The "SEVEN CHURCHES"
A Message to the WHOLE Church - TODAY!
Interestingly, the book of Revelation starts off with a message to the Seven Churches. These form the basis upon which are built all the rest of the messages of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, sent to those who will witness the end of the "Great Controversy" between Christ and Satan and who will "heed the things which are written in it."
The book of "Revelation" is the last warning message to those who will be living close to and at the time of Christ's second coming. It was given and written in order that we might be prepared to "meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thes. 4:17), at His Second Coming. It was given in order that we might not be deceived by the sophistries of Satan. Satan has long hoped that we would not understand the words of this prophecy and that we would be unprepared for the things that are about to transpire upon this earth.
Of special significance is the message to the "Seven Churches". Traditionally, we have been taught that these messages were written to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor and that they referred to the "Seven Churches" that would comprise the Christian church throughout its' time upon this earth. That is, that it consisted of messages to "Seven stages of the Church" throughout history. This is True -- but only in one sense.
It must be recognized that almost ALL of God's Truth's can be interpreted on various levels, and can therefore be comprehended in Different ways depending upon which level you are viewing it from. This is a very important consideration for those who seek to understand the message of the Revelation, as it effects not only our interpretation of the things contained therein, but how it applies to us, individually and corporately, within the context of time.
Unfortunately, most of us have been taught that the messages to the Seven Churches apply only to the Christian Church throughout its existence from the time of the Cross to the time of Christ's Second Coming. This is true in one sense (on one level) but is NOT TRUE in its entirety. And the fact that we have believed it to be true in its entirety has caused us to misunderstand much about the meaning of the messages AND how they apply to the Church today! Let's review what our church teaches about the Seven Churches.
What OUR church (SDA) teaches: First, let me say that if you are anything like me, if you have taken a Revelation Seminar or if you have read any of the books like: "God Cares" by C. Mervyn Maxwell or any other number of books that describe the Seven Churches, you have probably come to understand them as referring to the church in different ages and it has probably gone along the line like this (according to most "Adventist Literature"):
The Church at Ephesus: [As best I can tell, the meaning of the name is: FIRST,or Beginning and is a perfectly suitable name given to the "First" church during this time]. It is "the church of the Apostles and represents God's church of the first century." It is described as the church existing from its inception until 100 A.D. (Taken from "Seminars Unlimited", the Revelation Seminar promoted by our church)-- Lesson 5 p. 3).
The Church at Smyrna: [the meaning of the name, as best I can ascertain, is "Myrrh" -- which was an herb used as a preservative and an odor-killing spice used during burial -- it is thus applied to those within this time frame to "preserve" them in the hour of temptation]. This time period, historically, ran from (100-313 A.D.) and "covers a period of fearful persecution and martyrdom for the church ... the church lived so close to Jesus He gave them no reproof" (Taken from "Seminars Unlimited", the Revelation Seminar -- Lesson 5 p. 3).
The Church at Pergamum: [The meaning of the name means "Citadel" or "height or elevation"]. It traditionally dates from (313-538 A.D.) and "covers the era of state-supported religion and compromise...Pergamos was called Satan's seat (v. 13) because it was the headquarters of Rome's heathen religion. The Lord rebuked the church of this era for allowing false teaching to flourish." (Taken from "Seminars Unlimited", the Revelation Seminar -- Lesson 5 p. 4).
The Church at Thyatira: The name means: "odor of affliction" and is traditionally dated as (538-1400's). It is the longest period of all the seven churches. This period, sometimes called the "Dark Ages", was a time of fearful apostasy and persecution." (Taken from "Seminars Unlimited", the Revelation Seminar -- Lesson 5 p. 4)
The Church at Sardis: the meaning of which is somewhat obscure but is believed to mean "Red Ones". It is traditionally taught to be the church that existed from about 1500 through mid 1700's. It "covers the crucial period of reformation, when Spirit filled men shook the world by testing Christian beliefs by God's Word." (Taken from "Seminars Unlimited", the Revelation Seminar promoted by our church)-- Lesson 5 p. 5)
The Church at Philadelphia: Literally means "the love of brethren" and is typical of those who are accepting of each other - even amidst trial and struggle. Traditionally, this church is described as existing from about the (mid 1700's to mid 1800's), and is looked upon as "the era of the birth and expansion of foreign missions and the American and British Bible Societies. Missionaries encircled the world." (Taken from "Seminars Unlimited", the Revelation Seminar -- Lesson 5 p. 6)
The Church at Laodicea: INTERESTINGLY; the NAME of the this church DOES NOT mean "Lukewarm" (as many people seem to believe), instead, it literally means "JUDGING THE PEOPLE" or a time of judgment for the people of God. Traditionally, it has been considered as the church that exists from the 1850's until Jesus comes. This church is described as being "Lukewarm" and this is the predominate nature of this church. Note: this condition is alarming. Nothing is worse than for me to think I am in harmony with God's Will when, instead, I am desperately in need of repentance (Verse 19). Many, seemingly devout people, will be lost in the final judgment for the simple reason that they treated this message lightly and seemed to feel no need for reform. Many will be LOST from this church while believing that they deserve salvation -- See Matthew 7:21-23. (loosely paraphrased from "Seminars Unlimited", the Revelation Seminar -- Lesson 5 p. 7)
Let me say that what our Church is teaching here is NOT wrong -- it is merely incomplete -- and it leaves you with the idea that this is all there is to these messages and that there is nothing more to be gleaned from it. This is not the whole truth. Let's see why.
If we believe that the Seven Churches' messages are only to be considered sequentially, then we are almost duty-bound to believe something like this: since the last church is Laodicea, then the message to Laodicea is the ONLY MESSAGE that actually applies to the church today. Consequently, it would be logical to assume that Laodicea must be the church that gives the final warning message of Revelation 14 (the "three Angel's messages) to this dying world! But this church is described not only as being "Lukewarm", but as being poor, blind, wretched, and naked! It is also described as about to be "spit out of my mouth" by the Lord. How can a church in such a deplorable condition be the instrument through which God vindicates Himself and His people? The answer inevitably must be that the church is going to heed the counsel given it, repent and reform, and eventually produce the good works God intends it to and come out victorious. It is even taught that the very special group of the 144,000 are going to emerge from this "last church" -- Laodicea. Nothing could be further from the Truth and it is nothing short of wishful thinking to teach such a thing! It is simply NOT TRUE and we are very much deceived in believing it to be so -- and, in fact, this belief has kept us in a state of "Lukewarmness" and has inhibited us from making any of the changes that are necessary to avoid the terrible fate of Laodicea.
Others teach that the "Church" must revert back to the state of the Philadelphia Church in order to become the "Virgin Bride of Christ" and fulfill its mission. That they will cease to be lukewarm and that they will allow Christ to reproduce His Character in them that they might stand "perfect" and "without guile" (Rev. 14:5 KJV) before the Lord, and the World, during the closing scenes of the Great Controversy here on this earth. OR that the Philadelphia Church will rise up again during the time of the Laodicean Church (or closely following it. It is taught that this must be the case since the Philadelphia Church is the one upon whom will be written a "new name" (Rev. 3:12). But notice that the Church of Pergumum is also promised a "new name (Rev. 2:17) if they will heed the Lord's rebuke and counsel! How can this be? And IF the messages to the Seven Churches are truly sequential, then either Philadelphia has been placed in the wrong order (somehow I don't believe that our Lord would make such a mistake!) or, Philadelphia is going to be an EIGHTH CHURCH by rising to prominence once again. Again, this is not a Biblical proposition and defies all the rules of Biblical Hermeneutics and exegesis.
These are some of the problems we are bound to run into if we consider the messages to the Seven Churches as being sequential in time only! Either Laodicea becomes "Hot" (something that the Scriptures do not indicate) or the Philadelphia church is in the WRONG position. But neither of these positions make any real sense do they? No, there must be more to these messages than that which we have been "taught" to believe -- and the purely "sequential" order of these messages cannot be correct. I believe that this can be proven Biblically.
