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II. THE THINGS WHICH ARE,
THE SEVEN CHURCH MESSAGES,
AND THEIR PROPHETIC MEANING
1. Ephesus: The post-apostolic period (Revelation 2:1-66.2.7 )
2. Smyrna: The period of persecution (Revelation 2:8-66.2.11 )
3. Pergamos: The corruption period (Revelation 2:12-66.2.17 )
4. Thyatira: The Romish corruption (Revelation 2:18-66.2.29 )
The two chapters which follow the introductory chapter contain seven messages to seven local churches which were in existence in the province of Asia in the days when the Apostle John was prisoner in the isle of Patmos. The view held by the late Dr. Bullinger and a few of his followers that these churches are yet to come into existence in connection with believing Jews during the great tribulation with which the age closes, must be rejected as extremely fanciful. The omniscient Lord on the throne detected in each of these local assemblies certain traits which at different periods of His church on earth would become the leading features. We have therefore, in the seven messages the history of the entire Church in embryo. This assertion is fully confirmed by a closer study of these messages.
Revelation 2:1-66.2.7 .
Ephesus was the church characterized by the greatest purity in doctrine and in walk. To the Ephesians, as “the faithful brethren in Christ,” was addressed the most wonderful revelation God has given to man. It stands therefore for the model church in the apostolic age. But when Paul said farewell to the elders he predicted not smooth things, but the incoming failure (Acts 20:1-44.20.38 ). Ephesus means “desired” and that corresponds with her original holy character. He reveals Himself afresh as being in the midst and holding His own in His blessed pierced hands, so true of believers at all times. The descriptions of Ephesus suit the apostolic church, and immediately after the apostles had passed away, except John. But He finds fault with it. His omniscient eyes look to the heart and there He finds declension. “I have against thee that thou leavest thy first love.” He, the one altogether lovely was no longer the all absorbing object before their hearts. Paul manifests the full meaning of first love. His constant cry was: “Not I but Christ”--”That I may know Him”; for him to live was Christ. Declension began in the church not with less service, less suffering or anything else, but with a decreasing heart-devotion to the Person of our Lord. That is where all backsliding begins. He calls to repentance, a return to Himself The Nicolaitanes, whose works the church then hated, are mentioned again in the third message, where we shall define the word and the teaching of the Nicolaitanes. A promise to the overcomer follows.
Revelation 2:8-66.2.11 .
Smyrna means “bitterness” and is a form of myrrh which was largely used for the embalming of the king of the Jews, the meaning of it was that the King would have to die. Smyrna was a suffering church, many of its members had to seal their faith by dying the martyr’s death. Corresponding with this characteristic, the Lord speaks of Himself as “The First and the Last, who was dead and is alive.” That is His comfort for the Church passing through the horrors of persecution and intense sufferings. In connection with this message to Smyrna the synagogue of Satan is mentioned. It means the Judaistic faction of the church, who, while they claimed to be Christians, also claimed to be Jews, observing the law, the Sabbath day and other parts of the legal system of Judaism. This synagogue of Satan helped in the afflictions of Smyrna. Nor is the same “synagogue of Satan” missing today in the professing sphere of Christendom.
He announces that the devil would cast some of them into prison, that they should have tribulation for ten days, and that it would require faithfulness unto death to gain the crown of life. The Apostolic age was followed by the martyr age, which lasted up to the beginning of the fourth century. Pagan emperors under the inspiration of Satan, the roaring lion, persecuted the Church. No one knows how many hundreds of thousands died the martyr’s death, flayed and burned alive, cast before wild animals and cruelly tortured; thus they were faithful unto death and gained the crown of life. It is also significant that the address to Smyrna contains the number ten; Church history records ten great persecutions.
Revelation 2:12-66.2.17 .
After the devil had played the roaring lion for several centuries, trying to exterminate the church of Jesus Christ, he discovered that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” He then stopped the persecutions suddenly and began to corrupt the Church. This is the meaning of the message to Pergamos, which means “twice married,” a typical name for the professing Church which claims to be the bride of Christ, but is married to the world. Pergamos is dwelling where Satan has his throne. Milton described Satan being in hell.
High on a throne of royal state, That far outshone the wealth of Ormuz or of Ind, Satan exalted sat.
