2A.   “THE THINGS WHICH ARE” - The Churches In The World, (2-3)

 

If Revelation 1 fulfills the command of Jesus Christ in Revelation 1.19 to “Write the things which thou hast seen,” and if Revelation chapters 4 through 22 fulfills the command of Jesus Christ in Revelation 1.19 to write also “the things which shall be hereafter,” then it is reasonable to expect Revelation chapters 2 and 3 to fulfill the command of Jesus Christ in Revelation 1.19 to write “the things which are.”

 

It is only fair that I inform you that in these two chapters I will depart from the views and opinions of most commentators to some degree, in the following way: Though each of the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3 are addressed “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus,” “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna,” “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos,” “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira,” “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis,” “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia,” “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans,” the vast majority of conservative commentators assume that these seven letters, which are specifically addressed to the angels of the Churches, are not intended for the angels of the Churches, but are intended for the Churches themselves. I disagree. I am in general agreement with Adam Clarke’s comment on these two chapters, except as I shall point out at the end of his statement that I will now quote: “I must here advertise my readers, 1. That I do not perceive any metaphorical or allegorical meaning in the epistles to these Churches. 2. I consider the Churches as real; and that their spiritual state is here really and literally pointed out; and that they have no reference to the state of the Church of Christ in all ages of the world, as has been imagined; and that the notion of what has been termed the Ephesian state, the Smyrnian state, the Pergamenian state, the Thyatirian state, &c., &c., is unfounded, absurd, and dangerous; and such expositions should not be entertained by any who wish to arrive at a sober and rational knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. 3. I consider the angel of the Church as signifying the messenger, the pastor, sent by Christ and his apostles to teach and edify that Church. 4. I consider what is spoken to this angel as spoken to the whole Church; and that it is not his particular state that is described, but the states of the people in general under his care.”[1]

 

Where I would disagree with Adam Clarke is in his fourth comment. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking to the angels of each of the churches, and that it is his particular state that is described, and that the states of the people in general are not in view. Why do I believe this? I believe this because the New Testament has nine letters written directly to congregations. If the Lord Jesus had wanted to communicate directly to the congregations these seven men pastored He was perfectly capable of speaking more directly than He apparently does. I am convinced that He speaks to the angels of the churches because He is speaking to the angels of the churches, who have already figured prominently in Revelation 1.16 and 20. I also believe that the spiritual condition of the angels will eventually be reflected in their congregations, so that if a pastor leaves his first love his congregation will follow down that same pathway. Thus, strong application can be and should be made to congregations from the seven letters to the angels, while recognizing the original intent of the letters. Jesus is dealing with the seven men He symbolically holds in His right hand.

 

The Lord follows a well defined and definite format in addressing each angel:

(1)  Some feature of the glorified Christ from the vision in chapter one is emphasized in addressing each angel.

(2)  The letters are addressed to the angel of each church.

(3)  He begins by stating to each, “I know thy works.”

(4)  He first gives a commendation, then a condemnation. The exceptions should be noted: there is no word of condemnation to the angel in Smyrna or the angel in Philadelphia; there is no word of commendation to the angel in Laodicea.

(5)  Each letter concludes with the warning, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith. . . .”

 

Now, before we begin to examine the first letter, the letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus, let me read a comment written by John Walvoord that I agree with, by and large:

 

Ecclesiology. A major section and contribution to ecclesiology is found in the opening chapters of Revelation with the incisive letters to the seven churches. Here the emphasis is on practical truth and holy living, in keeping with their relationship to the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Reference to the New Testament church as the ekklesia is found in chapters 4 through 18, but the church as the wife of the Lamb reappears in 19:7-8 and is included in the mention of the apostles in the description of the new Jerusalem, which the church shares with saints of other ages. As in other books of the New Testament, ekklesia, used in a religious sense referring to saints in the Body of Christ, is nowhere found in Revelation from 3:14 to 22:16; rather, the general word hagios (“saint”) is used to include the saved of all ages. This tends to support the concept that the church as the Body of Christ is raptured before events pictured in the book of Revelation beginning in chapter 4. The true church is in contrast to the harlot of chapter 17, and it is to be distinguished from the saints described as Jews or Gentiles. The peculiar hope of the church, in contrast to that of other saints, is alluded to only obliquely and is not the main substance of the revelations in chapters 4 through 19.[2]

 

My disagreement with Walvoord’s comments would have to do with his concept of the doctrine of the church. It is one thing to learn prophecy from a Protestant, but you want to learn your ecclesiology, your doctrine of the church, from a Baptist, and the comment of B. H. Carroll that I now read to you reflects the mainstream Baptist position of his day, as well as my own long held position:

 

My third general observation is based upon Christ’s own uses of the word “church” as found in Matthew and Revelation. There are twenty-three instances of Christ’s using the Greek word ecclesia—church. In Matthew 24:18, he says, “I will build my church.” In Matthew 18:17, he says, “Tell it to the church.” The references in Revelation where he uses the term church or churches are the following: 1:4, 11, 20, and again 20; 2:1, 7-8, 11-12, 17-18, 23, 29; 3:1, 6-7, 13-14, 22; 22:16.

Now here are twenty-three examples of the use of the word ecclesia—church—as spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ himself; and it is evident from a study of these twenty-three instances of the use of the word, that Christ never said anything about an invisible or universal church. His teaching is to the contrary; he does not say the church in Asia, but “the churches in Asia.” He does not use the word church in any provincial sense, or state sense, or national sense, or denominational sense. This is a very convincing exhibit of the uses of the word, as coming from the lips of our Lord, rebuking the contention of many people of the present day who talk about a universal church here on earth, whether visible or invisible.— the New Testament does not know anything about either one. It is true that in 12:1 under the symbol of a woman, also in 17:3, under the symbol of another woman, he presents first the church as an institution and then the apostate church as an institution, and it is equally true that in 19:7-8 he presents the church in glory, under the symbol of a bride, and in 21:9, under the symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem, a city. So that we may say that Christ used the word to describe the time church as an institution, and to name the concrete example of this institution particular churches, and to foreshadow the coming glory church—something which does not yet exist.[3]

 

1B.      Letter To The Angel Of The Church In Ephesus (2.1-7)

 

(2.1-7)       1     Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

2     I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

3     And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

4     Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

5     Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

6     But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7     He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

 

(2.1)    Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

 

1.   Notice the first phrase of verse 1 again. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write.”

 

a.   Folks, we have already shown, and quite conclusively, I might add, that the angels of these 7 churches are human messengers. In all reasonable likelihood, such a man would be described these days as the senior-pastor of the congregation.

 

b.   Will you notice something else? Who is this letter actually addressed to? Who is John asked to write the message to? We read this message and basically apply it to the congregation, according to Revelation 2.7, but this communication is specifically addressed to the angel. Who is sending the letter through John? From what we learned in Revelation 1.12 and 20, the Lord Jesus Christ is sending the message.

 

c.   Let us now learn some things about the city of Ephesus:

 

“It was an inland city 3 mi. from the sea, but the broad mouth of the Cayster River allowed access and provided the greatest harbor in Asia Minor. Four great trade routes went through Ephesus; therefore, it became known as the gateway to Asia. It was the center of the worship of Artemis (Greek), or Diana (Roman), whose temple was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.”[4]

 

Ephesus was the chief city of the province of Asia. . . Pliny called it “the Light of Asia.” It was both the religious and commercial center of that entire area which influenced both east and west—Europe and Asia. The temple of Diana was there which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, being the largest Greek temple ever constructed (418 feet, 1 inch by 239 feet, 4 inches). There were over 100 external columns about 56 feet in height of which 36 were hand carved. It was built over a marsh on an artificial foundation of skins and charcoal so that it was not affected by earthquakes. The doors were of cypress wood; columns and walls were of Parian marble; the staircase was carved out of one vine from Cyprus.

The temple served as the bank of Asia and was the depository of vast sums of money. It was an art gallery displaying the masterpieces of Praxiteles, Phidias, Scopas, and Polycletus. Apelles’ famous painting of Alexander was there. Behind a purple curtain was the lewd and crude image of Diana, the goddess of fertility. She was many breasted, carried a club in one hand and a trident in the other.[5]

 

2.   John was directed to write, “These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand.”

 

a.   Notice the word “holdeth.” It is an interesting word, from the Greek word “kratwn,” that conveys the idea of someone holding on to something with great authority, to hold fast, or to have power over.[6] Our Lord Jesus Christ has such authority, does He not? And what does He hold in His right hand as He walks in the midst of the seven candlesticks? The seven stars.

 

b.   Let us refresh our memories. What are the candlesticks? The candlesticks are the churches. What, then, are the seven stars? The stars are the angels of the churches. Both of these conclusions can be drawn from Revelation 1.20. And what, did we agree, were the angels, supernatural messengers or human beings? Human beings. Pastors.

 

c.   So, Jesus here claims to wield great authority over the lives of those pastors. His great authority was pictured and symbolized by means of a picture in which the pastors were stars that Jesus held in His right hand. Question. What, then, would you say about someone who claimed to be called of God to preach God’s Word and lead God’s people, but who did not appear to have his life held sway over by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose life did not seem to be as one who was held in the Savior’s right hand?

 

d.   We have serious problems in Christendom these days, people. One of two possible reasons are back of the problems, in my estimation. Either the stars have fallen out of Christ’s omnipotent grasp and are no longer controlled by Him, or those guys were never stars in the Master’s right hand in the first place. What do you think the problem is?

 

7.   Concluding, “who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.”

 

a.   Owing to the highly symbolic nature of much of the book of the Revelation, we must take care to discern what is being taught. Mark 16.19, and more than 20 other New Testament passages, indicates that Jesus, after His ascension, sat at the right hand of God the Father on high. Are we to take it from this verse, then, that Jesus is no longer at the Father’s right hand, but is instead moving invisibly among the Churches?  I do not think so. 

 

b.   I think we can all be agreed that the picture here being painted is not an attempt to show the physical location of the Lord Jesus Christ, but to show Him symbolically as the head over all things to these churches, exercising great control over their human leadership, and strongly influencing their ministries. This, in fact, is precisely what the Lord Jesus does.

 



[1]  Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[2]  John Walvoord, The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966), pages 32-33.

[3] B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation Of The English Bible, Volume 6, (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2001), vol 17, pages 40-41.

[4]  See footnote for Revelation 2.1, John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), pages 1993-4.

[5]  J. Vernon McGee, Reveling Through Revelation, Part I, (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Books, 1979), page 19.

[6]  Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 815.

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