JOHN REVEALS MUCH ABOUT CHURCHES
THEN, AND THROUGH THE AGES....
In the Greek, the word for "church" is "ecclesia." This word means "the called out ones." The church is a group of people who have been "called out" from the world, to be -God's people,-chosen ones,-people who are commissioned of God.
The purpose of the church is to replace the work that Israel had been given by God. They had been "cut off." The church has been "grafted in." They were to be the evangelists of the world, but they chose to feel that they were the select group that was to contain all the blessings of God. God does not love Israel only, but He chose to have Israel to share and to demonstrate the love of God to the world. Since they tried to retain God only for themselves, and to refuse to evangelize other nations, and finally to reject Jesus Christ--they were "cut off." The gospel message is now being carried forth by the church. We, as the church, now assume the duty given to Israel. The church now must beware of the tendency to fail as Israel, by holding the gospel within our four walls, and refusing to be the evangelists of other people.
In Romans 11:11-36, a warning is given to the church. In verse 11, we see that God intends to provoke Israel to jealousy by the blessings He has put upon the church. Then God warns the church not to boast against Israel, the "cut off" ones. The reason God gives is that we may be "cut off" also (vss. 18-21). The blessings of the church are conditional. We must not be ignorant of the fact that the church age will end soon, and the Lord will turn again to the nation of Israel (vss. 25-27). The church should love the Jews because of God's special calling for them (vs. 28).
The importance of the church, in this age, is of great magnitude. The message of the Bible shows us that the church has assumed a ministry that God considers the most important. To illustrate the importance of the church, and its work, look at the terms the Bible uses to refer to the church.
Body of Christ I Cor. 10:16,12:27, Eph. 4:12
New man, perfect man Eph. 2:15, 4:13
Branches John 15:1-10
Ambassadors for Christ II Cor. 5:20
Witnesses Acts 1:8, 5:32
Pillar and stay of truth I Tim. 3:15
House of God I Tim. 3:15
Habitation of God Eph. 2:22
Holy Temple Eph. 2:21
God's building I Cor. 3:9
Children of God Matt. 5:9
Elect of God Rom. 8:33, Tit.1:1
Flock of God I Pet.5:2-3 Matt. 26:13
Saints (60 times) Acts 9:13,32,41, Rom.8:27
A royal priesthood I Pet. 2:9,2:5
Workers II Cor. 6:1
Ministers of God II Cor. 6:4
Salt of the earth Matt. 5:3
Light of the World Matt. 5:14
The description of the Bible shows that God has great regard for the church. He has placed great responsibility in our hands. He has given us the Holy Spirit and all of His gifts to empower us. He has promised that the church could do greater works than even Christ did while on earth.
The church of the last days, is not all "wishy washy" Christians. It is not all--hypocrites. Not all of the church is like the one in Laodicea. The church is the center of God's program. It is to be in the midst of the latter rain revival. The church is still to be having "signs" to "follow them that believe." (Mark 16:17-18)
God chose, that in the revelation given to John, to reveal what each church age would be like. He revealed to John seven distinct churches--all existent in John's day. Each had the characteristics described, yet each represented a different church age. During each age, there have been each type of church. However, in each age, one type was dominant. In the first age, the church of Ephesus was dominant. In the final church age, the church of Laodicea is the dominant one.
In each of the church ages described, God has shown the major faults, the good points of each church, and the problems of each. In each, are promises to the "overcomers." And in each of the church ages, God calls for us to "hear."
EPHESUS (Rev. 2:1-7)
"Ephesus" means "desirable, loved." This church represented the majority of the churches of the early church period. They were a desirable type of church. They had great "works." They visited, they prayed, they preached the gospel. The Lord says that they had "tried them." This shows that they had church discipline. They did not seek numbers, without holiness. The Lord remarks that they "labored and...not fainted." The church was a persecuted church. They had suffered for their ministry. Another trait of this church, is that they "hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes." The word "Nicolaitanes" comes from the word "nikao", which means "to conquer": and from the word "laos", which means "people." They taught the idea of a priestly order in the church to be "more equal" than others. This idea became doctrine in the third and fourth periods of the church. The church at Ephesus was praised for hating this doctrine. We may have different ministries in the church, but God does not bless, or love one Christian above another. There is "one fault" described of the church of Ephesus. The Lord complains that they had "left their first love." Even in the first church age, there was a decline of love, as their motivation. It is so easy to be taken up with organization more than with Jesus Christ Himself.
