The Addresses to the Seven Churches.

Hamilton Smith.


The following pages contain a simple exposition of the Addresses to the Seven Churches, in which it is sought to trace the decline of the professing Church, from its departure from first love, until the solemn moment is reached when it will be spued out of Christ's mouth. Further, it seeks to set forth the Lord's mind as to the Church, in responsibility, at each stage, in order that the consciences of His people may be exercised by His warnings, while their hearts are cheered by His words of encouragement. H. S.

  The Vision of the Son of Man
  The Messages to the Churches
1 Ephesus
2 Smyrna
3 Pergamos
4 Thyatira
5 Sardis
6 Philadelphia
7 Laodicea

1. Introduction.

Revelation 1:1-8.

(V l). In commencing to study the last book of the Bible it is at once evident, from the introductory verses, that we are about to read a Book of Judgment, and that every truth is presented in perfect consistency with this solemn subject.

Viewed as a whole the Book is declared to be "the Revelation;" a term which implies the unfolding of truth which otherwise would be unknown. Moreover, it is "the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him." Thus Christ is here viewed, as indeed throughout the Book, in His perfect Manhood, though as ever, there will be found statements that guard, and maintain His Deity. Bearing in mind that the Revelation is the Book of Judgment, preparing the way for Christ to inherit the earth, it will at once be seen how suitably Christ is presented in His Manhood; for it is as Man that Christ is ordained to be the Judge, and as Man He will inherit all created things (John 5:27: Acts 17:31: Psalm 8:4-8).

Further, the Revelation was given to Christ "to show to His servants." Thus believers are not viewed in their relationship to the Father as sons, but in relation to Christ as servants. This again is perfectly intelligible when we remember that the Book does not unfold the privileges of sons, as we find in the Epistles, but rather expresses the judgment of the Lord upon the way those who profess to be believers have exercised their responsibilities as servants.

Moreover, we learn from the introduction, that the great purpose of Christ in the Revelation is "to show to His servants things which must shortly come to pass." The contents of the Book make perfectly clear that these things are the judgments that are shortly coming upon Christendom, and the world at large. These judgments are made known, not to gratify curiosity, or feed the fleshly mind in its craving for the sensational, but in order that the servants of Christ, being warned of coming judgment, may walk in holy separation from an unholy and judgment-doomed world. The Revelation, as with all other communications from God, is given to produce a present moral effect upon the hearers. It is not merely communicated but "signified;" a term that implies a communication accompanied by visible signs, thus preparing us for the visions of the Book.

John, who receives these communications, is viewed, not as the disciple that Jesus loved, with his head upon the bosom of Jesus, sharing the intimate thoughts of His heart, nor even as an Apostle sent to others to communicate the thoughts of love, but as a servant responsible to his Master.

(V. 2). Having received these communications John passes them on to others. He "bare record of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." The Revelation comes with all the authority of the Word of God. At the same time it is the testimony of Jesus: not a testimony to Jesus, however much it may contain truths which do indeed testify to Jesus. The testimony of Jesus is that which He Himself renders as to things which must shortly come to pass, — things which John saw (compare Rev. 22:8).

(V. 3). The introductory verses conclude with a special blessing for the one who reads, and for those that hear the words of this prophecy, if the reading and hearing is accompanied by keeping the things which are written therein. This keeping implies a subjection to these words that will affect our practical conduct. This will indeed make demands upon us, but, as ever, the path of submission will be one of great gain, even though it be one of self-denial.

The whole Revelation is here referred to as a prophecy, definitely showing that even the addresses to the Seven Churches have a prophetic character.

Finally, we are reminded that "the time is at hand." The servant is not to expect any further revelation, but to walk with patience in the light of the Revelation of things shortly to come to pass, knowing that "the time is at hand."

(Vv. 4-6). Following upon the introductory verses we have the salutation of the Apostle from which we learn that the record John bears takes the form of a letter addressed to the Seven Churches in the Roman province of Asia. The greeting is characteristic of the Book. Grace and peace is toward the Churches, not as being composed of children in relation with the Father, but, of servants on earth in connection with the throne of government. Thus God is seen according to the name of Jehovah that He takes in connection with Israel and the earth; the One who is, and who was, and who is to come. Further, the Spirit is viewed in His fulness as the seven Spirits before Jehovah's throne; setting forth, doubtless, the fulness of the Spirit ready to be "sent forth into all the earth," as we learn from Revelation 5:6. Have we not in Isaiah 11:2, an intimation of this sevenfold perfection of the Spirit in connection with Christ, the fruitful Branch from the root of Jesse? There we read, "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD."

So, also, Christ is presented in connection with the government of the earth. He is "the faithful Witness;" the One who perfectly set forth God on earth. He is the first begotten from the dead; the One who broke the power of death on earth. He, too, is "the Prince of the kings of the earth;" the One who will rule over all that rule over the earth.

How blessed that the Persons of the Godhead, who are here seen in connection with the government of the earth, — controlling, guiding and judging, — secure grace and peace to the churches, or servants, while they are yet in the scene that is under judgment.

This salutation immediately calls forth a glad response from the Church. John, representing the Church, says, "Unto Him that loves us and has washed us from our sins in His blood, and has made us a kingdom and priests to God and His Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (N. Tr.). The love is viewed as a present reality, as that which remains, though the work by which it has been so perfectly expressed is finished. It is a measureless love, for who can estimate the value of the blood by which the love has been set forth? By the precious blood believers have been washed from their sins, and are thus assured, as they open the Book of Judgment, that they themselves are beyond the judgment.

Moreover, not only are believers washed from their sins, but, as washed, they are made a kingdom. Does this not suggest a company of people who are in subjection to God to do His will, and not, as in time past, their own wills? (Comp. 1 Peter 4:2-3).

Further, believers are viewed as priests to God, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as such have access to God for intercession and praise.

This response to the glory of Jesus Christ closes with a burst of praise to the Lord, "To Him be the glory and the might to the ages of ages. Amen."

How beautiful is this presentation of the Church in its privileges. Loved by Christ; washed by His precious blood; subject to God; having access to the Father, and praising the Lord Jesus — a loved people, a cleansed people, an obedient people, a priestly people, and a praising people.

When we come to the addresses to the Seven Churches, which present the Church in its responsibilities, we learn how solemnly the Church has failed to answer to its privileges. Truly there are two Churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, in which the Lord finds nothing to condemn, nevertheless, in the other five Churches there is a serious departure from the normal privileges of the Church as set forth in this fine burst of praise. In Ephesus there was the departure from the love of Christ. In Pergamos, instead of a condition suited to those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, unholiness is tolerated. In Thyatira, instead of a kingdom where all are subject to the Lord, the Church assumes the place of rule. In Sardis, there is a name to live before men, but death before the Lord. The place of priests before God is lost. In Laodicea, instead of exalting the Lord, and ascribing to Him all glory and dominion, the Church exalts itself and practically ignores Christ.

(V. 7). This outburst of praise is followed by a testimony to Jesus Christ. John has greeted the Churches, bringing Christ before them in His glory, and drawing a bright response from them. Now he hails the One who is coming to earth as the Judge. "Behold," says he, "He comes with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him."

This is not indeed the hope of the Church, but the testimony of the Church. The Church will not wail when it is caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Then, indeed, for the Church all tears will be wiped away. For the world, however, that has rejected Christ, and scoffed at His coming, it will be a time of wailing, when "the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him."

(V. 8). To this testimony the Lord, Himself, responds: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord, He who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." The coming Judge is the Alpha and the Omega; as another has truly said, "whose word is the beginning and end of all speech: all that can be said is said when He has spoken." At the beginning His word brought all things into being, and in the end, His word "It is done," will fix their eternal state.

Moreover He is the Lord God — Jehovah, as it has been said, "The covenant keeping God, unchangeable amid all changes, true to His threats and to His promises alike."

He, too, is the Almighty — the One with irresistible power, able to carry out His threats and fulfil His promises.

The Vision of The Son of Man.

Revelation 1:9-18.

The vision of the Son of Man, in His dignity as the Judge, is introductory to the messages which give His judgment on the Seven Churches. We do well to linger over the vision, for it is the greatness of the Speaker that gives value to His words. Thus the deeper our sense of the glory of the One who speaks, the more heed shall we give to that which He utters.

(Vv. 9, 10). Before we see the vision of Christ, we learn that such sights call for special circumstances; they require a suited condition of soul, and their appropriate season. Thus it is that John finds himself in circumstances of trial, and, though truly in the kingdom as subject to Christ, yet not in the kingdom and glory, but, in the kingdom and patience in Jesus. Furthermore he is banished to the barren Isle of Patmos. If, however, he is banished to some desolate spot by the decrees of man, it is that, withdrawn from every other influence, he may receive the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. How often, in the history of God's people, times of trial have become seasons of spiritual illumination. As another has pointed out, Joseph must go to the prison to become a Revealer of secrets: David must be driven into the dens of the earth to sing his sweetest songs: Paul must suffer imprisonment to receive his highest revelations; and John must go to his Patmos prison to hear words, and see visions, that mortal had never heard nor seen before.

John is not in this lonely spot as a self-exiled anchorite, embittered against the world; but an outcast for whom the world has no use. Though withdrawn from the Lord's people, he can still speak of himself as their "brother and companion in tribulation," and the Lord makes the loneliness of Patmos an occasion for John to serve others in love.

Moreover, John was not only in the suited place to receive the Revelation, he was also in a suited condition, for he can say, "I became in the Spirit." This would indicate something more than the fact that he was in the normal and proper condition of the believer, as in the Spirit, according to Romans 8:9. It would rather set forth a special condition in which the Apostle was so completely in the power of the Spirit as to be oblivious to all but the wondrous vision, and communications, he was about to see and hear.

Further, the Revelation was given to the Apostle at a special time. It was on "the Lord's day." This term must not be confounded with "the day of the Lord," an expression found in the prophets, and used by the Apostles Paul and Peter, to signify the day when the Lord will suddenly come as a thief in the night to execute judgment (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Obviously the things which are described in chapters 2 and 3 of the Revelation, and the greater part of "the things that are about to be after these things," do not take place in the day of the Lord. There would be no meaning in the Apostle being carried in spirit to the day of the Lord to see things that must take place a couple of thousand years before that day. Thus it seems clear that the Lord's day is the resurrection day, referred to in other Scriptures as the first day of the week. It is called the Lord's day to indicate that it is not a common day; as, indeed, the Lord's Supper is so called to distinguish it from a common meal. It is a day specially set apart, not by a legal command, as in the case of the Jewish Sabbath, but as a special privilege for the worship and service of the Lord.

Thus it is in a place withdrawn from the world, in a suited condition — in the Spirit; and on a special occasion — the Lord's Day, John is arrested by a great voice, as a trumpet, in order to see these wondrous visions, and hear these solemn communications.

(V. 11). What John sees he is told to write in a book and send to the seven Churches. Already the Apostle has sent greetings to the seven Churches, now they are designated by name. Only seven Churches are addressed; nevertheless, the Spirit of God has selected the written, rather than the oral, form of communication so that the whole Church, for all time, may benefit by these communications.

(Vv. 12, 13). John turns to see the One that spake with him, and at once we have the first great division of the Book, referred to by the Lord as "the things which thou hast seen" (19). John is first arrested by the vision of seven golden candlesticks. A little later we learn that the candlesticks represent seven Churches. The symbol of a candlestick would at once suggest that they represent the Church in its responsibility to maintain a light for Christ in this dark world. The gold would signify that the Church in its beginning on earth was set up in suitability to the Divine glory as a witness for Christ. Moreover it is surely the professing Church that is in view, for later we learn there is the possibility of the candlestick being removed, and finally that which the candlestick represents becoming wholly nauseous to Christ.

Further, John sees, in the midst of the seven candlesticks, one like the Son of Man. This we know is a vision of Christ as about to judge, for all judgment is committed to the Son of Man that He may be honoured in the very nature in which He has been despised and rejected by men. Nevertheless He is spoken of as One like the Son of Man, indicating that He is a Divine Person who has become flesh.

Here Christ is not presented as in the midst of the Assembly to lead the praises of His people; nor in the midst of two or three to guide their prayers. Neither is He viewed as the One Shepherd to unite the sheep into one flock, nor as the Head of the Church — His body. He is seen in the solemn aspect of the Judge in the midst of the Christian profession. He is walking (Rev. 2:1) in the midst of the Assemblies, observing their condition and passing sentence, whether of commendation or censure. Every feature by which He is described is in accord with His character as Judge.

His garment is not girded for the service of grace and love, as in the glad day yet to come when His servants will be gathered home and He "shall gird Himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them" (Luke 12:37). Here the Lord is seen in "a garment reaching to the feet," as befitting the dignity of the Judge. Moreover He is "girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle" indicating that the affections are held in by every consideration to the Divine glory.

(Vv. 14-16). "His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow." These symbols, as we know from Daniel 7:9, set forth the glory of God as the Judge upon His throne. Thus we learn that the Son of Man, Himself, possesses the characteristics of the Ancient of Days seen in the vision of Daniel. In due time He will come forth crowned with many crowns: here there is no crown, for the reigning time is not yet come. The judgment throne must precede the Kingdom glories. He must first clear the scene of all evil as the Judge, before He reigns in glory as the King.

