Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter (Revelation 1;19)
The instruction given to the apostle John, by the Lord Jesus Christ, was threefold, “write the things which you have seen”, that is the vision of Jesus Christ, standing among the lampstands, in glory, as described in Revelation 1.
Second he was to write the things which are, that is the condition of the churches, in this world, as described in the seven letters to the churches. From the vantage point of the things that are, the sight of the churches in this evil age is sad, and perhaps discouraging.
* The Church at Ephesus has much to commend it, for it puts a premium on discernment, not just accepting false prophets, prophecies, apostles, or teachings. But the church is on the verge of going out of existence, because it has “lost its first love”.
* The church in Smyrna is faithful and true, but suffers persecution, and consequently extreme poverty. Furthermore there are enemies who claim to be God’s people, who are able to lie with impunity about the church in Smyrna, and she is powerless to refute the lies.
* The church in Pergamos also suffers persecution, there are individual bright lights among them, such as Antipas who was burned alive in a bronze bull rather than renounce Christ. But the church is afflicted with a perverse antinomianism, she tolerates members who fornicate and accommodate idolatrous practices.
*The church in Thyatira- in spite of her many good works and outreach, has allowed a false prophetess to corrupt the body with her false prophecies, and false teachings which have brought members of the church into fornication and accommodation to idolatry. The Lord threatens to “Kill her and her children”, if they won’t repent.
* Sardis is a church that lives in the past glories, she is presently asleep, dull to God’s voice, unaware of her own need. The church is on the verge of death, the Lord would waken her again, he warns her he is coming as a Thief!
*Philadelphia is an exception, there is no rebuke for her, she is told that she has “a little strength”, and to be ready for the “open door”. Those who have lied about her, and persecuted her with impunity, are destined to openly acknowledge that it is she, who is “loved” of God.
* Finally Laodicea, of whom so much is written of lately. She is Lukewarm, and so abominable to God, that he threatens to vomit her out of His mouth! ironically this church has the highest self-esteem, in spite of its worldliness, accommodation, and self-sufficiency.
This is the church that Jesus portrays himself as being outside of, “knocking at the door” of her heart. bidding her open up to Him, that He might be allowed to “Sup with them”. Imagine! The very One who loved us and washed us from our sin in his blood, yet outside knocking on the door, asking to be let in!
This is the temporary state of the church, the “things that are”. She stands on this earth in the stained and spotted garments, in all of her oft failing strength, and alienated affections from her Lord, examined by the Saviour, certainly weighed in the balances and all too oft found wanting, by the One whose penetrating “eyes are as a fire”.
Yet the last word to her is certainly not that He shall “spew her out of his mouth”, for He stands ever ready to renew her strength, to “come in and sup” with her again, and by his attributes to make up for all that is lacking in her.
Thus He introduces himself in each case, highlighting the attribute in Him that meets the need, He is the One who holds the churches in His hand, out of His mouth goes a sharp two edged sword, His eyes are a flame of fire, and feet like bronze, He is the one with the sevenfold Spirit of God, each attribute adequate to meet the need of the “things which are”, in the churches.
Actually in each case, the last word is an encouragement for the church to overcome, by and through the risen One. Lovelessness, lethargy, compromise with the world and sexual immorality, all are to be seen as implacable enemies to overcome.
From the vantage point of the “things that are” the church doesn’t look all-powerful, she doesn’t command the respect of her enemies, her resources are neither political, nor financial, in fact her enemies seem to be able to persecute and lie about her with impunity. Her failures are prominently put on display by the world.
Her services are not wildly attracting the throngs of passers-by, the truth is, “there is no (worldly) beauty for anyone to desire her…” and like her Lord, “she is despised and rejected of men…”. Her power is Truth. She sets a modest table, that doesn’t appeal to jaded tastes. The nobodies of this world are who she attracts.
The church does have a rival, in “the things that are”. She is a bride to be, but she is rivaled by a gaudy harlot, which pretends to be the Bride, and attracts great crowds to her own profane show of worship. the Harlot prostitutes everything precious, and blasphemes the name of God in the name of God, and always persecutes the true Bride. The World does regard her because she shares the values of this fallen world.
But there is another way of looking at the church, a different vantage point. John can only see it after hearing the command “Come Up here!”…