First, there is no indication that these "Letters" (to the Seven Churches) were sent by John to these individual churches as separate letters. In fact, there is every indication that these letters were sent in the form of the WHOLE BOOK of Revelation. In Revelation 1:11 John is instructed to, "Write in a book" what he saw in vision and to, "send it to the seven churches." So, these Letters to the churches were not sent out as "letters" but as a message to the whole church; and contained not only ALL the letters but the whole of the Revelation. The church at Ephesus did not receive one letter and the church at Smyrna another and on down the line. This would have been totally confusing, especially when you consider the fact that ALL the letters contain the command to "hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (plural). If the church at Thyatira didn't have access to what was said to the church at Ephesus, then how could they possibly consider "what the Spirit says to the churches"? It would have been nonsensical. No, ALL THE CHURCHES had the whole of the letters and could understand what was being said to "the Churches" -- or, more precisely, to the "CHURCH" as a WHOLE. The idea that these letters were sent out sequentially on some sort of postal mailing route is nonsense (or, at best, mere coincidence).
Secondly, EACH of these churches must have been able to understand what was being said to (and about) each of the other churches. In other words, the church at Smyrna did not have to WAIT until the message to the church at Ephesus was fulfilled in order to understand the message that had been sent to them! The church at Laodicea did not have to wait until all the other messages came to pass in order to understand what was being said to it! The messages had to have RELEVANCE and meaning to each of the churches at the time that they received the "Revelation". The messages also must have been understood as referring to the Church as a WHOLE and not simply 7 individual parts, for they were commanded to hear and understand what was being said to the ALL of the churches. In the command itself is the implicit reference to the WHOLE! So each of these churches would not only be able to understand what was being said "to them" (as a part of the church) but also what was being said about the church as a whole. They would have had to be able to draw parallels from the conditions existing at EACH of the churches and understand how the warnings and counsels applied to the Church as a whole body. They would never conclude that there were seven individual Christian churches involved here. They would have understood the significance of the number "Seven" as a number of completeness and, consequently, understood that the messages to the "Seven" churches were really A MESSAGE to the church as a whole -- comprising and inclusive of every believer within the church of Christ.
Thirdly, if the messages to the Seven Churches are truly, and only sequential, that is, if they can only be considered in a sequential historical manner; then how in the world could each of the Churches identify and understand which church they were and heed the counsel specifically given to them? In other words, how would the Church of Pergamum understand that, somewhere around 313 A.D., they were no longer considered the Church of Smyrna and should heed a different counsel than the one given to Smyrna? How would ANY OF THE CHURCHES (with the possible exception of the First and Last) know WHEN they became the Church that was being addressed at that time? It would have been nearly impossible for these "Churches" to recognize their place and time in history -- except from the vantage point of hindsight (such as WE have)! And if this is the case, and it most assuredly is, then HOW could each of these "Historical" churches have ever been able to see their own condition and heed the specific counsel given it?! If the messages to the Seven Churches are purely and historically sequential only, then the Messages given in them would be practically useless! If the Churches could only understand the messages (or identify which Church they were) from the standpoint of hindsight, then there would be no meaning or validity to the warnings and counsel contained within the messages to each of the Churches -- It would be TOO LATE! And since EACH of the Churches is instructed to "Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches", then how in the world could we expect the Church of Ephesus, the First Century Church, to be able to understand the message to the Church of Philadelphia that would only be applicable to the Church 1700 years in the future? No, the messages to the Seven Churches had to be understood by the Seven Churches in Asia Minor, during the time of the Apostle John's writing, as a message to the Whole Church of Christ and not as messages meant only for each specific Church -- or as messages relating to the Church in a sequential order throughout history.
What was true for the church at the turn of the 1st century is also true for the church at the turn of the 21st century. The messages to the "Seven Churches" are "A MESSAGE" to the church as a whole and simply must be considered in that context. The church in John's day understood the significance of the number SEVEN and understood that it is the number of completeness or wholeness -- something that WE ought to be more cognizant of. Indeed, if we would have been more savvy about the significance of the number "SEVEN" (in terms of its "All-inclusive" nature) we would also have understood that the "Seven Spirits" of Revelation 1:4 is really a reference to "The Holy Spirit" of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and NOT seven literal, individual spirits (see Zech. 3:9; 4:10; 2 Chron. 16:9; Prov. 15:3 and Rev. 4:5!). No, the messages to the Seven Churches is actually a message to all of the groups that characterize and make up the whole church. And we MUST UNDERSTAND THEM AS SUCH if we are going to understand what the Lord is trying to tell us about our condition TODAY -- and what is GOING TO HAPPEN if we do not heed His Counsel! There is a message for every single believer contained in the messages to the Seven Churches. No one is left out. But WHERE YOU ARE and what you must do in response to the Lord's counsel is a matter of the utmost importance if you desire to be found Faithful at last. And in order for that to happen, we will each need to be able to identify which Church we belong to and which message applies to our spiritual condition!
First, I want to reiterate the fact that the BIBLE teaches; "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near (Rev. 1:3). This setting of the "TIME" being "near" is a direct reference to verse 7 where we are told; "BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen." In other words the blessing is, in a very special way, for those who are going to be living at the time of Christ's Second Coming. In this context, it might be argued that the messages to the Churches ARE INDEED HISTORICAL and SEQUENTIAL and that the WE, who are living at the end of time, would be the only ones that could completely understand what the Angel says to the "CHURCHES". In other words, only WE would be able to "LOOK BACK" and "SEE" how the messages applied to the Christian Church throughout history. I believe that from the Historical and Sequential standpoint this is TRUE and shows that the "Historical" viewpoint is NOT INCORRECT. However, I contend that the book of Revelation has never been a "SEALED" book (unlike the book of Daniel) and that the messages themselves (with the exception of the Laodicean message) effectively become irrelevant to us and serve no real purpose if they are considered ONLY from the Historical point of view. In addition, as pointed out earlier, the messages become almost totally irrelevant to any of the Churches that did not have the benefit of historical hindsight. So, while the Historical viewpoint is VALID, it cannot possibly be the only vantage point from which to consider these messages! In other words, the messages to the Seven Churches MUST HAVE a DUAL APPLICATION -- one Historical, and one as having meaning and application to the Church as a WHOLE throughout ALL OF THE NEW TESTAMENT PERIOD. I believe that the messages to the Seven Churches have even more than a "Dual Application" (or separate applications) -- I believe they have a JOINT application. Which means that ALL the messages to the Seven Churches need to be understood by those of us who are living in this day as APPLICABLE TO US TODAY as well as Historically.
I believe that the "HISTORICAL" aspect of the messages applies to the overall predominate characteristics of the Church at that time but that the messages also speak to the varying factions within the church (in other words, Laodicea may be understood as the PREDOMINATE NATURE of the Church just prior to Christ's Second Coming but that there are those within its' fellowship which actually belong to the groups described in the messages to the other churches). While the message to the church at Ephesus may describe the predominate nature of the Church at the time of John's writing, there were, no doubt, members from the church of Philadelphia or Thyratira or Laodicea within its fellowship as well! And the same would hold true for the Laodicean Church at the end of time -- it's predominate nature is that of being "Lukewarm", however, within the Church (as a whole) there are those who belong to the Church of Ephesus or the Church of Philadelphia, etc. Consequently, the "messages" must be understood as "a message" to the WHOLE CHURCH existing just prior to His Second Coming, and ALL SEVEN of the messages should be considered as speaking directly to the Church TODAY.
Indeed, in a very special sense, it is within this "END-TIME" context that John is told: "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea" (v. 11). Seventh-day Adventists, of all people, ought to understand the significance of the setting which John describes in verses 12-19 as occurring within the SANCTUARY and are directly connected with the work of Atonement -- and more specifically, the "DAY OF ATONEMENT". This is a Judgment setting (as is evidenced by the context of the messages themselves and by their connection with His Second coming), and this places ALL off their primary relevance squarely at the End of Time! It is within THIS SETTING that the messages to ALL of the seven churches are given and should be especially understood.