"His eyes were as a flame of fire;" setting forth the searching character of that gaze from which nothing can be hid.

"His feet like to fine brass as if they burned in a furnace," speaking of the inflexible holiness of walk, that never turns to any crooked way, and is undefiled by any soil of earth.

"His voice as the sound of many waters," expresses the power of His word that no man can resist.

"He had in His right hand seven stars." All subordinate authority, as represented by the stars, is under His control, and maintained by His power.

"Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword." Everything is judged by His infallible word, a sword with two edges that deals not only with outward conduct, but is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12-13).

"His countenance was as the sun shines in his strength," a symbol that implies that, as the Judge, He is invested with supreme authority.

(Vv. 17, 18). The effect of this great vision of the Son of Man, as the Judge, is so overwhelming that even an Apostle falls at His feet as dead. John had known Christ in His humiliation in the days of His flesh, and had once reposed his head on His bosom; he had seen the vision of Christ in His kingdom glories on the Mount; he had communed with Christ in His glorified body in resurrection; but never before had he seen Christ in His dignity as the Judge. Yet, be it remembered, this is the attitude that Christ takes toward professing Christendom. It is true that as believers we know Him as our Saviour: as members of His body we know Him as our Head; as servants we know Him as our Lord; nevertheless, as connected with the great Christian profession, we have to do with Him as Judge of all our Assembly ways. As we say, the believer knows Him in other and more privileged ways; but the great mass of the Christian profession — composed of mere professors — can only know Him as the Judge. The mass may profess to honour Him by erecting magnificent temples for His worship, and doing great works in His Name; if, however, they caught but a glimpse of His glory they would find He is walking in the midst of the profession as a Judge, and they would fall at His feet as dead.

For John, a "brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus," it was far otherwise. There was no need for his fears. The Lord's touch, and the Lord's voice, recall John to the Jesus so well known in the days of His humiliation, whose voice he had so often heard uttering these peace giving words, "Fear not." The One who is the Judge — the first and the last — is the One who had been into death, and is now living for evermore. Everything that would cause the believer — represented by John — to shrink before the Judge, humbled as he ever must be in the consciousness of failure in his witness, has been borne and for ever removed by the death of the One who is going to judge. The keys of death and of Hades are in His hand. The believer then need have no fear, for those keys cannot be used apart from the One who loves us and has died for us. As one has said, our Lord "is the absolute Master of all that might threaten man, whether for the body or the soul."

The Messages to the Churches.

Revelation 1:19-20.

(V. 19). The last two verses of the first chapter form a fitting introduction to the Lord's messages to the seven Churches. The fears of the Apostle having been dispelled, he is instructed to commit to writing the things which he had seen, the things which are, and the things that are about to be after these.

Here, then, we have the Lord's own division of the Revelation. First "the things which thou hast seen," referring to the vision of the Son of Man as the Judge (Rev. 1:9-18): second, "the things which are," comprising the addresses to the Seven Churches, representing things which then existed, and the condition that will continue to exist during the Church period (Rev. 2, 3): thirdly, "the things that are about to be after these," embracing the great prophetic events that will take place after the Church period is closed (Rev. 4-22).

(V. 20). As a necessary introduction to the Messages to the Churches, the Lord explains the mystery of the seven stars and the seven golden candlesticks. It is revealed that the seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches, and the seven candlesticks are the seven Churches.

The angels of the Churches would appear to represent those who are set in the Assemblies to give heavenly light, even as the stars, which are the symbols of the angels, give light in the heavens. But, like the stars in relation to the light of the sun, they are subordinate light-givers under Christ. The sun is the great and supreme source of light for the whole earth. The stars are needed when the sun is away; and the minor light they emit is of the same character and nature as the light of the sun. In Christ's personal absence the perfection of the Church's witness would be to emit the same character of light as Christ in heavenly glory — the same in quality, though so far removed in volume. In a special way the angels of the Churches are responsible to Christ for the moral condition of the Assemblies, for while the Assemblies as a whole are responsible for their condition, yet the state of the Assemblies would largely depend on the character of ministry they receive.

While in each Church the Lord addresses the Angel, and thus holds the Angel responsible for the state of the Assembly, yet it is noticeable that He constantly passes from speaking directly to the Angel in order to address the Church. Thus in the Pergamos address He speaks of a faithful martyr "who was slain among you;" and again He says, in the Smyrna address "the devil shall cast some of you into prison." This change from the singular to the plural makes it impossible to apply the Angel to an individual presiding officer, and obliges us to see a symbolical representative of the Church.

The seven candlesticks are symbols of the Seven Churches. It is plain from Rev. 1:4, Rev. 1:11, that seven actually existing Churches in the province of Asia are indicated. It is, however, equally plain that these Churches present the history of the whole Church period. Seven actual Asiatic Churches were selected in which were found moral traits which have been used by Christ to prophetically set forth the moral condition of the professing Church as a whole, or in part, at different periods of its history.

There are substantial reasons for this conclusion. In the first place, in Rev. 1:3, the whole book of the Revelation is spoken of as prophecy. This would give a prophetic character to these addresses. Then the number seven is a constant symbol in Scripture of completeness, and, as the seven Spirits speak of the fulness of the one Holy Spirit, so, we judge, the seven Churches present a complete view of the varied conditions of the whole Christian profession. Perhaps, however the most convincing argument for the prophetic character of the Churches is, as one has said, "the real correspondence between the picture given of the seven Churches and the well known history of the professing Church."

To profit by the addresses to the Seven Churches it is not only necessary to see their prophetic character, but also, of the first importance, to keep in view the particular aspect in which the Lord is viewed in relation to the Church, as well as the aspect in which the Church is viewed in relation to Christ.

The Church is viewed not as the Body, of which Christ is the Head in heaven, and into which nothing that is unreal can come, but as an external body of people on earth professing the Name of Christ, and which may, and in fact does, include a vast profession without life. This profession has taken the Name of Christ, whether His or not; and having done so is responsible to walk according to the order of God's house, and thus represent on earth the Christ who is in heaven, in all His love, faithfulness and holiness — in a word to be a light for Christ on earth. It would be impossible to speak of the Church as the Body of Christ being rejected by Christ. That, however, which professes to be the Church will finally become so nauseous to Christ that it will be spued out of His mouth, when that which is real — the Body of Christ — has been caught away.

Moreover, let us remember that Christ is not here viewed as the Head of His Body, giving gifts and ministering grace to the Body, and revealing the heavenly privileges of the saints as in the Epistle to the Ephesians. He is not instructing the Assemblies in the principles of Church order, and discipline, as in the Epistles to the Corinthians. Nor is the Lord even instructing the faithful how to act in a day of ruin, as in the second Epistle to Timothy. Here the Lord is presented as walking in the midst of the Christian profession in His character as Judge, with eyes as a flame of fire, searching into the condition of that which professes His Name, and enquiring how far the Churches have answered to, or departed from, their heavenly privileges; how far they have carried out, or failed in, their responsibilities to maintain divine order, and obey divine instructions. Further, having searched into the condition of the Churches, the Lord passes sentence on what He finds, approving what is right and condemning all that is contrary to Himself; warning as regards the evil, and giving encouragement to the overcomer.

It may further help us to understand the prophetic character of these addresses to briefly indicate the different periods of Church history that appear to be set forth by the seven addresses.

The address to the angel of the Church in Ephesus, clearly sets forth the condition of the Church in its first decline during the latter days of the last Apostle, and the years immediately following his decease.

The address to the Church in Smyrna would seem to set forth the condition of the Church, as a whole, during the period of the persecutions from the heathen world.

In the address to the Church in Pergamos, we have the condition of the Church, as a whole, when the persecutions of the heathen gave way to the patronage of the world.

The address to the Church in Thyatira sets forth the condition of the Church as seen by God when, instead of being patronised by the world, the Church sought to become the ruler of the world. The greatest expression of this condition being seen in the Papacy. This condition while ceasing, after a time, to represent the whole Christian profession, continues to the end of the Church period.

In the address to the Church in Sardis we see the condition into which a part of the Christian profession falls as the outcome of the Reformation being corrupted by man. It is a condition that develops out of Thyatira, and in opposition to Thyatira, though co-existing with Thyatira to the end.

In the address to the Church in Philadelphia there is presented a faithful remnant, apart from the corruption of Thyatira, and the deadness of Sardis, that continues to the end.

In the last address, to the Church in Laodicea, there is presented the final phase of the Christian profession, in which the condition is so wholly nauseous to Christ that it ends in the great unreal mass of the Christian profession being spued out of His mouth.

It will also help, in the interpretation of the addresses, to notice that there is a division between the first three and the last four Churches. This is marked by the fact that in the first three Churches the appeal to the one that has an ear to hear, precedes the promise to the overcomer; in the last four addresses it comes after the promise. Again in the first three addresses there is no mention of the coming of the Lord, whereas in the fourth, fifth, and sixth addresses the coming of the Lord is definitely held out as a hope, or a warning. Furthermore, in the last four addresses we see a faithful remnant distinguished in the midst of the increasing corruption.

These differences can be explained by the fact that the first three Churches set forth the state of the whole Church during the first three successive periods of its existence upon earth, conditions which have passed away: whereas the last four represent distinct phases of the Christian profession that do not supersede one another, but exist at the same time, and continue until the Lord comes.

In the first three addresses, representing the condition of the Church as a whole, the one with the hearing ear is to be found in the Church as a whole. In the last four the Church, as a whole, has broken up and the condition so deteriorated that those who hear what the Spirit has to say will only be found among the overcomers, and therefore the appeal comes after the promise to the overcomer.

In the first three addresses there is the call to repentance and the possibility of the Church returning to its original condition. In the last four the condition is such that this is no longer set before the Churches as a possibility; therefore the coming of the Lord is held out as the only hope of the godly remnant.

Thus it becomes clear that the last four Churches are distinguished from the first three by three definite facts: (1) a faithful remnant is distinguished from the corrupt mass; (2) the coming of the Lord is set before the Churches; (3) the one who hears is only found among the overcomers.

As to the structure of the Addresses there is a similarity in the way in which the truth is presented in each address. Each address opens with a presentation of Christ in a character which, if it had been apprehended or kept in mind, would have preserved from the state into which the Church had fallen, or which — in such a state — would sustain the faith of the godly in their testings. This is followed by the assertion of the Lord's perfect knowledge of the condition of each Church leading to His approval or condemnation of what He finds. Then we have special warnings and words of encouragement. Finally each address closes with a special promise to the overcomer.


Revelation 2:1-7.

Through the extended ministry of the Apostle Paul, the Assembly at Ephesus had probably enjoyed privileges unequalled by any Assembly before or since. It may well be for this reason that this is the first Assembly upon which the Lord passes His judgment.

To this Assembly the Apostle Paul had declared all the counsel of God. To these Ephesian saints he had unfolded the love of Christ — the love that passes knowledge, and led them into their bridal relations with Christ. At Ephesus he had uttered his warnings as to the coming scattering of the saints after his departure, and there he exhorted the elders to take heed to themselves.

These privileges and warnings should have led the saints to shine for Christ in a dark world, while taking heed to themselves and watching against decline. The greater the privilege the greater the responsibility. Thus the Assembly that had privileges above all others, is the first to pass under the searching gaze of the Lord; and they were to discover that they to whom the highest truth had been ministered, were the Assembly in which decline commenced. The highest truth — the love of Christ to the Church — was the truth they failed to maintain. They did not, according to the exhortation of the Apostle, take heed to themselves. Of old the wise man had said, "Keep thy heart more than anything that is guarded" (Prov. 4:23, N. Tr.). Alas! while outwardly correct in conduct, they failed to guard the heart. They left their first love.

We must however remember that the condition of this first Assembly, sets forth the spiritual condition of the whole Assembly, under the eye of Christ, in the latter part of the life of the last Apostle, and, probably, the period immediately following his death. It thus gives us the mind of Christ as to the decline of the Assembly, as a whole, from its true place and character as a witness for Christ in this world.

(V. 1). The address is "to the angel of the Assembly." It would seem that the angel represents those who are set to give heavenly light in each Assembly. Even as a star emits its light during the absence of the sun, so the angels (which are likened to stars) are representative of the absent Christ, to bring heavenly truth to the Assembly, which, as a whole, is responsible to be a light for Christ in the world. Thus it follows that the angel, in a special sense, is held responsible for the condition of the Assembly.

The Lord presents Himself to this Assembly as, "He that holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." The angels, who directly represent Christ in the Assembly, are here seen in their proper place of dependence upon the Lord. They are held in His right hand, indicating that they carry out their ministry under the direct authority and power of Christ. At this early period of the Church's history the time had not come when those, who are responsible to give heavenly light, take themselves out of the hand of Christ, to receive their authority from the hand of man.

Moreover the Lord is seen, not only in the midst of the candlesticks as in the vision seen by John, but as One "who walks" in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. He is seen not as an onlooker but, as moving in the midst of the Assemblies, taking a deep and active interest in the condition of His people, who are viewed as the divinely appointed lightbearers to shine for Himself in this world.

