Messages from the Risen
to the Seven Churches
By Maria Sandberg, 1872
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!" Revelation 2:7
There are some beautiful messages of love sent by Christ to His people on earth, in the second and third chapters of the last book in the Bible, which perhaps you may have overlooked, passing them by as not addressed to you; or, as containing things too difficult for you to understand. You may have been accustomed to look upon the book of Revelation as a difficult Prophetic writing, and therefore you may have missed these wonderful messages of your risen and ascended Savior, and also those glimpses of Heaven which other parts of the book disclose to the reader. But if you will look at the opening verses of the book, you will find that there is a particular blessing promised to those who read this prophecy: "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near!" Revelation 1:3
I purpose then to tell you something about the beautiful messages sent by your risen Lord to His Churches. But do you understand the meaning of the word Church? It does not mean the building where Christians meet; but it means a company of believers in Jesus, who meet together to pray to Him, and to read His Word. This may be done in a school-room; in a mansion; in a cottage; or in a sick chamber. Wherever two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, there is a Church, and there He has promised to be in the midst of them. What I want you to feel is, that when you meet as we do now, we may consider ourselves as a little Church, over which Jesus presides, and among whom He walks. God does not exclusively dwell in places made with hands, but in the true believer's heart, by His Spirit.
There were, at the time the Epistles of Christ contained in the second and third chapters of Revelation were written, Seven Churches, or assemblies of believers, in seven large cities of Asia Minor. Jesus calls these Churches, candlesticks, or LIGHT-BEARERS, and says He walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. They are called light bearers, because they had the light of the Gospel shining in them and from them. And if we are a little company of true believers, we also are light-bearers; the light of the Gospel has shone into our hearts, and we must hold forth that light to others; we must "let our light shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in Heaven." If you have received the light of the Gospel, you must show it to others; you cannot be hidden; the light must diffuse itself around, if it is there at all.
There is another word which our Lord has thought fit to use and to explain; namely, STARS. He holds Seven Stars in His right hand. These stars He explains to mean, the angels or messengers of the Seven Churches. Jesus has appointed various offices in His Church. He has made some apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers. These ministers He calls "stars," for they should be conspicuous among the light-bearers; and "angels," for they should be ministering messengers to the Church over which they are placed.
You will observe that Jesus addresses each of His messages to the "angel" of the Church. He gave the message to John; John was to give it to the presiding minister of the Church; the minister was to deliver it to the people. And so it is in our days. Christ makes use of means of grace, means of instruction; He is the chief Shepherd, but He has under-shepherds whom He commissions to feed His flock. If you have a faithful minister, oh! value him; look upon him as bringing you messages from Jesus; and when you listen to him say, "I will hear what God the Lord will speak to me by His servant!"
It is our great privilege to have the very words of the messages sent by the risen and ascended Savior to His earliest Churches; and I think, as we proceed to meditate on these messages, we shall find our place in some of the characters spoken of. Examine yourselves, then, dear friends, and see to what Church you belong, and what the message of Christ is to you individually. And may you learn to love this precious part of God's Word; may it be food for your meditations at home, and may it draw you nearer to the ever fresh Fountain of all light and comfort!
Message to the Church of EPHESUS
"To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." Revelation 2:1-7
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!" Revelation 2:7
Ephesus was a rich and beautiful city long before the time of which we are speaking. But it was full of idolaters. They worshiped especially the goddess Diana, and had erected to her honor a magnificent temple, one of the wonders of the world, with 127 marble pillars, each 60 feet high — each pillar the present of a king. To this city of idolatry Paul came, about twenty years after our Savior's death; there he preached the Gospel; there he gathered together a company of faithful people who believed in Jesus, and met to pray, and read His Word. For three years he ministered to them; and you may read of all he did there in Acts chapters 18-20, how he labored among them, and how sorry they were to part with him. His parting with the Ephesian Church is one of the most touching passages in the Bible.
You have in the Epistle to the Ephesians the letter he wrote to this Church when absent from them. Let me recommend you to read Acts chapters 18-20 which I have mentioned, the Epistle to the Ephesians, and this message from Christ to the Church of Ephesus, that you may have some idea of the spiritually prosperous state of the Church in this city.
We read of Aquila and Priscilla, companions of Paul, living in this city; and we know also that John passed many years here as the minister of the Church. Were they not highly privileged, to have both Paul and the loving John as their ministers for years? It is said that John died here. He lived to be a hundred years old, and used to be taken into the Church in a chair when he could no longer say anything but "Little children, love one another." It is said also that the Jesus' mother Mary lived and died here; and it seems very likely to have been so, for we know that, when on the cross, Jesus committed His mother to the care of John.