The Message to the Church:
Jesus Christ explains some of the symbolism which John is viewing as he is told to write these messages to the Church: "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels [or "Messenger's"] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (Rev. 1:20).
The "angels" [or "messenger's", must refer to the leadership of the Church because the "messages" themselves are given to, or directed at, the "Angel" of each of the Churches. If we take the title of "Angels" literally to mean "an Angel", then we would have to conclude that these letters are addressed to 7 literal Angels and that makes no sense at all. The word "Angels" here can mean nothing else than "messengers", or the "Leadership" of the churches; and by extension the whole of the church corporately. The "messages" to the angels of the seven churches are messages particularly addressed to the leadership of the church as a whole (from which the membership of the church draws its inspiration and "state-of-being"). But the messages are NOT just for the Leadership (the "Angels" or the "Stars") but for the Church Body (the "Lampstands") as well. The messages are for the Church, as a whole and AT THIS TIME, and must be considered as such.
I dare say that this ought to give the leaders of our Church today MORE than just a little cause for pause! I believe that each of our leaders/pastors etc., ought to be examining themselves and determining to which CHURCH they belong (and are encouraging and leading) and should be taking action accordingly! I should also say that just because the messages are addressed to the "Leaders" of the Church doesn't mean that all of these "Leaders" actually hold an official "Office" within the denomination. There are MANY influential people out there who can, and MUST BE, considered "Leaders" for they have many people following them and hanging on their every word. In the book "The Acts of the Apostles", Ellen White says: "These words are spoken to the teachers of the church--those entrusted by God with weighty responsibilities" (p. 586:3). Just a few sentences further she says: "So with His Ministers." So the messages are directed to "Teachers" within the church, as well as "Ministers". This does not mean that these messages are NOT for the individual members, or laity, of the church -- they most certainly ARE -- for EACH of us has a RESPONSIBILITY to search the Scriptures for ourselves and will ultimately be held responsible for the decisions we make, and the things that we have believed and accepted!
Because we have NOT considered ALL OF THESE MESSAGES as being applicable to the CHURCH TODAY, we have had a very INCOMPLETE understanding of their message to the CHURCH TODAY -- and this has caused us to believe some very strange things (e.g. that the "Laodicean" church is going to somehow "REFORM" and give the "LOUD CRY" message of Revelation 18 to the world! This simply is not going to happen!). Neither is it true that the WHOLE Church is going to "REVERT BACK" to, or "BECOME" the "Philadelphian" church once again! And the reason why many are mistakenly teaching these things is because we have failed to understand that the messages to the "Seven Churches" are really a message given to the "ONE TRUE CHURCH" of Christ at the end of time; and are messages to the various factions (different groups of believers in different "states" of belief and experience) that make up His church at this time.
I am NOT going to go through everything that the SDA Church teaches about the Seven Churches -- regarding their representation of the Sequential nature of the Church throughout New Testament times. There is PLENTY of literature available on this view of the Seven Churches. If you are unfamiliar with this view, then I would suggest that you pick up any number of books that deal with our current teaching on the subject, such as: "God Cares" vol. 2, by C. Mervyn Maxwell; or "Daniel And The Revelation" by Uriah Smith. What I wish to look at is the significance" of the messages to ALL the churches (since they - ALL 7) make up the a very distinct message directed by Christ to His "Whole" church today.
So, as we consider what the messages to the Churches have to say to us TODAY, look around you. What type of church do you belong to? What is the predominate nature of your church? What is your Pastor like? How is he leading and directing your church? What is the predominate nature of your church? And as you look around consider where YOU fit in. Are you among those that make up the predominate nature of your church? Can you identify other members as belonging to another (or different) group? What is the message that YOUR CHURCH needs to heed? And what is the message that YOU NEED TO HEED?
I should note that I am looking at these messages primarily from the standpoint of the North American church (particularly the United states) as this is the church that I have the most personal knowledge of. From this perspective, MY VIEWS may not be representative of the WORLD WIDE CHURCH and adjustments should be made accordingly. It is up to each of us to understand these messages as best we can within the context of our own experience and knowledge of the church. For instance, the Church at Smyna is said to suffer persecution and imprisonment. This isn't happening so much from outside sources here within the United States right now (it will happen in the near future)- but it is happening to peoples in many other areas of the world, especially in third-world countries (at this moment). So one can see that the message has application to more than one narrow view and should be considered from several levels. It is not within the scope of this study to cover ALL ASPECTS of the messages and their application -- so personal study is absolutely necessary if you are to understand these messages in your area.
The Message to the Church of EPHESUS:
REV. 2:1-7: "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. 'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 'Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent. 'Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.'
That this message (to the people comprising Ephesus) is set within the context of the Heavenly Sanctuary is unmistakable. Christ is seen walking "among the seven golden lampstands" -- which is an unmistakable reference to the First apartment ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. However, that it goes beyond His first apartment ministry and into His Second Apartment ministry (in the Holy of Holies) is evidenced by the fact that Christ says: "I am coming to you (reference to His "Second Coming"?) and by the fact that He indicates that if these people do NOT "repent", that He will "remove your lampstand" out of its place" (language indicative of final Judgment). If Jesus words to Ephesus ONLY APPLIED to the "First Century" church of the Apostles, wouldn't this seem like a very strange threat? If this message is only to be applied to the first-century church (Apostles included) then I must conclude that this "whole church" of Ephesus was in danger of losing their salvation and that even the Apostles were in need of "Repentance." That doesn't sound very likely to me (even though it must have certainly been true that SOME of that first-century church were, in fact, in need of repentance). The message, however, concludes with a "promise that the people in Ephesus who DO REPENT and "OVERCOME" will be granted to eat of the "tree of life (something that is only to be granted to those that are "Judged" worthy and are found "Saved in Christ" at His Second Coming).
This people (the people comprising Ephesus) ARE praised for doing "GOOD DEEDS" and for their "TOIL and PERSEVERANCE". Historically, the church at Ephesus comprised the "EARLY CHURCH" which was founded at the Cross and then met with unparalleled success as they witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. This church, very pure at first, was successful in evangelizing the whole world (at that time). They are also characterized by their unwillingness to "endure evil men" and for "Testing" those "call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false." These are OBVIOUSLY people who have ACCEPTED Christ in full and who have been very ZEALOUS in following Him. Their TRUE CONVERSION is evidenced by the fact that Christ calls for them to return to their "first love (or initial experience) -- you cannot "RETURN" to something that you have not initially experienced! These are people who BELIEVE in Christ and who will not tolerate false teachers and who were VERY FOCUSED on producing GOOD WORKS! Unfortunately, these were the very same people who started looking at their "FOUNDERS" (the Apostles and others) as being their God - or RULE OF FAITH (this is evidenced in Paul's message to the Galatians, Ephesians, and in 1 Cor. 3:1-9). The focus of the original church (and the original experience of these believers) shifted to works and not faith. Unfortunately, this is a very easy mistake to fall into.
It is interesting to consider that this group of people is said to "hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans. This is a HARD group to understand, as we have very little information about them. Some say that the Nicolaitians were a group of people that followed the disciple Nicolas (one of the "seven", see Acts 6:3,5) after he fell away from the faith -- however, there is NO EVIDENCE that Nicolas ever fell away or that he drew a following after himself. The NAME "Nicolatians" may give us some clue as it is believed to mean: "conqueror of the people". Some believe that it refers to the toleration of "acts of immorality" -- but since this name is used in conjunction with the name of Balaam (meaning "destroyer of the people") and Balaam is connected directly with the sin of "immorality" and "fornication" (see Rev. 2:14) it is doubtful to me that the "Nicolaitians" referred to here has to do with sexual immorality but that it has to do with a more Biblical definition of fornication and harlotry, which is idolatry and false doctrine or false teaching (see Hos. 4:12 cf. Rev. 17:4). The Ephesians were praised for NOT accepting the many false doctrines which were attempting to be brought in to their faith.