(V. 2). After this introductory presentation of the Lord, the address opens with the words, "I know." These are searching words that speak of the Assemblies being under the gaze of One from whom no secrets can be hid. We are limited in our knowledge, and therefore often partial in our judgments. The Lord knows all that is of Himself and all that is contrary to Himself, though often unknown to others. There was nothing in this Assembly that the world could take account of as being inconsistent with the Christian profession; nevertheless the Lord knew what was lacking. "I know" are encouraging words for the heart, though searching words for the conscience.

As ever, the Lord speaks first of things that have His approval, and in this Assembly there was much in accord with His mind. First the Lord says, "I know thy works." These surely were works of which the Lord could approve, for there was in this Assembly much devoted activity in the service of the Lord.

Then the Lord commends the "labour" that marked their works. There may be much service and yet little labour in the service. The word indicates that energy, and real toil, were involved in their service. It cost these saints an expenditure of labour.

Further, the Lord finds patience, or "endurance," of which He can approve. Their service was not marked by mere human energy that ofttimes expends itself in a great outburst of activity. It was marked by that quiet endurance that continues in the Lord's work in the face of all hindrances, discouragements, and even opposition.

Moreover, the Lord can say with approval, "Thou canst not bear them which are evil." They refused to tolerate, or compromise with, evil, nor would they give countenance to the persons who compounded with it.

Again, the Lord commends them for the firmness and boldness that refused to receive people on their own commendation. Whatever profession people made, even to the pretension of being apostles, they tested, and refused such as were found to be liars.

(V. 3). Finally, the Lord delights to witness to their true, and devoted, love for Himself. Their endurance; their suffering; their unwearied labour, was for the name of Christ. It was not to make a name for themselves, but in love for His name.

How beautiful are these qualities that the Lord singles out for His approval; and well, indeed, that those who seek to be a light for Christ in this dark world should covet such excellent traits, and seek to possess them in combination; for each characteristic tempers the other. The "works," that the Lord approves, are kept by "toil" from becoming merely languid works taken up in a casual way. The "endurance" keeps the toil from being only a passing outburst of fervour. The hatred of evil prevents the patience from degenerating into tolerance of evil. The testing of profession, and exposure of pretension, proved their hatred of evil to be not mere lip profession, that ended in protest without any action against the evil. Moreover, doing all for Christ's name, proved that their works, their toil, their endurance, and their dealing with evil, was not simply to make, or preserve their own religious reputation. It was for Christ's sake.

(V. 4). It is thus evident that there was very much in the Assembly at Ephesus that met with the Lord's unqualified approval; and the Lord does not withhold His approval because of any defect that He may see. Nevertheless, He does not refrain from exposing the defect because of so much that He can approve. Under His eye there was in this Assembly decline, and that of a serious nature. In spite of much that the Lord approves He has to say, "Nevertheless I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love." The word "somewhat" is a serious and unwarranted interpolation. It would give the wrong impression that to leave first love is a small matter in the eyes of the Lord. It was, on the contrary, so serious, that, in His sight, it constituted the Assembly a fallen Assembly. Outwardly there was nothing in the Assembly that the Lord condemns, and nothing about which the world would find fault. The Assembly might indeed be marked by characteristics that the world could neither understand nor imitate, but at any rate the world would hardly condemn those who are marked by works, toil, endurance, hatred of evil, and refusal of pretension. Outwardly all was fair, and the candlestick appeared to be burning brightly enough before the world. Yet, under the surface, there was that which, in the eye of the Lord spoilt all this fair show. The Assembly had left its first love to Christ. It was not that they had left their love to Christ; but they had left their first love to Christ. One has said, "How dreadful a dishonour to Christ is this, to lose one's first love! It is as if at first sight He was more than He proved on longer acquaintance."

What, we may ask, is first love? Is not first love an absorbing love: a love that finds complete satisfaction of heart in its object. The love that satisfies must be an absorbing love. A love that absorbs the mind and heart is the love that excludes other objects, and satisfies because it fills the heart.

There was a time when Christ was all in all to the Assembly at Ephesus. Then, indeed, Christ satisfied their hearts, absorbed their thoughts, and engrossed their energies. That early freshness had passed. They had not ceased to labour for Christ, nor love and suffer for Christ, but their labour and love had lost its early freshness. The first love had gone.

What was it, however, that had absorbed their love in those early days? Was it not the realization of Christ's love for them? The love that passes knowledge — the love of Christ for His Assembly — had been set forth before them; but as time passed they lost in measure the sense of His great love for them, and thus they left their first love for Him.

The fact that Christ reproaches the Assembly with having left her first love, is a proof of the greatness of His love to the Assembly. Such is His love that He cannot be satisfied without the whole-hearted return of her love to Him. It is only the full response of love that can satisfy love. Works for Christ, however great, will not satisfy the heart of Christ. Mary's devoted love is more approved than Martha's toiling service. It is not that works will be lacking where there is love. Mary who chose the "good part," did the "good work," and, the Lord Himself, in this address links "first love" with "first works." There were indeed works at Ephesus of which the Lord could approve, but they were not the first works that were the outcome of first love.

Here then the Lord discovers to us the root of all decline, whether it be in the Assembly as a whole, or in the individual believer. All the ruin that has come in; all the subsequent evil that develops in other Assemblies, have their root in this first departure. In Ephesus we see the first step that leads to the complete break down of the Assembly in responsibility. In Laodicea we see the full result. The first step in Ephesus was loss of first love, the full result, in Laodicea, is the loss of Christ altogether. Christ is outside the door. If Christ is not retained in the heart of the Assembly, the time will come when Christ will be outside the door of the Assembly.

(V. 5). The exposure of this hidden source of decline is followed by a solemn word of warning. The Lord can say, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen." In the eyes of others the Assembly at Ephesus might well appear as a pattern Assembly; in the sight of Christ it was fallen. Not only is the Assembly called to remember, but repent. It is useless to bemoan the loss of early freshness if there is no repentance. What is repentance but owning our true condition before the Lord? If truly repentant we shall put our feet into the hands of the Lord that He may remove the defilement that has come in to hinder our enjoyment of His love to us, and dull our first love to Him. If our feet are in His hands, He can remove all the dust of the way, so that, like John of old we can, as it were, rest our heads on His bosom, there again to taste the joy of first love.

The result of getting back to first love would be seen in first works. The Thessalonian Assembly, like the Ephesian Assembly, was marked by "work," and "labour," and "patience," but of the Thessalonian Assembly we read that their work was a work of faith; their labour was labour of love; and their patience the patience of hope.

Then comes a last word of warning. If the Assembly does not repent — if there is no recovery, no return to first love — the Lord warns that He will come to them in the way of judgment and remove their candlestick out of its place. The place of the Assembly was to be a light for Christ in this dark world. This place can only be maintained as the heart is right with Christ. This loss of place with which the Assembly is threatened, is viewed as the Lord's own act. He will remove the candlestick, even as of old He removed Israel from the land in which they should have been a witness to Jehovah. In either case the removal may be effected through the instrumentality of the world, none the less it is the Lord's own act.

(V. 6). If however there was loss of first love for Christ, they had not yet lost their hatred of those who were a dishonour to Christ. The Nicolaitanes appear to have been those who made the profession of Christianity a cover for sin. They used the grace of God to indulge the lusts of the flesh. Such conduct was hated by Christ, and rightly hated by the Assembly at Ephesus. This evil showed itself at first in abominable conduct. In the later Pergamos period of the Assembly's history, the evil so far progresses that evil deeds are supported by evil doctrine.

(V. 7). Following upon the warning there is the appeal to the one with the hearing ear, to hear what the Spirit has to say to the Assemblies. The Lord sends these addresses to the Assemblies, but throughout the ages the Spirit applies the Lord's words to the heart and conscience of the one with the hearing ear. Thus in the Lord's message to the angel of the Church at Ephesus there is disclosed to the one who has the opened ear the hidden root of all the increasing failure that has marked the Assembly in her long history as the responsible witness for Christ on the earth. The first failure was not in her testimony before the world, but in her secret relations with Christ. Inward departure ever precedes outward failure.

The address closes with the Lord's promise to the overcomer. The normal overcoming for the Assembly should be in relation to the world, even as John tells us, "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4). Here the overcoming has to be within the Christian profession, a sad witness to the fallen condition of the Church. For the encouragement of the overcomer the Lord holds out the promise of eating of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. In the paradise of man there were two trees, one connected with privilege and one with responsibility. Man disobeyed and lost all blessing on the ground of responsibility. God came into the garden only to drive out a fallen man. Now the way is opened for man to enter the paradise of God as the result of redemption, there to feed on Christ the tree of life, and to go no more out. The overcomer, the one who repents and gets back to first love, has the promise of being eternally satisfied with the fruit of the tree of life in the paradise of God. At the same time, the Lord surely intends that the overcomer should have a foretaste of these encouragements while he is overcoming down here.


Revelation 2:8-11.

If the address to Ephesus brings before us the condition of the Church in the last days of the apostolic era, the address to Smyrna vividly portrays the condition of the Church during the years of persecution that continued for two centuries after the Apostles had passed away.

In Ephesus we see an outwardly united Church in separation from the world, but, one that had declined from first love to Christ, and, therefore, in His sight a fallen Church. There was the call to repentance and the warning that, unless the Church returned to first love, it would lose its place of testimony before the world. Alas! there was no general return to first love, and hence, to the end of her sojourn on earth, the Church is viewed as a fallen Church. There may indeed be revivals, and individuals that overcome, but that which has the place of being the Church on earth is fallen, ceases to be a true witness for Christ. Ceasing to witness for Christ in the world, the Church increasingly adapts itself to the world, until, in its last stage, it is the world. Finally, when all that is of Christ in the midst of the profession, is taken away, the vast and empty profession, that is left, comes under the judgment of the world.

In the freshness of first love the Church was entirely separate from the world, and the world had no power over the Church. The allurements of this world have no attraction for a heart that is satisfied with the love of Christ. Leaving first love, whether in the case of an individual, or of the Church as a whole, opens the door for the world to enter and assert its power. The Church when it left first love took the first step that leads to the world where Satan dwells.

It is well then to remember that in the Smyrna period the Church is already a fallen Church. In tender love we see the Lord dealing with this fallen Church in a way that, for a time, arrests this downward path. The Lord passes the Church through the furnace of affliction. Ephesus was without reproach before the world but fallen before Christ; as the result of the Lord's dealing, Smyrna was persecuted by the world, but faithful before the Lord.

(V. 8). The Lord presents Himself to this Church in the glory of His Person, as the First and the Last; and in the glory of His work as the One who became dead and lived.

What could be more suited to sustain and encourage those who are called to meet the power of Satan, and faced with a martyr's death, than the knowledge that they are in the hands of a divine Person — the First and the Last — One who existed before every opposing power, and will remain when the last enemy has been put under His feet: One, therefore, who is above all. The Lord may indeed use the hostility of the enemy to pass His people through trial, but, if He is the First and the Last no power of the devil can finally prevail against those that are His. Moreover, if called to face a Martyr's death, Christ, Himself, has led the way in the path of martyrdom; for He has suffered death at the hands of men. He became dead and lived: seemingly defeated and slain, yet emerging in victory over the last and greatest of enemies. Death could not prevail against Him; therefore death will not prevail against those that are His.

(V. 9). Having presented Himself in a way so blessedly suited to their condition and circumstances, the Lord lets these suffering saints know that all is under His eye. "I know," He says. He would have them to realize that the trials they are passing through, the circumstances they are in, the opposition of Satan they may have to meet, and the sufferings they may yet have to face, are all known to Him.

Nor is it otherwise to-day. Our trials, our circumstances, the opposition we may have to meet, whether within the Christian circle or without, are all known to One, who, being the First and the Last, can see the end from the beginning. If, however, He is the First and the Last, with all power in His hands, why are His people permitted to pass through trial? Is it not because He has, — not only all power in His hands, but, — all love in His heart? Divine love knows full well that trials are needed for our blessing; and, loving us, He sends the trials according to that Word which says, "Whom the Lord loves He chastens" (Heb. 12:6). We may lose our first love to the Lord, but never will He leave His first love to us. "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end." If in His unchanging love He has to pass us through trial, it is for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Knowing all things, He knew from whence the Church had fallen, and He knew to what depths it would yet fall. The One who is the First and the Last deals with us according to His perfect knowledge, and His infinite love. In His dealings He not only corrects for past failure, but would also form us according to His own holiness in the present, and prepare us for what He sees we may yet have to meet in the future.

It may be pointed out that the word "works," of this verse, is not in the original. These saints were not characteristically distinguished by works, but by suffering. The saints of the Ephesian period were great workers; the saints of the Smyrna period were great sufferers. Let us remember there is the service of suffering as well as the service of doing.

The trials that were allowed to come upon the Church at this period were three-fold; suffering from the world, poverty of circumstances, and opposition from the devil.

