Newell: Romans, Revelation
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.V. Sardis Dead-“Protestantism”
ADDRESS: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars. This is the designation of the Spirit as before the throne in heaven (Revelation 1:4-5). We have noticed that it is not as the indwelling Comforter (although He is such to all believers), that He appears in Revelation. The Spirit is subordinate to the Son, as the Son to the Father, in the divine creative and redemptive arrangements, although all are equal in the fact of Deity. Christ now begins anew, as it were: He has the seven stars, as in Ephesus, but He has also the seven Spirits of God. There will be utter searching, which is here emphasized (Zechariah 4:6-10).
We have, in Sardis, what has often been called a new beginning. God leaves the Jezebel corruption and the ecclesiastical hierarchy behind, with Thyatira; and takes up what is known as “Christianity” since the Reformation.
CONDITION KNOWN: Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. Nothing could describe “Protestantism” more accurately! As over against Romish night and ignorance, she has enlightenment and outward activity: the great “state churches,” or “denominations,” with creeds and histories, costly churches and cathedrals, universities and seminaries, “boards,” bureaus of publication and propaganda, executors of organized activities, including home and foreign missions, even “lobby” men to “influence legislation” at court! You and I dare compare the Church with no other model than the Holy Spirit gave at Pentecost and in Paul’s day! And compared to that-it has a name, but is dead-not to speak of being “filled with the Holy Spirit,” “admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Pass through the churches of Christendom and ask one question: Are you born again? Are you a new creature in Christ Jesus? Like the Philistine-yoked Jews of Nehemiah’s day: “I saw the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, of Moab: and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people” (Nehemiah 13:23-24). So with church-membership of our day, yoked with the world by marriage, by lodge-fellowship, by narrow sectarian bigotry and crass ignorance of the Word of God and even of the gospel of salvation. “Thou art dead.” Awful state! Given to recover the truth at the Reformation in the most mighty operation of the Spirit of God since the days of the Apostles, Christendom has sunk into spiritual death!
LOVING COUNSEL: Be thou watchful, and establish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine perfected before my God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. Notice here first, “no works … perfected” Neither in doctrine nor in walk did the Reformation go back to the early days of the Church. In doctrine they did teach (thank God!) justification by faith apart from works. Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians” is in many respects the most vigorous utterance of faith since Paul. Yet the Reformers did not teach Paul’s doctrine of identification,-that the believer’s history, as connected with Adam, ended at Calvary: that he died to sin, federally, with Christ; and died to the law, which gave sin its power. All the Reformation creeds kept the believer under the law as a rule of life; and “the law made nothing perfect.” Whereas, Scripture speaks of a perfect conscience, through a perfect sacrifice; of faith being perfected; of being made perfect in love; of perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Of course, there is no perfection in the flesh, but Paul distinctly says concerning believers, “Ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you”; and, “if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”
Furthermore, the Reformed creeds did not get free from Rome [J. A. Froude, the historian, says, “Protestantism has made no converts to speak of in Europe since the sixteenth century. It shot up in two generations to its full stature, and became an established creed with defined boundaries, and it has come about that the old enemies have become friends in the presence of a common foe (anti-churchism and atheism). Catholics speak tenderly of Protestants as keeping alive the belief in creeds, and look forward to their return to the sheepfold, while the scarlet woman on the seven hills, ‘drunk with the blood of the saints,’ is now treated by Protestantism as an older sister, and a valued ally in the great warfare with infidelity. The points of difference are forgotten; the points of union are passively dwelt upon; the remnant of idolatry, which the more ardent European Protestants once abhorred and denounced, are now regarded as having been providentially preserved, as a means of making up the quarrel and bringing back the churches into communion.”] as regards what they still called “sacraments,”-a Babylonish term. For sacramentum was the Latin word for a mystery of the pagan religion. “The grand distinguishing feature of the ancient Babylonian system was the Chaldean mysteries, that formed so essential a part of that system” (Hislop, p. 4). “Even in the prayer-book of the Church of England, the Lord’s Supper is called ‘these holy mysteries’! But such a term for it is unknown in the New Testament, and was subsequently introduced merely because the initiates (of Babylonish idolatry) fixed upon the Memorial Supper as the one thing in Christianity which they could most easily metamorphose into a Mystery, or Sacrament. Then, associating Baptism with the bath which preceded (pagan) initiation, they called it, also, a Mystery, or Sacrament,-though they often dropped all disguise, and spoke of it plainly as initiation.” (Pember)
Consequently neither is the walk perfected. Not knowing that they died with Christ and are risen ones, their walk is pitifully short of Paul’s: some, worldly and wholly shallow; some, even sincere souls, using man-made prayers by rote, and even man-made festival days, which belong to Paganism or Judaism; regarding really devoted souls as fanatics,-especially those who live in view of, and speak of, the imminent return of the Lord, as did constantly the early Christians!