"Smyrna" means "myrrh." Myrrh had to be crushed in order for it to give off its fragrance. This period of church history was one where the church was crushed by pagan Rome. This martyrdom that they suffered was a sweet fragrance to God. Smyrna had cooled off spiritually. False groups had arisen. Though persecuted, poor, and often martyred, the Lord says they "art rich." This reminds us that the Lord has promised to reward those who are persecuted, and the rewards of heaven may not be seen by us now, but in heaven they are very real. Jesus says, "I know the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews and are not." This refers to a Judaizing movement that had crept into the church. They wanted to bring into the church many Jewish traditions and customs. Circumcision, the food taboos, the Sabbath observance, and other Jewish ways were an area of disagreement in the church. Jesus commends their rejection of these ideas. "Ten days" are given to the church age. The early church believed this to refer to the fact that there would be ten distinct edicts from Nero to the last persecutor of the Roman rulers. When Diacletian, the tenth ruler to persecute the Christians, came to power, the church believed him to be the last, and he was.
PERGAMOS (Rev. 2:12-17)
"Pergamos" means "marriage, elevation." This church age was one where the church was elevated to a place of power. The church and state became united (married) under Constantine and his successors. The persecution ended. The church slowly quit preaching the second coming of the Lord, for now there was not the impetus to escape this world, as much as when the church was being persecuted. "Where Satan's seat is" refers to the fact that when it became necessary to belong to the church to avoid persecution, the world began to join the church. Not all church members were Christians. Soon the church had numbers, but little holiness. The wicked were soon in control. "Antipas" probably refers to "Anthanasia" in church history. He held the doctrine of the deity of Jesus, when many in the church wanted to consider Jesus as just a man. He was told "the whole world is against you." He answered, "Then I am against the whole world." The "doctrine of Balaam" refers to the Old Testament story of Balaam who taught Balak to cast a stumblingstone before Israel by tempting them to marry with Midianitish women. This, Balaam knew would bring God's judgment upon Israel.(Numbers 25:1-9) Prophetically, this refers to the union of the church and state which brought sin within the church. This is spiritual fornication. God wants a pure church. The "Nicolaitanes" are mentioned again, for in this age the clergy began to demand undue pre-eminence and worship. The people became spectators, and not participants. To the "overcomers" is promised the "hidden manna." Spiritual food was lacking in this church, but some would find the spiritual food, even in this type of church if they searched. The "white stone" referred to the fact that in trials, a white stone was given for an innocent decision, and a black stone was given as a sign of a guilty decision. Overcomers were thus promised to be declared innocent of the sins of the church.
THYATIRA (Rev. 2:18-19)
Thyatira" means "continual sacrifice." Prophetically, this refers to the time when the church began to teach that in mass, they offer a continual sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. When a priest offers mass, he is denying the "once for all" aspect of the work of the cross. "Jezebel", in the Old Testament, mixed heathenism and Judaism. In the Thyatira church age, the worship of Mary and of the saints was mixed with the worship of Jesus. "Good works" are referred to by Jesus concerning this church. The church showed charity, service, faith, patience, and charitable works. Jesus predicted the works in the last days of this church to be greater than in previous days. Also in this church, we find that "as many as have not this doctrine" are mentioned. Some in this type of church will not adhere or hold the doctrine that so offends the Lord. The Lord does not condemn those people.
SARDIS (Rev. 3:1-6)
"Sardis" means "a remnant, a few who have escaped." This speaks of the reformation. Some escaped the cold, dead formalism of the Catholic church of the dark ages. Yet, even though they escaped, the Lord says that they have "a name that thou livest, and art dead." This is a sad indictment. However, in the Reformation, the church was made up of all the people of the country. By infant baptism, they were made members of the church. So many were members of these churches who had not made a personal commitment to the Lord. Of this church the Lord adds that there were "a few who have not defiled their garments." God knows His own. This church started out well, but did not go far enough. . The overcomers are promised to be able to walk with "Christ in white."