A church that has left first love is in danger of drifting into the world; to arrest this tendency the Lord allows persecution from the world. Moreover, a fallen Church that is drifting towards the world will ever be in danger of adopting the world's methods, and of attempting to advance the Lord's interests by means of earthly riches, and the acquisition of worldly power and influence. How different the early Church, composed mainly of the poor, and without worldly power or influence. Then indeed they were enriched with "great power," and "great grace." This, however, was spiritual power and the grace from another world. Foreseeing the danger of the world, the Lord stripped the Church of Smyrna, in such fashion, that they were poor in those things that the world counts gain, such as wealth, power, and influence, in order to leave them rich in His sight. Thus the Lord can say of this Church, "I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty, but thou art rich." Better far to be poor in the eyes of the world, and rich in the sight of the Lord, than to be rich and increased with goods, like the Church in its last stage, and yet, "wretched and miserable and poor" in the eyes of the Lord.

Alas! in contrast with the Church at Smyrna we see the Christian profession fast falling, on every hand, into a Laodicean condition, in which the professed followers of the One who had not where to lay His head, are vying with one another to obtain power and influence in the world. In the day of Smyrna the Lord used the persecution of the world, with its consequent impoverishment of the saints, to stem the drift towards the world.

There was, however, another way in which the enemy sought to entangle the Church and draw it into the world. In the Smyrna period the Church had to meet the opposition of those who insisted on Jewish principles and thus sought to draw the Church into a worldly religion. Probably the word "Jews" is used in a figurative sense, signifying those who, like the Jews, boasted in an hereditary and sacramental system which associated religion with the world and sought to make it attractive to the flesh by the use of magnificent buildings, gorgeous vestments, and histrionic ceremonies. Thus the effort was made to turn Christianity into a system which, while highly pleasing to the flesh, keeps the soul at a distance from God. Moreover, such a system necessitates a human priesthood after the Jewish pattern, for, it has been truly said, whenever the world is connected with religion, priesthood must come in, because the world, as such, cannot stand and does not want to stand, before God.

We can well understand these Judaising teachers coming to the front in times of persecution, for such would offer a specious way of escape from persecution. The Apostle Paul asks, "If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased." The law recognises, and appeals, to the flesh with its imposing temples, splendid ceremonies, and ornate ritual. If we consent to recognise the flesh and adopt methods that appeal to the flesh, the world would have no objection to being religious, and, instead of persecuting, would begin to patronise a Christianity corrupted according to its tastes.

The devil's attack on the Church in the Smyrna period of its history took a double form. First the devil sought to undermine the foundations of the Church by corrupting it with Judaism. This failing, the devil opposed the Church by persecution. It is ever thus that the devil works. The special malignity of the devil drawn forth by the birth of the Lord, first took the form of corruption, when Herod sought to find the young Child under the false pretension of desiring to pay Him homage. This failing the devil sought by violence to destroy the Child by slaying all the young children in Bethlehem. So too, when the gospel was first preached in Europe, we see another outburst of the devil's enmity, when he sought to stop the work by the devil-possessed woman, who corruptly appeared to be helping on the work. This wile being exposed, the devil resorted to violence, hounding on the people to beat the apostles and thrust them into prison. Here, in the early history of the Church, the apostles having passed from the scene, the devil again made a twofold attack upon the Church. He sought first to seduce the Church from her heavenly calling through the corrupting influences of those who, by their practices, proclaim themselves to be Jews but are not. Such would seek to form a Church after the pattern of the Jewish system, with the addition of Christian beliefs. This would not be a true Jewish synagogue nor a pure Christian Assembly, but a mixture of both and therefore a mere imitation — a synagogue of Satan. At this stage of the Church's history the effort apparently failed; for those whom the devil used are not spoken of as the Church. They might indeed be seeking to work in the Assembly, but the Lord says, "I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews." The Lord knew them and the Church resisted them.

(V. 10). The attack by corruption having failed, the devil was permitted to resort to violence, as the Lord says, "The devil shall cast some of you into prison." The violence of the devil may indeed be painful to God's people but it is safer for them than the wiles of the devil. The Lord allows this attack, for, as Peter says in his Epistle, the saints may indeed be "in heaviness through manifold temptations," "if need be." If, however, the Lord sees a "need be" for the trial, He will also put a limit to the trial: so we read, "Ye shall have tribulation ten days." So, too, Peter says these manifold trials are but "for a season." The devil may be allowed to cast some into prison, but he cannot go a day beyond the Lord's ten days.

The Lord does not hide from these saints the path that lies before them. Suffering, imprisonment, and possible martyrdom, will be their portion. Nevertheless, He encourages them to "fear not," to be "faithful," and that even to death, for beyond death there is the crown of life. The Lord sets before them the cross here, and the crown hereafter. Of old the Lord had said to His disciples, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4). Beyond death neither men nor devils have any power. They cannot touch the tree of life in the paradise of God, nor the crown of life that awaits the faithful martyr.

If in this life the devil is permitted, at times, to raise persecution against the saints, it is not that they may be vanquished, but, as the Lord says to these suffering saints "that ye may be tried." This trial is not for the trial of the flesh, but for the trial of faith, therefore the Lord says, "Be ye faithful." The Lord could say to Peter, "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but, I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not: and when thou art restored, strengthen thy brethren." Years afterwards we are permitted to hear Peter strengthening his brethren. He reminds them that men try their gold with fire, but the believer's faith is much more precious than gold that perishes. So they must not be surprised if God tries the faith of His saints by passing them through the fiery furnace of persecution. If He does thus try them it is in order that their faith may be found to praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. The martyr's death in the day of suffering, will lead to the crown of life in the day of glory.

(V. 11). The "ten days" of fiery persecution may be passed, but none the less we are to hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. What was said to Smyrna in the days of fiery persecution has a voice for us in these days of easy profession. It tells us the true character of the world under the power of Satan. It reminds us of the two ways in which the world can divert the Church from its allegiance to Christ. On the one hand by corrupting the Church with a worldly religion that is a mixture of Judaism and Christianity; or, if the Church resists this, by open persecution. We find ourselves in the last days of Christendom when the wile of corruption has so thoroughly leavened the vast mass of the Christian profession, that it is hardly necessary for the devil to persecute. Nevertheless neither the devil nor the world have altered in hostility to Christ.

In the day of persecution, how suited is the promise to the overcomer. He shall not be hurt of the second death. The body may be hurt by the torturer's rack or the flames of a martyr's death; but the soul of the believer cannot be hurt of the second death. The martyr's death may separate soul from body, but the second death will never separate the soul of the believer from God. The overcomer is to enjoy the comfort of this promise while passing through sufferings, that afterwards may be consummated in martyrdom.


Revelation 2:12-17.

The address to the Church in Ephesus clearly shows that the departure of the Christian profession, from the place of a witness for Christ, on earth, commenced with the loss of first love to Christ. In the address to the Church at Smyrna, we learn how this decline was, for a time, arrested by the Church being allowed to pass through a period of persecution. At the same time the Church was troubled by Judaising teachers, who sought, apparently, to escape the persecution of the world by attempting to link the forms of Judaism with the doctrines of Christianity. For a time the persecution drew out the faithfulness of the saints. Nevertheless, the leaven of Judaism, though at the time resented, was working in the Smyrna period. This effort to turn the Christian Assembly, composed only of true believers, into an imitation Jewish synagogue, composed of a mixed company of believers and unbelievers, would naturally let the world into the Church, and thus prepare the way for the Church to settle down in the world.

This, the next stage in the downward history of the Christian profession, is the outstanding mark of the Church in the Pergamos period. A Judaised Church is no longer an offence to the world. In an earlier day, the Apostle Paul could write, "If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased" (Gal. 5:11).

(V. 12). The presentation of Christ to the angel of the Church in Pergamos has reference to the condition of the Church at this period. The Lord presents Himself as "He which has the sharp sword with two edges." We know from Hebrews 4:12, that the two-edged sword is a figure of the Word of God. The Psalmist can speak of the Word as a lamp to his feet. Here it is not viewed as a light for the Christian's path, but as a sword to deal with all that is contrary to the light. The word viewed as the sword is ever judicial. It may, indeed, be used by the Spirit to defend the Christian against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:11-17); or, as in this solemn passage, used by Christ against the public professing Christian body, unless there is repentance.

(V. 13). At once the Lord passes to speak of that which is so serious in His eyes. He says, "I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is." Satan, we know, is the prince of this world, and his throne is where he rules. It is not in hell as poets vainly dream. His throne is where he reigns, not in the place to which he will be consigned when his throne is crushed, and his reigning time is over. Nor does he merely reign at Rome, or Pergamos. His throne is not local, it is the world. If the professing Church dwells in the place of Satan's throne we may be sure the Church has given up her pilgrim and stranger character and settled down in the world.

The Lord said of His people, "Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world." Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world." Furthermore, Christians are called with an heavenly calling, — their home is in heaven. The Church belongs to heaven and should wear a heavenly character. How solemn then, for that which takes the place before the world of being the Church, to abandon the heavenly calling, fling away its heavenly character, and settle down in the world. It is true the Christian is in the world, and, indeed, the Lord speaks of His disciples as sent into the world, for He can say to the Father, "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (John 17:18). How then was He sent? Assuredly not to "dwell" in the world, but to witness to God as the Light of the world. The One, who when on earth, could speak of Himself as "the Son of Man which is in heaven" (John 3:13), was no "dweller" in this world. Truly He walked on earth, but He dwelt in heaven. Scripture makes it abundantly plain that the world is the place of our pilgrimage, where we are left for a time to "shine as lights in the world." To dwell in the world is to attempt to settle down in this scene as if it were our abiding home.

Such then was the solemn condition of the Church in the period of its history depicted in the address to Pergamos. It was no longer a witness in the world, but a dweller in the world. Dwelling signifies the moral character of the profession, just as the expression "earth dwellers," afterwards used in the Revelation, sets forth the character of a certain class. The angels visited Sodom in the way of testimony: Lot dwelled there, he found his home there; and his character was formed by the place he dwelt in.

Having settled in the world the Church ceases to be a witness for Christ, and the world ceases to persecute the Church. When the world and the Church associate together, there is nothing left to persecute. From this period the Church, as a whole, lost its heavenly character, never to be regained throughout its history on earth; and worse, for Christianity has become amongst men simply a means for the betterment of the masses, and the advancement of temporal interests.

Nevertheless, there was still that which the Lord could commend, for we hear the Lord saying, "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith." Name in Scripture is ever the expression of what a person is, and would thus set forth the truth of Christ's Person. "My faith" sets forth the great truths of Christianity concerning the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord.

In spite of the fact that the professing body had settled down in the world, and thus given up its heavenly character, the Church, at this period still held fast to the truth of the Person of Christ, and refused to be drawn into any denial of the faith of Christ.

This, however, implies that at this period there was an attempt to wrest from the Church the great truths of Christianity. Arianism, that denied the deity of Christ, Appollinarianism that attacked His humanity, and Nestorianism that made of our Lord two Persons, arose in the Fourth Century. The Church by condemning these heresies in its different councils, held fast to the truth of Christ's Person, some even laying down their lives rather than surrender the truth. Antipas was a bright example of one of whom the Lord speaks as "My faithful witness, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells." No longer could the Lord speak of the Church as a whole as "My faithful witness," but there were still faithful individuals.

How deeply encouraging that the Lord lets us know that however great the general decline, however dark the day, He still sees individuals of whom He can approve, and speak of them as "His," and not only as witnesses for Him, but as being "faithful witnesses." So, too, the Apostle Paul, when instructing us as to a day of ruin, evidently contemplates the existence of such, for he can charge Timothy to commit the truth to "faithful men" (2 Tim. 2:2).

The faithfulness of Antipas led him to a martyr's death. He was a bright witness to Christ in Satan's world, and thus a shining example of what the whole Church should have been in this world, and by contrast was a condemnation of the Church in its low condition. It is true that the Assembly was not in acknowledged association with the Satan-ruled world that had already shown its true character by martyring the Lord's faithful witness; nevertheless, the Lord's words would seem to cast a deep reproach upon the fallen Church, for He says of this faithful witness, he "was slain among you, where Satan dwells." It is as if the Lord said to the Church, "You live where Satan dwells, but My faithful witness died where Satan dwells."

(V. 14). Thus we realize that while the Lord will ever have His faithful witnesses, from this time forward, the Church as a whole has settled down in the world. The next step downward is to compromise with the world in which it has settled. It might have been argued that the world, having ceased to persecute the Church, was a changed world.

The only change was outward, in its manners. It covered its nakedness with an outward profession of Christianity; at heart it remained the same in its love of sin, and hatred of Christ. Nevertheless, the Church having left its first love was ready to fall a prey to its allurements.

