THE PURITY OF THE CHURCHES
By Dr. Surya Kumar Daimari
The prime concern of our Lord Jesus Christ in His letters to the seven Churches in Asia Minor was the purity of the Churches. In Eph 5:27, we read that Christ gave Himself to present her to Himself as a perfect, clean, holy and unblemished bride. And this is His purpose. Also in Rev 14:7,8 it says, "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come , and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen which is the righteousness of saints."
"His wife" is the Church which He has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). He wants her to be clean, holy, perfect without any spot as He is. This is Christ's high priority to His Church. As we study the letters to the seven Churches, we will see how Christ has warned, rebuked and disciplined the Churches and challenged them to live a clean and holy life by setting themselves apart from all kinds of ungodliness. We see how He has approached the Churches in the riches of His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit cleansing and renewing them for Himself.
All these seven Churches were the real Churches, all existed and located on one major highway system in Asia Minor. John the human author of the book has given numerous hints to the historical back grounds of the cities where the Churches originally existed. It is clear from the records that the letters never hint or represent the stages of Church history as some try to misinterpret it.
It is also clear from close analysis that the Church history is never parallel to these seven Churches. What is more true in fact that these seven Churches also represent the present day existing Churches in this dispensation. The letters are more relevant to our own times where the Churches are facing the same moral and doctrinal problems. Jesus is instructing us through the book the way we should live and wait for the glorious day of the Lord.
The Divine Author
John the apostle was the human author of the book while Jesus was the divine author. In his vision of Christ, John saw the majestic glory of Christ (Rev. 1:9-20) while he was a prisoner on the island of Patmos. John saw Christ standing in the midst of His Churches in His resplendent glory with his white hair, flaming eyes, burnished feet, deep voice, right hand, sword filled mouth and shining face. Dr. Richard Mayhue has interpreted this sighting and symbolical glory of Christ as follows-
White hair (Rev. 1:14- eternity and wisdom
Flaming eyes (v14)---- omniscience
Burnished feet (v15)- purity and strength
Deep voice (v 15)- Power
Right hand (v16)- sovereignty
Sword filled mouth (v16) will and word
Shining face (v16)- glory #
These all speak about Christ's divinity and deity and His authority over all things. As Christ Himself has said in Mt. 28:18
" All authority is given unto me both in heaven and earth." Christ is the centre of Christian theology. Christ is the centre of the whole Bible. Christ is the central figure in the book of Revelation while Church is the central theme in Rev. 1-3. Christ stands in the middle of the Churches, in the middle of the seven golden lamp stands, the seven stars held in Christ's hand portray the authority and the centrality of Christ in His Church.
Christ in Different Names and Symbols
Let us see how Christ has introduced Himself to His Churches in various names and symbols.
1. In His letter to the angel of the Church of Ephesus we see Christ holding "the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands " Rev. 2:1
The seven stars represent the human leadership of the Church while the seven golden lamp-stands represent the seven Churches. " Stars in his right hand " shows the authority and power of Christ over His Church. cf Mt.28:18
2. In His letter to Smyrna Christ introduces Himself as "the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive. " 2:8
This speaks of His deity, His self existence and His eternal nature. He was dead but risen again. Christ has shown to the saints at Smyrna the way to a victorious life through the power of His resurrection.
3. " And to the angel of the Church in Pergamum write : These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges " 2:12
"----I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." 2:16
The two-edged sword represents the sword of the Spirit, God's word (Eph 6:17)
Heb 4:12 says,
" The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and morrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
The mouth of Christ represents the source and the authority of His word to His Churches.
#Dr. Richard Mayhue,
Christ and the Church, (p7)
Blessing Youth Mission
Post Bag 609, Vellor-632006
4. " the Son of God, who hath eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass, " 2:18
Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of God, the true deity. His eyes are like blazing fire (cf Rev. 1:14; Dan 10:6) symbolizing His all knowing and discerning power. He says, " I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts " 2:23 . His feet are like burnished bronze which symbolize His strength and purity.
5. He has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. 3:1
Jesus refers to Himself as the one who holds the seven Spirits ( also see 1:16,20; Zech 4) and seven stars. He uses the imagery of Zech 4. The seven Spirits of God refer to the Holy Spirit of God. The " seven stars" refer to the leadership of the Church. This shows that Christ holds in His hand the authority over the Church.