Note watchfulness, that hardest of spiritual tasks to a drowsy soul, is enjoined by the Lord that “the things that remain”-those few “fundamental” doctrines still known and preached, may not be wholly lost, but established. “Remember”: like Ephesus, they must go back to the beginning. Protestantism did receive, and did hear. In the Reformation days, all Europe was stirred concerning divine truth. People crowded halls for four or five hours at a time to listen to discourses and debates upon Scripture. Alas, the deadness, the ignorance, the coldness and the carelessness today! “Keep it and repent”: to recover truth once lost and especially the love of it, so as to hold the truth fast, is a deadly difficult task! Protestantism- Christendom-is giving it up.
PREDICTED ACTION: If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Notice three things: watchlessness, visitation, and ignorance. To the Sardis church, unheeding, the words, “I will come as a thief” meant, not our Lord’s second coming, but visitation in judgment like that to Ephesus in Revelation 2:5, and Pergamum in Revelation 2:16. The processes of divine judgment we cannot by any faculties given us discover; the only thing for us to do is to receive divine warning. Now a thief takes away secretly our property-what belongs to us: so would Christ come suddenly, secretly, and remove everything of value from the Sardis assembly. So He did, for that assembly is gone-the very place of it!
But there is a wider application: to Protestantism, with its “name to live, but dead,” Christ threatens that aspect of His coming which really belongs not to His saints but to the world. “Ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief … ye are all sons … of the day” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). To be overtaken, then, and judged as the world, is the doom of dead Protestantism, just as the tribulation was the destiny of Romanism in Thyatira.
PROMISE TO OVERCOMERS: But thou hast a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments: and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy. Here we have the faithful remnant-“a few,”-like “the rest” in Thyatira. Faithful preachers know them in every assembly. They hearken. They are separate from the world. They pray, go to prayer meetings, work for their Lord, and love the Word.
Note that this remnant were not “defiled.” “They are not in contact with the spiritual death around them which is here counted defilement, as in the Old Testament was considered the touch of a dead body.” (Ottman.)
“With me in white.” Here it represents manifested victorious righteousness. Compare the white robes of Revelation 6:11; and that public association with Christ of Revelation 19:14. Note rejection of defilement constitutes “worthiness,” (Christ Himself of course being our only righteousness).
PROMISE TO OVERCOMER: He that over-cometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. These promises, of course, are all to be taken literally. “Thus” as befits Christ’s presence,-“with me in white,” they shall be arrayed and walk! Also, “in no wise blot out” releases from anxiety. “The Lord will deliver from every evil work, and will save … unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). As to “book of life,” see Revelation 20:12. “Will confess … before my Father and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5). What a day! As one very near to me said, after a meeting in which some had been urged not to be ashamed to confess Christ: “I am not ashamed to confess Christ, but my wonder is, how He can ever confess me!”
CALL TO HEAR: Again note that it is after the remnant has been addressed: for real saints only will truly give ear to the Lord by His Spirit,-in any age, but with peculiar difficulty when deadness holds most professors. He that hath an ear, LET HIM HEAR!
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. 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.
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; 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.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;VI. Philadelphia-Awakened Saints of the Last Days
This name Philadelphia at once arouses our interest! It is the seventh (and last) occurrence of this Greek word in the New Testament. (The other passages are Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7, twice.) Hebrews 13:1 reads: “Let brotherly love (Greek, Philadelphia) continue.” Surely God speaks to us in this name, as we read the character of the saints at Philadelphia, their devotion to Christ,-His name and His word, and their consequent love for one another,-in circumstances such as theirs so precious and so necessary!