This further decline is illustrated by the history of Balaam. This desperately wicked man is brought before us in Numbers 22—24. He was hired by Balak to curse the people of God. Unable to assist Balak in destroying the people of God by curses, he taught him how to encompass their fall by corruption. Compelled to utter the mind of God as to Israel, he had said, "Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." It was this separation between Israel and the world, that Balaam sought to break down. Association with the world in its Moabitish character is the doctrine of Balaam. In order to secure "the wages of unrighteousness," he teaches Balak how "to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel," by breaking down the wall of separation, and thus establishing intercourse between Israel and the nations (Num. 31:16). Balak acts upon this evil advice; the result is seen in Numbers 25. Instead of seeking to raise further opposition to Israel, Balak allows them to settle in his land. Thus we read, "Israel abode in Shittim," a town in the plains of Moab (Num. 33:49). Having settled in the world of Moab, the people of God fall into the unholy and idolatrous ways of the world. As with Israel, so with the Church that has settled down to dwell in the world; it forms an unholy alliance with the world, and adopts its idolatry. Thus at this stage of the Church's history, men were tolerated who taught that it would be to the advantage of the Church, and the world, if Christians mingled with the men of the world. Individuals might protest, but the mass no longer resisted these false teachers. The Lord does not say, as to the Church in Ephesus, "Thou hatest," or "Thou hast tried them" and "found them liars," but, "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam." Evil teachers were tolerated, and evil practices followed. As ever, bad doctrine leads to bad practice.

(V. 15). The teaching of Balaam was association between the people of God and the world. Furthermore, the Pergamos stage of the Church's history, was marked by those that held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. Apparently their evil was turning the grace of God to licentiousness. It first showed itself by immoral deeds brought into the Christian circle from the heathen world. These licentious deeds were hated and refused by the Church in Ephesus. In Pergamos this fearful evil had taken a more subtle form, inasmuch as this wickedness was now defended by doctrine. Probably Peter refers to the teachers of this evil doctrine, when he warns the Church that "There shall be false teachers among you who privily shall bring in destructive heresies," and he adds, "Many shall follow their dissolute ways."

The allusions to the sect of the Nicolaitanes in profane writings are so utterly unreliable, that it is difficult to glean anything certain as to them from this source. For this reason some have thought that the word is used in a symbolic sense. Such say the word means "conquerors of the people," and indicates the rise of clericalism. Against this view we have to remember that the etymology of the word is purely conjectural.

The allowance of these false doctrines paves the way for the inevitable union of the Christian profession, in its later stages, with the world; the result being that the Church debased itself by falling into the world's idolatry, and the world put on an outward veneer of respectability by the adoption of the Christian profession.

(V. 16). Warnings follow. Opportunity is given for repentance. If there is no repentance, the Lord would come to the Church, as a professing body, in the way of judgment, and that quickly. This is not the actual coming of the Lord to take those who really form His Church — His body — to heaven, which is also said to be quickly, but a moral coming, in which the Lord acts judicially against those who are corrupting the Christian profession. The Lord does not say I will fight against "thee," but against "them." If the Church had no longer power to deal with evil teachers, and evil doers, the Lord may act directly to purge out the evil and maintain the honour of His Name. This judgment would be with the sword of His mouth. These evil teachers would be exposed and condemned by the Word of God. The Word that is a light and comfort, to those who obey it, becomes a sword to condemn those who slight its warnings and instructions.

(V. 17). Following the appeal to the one with the opened ear, there is the promise to the overcomer, connected with "the hidden manna," "a white stone," and "a new name."

The manna was God's provision from heaven to feed Israel in their wilderness journey. Spiritually we know that Christ is "the bread that came down from heaven" to be the food of His people in their wilderness circumstances. The manna sets forth Christ come, not only in Manhood, but also into wilderness circumstances, to enter into all that we have to face in a fallen world, apart from sin. The "hidden manna" refers to the manna that was placed in the ark for a memorial. Christ is now exalted on high; He is no longer seen in humiliation. The privilege, however, of the overcomer, is to know that the One who is now in glory, was once in this wilderness scene, and trod a lonely path as the meek and lowly One; that He once faced the scorn of a hostile world, and the contradiction of sinners.

Alas! the professing body had settled down to find its home in this world; it was entering into an unholy alliance with the world and eating things sacrificed to idols. The overcomer refused to be drawn into the world: to him the world was still a wilderness, and he but a stranger and a pilgrim. Having refused to eat of the things sacrificed to idols, the Lord says, "I will give him to eat of the hidden manna."

Further, the Lord can say, "I will give him a white stone." This appears to be a figure drawn from the voter's urn, in which a white stone was put when approving a candidate, or a black stone when disapproving. As a figure it carries the thought of the Lord giving the overcomer the sweet sense of His approval. The overcomer may indeed meet the disapproval of man as he stands against the unholy alliance of the Church and the world; nevertheless, he will be cheered with the thought of the Lord's approval as set forth in the white stone.

Moreover, in the stone there is a new name written. Names in Scripture are not used simply to distinguish one person from another, but to set forth the individual character of a person. Does not the new name indicate the character which Christ sees and appreciates in the individual to whom He gives a new name. The world may defame, and seek to impute evil motives to the overcomer who refuses to go with the crowd to do evil. The Lord, however, gives the overcomer the secret joy of realizing that his true character is known and valued by Himself.


Revelation 2:18-29.

In order to rightly interpret the address to Thyatira, and the addresses that follow, it is important to see the characteristic differences between the first three addresses and the last four.

It is clear that the first three Churches set forth the condition of the whole professing Church at three successive periods of its history. Moreover, the general condition set forth by these Churches does not continue throughout the Church's history; though, indeed, the evils that develop, during the periods set forth by these Churches, continue to mark the Christian profession for all time.

Thus the united testimony of the Church that marked the Ephesian period has passed away; though the loss of first love has ever since marked the Christian profession.

Again, the Church as a whole is no longer persecuted as in the Smyrna period; though the leaven of Judaising teachers continues to work throughout Church history.

Moreover, the Church as a whole is no longer marked by holding fast the Name of Christ, and maintaining the faith, as in the Pergamos period; while, alas, it is still true that the profession as a whole has lost the heavenly calling and become utterly worldly.

Coming to the last four addresses, it will be noticed that, in the main, three things distinguish them from the first three addresses. In the first place we find in the last four Churches the coming of the Lord is either directly presented, or implied, for encouragement or warning. Secondly, in each of these Churches we have a remnant distinguished from the main professing body. Thirdly, in the last four Churches, the call to hear what the Spirit says to the Churches, comes after the promise to the overcomer.

These three facts are deeply significant. The first — the fact of the Lord's coming being brought before the Churches — would indicate that the conditions set forth by the last four Churches will continue to the end of the Church period. Furthermore, the fact that a remnant is distinguished leads to the conclusion that there is no longer any hope of recovery for the Church as a whole. In the first three Churches there is held out the possibility of repentance, and thus a return to a right condition. In Thyatira there is indeed the call to repentance, but it is definitely stated "she will not repent" (N. Tr.). The increasingly corrupt mass passes on to judgment, though out of the corruption God secures a remnant for Himself. Finally, the fact of the appeal to the one with the hearing ear, coming after the promise to the overcomer, is a further proof that the Christian profession is so hopelessly corrupt that the one who hears will no longer be found in the Church at large, but only amongst the overcomers.

While, however, it is important to see the distinction between the first three and the last four Churches, it is equally important to see the connection between the first three Churches and Thyatira. In the period of the Church's history set forth by Ephesus, there was still a united testimony before the world. There was, however, the root of all failure — the decay of first love to Christ. This solemn loss of first love paved the way for the Church to descend to the level of the world.

In the following period of the Church's history — set forth by Smyrna — the downward course of the public professing body was, for a time, arrested by persecution from the world.

In the Pergamos period, persecution having ceased, the decline in the condition of Christendom was rapid. Already the Church had given up first love to Christ, now the Church gives up her heavenly calling, and, ceasing to be a separate company, settles down in the world where Satan dwells. The Church having thus accommodated herself to the world, the world ceases to persecute the Church. The unholy alliance between the Church and the world, leads the Church to adopt the practices of the world, while the world puts on an outward profession of Christianity. Thus, in this period, we see the formation of the worldly religious sphere known as Christendom.

In the period set forth by Thyatira there is a further advance in evil. Under the figure of the woman Jezebel, we see the development of a worldly ecclesiastical system which seeks to become the universal mistress of Christendom. Throughout the middle ages, for well nigh a thousand years, the condition set forth by Jezebel characterised the public professing body. With the development of the Sardis condition, the Thyatira condition, while still persisting, ceased to be representative of the Church as a whole.

Keeping in mind these characteristic differences between the addresses to the Churches, we shall be better prepared to consider the details of the address to Thyatira.

(V. 18). Christ presents Himself to this Church as "the Son of God who has His eyes like to a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass." The title Son of God in this connection is deeply significant. We know from the Lord's own words to Peter that Christ as the Son of God is the rock on which the Church is built. Commencing with the Thyatira period we find the rising up of a system that sets aside the Son of God and exalts a man to be the rock on which the Church is built.

Further, Christ is presented as One whose eyes are as a flame of fire, speaking of the searching penetrating gaze from which no evil is hidden, and whose burning condemnation evil must encounter. His feet are like fine brass, reminding us of the absolute firmness, and inflexible righteousness, of the way He takes in dealing with the evils discovered by His penetrating gaze.

(V. 19). Following upon the Lord's presentation of Himself, we have the Lord's commendation of His own. He says, "I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service, and thine endurance, and thy last works to be more than thy first" (N. Tr.). It is exceedingly blessed that, in this dark day of the Church's history, the Lord finds so much to commend. Neither in the Smyrna or Pergamos period were there any works for the Lord's commendation.* In the Smyrna period bitter persecution called forth suffering for Christ's sake; but would hardly lead to active works. In the Pergamos period, the Church, having found its dwelling in the world, would hardly bring forth "works" that the Lord could commend. In the Ephesian period there were indeed works that the Lord commends, but the "love" and "faith" that were lacking in their works, are found in the works of Thyatira. Moreover, the Lord says, "I know … the last works to be more than the first" (N. Tr.). Their activity did not wither under the prevailing corruptions, nor fade with the passing of time.

{*The word "works" in verses 9 and 13 is an interpolation.}

That such high commendation was found in a day when the general condition of Christendom was so low, only illustrates the truth that the greater the corruption of the professing mass, the greater the energy and devotedness of the faithful few. The greatest saints are found in the darkest day. Never was a darker day in Israel's history than when the wicked Jezebel ruled. Idolatry filled the land; false prophets and idolatrous priests swayed the mass; all was in disorder. Nevertheless, in that dark day, there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal; and there were devoted men of God, like Elijah and Elisha, who were famed for "works" that exceeded the works of any other saint of that dispensation. In the story of the Church, history repeats itself. Again a period arises which the Lord likens to the dark days of Jezebel, and again amidst the wickedness of that time, there shine forth, against the darkness, faithful individuals whose devotedness to Christ exceeds, perhaps, that of the saints of any other period since Pentecostal days.

Of these devoted saints, one has written, in moving words, as follows: — "How have the sorrows and sufferings and labour and painful devotedness of the hunted but persevering witnesses in the dark ages, occupied the mind and feelings of thoughtful Christians. Nowhere, perhaps, is there a more deeply interesting story; nowhere longer and more unwearied patience; nowhere truer, or perhaps so true, hearts for the truth and for Christ, and for faithfulness to Him against a corrupt church, as in the saints of the middle ages. Through toil and labour, hunted and punished in spite of a system far more persevering, far better organised, than heathen persecutions, violent as for a time they surely were; with no fresh miraculous revelation, or publicly sustaining body, or profession of the church at large, clothed with universal acknowledgment as such, to give them confidence; with every name of ignominy that people or priest could invent to hunt them with, they pursued their hemmed but never abandoned way, with divinely given constancy, and maintained the testimony of God, and the promised existence of the church against the gates of hades, at the cost of rest and home and life and all things earth could give or nature feel. And Christ had foreseen and had not forgotten it. Weakness may have been there, ignorance marked many of their thoughts Satan may have sought to mix up mischief with the good, and sometimes succeeded; and men, at their ease now, delight in finding the feeble or faulty spot, and perhaps succeed too; but their record is on high, and their Saviour's approbation will shine forth, when the books ease-loving questioners have written on them will be as dust on the moth's wing when it is dead; and shame, if shame can be where we may trust many of them may meet those they have despised, cover their face. This the Lord owns in Thyatira. It made no part of the church for men then. It makes none for many wise people now. It is the first part for Christ" (J.N.D).

(V. 20). Thus the Lord delights to approve of these devoted saints amidst the gross darkness of the middle ages. He will have a further word of encouragement for them; though first He turns aside to pass judgment on that of which He so deeply disapproves. In verses 20 to 23, there comes before us, under the symbol of Jezebel and her children, the appalling condition which was the outcome of a worldly ecclesiastical system that sought to rule Christendom.

To understand the spiritual significance of the "woman Jezebel," we must recall the history of Israel in the days of the actual Jezebel. Ahab was then king, who "did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him." His great sin was that he took to wife the daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Zidonians. Having entered into, this worldly alliance he lost his place and authority as king, and permitted this wicked woman to rule, even to writing letters in his name, and subscribing them with his seal. Under her rule the whole country was led into idolatry; false prophets of Baal were protected, and the prophets of the Lord were persecuted.