6. Christ pictures Himself as " holy and true who holds the key of David " 3:7
Peter recognized Christ as " the Holy one of God". (Jn 6:69). Jesus declared Himself as the truth (Jn 14:6) John identified Him as the True God and the Eternal Life (I Jn 5:20). Jesus " holds two keys of David" . It means that all authority is delegated to Him that allows Him to open and shut the doors. This imagery is taken from Isaiah 22:15-23 where it reads, " I will place on His shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open (v22).
Christ has received this authority from His Father," All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me." Mt 28:18
7. It is really amazing to see how our Lord Jesus Christ is pictured in the book of Revelation while exposing Himself mainly to the seven Churches.
(1) The Amen (Rev.3:14)
(2) The Faithful and True Witness (Rev.3:14)
(3) The Beginning of creation of God. (Ruler) 3:14
The Amen : it is a term of affirmation, the last word on truth.
The Faithful and True Witness: He is faithful as He only is the Truth. His witness is perfect and inherent and His words infallibly true.
"The Ruler of God's creation " (NIV). This shows that He is all powerful, omnipotent God, the source of all truth, as He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (22:13). Through His letters to the seven Churches, Christ eventually and truthfully affirms His deity and His sovereign authority over all things.
The seven letters and the seven Churches:
As to the character of the Churches we can divide the Churches in three main categories.
1. The First Category: The Churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia are grouped in the first category. They are the only Churches that received a glowing commendation and no condemnation at all.
2. The Second Category of Churches : The Churches that received commendation as well as condemnation and needed renewing are grouped in this category. The Churches that belong to this category are Ephesus, Pergamum and Thyatira.
3. The Third Category of Churches: There are two Churches which are identified as spiritually most bankrupt. They are Sardis and Laodiciea. These two Churches received nothing but condemnation from the Lord Jesus.
1. The First Category of Churches:
(a) The Church of Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11)
The city of Smyrna was one of the most excellent cities in Asia Minor in those days still in existence in modern Izmir. It is also known as " the Ornament of Asia the fairest and the noblest cities of Ionia situated on the east shore of the Aegean sea and thirty five miles north of Ephesus. Coined described the city as " First of Asia in beauty and size". The skyline of Smyrna was dominated by pagan religion. Zeus was the chief god of the Great Pantheon.
Smyrna, the Church had a very hard times for they had to under go a severe persecution at the hands of the Jewish and heathen persecutors. It was exceptionally very difficult for a Christian to live in Smyrna. Smyrna was the richest city in those times but the Christians in Smyrna were poor. They were poor from their worldly point of view but in spite of the fact they were rich before Christ. 'Rich' here it means rich in God's grace, having treasure in heaven .
The Church of Smyrna receives a glowing commendation for their suffering for His sake, for their testimony and remaining faithful unto the end despite tribulations and poverty.
The Church of Smyrna receives no condemnation but praises and promises with a crown of life if they remain faithful unto death. Again the over comer is promised that he shall not experience the second death, i.e., the eternal separation from the presence of God .
(b) The Church of Philadelphia:
The city of Philadelphia is situated on the high ground o the south side of the river Cogamis. The city itself was of a commercial importance. The word 'Philadelphia' means lover of his brother. It is the only second Church among the seven who does not receive any condemnation but praise and commendation from the Lord for her strength
even though she was little, for her doctrinal preservation and her true loyalty to Christ.
The Church of Philadelphia is promised that she will be kept from the hour of trial and temptation because of their faithfulness to the Lord. The Lord also promises to the over comer to make him " a pillar in the temple of God" which is the New Jerusalem. They will also receive a new name belonging to Christ.
---- a pillar in the temple of God speaks of importance and permanence which is eternal. It means that the over comer will remain forever in the presence of God.
---- a new name- It is God's name on the over comer which is God's stamp or mark for eternity.
---the name of the city of my Godspeaks about the eternal citizenship in the city of God.
2. The Second Category of Churches:
(a) The Church of Ephesus
Ephesus was one of the most important commercial city in Asia Minor and also the main sea port. The city was known as the chief city of Ionia. It was prosperously magnificent and also known as "Asia Lumen" a meeting place of oriental religions and Greek cultures. It was located near the river Meander entering the Aegean sea. It was very famous for the celebrated temple of Diana one of the seven wonders of the world. Diana was the Asian goddess of fertility. Paul labored hard for three years here in Ephesus and laid the foundation of the strongest Christian Church of the first century.