ADDRESS: He that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth. Christ remains holy, even if the church has left her first love, hearkened to Balaam, suffered Jezebel and her whoredoms, and has only a name to live, but is one with the world in the defilements of death. Christ still is true: though the church has listened to the enemy’s lies through the centuries! Ah, if it were not for CHRIST! The church has a history that is worse than Israel’s, which was worse than the heathen! (2 Chronicles 33:9). But the Lord is unchanged; He is true. The more you read church history the more you realize that absolutely everything depends on CHRIST HIMSELF!
And here we find Him opening this out to us. He said to John in 1:18, “I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Now He has the “key of David.” While those spoke of His salvation-power as Victor over Death and the unseen world-this announces His royal claims as Lord and Head of David’s House and looks toward the kingdom to be established on earth. Even now, when men, in their arrogance, and especially in ecclesiastical position, would “shut out” Christ’s servants (and do they not seek to do it?) it is a blessed thing to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David” as Paul commanded us (2 Timothy 2:8). Although He has not yet come to take the throne of His father David, He yet has all royal authority in heaven and on earth, and He will open before His faithful servants, doors which none shall shut! All is in His hands, which exceedingly comforts saints in this world’s “Vanity Fair”!
Also, mark, our Lord can shut: and then none opens. How He opened and shut for the apostles, in the early days! (Acts 16:6-10; Acts 18:9-10; Acts 19:8-20; 1 Corinthians 16:8-9). So, also, Christ may shut doors in lands where His gospel has been known and despised, and His saints slain,-as in Spain and France, and in those lands He gave over to the false prophet Mohammed.
So their Lord, whom they loved, had opened a door for these Philadelphians, which none could shut: no power of earth or hell! So they could go right on in the truth and in service, despite the devil, the world, and false professors!
CONDITION KNOWN: I know thy works (behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name. Here we have another spirit than that of Sardis,-yea, better even than Ephesus! Philadelphia lacked the energy of Ephesus of the early church days, but it had three precious things: first, a little power; second, obedience to Christ’s word; third, not denying His name.
As to “little,” see the same Greek word about Zaccheus (Luke 19:3)-he was “little” of stature; and about the Lord’s company in general-a “little” flock (Luke 12:32). The Philadelphian assembly was unimportant in the world’s eyes, probably few in number, poor in property, and low in the social scale. Moreover, the spiritual power they had was feeble compared to Pentecost. But the Lord has nothing but commendation for them. They loved Christ. Jesus answered and said, “If a man love me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). Mark again the contrast with the indifference of Sardis toward the word they had received (as Protestantism in general); and also, contrast with Thyatira (Romanism), where Christ’s word had been supplanted by Jezebel’s. Here, in Philadelphia, instead of ecclesiasticism or indifferentism, we find a living response to the known word of the blessed Lord.
Also in a world that says of Christ, “He was a good man” “a great teacher,” etc.; and surrounded, as we are today, by other assemblies with merely “a name to live,” willing to have Christ’s Deity doubted or denied, His virgin birth assailed, His atoning death rejected, His bodily resurrection mocked at, His all-prevailing High priestly work in heaven disdained, His headship over all things to the Church despised, His second coming as Bridegroom of the Church and King of kings over all the earth ignored or decried,-amid all this, Christ was at home in Philadelphia, as in the household at Bethany! His person worshipped, delighted in; and His coming expectantly awaited!
Precious assembly! Our Lord’s words of greeting to them are personal, as their devotion to Him was personal! No wonder that they have special promises-Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Again those truly awful words, “synagogue of Satan”! “Salvation,” said Christ to the woman of Samaria, is “from the Jews” (John 4:22). But their sun had set. Again, (to Israel,) “I have loved you, saith Jehovah. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). And again, “When he drew nigh, he saw the city (Jerusalem) and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known the things which belong unto peace!” (Luke 19:41-42).
But now they had seen and hated both Christ and His Father, and their house was left to them desolate! Nay, they were “the synagogue of Satan.” If they had been like Nathanael, “Israelites indeed,” they would have believed on the Lord Jesus, and have proved themselves of “the election of grace” of Romans 11:5, and have been part of that assembly which, as Jews by falsehood only, they reviled. Doubtless their predicted coming and worshipping before the feet of the Philadelphian church had a local, historical meaning. We also know that the day will come when the saints will judge not the world only, but also angels (1 Corinthians 6:2), and this only because of Christ’s special love for the Church! (So also the persecuting Gentiles will be compelled to treat the godly remnant of Israel in the coming day! [Isaiah 66:14.])