This evil condition of the nation of Israel, under the sway of Jezebel, is reproduced in the period of the Church's history represented by Thyatira. As the outcome of the false alliance of the Church with the world, in the Pergamos period, there arises a false ecclesiastical system that seeks to dominate Christendom; that, like a prophetess, professes to speak with divine authority, and communicate the mind of God; that takes the place of "teacher" and "leader" of God's people, for, says the Lord, "Thou sufferest … that woman … to teach and to lead away my servants" (N. Tr.). Thus the Word of God, as giving the mind of God, the Spirit of God as being the Teacher, and Christ as the Head and the Leader of His people, are set aside by the substituted teaching of this evil system.

Furthermore, under the figure of fornication, this evil system leads into unholy alliances with the world, and into communion with idolatrous things which have a direct link with Satan.

Thus in one short message to the Angel of the Church in Thyatira, the Lord sums up the outstanding features of that fearful ecclesiastical tyranny which, having its extreme expression in Rome, dominated Christendom in the dark ages, and continues in that system, and in the allied movements symbolised as children of Jezebel, to the end of the Church period.

(V. 21). Space was given for repentance; but, says the Lord, "She will not repent" (N. Tr.). To Ephesus it was said that unless there was repentance the candlestick would be removed. Here there is no mention of the candlestick, showing that the system represented by Jezebel was not acknowledged as a light for Himself.

(Vv. 22, 23). The Lord proceeds to pass judgment upon this false system; those associated with her; and her children. This vile system will come into "great tribulation." This surely looks on to the time, foretold in greater detail, in Revelation 17 — 18, when the revived Roman Empire will, as the instrument of God, destroy this system. Two classes will share her judgment: first, those who are found in unholy association with her — the kings of the earth, and the merchantmen who, to further their interests in this world, recognised, and entered into alliance with her (Rev. 18:9). Second, there are those who are spoken of as "her children." It is not inferred that any of God's children are found in this company. They are the direct offspring of this vile system — a class that, like Jezebel, make a profession of religion, but are pure idolators. Such come under absolute judgment. They are killed with death — complete separation from God. They are not permitted to subsist longer on earth.

It is in vain that men throw a halo of religious fervour around this system, or seek to hide its fearful evil under an atmosphere of human kindness, and the glamour of false sentiment, for all the Churches will know that the Lord is One who searches the reins and hearts. His eyes, as a flame of fire, will discover the guiding principles, and the hidden motives, that determine the policy of this fearful system. And the One whose feet, like fine brass, tread a path of absolute righteousness, will give to every one according to his works.

(Vv. 24, 25). Having condemned this terrible evil, the Lord turns again to those, whose love, and faith, and patience, He has already approved. Here for the first time we have a remnant distinguished from the corrupt mass. They have refused the idolatry, and worldly alliances of this false system, by which they are surrounded; they have not known the depths of Satan that are concealed in a system under which Jesuitism, the Inquisition, indulgences, and the confessional can flourish.

In the midst of the gross darkness of this satanic system it was much in God's sight that any should be found, marked by faith, love, endurance, and works, that have the Lord's approval. Upon such the Lord will lay no other burden — words that would imply they had heavy burdens to bear. Refusing the doctrine of Jezebel, brought them into constant suffering and persecution. In such circumstances all that the Lord looks for is that they "hold fast" that which they have until He comes.

They were hardly in a position to make any advance into the deep truths of Christianity; but the Lord does lay upon them the responsibility of holding fast the light they have. This was a measure of light that enabled them to refuse the teaching of Jezebel, escape the depths of Satan, and walk in practical piety.

Here, too, for the first time, in the course of these addresses, the Lord holds out the hope of His coming. The Lord's coming was ever the proper hope of the Church; the mention, however, of this blessed hope at this juncture indicates that the decline of the Church has reached a stage at which there is no longer any possible recovery for the mass of the Christian profession. Whatever revivals the Lord may grant, for the Lord's people, as a whole, there will henceforth be no recovery, until the Lord comes. There is nothing but judgment for Jezebel, and nothing but the Lord's coming for the godly remnant. To such there is no promise held out of any amendment in the Church; their hope is directed to Christ outside this scene, and His coming to take His people to Himself.

(Vv. 26-28). The promise to the overcomer reveals a blessed prospect to the one who "holds fast" amidst the abominations of Jezebel. The Church in Thyatira is the only one to whom the Lord adds an additional charge to overcoming. Thus He says, "He that overcomes and keeps My works." It is as if the Lord would leave no question as to what is implied in overcoming this fearful system. It would seem that amidst the gross darkness of a system that takes the Word of God from believers, the Lord does not expect the overcomer to be distinguished by a deep knowledge of His Word; but this at least He does look for, that they should be marked by practical piety, and thus keep His works until the end. Moreover, in speaking of "my works," the Lord reminds us that, in His path, He ever did the will of God, as He could say to the Jews, "I do always those things that please Him."

Such will have power over the nations. The power over the world by which this ecclesiastical system sought its own advancement and glory during the absence of Christ, the godly persecuted overcomer will have at the coming of Christ. The overcomer will moreover, not only have power, but he will exercise power; he will rule with a rod of iron in the day when Christ deals with His enemies in absolute destruction, even as the vessels of a potter are broken to shivers.

Moreover, such will have "the morning star." Not only will they share the glorious reign of Christ, but they will enjoy a present knowledge of Christ, before He comes. The day star will arise in their hearts. Christ, as the Sun of righteousness, will arise upon this world with healing in His wings, but the day star shines before the rising of the sun. The overcomer will know and enjoy Christ as the Morning Star, before He shines before the world as the Sun of Righteousness.


Revelation 3:1-6.

In the prophetic view of the Seven Churches, it is important to remember that the first three Assemblies are representative of conditions of the whole Christian profession, at three successive periods of its history; conditions, moreover, that have passed away with the periods represented by these Churches.

In contrast to the first three Churches, the last four prophetically present conditions which, though they come successively on the scene, do not displace one another, but continue to the end. For this reason the last four Assemblies, in as far as they exist together, do not represent the condition of the whole Church at any given time.

If Thyatira sets forth the condition of Christendom during the dark ages, from A.D. 500 to A.D. 1500, when dominated by the Papal system, it is hardly possible to resist the conclusion that in Sardis there is set forth the condition of the professing Church under Protestantism. Here, however, we must carefully distinguish between the work of the Spirit of God at the Reformation, and the work of man which resulted in Protestantism. The address to Sardis does not set forth the Reformation, but rather the condition which marked those who, under the impulse of this movement, developed an ecclesiastical system in opposition to Rome.

At the commencement of the Reformation there was a mighty work of the Spirit of God whereby the Scriptures were recovered for all, and justification by faith was preached. A vast number who received spiritual blessing under this movement broke with the Papacy. A still larger number, groaning under the tyranny of Rome, threw in their lot with this movement for political motives, apart from any work of the Spirit in their souls. Thus a movement which at its commencement had been, under the guidance of the Spirit, a powerful witness to the truth, ended in becoming, under the guidance of men, little more than a protest against the tyranny and abominations of Rome.

This protest aroused the hostility of Rome. In turn the opposition of Rome led the Protestants to range themselves under the protection of the world in order to defend themselves in the conflict with Rome. Thus, in contrast to the Romish system that sought to rule the world, there arose, in Protestantism, a system that sought the protection of the world, and has become dominated by the world. The resulting condition is set forth in Sardis.

It is instructive to mark the relation of the professing Church to the world, as set forth in these different addresses.

In Ephesus the Church was separate from the world, and so far was a witness to the world, though the root of all decline was there.

In Smyrna the Church was persecuted by the world, and thus, for the time, further decline was arrested.

In the Pergamos period the persecutions ceased. At once the Church settled down in the world, while the world put on the profession of Christianity. Thus Christendom was formed.

In Thyatira the professing Church assumed to take the upper hand and rule this Christianised world.

In Sardis a section of the professing Church put itself under the protection and rule of the world.

In Philadelphia there is presented a remnant separated from the corrupt religious world.

In Laodicea the professing mass of Christendom becomes the world, and is treated as the world.

(V. 1). Confining our thoughts to Sardis it will be seen that the Lord presents Himself to this Church as, "He that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." This surely would be rebuke to the Church, but encouragement for the godly remnant in the Church.

The seven Spirits of God would speak of the fulness of the power of the Spirit at the disposal of the Lord. What a rebuke to those who have turned aside to seek the protection of the world's power; but what an encouragement to the godly in a day of spiritual weakness amongst the people of God. Moreover, the Lord has the seven stars. When the professing mass are turning to the world and seeking its power and patronage, it is good for those who are responsible to represent Christ in the Assembly, and who are responsible to Christ for the condition of the Assembly, to remember, that they still belong to Christ, and are thus encouraged to own His authority and count upon Him for His support and guidance.

Following upon the presentation of Christ to the Church, we have the Lord's judgment of the condition of Sardis. He says, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Thus, in Sardis, we see the condition of a large section of the professing Church which, having escaped the abominations of Thyatira, falls into spiritual torpor, contented with a public profession of orthodoxy. Mere profession may make a name before men, who only look on that which is outward: it is not life before Christ, who reads the heart. In Protestantism there is the reputation for maintaining the vital truths of Christianity, as opposed to the corruptions of Rome, but, in the sight of the Lord, there is no vital link with Himself in the vast mass of those who make this profession.

There is no vital power in Protestantism as such. Life is found in faith in the living Christ, not in protesting against evil. Hence any movement that depends for its existence upon protest against evil is bound to sink into spiritual torpor and death. The Reformation was indeed a protest against the evils of the Papacy; but it was much more than this. It was the powerful assertion of positive truths. In a short while, however, great masses of people identified themselves with the Reformation movement, not because they loved the truth, but because they hated Rome. Thus a condition has arisen that is characterized by the reputation for orthodoxy before men, without life before God.

(V. 2). Having passed judgment upon the condition of Sardis, the Lord utters some solemn warnings. First, He says, "Be watchful." The call to watchfulness implies that there had been a lack of watchfulness. The Church, while bidding for the power and patronage of the world, had been so engrossed with its present advancement in this scene, that it had ceased to watch against dangers that were imminent, and had ceased to remember the truth they had received. Paul, in his farewell address to the elders at Ephesus, links together watching and remembering, for having warned them of coming dangers, he says, "Therefore watch and remember." Thus too the Lord bids the Church in Sardis first to watch and then to remember.

Further, the Lord exhorts the Church to "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die." In His sight the mass are already dead: the truths recovered at the Reformation are ready to die.

Moreover, the Lord rebukes the Assembly for their lack of practical piety. He says, "I have not found thy works perfect before God." God does not lower His standard because of the decline in the spiritual condition of the professing mass. The works He looks for are still measured by His perfect standard. The love was not perfect in Ephesus; the works were not perfect in Sardis.

How solemn is the condition of the Protestant profession as set forth in the Assembly in Sardis. The mass of profession dead; the truths once recovered, dying; practical piety and holiness at a low ebb. Alas! is it not notorious that the Protestant system is utterly powerless to maintain the truth, or to deal with evil, or restrain lawlessness, within its bounds. Their works are not perfect before God.

Nevertheless, Christ presents Himself to this Church in a way that clearly shows [that] all the resources of power and government are perfect in His hands. Therefore there is power available for the Church to bring forth perfect works in a day of ruin. Alas! Sardis having turned to the world for its power, cannot avail itself of the resources in the Head of the Church.

(V. 3). To remember "how" they had received and heard, would recall to them the earnest condition of soul in which the truth had been received, and open their eyes to the present condition of deadness into which they had sunk. They lacked the power of the seven Spirits of God for the maintenance of the good: and the restraining power of Christ's ministers of light and truth against evil. To "hold fast" would encourage them to cling to the great truths they were insensibly letting slip. To "repent" would involve self-judgment for their low spiritual condition, and poor walk.

The Lord's warning follows. "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." Thus the Lord rebukes the low condition of His professing people in two ways: first, He calls them to remember the past. Have they declined in conduct from those early days when the truth was first received? Then He recalls them to watchfulness. Let them not only look back, but look on, for He is coming. Are they in a state suited for His coming? If not, His coming would mean judgment rather than blessing. Thus it is the Lord presents His coming in the aspect it will take towards the world, "as a thief." The Apostle Paul could write to the Thessalonians, "Ye brethren are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." Nevertheless, he adds, "Let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober." Alas! in the day of Sardis the professing Church had ceased to watch, and was fast falling into darkness and deadness. Having appealed to the world for its patronage and power, the professing Church had become like the world, and is in danger of sharing the world's judgment. The coming of the Lord instead of bringing into blessing, as it will for all who believe to life, will overwhelm in judgment this dead Church, in common with a dead world.

(V. 4). Amidst, however, the deadness of Sardis, the Lord sees, and delights to own, that there are those faithful to Himself. In Thyatira there are those that the Lord distinguishes from the corrupt mass, and of whom He speaks as "the rest." Here it is hardly a company, but only "a few names," that He can own. It would suggest that they are isolated individuals amidst the mass that are sunk in spiritual torpor.

