In Revelation two and three we have seven Epistles addressed to the seven churches in Asia. These Epistles -- in keeping with the nature of the book in which they are found -- are prophetic in their scope. They record the sentences of the Divine Judge who appears in the midst of these churches (see 1:13-20) inspecting and passing decisions. They contain a panorama of the Church's history. They give us a complete outline of the entire course of the Christian profession, of going from bad to worse, until at the end a condition is reached which compels the Lord to utterly repudiate that which bears His name. We cannot now do more than hurriedly trace the order of thought and point out the leading features in these seven prophetic pictures.
The first of these Epistles is addressed to the church at Ephesus and is recorded in Revelation 2:1-7. In it we have viewed the originating cause of the declination which began in the apostolic age. |Thou hast left thy first love| (vs.4) -- the cooling of the church's affection for Christ was the source of all the evil that followed. There was much outward zeal, but the heart was not right, and where love declines evil practices soon follow. Even so was it at the early date contemplated by the first of these seven Epistles, for at Ephesus we learn there were |false apostles| (vs.2) and |Nicolaitanes| whose deeds were |hateful| to Christ and the Ephesians themselves (vs.6). |Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent| (vs.5) shows the beginning of the downward path.
In the second Epistle addressed to the church in Smyrna and recorded in Revelation 2:8-11, we have a prophetic picture which describes the conditions that prevailed from John's time till the beginning of the fourth century A.D. -- a period of persecution and martyrdom. Here we are shown a Judaizing Christianity spreading within the church, and mention is made of the |synagogue of Satan| (vs.9).
In the Epistle to the third church -- Pergamos (Rev.2:12-17) -- we find the progress in evil is still more marked. The prophetic application of this Epistle carries us on to the days of Constantine when the church and the world joined hands. This unholy alliance was foreshadowed by the name of the church addressed, for Pergamos signifies a |marriage.| Here we read of |Satan's throne|). Here, too, mention is again made of the Nicolaitanes, but whereas in Ephesus it was the |deeds of the Nicolaitanes| (vs.6) that were mentioned, here it is the |doctrine of the Nicolaitanes| (vs.15) -- false practices had now become articles of faith. Observe that at first the church |hated| their deeds (vs.6), here their evil beliefs were tolerated and cherished.
In the fourth Epistle -- to Thyatira (Rev.2:18-29) we have disclosed a yet fouler condition of ecclesiastical corruption and are carried forward to the rise of Roman Catholicism, which is here termed |Jezebel| -- |Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not| (vss.20, 21). That |space| began at the Reformation period and has lasted till now, but the Papacy is still unchanged.
In the fifth Epistle addressed to the church in Sardis (3:1-6) we are brought down to the days of Martin Luther and his contemporaries, when many of God's people were delivered from Popery. Observe here |Thou hast a name| (vs.1). That name was |Protestantism| which defined both their claim and testimony. But note further, |Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.| Thus it has proven; so it is today. Protestantism is now nothing more than a |name,| its vitality has long since departed. How this latter-day condition was anticipated by the very terms of this Epistle may be seen by the language of verses 2 and 3 -- |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.| Alas! that this admonition passed unheeded. |But, are all within the circle of Protestantism now spiritually dead?| it may be asked. No; and mark the prophetic accuracy of this Epistle -- |Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments| (vs.4)!
In the sixth Epistle addressed to the church in Philadelphia (3:7-13) we are brought down to the last century. Three things are to be noted here. First, Philadelphia signifies |brotherly love| and it was during the last century particularly that this Christian grace was acknowledged and displayed. Not until the nineteenth century was the truth of the Unity of the Church recovered and the common brotherhood of believers practically owned. Second, the Lord sets before this church an |open door| (vs.8), a door which He had opened Himself. This was the |door| which led to the Foreign Mission field, and it was not until last century that age-long barriers were so wonderfully removed by God and world-wide evangelism made practically easy. Third, |Thou hast a little strength|(vs.8) accurately describes the condition of the church during the last hundred years.
We turn now to consider at a little more length the seventh Epistle, addressed to the church of the Laodiceans (Rev.3:14-22). This Epistle portrays the last state of the professing church on earth, a state characterized by high pretensions and self-sufficiency, but so utterly nauseous to Christ that He declares |I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm I will sue thee out of My mouth|(vss.15, 16).
The word Laodicea means |the rule of the laity or people.| It is the people's church, not Christ's for notice He is outside (vs.20), standing and knocking for admission. Its condition is described as |lukewarm:| it is neither one thing nor the other, partly hot and partly cold. How accurately this describes the present day condition of the professing church! A condition of mixture -- mixed up with the world, claiming to be heavenly and yet clinging to everything that is earthly; bearing the name of Christ, and yet misrepresenting Him and putting Him to an open shame. Much religion but little life. Much activity but little vitality. Much doing but little accomplished. Much display but little power. Neither hot nor cold: neither out and out for God, nor out and out for the Devil. |Luke warm,| as though hot and cold water had been poured into the same vessel. This is exactly what we have in the churches today -- intense worldliness and wickedness veneered over with humanitarian and religious pretenses.
Another characteristic of Laodicea is the spirit of boosting -- |Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing| (vs.17). Loud and lofty are the pretensions of the professing church, but how shallow they really are! There is much ostentatious parading of resources, but it is an empty profession. There is self-conceit, showy attainments, architectural display, intellectual acquirements, influential numbers, but Christ is excluded! In this church (see the Epistle), unlike all the previous ones, there is nothing whatever in it that Christ commends -- sad commentary upon its true condition! But this is merely negative: there is much in it that He condemns -- |and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked| (vs.17). The church is utterly ignorant of its actual and deplorable state. Its leaders are crying |Peace and safety| when |sudden destruction| is upon them (1 Thess.5:3). Unspeakably sad is this. Whenever there is recognition of our condition and our need, there is hope, for recognition and acknowledgement of weakness is the secret of strength (2 Cor.12:9). But self-complacency is fatal. For self-righteousness there is no remedy. Though self-sufficient and self-righteous the professing church will shortly be |spued out| by the One whose name it bears.
Now observe particularly that this |Laodicean| Epistle is the final one of the series. It sets before us the last state of the professing church on earth. In keeping with this note the time-mark here. The Lord speaks of |supping| (vs.20). It is eventime. It is the closing meal of the day! The end is at hand. The church is feasting inside and the Saviour is standing outside. Such was what was predicted eighteen centuries ago, and such is what we now witness in Christendom today. Christ is now outside the professing church undesired, unheard, unknown. And, we repeat, this Epistle is the final one of the series: there is no eighth which follows it. The Laodicean condition is the last phase of apostate Christendom. Nought remains but its spueing out. The very next thing we read of in Revelation after the Laodicean Epistle is -- |After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither| etc. (4:1) which clearly symbolizes the catching up of the saints. But we turn now to consider --