SPECIAL PROMISES: Now, most wonderful, cheering song to the hearts of the faithful today is the Lord’s promise to deliver His true saints from The Great Tribulation! Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. As we saw in 1:9, “tribulation, kingdom, and patience” are connected in Jesus. Compare Acts 14:22. We who believe are in the kingdom,-by birth, by new creation, already. But both for our Lord, and for us, there is patient waiting for the kingdom’s setting up. And as for Him when on earth, so now for us, there is tribulation from Satan and the world. Patience (connected with saints seven times in The Revelation), is a prime virtue. Listen: the good ground hearers “bring forth fruit with patience”, “with patience we wait for that which we see not”; “strengthened with all power unto all patience and longsuffering”; “who through faith and patience inherit the promises”; “let us run with patience the race,” “let patience have its perfect work.” This Philadelphia assembly steadily, unfalteringly, lovingly endured, and waited for( Christ; as Christ waited and is yet waiting His Father’s time to give Him the throne long promised to Him, of His father David.
This is a beautiful, reciprocal promise of their Lord to them: Ye kept my patience, I will keep you out of the coming hour of trial. This “hour,” coming as it will, upon the whole earth, is seen in Revelation 13:7-8, in the permitted frightful career of the Beast. Two things identify this hour: first, its extent; second, its object. It is to come upon all “the inhabited earth” (Greek, oikoumenee). [This word, oikoumenee, used fifteen times in the New Testament, seems to be set over against “the wilderness” … “where no man dwelleth. It is in the latter that God will miraculously preserve the remnant of Israel (see chapter 12).] It is to try the “earth-dwellers,” whether they will follow Satan’s Christ or not-since they have chosen earth where Satan is the prince and the god, as their “good things” (Luke 16:25). Fearful trial! Read Revelation 14:9-12, where the issue is finally pressed home-an issue involving eternity!
Now, our Lord promises to keep Philadelphian believers out of [The Greek preposition eh,” says Winer, “denotes procession out of the interior, the compass, the limits, of anything; and is the antithesis of eis (which means into, or into the midst of).”] this coming hour.
Inasmuch as this verse (Revelation 3:10) holds forth the great promise of being kept from The Great Tribulation, it behooves us to inquire most diligently about it.
1. What is the hour of trial, or temptation, of which our Lord speaks? There is no reasonable doubt that it must refer to The Great Tribulation of which Daniel wrote (Daniel 12:1), and to which our Lord referred in Matthew 24:15-21. This “hour” extends to the whole inhabited earth,-so does that. See Revelation 13:7-8. And this is an hour of trial-the earth-dwellers, having rejected, or neglected, the Lord of heaven, and heavenly things, are now to be given Satan’s Christ. A “strong delusion” will be sent by God; and all not God’s elect will believe “the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-11).
2. What is meant by being kept from that terrible “hour”?
A. It cannot mean merely, preserved in and through it: for the remnant of Israel, God’s earthly people, will have that preservation (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1), whereas this is a promise given by a heavenly Christ to His heavenly saints.
B. It is from a peculiar hour, or season, not merely from trial, but from the hour and scene of the trial, Christ’s faithful are to be kept.
C. It is as direct a reward to His saints for their “keeping the word of his patience,” as was Christ’s own exaltation because of His patiently doing His Father’s will (Php 2:6-11). The word “keep” used in this promise is the same word our Lord applies to “keeping the word of his patience,” which His faithful saints had done. It is, as we have said, beautifully reciprocal; but notice that Christ’s “keeping” in His action toward them, was to protect them from something.
D. He says, “I will keep thee out of” or “away from” that dread hour. [We would add still further that it cannot have the sense of dia-through. Note the Septuagint of Jeremiah 30:7 has apo-“out of it,” in describing Jacob’s preservation in his time of trouble. This seems to be in the sense of removed from it, as the remnant will have a “place in the wilderness” to flee unto! The preposition ek used in Revelation 3:10, describes those who are not in the trouble, but kept away from it. It is well to note that Noah s family was preserved through (dia) water; whereas Enoch was translated that he should not see death!]
