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SARDIS was the proud, luxuriant capital of Lydia, of which Ephesus was the metropolis.
THE ECCLESIASTICAL CLIMAX
These seven Churches, in their historic succession, set forth in vivid climax the visible Church, from the Apostolic Age to the Millennial reign. Ephesus, with its transcendent orthodoxy, though actually back-slidden, condemned, and fallen from the kingdom, emblematizes the general Church in the post-Apostolic Age, when she was rapidly sidetracking from the glorious experience of entire sanctification, which shook the world with the tread of a thousand earthquakes, and interpenetrated all nations during the Apostolic Age.
8. Smyrna was a little, dirty village, under the shadow of the great metropolitan Church at Ephesus. How striking the fact that the Holy Ghost adduces not a solitary charge against this Church! Though poor, illiterate, obscure, and unknown, she walked with God white, her garments unsullied. This Church represents the people of God during the age of pagan persecutions, which began under Nero and ceased under Diocletian, including a period of three hundred years, during which one hundred millions of Christians sealed their faith with their blood. Last summer I visited the Coliseum in Rome, where one hundred thousand cruel heathen men and women assembled nightly for three hundred years, to see the lions eat up the Christians. I saw the old, gloomy, subterranean tunnel through which they brought the lions from their lairs, down into the Coliseum, and turned them loose on the Christians. I visited the old judgment-hall, where Nero sat upon his tribunal, and condemned Paul to decapitation and Peter to crucifixion. I saw the gloomy old Mamertine prison, where Paul was incarcerated. Then I followed him out through the west gate to the spot where the Roman soldiers cut his head off. I also followed Peter to the Campus Martins, where he was crucified with his head down.
10. “ You shall have persecution ten days.” The term “day” in the Bible frequently means a period. During the three hundred years of blood and slaughter, there were ten distinct persecutionary epochs, inaugurated and prosecuted by the different emperors, all of whom endorsed and reiterated the cruel edicts of Nero, the originator of the persecutions. Pursuant to these imperial edicts they did their utmost to exterminate Christianity in the Roman Empire, which at that time embraced the known world. The persecutions purified the Church, kept her under the blood, filled with perfect love, robed and ready, and fearless of bloody death.
Pergamus was a large old heathen city, the capital of Phrygia. The conversion of the Emperor Constantine, A.D. 325, wound up all the pagan persecutions, revolutionized the religion of the empire, exchanged the symbols of paganism for those of Christianity, transformed pagan temples into Christian Churches, and filled them with the unregenerate masses of heathen Rome.
Balaam represents the fallen priests who officiated in the Churches, and Balak, the Moabitish king, the Roman rulers, who became nominal Christians, but actual heathens.
Of course, the Churches were filled with idolatry, spiritual fornication, and the Nicolaitan heresy, that sin was inherent in the body, and could not be eliminated, save by death and disintegration. So Pergamus emblematizes the proud and haughty Church of the Constantinian Age, which opened the way for corrupt Catholicism. We see the Church of Thyatira is represented by the harlot Jezebel, who leads the people into fornication. This is the papacy, which is constantly personified by a fallen woman. The harlot Babylon is the uniform symbol of Romanism. Hence, Thyatira is the Roman Catholic Church. She is described as going down into the very depths of Satan.
1. “ Seven Spirits ” means the Holy Ghost, because seven denotes perfection and represents Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Though Sardis was a proud city Church, with a boasted reputation, the Holy Ghost says she was dead, and exhorted her to repent and seek the Lord.
3. “ I will come as a thief.” The thief comes at midnight, when deep sleep falleth upon men, and no one knows when he comes and when he goes. So the wicked, worldly Churches are fast asleep in the arms of a slumbering world, not having the slightest apprehension that the Lord is nigh. But to his faithful bride, He will not come as a thief in the night. Sardis represents the dead mediaeval Church in the days of Wyckliffe, Huss, and Luther, when truly she had a name to live, but was dead.
4. This verse reveals the consolatory fact that there were some sanctified people, even in the dead Church of the Dark Ages. Thomas a Kempis, Archbishop Fenelon, Madame Guyon, and many others shone like luminaries amid that period of spiritual night.
7. Philadelphia is a compound Greek word, which, means brotherly love, and represents the Church of the Lutheran and Wesleyan Reformation.
8. “I place before thee an open door, and no one can shut it.” God used the Reformation to open the door of gospel grace to a world which had groped in darkness a thousand years. He said no one could shut it. So it is still open, and will so remain to the end of time. God used Luther and compeers to restore the long-lost doctrine of justification by the free grace of God in Christ, received and appropriated by faith only, independently of all priestly intervention and manipulation. He used Wesley and his coadjutors to restore to the world the long-lost gospel of entire sanctification in the cleansing blood, administered by the Holy Ghost through faith only. The reader will observe that the Church at Philadelphia has an irreproachable Christian character, like Smyrna, not a solitary charge being adduced against her by the Holy Ghost. This is the glorious Church of the Reformation, which poured floods of light upon the nations, driving back the fogs of Romanism, which had enveloped the world in rayless night a thousand years.
15. We now come to the great and wealthy city Church, Laodicea, flourishing and prosperous in her numerical, popular, influential, and financial resources. She continued to prosper through the oncoming centuries, being honored with the entertainment of a General Conference during the fourth century. Like the city Churches of the present day, she had everything but salvation. God says she was neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. Both cold drinks and hot drinks are palatable and desirable; but tepid, lukewarm drinks nauseate, and are administered by physician to their patients to make them vomit. So God certifies that lukewarm Churches make Him sick at His stomach even unto vomiting. So God vomits them out, and they drop into the bottomless pit. Now, reader, do you know that this Laodicean congregation represents the great Protestant Church of all denominations at the present day, with her hundred millions of members and countless billions of money?
17. She says: “ I am rich, have become very rich. and have no need.” Then God says: “Thou art wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy from me gold, having been purified by the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, and the shame of your nakedness may not appear; and eye-salve, to anoint your eyes, that you may see.”
20. “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” This is God’s appalling description of the fallen churchism of the present day. Because they have wealth, popularity, social position, broad influence, and official promotion in the great councils of a world-wide ecclesiasticism, they are inflated with pride, arrogance, presumption, pomposity, and literally saturated and filled with formality and hypocrisy. God, in the Holiness movement, is now standing at the door, calling them the last time, as the end is nigh, and the Lord is at hand. The gold tried in the fire, which he offers them, is regeneration, sanctified by Holy Ghost fire. This constitutes the true riches. It is lamentable in the extreme that so few people in the dead Churches hear God’s knock, open the door, and get regenerated and sanctified. They are in a most deplorable condition, utterly naked, polluted, wretched, and starving to death. Yet they are so hallucinated by the devil as to think they have need of nothing. Hebrews 3:17; They are fallen carcasses in the wilderness, on which Satan’s buzzards i. e., theaters, dances, circuses, card parties, Church festivals, and all sorts of frolics hold high carnival and play sad havoc. They are so completely chloroformed and hoodwinked by the devil that they are literally led captive at his will; yet so perfectly satisfied with their religion, that they turn with proud disdain from God’s repeated knock at the door through the Holiness movement.
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18