Revelation 2 and 3
Scripture considered: Rev. 2:1-7
In our introductory article, it was stated that a particularly valid way of studying the addresses to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 is to see how it outlines the sad general decline of the responsible Christian profession between the day on which the church was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost, and the catching away of those who are Christ’s at the Rapture.
The defect in each church comes in by men. The remedy in each case is in the hands of a divine Person - "hear what the Spirit says to the churches." There are different failures or defects in different churches but the remedy is the same. Christ personally, and the recognition of what is due to Him, all made good to the soul in the power of the Holy Spirit!
Right at the beginning of the church’s history, there were elements creeping in that were contrary to the revealed will of God. However, there were also those who could discern the adverse trend. Because of their personal sense of holiness they were deeply disturbed. Sadly, others did not seem to notice, or even care.
The decline in the attitude towards evil can be readily traced in the history of the church. At the beginning, there were certainly those who could not bear with evil. Before very long, in the next phase, the evil was tolerated. Later still, the evil was accepted. Eventually, there were those involved who were prepared to actively go over to evil and oppose the truth. This is well illustrated in 2 Timothy, which tells us of conditions in the last days before Christ comes again. In chapter 1 we read of those who were turning away from the truth, including Phygellus and Hermogenes. In chapter 2, we are told of some, including Hymenaeus and Philetus, who were quite prepared to accept something that was not the truth. The final condition extant in the last days is indicated in chapter 3 in Jannes and Jambres who actively opposed the truth and rebelled against it. This is why it is so necessary to actively promote the truth which has been committed to us. Checking the meaning of the names of the individuals mentioned will demonstrate that their names are indicative of their characters and the action (or lack of action) that they took.
This first letter to the churches, to Ephesus, refers dispensationally to the very earliest days of Christianity. Even during the lifetime of the apostle Paul departure from the faith had already begun. When Paul wrote his last letter to Timothy he said, "All they which are in Asia have turned away from me" (2 Ti. 1:15). This would have included Ephesus.
The first obvious question is, why Ephesus first? The saints there were the product of Paul’s ministry. In the Epistle to the Ephesians the topstone of Christian ministry is reached. This brings to mind at least two possible reasons why it was appropriate that the Ephesians were addressed first. On the one hand, when God begins to criticise, He starts with that which is nearest and dearest to Him (1 Pe. 4:17 "judgment must begin at the house of God"). Secondly, Satan always attacks the choicest. However, while Paul’s ministry had been the means whereby they had been established, it was left to John to write to them now. This might be because Paul had to lament that all in Asia had turned away from him, and thus, if Paul had written to them, they might never have listened to him. So, the responsibility was given to John. Also, it is a very practical point that by this time Paul was no longer alive.
To each church, the address begins with a particularly appropriate presentation of Christ, in one of the ways that John saw Him in chapter 1. In every case the Lord speaks first of what He can commend. He then speaks of the failure in their local testimony to Himself. Each address closes with a call from the Spirit to the church. The motive is to promote "overcoming" in those who are exercised to be faithful to the Lord in His absence, and to stimulate their affections now to hold on while they wait for His Coming.
The local believers are considered as responsible servants (1:1), rather than as privileged saints. The angel is representative of the responsible element in that assembly. We need to remember that leadership (carrying the burden of the meeting) is local, but gift is universal. Also, in scripture, leaders are always spoken of in the plural, except one reference in Hebrews 2:10 to Christ Himself as The Leader. In this, as in all things, He must have the preeminence (Co. 1:18).
