message, is couched in the language of symbol: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (2:7). The meaning of the symbol is plain to those who apprehend the truth concerning Christ as the giver of eternal life. In this capacity, he likened himself when on earth to manna and also to a vine, without which a man must die (John 6:27-35; 15:4-6) How true we find this to be! All men are mortal. One by one we must fail and wither and die. Nature holds out no hope of renewal of life for animal organizations. Hope lies in the direction of Christ alone, who proclaimed himself to be the Resurrection and the Life, and who is, therefore, appropriately likened in this promise to a tree, having the power of imparting immortality to the eater; after the figure of the tree in Eden, of which had Adam partaken, he would have lived for ever (Gen. 3:22).
Jesus introduces himself as "the first and the last, who was dead and is alive". In this, he presents his origin and history in a phrase. He is the First,--the Father, the Eternal in manifestation. You say, "That is intelligible, but how can he be 'the Last'?" Well, if we realize that when God's purpose with the earth is finished, Jesus will be the occupant and possessor thereof for ever, at the head of ransomed mankind, we can understand how, in relation to the history of the earth, he is the final--the Last. His having died and risen are incidents in the history that leads from the "First" state to the "Last" state. It was natural he should place these in the foreground, because he was about to promise a crown of life for faithfulness unto death. He tells the Smyrneans that, among other things, he knows their poverty, but immediately adds, in parenthesis, "but thou art rich". The destined possessors of the kingdom of God may well be said to be rich. All things are theirs, as Paul says (1 Cor. 3:21). It is only a question of time, their coming into possession. Meanwhile, like Paul, they have to "suffer the loss of all things". He accuses some of blasphemy in saying they were Jews when they were not (verse 9). This is not a form of blasphemy of which the moderns are liable to be guilty. They have lost sight of the fact that "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), and are under no temptation to call themselves Jews. They have forgotten, if they ever knew, that in the apostolic system, "He is a Jew that is one inwardly" (Rom. 2:29), even though originally "a Gentile in the flesh, a stranger from the covenants
of promise, and an alien from the commonwealth of Israel" (Eph. 2:12). Even the blasphemers of the first century were more enlightened than the pious of the nineteenth.
Jesus forewarns the Smyrnean brethren that they would suffer, and that "the devil would cast some of them into prison". This shows who the devil was in Christ's view of things. The authorities that wielded powers of imprisonment and death were, collectively, the devil. This was not the orthodox devil, but the diabolism of human nature incorporate in organized authority. The promise to faithfulness is expressed negatively: "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death". The second death is that repetition of death which will occur at the appearance of Christ in the case of those who rise from the dead to experience the shame and punishment of a divine repudiation. This will be a far more terrible visitation every way than the first occurrence of death. The second death is prefaced with the agonizing knowledge of a divine rejection publicly proclaimed. There is no hope in it, and it comes at last with violence and pain.
The promise of exemption from it, coming from him who has power to inflict it, is a "great and precious promise". It is a promise, like all other promises, to those who "overcome", that is, to those who get the upper hand in the conflict created by the reception of the truth. This is a conflict with clamorous propensities within, and importunate interests without. That which overcomes, John says, is "our faith" (I John 5:4); and Paul tells us that "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). So that the man who overcomes is the man in whom the word of truth dwells richly by reason of its being caused to indwell abundantly through the constant reading and study of the Scriptures. A full conviction of the things written therein is faith, and faith gives power to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world", and "he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death."