Whom may we suppose to be the angel of the Church of Ephesus, here addressed by our Lord? We think it very probable it was Timothy, Paul's son in the Gospel, for we read in history that he was the first pastor of Ephesus.
To this interesting and favored Church our Lord sends word that He knows their works and labors of love; their patience, and their hatred of evil; their zeal, and their perseverance; and yet He has "something" against them! What can it be? Surely these highly favored and privileged people are living very near to God, and will be commended rather than reproved. Yet Jesus, the faithful one, says to them, "I have something against you." Why? "Because you have left your first love." It is possible then to live in the midst of the highest spiritual privileges, and yet to be declining in heart religion. It is possible to be working and suffering for Christ, and yet displeasing Him.
How can this be? It is, that the Lord searches the hearts; and wants one thing from you, namely, LOVE; that little word comprises all the rest, love to Him, ever-increasing love. In the midst of all their privileges their love to Jesus was not what it once was. How sad! and can you apply this to yourselves? Does Jesus see that you love Him less than you once did? That though you may go to church, and delight to hear His Word, and are the first in every good work — that your love may be declining?
In order to probe your heart, and know whether this is the case with you, ask yourselves, "Do I do this or that for the love of Christ — or do I do it from any less sacred motive? Do I come to church to be seen of my minister — or do I come to find the presence of my loved Lord and Master?"
He has loved you, and given Himself for you, and should you not love Him in return? Should you not love Him more and more? For every day you add by your sins to the debt of love due to Him who has borne your sins in His own body on the tree.
Remember you have a faithful, yet a most tender Savior. He will not forget your works and patience, your labors and your zeal in His service, but He will gently remind you that all these must proceed from LOVE — and without love are nothing worth. He tells these highly favored, these outwardly rich and prosperous people of Ephesus, that they must remember from whence they have fallen, and repent, and do their first works — or else He would remove their candlestick out of its place, and leave them to themselves. Yet even after that threatening, notice how He still tenderly commends another feature in their character, that they "hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans."
And did the people repent and return to their first love — or was their candlestick removed? Alas! as a Church Ephesus did not repent; as a Church its candlestick was indeed removed, for it has entirely ceased to exist. For ages there was not a single professing Christian there. It was taken possession of by the followers of Mohammed, and now nothing remains of the once beautiful city, but ruins consisting of shattered walls and broken columns, pillars and temples.
Message to the Church of SMYRNA
"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." Revelation 2:8-11
Near the rich and magnificently adorned city of Ephesus, with its flourishing and highly privileged Christian Church, there stood a city named Smyrna, as ancient, as flourishing, as populous as Ephesus, containing also a Church, a company of believers in Jesus; but unlike them in this, that they were poor, suffering, and persecuted — whereas the Ephesian Church was rich, and well-supported, and encouraged. They differed also in this, that while the Church of Ephesus was reproved by Christ — this Church was commended by that all-searching Savior. They differed also in this, that while Ephesus is now a ruin, with its candlestick entirely removed — Smyrna is still in existence, and the Christian Church is flourishing there still. There is no reason to suppose that the light of Christianity has ever been entirely extinguished in Smyrna; and it is now an important missionary station, with its band of native Christians. But at the time this message was sent by the risen Savior to the angel of this Church — it was poor, suffering, and persecuted.
The angel of the Church here addressed is supposed to have been Polycarp, who was pastor of Smyrna, and who suffered martyrdom in that city in 166 A.D., being then a very aged man. At the stake, being asked to recant, he said, "Eighty-six years have I served my King, and shall I forsake Him now?" So you see, seventy years after this message to this Church, persecution still raged in Smyrna. Polycarp, at the time of this Epistle, must have been a Christian for some sixteen years. In that age of reality, and nearness to the time of Christ, sixteen years would be time for much experience of the power and love of the Savior. We may thus find from history corroboration of what we read in the Bible; and for that reason it is well to learn all we can about the time of Christ and the Apostles, as well as the early periods of the world's history.
In this most beautiful, tender, and comforting epistle to His suffering people, our Savior gives Himself a title most suitable to their state, namely, "the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive." He was the first, therefore the greatest of all; and He will be the last, the conqueror of all, the end of all.
Oh, my friends, take courage from this title; Jesus is the great I am, and He is the last of all — there is no trial but He will be at the end of it. Are you in sickness? Jesus will either raise you up to glorify His name, or He will take you to Himself; He will be at the end of your sickness. Are you undergoing some deep poverty, some bitter distress? Fear not, Jesus will be at the end of your trial; it cannot go beyond Him, for, lo! He is with you always; He has suffered all that you can have to suffer, and more than all, for He was dead. You have not gone through that last great trial — but He has; and more than that, has gone through it for you, and has come out of it victorious. He was dead — but He is alive again. Yes, He died for you, but now His sufferings are over, and He lives for you — lives to make you victorious over death and the grave; lives to bring you safely through every suffering to His glorious home! What rich comfort there is for the tried one, in this title of our Lord — the first and the last, the dead Christ — the living Jesus!