The Lord gives them a threefold commendation. First they have not defiled their garments. With all their orthodox profession the mass had defiled their garments. Their practical walk and ways were marred and defiled by association with the world, by bidding for its power, by accommodating themselves to its tastes, by adopting its methods. There are, however, faithful individuals — a few names — who maintain their separation from the world. The Lord knows their names, and says they have not defiled their garments.

Secondly, the Lord says of such, "They shall walk with Me in white." Separation from the world has its blessed outcome in a walk with Christ. Nevertheless, the walk is of an individual character. The Lord does not say they will know the blessedness of that word which says, "Where two or three are gathered together to My Name, there am I in the midst of them," but "they shall walk with Me." Whatever their ecclesiastical associations, their practical ways are suited to the Lord, for, they shall walk with Him "in white." Lastly the Lord says of such, "They are worthy." The orthodox mass are dead, the truths they profess are dying; their works are not perfect; their garments are defiled by the world; they are utterly unworthy of Christ, and are passing on to the judgment of the world. In contrast to the condition of the mass, the Lord finds in these "few names" those who are worthy to be in His company now, and to share His glory in a day to come.

(V. 5). The first promise to the overcomer is to be "clothed in white raiment." There were a few names in Sardis of those who had not defiled their garments; they had walked in practical separation from the evils by which they were surrounded, and the Lord encourages such with the promise that their walk will have its suitable reward in a day to come. They will be clothed in white in the day of glory. The robes they wear in glory are woven in the path that leads to glory. The few names of those who had not defiled their garments represent only a handful of obscure individuals amidst a great lifeless profession; but they had the Lord's approval in the day of their obscurity, and their faithfulness will be brought into display in the presence of the Lord in the day of His glory.

Further, the Lord says of the overcomer, "I will not blot out his name out of the book of life." How many names held in high honour by Sardis, and written in its registers, would be found to represent mere lifeless professors, whereas the few names of those who had not defiled their garments were held in small esteem by Sardis, and even struck off its registers. Even so whatever men might do — the Lord says, "I will not blot out his name out of the book of life."

Finally, the Lord says of the overcomer, "I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels." Does not this high honour imply that before men the overcomer's name had been of little account, if not derided, and show, moreover, how great is the Lord's approval of one, who, in the midst of a lifeless profession boldly confesses His name?

(V. 6). The address closes with the appeal that, "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches." It is the Lord's desire that we should listen to the Spirit, as, throughout the ages He takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us, and thus profit by the Lord's words to each Church.

An ever present snare to which believers are exposed is the attempt to maintain a religious reputation — a "name to live" — before one another, before our fellow Christians, and before the world, while neglecting to cultivate the fruits which are the outcome and evidence of life. In the midst of a vast profession we are to "watch," "strengthen the things which remain," to "remember how we have received and heard," "hold fast" and "repent" of any departure.


Revelation 3:7-13.

The study of the addresses to the Seven Churches leads to the conclusion that the last four Churches, in contrast to the first three, set forth conditions that continue to the end of the Church period. Further, it will be found that in the last four Churches, there is a general distinction between the first two and the last two.

In reference to Thyatira and Sardis, we see prophetically set forth conditions that are publicly represented before the world by the two great ecclesiastical systems known, respectively, as the Papacy and Protestantism. When, however, we come to the last two Churches, it is clear that the conditions we find therein do not correspond to any definite ecclesiastical systems which can be recognised in, or by, the world. These Churches set forth certain conditions of which the Lord takes account, either as having His approval, as in the Church of Philadelphia, or, as being utterly nauseous to Him, as in the Church of Laodicea.

Thus in Thyatira and Sardis we have great ecclesiastical systems which have a large place in the eyes of the world, and, in each of these systems, a godly remnant under the eye of Christ. In Philadelphia we see set forth a godly remnant, not in, but, apart from Thyatira and Sardis, having certain moral traits approved by the Lord, who wait for the coming of the Lord, and who make no pretension to a humanly devised ecclesiastical system of which the world can take account.

It is the greatest encouragement to those who desire to be true to the Lord, in a day of ruin, to see that these addresses present the great fact that when the condition of the Christian profession has become utterly corrupt and dead, there will be found under the eye of Christ those who are apart from the corruption and have His approval, and that such will be found until the end. Thus from the address to Philadelphia it is our high privilege to learn what has the Lord's approval in a day of ruin, so that we may, seek grace to answer to His mind.

(V. 7). Christ is presented to this Church as "The holy and the true, He that has the key of David, He that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens." No longer does the Lord present Himself in His official capacity in relation to the Churches, as holding the seven stars and walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, but in His moral perfections as the One who is "the holy" and "the true." Not only is He absolutely holy, but He is true to His holy character, true to God, and true to His own word. If, however, He thus presents Himself to His people it is in order that they should exhibit a character in keeping with Himself. If He presents Himself in a moral way it is that they should be morally like Him. He does not ask them to set up an ecclesiastical organisation, or attempt to make a model Church in the midst of the ruin, but He does desire that, amidst the increasing gloom of Christendom, there should be found a people who set forth the excellencies of His character as the holy and the true. This will surely involve, on the one hand, separation from the corruptions of Christendom, and, on the other, the maintenance of the whole truth.

Moreover, the Lord is presented as having the key of David. The allusion is to Isaiah 22:21-22. The Prophet, using Eliakim as a type, speaks of the government of this world being given to Christ, for Jehovah says, "the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder." There are two symbols of government, the sword and the key. The sword speaks of the government dealing with, and restraining evil: the key speaks rather of government opening a way for right to prevail. The key hardly expresses administration in the Church, but rather government in the world — a government that no man can resist, producing conditions even in a hostile world, and in spite of the state of the Church, in which the Philadelphian can act according to the Lord's mind. The time has not yet come for the Lord to use the sword, but does He not exercise His governmental power, in as far as it is necessary, to open a door to those who seek to answer to His mind, in order that they may carry out His service? If they are seeking to wear the character of Christ, will they not have the support of Christ, and find that He will direct their steps, opening a door here or closing a door there, as He in His perfect wisdom decides? It is theirs to see that by separation from vessels to dishonour, and the cultivation of a character suited to Christ, they are fit and meet for the Master's use. Then will they not find that He will open a door to carry out His service? And He assures such that no man, however powerful in this world, or however much opposed to the truth, will be able to close the door that He has opened. What a comfort to know that the Lord holds the key and that, in spite of corruption within the Christian circle or opposition from without, He can make a way for His people that nothing can resist.

(V. 8). Following upon the Lord's presentation of Himself we have the Lord's commendation of the Philadelphian Church. There is nothing that meets with the Lord's condemnation. There are three characteristics that have His approval.

First, the Lord says, "Thou hast a little strength." This Church is not marked by any display of power that would attract the notice of the world. In the beginning of the Church's history there had indeed been a display of power that arrested the world. The gift of tongues had confounded the multitude; mighty works had amazed the world, and the power of the gospel had turned the world upside down. Apparently all the sign gifts, so impressive in the eyes of the world, were entirely absent in Philadelphia, so that we may judge miraculous display will not be found among those who have the Lord's approval in a day of ruin. "A little strength" is not a quality that appeals to the flesh, or attracts the world. The world delights in a strong man; God delights to carry out His work through weak vessels. Thus, in Philadelphia the Lord associates Himself with, and uses those, who have but a little strength. He says, "I have set before thee" — the one with a little strength — "an open door." Their wisdom then is not to assume power that they do not possess, nor covet gifts that have passed away, but rather own their true condition — that they have but a little strength — and thus find the support of the Lord, the One who has all power, who holds the key, and whom no man can resist.

Thyatira represents a system that arrogates to itself a power that would rule the world: Sardis a system that bids for the power and resources of the world. Philadelphia represents a little remnant apart from the world having but a little strength, though behind their weakness there is the mighty power and support of the Lord.

Secondly, the Lord can say of Philadelphia, "Thou … hast kept My word." Not simply the Word as a whole, however true that may be of the Philadelphians, but Christ's word. Is not Christ's word the whole revelation of Christianity communicated to us by Christ Himself when He was on earth, and afterwards through the revelations made to the Apostles from Christ in the glory? His word covers the whole circle of Christian truth and suggests that, in Philadelphia, there is, not merely the recovery of certain truths, as in Sardis, but the recovery of all Christian truth. Further, "keeping" the word implies that it is treasured in the heart and obeyed in the life. The Lord does not say thou hast expounded or taught the word, though this may be true; but He lays emphasis on the great fact that His word is kept. Those with little strength may have little gift, but they can be marked by that which is of far higher value in the eyes of the Lord — obedience to His word. Surrounded by a great profession that has abandoned the Word for the traditions of men, or science falsely so called, or ingenious handlings and applications of the Word to support their fanciful ideas, there are those who, shaking off the shackles of tradition, get back to Christ's Word, treasure that Word in their hearts, and seek to carry it out in their lives.

Thirdly, the Lord says of this Church, "Thou hast not denied My Name." Name in Scripture sets forth a Person's renown. Christ's Name is the perfect expression of all that He is in His glorious PERSON, as well as all that He has done in His mighty work. His name JESUS speaks of His saving work: His name EMMANUEL speaks of His glorious Person. Thyatira represents a system that arrogates to itself the place and power that belongs alone to Christ the Head of His Church, and thus usurps the renown that belongs to Christ. Sardis assumes that Name to make a fair profession before the world, and thus degrades the Name of Christ to add lustre to herself. In Philadelphia there are those who may not be able to unfold all the glories of that Name, nor refute and answer the unceasing attacks upon His Name, but this at least can be said of them, that, in the midst of all the attacks of the enemy upon the renown of Christ, they have refused to deny that Name. They have not denied the glory of His Person, not the greatness of His work.

It might not appear that there is much commendation in not denying His Name. There is nothing of a directly positive character in such testimony: nevertheless, it is precious in the eyes of the Lord to find in a day of ruin that there are some who refuse to deny His Name. Even so in the dark and apostate days when Ahab reigned in Israel, and Elijah stood for the glory of the Lord, it might seem a small thing that seven thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal, but it has the Lord's commendation.

(V. 9). We are next warned that those who are drawn together in brotherly love, in separation from the corruptions of Christendom, in obedience to the Word of Christ, will meet with opposition. Keeping the word of Christ would suggest that this godly remnant had returned to the principles of the Church as unfolded in that Word. This would naturally arouse the hostility of those who had departed from the Word and sought to mould the Church into a Jewish form.

This opposition, however outwardly religious, would appear to be satanic in its origin. If there are those who have been brought back to the truth of Christ's words, and thus walk in the light of the Church as revealed in those words, Satan will oppose such, not by persecution as in Smyrna, but, by raising up those who claim to be the true Church, with an hereditary priesthood after the Jewish pattern. Such may look with unconcealed contempt upon a feeble company who seek to obey Christ's Word, but the time will come when they will be compelled to recognise that the love and approval of Christ rests upon those that they despise.

Thus in this Philadelphian remnant there is a complete absence of everything that makes a show in the eyes of the world; while there is that which is exceedingly precious in the eyes of the Lord — "I have loved thee." In connection with this Church there is no mention of any great labour as in Ephesus; no mention of charity, and service, as in Thyatira; there is no great ecclesiastical system that men can take account of, as in Sardis. In the sight of men all is weakness that calls forth their contempt. Nevertheless, the very weakness that men deride secures the support of the Lord; and the moral traits of Christ, that raise the opposition of Satan, makes this little remnant very precious in the sight of Christ and very dear to His heart.

(V. 10). Furthermore, if this feeble remnant is preserved from the present opposition of Satan, they will also be kept out of the hour of trial that will come upon all the world. The fact that the Lord can say to Philadelphia, "Thou hast kept the word of My patience," would suggest that with the recovery of the full truth of the Church there had been a revival of the hope of the Church — the coming of the Lord to reign in glory. In the present time the form that the coming Kingdom takes is "the Kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." Such wait for the Kingdom and manifestation of Jesus Christ; and Christ waits, seated on His Father's throne, until His enemies are made His footstool. Those who keep the word of His patience enter into the truth of Christ's present waiting attitude. They know this is the waiting time, they look forward to the reigning time.

Between the waiting, and the reigning, there has to come the hour of trial that will overtake the habitable world. These saints who keep the word of Christ's patience, are taught that the Church will be kept out of the hour of trial. How this will be we learn from other Scriptures. The word of Christ by revelation to the Apostle Paul tells of the rapture, by which the Church will be taken out of the scene of the trial to be with Christ, and thus come with Him when He appears to reign.

While it is specially said, in connection with these saints, that they will be kept from the hour of trial, it is equally true that every saint of the present time, will be kept from the coming world-wide judgments. In the same way it is surely true that no saint will be hurt of the second death, and yet this promise is only stated in connection with the overcomer in Smyrna. The fact being these promises are true for all believers; yet particular saints are especially reminded of certain promises that are suitable for their comfort and encouragement in their peculiar circumstances.

(V. 11). There follows a further word of encouragement and warning. "Behold," says the Lord, "I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." In the presence of those who oppose, the Lord encourages this remnant with the thought of His near coming. It will not be long that they will have to face opposition and endure conflict — He is coming quickly. The time is short; let them see to it that they hold fast and do not surrender that which has been recovered to them, nor give up in the conflict, in the last moments before the Lord returns.