The possessor of the two-edged sword naturally calls attention to that instrument as a preliminary to threatened hostility. It stands as the symbol of Christ's power to execute the behests of his will. He addresses himself to brethren dwelling at Satan's headquarters (verse 13) -- not the popular Satan, but the Satan of the Bible, the adversary of the truth and the people of God, a Satan who always consists of men -- sometimes a man. Jesus commends the Pergamian brethren for
their constancy in the faith in the presence of active persecution, but finds fault with them for tolerating Balaamites in their midst. Peter defines the character of those in saying they had "an heart exercised with covetous practices, which have forsaken the right way, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Peter 2:15). Hence the Balaamites were men of sinister aim, who not only made use of the truth for purposes of gain, but conformed with wrong and unscriptural ways for the sake of earning money which could not otherwise be earned. The Nicolaitanes also flourished in their midst. He threatens to fight against the ecclesia with the sword of his mouth, that is, to command evil against them if these offenders were not reformed out of their midst. To him overcoming, he promises the eating of the hidden manna, that is, participation of the native life and glory of Him who is the manna (meanwhile hidden) that came down from heaven to give life to the world; also a white stone, with new name engraved, which no man could know but the receiver. This is the symbolical pledge of acceptance and friendship in the judgment. It is based upon customs in the East both judicial and social. The judicial custom is to hand in court a white stone to an accused person acquitted in token of his acquittal, and the social custom is for a host to divide a white stone in two halves, and engrave the guest's name on both, retain one, give the guest the other as a passport to future favour and friendship. In the case of Christ's friends, the name is a new one, intimating that both nature and designation will be changed in the glorious declaration of friendship that will take place in the case of those who overcome. Jesus gave his leading apostles new names (e.g., Peter: Cephas; James and John: Boanerges: etc.). He will probably re-name his accepted brethren in harmony with the new age to which he will introduce them.
The Son of God, with eyes piercing and destructive as a flame of fire, commends the brethren in Thyatira for their works and charity and service and faith and patience, and again for their works, more abounding at the end than at the beginning. Notwithstanding, he condemns their toleration of Jezebel. Who was Jezebel? Was she a literal woman? No, for a variety of reasons. First, the symbolic character of the Apocalyptic communication in general, involving peculiarly the symbolic use of women (chap. 17:18; 14:4). Secondly, the surroundings of the statement are inconsistent with the idea of a literal woman. The Jezebel in the case is said to "teach and
seduce the servants of Christ" (2:20), and to have children and paramours who, in default of repentance, are threatened with a bed of tribulation and death, by the operation of which "all the churches" are to discern the retributive power of Christ. This could not be understood of a private person; it refers to something of a public character having a bearing on all. Space to repent is said to have been afforded her, which would be inconceivable as applied to the abandoned prostitution portrayed in the language understood literally; for such a thing could have no pretence to occupy a place in the church of Christ at all. Finally, the teaching attributed to her identifies her with the Balaamites of Pergamos. She is said to "teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols." This is exactly the teaching set down to the credit of the holders of the Balaamite doctrine in Pergamos (verse 14). The tendency of this teaching was to draw the brethren into connection and fellowship with the popular Paganism by which they were surrounded, in opposition to the doctrine of Christ that his brethren are "not of this world" (John 15:18-19); and that friendship with the world is an impossibility if the friendship of God is to be retained. Such a communion of light with darkness is very commonly spoken of as fornication. In Pergamos, the upholders of such a time-serving doctrine are said to be "those who hold the doctrine of Balaam": in Thyatira, where they made special pretensions to divine authority, they are lumped under the figure of "that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess". Addressing those who had not come under the power of their sophistications, Jesus speaks of them as "many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak". Here the phrase "the depths" is quoted from the mouth of the Satan--a teaching plurality consisting of the Balaamites and the Jezebelites. It shows that they had a very complacent estimate of their attainments. They spoke of their views as "the depths", by which, of course, they would mean that their ideas were advanced and profound as compared with the elementary propositions of the gospel with which the simpler members of the congregation were content. What would there be in their doctrines of which they would speak as "the depths"? We may form some idea from the peculiarities of mysticism both ancient and modern. This system of thought scorns proximate and concrete forms of truth, and dives, or makes profession of diving, into the "essence" and "inner self" of things. It professes to see in the external world but the expression of a universal "soul," in which the
"spiritual analogue" of all things exists. It governs its views of externals by its theories of the assumed internal. Hence, it can respect everything as the symbol of the so-called "eternal good." It can see something to tolerate and even admire in idolatry and in every form of superstition. Christ it praises, but can also adore Juggernaut, Confucius, and Mahomet. It gives a high place to "Christianity", but would place Greek philosophy on a level with it. It considers the love of Christ good in its place, but a weakness if exalted over the appreciation of other forms of "goodness". To condemn Paganism is bigotry in the language of this school; to "know nothing but Christ" is narrowness; to believe that salvation is the exclusive association of the gospel, is shallow, superficial, childish. To hold its views is to plumb "the depths" of wisdom and knowledge in its estimation.