And what is His message to this suffering Church? "I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty — but I call you rich." The Lord sees not as man sees. The poor in this world, if rich in faith, are the truly rich in the sight of Jesus. "I know your poverty," says He, "but you are rich." Why? because rich towards God, rich for eternity.
He knew their trials and persecutions, and how their fiercest enemies were the Jews. We have another corroboration of this part of Scripture from ecclesiastical history, which, in giving an account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, says that the Jews were the most furious of all in demanding his condemnation; and the same historian, Eusebius, says the Jews ran and fetched more fuel to burn the venerable man.
Jesus calls those Jews worshipers of Satan, and not true Israelites. He tells the Christians of Smyrna to fear none of those things they were to suffer, for their trials would have a limit; they would last but ten days — this may not mean exactly ten of our days, but a limited time, and, compared with eternity, a short time. He promised also that even if their sufferings should end in martyrdom, He would give them a crown of life. "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life."
Oh, my tried and poor friends who love the Lord Jesus, you can but suffer unto death — and then all suffering will be at an end, and your faithful Lord will give you a crown of life! This is a promise for a particular state of life — a suffering, tried, and persecuted life — but there is a word at the end of this epistle addressed to all: "He who overcomes" — for all are engaged in the conflict — "shall not be hurt of the second death."
Do you fear death? There is something worse than death to fear. You will most likely have to pass through the first death; but there is a second death — a death that never dies; and Jesus promises that that second death shall not hurt you. And why? because He has died to save you from it, and lives to snatch you from the dominion of Satan, and give you everlasting life. You shall not be hurt of the second death. Satan has no part in you, for you are Christ's, and He is the conqueror of death and Hell. In the prospect of suffering, or of death, well may you triumph; for your Lord is the First and the Last, who was dead and is now alive.
What is the practical lesson to take away with us from this subject? It is to bear courageously poverty and suffering, looking to the bright end, and taking care that we do indeed possess the true riches — the unsearchable riches of Christ.
I need You, precious Jesus,
For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within.
I need the cleansing fountain,
Where I can always flee —
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner's perfect plea.
I need You, blessed Jesus,
For I am very poor;
A stranger and a pilgrim,
I have no earthly store.
I need the love of Jesus,
To cheer me on my way,
To guide my doubting footsteps,
To be my strength and stay.
I need You, precious Jesus,
I need a friend like Thee,
A friend to soothe and sympathize,
A friend to care for me.
I need the heart of Jesus
To feel each anxious care,
To tell my every want,
And all my sorrows share.
I need You, blessed Jesus,
And hope to see You soon,
Encircled with the rainbow,
And seated on Your throne.
There with Your blood-bought children,
My joy shall ever be,
To sing Your praise, blessed Jesus!
To gaze, my Lord, on Thee!"
Message to the Church of PERGAMUM
"And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." Revelation 2:12-17
We will begin our reading tonight with the title which Christ gives Himself in this epistle: "He who has the sharp sword with two edges." How can you tell what this means? The Bible is its own best interpreter; and if you look at Ephesians 6:17, you will find that "the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God." Again, Christ says, in the 16th verse, "I will fight against them with the sword of my mouth;" and in John 12:48, "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge you in the last day;" so the Word of God, or the Bible — the Book of Books — is the sharp two-edged sword. Why is it called so? Because it cuts and pierces through every disguise; it goes down into the secret corners of the heart, and reveals man to himself!
Oh, my dear friends! do you know the power of the Word of God as a sword cutting both ways, leaving no escape for you from your sins, but one — that only, that blessed refuge, the cross of Christ?
The next thing to consider is the state of the Church at Pergamum at the time when Jesus sent this message to it. Pergamum then a splendid and beautifully situated town, was the seat of the Roman Government, which at that time was heathen. Therefore, we may suppose it was a very wicked place, and this our Savior affirms when he says, "I know your works, and where you dwell, even where Satan's seat is." In this wicked city there was a company of believers in the Lord Jesus — a Church gathered from among the heathen, bearing the lamp of truth, and holding it forth to those around. To them the message is sent: "I know your works, and where you dwell."
Let us pause at these words, and think — Jesus knows where we dwell; He knows our surroundings; knows the very street, the very house in which we dwell; the influence our neighbors have upon us, and we upon them; He knows it all. He knew that the Church at Pergamum kept fast hold of the name of Christ, and had not denied that they were believers, even in the days of persecution, when one of them had suffered martyrdom, whose name, dear to Jesus, that Savior holds in everlasting remembrance. Antipas was the name of one whom Jesus calls His "faithful martyr" or witness, who was slain for His sake.
