J. N. Darby.
I have a few remarks to make on the churches. The object in view being their judgment, it is not the power which produced blessing that is presented to us; but the state in which the church is found when the blessing produced has been left in men's hands, as an effect - the state after the spiritual energy has been at work. Another thing it is well to remember - that a previously described state does not necessarily cease to exist because a new one is introduced. The church has lost its first love, though much else has come in since. Jezebel has not ceased to exercise her pernicious influence because Sardis has a name to live and is dead.
The next thing I would remark is, that when judgment is to happen to one of the churches (and so is pronounced on the state which that church represents), in the execution of it, the saints, where they are distinguished, are necessarily to be considered apart from the threatened evil-doers, and the time of the punishment of the latter is not in the period pointed out in the address to the church as such. These remain for the execution of the judgment after the encouraged saints are gone, and may be a carcase carrying its former name, but a mere carcase with no life at all. Thus, in Thyatira certain are reserved for great tribulation, and certain to be killed by the retributive justice of God; but under what circumstances is not stated. The saints will be gone before the execution of this judgment: so that it is not in the mixed body to which the Lord's given judgment applies. This modifies extremely the historical accomplishment of the results spoken of in the threatenings pronounced. This remark, however, I think, does not properly apply to the first three churches: their corporate state is recognised, not as being what it ought to be perhaps, but as existing - as a recognised corporate object. Hence the church, as such, is threatened with the Lord's visitation, and "he that overcometh" is placed after the "he that hath ears." But in Thyatira the faithful are distinguished as "the rest in Thyatira." The church, as a professing body, had lost its corporate witness. Hence the Lord's coming is now put forward as a hope and time of expectation to the faithful, to whom the church was no longer a stay and consolation; and the saints are particularly referred to that. "Hold fast till I come." This is very remarkable, as giving now a hope and stay out of the church to the faithful. The change of "the overcomer" to a place before the warning to hear (that is the comparative individualisation of the latter) accompanies this also, beginning with the church of Thyatira. With Thyatira closes also the application of the characters of Christ found in the things John had seen.
253 In Sardis, the title of Christ in the church, as holding the seven stars in His right hand, is recognised - that could not be questioned. But after this all the titles are new, to be understood by a distinctive faith, which is the stay and gives its character to the fidelity of the saints who know His name, but which was not what John had seen displayed of Christ as in the midst of the churches. Sardis and Philadelphia both participate in the announcement of the Lord's coming; which, when the church was thoroughly corrupted as at Thyatira, so that the residue were distinguished from the body, is held out to sustain the faith, and relieve the spirit of those oppressed by the evil.
But then in Sardis the coming is presented in a very different way, from what it is in Philadelphia. Sardis, whose reputation was great, but who was dead in relation with Him who had all the perfections of the Spirit, has her works judged as not perfect before God; and she is threatened with the world's judgment. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 4; Luke 21:35.) Here we have again to remark, that the judgment of Sardis will be, when all real pretension to be a church had ceased, if even the form be preserved. The few worthy will be in white with Jesus; and, after their taking away, those who had formed part of the body will be judged with the world. In what form they subsist is not said: only we may in general say that it will be as unfaithful in the place they stood in, not as not being in it. (See Matt. 24:50-51, and Matt. 25:30.) In Philadelphia, the church is become a remnant, and the remnant is the church in God's sight. All is encouragement: and though strength be very little, still an open door is there. They will be kept from the hour of temptation which will come on the world; and they are comforted with the assurance that the Lord is coming quickly. It is to them, as waiting for Him, a comfort and a joy. It is the faithful, the feeble awakened remnant at the close, who, entering into the patience of Christ, are comforted by the assurance of their entire separation from the world's lot, not merely in judgment, but in the terrible tribulation coming. They would be entirely out of the time even in which it would be. But Christ is not yet come.
254 In the Laodicean church, Christ alone takes the character of "Amen" to promise, and "faithful and true" - promise, and the name in which He is to be Head of all things new, soon to be manifested, "the beginning of the creation of God." (Compare His own titles, Colossians 1.) The church has lost the sense of what Christ is and hence has a good opinion of her own state. And here again the principle previously spoken of applies. The execution of judgment on the persons guilty does not come within the limits of the real existence of that addressed as "the church." I say this of Laodicea; and it is here the question becomes really important, because the Lord addresses it yet as "church."
The overcomers have yet a place at least in the throne with Christ. The body had, when addressed, yet the name of a place before God, and was judged by Him as such; but its real state was nauseous to God, and it would be spued out of the Lord's mouth, utterly rejected as such. This is rather its rejection as in a church-standing than the execution of judgment on those guilty. And this was, in the knowledge of God, its certain portion. Still counsel and warning were addressed to it, till its rejection took place. But the Lord distinguishes the possible remnant that may still linger within, in the patience of His mercy (always unwearied while mercy is possible). But I judge that it is not the resulting judgment on those who refuse the warning and are cast out, but the entire rejection, as disgusting to Christ, from the position in which they stood as a body. A faithful witness could no longer bear such a thing.
This supposes, that after the Sardis state is formed, a Philadelphian body arises, through grace, which is to escape the time of tribulation. The forming of this body, I apprehend, induces a result - the Laodicean state of the public body, which is what Christ will reject, as having to do with the church, leaving aside the judgment of the guilty after their works. The historical execution of the threatening is not given, any more than the rapture of the faithful, because the message is addressed to the body while it has, as a present thing, the character in which it is addressed, with the consequences of certain conduct: only here the declaration of rejection is unconditional, because already the body was what required that rejection. But I apprehend that the term "after these" supposes the execution of the judgment of spuing out of the mouth, so that nothing is any longer recognised as holding, in any sense, a church-standing before God, when the prophetic declarations as to the judgment of the world begin to take effect. The judgment which the individuals who composed the rejected body will undergo (though, I doubt not, having respect to their previous position; for those who have not professed cannot, for example, be apostate,) depends on the position which they are found in, which is not the proper subject of the judgment of the churches, though the declarations made to Thyatira and Sardis (generally considered, whether great Romish and Protestant bodies) intimate, in some respects, the ulterior consequences of infidelity in those positions respectively.