The very warning to hold fast, implies that an effort will be made to induce them to let go that which they have. They must not be surprised if they are tempted in different ways to surrender the truths of Christ's word recovered to them, and to abandon the place of separation from the corruptions of Thyatira and Sardis.

Further, the warning indicates that they are faced with the grave danger of not holding fast, and thus of losing their crown. It is not simply "a crown," that they are in danger of losing, but "thy crown" — that is, their own distinguishing crown. The distinction of the Philadelphians is, that they cherish the truths concerning Christ and the Church in a day when, on every hand, these truths are denied. Having returned to the apprehension and practice of the truths concerning Christ and the Church, their ever present danger is, that they may surrender these truths and be drawn aside into the surrounding corruption, unreality, and self-sufficiency of Christendom. Hence the exhortation is, "Hold fast." Every effort of Satan will be made to lead the Philadelphian to give up what has been so blessedly revived to him. The enemy will gladly plead the help of saints, and the need of sinners, if by so doing he can get the Philadelphian to abandon what he has. He will argue, "There are a few saints in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and there are needy sinners in Laodicea who are poor, and blind, and naked. Go into Sardis to help those saints; go into Laodicea to reach those sinners." Nevertheless, to go back under any plea to that which the Lord condemns, is to abandon that which the Lord approves. All the seductions of the enemy are met by the Lord's warning words, "Hold fast." If the Philadelphian "holds fast," the Lord will doubtless open doors to help His people wherever they may be, and meet the need of sinners wherever found. Does not the exhortation to "hold fast" suggest that times of revival may be followed by times of declension in which many may drift and lose their crown. Blessed indeed, to be a Philadelphian, but Philadelphia is no haven of refuge where saints can settle down, but rather a company blessed with the approval of Christ, and for this reason, the special object of the enemy's attacks, and hence there is the constant need to contend for the faith, and "hold fast" that which has been received.

(V. 12). In common with the other Churches there is in Philadelphia a promise to the overcomer. The mention of an overcomer might seem remarkable, seeing that in this Church the Lord finds nothing to condemn. There is, however, opposition to overcome, and the necessity of holding fast would imply overcoming the temptation to give up.

Very precious are the promises to the overcomer. The one who remains true to Christ in the dark days of the Church's history; who is content to remain in obscurity, with but a little strength, in the day when the Church is growing to an holy temple in the Lord, will become a pillar in the Church when the temple of God is complete. If, in a day when the Christian profession is competing for the power and approval of the world, any are content with the secret approval of the Lord; if they keep His word when religious profession is making everything of man's word; if in such a day they set His Name above every name, then in the day of glory He will put upon them the name of His God, the name of the city of His God, and His own new Name. If they do not deny that Name in the day when men only profess the Name to dishonour it, they will wear His Name in the day of glory when all the world will have to bow the knee at the name of Jesus.

(V. 13). The address closes with the usual exhortation to the one that has an ear to hear, to heed what the Spirit says to the Churches. There may be nothing to condemn in this Church, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon the Philadelphians to hear what the Spirit has to say to the other Churches as well as to themselves. If they are to have the mind of the Lord they must heed the message of the Lord to each of the Churches. No attention to what the Spirit has to say in one particular Assembly can absolve from responsibility to hear and act upon His ministry and administration in other Assemblies.


Revelation 3:14-22.

In the address to Thyatira we have, under the figure of Jezebel, the prophetic announcement of the uprising of a great ecclesiastical system that would seek to rule the Christian profession. History plainly shows the fulfilment of this prophecy, in the development of the Papacy in the Middle Ages. Today this system still exists. In Sardis we see another ecclesiastical system which was formed by men as a protest against the Papal system; and though marked by outward orthodoxy, is characterised by spiritual death. This system also has its present-day existence.

Thus before men there are these two great ecclesiastical systems — the Papal system, including the Greek Church, finding its extreme expression in Rome; and the Protestant system embracing the National Churches and the Nonconformist sects. In the eyes of the world every professing Christian belongs to one system or the other.

In the address to Philadelphia we see a remnant of God's people that have the approval of the Lord, in separation from the corruptions of Thyatira and Sardis. Thus we see a state which exists under the eye of the Lord, but presents no distinct ecclesiastical existence before men.

When we come to the last Church we find, in contrast to Philadelphia, a state that is wholly abhorrent to the Lord, though like Philadelphia it does not appear before men as a definite ecclesiastical system apart from the Papacy and Protestantism.

Thus we conclude that before the world there are the two great ecclesiastical systems represented by Thyatira and Sardis. Before the Lord there is a remnant in Thyatira, a remnant in Sardis, a Philadelphian remnant apart from Thyatira and Sardis, and lastly the terrible condition, set forth by Laodicea, into which the great mass will fall who, apart from these remnants, form the Papal and Protestant systems.

(V. 14). The Lord presents Himself to Laodicea in a way that utterly condemns the condition of the Church; and yet is of the greatest encouragement to the overcomer. He is "The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." As the Amen, He is the One in whom all the promises of God have been taken up and affirmed in all their bearings, to bring to pass every good, and overthrow every wrong, and eternally glorify God in so doing. As the Faithful Witness, He was ever loyal to the One who sent Him. He loved the Father, and came to do the Father's will. Whatever the cost to Himself, He never deviated from that will, and never flinched from carrying it out. In doing that will He proved Himself to be the beginning of the creation of God which, in all its vast extent, will be marked by the will of God.

In the perfection of His way as the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God, He eclipsed all others. He was fairer than the children of men. And yet alas! He who should have been exclusively before the Church as the One beyond compare, is the very One who is excluded by the Church of the Laodiceans, and treated with callous indifference. The Church was set to shine for Christ; to bear witness to the grace of God; and exhibit the qualities of the new creation. Alas! it has failed in all its responsibilities. It should have shone for Christ, in a dark world, by pointing to Him as the One in whom all the promises of God have their complete fulfilment — that He is the Yea and the Amen, and that every blessing that God has for man is found in Him. Then indeed, the Church was set in the world to be a faithful and true witness to the grace of God. Alas! so far from being a witness to grace, in the last stage of her history the great mass are strangers to grace, and even opposed to God.

Lastly, the Church should have been the "firstfruits of His creatures," exhibiting the fruits of new creation, — "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance" (James 1:18; Gal. 5:22-23; Gal. 6:15). How little are these new creation fruits to be found in the professing Christian circle! Is not Christendom marked by hatred, misery, and war, rather than "love, joy, and peace"? Alas! is it not true, nothing on the face of the whole earth is so diametrically opposed to God as unconverted Christendom?

Thus we learn, in the way Christ presents Himself to the Church of Laodicea, the way in which the Church should have represented Christ before the world.

(Vv. 15, 16). So absolutely has the Church failed in its witness for Christ, that, in the last stage, the Lord can find nothing to commend. All He finds is a state that is utterly nauseous to Him. He says, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot." The Lord sees a condition that has neither the coldness of death, as in Sardis, nor the warmth of devotion, as in Philadelphia. There is that which, in His sight, is more hopeless to man, and more dishonouring to Himself than the coldness of death; for the Lord can say, "I would thou wert cold or hot." He sums up this condition, in its last phase, in the solemn words, "Thou art lukewarm." What is this but indifference to Christ, and, what is always linked with indifference, toleration of evil? In the last phase of Christendom there are those who take the name of Christ, and make a profession of Christianity, but, when tested by the great question, "What think ye of Christ?" are found to be utterly indifferent to Him.

The improvement of man, the uplifting of the masses, the betterment of social conditions will deeply interest them, but the glad tidings concerning Christ, the interests of Christ, the people of Christ, awaken within them but a languid interest, and to Christ, Himself, they are wholly indifferent. As long as people are sincere, charitable and respectable, the Laodicean cares not what they believe concerning Christ. His deity may be denied, and His perfect Manhood defamed; the Laodicean is quite indifferent. The atonement may be set aside, the inspired words of Christ denied, the coming of Christ made a matter for scoffing, and yet all is of the utmost indifference to the "broad-minded," easy-going, lukewarm Laodicean.

Such a condition is absolutely nauseous to Christ. The Lord expresses His abhorrence by warning this Church that the end will be their final and complete rejection as a Church. He says, "I will spue thee out of My mouth."

(V. 17). There is, however, further condemnation, for, linked with indifference to Christ there is the most arrogant assumption and self-satisfaction. Laodicea says, "I am rich, and increased with goods and have need of nothing." Though indifferent to Christ the Laodicean Church is full of herself and her claims. The Church that was left here to witness for Christ, has fallen to such depths that it not only ceases to witness for Christ, but it commences to witness to itself. The Church ceases to speak of Christ, and talks about the Church. The Assembly is made much of, and Christ is belittled. The Assembly seeks to attract to herself and not Christ. It usurps the place of Christ by claiming to be the vessel of riches and grace. Christ is outside, and yet it can say, "I have need of nothing."

Such then is the condition of the Laodicean Church, indifferent to Christ, self-occupied, and self-satisfied; and yet withal utterly ignorant of its true condition before the Lord. "I know," the Lord can say, but, "Thou knowest not." In their own estimation, the Laodicean had need of nothing, in the sight of the Lord they needed everything, for He has to say, "Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."

(V. 18). Having exposed their terrible condition the Lord gives them counsel. He says, "I counsel thee to buy of Me;" words which show their need of Christ and that there is no blessing apart from Christ. They must come to Christ for true riches. What grace that invites, not simply sinners confessed, but these self-occupied, self-satisfied professers to come to Himself! Does it not blessedly set forth the attitude of grace that Christ still takes toward the Christless profession? They profess to have riches, so the Lord taking them up on their own ground, invites them to come and buy. The only cost will be the letting go of their own self-righteousness, for, after all, the positive blessings that the Lord has to dispense are without money and without price.

They are invited to buy "gold tried in the fire," speaking of divine righteousness secured through the judgment of the Cross; "white raiment," speaking of practical righteousness, that, so clothed the shame of their nakedness does not appear. Their lack of practical righteousness before men was a solemn proof of their lack of divine righteousness before God. "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:15-20). Further, they need the eye-salve that they may see, speaking of the anointing of the Spirit that enables us to see our need of Christ, as well as the perfection of His Person and work to meet our need, and to supply us with true wealth and suitability to the glory of God.

(V. 19). The Lord, however, is not content with speaking to the consciences of these lukewarm Laodiceans. He will seek to reach the heart of any true believer that may still be found in Laodicea. He says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." The Church had long since left first love; but the Lord never left His first love for the Church. No longer can He speak of their love, yet He can still speak of His love. It is not, however, the love of complacency, but a love that has to act in rebuke.

(V. 20). Further, the Lord lingers in grace at their door. He speaks to the conscience: He appeals to the heart: He stands at the door: He knocks at the door. There is the call to repentance; but there is no expectation that the mass will repent, for this last appeal is only to the individual. "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."

Such is the last stage of the Church's history on earth. That which was set to bear witness for Christ on earth, becomes a witness to its own wretchedness, and shuts Christ outside its door. In the condition of Laodicea, do we not see the full result of the first departure in Ephesus? The beginning of all departure was leaving first love to Christ; the end, total indifference to Christ in a Church that is well content to have Christ outside its door. The last stage of Christendom, that with calm indifference shuts the door on Christ, seems almost worse in its callousness than the last stage of Judaism that, in its hostility, nailed Christ to a Cross.

Even as Christ lingered over corrupt Judaism with tears, so He waits outside the door of Christendom with infinite patience, if perchance there is "any man" in the Christian profession that will open the door to Him. For the mass there is no hope; it is about to be spued out of His mouth; but until that solemn act of final rejection comes to pass, there is this loving invitation held out to the individual who will listen to the voice of Christ. If there is one whose conscience has been reached by the Lord's exposure of Christendom, who has been aroused by His warnings, who has listened to His counsel, and been touched by His love, let that one but open the door and, even at this last stage, Christ will come in to him, and sup with him and he shall sup with Christ. What is this but the sweet communion of first love? Does it not prove that in the last stage of the Church's history on earth, when judgment is about to fall upon the great mass of the profession, it is possible for the individual to be brought back to first love? The Lord does not speak of any recovery of public witness to Himself, but of secret communion with Himself.

(V. 21). To the overcomer there is the promise of sitting with Christ on His throne, even as Christ also has sat down with the Father in His throne. The one who overcomes the indifference of Laodicea and opens the door to Christ, in the day when the great mass have closed the door upon Christ, will enjoy, not only secret communion with Christ, in the day of His rejection, but will be associated with Christ in display in the day of His glory. Christ overcame a world that rejected the Father, and has sat down on His Father's throne; the one who overcomes a world that has rejected Christ will sit down with Christ on His throne.

(V. 22). The address closes with the appeal to the one with the hearing ear. Well for us to pay heed to what the Spirit says to the Church of Laodicea, for does it not set forth a condition that may develop even among the Philadelphians? But for the grace of God, the very light and privileges that are given, may lead to Laodicean self-complacency. May we have the needed grace to hear what the Spirit has to say to the Churches.