Note here how dear are the very names of His people to Jesus. He speaks of Antipas as if he had suffered martyrdom some time past, and as if the Church was no longer enduring persecution, for He calls them "those days" — days gone by — even in those days of persecution you held fast My name, and did not deny My faith.
It seems as if, with happier and easier times — that error, false doctrine, and evil practices had crept into the Church. Jesus has a few things against them — that they had among them even in the Church, those who held the doctrine of Balaam. Let us notice here how our Savior always supports the truth of the Old Testament history. He speaks of Noah, of Moses, of Jonah, of Balaam — as of real persons. Balaam, you know, was that wavering, unstable prophet of God, who wished to gain the rewards promised to him by Balak if he would curse Israel, but who was yet so far enlightened as to know that God alone could bless or curse. His own heart was not right in the sight of God; he had the light shining clearly in his mind — he had the true knowledge of God — but he resisted the light, he chose the wages of unrighteousness, and led others to sin and ruin. I leave you to read his history for yourselves in chapters 22-25 of Numbers, and to see how he led the children of Israel to commit fornication, and to practice idolatry.
There were some in Pergamum who were thus casting a stumbling-block in the way of the infant Church, by inducing them to eat things offered to idols, and to commit fornication. We may suppose them to have tempted the Christians in some such words as these: "Come with us to the idol temple, and eat with us of the things that have been offered in sacrifice to its idols; you know that an idol is nothing in the world — you can eat without danger, and be as good Christians as you are now; what harm is there in eating the meat, though it was offered to a heathen idol?"
Deceived by these specious arguments, many would go, and the consciences of those who were afraid of temptation, and refused to go, would be hurt; while the rash Christian who went into those scenes of heathen wickedness would suffer grievous hurt to his soul, and by his example, those with whom he came in contact would be led to think lightly of other grievous and deadly sins.
And is there not a word of warning here to us? How many of us go into places where they know they shall be tempted to forget God and their Christian profession, allured by the voice of the world saying, "There is no harm in it!" Oh, my friends! is there no harm in that which may, and does, lead to sin? Is there no harm in getting your garments soiled and stained? Wiser would it be to imitate the example of one among you whom I could name, who said to us one day, with much simplicity, "I have never been to a theater, for I was afraid if I once went I might not know where to stop." Beware of the words, "There is no harm!" Suspect that Satan is transforming himself into an angel of light, and flee temptation!
In this Church hidden among the Christians there were also those who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, who were supposed to have been a sect who thought that, after they had become Christians, they were no longer subject to the moral law, and might live as they pleased; thus turning the grace of the Lord into lasciviousness. Of this doctrine Jesus says, "which thing I hate."
And now the city of Pergamum is given up to error of all kinds. Its candlestick has been removed.
But we have still a cheering promise to consider. Among the many who fell under the tempter's power, there were many who overcame — and to them Jesus promised that they would eat of the hidden manna, and that He would give them a token of approval such as no man would know but the receiver. O the beauty and richness of these promises! and remember they are for you — for you who overcome. They are descriptive not only of the happiness you will have to all eternity in Heaven, but of that happiness which you have now, if you are really Christ's. Yes, now you may eat of the hidden manna, feeding on Christ by faith; feeding on His words, your souls shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. Sweet as bread to the hungry are the words of Jesus to the believing soul! How it feeds on them! how it is refreshed by them! what pure and rich nourishment it derives from them! it esteems them more than its necessary food; they are food indeed, and drink indeed!
Then there is the white stone of approval, which Jesus gives even now to His people, a pledge of His love, a token of His favor. If you could receive from the hands of Jesus a white stone with His own name written on it, as a token to show at Heaven's gate that you were His, would you not treasure it? Would it not be dear to you? Well, such a real pledge of love, Christ gives to those who are His. He reveals His love to the individual soul. He tells them by His Spirit that they are His; and tells each so, in a way that He does to no other one; for the Holy Spirit reveals Christ in a peculiar way to each soul. You have a secret with the Lord, known to none but to Himself and you. Your soul has a history which none knows but Christ, for He has revealed Himself to you as your particular and individual Savior.
Do you know anything of this? Remember it is not your own name that is written on the stone, for then would it bring poor comfort; but the name of Jesus. Trusting in that name you can never perish, neither can any pluck you out of His hand. How safe! how sure you are of salvation! It is not presumption to feel thus secure. No; it is the opposite of presumption. It is faith — true faith. May you know this by happy experience!
Blessed be God for the simplicity of the Gospel! It is contained in one word: Jesus. Holding fast that name, you are safe; letting it go, you are lost. May you know more and more what it is to eat of the hidden manna, and to have an assurance of the Savior's love, receiving from Him the white stone of acceptance with that name written in it which no man knows but he who receives it!