But that is not Scripture. Satan will be in hell, in his final abode “the lake of fire,” but he is not there now. He is the god of this world (age): his throne is right here on earth. And Pergamos had been married to the world. This is also indicated by the mention of Balaam, who cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, by inducing them to take the daughters of the heathen and thus give up their God-demanded separation. The Church then gave up her pilgrim character, settled down in the world, became a world institution, as revealed by our Lord in the parable of the mustard seed. What happened in the beginning of the fourth century church-historians have proclaimed as the “triumph of Christianity.” It was rather “the defeat of Christianity,” for that happened which corrupted the Church of Christ.
The instrument of the devil used to bring about this was the emperor Constantine. He had a rival by the name of Maxentius, whom he faced in battle. Constantine claimed that the night before he had a vision of Christ bearing a cross with the words: “In hoc signo vinces (in this sign thou shalt conquer). He had the next morning a beautiful banner made, which was called the Labarum, and went forth to battle, in which Maxentius was defeated as well as another competitor by name of Licinus. Constantine then became emperor and nominally a Christian and head of the Church, while retaining his heathen title as Pontifex Maximus, the high-priest. Then the corruption of the Church resulted. The Church became a political world institution, like the mustard seed, rooting itself in the field (the world) became a great tree, opening its branches to the fowls of the air to defile (Matthew 13:1-40.13.58 ; see annotations there). Heathen priests became Christian priests. Heathen temples were changed into Christian churches; he demanded all children to be “christened,” that is, made Christians by putting water upon their heads; heathen days of feasting and drinking were made into Christian days, like our “Christmas” and nearly all the other saints’ days.
Here again the Nicolaitanes are mentioned, but, while the Ephesians hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, here in Pergamos we find the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, and the Lord says: “which thing I hate.” What is it, then? Some say that there was a certain Bishop Nicol who taught bad doctrines and his followers were called “the Nicolaitanes.” But this Bishop Nicol is a fictitious person; he cannot be historically located.
Nicolaitanes is Greek; it is a compound. Nikao is a verb and means to have the upper hand, to domineer; laos means the people (our English “laity”). Nicolaitanes signifies “the domineerers of the people.” A priestly class had sprung up in the Church, domineering over the rest of the people, the so-called laity. And this domineering class claimed a superior place in the body of Christ. This evil was rejected in Ephesus, but is fully sanctioned and tolerated in Pergamos. Priestly assumption became then, and ever since has been, the corruption of Christianity. This is what our Lord hates and what He hates we must hate with Him.
Revelation 2:18-66.2.29 .
The corruption which set in like a great flood with the fourth century increased till the depths of Satan (Revelation 2:24 ) were reached. Thyatira brings us into the period of the Papacy and its wickedness, ecclesiastical and otherwise. Here our Lord reveals Himself as “the Son of God.” Rome speaks more of Him as the son of the virgin, the son of Mary, than as the Son of God. The Roman Catholic apostasy has put a woman in the place of the Son of God. Her corruption is fully revealed in Revelation 2:20 . Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, was permitted to teach and seduce God’s servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. Jezebel the wicked woman represents the Papacy. Jezebel was a heathenish woman married to an Israelitish King. She was a queen and an idolatress and persecuted the true prophets of God ( 1Ki 18:1-46 ; 1 Kings 19:1-11.19.21 ; 1 Kings 20:1-11.20.43 ; 1 Kings 21:1-11.21.29 ).
Apply all this to the Romish church with her spiritual fornication and idolatry. The church, or, rather, the papacy, assumes the place of teacher and dictator and Christ is rejected. The name Jezebel has a twofold meaning. It means a chaste one”; the other name is “dunghill.” Rome claims to be the bride of Christ; in reality she is a harlot, and called so in chapter 17 and therefore a dunghill of all vileness and corruption. In Revelation 2:21 we find another important hint. It is said, “She repents not.” Rome does not change. She is the same today in every respect as she was 500 years ago. She will continue in her perverted state of impenitence till her predicted doom will overtake her. (Compare Revelation 2:22 with chapter 17.) She is the woman of which our Lord spoke in the fourth kingdom parable in Matthew 13:1-40.13.58 (see annotations there) which took leaven (corruption) and put it into the three measures of meal (symbolical of the doctrine of Christ). It is noteworthy that beginning with the message to Thyatira the Lord announces His coming, that is, His second visible coming. Every following message speaks of it. This shows that the three preceding church periods and conditions are passed and the conditions pictured in Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea will continue till He comes. The apostolic age cannot be brought back; nor will there be again a persecution by Roman emperors nor will the church again become corrupted as in Pergamos. The Romish conditions continue to the end of the age.
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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany