F. B. Hole.
Extracted from 'Words of Grace and Encouragement', volume 10, 1910.
Published by CBTD.
A good deal of attention has of late been focused upon the messages addressed to the seven churches of Asia by our Lord Jesus Christ recorded in Revelation, 2 and 3 but if we would "hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" we must be careful to rightly divide the word of truth.
It is important to notice that there is in these chapters nothing of an ecclesiastical nature; everything is put upon moral and spiritual lines. Church order is not the point; no questions as to discipline are raised; for instruction as to that we should turn to Paul, but the ministry committed to John was of a different character altogether.
If people insist upon dragging such questions into Rev. 2 and 3 they necessarily have to content themselves with arguing from what is NOT there, a questionable proceeding, since almost any conclusion may be reached in starting from such negative premises.
We may notice, for instance, that the Lord Jesus treats each assembly as standing absolutely on its own basis before Him, entirely apart from any of the other assemblies. If we assume that church order is the subject here, we might well reason that no assembly is entitled under any circumstances to touch another, either in the way of reception from or rejection, or both. The writer has heard both these propositions enforced from this scripture. Philadelphia was not bidden to receive the faithful few from Laodicea, nor to reject any who might come from under the influence of the Thyatiran Jezebel. Needless to say, the two positions were maintained by two conflicting schools of thought. Rightly divide this portion of the word, and the worth of both arguments is seen to be nil.
We shall be on safe ground if we start with the thought that the presentation which the Lord makes of Himself to John preliminary to sending the seven messages gives us a key to understanding their character (Rev. 1:10-20). In reading it one is instantly reminded of the passage in Daniel 7:9-14 about the Ancient of Days before whom one like the Son of Man was brought to receive the kingdom. Here the characteristics of "the Ancient of Days" and "one like to the Son of Man " are united in one Person, and judgment begins at the House of God. This was evidently the prominent feature of the vision, and deeply affected the Apostle John, but when prostrated before this glorious One another characteristic came into view, viz., His priesthood. He laid His right hand upon John in priestly grace, reminding him that in resurrection He is a priest for ever, sustaining everything vital. He judges walking amongst the seven golden candlesticks that is His judicial work. He holds the keys and the stars that is priestly work.
Reading, then, the seven addresses, not in their prophetic character for the moment, but as the word of the Lord to the then seven existing assemblies in Asia Minor, we may notice how these two characters, the judicial and the priestly, are stamped upon them all.
Each address has three parts:
1st. A special presentation of the Lord Himself suited to their state.
2nd. His review of their state.
3rd. His special reward to the overcomer.
In the case of Thyatira and Laodicea a fourth division must be added, viz.:
A special word of instruction to the overcomers.
The writer, however, only proposes to call attention to one thing the all-sufficiency of Christ for every detail. He goes outside Himself for nothing, showing thus the truth of the statement.
"In Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in Him." (Col. 2: 9, 10.) Whether it be a question of judicial discernment in detecting evil, and power in dealing with it, or priestly grace in sustaining, guiding, and nourishing what is of Himself, He is all-sufficient. What a stay for our souls!
Consider, first of all, the various presentations He makes of Himself.
To Ephesus it is "He that holds the seven stars in His right hand," i.e., priestly support; "who walkest in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" judicial discernment. At Ephesus there was much that was highly commendable, and what is of Himself He ever supports, but He reminds them that everything is coming beneath His observation inasmuch as already he saw the signs of rottenness at the core of this assembly.
To Smyrna, He is "the first and the last, which was dead and is alive." No mention here of His judicial aspect, it was not needed. Smyrna was marked by faithfulness amidst much trial and persecution, and before them He stands as the very embodiment of priestly power and grace already occupying resurrection ground. With Him in the resurrection world they would ultimately stand, even if they laid down their lives in martyrdom here.
Before the eyes of Pergamos He is judicial. He has "the sharp sword with two edges." The sharp two-edged sword is not wholly disconnected with the thought of priesthood, as Hebrews 4 shows, yet here it has a distinctly judicial aspect according to verse 16.
With Thyatira, again, His judicial character is seen. "His eyes like to a flame of fire and His feet are like fine brass." He is perfectly able in His own time and way to deal with every form of religious iniquity, nothing will escape Him.
With Sardis, again, both characters are mentioned. He has the "seven Spirits of God" the perfection of spiritual discernment. He is therefore well able to look beneath the fair reputation and exterior and detect spiritual death. He has "the seven stars," so that even a few in Sardis may be sustained in life.
To Philadelphia, as to Smyrna, He appears in a priestly character. He is the One who controls and sustains everything in the world of God's interests, and those who keep His word and do not deny His name, may count on His support to the end.
His presentation of Himself to Laodicea stands alone. It is neither distinctively judicial nor priestly. Laodicea is hopeless and must go. Hence He rather presents Himself as the One who remains and occupies the ground in absolute perfection when Laodicea is gone. He is "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." This is the most striking thing of all. Not only has He ample reserve and resource in Himself to meet all the varying states which may be found in the assemblies below, but when there is utter collapse and removal, He can step into the breach and occupy the ground Himself.
We live in days in which it is hardly appropriate to direct attention to what the Church is down here. We should rather turn our thoughts to what Christ Himself is up there when all else is gone.
When we turn to the rewards promised to the overcomer, the same thing strikes us. Nothing is promised that is apart from Himself.
The "tree of life" (Rev. 2:7) reminds us of Christ as the source and spring of life.
The "crown of life" and deliverance from the second death (verses 10, 11) give us the positive and negative sides. The positive speaking of Himself as the very highest expression of that which is life indeed.
The hidden manna, the white stone, the new name (verse 17) speak to us of peculiar intimacy, with the Lord Himself as our portion.
The reward in Thyatira (verses 26-29) gives us association with Christ in rule, and also affection, for He is the morning star.
To Sardis it is the book of life and confession of his name before the Father (Rev. 3:5). To Philadelphia, association with Him both in the temple, the inner shrine, or sanctuary, and in the city the outer seat of administration.
Lastly, to Laodicea (verse 21) it is association with Him in the place of His own secret approval, even as He overcame and has already reached the place where He is approved of God. Glorified in God Himself and glorified immediately, without waiting for the public display of the kingdom (See John 13:31, 32).
How important the lesson which all this would teach us, whether we regard it as applying to the then existing assemblies, or in its prophetic character as applying to the successive stages of the Church's history upon earth. If we look at things as they are we cannot but feel the rising tide of evil in the professing church, rapidly becoming a torrent which threatens to carry all before it, and also the extreme weakness which marks true believers in the face of it, rent by seemingly endless, and ofttimes needless divisions they are unable to stem the tide.
At the sight of this glorious One we today may well fall at His feet as dead, and if we do it will be to know the strength of His right hand. We shall find Him to be all-sufficient for every emergency, and able to cope with every difficulty, until at last amid the wreck of that which professed His name upon earth He will stand absolutely alone, securing, maintaining everything to the glory of God.
Hence, when in Revelation 4 and 5 the scene is suddenly shifted to heaven at the close of the church's sojourn upon earth, two sentences greet us:
No man was found worthy" (Rev. 5:4), and
Worthy IS THE LAMB" (verse 12).
Christ then is seen to be "all and in all" (Col. 3:11). Let us rejoice that even now we are "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10) F. B. Hole.