There is a name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in my ear,
The sweetest name on earth.
It tells me of a Savior's love,
Who died to set us free;
It tells me of His precious blood,
The sinner's perfect plea.
It tells me of a Father's smile
Beaming upon His child;
It cheers me through this "little while,"
Through desert, waste, and wild.
It tells of One whose loving heart
Can feel my smallest woe;
Who in each sorrow bears a part
That none can bear below.
This name shall shed its fragrance still
Along the thorny road;
Shall sweetly smooth the rugged hill
That leads me up to God.
And there with all the blood-bought throng
From sin and sorrow free;
I'll sing the new eternal song
Of Jesus' love to me!"
Message to the Church of THYATIRA
"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have until I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations — 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels' — as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Revelation 2:18-29
We have heard of Thyatira before, in the Acts of the Apostles. Lydia, the good and hospitable Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened to attend to Paul's preaching, was of Thyatira. She came from this city, and was living in Philippi when she came to the prayer-meeting which Paul held by the river side.
In Thyatira, then a noble city of Asia Minor, there was a Christian Church — a large and flourishing Church as to numbers, but alas! a corrupt one, a Church containing many, many who denied the Lord, deceived themselves, and deceived others. The Church of Thyatira was a corrupt Church — yet in this corrupt Church the Lord had a little flock of true disciples.
He gives Himself, as usual, a title suiting the state and condition of the Church to whom He sends the message. Here He calls Himself the Son of God, of the same nature as the Father, and therefore able to be a wise and mighty Savior; whose eyes are like a flame of fire, able to discern error and sin; and His feet like fine brass, swift to punish it. Very suitable was this title to the state of this corrupt Church.
But this glorious Being addresses Himself first to His own little flock, and says He knows their works, and love, and service, and that their last works were more than their first. The characteristic of the people of God in this city was growing fruitfulness. They bore much fruit, and much more than they had done at first, and the Son of God, the Searcher of hearts (verse 23), said so. Oh, what strong approval!
Is this the case with us? Can Jesus say of us that our last works are more than our first? It should be so. For the works of love should become habitual and ever growing. We may not think our service for Christ greater than it used to be, for the very reason that it has become habitual to us, and there is no longer the struggle to overtake our work, as it were, after looking back to the world a little. But Jesus knows that we are growing Christians, fruitful Christians.
Another reason why our good works and service grow may be, that as we advance, our ties increase, our circle for good widens — we have no longer only our own souls to care for; but our children, and perhaps our children's children, our friends and our friends' children — each has a claim on the services of the experienced Christian. And the Christian longs for this growth; he loves to be bringing forth more fruit.
But alas! we have a different scene to contemplate in the remainder of the epistle. Although the true Church in Thyatira consisted of growing Christians, yet Jesus had something against them because they allowed evil in others — "you allow that woman Jezebel." There was a wicked woman in Thyatira, talented, influential, and popular, calling herself a prophetess, professing to teach the way of the Lord; one who had crowds of adherents, but whom the Lord knew to be a Jezebel, a tempter; as Jezebel tempted her husband, king Ahab, to sin, so this woman tempted, yes, tempted the Christians of Thyatira to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols!
The sin of the Church was, that they allowed this woman to teach and tempt. They weakly connived at her wickedness, perhaps afraid to rebuke and resist. Imagine, if you can, this woman, full of power and authority, calling herself a Christian, and teaching others — but at the same time leading them to sin by example and precept! But even to her, the longsuffering Savior gave space to repent, but she repented not; therefore punishment would at last overtake her and her followers.
Oh! it is fearful to think that among professors and teachers of Christ's religion, there may be some such tempters whom the Lord knows to be such. Let us beware lest we approach the sin of this Jezebel. Do we use our influence over our relatives for good or evil? Can it be that we, even we, sometimes tempt our husbands or children to sin by our example, or by allowing them to sin, without loving yet firm rebuke? Oh, my friends, take warning and examine yourselves as to this. See that you are free from this dreadful crime of leading others from holiness, happiness and Heaven.
Notice the tenderness of Christ — faithful in His rebuke of sin, yet tender in His dealings with His people! He turns back to those who were really His in Thyatira, and says, "To the rest in Thyatira who have not known these depths of Satan, I will put upon you no other burden, but will give you to share my dominion and glory. In the eternal world you shall live and reign with Me; and to you will I give the morning star, even Myself, who am the bright and morning star."
It is thought by some that this promise is identical with that which says our vile bodies shall be made like His glorious body; that as Christ is the morning star, so His true people shall forever bear His bright and beauteous image. We are told that one star differs from another star in glory; and the growing and fruitful Christian will have a brighter reward than one who is content with being just saved himself. But as glorious as these promises are, we cannot but feel that love, and not reward, is the real motive of Christian service and energy.