This hour, we read, is “about to come.” “While those ignorant of it are painting vain pictures of the happiness of earth, close at hand, to appear under the ordinary operation of the causes and agencies now at work, the student of prophecy knows that this expectation will never be realized; nay, that evil is about to expand itself to prodigious and overwhelming magnitude. The Lord, in vengeance for His truth rejected, is about to send on the earth an energy of delusion which seals all who receive it to utter damnation.” (Govett)
LOVING COUNSEL: I come quickly. From Thyatira on, the eyes of the saints are directed to the Lord’s return as the only hope, as it has really always been! To the faithful assembly at Philadelphia, the words were a thrill of cheer. One well says: “These words, ‘I come quickly,’ which in different senses and with varying references form the burden of this whole book (of Revelation) are here manifestly to be taken as an encouragement and comfort to the Philadelphian church, arising from the nearness of the Lord’s coming to reward her.”
Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take [The Greek word for take generally indicates receiving, not seizing, as in 1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 4:7, three times; and 1 Corinthians 9:24. Of the twenty-three times it is used in The Revelation, twenty-one describe receiving.] thy crown. “What thou hast” refers to spiritual possessions only,-to truth known, to progress in grace, to service to Christ already rendered. Intensely important this warning, that a crown may be won and lost through later watchlessness! “Take away from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.” I cannot agree with Alford that “it is not for himself that the robber would snatch away the crown, but merely to deprive the possessor.” Service to the Lord will be rewarded, but the Lord may have to go further back to confer the reward,-perhaps to the person who brought to Him this worker who lost his reward. Doubtless also 2 John 1:8 teaches us that in order to “receive a full reward and lose not the things which we have wrought,” we must be on our guard against wrong influences-we must “look to ourselves.”
“Thy crown.” All instructed believers know that the several crowns spoken of in the New Testament represent rewards for service, and not eternal life, which is a gift. Revelation 2:10; Jam 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Peter 5:4.
PROMISE TO OVERCOMER: I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more. “A little strength” on earth, (but true love to Christ) and now made a pillar! This is, to be established in honor forever in the very presence of God, whose presence is the essence of bliss to a holy creature. All saints are being built therein as living stones, Peter tells us. Pillars (like Boaz and Jachin) in Solomon’s temple, exhibited permanency, strength and beauty.
And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem. [Bengel says, “John in the gospel applies to the old city the Greek name Hierosolyma, but in the Apocalypse always to the holy city the Hebrew name, Hierousalem. The Hebrew name is the original and holier one; the Greek, the recent and more secular and political one.”] We see this fulfilled in Revelation 22:4.
And mine own new name. The meaning here, it seems to me, is opened out by the excellent note by Darby: “He who was hardly accounted to belong to the holy city (others had had the pretension to be the people of God, the city of God, by divine religious title on earth), has its heavenly name written on him, too, and Christ’s new name-the name not known to prophets and Jews according to the flesh, but which He has taken as dead to this world. Associated in Christ’s own patience, Christ confers upon him what fully associates him in His own blessing with God”!
Now who are the Philadelphians? We believe they are all Christ’s faithful through the dispensation. If these promises were made to such saints then, they cover all saints since. Philadelphia was a local assembly at the same time with Ephesus and Smyrna. Let us not forget in viewing these seven messages, in their prophetic succession, that all existed together. Remember also that all have existed through the dispensation, so that not only is the hope of the imminent coming of the Lord preserved to all, but the promises to the overcomers are for all the saints. For example, no saint shall be “hurt of the second death,”-not Smyrna saints only! Those in Christ are already new creations, their history in Adam having ended at Calvary (Romans 6:1-23); and they, made alive together with Christ, raised up with Him, made to sit with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: but it is “not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that if he shall be manifested we shall be like him, for we shall see him even as he is.” We have, now, “newness of life” in Christ. But what His New Name is, or will be, remains yet to be revealed!
CALL TO HEAR: He that hath an ear, let him hear. The Spirit keeps speaking to all opened ears and willing hearts in all these wondrous, solemn messages. Are we really listening?
I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;VII. Laodicea-The Last State-“Lukewarm”
The name comes from loos, people, and dikao, to rule: the rule of the people: “democracy,” in other words. (It is the exact opposite of Nicolaitan!) We come now to the sad and awful end of church testimony. That leaving of first love in Ephesus, comes now to being left by the Lord!