The real state of the case is defined by Paul when he says that "professing themselves to be wise, they become fools". Their notions are the mere vagaries of speculation: their pretentious language is the gibber of ignorance in its worst form: ignorance that thinks itself informed: shallowness that thinks itself profound. The true philosophy is in the Bible: the true depth in its simplicities. We want nothing deeper than God -- inscrutable, granted, but sufficient as a fact, and an explanation of other facts. In all systems, there must be an inexplicable fact to start with, even in Darwin's, which shallow thinkers think so free from mystery. The "unsearchable God" is more satisfactory and philosophical as a starting point than anything presented to us in Pagan metaphysics or modern science. And what more do we want than proximate facts: concrete relations? They are the practical conditions of life and well-being. The Bible gives us them, deals in them, enlightens us in the use of them.
The Bible is the true deep. But the Satan babble complacently about "the depths". Jesus prefers those who are not thus sophisticated, but whose wisdom consists in the recognition of facts natural and revealed and adaptation to them. He says to "those who have not known the depths of Satan as they speak," "I will put upon you none other burden, but that which ye have already (the faith of the gospel), hold fast till I come". The faith of Christ is to every human being embracing it the ladder to immeasurable heights of well-being. He that by its power overcomes will yet wield iron-rod power over the nations first broken, like crockery-ware, in virtue of the glorious covenant of the eternal Father, which ensures to His Son the proprietorship of the earth for
ever (Psalm 2:8). Such, as a qualification for the iron rule, will receive "the morning star" (Rev. 2:28). As Christ is the morning star (Rev. 22:16), this can only mean that the victor will be transformed in nature into conformity with the luminous and indestructible body of power, beauty and purity, now possessed by him who was once "crucified through weakness" (2 Cor. 13:4), but in whom now dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9).
"He that hath the seven Spirits of God" -- the symbolic affirmation of omniscience -- has little to say in the way of commendation to the brethren in Sardis. "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Men knew the reputation of the Sardian ecclesia: the possessor of "the seven stars" -- the seven Spirit lights kindled in the seven ecclesias, knew their state. "I have not found thy works perfect before God." Jesus watches and discerns the developments of probation. He requires not to bring men to the judgment seat to know, though he will bring them there to reveal them. There were a few exceptions in Sardis: "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"; from which we learn that membership in a dead ecclesia will not interfere with individual acceptance where worthiness exists. Even those who are lacking have an opportunity which they are exhorted to use. "Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die . . . Repent." There is this encouragement to repentance: "He that overcometh, the same 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". The white investiture is readily recognizable in that clothing of the mortal body with immortality from heaven, of which all accepted saints are to be the subjects at the Lord's coming. The "righteousness of the saints" is said to be the meaning of the "fine linen, clean and white", with which the symbolic bride is arrayed; but this cannot be the meaning of the white raiment in this place, because this is promised as the recompense of the righteousness (or overcoming), and, therefore, cannot be the righteousness itself. It is a fit symbol of the pure incorruptible that will result from the transforming action of the Spirit of God upon the mortal bodies of the saints who stand before Christ accepted. Of course it is not literal; white raiment of this sort could be purchased at the milliner's. There may, however, be a blending of the symbolical and the literal. That
is to say, the immortalized saints may wear white clothing. The angels, to whom they are to be equal, almost always appeared habited in white (Matt. 28:3; Acts 10:30, etc.), and the garments of Jesus in transfiguration, became "white and glistering", "so as no fuller on earth can white them". The apparel of the immortal state is an interesting matter of detail, but not of practical moment. The thing that is of practical moment is the fact that it is possible for a man's name to be blotted from the book of life, that is, expunged from the divine recognition as an heir of eternal life, after having once sustained that relation. Jesus promised to the Sardian ecclesia that this should not happen in the case of such as overcome, but that they should be confessed by him before the Father and the angels. This is an honour the greatness of which we cannot estimate because it is yet unseen, but which will be appreciated at its true greatness when the hour arrives for the muster of the chosen, and the inauguration in glory in the presence of multitudes of the angelic host and the manifested glory of the Father.