To me, this sounds like the kind of people that you will find at many of our Self-Supporting Institutions and Independent Ministries doesn't it? Or by the many ultra conservative Christians that can be found throughout our denomination. These are people who have initially accepted the "Good News" (The Gospel of Christ) and have desired to follow Him very earnestly! Unfortunately, they have become embroiled in "GOOD WORKS" and "SEPARATISM" (not "enduring evil men") and have LOST THEIR FOCUS ON CHRIST. Things, and Works, and Rules have replaced their Love for Christ and have become their passion. This is a very subtle "leaving of Christ" and many of them are unaware that they have actually done it! They are obsessed with making sure that they follow "ALL THE RULES" and that they "DO EVERYTHING PRECISELY RIGHT" and have inadvertently replaced CHRIST with these things as a means for their salvation. They are counseled to "REPENT" and return to their "First love" -- their Love for Christ and a RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. The danger, if they do not do this, is that they may lose their Salvation altogether. They have lost sight of the fact that: "For by grace are your saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). The "first works for which they are called to do is the work of the acceptance of the person of Christ and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS as the means of our Salvation. They are called to return to an emphasis on "Righteousness by faith -- the faith of Christ!
Please don't get me wrong here. I am not trying to cut-down our self-supporting, independent ministries, or our conservative constituency. Nor am I condemning all the people involved in these organizations. Many of these people exhibit a zeal that I can only wish that the rest of us had. My point is, however, that many of these sincere Christians have lost their focus on CHRIST (even though they speak about Him often) and have become embroiled in a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) form of LEGALISM and are condemned, not by ME, but by themselves and by Christ Himself. It is SOOOO EASY to fall into the trap of believing that "if we DO everything we are told to do", that we will be "Saved" by doing, and not by believing "in Him", in whom IS ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS. We will NEVER be saved by "OUR OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS (good works), but by HIM in whom we "have righteousness." The early church fell into this trap and so did the early Seventh-day Adventists (many, like Elder Butler, became so embroiled in the "LAW" that they could not understand the Righteousness of Christ as REVEALED in that Law) and the same holds true for us today. Many of us have become so concerned about "how we dress" or "how we eat" or "how we speak" or "what we do on the Sabbath" that the freedom that we SHOULD have "IN CHRIST" is lost to the "THINGS" that we perceive we should be "DOING". Consider what we have been told:
“The effort to earn salvation by one’s own works inevitably leads men to pile up human exactions as a barrier against sin. For, seeing that they fail to keep the law, they will devise rules and regulations of their own to force themselves to obey. All this turns the mind from God to self” (MB p. 123).
We are also told that:
"“The Christian’s life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature” (DA p. 172).
“There are those who profess to serve God, while they rely upon their own efforts to obey His law, to form a right character, and secure salvation. Their hearts are not moved by any deep sense of the love of Christ, but they seek to perform the duties of the Christian life as that which God requires of them in order to gain heaven. Such religion is worth nothing. When Christ dwells in the heart, the soul will be so filled with His love, with the joy of communion with Him, that it will cleave to Him; and in the contemplation of Him, self will be forgotten. Love to Christ will be the spring of action . . . A profession of Christ without this deep love is mere talk, dry formality, and heavy drudgery” (SC p. 44, par. 2).
“He who is trying to become holy by his own works in keeping the Law, is attempting an impossibility . . . It is the grace of Christ alone, through faith that can make us holy . . . Obedience is not a mere outward compliance, but the sservice of love . . . the service and allegiance of love -- is the true sign of discipleship . . . it is faith, and faith only that makes us partakers of the grace of Christ, which enables us to render obedience. We do not earn our salvation by our obedience; for salvation is the free gift of God, to be received by faith . . . obedience is the fruit of faith” (SC p. 60,61).
“It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them . . . Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness” (SC p. 18).
“ . . . the one who depends upon his own wisdom and power is separating himself from God. Instead of working in unison with Christ, he is fulfilling the purpose of the enemy of God and man” (DA p. 209).
Remember that there will be many people who will feel that their good works will entitle them to the Kingdom of Heaven and will be turned away with the words "I never knew you" (see Mat. 7:22-23). May God help us to "REPENT" of this attitude and return our focus to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ -- and on HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, not our own.
The Church of Ephesus is made up of people that have been TRULY CONVERTED and who have loved Christ with all their heart. They have attempted to preserve the purity of the their faith but have inadvertently slipped into a form of LEGALISM and have lost their focus, Love, and FAITH in CHRIST. They believe in keeping the Commandments of Christ, but they have fallen into the pit of trying to keep them in their own strength! They are not interested in any "New Light" because they believe we already have ALL that we need and are going to have -- and they resist any attempts to bring in New Light as suspect, and belonging to the "False Teaching" and "False Doctrines" of the Nicolaitans. They are very suspect of anyone who might express a different way of looking at things. They must RETURN to their original LOVE FOR CHRIST (and for their Brethren & the fallen world) if they are to have any hope of being saved at last. I believe that many of the people who believe that they are part of the group that makes up the Church of Philadelphia today, actually are of this Church of Ephesus. I will explain why when we examine the Church of Philadelphia.
The Message to the Church of SMYRNA:
Rev 2:8-11 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 'Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.'
HISTORICALLY the Church at Smyna represents the church in the age immediately following the age of the Apostles. These are peoples who have seen the death of the Apostles and have been forced to "Carry-on" without them. They have also suffered from the persecution of those who "say" that they are "Christian" (or Jews - see Gal. 3:26-29) but are NOT! These so-called "Christians" have piled up all sort of REGULATIONS upon these "Christians in Christ" and have ENFORCED their beliefs with penalties and imprisonment. They have tried to extract an obedience which is NOT OF FAITH but which is "OF THE LAW" alone. There is NO true Christian faith in this kind of experience and the Smyrna church is called upon to be TRIED for their faith -- to see if it is the genuine article or not. This means persecution, and many of these peoples suffered for their faith (just as many at the very end of time will suffer for their faith).
Today, we see many people within the fellowship of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that are sincere and humble followers of Christ. Many of these people are "poor (by the World's standard) but are Rich in the eyes of Christ. I have known MANY people like this in the Church. They don't have much material possessions and some are just plain poor. Others don't have much materially (I am one of these people); their houses are MODEST and so are their cloths and their cars. They may seem like they don't have much to offer us or that we would consider to be the kind of life that we would want. But they DO HAVE a walk with Christ that is enviable. They are the kind of people that are always very humble (and don't draw attention to themselves), but if you get to know them you will find that they have an experience and a wisdom that is worth more than gold. These have often been the kind of people that I have come to respect and admire the most within our Church.
Unfortunately, many of these same loving Christians are often assailed and criticized by the more "affluent" members and are "looked-down-upon" as being of little worth. They are often NOT put into any "positions" in the church and much pressure is often put on them to "get with the program." They are indeed "tested and persecuted by those who say they are Christians but who are not. The Devil OFTEN brings to bear on these humble people a life of "imprisonment" (non-inclusion and shunning) and they are often left only with their personal relationship with Christ for their comfort and companionship. But the Lord assures them that this "Trial" is only for a SHORT TIME and that they should not "Fear" what others say or do to them. If they are FAITHFUL, and hold fast to their relationship with CHRIST, they will be victorious and will be honored by Him (both NOW and in the end). These are a wonderful group of people who need not be discouraged by what others may say or think, but should just keep on serving the Lord in meekness and humility and steadfastness. May the Lord help us to SEE the VALUE of these wonderful people and to be more like them!
I can assure you that this IS THE EXPERIENCE of many who are in our church today. These same humble people are also often pounced upon by well-meaning but deceived people within the Church that are always ready to lay some other burden upon these members. They are told that they "ought to be doing this, or ought to be doing that and the message they are given is that they are NOT really Seventh-day Adventists until they come up to every standard and "Do" what everyone else thinks they are "supposed" to be doing. If you are trying to reform your diet - there is always someone who has a more STRICT diet to lay upon you. If you are seeking to find what the Lord wants YOU to do - there are always people out there who are urging you to do something else. In fact, there are SO MANY people out there trying to tell you what you "SHOULD" be doing that you begin to wonder if Christianity is anything but a burden. It can be a miserable experience. It happened to ME! Thankfully, in my experience, it was balanced out by people who "KNEW that an experience with the person of JESUS outweighed any "Things that I might do". I am here to tell you that if you are trying to get into heaven by any works, or reforms of your own that you are trying the impossible! We are saved by the merits of Christ ALONE and, although we may suffer opposition and persecution -- we are to hold fast to the JOY we have found in Christ and be satisfied by that alone. Let CHRIST lead you, step-by-step, and follow His leading with unswerving perseverance, and you will find that His burden is easy and His yoke is light.
The Message to the Church of PERGAMUM:
Rev. 2:12-17 "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: 'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells ["Antipas" literally means: "a Christian" and the person of Antipas was a martyr who resisted "Emperor worship" and the worship of "Asklepios", who was the "Healing God of Pergamum" -- interestingly, the "SIGN" of Asklepios was the "SNAKE", or Serpent, and can be readily seen by anyone today as the symbol of the Medical Community today]. 'But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. 'So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.'"
Historically the church of Pergamum was the church existing during the shift to Roman domination (Theologically). This was a time in which MANY false doctrines were introduced into the church and which led many astray from a "pure and simple faith in Christ. The counsel to this church is to REPENT and, by so doing, to receive of "The Hidden Manna" (a direct reference to Christ - see Jn. 6:31-35, 48-50) and to receive a "White Stone" (a symbol of purity) and a "NEW NAME" (hmmm...a "new name" ... more on this later). This was a church (people) who had to combat the tide of public opinion and religious/political pressure put on them to give up their faith in Christ! Many paid dearly for this privilege. And many gave us an outstanding example of what we should do in the face of such pressure.
Since this church is said to dwell "where Satan's seat is", and Satan's seat Scripturally (during the time of the Seven Churches) is that of Rome; we can expect that this church is suffering from (and must battle against) many of the things that have come out of the Roman Church. Today, in the United States (and elsewhere) there are many Church Leaders, pastors, elders, teachers and members, who think nothing wrong about attending church on the Sabbath and then heading directly to a restaurant for their noon meal. Many leaders and members think nothing about attending movies or their children's baseball games on Friday evening. In short, many people within the Church have practically no regard, and certainly no reverence for the Sabbath. Might not these people represent those who have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who have been truly converted by its' message BUT who have conformed to the pressures of the government, their own employer's, their family members, or their fellow church leaders and members? I have heard about people who, on the Sabbath of their baptism, were then taken out to dinner to celebrate -- by other church members! What kind of message does that send to people? Might this group of people also include those who believe that they should keep the Sabbath, but who justify their working on the Sabbath because of some outside requirement! Might these people be those who give-in to the "PRESSURES THAT BE" in order to maintain their "LIVING and support their families? Aren't there many churches where the requirements of God are taken lightly or completely ignored?
This Church is further implicated as holding the "doctrine of Balaam" (a clear reference to festive activities and immorality -- see Num. 31:15,16 and Duet. 4:3) and for holding the "doctrine of the Nicolaitanes". This is a further implication of these people having "loosened" the standards and accepted the ways of the world in areas like dress, movies, recreational activities, and more. Sexual promiscuity and pornography is NOT a rare thing for many Pastors or Lay Members. In short, many of these people are Christians in NAME ONLY and are only "playing church" in order to give the appearance that they are "Good Christian People". Christ's warning to them is STRONG: "Repent; or else I will come quickly to you , and will make war with them with the sword of my mouth" (they will be JUDGED by His Word, and will have NO EXCUSE).
But Christ does have TRUE FOLLOWERS within these Churches also who have held "fast my name, and have not denied my faith". To them, AS WELL AS TO THOSE WHO HEED HIS WARNING AND REPENT ("him who overcomes"), the promise is given that they will be fed with the hidden manna (discernment of the deeper things of Christ) and will receive a "white stone" (a symbol of purity) and will receive a "new name". I believe that SOME of the people in this church will heed the Lord's Counsel and will be part of the 144,000. We are told that those who stand closest to the Throne will be those who once were the most zealous in the causes of Satan but who have separated from him and overcome through their faith in Christ. This "proximity" to the Throne and the fact that they receive a "new name" gives plausibility to their being able to be part of the select group of people who will be alive at the Lord's Coming (the 144,000). But this will only be a REALITY for those who have "held fast My name, and have not denied my faith" and those who, although they may have become embroiled in an overly permissive theology, have "REPENTED" and returned to the purity of the Faith of Christ.
The Message to the Church of THYATIRA:
Rev. 2:18-29 "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: 'I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. 'But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 'I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 'Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 'And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. 'But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them--I place no other burden on you. 'Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 'He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end (sounds like those who "Keep my commandments and the Faith of Jesus", doesn't it?), TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
Historically, the church of Thyatira has been considered that church existing during the long period of the Dark Ages (from about 538 to the 1500's) and are categorized by their idolatry and immorality. That is, they "compromised their genuine belief in Jesus for that which was commonly taught by the religious community (or Church Leadership)! These are peoples who caved-in to the pressures of society and the Church and who sacrificed principle for the expedience of the moment (whether that was for their very life itself or their ability to provide for their families).
This church is described as "love and faith and service and perseverance". But they are also described as "tolerating the woman Jezebel" who "teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols". I believe that this is a startlingly accurate description of many of our "Celebration Churches! These are people who place a great deal of emphasis on Love and Faith and who are very active in service but who have completely abandoned Biblical standards for reverence and Godly deportment. Please don't get me wrong here; there are a great many of our churches that NEED to do more CELEBRATING because they have become very dry and formal and lifeless. I am not condemning REAL PRAISE and WORSHIP! I am only stating the fact that too many of our churches are heading off the deep end on this aspect and have gotten to the point where, when they go to church, they are really attending a big PARTY and NOT a service of WORSHIP. They would rather be entertained than instructed! The reference to tolerating Jezebel "who calls herself a prophet" could imply that they have abandoned the TRUE PROPHETS (including Ellen White) in favor of a seemingly more "Liberating theology and experience. The emphasis is on FEELING and NOT on TRUE FAITH. They are full of COMPROMISE in order to fit in more with the world's standards and gain the acceptance of non-believers, AND to gain prosperity in their businesses and lives. The Bible says that "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." (Eccl. 8:11). The passage of TIME often effects how we view things -- even the "Truth". As time goes by and we do NOT SEE the things that we expect to see happening, our FAITH in those things diminishes -- and we are more apt to accept the current views of things and the views of those who are threatening us. This is the case for the people of Thyratira. There are MANY of us who may be classified as in THYRATIRA today!
How many of us TODAY have looked at the Three Angels Messages, the Sabbath,the Investigative Judgment, the Loud Cry, and other IMPORTANT TRUTHS; and have begun to DOUBT these things? How many of us have begun to accept what the WORLD (and even what some of our own Church) teaches about these things as being irrelevant and not important to us today? How many of us have accepted the teachings of Satan and have come to view the things our Church teaches as unimportant and meaningless today and in need of reform? How many of us have united with the world and have let the things of God become "Irrelevant"? How many of us today are taught from the Pulpit that it is only what you "feel" that is important and that what the Bible says is really of no significance? How many of us have come to look only to our "Ministers" and our "Church Leadership" for our direction, instead of searching the Scriptures for OURSELVES and allowing GOD's WORD to guide and direct in our lives? How many of us have let the pressures of our daily lives influence and direct our course, instead of the Word of God do this for us? How much compromise have YOU allowed into your Spiritual experience with Christ?