THE ADDRESS: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. Nothing of His appearance among the churches in the vision of chapter 1 remains here. The Church has failed; Christ remains. “The Amen.” It is the language of the faithful God who brings things to pass as He has promised. See Isaiah 65:16; and 2 Corinthians 1:20. There we read “How many soever be the promises of God, in him (Christ), is the yea; (that is the possibility of their being fulfilled) wherefore also through him is the Amen, (the certainty and actuality, of their being fulfilled) unto the glory of God through us.” This is a great announcement, for in ourselves we are worse than failures, but in Christ all God’s plans are made good!
As the Faithful and True Witness, Christ is giving now this seventh one of the searching messages to His assemblies on earth: He will see all; He will withhold nothing profitable; He will warn with perfect fidelity; He will commend with absolute kindness. This is why we can delight in The Revelation. It is not only the word of God, but it is the testimony of Jesus. He speaks all with unswerving faithfulness. He is also the Head, because the Beginner, of all God’s creation. Here is a title far above all dispensational responsibilities of creatures, whether of Israel or of the Church-Christ speaks as Creator. This puts us all in the dust. It likewise gives our hearts hope. He who created all things can make good the high calling of the Church as His Body and Bride, despite the corporate failure of the Church’s testimony on this earth.
CONDITION KNOWN: Thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So, because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spew thee out of my mouth. To Philadelphia our Lord had spoken in personal fellowship, “I am he that is true.” To Laodicea, lukewarm, having no real heart for Him, He says, “I am the true witness”: solemn difference!
Thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Here we have, first, their spiritual state; second, their supreme self-confidence; third, their awful ignorance of their true condition; fourth, their imminent danger. The meaning of “hot” is seen in Romans 12:11, where the same Greek word is used-fervent (burning) in spirit. The word translated cold is used in Matthew 10:42, “a cup of cold water”; (“as cold waters to a thirsty soul,” Proverbs 25:25). Either a hot drink on a cold day, or a cool one on a hot day, is acceptable and refreshing; lukewarm is neither, and disgusts. These Laodiceans were lukewarm: chliaros-a Greek word used only this one time in the Bible. It is the last stage of the Church’s existence recognized by the Lord.
Note their proud, blind pretensions (although Christ is on the outside!): “I am rich”-become wealthy. Is not this a description of the professing church today? How they count up their numbers, the wealth and worldly importance of their “membership”; their great churches, cathedrals and universities; their worldly influence-even to the extent of having a lobby at the seat of government to “control legislation”! The Laodicean church would fain “reform” the world that crucified the Lord. It denounces as “pessimists” those who would show from Scripture that “evil men and seducers are waxing worse and worse,” “the love of the many waxing cold,” “the rulers of the age coming to nought,” and Christ’s personal return the only hope either for the Church or for the nations.
“Need of nothing”: the loss of a sense of need, as the drowsiness that besets a freezing man, is fatal. People blindly go to hell in droves, in the Laodicean churches of these last days. With liars, blasphemers of the Lord, and teachers of pagan evolution in the pulpits, and the people “loving to have it so,” we would cry, as of old, “What will ye do in the end thereof?”
“The wretched one”-of all the seven! That is, of all possible church states represented by these seven, Laodicea is the worst off! Worse than Thyatira, than Romanism, this last lukewarmness.
“And poor,” alas! the poverty, in view of their possible riches in Christ and His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit! The poverty of the Laodicean churches of this hour! Whole years, and no one born again! Whole denominations shrinking in numbers! “And miserable,” literally, proper objects of pity. “Blind,” looking at stones and towers and organs, and pews.
PREDICTED ACTION: I am about to spew thee out of my mouth. Darby says that “this threat is peremptory, not conditional: it brought irreconcilable rejection.” The book of Revelation indeed plainly shows that the Church, having failed, will give way to the kingdom, to the Lord’s personal appearing. But Christ does not say, “I will”; but, (mello) “I am about to.” He says, “I am ready to: I have it in my mind, implying graciously the possibility of the threat not being executed if only they repent at once. His dealings towards them will depend on theirs toward Him.” These words from Fausset more nearly express what the text sets forth.