The Holy and the True, holding the Key of David, speaks comfortably to the ecclesia in Philadelphia. Why Jesus should be described as the Holy and the True we know well; but why should he be said to have "the key of David"? The truth has enabled us to apprehend this as well. The house of David is the pivot upon which the purpose of God in the earth turns. The covenant was made with him, out of which salvation grows (2 Sam. 23:5). It concerns his house (2 Sam. 7:25-26). "Upon the throne of David and his kingdom" is the Messiah to sit (Isa. 9:7). To possess the key of this house is to have power to decide its destinies. Using this key, we are told he shuts and no man opens, and opens and no man shuts. He has shut the house of David in the earth, and no man can enter it. He will open it in due time, in restoring again the kingdom to Israel, and not the leagued forces of every nation under heaven will be able to shut it again any more. When Christ re-opens the house he will open it for all of whom he approves in the day of his appearing; for his purpose is to invite them to the participation of his glorious throne (Rev. 3:21), which is the throne of David (Luke 1:32). The allusion to the key of David is an allusion to this gracious purpose. It was his present door-opening graciousness, however, that he wished to make known to the brethren in Philadelphia, of his power to exercise which his posses-
sion of the key of David was a guarantee: "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it". The reason of this was: "Thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name", on account of which also he promises a special exemption from the ten-year-days of tribulation that were to come upon all the world, saying, "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" (3:10). Here are two striking illustrations of Christ's providential control of the affairs of his brethren -- the keeping open of a door against the power of man, and preservation in the midst of evil circumstances bearing hardly upon the people in general. These things were not written only for the generation that saw the first publication of the Apocalypse; they were written for the encouragement of brethren in whatever country or age Jesus should have any during his absence. Consequently, we shall rob ourselves of comfort if we refuse to appropriate the evident lesson -- that if our ways please him, though we see him not and the age of spirit gifts has not returned, he can and will keep open a door for us when man would fain close it, and can shield in the midst of public evil, greatly affecting and distressing the people around us. Another promise made to Philadelphia is also probably of general applicability: "I will make them (of the synagogue of Satan which say they are Jews and are not, but do lie), to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee". Faithful men in Christ may be misunderstood and misappreciated and calumniated by the carnal professors of their day and generation, whom, for the time being, they are commanded to judge not, and be patient and forbearing with; but the day is coming when He who saith "Vengeance is mine" will vindicate faithfulness and worth in a very effectual manner. The cringing obeisance of enemies and traducers will in that day attest the righteous judgment of God.
The promise to Philadelphia is permanent pillarship in the temple of God. "Him that overcometh I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name." The figure of an edifice is very serviceable to illustrate the relations of a community. It is a favourite figure in all styles of writing and language, and is peculiarly characteristic of the Scriptures. The saints are said to be stones, and the apostles foundations on which they are built (1 Pet.
2:5; Eph. 2:20). In the case before us, we have a temple to express the corporate existence and functions of the saints in glory. To be a pillar in this temple is to be a principal part of the building, or to occupy an important position in the community. A pillar never removed from its place is illustrative of the stability appertaining to an immortal constitution of things. To have the name of the city is to be made a constituent of it -- to be a part of it in the municipal sense. The city is Jerusalem: for this is the city which God chose from the beginning to place His name there (1 Kings 14:21, 2 Chron. 12:13), the city of the Great King (Matt. 5:35), which though now forsaken, is to be re-married and re-established (Isa. 62:1, 4). But it is new Jerusalem, because Jerusalem under a new constitution of things, -- abundantly set forth in the prophets (Isa. 52:1-10; 65:17-19; 66:10-15). This new constitution of Jerusalem is from heaven, for it comes with Christ from heaven. Therefore the coming Jerusalem, though a manifestation of power and glory on the site of the old Jerusalem, is "new Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven from my God". To be made a constituent of this new Jerusalem is the highest pinnacle of glory conceivable to our imagination. It is the glory promised by the Lord to the brethren in Philadelphia; and he appends to it the adjuration which extends the offer of it even to us. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith to the Churches."