Message to the Church of SARDIS
"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Revelation 3:1-6
We have heard about:
the rich Church of Ephesus;
the poor, yet blessed Church of Smyrna;
the tried Church of Pergamum;
the growing Church of Thyatira; and
now we come to the dead Church of Sardis.
But first let us read the title by which our Savior calls Himself to this Church: "He who has the seven Spirits of God." You know the word 'seven' means perfection — the seven Spirits means the Holy Spirit in the fullness of His operations. There were seven Churches, so seven Spirits are spoken of — meaning that the Spirit would work in all the Churches — not leave one without His influence and teaching.
And just so, He will work in each of us; there is not one too many for Him to undertake. He is the all perfect and all-powerful Spirit, and Jesus has this perfect Spirit to bestow upon you. There is no heart so hard, but He can soften it. There is no sin so powerful, but He can subdue it. He is perfect; what more can you want than this perfect Spirit? Do you need His help? Then go to Him who has that Spirit to give you. Christ's title here is, "He who has the Seven Spirits of God, and the Seven Stars:" for that Spirit teaches all true ministers of Christ.
But what is the Savior's message to this Church? "I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and are DEAD!" Awful words of the all-searching One — DEAD! Yes, you have a name that you live. Sardis had a great name, a great reputation; but Jesus knew that reputation was not deserved. There was the name, but not the reality. It was a formal, lifeless Church. There was no Jezebel there, there were no Balaamites, no Nicolaitans, nor persecutors, nor false Jews, as there were in the other Churches — but there was deadness, coldness, formal profession; absence of life — and Jesus knew this. He knew that all was cold and dead, in the midst of their outward profession.
Is this the case with us? Are we, as a Church, cold and lifeless, though we have a name to live? Are we, as individuals, in this cold, dead state. I will tell you of a prayer often used by a dear Christian friend, both at the beginning of her Christian course, and often when she felt cold or formal:
Save me, Lord, from mere profession,
Save me from hypocrisy!
Give the inward, sure possession
Of Your righteousness and Thee!
But if they were dead, why does our Lord say, verse 2, "Be watchful, and strengthen those that remain, that are ready to die"? Because though the general character of the Church was, that it was a professing, yet really dead one — there were some who were alive, but in a weak, languid state, influenced most likely by the deadness and coldness around them. The religion which yet remained, the life that yet beat in their bosoms, was ready to die. Jesus tells such to arouse themselves, and remember how they felt and acted when they first made a profession of Christianity; for if they went on in the cold, lifeless, formal way that those around them did, He would come suddenly, and find them sleeping.
But besides these languid ones, there were a few, even in Sardis, who had not defiled their garments. What does this allude to? Perhaps to the practice of wearing white garments at baptism. The whole of the Church had once done this, for they must have all been heathen. They had all worn white robes at their baptism, but only a "few" had lived up to their profession. To these, Christ promises "they shall walk with Me in white" — they shall appear in the robe of righteousness which He promises, in the next verse, to every one that overcomes. "And I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; but I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels."
It is as if Christ took down the names of all who were baptized — of all who professed and called themselves Christians; but the names of those who were only dead professors He blotted out, while the names of His true people remained standing, to be confessed before His Father at the last day.
My dear friends, you who profess and call yourselves Christians, your names have been enrolled, at least in the register of your baptism, but will they be crossed out by Jesus? or are they safely and forever written in His Book of Life? Is my name merely registered on earth, to be blotted out by that Omniscient One who knows who are His?
Much is said in the Bible about the names of individuals. God always called His saints of old by their names, "Abraham, Abraham" — "Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it" — "Fear not, I have called you by your name; you are mine." And our Savior says He calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out. If you examine the Bible, you will see much written there about the names of God's people, as if their names were dear to Him; and it is a sweet thought that Christians individually are known by name to God; they are not lost in the crowd; they are known individually; yes, more than that, they are written in the Book of Life. Of what importance, then, is each single redeemed soul!
Once more, remember Jesus knows you; knows whether you are only bearing the name of Christian, and making a profession, while you are dead in His sight; or whether you are like one of those who, even in Sardis, had not defiled their garments, living branches of the true vine, whose names He will confess before His Father, and before His angels.
Perhaps you would like to know the state of Sardis now. It was once a very rich, splendid, and flourishing city, the capital and abode of the King of Lydia, Croesus, famous for his riches. It was full of beautiful temples and buildings. But now it is only a miserable village, with a few scattered cottages; no Christian lives there now; there is no Church; but there are still the remains of a church dedicated to John; two very wonderful stupendous columns said to have been part of a temple to a heathen goddess, and other ruins, showing what the city once was. Sad emblems of the soul deserted by that all-perfect Spirit, who alone can give life, and light, and peace!