Christ's message to the church of Thyatira is startling and severe. He says that He will bring "pestilence" and "great tribulation" upon her (those in Thyatira who have fallen for a theology that "CELEBRATES" but will not, from the heart, "REFORM"). These people are in for a tremendous disappointment, and a rude awakening when this world REALLY FALLS APART and Satan is allowed to persecute and destroy in a manner that exceeds even our greatest imagination. They will NEVER stand the test when that time comes, and they will be quick to change sides in order to protect their material possessions and to preserve their lives. Their "Faith" will be found to be based only on their "Feelings" and it will fail them when they need it the most.
There ARE those within these fellowships (as is true for almost all fellowships) that are sincere and "do NOT hold this teaching" and "have not known the deep things of Satan". They have been hurt, not only by the things they have seen but also because they have not been FED on the Word of God. They will have had to dig into His Word for themselves in order to see and obey the Truth. Christ tells them: "what you have, hold fast until I come" -- and His promise is that "he who overcomes and he who keeps MY deeds until the end" (sounds like those who are described as those who "keep my commandments and the Faith of Jesus", doesn't it?), "To him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall RULE them..."
This is GOOD news! Not everyone in Thyatira is deceived or falls in with the crowd. And the Lord's Counsel and Promise indicates that those who are faithful and overcome will RULE WITH HIM -- another indication that members of this church (and not just the church of Philadelphia) can be part of the group that makes up that special group of the 144,000!
The Message to the Church at SARDIS:
Rev. 3:1-6 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 'So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 'But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 'He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
Historically, the church at Sardis comprises the church of God during the age of the Reformation. These are people who have resisted the "teachings" of ERROR that so heavily predominated their time. Within this time period we saw the rise of the Great Reformers (like Luther, Wesley, and others) and saw a peoples who "protested" the teachings of the organized church and the error that they were propagating. The "counsel" to this church is to "Be WATCHFUL" and to "STRENGTHEN THE THINGS THAT REMAIN" for they are ready to "DIE".
Here is a group of people that have NOT continued on with the spirit of the reformation. These are people who would take the BIBLE as their rule of Faith and who would reject anything that would threaten their experience. There are only "a FEW" within this group that have "not defiled their garments"! This means that there are only a few within this group of the church who are TRULY following Christ. The rest have "defiled their garments" and are to be found UNWORTHY (again, a judgment scenario). This is a group of people that "have a name (they believe that they are "Christian) that you are alive, but you are dead." This church consists of people that have fallen into "dry formalism" and who are "ever-ready" to follow the leadership of the church without questioning whether the things they are teaching are TRUTH and come from Christ or not. They might be called; "nominal Christians" or those who have taken the name of Christ but who have NOT born the Fruit of the Spirit. These are people do not think for themselves but are willing to let someone else think for them (pastors? Conference officials? General Conference Presidents?). These people are Spiritually Dead and do not even realize it! Hence, the warning to "REPENT" - to re-establish their relationship with Christ, to return to their study of the Scriptures (very few members of our church today REALLY STUDY anything), and to examine their "doctrines" to see if they are really in line with the "Seven Spirits" (that is, Christ's Holy Spirit) or not. These people are content to just drift along on anything their pastor says and are content to let HIM eat for them. They are NOT willing to listen to anything that hasn't already been "established" as Truth and are not willing to examine anything new. In other words, they are not willing to press on in the spirit of the Reformers and are not pressing on to find the New and Deeper Truths that God wishes to reveal to us. They are unwilling to examine even that which they DO believe to make sure that they are not in error. Many within this group will lose their Salvation for the simple reason that they were NOT WILLING to study things out for themselves and were content with letting other's do their thinking for them! What a SAD state of affairs is this! They seem to have forgotten (or are NOT WILLING to acknowledge) that we have been warned very plainly about all this:
“Every soul must look to God with contrition and humility, that He may guide and lead and bless. We must not trust to others to search the Scriptures for us. Some of our leading brethren have frequently taken their position on the wrong side; and if God would send a message and wait for these older brethren to open the way for its advancement, it would never reach the people” (GW 1913: p. 303).
“I have been shown that ministers and people are tempted more and more to trust in finite man for wisdom, and to make flesh their arm . . . . I entreat of you to search the Scriptures as you have never yet searched them, that you may know the way and will of God. O that every soul might be impressed with this message, and put away the wrong” (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 10 (1909); found in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 480,481).
“Investigation of every point that has been received as truth will repay the searcher: He will find precious gems. And in closely investigating ever jot and tittle which we think is established truth, in comparing Scripture with Scripture, we may discover errors in our interpretation of Scripture. Christ would have the searcher of his word sink the shaft deeper into the mines of truth. If the search is properly conducted, jewels of inestimable value will be found. The word of God is the mine of the unsearchable riches of Christ” (RH, July 12, 1898; par.15).
“There is no excuse for any one in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation” (RH, December 20, 1892; par. 1).
“We cannot hold that a position once taken, an idea once advocated, is not, under any circumstances, to be relinquished. There is but One Who is infallible — He Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Those who allow prejudice to bar the mind against the reception of truth cannot receive the divine enlightenment” (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers; p. 105, par. 2,3).
“When God’s people are at ease, and satisfied with their present enlightenment, we may be sure that He will not favour them. It is His will that they should be ever moving forward, to receive the increased and ever increasing light that is shining for them. The present attitude of the church is not pleasing to God. There has come in a self-confidence that has led them to feel no necessity for more truth and greater light” (5T: pp. 708, 709).
However, the message of HOPE to this group is one of great hope indeed! The promise is given that those who Repent and overcome their Lethargy will be "clothed in white garments" (Christ's Righteousness) and will NOT be blotted out of the Lamb's book of life. There is ALWAYS great hope in the Lord's counsel. But we must be willing to follow that counsel and CHANGE! The sad fact is that too many of us today, in the church, think that just because we belong to the SDA church that we are "SAFE" and "SECURE". Nothing could be further from the truth or provide such a FALSE security as this. As the Christ says, we need to WAKE UP and Repent. We need to return to our first love and to follow the Lord wherever he leads. This is the message to the church today. This is the message that we must take to heart, especially if we find OURSELVES comfortably existing in the church of Sardis!!!
The Message to the Church at PHILADELPHIA:
Rev. 3:7-13 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: 'I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 'Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. 'Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 'I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 'He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
This is the ONLY CHURCH (or group of believers) that receives NO CONDEMNATION from the Lord. Historically, this is the church that pushed through from the time of the Reformation and who sought, like those digging for hidden treasure, the things (TRUTHS) of God from His word alone! These are people who, although they experience GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT (for they have "little strength" to influence the Leadership of the Church or the Church as a whole) but they are willing to KEEP ON GOING and to re-order their lives according to what the Lord has to say to them. These are people who have made the Word-of-God their rule of faith and who have sought, with childlike simplicity, to follow the LORD wherever He may lead. Their's is a powerful FAITH and they are Honored by the Lord for their faith and practices. These people are faithful to the Word of God -- no matter what anyone else might say (including many of the so-called leaders of the church).
This group of people suffer persecution from WITHIN THE CHURCH because they are true to the Word of God and are willing to be led into the "ever increasing light" that God wants so desperately to impart. Although shunned and ridiculed, although falsely accused as being fanatics and heretics, this group of people has the REAL THING and their faith will carry them through the time of trouble just before us (without the need for any reform or repentance). They are promised to be "kept from the hour of testing...that is to come upon the whole world". That this "hour of Testing" is to "come upon the whole world" is proof that those Christians listed in the other Churches who have NOT heeded the Lord's Counsel have need to fear. The time before us ALL is a FEARFUL time and many will be running around like the "FOOLISH VIRGINS" trying to gain the experience they NEED with Christ, when it is too late. This is WHY the messages to the Seven Churches MUST BE UNDERSTOOD and APPLIED to the WHOLE CHURCH living TODAY! We absolutely MUST understand what OUR true condition is, where we are at in our experience with Christ, and what we MUST DO about it! This is the whole purpose behind the messages to the Church!
