Monday, March 14, 2011

Revelation Chapter Three, Part 1 of 7

Before we proceed I would like to share some thoughts about the over-arching theme I believe is present in chapters 2-3. There are seven churches addressed in total; and seven in the Bible is the number of completion, beginning with the seventh day in Genesis when God rested from His work of creation, Genesis 2:2-3. I believe the seven churches so noted, while being real churches in the first century apostolic era also represent the state of the church through seven distinct ages. This is not a definitive statement, and I also believe that some of every type of church listed in these chapters existed (and exists) throughout the church age; by and large the majority of professing Christendom follows the progression of the churches of Asia. I am proposing a chronological order of the seven churches; the pre-dominant state of Christendom as represented by the particular church of that era.

We must note that Jesus seemed to address these churches in no particular order. Ephesus was a strong doctrinal church, while Laodicea was a church with nothing praiseworthy to be found. Philadelphia, the sixth church, is not found to have any blemish; which speaks of a revival of both doctrine and the Spirit that motivates and energizes Christian life rather than dependence on formal liturgy and priestly intercession; which certainly stifles anyone’s ability to draw near to the living God.

Below is an interesting chart given by Arnold Fruchtenbaum, from “The Footsteps of the Messiah.” While I don’t necessarily endorse the exact timing of the chart, this concept generally captures what I feel is the progression of the church age prior to the return of Jesus Christ. It is these two chapters (2 & 3) that speak to the church that are relevant and applicable to Christians today; we would do well to carefully, prayerfully heed what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

1. Ephesus [30-100 AD] Apostolic Church


2. Smyrna [100-313 AD] Roman Persecution


3. Pergamum [313-600 AD] Age of Constantine


4. Thyatira [600-1517 AD] Dark Ages


5. Sardis [1517-1648 AD] Reformation


6. Philadelphia [1648-1900] Missionary Movement


7. Laodicea [1900-Present] Apostasy

As I said, this is not a chart to be taken as dogma, but it captures the essence of my own beliefs regarding chapters 2-3. Without further ado we should press on and see what there is to see (God willing) with the final three churches of Asia.

3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God
The seven Spirits of God, or the seven-fold Spirit is in fact the Holy Spirit, who is called in Scripture the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), and the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). He is also called the Spirit of truth, John 15:26; 16:13. Jesus said this of God the Holy Spirit: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you,” John 16:13-15.

The Holy Spirit is a witness on earth of Christ’s deity and glory, 1st John 5:8. While Jesus walked this earth His sole purpose was to glorify the Father by obeying His will. Jesus never called glory to Himself, but directed it toward the Father in Heaven; His testimony regarded the Father, and His life was sanctified, or set apart for the Father’s use. Christ our Lord has ascended, and now the Holy Spirit on earth bears witness of Jesus Christ, just as Jesus bore witness in His day. The Spirit never draws attention to Himself, though He is God; rather He directs searching hearts to the Son, in whom there is salvation, and in whose name men must be saved, Acts 4:12. As Romans 8:9 declares, if you do not have the Holy Spirit you are not God’s.

3:1-2 I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Here is a church of dead formality. Sardis has “a form of godliness, but den[ies] the power thereof: from such turn away,” 2nd Timothy 3:5. Such, Paul warns us such are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” 2nd Timothy 3:7. This church boasts a name for itself; that it lives and thrives. Our Lord looks past the veneer of material affluence or superficial holiness and sees a church that is spiritually dead and not abiding in the True Vine at all.

Be watchful, our Lord warns those who are still listening, still watching and waiting on their Lord and walking with Him in truth; be watchful and strengthen what remains. Sardis sounds like a church on the verge of total collapse. Jesus says that even what remains is “ready to die.” It is interesting to note the word Jesus uses when He informs Sardis that their works are not perfect before God. “Perfect” in the Greek is “pleroo” and is frequently associated in the New Testament with the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It means “to fulfill or to be filled; complete.” In essence He was saying to the church of Sardis that He did not find their works perfect in the sense of fulfillment. The works God gave them to do they were not doing, Ephesians 2:10.