High in the Father's house on high
My mansion is prepared:
There is the home, the rest I love,
And there my bright reward.
With Him I love, in spotless white,
In glory I shall shine;
His blissful presence my delight,
His love and glory mine.
All taint of sin shall be removed,
All evil done away,
And I shall reign with God's beloved,
Through God's eternal day!
Message to the Church of PHILADELPHIA
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie — indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!" Revelation 3:7-13
Philadelphia was once a great and splendid city, the second in the kingdom of Lydia. It was taken by the Romans when they became masters of the then known world; and at the time when this epistle was written, it was governed by them. But there was in this city a Christian Church, a company of faithful people, who met together to seek their Savior and hear His word, as we do now. This Church, we are told, was a weak and feeble Church; having only a little strength. It was surrounded by persecuting Jews, who hated their Savior, and it had to look forward to days of temptation and suffering. This company of faithful people were, what many of us are — weak believers in the Lord Jesus. To them the Lord Jesus sent a beautiful message, full of hope, full of assurance, and full of comfort.
First, let us see what is the title by which Jesus addresses Himself to this weak, but believing Church. He calls Himself: He who is holy, He who is true, He who has a key, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens.
What can this key mean? Both in the Bible, and in Bunyan's beautiful allegory, the way to Heaven is represented as a way or road, which has a door or entrance through which every one who wishes to walk in that way, must enter. Of this door Christ keeps the key; and whoever wishes to walk in this way must go to Him who keeps the key for admittance.
I dare say some of you are thinking, "Why is not the way open, so that everyone may go in? Why is it kept locked?" It is to ensure to each that the way in which he walks to Heaven is the right way, which will not deceive him. Therefore is it necessary that One should keep the key who is holy and true; who will not, cannot deceive; and not only so, but who is willing to open to all that come. Why should you wish to be able to walk in the way, without applying first to Jesus? He is always willing to open the door for you; and remember that if He opens it — that no man can shut it. Remember, then, Jesus has the key. It is in His power to open or shut. Go to Him. He will admit you to the beginning of a Christian life, and when He has opened and let you in, no man can shut the door.
Well, the message that Jesus sends you, and which He sent to this weak Church, is: "Behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name."
How did Jesus open the door? By His death — by bearing all your sins in His own body on the tree; removing thus the heavy burden which would hinder you from walking in the narrow way. He has opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers. The door is open; the way lies straight before you; walk in it, and though you have but little strength to do so, yet Jesus knows this, and will strengthen you. All He wants you to do, is to feel your own weakness, and rely upon your strong Savior.
From the 9th verse, we are led to think that the chief persecutors of the Philadelphian Church were Jews; and we know from ecclesiastical history that they were more bitter enemies to the early Christians than even the surrounding heathen. Christ promises that these Jews, who, He says, were not true Jews, but worshipers of Satan (look at John 7, and see what He said to these false Jews when He was living among them).
He says these Jews should know that He delights to honor and ever loves His true people. And so it is now. "When a man's ways please the Lord, He makes even His enemies to be at peace with him." Only be faithful to your Lord, and He will convince your enemies of the sincerity of your motives, and the uprightness of your conduct. "Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will bring it to pass. He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun!"
He then tells them there was a time of fearful persecution coming on, which should try the faith of all His people. All this really took place. Remember that I am not telling you of things that never happened, but of real facts in history. Persecutions, fearful persecutions, arose — but Jesus strengthened them. What though they perished by a martyr's death — they were admitted immediately into the heavenly Jerusalem, to go no more out forever.
How much, then, there is to encourage in this message! There is a bright and shining way. Why do I call it bright and shining? for is it not narrow? is it not beset with enemies? It is bright and shining, because of the light at the end — the light of Heaven streams up, and brightens it with heavenly illumination. That light can cheer you on. Jesus is at the end of the way, with a crown of glory for His faithful people! If He has admitted you by His key into the narrow road, be sure He will give you strength for the journey, and finally receive you into glory.
I do not like to dwell, even for a moment, on the other part of the message that says, "He shuts, and no man opens." Alas, alas! what can this be but that there is a time when those who have not accepted salvation will be shut out from Heaven? When once the master of the house has closed the door, and you begin to knock and say, Lord, Lord, open to us — then shall He answer and say: I don't know you. Depart from Me into the eternal fire!
It is remarkable that of these seven Churches, only the two which our Lord commended are still standing. Smyrna, the poor and suffering Church; and Philadelphia, the weak, yet believing Church, are still in existence. The towns are not in ruin, and Christians still live and worship there. Thus, He who is holy, He who is true, fulfills His promises. "Heaven and earth shall pass away — but my words shall not pass away."