The Philadelphia Church DOES describe the condition of the people who will live through the time of trouble and who will be granted the privilege of seeing Christ Return without having experienced death. These are the very elect of the elect and are the group upon which Christ bestows His greatest honor -- that of being His BRIDE! These are a people who have continued to search out NEW TRUTH, even in the face of persecution from the leadership of the Church and from the apostate churches (the WORLD). These are peoples who have "Kept their lamps trimmed" and who have studied and cultivated a relationship with Jesus Christ to such a degree that they are found to be "without Guile" (Rev. 14:5) and are to be adorned as the Bride of Christ (having had HIS CHARACTER perfectly reproduced in them) -- blameless before men and angels.
However, it is my belief that the church of Philadelphia - while comprising a group of steadfast believers RIGHT NOW - will also be made up of people from ALL of the Seven Churches who have heeded the Counsel given them and have returned to a RIGHT RELATIONSHIP with Christ! If you take the strong points (the commendations) of each of the churches and ADD to those strong points (most of which are the characteristics of LOVE, FAITH, PERSEVERANCE, GOOD WORKS and LOYALTY) the COUNSEL to "RETURN" to these things (or to KEEP these things) then you would find that the REPENTANT of each of the other Six churches would have the SAME CHARACTERISTICS as that of the Philadelphia Church! This is what Christ is TRYING to accomplish through His messages to the Churches! Christ is trying to get His TRUE CHURCH (the True Believers from differing backgrounds and experiences) in shape and ready for the things that are about to transpire. He is trying to get ALL of us to move into that condition of the Church of Philadelphia - into the condition of TRUE BELIEVERS in Christ - and into a RIGHT RELATIONSHIP with HIM! Sadly, MOST of us will NOT heed His Counsel and will suffer the fate of the Lost. But SOME WILL heed His Counsel and will be honored (with the honor of Philadelphia) and will be able to press through to the end. Granted, there are many who will die a martyrs death - perhaps because they wait too long before heeding the Counsel of the True Witness and are unprepared to ENDURE the closing scenes of this Earth's history, but ARE prepared in what they HAVE DONE, and in the reforms they HAVE MADE, to be willing to faithfully lay down their life for Christ as a testimony.
The mission of the CHURCH is to "give the trumpet a certain sound" (see Eze. 33:4-6 & Jer. 6:16,17) and to deliver the Three angel's messages of Revelation 14:1-12, and the Loud Cry of Revelation 18, in no uncertain terms. The church of Philadelphia most characteristically describes the people who are QUALIFIED to do this. But they will be joined by those in the other churches who have heeded the Lord's counsel and who have "washed their robes in the blood of Christ." These people (ALL of the TRULY FAITHFUL) are THE VERY ELECT OF GOD and are the ones who will "Share Christ's Throne" throughout eternity! These people will have a heart that is SOLELY devoted to Christ and who will withstand ANYTHING for His sake. These are THE 144,000! The very elect and Bride of Christ. These are people who have been willing to STUDY FOR THEMSELVES and who have allowed Christ to work in their lives (make the necessary changes in their lives -- e.g. allowing Him to reproduce His character in them) -- People who have suffered the persecution and censorship of the leadership of the church and of the World, but who have remained faithful to Jesus Christ nonetheless. These are those "who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb" (Rev. 14:4). These are those that will "Share His Throne" and who will "Live and Reign" with Him. THESE are those who will be the very closest to the Lord in His Kingdom! And these are those who will pay most dearly for that privilege.
One last note about Philadelphia. There are MANY voices in the Church today that claim that "THEIRS" is the right way, that "THEY" have the Truth, and that "THEY" (or their group) is the TRUE Philadelphia Church of God. Unfortunately, at least from what I have seen, heard, read, and studied from many of these people; they DO NOT exhibit a spirit of "Brotherly Love towards the Church, its leadership, or its members (at least not towards any of the members who have not joined THEM or who disagree with them)! Jesus said: "By this all men will know that you are MY DISCIPLES, if you have Love for one another" (Jn. 13:35). There is NO LOVE in those who seek only to TEAR DOWN and destroy, rather than seeking to RESTORE! We are told that "The very essence of the Gospel is RESTORATION" (DA p. 824)! I am PAINFULLY aware that our Church is in TERRIBLE SHAPE right now (just read the NEXT MESSAGE!), but we are either ALL in this TOGETHER or we are NOT. And if we are NOT, then how can we possibly say that we belong to, or are, the Church of "Brotherly Love"?
Ellen White has told us: "Let them study the seventeenth of John (Jn. 17), and learn how to pray and how to live the prayer of Christ....Perfect oneness...is what will give success to the efforts of God's workers." (RH January 27, 1903; par. 13). The 17th chapter of John, and the PRAYER of CHRIST recorded there has this emphasis: "that they also may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou has sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and has loved them, as thou hast loved me....that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them.". The Bible also makes this clear that this "oneness" is the GOAL of the Christian faith: "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:13-15). So any talk of being Philadelphia, which does not also have this corresponding Love and Respect for our Brethren, simply cannot be True.
I am NOT suggesting that we should simply EMBRACE everything our faltering Brothers and Sisters are doing. Christ says that it is those He LOVES that he rebukes and chastens - and His messages to the Seven Churches (the Church as a WHOLE) is a PERFECT example of how Christ does this. Does He ignore their error and their transgression? NO! He points it out very clearly, in language that cannot be misunderstood. But, He also gives reassurance and encouragement - and offers a way OUT of this mess! His words of censure are NEVER given without the extension of HOPE for those He Loves. And we should be the same. There ARE problems in are church which MUST BE ADDRESSED in a most serious and earnest manner (see more on this under the message to the Laodiceans), but we cannot simply abandon our Brethren and start off in a whole new line! Do we achieve "Oneness" by withdrawing from the Church? Do we achieve Oneness by getting rid of those whom we feel are the "Problem"?--And if so, then who among us is going to do the deciding as to who should be gotten rid of? We are told that the wheat and the tares are to "grow together" until the harvest - and that it is the ANGELS, under the direct supervision of CHRIST HIMSELF, who will do the separating and the gathering! OUR JOB right now, is to seek out the TRUTH and to develop such an intimate relationship with Christ that when we speak or act that it will actually be CHRIST who is speaking and acting through us! I believe that we would ALL do well to "Keep examining yourselves to see whether you are continuing in the faith. Test yourselves! You know, do not you , the Jesus Christ lives in you? Could it be that yo are failing the test" (2Cor. 13:5).
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The Message to the Church at LAODICEA:
Rev. 3:14-22 "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire (Faith & Love) so that you may become rich, and white garments (Christ's Righteousness) so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve (Spiritual Discernment that is only available through Christ's Holy Spirit) to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 'He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"
This is, by far, the hardest of ALL the messages given to the church today! It is not only difficult because it describes the PREDOMINATE NATURE of the church in this age - but because it deals with the most deadly of all sins - PRIDE and SELF-SUFFICIENCY! Of all sins, this is the most hopeless! And this is the exact sin that these people are guilty of. These people DO NOT SEE THEIR NEED and, instead, feel that they have need of NOTHING - No New Light, No New instruction, No New Understanding, a No New Relationship with Christ - NOTHING! They are happy to just go about their spiritual lives as if they have everything that they need. But Jesus reveals that, if there was ever a group of people that needed His counsel, this is that group! And His counsel is that they "REPENT" and that they "Buy of HIM" Gold tried in the fire (Faith & Love) and White Raiment (the robe of His Righteousness which is the opposite of their own) and Eyesalve (spiritual discernment and the gift of Christ's Holy Spirit (it is interesting that the church at Laodicea in John's day was famous for producing an "eyesalve" and so, were totally ignorant of the fact that needed some eyesalve of their own!). Laodicea describes a people that are about to be JUDGED and have become so lax in the matters of Spiritual Discernment that they feel like they need "nothing". After all, don't we have "ALL THE TRUTH"? What else could there be, that we would need something else? This is a people whom the Lord declares makes Him so sick that He is GOING to spit them out or throw them up! I know that we have watered this saying down so the we believe that it means that our condition merely "upsets" Him or that it "makes Him fell ill"; but the truth of the matter is, that what it actually says, is what it actually means! NAMELY: that the Lord is GOING TO SPIT US OUT! He is going to REJECT US! He WILL abandon us if we do not repent. That is what the verses say. And I can't MAKE them say anything else.