"Philadelphia" means "brotherly love." This refers to the revival church of the last days. Many people became dissatisfied with the cold, lifeless church. In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, revival came to many areas. People left church religions and began to seek God and to study His Word. There are some churches today that are fundamental, full gospel, charismatic, and believe all of God's Word. The sad part of the description of this church is--"Thou hast a little strength..." Sometimes we like to fool ourselves into believing that we have much strength. However, if we are honest, we are still only saved by the mercy and longsuffering of our Savior. Two characteristics of this church are--"Thou hast kept My Word, and hast not denied My name." It is vital that we keep the Word of God as our infallible guide, and not fail the Lord by not living by its standard. There is one warning for this church--"hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." Spiritual vigilance is needed by the revival church. The devil is seeking to devour whomever he may. We must hold fast to the revival blessing. The "open door" that is promised to the church of Philadelphia represents the rapture. We will cover this more fully in our next chapter. (Compare Revelation 4:1) The true, revived church will be raptured in the last days. The saints and overcomers in the other churches will be revived and become like the Philadelphia church. It is this rapture that will "keep thee from the hour of temptation." This refers to the tribulation that follows the rapture. The purpose of the rapture is to catch the saints away from the wrath of God that will be poured out on the world.
LAODICEA (Rev. 3:14-22)
"Laodicea" means "please the people." This is the apostate, backslidden church of the last days. This carnal church tries to tickle the ears and please the people, rather than to please God. They believe in democracy on the subject of morality, not in theocracy. They want to vote on right versus wrong. They prefer man's ideas, rather than God's Word. There are many churches today voting on such things as "homosexuality." God's Word condemns it, and so must we. There is no commendation for this church. They have lost the presence of the Lord, for He stands at the door and knocks.
The estimate of this church by the Lord shows us that it is:
"neither hot nor cold,...lukewarm..."
This church is sickening to the Lord. He says they will be vomited up. They are not seeking the Lord, but only dabbling with Christianity.
This is the Greek Word- talaiporos. It means they are suffering oppression as the lowest slave. These people are slaves to sin.
This is the Greek word- eleeinos. It means pitiable. We can pity those who are in church, but do not know the joy of being in Christ.
This word is ptochos, and means one who crouches in the act of begging. This church is spiritually bankrupt. They have no inner spiritual life.
The word used here is the Greek word- tuphlos. This refers to being blind in ears, mind, and eyes. The spiritual darkness of many today can be described as darkness. They don't see sin as sin, nor do they realize where they are spiritually.
The Greek word- gumnos, refers to being unclad, defenseless, without armor. The lukewarm people of this church are defenseless against the devil. They are unaware of their condition. They are too proud of their buildings, their denominations, past histories, etc. that they do not know they are so pitiable.
In His closing remarks to this church, the Lord Jesus tells them He stands at the door and knocks. He desires to save these apostate people. He does indicate some will be overcomers and be saved out of this lethargy. He counsels them to "hear" His message to them.
All of these churches are evident in this world today. The two most prominent ones today are the "PHILADELPHIAN" and the "LAODICEAN". Which type of church are you ? You can change. To make the rapture we must be in the relationship of the Philadelphian church. The latter rain revival will cause us to decide between the revived church, or the apostate church. The world is pushing us to decide to take a stand or to back down and be "lukewarm."
There are warnings to the seven churches from our Lord.
EPHESUS = danger of losing our first love
SMYRNA = danger of fear of suffering
PERGAMOS = danger of doctrinal compromise
THYATIRA = danger of moral compromise
SARDIS = danger of spiritual deadness
PHILADELPHIA = danger of not enduring with patience
LAODICEA = danger of lukewarmness
We must beware of these dangers. We can lose out in our relationship with Jesus, if we are not the "overcomers" that the Lord encourages us to be. The key to avoiding these dangers is to "hear" what the Lord is saying to the churches. Too many study the Book of Revelation and pay little attention to the second and third chapters with its message to the church age. If we want to escape the judgments of chapters six through nineteen, we had better "hear" the warnings of the Lord in these chapters. The purpose of the revelation, unveiling, that John was shown by Jesus--was to alert us to the things are to occur. God wants the saints to be aware and ready. We are to be His witnesses, and He wants us to know well that which is sure to occur.