LOVING COUNSEL: I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich. Grace is ever free. We buy it “without money and without price,” although it cost Christ the fire of God’s judgment to get it for us. And white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest. White garments in the Bible, and especially in The Revelation, stand for manifested righteousness. If they would repent, and rely wholly upon Christ as the only righteousness of sinners, the world would see that instead of the shame of their nakedness. The world today sees the nakedness of the Laodicean church and has contempt for it, but the full shame of that nakedness will not be made manifest till the false church is rejected as Christ’s witness on earth, and hated as a harlot by the Beast and his ten kings (Revelation 17:16).
And eye salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. “The Holy Spirit’s unction, like the ancient’s eye-salve, first smarts with the conviction of sin, then heals.”
As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent. Astonishing love of the Savior! Loving even the lukewarm! Loving an assembly that has really no heart for Him! “I reprove”-Christ’s wounding is the faithful wounding of a friend. “The ear that hearkeneth to the reproof of life shall abide among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).
How many preachers love the saints enough to risk their resentment by obeying 2 Timothy 4:2 : “reprove, rebuke”? I fear that we who preach are rarely as faithful in our love as our Lord!
“And chasten.” As long as one’s conscience feels the reproof of faithful preachers; as long as the Lord does not say, “He is joined to his idols, let him alone,” there is hope. “Be zealous, therefore, and repent.” I believe that “no word from God shall be void of power,” and that some Laodiceans, through the church centuries, have, by divine grace, become zealous and repented. Only a godly sorrow, working the seven-fold result of 2 Corinthians 7:11, avails in such a case.
LAST YEARNING PLEA: Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him,[“The supper is the evening meal, it is the last taken before the morning breaks and the day dawns. It is long since the apostle said ‘the night is far spent, the day is at hand’: to sup with Christ before morning breaks is a foretaste of the coming glory-the antepast of heaven.”-Ottman.] and he with me. Here we have Christ in all His tenderness, His unfathomable devotion! In these last words to the Church, the love of the Bridegroom makes Him forget wholly the work of the Judge. It is The Beloved, of the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 5:2).
This final plea of the Lord Jesus to the individual heart, where He has been shut out of the love and fellowship of the general company, should win every heart that UNDERSTANDS!
1. It is the plea of One who is meek and lowly of heart,-of a humility that is boundless and absolute. If we find ourselves shut out, where we have a right to be, we either rise to assert our rights, or leave in wrath. Not so Christ! After all the centuries, He still stands meekly knocking!
2. It is the plea of an active, yearning love. If the Lord Jesus did not love those who profess His name, even His lowliness would not keep Him at the door which is shut!
3. It is the plea of deepest concern. He knows what losing Him will mean,-what a Christless future will be. He was troubled over even Judas, who had already bargained to sell Him for the price of a common slave!
It is deeply instructive and touching to note the verb tenses here: it is literally, “Behold I have taken my stand at the door and am knocking”: the first denoting an attitude deliberately taken, and the second, an action continually going on.
While the whole assembly in the person of its angel is addressed, we all instinctively feel and know that the words are personal to us,-yes, to the innermost heart of each of us, of you, of me. For the pleading voice goes on, “If any man hear my voice and open the door.” Here we are face to face with three great facts: First, the awful fact that people can “belong” to an assembly of Christ’s, and yet not hear, never hear, Christ’s life-giving Voice; Second, the blessed fact that anyone may hearken who will; and, Third, the eternally solemn fact that the opening of the door is from our side, not from Christ’s.
It is the action of unbelief to abuse the glorious truth of electing grace by making fatalism of it, thus seeking to lay the burden of an evil heart’s unwillingness upon God. “How often would I-but ye would not!”
“I will sup with him”: and what have we to give Him? What have we that He could wish, what that would give Him, delight,-the Lord of glory? He loves thee! It is as the Bridegroom of the Church that He speaks,-“who loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Of course His joy will be the first, and infinitely the greater! So He puts it first. Then, “he with Me.” Those who open the door to Christ are the happy ones of the earth!
“I sat down under his shadow with great delight, And his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting-house, And his banner over me was love.” Song of Solomon 2:3-4Here, at the end of these seven church epistles, in this twentieth verse, we have the second of the two great truths of Paul’s gospel: (1) ye in Christ, and (2) Christ in you. Paul begins to develop this second truth in Galatians: “It was the good pleasure of God … to reveal his Son in me” (1:16); “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” (2:20); “My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (4:19); then in Ephesians 3:14-19, “that Christ may make his home down in your hearts”-a definite thing, as yet unaccomplished in the Ephesian believers to whom he wrote; and in Php 1:21, “for me to live is Christ”; and in Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”! In a real definite sense Christ is in every true believer. See Romans 8:9-10; where we read that all of Christ’s own, because they have the indwelling Spirit, have Christ in them as their life (Colossians 3:3-4). “Know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobate” (2 Corinthians 13:5). But in Revelation 3:20 there is a personal call, like that of Ephesians 5:14 : “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.”