Let us look at the meaning of some of the terms used in these few verses:
|Angel||One in touch with heaven, acting responsibly and with power and authority on behalf of God.|
|Stars||Individual light-bearers, bearing light from heaven. Those who locally guide the assembly according to the will of God. A star bears light from heaven, especially in a time of moral darkness.|
|Lamps||A lamp bears light on earth, a major function of a local assembly.|
|Walketh||Active. The "walking" takes place "in the midst," not round the periphery.|
|In the midst||Not around the periphery. He knows what is going on.|
|Holdeth||Holding in a mighty grip, all the power of the Godhead. In relation to redemption, He has sat down for ever; but here the Lord is walking - still active. There is no lack of control or power in the Lord (His right hand) in spite of our failure. Yet, in the midst of general failure, God looks for those who will move sympathetically with Him in the establishment of His interests.|
|I know||He knows what is going on. This is characteristic. He says "I know" to each church. He is omniscient. There is nothing that the Lord Jesus does not know about us, either in our individual lives, or in what is taking place in His church. These chapters remind us that He knows and tests everything. Then He commends what is commendable, before directing their attention to what needs remedying.|
|Thy works||But not "of faith" (see 1 Th. 1:3,10)|
|Thy labour||But not "of love" (see 1 Th. 1:3,10)|
|Thy patience||But not "of hope" (see 1 Th. 1:3,10)|
|The things which accompany salvation (faith, love, hope) come together at least 10 times in the New Testament. They are well worth looking up to see the emphasis in each case.|
|Tried||Tested - "for My Name’s sake." Was His honour at stake in the activity? Did it glorify Him? This is the test.|
|First love||Best, chief. - The best love of which they were spiritually capable. First, not in time, or in quantity, but first in rank, in quality, as the primary, motivating consideration. See other uses of the same word: Lk. 15:22 ("best" robe); 1 Ti. 1:15 ("chief" of sinners).|
|First works||First works cannot be done without first love. First works are the product of first love. If we lose "first love," service in itself will not necessarily receive His commendation.|
|Remember||Recall to mind.|
|Repeat||Resume doing them!|
|Repent||Even a Christian? Oh! Yes! Especially a Christian!|
|Return||His return is the plumbline when and by which all is measured.|
|Remove||Responsibilities not undertaken properly will be withdrawn. (Matthew 25, Luke 19)|
|Thy candlestick||Their personal responsibility stressed. If the assembly fails in testimony, their lamp must be removed. The responsible testimony must be taken out of their hands, and placed in the responsible hands of others.|
Need and role of repentance.
Repentance always leads to and is an essential step towards recovery. If first love has departed, repentance will bring us back to our first love. Repentance is necessarily mentioned in relation to all seven assemblies except Smyrna and Philadelphia. If there is self-judgment with regard to the things spoken of in these addresses, there will be recovery. Unless there is repentance and recovery there can be no true light shining.
"I am coming to thee" - it is much happier to have Him coming to us on the line of John 14:3, 18 than on the line of Revelation 2:5.
Verse 6: Nicolaitanes - deeds (see 2:15 doctrine).
If I lose or abandon my first love for the Lord, I will eventually give to man the first place that is due to Christ alone. The "Nicolaitanes" were so-called "conquerors of the people," "champions of the world." The rise of clerisy denies the Headship of Christ, the Lordship of Christ and the promptings of the Spirit. Man is given the place Christ should have. The folly of this is immediately seen. The Nicolaitanes clear off when suffering is involved (Smyrna), but come back when the assembly is given a place in the world (Pergamos). When gift is controlled by the wrong lordship, it brings in spiritual death amongst the saints of God. The Lord commends them for taking a stand against anyone who was displacing Him from His Lordship in the assembly.
Verse 7: Commendation, reward, exhortation, promise.
Amidst all this, there is a commendation and reward for the overcomer (look out for this word and its equivalents throughout the Book of Revelation), one committed to be faithful to the Lord in His absence, in an evil day, whatever the enmity and opposition.
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God?"
Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden so that they could not eat of the Tree of Life (Ge. 3:24) in their fallen state. But we read again of the Tree of Life in Revelation 22:1-2: "He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the Tree of Life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
These verses describe a scene where everything is of God and the Lamb, constantly maintained by the Holy Spirit of God. Life is abundant. Death and the curse can never enter. Every adverse effect that sin brought in will be healed. Men will serve God willingly. They will always be before His face. They will be known by the Name of their God.
In the midst is the Tree of Life. God is the source of life. Christ is the embodiment of that life to the saints, so that they can feed on that life of which God is the source. The Tree of Life brings to us the preciousness of Christ. Christ personally will be the One Who will cause this world to be fruitful for God. His power will be seen and felt all over the world. He will administer the blessings of God throughout a cleansed universe of bliss. All will be fresh and new.
The overcomer is given to eat now of the Tree of Life, now in foretaste, then the actuality in Paradise. He can feed now on the One who will sustain everything in this world for God's pleasure throughout the one thousand year reign of Christ.
If we are feeding on the great Sustainer of Life according to God, we ourselves shall be sustained for God and His pleasure in this present world today.