The church was dead and needed revival; Christ still had works for these Christians to accomplish so He was calling on those still faithfully listening through the diligent study of Scripture to strengthen (stand firm or be resolute) that which remains. This is similar to the command Jesus gave Peter when Peter came back to himself, Luke 22:32. The same command is present here that our Lord gave Peter: watch and strengthen your brethren. Peter initially scoffed at this counsel and felt that the strength of his flesh was sufficient for the task set before him. We would do well just to listen to our Lord.

Paul also makes mention of erring brethren who are caught in trespasses, and how the Lord wants spiritual Christians to intercede in a spirit of gentleness to offer correction. We are to restore such an erring brother, and by bearing one another’s burdens so, we fulfill the law of Christ: that is that we love one another. To love one another is to be concerned about another Christian’s walk and witness. It is to burn when they are made to stumble, and possess a strong desire to strengthen them, support them, demonstrate the compassion and love of Jesus Christ, but with the shrewd wisdom of a serpent so we too do not succumb to temptation. Paul even goes so far as to supply a diagnosis for this malady. He writes, “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself,” Galatians 6:3.

It is getting out of Christ—that is, abiding in Him as the True Vine—and getting into our own esteem and worth that derails our walk, fellowship, and witness. We shrivel, our works are burned, and our usefulness as stewards of God and ambassadors of Christ is nullified. If we preach Christ and throw around the weight of our doctrines to advance our name so men find us respectable and people turn to us because of our prolific counsel, it is utter loss. Am I teaching in love? Or am I teaching with a secret desire to have men marvel at my own capacity for unraveling Scriptural mysteries? If so, then I, according to Paul, am nothing. When we are truly nothing, void of self and not trying to snatch away the glory that only belongs to God, then we are useful. Why? Because we are no longer focusing on us; we are no longer reflecting only us. We are reflecting the light of Christ as we abide in Him, we remain focused on Him, we rely on Him and wait on Him, and enthrone Him as Lord.

We are lamps through which the Holy Spirit shines as the light of the world. We are panes of glass through which men can spy Jesus Christ and be drawn to Him…unless we get in the way by admiring our own reflection too much. We all do it from time to time, but that is what foot washing is for; to repent of our sins, to confess them and be restored to fellowship so that God may continue to use us, and we may continue to walk with Him. Let me word it another way: if you literally thought you were walking with the Lord, that is the Lord was walking physically beside you, who do you think anyone who approached you would be looking at? My most honest counsel to strengthen that which remains is this: step out of the way, fellow believers, and allow onlookers to see Christ as clearly as we may. When they truly see Him instead of us, then we’ll be fishing for men. Not until then.

4 comments:

  1. All seven churches existed in John's day, and as you said, they still do. Many have chosen to teach that the churches represent periods of history and thus these two chapters have little relevance today. If we take that approach, Revelation 1:3, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand," has little meaning. These two chapters are almost the only ones calling for Christians to act upon.

    Great post.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out.

    Joshua 1 verse 5
    God bless you and your family
    Greetings from
    Jan Samuel
    from Norway

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have always been a big fan and devoted student of the book of Revelation. That is why I am enjoying your studies so much. I agree with Don in that the chapters dealing with the seven churches are applicable for Christians today.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and keep up the good work and allowing the Lord to work through you and your blog. God bless, Lloyd

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  4. Donald and Lloyd:
    Thank you kindly for keeping up with my commentary, and for your concern about how God's word is handled.

    I agree with both of you: the seven churches have existed from the onset of this dispensation and will remain until its end; if I failed to clarify I apologize. My point was that, while all seven do indeed exist (in fact I once attended a church like Ephesus) the majority of Christendom is following a progression. I believe (though I may be wrong) that Laodicea is the pre-dominant spirit of today's body; I name the Purpose-Driven Church as an example.

    I'm glad that I have brothers like you to be there for me, especially if I go out on a theological deep-end. My love to both of you.

    Jan, I will visit soon, but I only speak and read English, so I'm at a loss! Bear with me while I puzzle out how to read your Blog. God bless.

    ReplyDelete

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Joshua 24:15

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