"At home with Jesus! He who went before,
For His own people mansions to prepare;
The soul's deep longings stilled, its conflicts o'er,
All rest and blessedness with Jesus there —
What home like this can the wide earth afford!
'So shall we be forever with the Lord.'
With Him all gathered! to that blessed home,
Through all its windings still the pathway tends;
While ever and anon bright glimpses come,
Of that fair city where the journey ends;
Where all of bliss is centered in one word,
'So shall we be forever with the Lord.'"
Message to the Church of LAODICEA
"And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!" Revelation 3:14-22
We have now come to the last and saddest of the messages of Christ to His ancient Churches. The saddest, because we know that these tender messages were of no avail to those to whom they were sent; for Laodicea, the rich, the proud, the mighty city, with its company of professing Christian worshipers, is now no more! It is one vast space of ruins — the remains of temples, theaters, and perhaps churches, abandoned entirely to the owl and the fox.
A traveler says of it: "The name of Christianity is forgotten, and the only sounds that disturb the silence of its desolation, are the calls of the Muslim muzim who calls the hour of daily prayers, whose voice from the distant village proclaims the ascendancy of Mohammed."
We learn from the Epistle to the Laodiceans, that there was a professing Church in Laodicea. There were many calling themselves Christians, to whom the faithful and true witness and the Prince of all creation sent the rousing message, "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot." They were lukewarm Christians, imagining themselves rich in grace; needing nothing; self satisfied — self-righteous — but Jesus knew them to be wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
Why does our Savior say He would prefer them being cold to being in this state? Why is coldness preferable to lukewarmness? Would our Lord indeed rather see you cold, caring nothing for religion — than lukewarm, that is, half-and-half — not ardent — not warm in your love to Him and to His cause? Surely a little of a good thing is better than none at all. But He who sees not as man sees says, "I wish you were either cold or hot — I had rather you be cold than lukewarm."
Why is this? Because, if you were altogether cold, you would not be deceiving yourselves; because, if you were altogether cold, you would not be endangering others. You make a little profession of religion, and think it is enough; you come to church, and think you have done a good deed; you are content with leading an outwardly moral life in the sight of man. Thus you deceive yourselves, and think your religion is sufficient to live and die upon — just enough, you suppose, to save you from Hell. You really believe you are better than others, and need take no more concern about your souls than you do. If you think this a right state of mind, your Savior does not.
And yet it is such a blinding, deceiving state that you really think you have need of nothing. Examine yourselves when you go home, and see if this is your state. Pray that your eyes may be opened to see whether it is or not; and if you find it is your state in the sight of God. Oh! listen to the Savior's message of love, before you become like desolate and ruined Laodicea.
There is another reason why a cold state is better than a lukewarm one, and that is, because it is not so dangerous to others. When others see a lukewarm professor, with just enough religion to be respectable — they are led to think that as much, or rather as little religion will be safe for them too. "What is safe for them, is safe for me," they say. "Why should I be better? they are moral, and outwardly religious — what is the need of anything more?" Thus do they harden each other, and perish together!
The symptoms of being lukewarm are, that we imagine ourselves to be rich, and in need of nothing; and know not that we are really, in the sight of Christ — wretched, and miserable, and poor! Are you satisfied with yourselves? Are you content with the slight measure of religion you profess? Do you think you are as good as others? Oh then, arouse yourselves, you are in a lukewarm state!
But Jesus does not wish you to remain so; no, He sends you a gracious message: "I counsel you to buy from Me true gold, white clothing, and efficacious eye-salve." How shall you buy them? Do you say the price of such treasures must be beyond your means? Why, by giving up to Him your pride and self-conceit, and going as spiritual paupers to receive from Him true riches.
Gold means faith. True gold is true faith in Jesus — that faith which will save your souls.
White clothing means the righteousness of Christ, that spotless robe which He will give you in exchange for your own self-righteousness; His merits for your sins. In this robe you will he accepted at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Efficacious eye salve — eye-salve that will make you see the wondrous things contained in His Word — means the Holy Spirit, that blessed Person in the Trinity, who will teach you more and more of your need of Jesus, and will open your eyes that you may discern what is true gold and white clothing. He will give you faith in Jesus. He will put on you the Savior's righteousness.
When God sends sickness, or any other chastening, it is to lead you to this self-examination; therefore our Savior says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."
He stands at your door, and has stood all your life waiting for you to arise and open the door; and then He will come in, and give you a foretaste of Heaven. What easy terms are these! Only to hear His voice, only to open the door — and then He promises communion with Him on earth, and participation in His glory for ever! He will be with you on earth — and you shall be with Him in Heaven!