How our poor selfish hearts turn to the next verse-about the coming kingdom, and our reigning with Christ; and forget His present, tender pleading for real, inward fellowship with Him now!
PROMISE TO OVERCOMERS: He that over-cometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. Christ’s throne is the throne of His father David at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:12-13; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Chronicles 29:3; Jeremiah 3:17; Luke 1:32; Acts 15:14-18). But our Lord’s royal inheritance by the Davidic covenant extends to His heavenly Bride, the Church, as Eve shared the dominion that God gave the first Adam. In his first epistle (first in divine order), Paul writes, “Concerning God’s Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3); and in his last epistle, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). We shall consider the millennial order in Revelation 20:1-15. Here, in 3:21, at the close of the unfaithful corporate testimony of the Church, we are again overwhelmed at this infinite grace of Christ. “The assembly whom Christ just before threatened to spew out of His mouth, is now offered a seat with Him on His throne.”-Fausset. Trench truly says, “The highest place is within the reach of the lowest; the faintest spark of grace may be fanned into the mightiest flame of love.” Let not the most wretched, defeated believer despair,-if only there be the least yearning for Christ. The most tender plea of all the seven is made to a lukewarm assembly. And the most distinct promise of actually sitting down with Christ upon His throne is given at the very close of the Church’s testimony. Note that our Lord speaks as one who Himself overcame, and is therefore now sit- ting upon His Father’s throne. [Our Lord is not now on His own throne, the throne of David. He is at the Father’s right hand, on the Father’s throne, and is now the Great High Priest, leading the worship of His saints; and also our Advocate against the enemy. But He is there in an expectant attitude, as we read in, Hebrews 10:12-13 : “He, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.”] As a Victor He calls to you and to me. It is only in sharing by faith His victory that any saint ever overcame! As Christ warned in the upper room, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He also triumphed over Satan and all his hosts at Calvary, and gives us the benefit (Colossians 2:14-15; Hebrews 2:14-15). “And this is the victory that over-cometh-even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
THE FINAL CALL TO HEAR: Saints of God beloved, let the world go by and give ear: “The time is short!” Your salvation is nearer than when you first believed: “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” The world is full of voices today, calling you to hearken to what man is, and has done, and will do, but be thou one of whom some day your Lord will gladly say: “He had an ear, and heard My Voice!”
THE LAST KNOCK
Art thou weary, sad, and lonely,
All thy summer past?
One remaineth, and One only-
Hear His Voice at last.
Voice that called thee all unheeded,
Love that knocked in vain;
Now, forsaken, dost thou need it?
Hear that Voice again.
“Open to Me, my beloved,
I have waited long,
Till the night fell on the glory,
Silence on the song;
“Till the brightness and the sweetness,
And the smiles were fled,
Till thy heart was worn and broken-
Till thy love was dead.
“Thou wouldst none of Me, beloved,
Yet beloved wert thou;
Thou didst scorn Me in the sunshine,
Wilt thou have Me now?
“Soul, for thee I left My glory,
Bore the curse of God-
Wept for thee with bitterest weeping,
Agony and blood.
“Soul, for thee I died dishonoured,
As a felon dies;
For thou wert the pearl all priceless
In thy Saviour’s eyes.
“Soul, for thee I rose victorious,
Glad that thou wert free;
Entered Heaven in triumph glorious- Heaven I won for thee.
“Soul, from Heaven I speak to woo thee- Thee, the lost, the lone;
Earth may fail thee, sin undo thee,
All the more Mine own.
“Sorrow, sin, and desolation,
These thy claim to Me;
Love that won thee full salvation,
This My claim to thee.
“Soul, I knock, I stand beseeching,
Turn me not away;
Heart that craves thee, love that needs thee- Wilt thou say Me nay?”
By V. M.
From Hymns of Ter Steegen, Suso and Others
published by Loizeaux Brothers, New York.
Used by permission.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: 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.
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.