Jesus Christ, our LORD and Savior, has declared that we are lacking in just about EVERYTHING that is important in His Kingdom and that are required of everyone who will enter into it. We feel like we are rich (like we have all the truth and that there is nothing more for us to learn), that we Need nothing (we are "Satisfied" with our present spiritual enlightenment) and, perhaps most importantly, that we believe that we are "Clothed" in the Righteousness of Christ when, in fact, we are as naked as can be! This is the church, OUR CHURCH, that is "Spiritually Destitute" and lacking in ALL the graces that would make us the "Children of God." Without heeding the "Counsel" of the True Witness (Jesus Christ) we have absolutely NO HOPE of obtaining Salvation and the Lord Himself has declared that He WILL Spew us out of His mouth (that is, out of His Kingdom). Can it get any worse than that?!
What is even more incredulous is the fact that, even though we acknowledge the fact that the SDA church IS LAODICEA we still seem to think that the Lord is going to use our church (in its current condition) to fulfill His will and to give the Three Angel's Messages! Is He? Consider this: "If the church of God becomes LUKEWARM [Laodicean] it does not stand in favor with God any more than do the churches that are represented as having fallen and become the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird. Those who have had opportunities to hear and receive the truth, and who have united with the Seventh-day Adventist church, calling themselves the commandment keeping people of God, and yet possess no more vitality and consecration to God than do the nominal churches, will receive of the plagues of God just as verily as the churches who oppose the law of God." (E.G. White, Letter 35, 1898). It doesn't get too much plainer than that does it? Let's face the fact -- We are in some deep stuff here! And hiding behind statements like "The Church may appear as if to fall, but she does not", is NOT going to help us in the least! The Lord will send Judgment upon His UNREPENTANT people just as SURELY as He did upon His People of old - the Jewish Nation. The LORD has spoken, and His message is that if we do NOT REPENT and get serious about our solemn duty, that He WILL "Spit us out of His mouth"!!! It is TRUE that the CHURCH will NOT FALL, but it is true in the same sense as it was true in the Babylonian Captivity -- God PRESERVED His FAITHFUL and TRUE PEOPLE (like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego) -- but His JUDGMENTS WILL FALL on the Unrepentant in His Church, and we had better WAKE UP and realize this! The time for EXCUSES is OVER! It is time for us to Wake Up and get serious about the condition of our Church, for it is made up of a MAJORITY of LUKEWARM people who WILL BE LOST if they do not make some drastic changes, and NOW!
The exact Problems within our Church are TOO NUMEROUS to get into in detail. Our PUBLISHING HOUSES sell an incredible amount of rubbish including Fiction and Novels, they have priced our books so high that it is difficult to sell them to those who really need them and really want them, even the "Red Books" have been printed in a "new form" that lends itself almost solely to the bookshelf or the coffee table and not to serious use and study (the pages are thin and flimsy). Our Medical Institutions can hardly be distinguished from those of the World. We should have been the foremost leader in the field of Natural Remedies and Herbal usage, but we are, instead,FAR BEHIND many Atheists in this regard! Our Centers of "HIGHER LEARNING" and our "SEMINARIES" are employing INFIDELS and people that have NO REAL BELIEF in the ADVENTIST MESSAGE or in its PROPHET. We have LOST our Belief in the SOON COMING of our LORD and SAVIOR. Our Tithe monies are being spent in ways in which they were NEVER ORDAINED of God. And our METHODS, DEPORTMENT, EVANGELISM, and ATTITUDES offer NO CONTRAST to that of our Evangelical Brothers. Our Faith in the Inspired writings of Ellen White has diminished to the point that they have lost their influence and power. And our message about the BEAST POWER has gotten so watered down that one would hardly know that we even recognize who it is! The list goes on and on.
I wish that I had all the answers. I wish that I KNEW exactly what to do to correct all of this. I wish that I could give you more solid, specific direction on how we can change the deplorable condition of our Church before it is too late. I do know that it begins with you and me. It begins by making a thorough and honest evaluation of where we stand right now. And it begins by our being willing to stand up and be counted. We have to start COMMUNICATING to our Leaders that we are not willing to keep on going in the direction that we have been going for so many years. We must CALL FOR CHANGE! And I believe that it will probably come down to our having to show some CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE before we will be taken seriously or any meaning change will take place. We need to tell our Leaders that we will NOT support the "Status Quo". And we need to SUPPORT those leaders who ARE doing, WILL do, what is right in the sight of God - even if it means making some HARD CHOICES and doing some HARD THINGS! We DO have men like that out there! We need to SUPPORT THEM! And we need to GET BUSY OURSELVES in reaching out to those in our own neighborhoods and communities. We NEED A REVIVAL!!! We do NOT need a Mass Exodus. THIS is the message to the Seven Churches - REVIVAL and RESTORATION! THIS is what CHRIST is trying to impress upon us.
I know that MY interpretation of the messages to the Churches in NOT PERFECT and that it is most certainly biased in its application to the "Western World". But I am also quite confident that the messages themselves, as they are contained in the Scriptures, will bear out in ANY part of the World. I am sure that I could go to the remotest Adventist Church in Africa, or India, or China, and find that at least ONE of the Church descriptions FIT that particular Church! I am also quite confident that, within that Church, I would find SOME MEMBERS that would NOT fit the GENERAL description and that they would, indeed, belong to one of the other Churches mentioned within the message to the Seven Churches (even though they "belonged" to that particular Seventh-day Adventist Church). This is why I believe that the MESSAGES to the Seven Churches need to be understood in the CONTEXT of the WHOLE MESSAGE to the Church today -- regardless to whether it is considered "Politically Correct" to view it as such. God has declared that He will speak things that "are all straight-forward to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge" (Prov. 8:9). If a "particular" group does not fit perfectly within the characteristics of the specific church addressed -- then I am willing to yield some ground. But all of us have got to admit that ALL of the various factions within the Adventist Church today are, indeed, represented by ONE (or more) of the Church groups described in the Whole of the Message to the "Seven Churches"!! Not EVERYONE in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is LUKEWARM! And this fact alone, means that they MUST be included in one of the OTHER Churches, for Christ is most assuredly speaking to ALL HIS PEOPLE TODAY and He has a particular MESSAGE for ALL of us! Some of us need to "WAKE UP", others of us need to "HOLD ON TO WHAT WE HAVE", and others of us need to "RETURN TO OUR FIRST LOVE", etc. When these messages are understood AS A WHOLE and speaking TO THE WHOLE, much of the confusion we have had about the message to Laodicea or about "Which Church" is Christ's Bride vanishes.
God does not generally care about the exact timing of the events given in His messages as He does that the message itself is conveyed, heard, and followed. This can be show in numerous passages of Scripture. In Matthew 24:36, concerning His Second coming, Jesus Christ Himself said: "...that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." His MESSAGE was NOT as to the exact time of His Second Coming; but was the message that we should "BE READY! (Mt. 24:13,44; Lk. 12:40; Titus 3:1). Other BIBLE references also stress the fact that we should NOT be so concerned with the exact TIMING of every event (or that we try to "pigeonhole" everything into an exact time frame) so much as that we should be concerned about "BEING READY" for EVERY EVENT! The same truth is expressed in the messages to the Seven Churches. It is not so much a matter of defining EXACTLY WHICH MEMBERS comprise a specific Church as it is that we APPLY the message to the Churches to OURSELVES, INDIVIDUALLY and to our local Church, that we make the CHANGES that are CALLED FOR, and that we find ourselves in the Company of those who are READY to receive the fullness of the Jesus Christ and His Righteousness! I pray that these changes will take place soon! And I pray that it will begin with Me. I hope that this is YOUR prayer also. We CAN be READY for Christ's Return, but we have GOT TO GET SERIOUS NOW!
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