Introducing himself as "the faithful and true witness", the Lord, in this message, bears testimony against the Laodicean ecclesia, of which he says, "Thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." Nothing could be more valuable to us than this message as indicating the standard of the Lord's tastes, so to speak, with regard to the attitude of his disciples towards him. He wishes them to be one thing or the other. He cannot suffer moderation in the appreciation of spiritual things. Heartiness, thoroughness, enthusiasm may express what he means by the state of being "hot". There can be no mistaking his meaning. He hates lukewarmness: he demands a warm affection towards himself as the incorporation of the things of God. He said this even when on earth: "If any man love father or mother, son or daughter, more than me, he is not worthy of me". It is unwise to discourage the exuberance of the spiritual affections. It is easier to become Laodicean than to rise to
the Spirit's glow. What prudent people may regard as propriety may easily become lukewarmness, which the Lord detests. There is not much danger of the extreme of love for things of the Spirit. There is greater danger of coming short. Shortcoming in this respect is generally the result of what the Lord found fault with in the Laodiceans. He declares them self-satisfied: "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing". Thus they had a very good opinion of themselves. This self-complacency, bordering on self-conceit, is a very great enemy to spiritual enthusiasm. Spiritual enthusiasm is due to the admiration of that which is extraneous and divine. When people are well satisfied with themselves, their powers of admiration are personally absorbed, and cannot outflow to superior objects. And this self-satisfaction is generally a great obstruction to self-discernment. People think themselves well-conditioned when they are in fact petty, meagre, small, insignificant and lean of soul. So it was with the Laodiceans to whom Jesus said, "Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked". There is hope, however, for people even in this self-deceived condition, or Jesus would not have counselled the Laodiceans to "buy of him gold tried in the fire (a robust faith), white raiment (righteousness), and eye salve (spiritual discernment)". Men roused to a sense of their deficiency on these points will resort to those remedies in the reading of the word and prayer which will tend to supply the deficiencies pointed out. There is always room for hope with time and opportunity. Jesus speaks encouragingly in this sense even to the Laodiceans. He exhorts them to "repent", and informs them of his solicitous friendliness towards them all: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: 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". To those who respond to his invitation and obey his voice, he makes a glorious promise: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne". The gospel of the kingdom enables us to understand this promise. Though men scorn the idea as the conception of fanaticism, it is a promise of association with Jesus in the kingly honours, glories, and joys of the new and glorious government which Christ is to establish in the land of promise for all the earth at his coming to restore again the kingdom to Israel. This promise also, though offered to the Laodiceans in the first place, is extended to every believer by the postscript appended to every message: "He
that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches."
And with this, these highly interesting messages to the Churches conclude. They are of immense value to the friends of Christ in all ages. They were of value doubtless to the individual communities to which, in the first instance, these messages were sent, but they have been of more consequence to the ages coming after; at least to that class in the ages described in the messages as "having ears". For this service they were intended, and we cannot suppose they have failed of their purpose. There is an idea entertained by some that besides being a faithful description of the condition of the seven Asian ecclesias contemporary with John, these messages also shadowed forth in prophetic outline the history of the churches of Christ in general, from its Ephesian loving, labouring, zealous state developed by the labours of the Apostles in the first century, to the Laodicean state reached at last as the result of the triumph of the apostasy foretold -- a state in which it was cast out and rejected of Christ (spued out of the Spirit's mouth) as a nauseous and disowned thing. Whether the messages had this prophetic scope in the intention of the Spirit of God cannot be determined from any information to be derived from the messages themselves: but certain it is that the history of the community established by the labours of the apostles, has followed pretty much in the groove of these messages, and that for a long time (so far as the reputed Church of Christ in the world is concerned -- the various state-endowed denominations of Christendom), the spued-out and rejected state has obtained in the world. The professing Christian Church rejects the faith and disobeys the commandments of Christ while professing submission to him. Lukewarmness is the universal order of the day. An earnest and practical interest in the things of God is regarded as something phenomenal and calling for pity. What can we do but take Peter's advice and "save ourselves from this untoward generation"? Fortunately for our good cheer, it is revealed that Christ at his coming will find some waking and ready. That we may be assisted in our endeavours to be of this number is one of the objects contemplated in this course of Thirteen Lectures on the Apocalypse. God grant His blessing on the effort and give us edification and peace.
|All Books/Booklets, Editorials, and Articles are FREE and can be downloaded without permission.|