Jesus Christ has highly commended for their hard works, labor, patience and perseverance of faith. But in spite of their hard works and patience, Jesus very strongly rebuked the Ephesian believers because they lost their first love for Jesus.
Love is the basic foundation in Christian lives. The Ephesians were really orthodox in their belief but without love. The only remedy for them is to repent and remember the height from which they have fallen. Christ would remove the candle stick from its place if they disobeyed God . Again obedience to His command means receiving the promises of blessings. The word of the Lord came true because after the 5th century the Church as well as the city itself declined. The area itself is now uninhabited since the 14th century.
(b) The Church of Pergamum:
The capital city of Pergamum is situated about ten miles inland from the Aegean sea. Pergamum was another magnificent city of Asia full of antiquity, greatness and splendor. The worship of the pagan gods- Zeus, Athens, Dianysos and Asclepios was prevailing in those days . The sovereign Christ who holds the two edged sword reminds them of the power of the living God . He has some words of commendation towards them for their faithful witness for Christ. In spite of the fact that they were living in a city where all kinds of pagan worships were prevailing "Where Satan's seat is " , they did not deny Christ. But Christ's rebuking is that some of them were holding fast the doctrine of Balkan and Nicolaitans. The reference to Balaam is that Balaam used to advise the Midianite women to beguile Israelite to play with the harlot, the Moabite daughters. Likewise Nicolaitans also were influencing the believers to pagan society and worship. And some of the believers were turning to the teachings of these false teachers. Jesus has a warning for them. The only remedy is to repent. If they don't, Christ would come and fight with them with the sword of His mouth. One who overcomes, to him He promises to give the hidden manna and a white stone. The hidden manna refers to the bread of life, the Christ Himself i.e., the sufficiency of Christ in the believers' life.
(c) The Church of Thyatira:
Thyatira is situated on the south bank of the Lycus valley, a fertile valley famous for the manufacture of purple dye. A lady called Lydia who was a seller of purple goods brought the gospel to Thyatira (Acts 16:14). Christ has few words of commendation to the Church for her works, love, service, faithfulness and patience. But she was morally corrupt. There was a woman named Jezebel whose teaching and influence led the believers to commit adultery and eat things sacrificed to idols. A warning of terrible judgment is therefore awaiting for her and also for them who committed adultery wither that they will be cast into tribulations except they repent. There is also a word of promise for one who overcomes that will be given power over the nations. He is also given a promise of " the morning star". The morning star refers to the Lord Jesus Himself (Rev. 22:16) or it may be the immortal life that is in Christ Jesus.
3.The Third Category of Churches :
(a) The Church of Sardis :
Sardis was the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Lydia one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world also a city of wealth and fame. But the church of Sardis was a dead Church. She is the most severely denounced Church among the seven . There is no commendation for this Church but only a few who have not defiled themselves. She is condemned for her lifeless profession and also for her incomplete works. But the promise for the over comer is that he will be "clothed in white garment" His name will not be blotted out of the book of life and Christ will confess his name before the Father.
(b) The Church of Laodicea :
The seventh and the last letter is addressed to the angel of the Church of Laodicea. The city was located in the Lycus Valley in the south west Phrygia south to the Mediterranean of Attaleia. Laodicea was the riches city among all the cities in Phrygia. The ground of the Lycus Valley being very fertile provided good grazing for the sheep. So the city was famous for producing a soft glossy black wool. Laodicea was also famous for her school of medicine.
The main rebuke against the Church was that she was neither cold nor hot but lukewarm. The Church was very wealthy from the worldly point of view but spiritually barren. In the language of the Lord they were the poorest, the wretched and miserable, blind and naked. The sad thing is that they did not realize their condition.
The only remedy for cure for them is to repent . Jesus asks them to buy from Him the gold tried in the fire to be rich and the white garment to be clothed and the eye salve to anoint their eyes. These are all figurative to enrich their spiritual condition but which have also some kinds of relationship with their professions such as their production of black wool and the medicines for eyes. Here is a personal invitation to all. The picture is very incredible that Christ has to stand outside the door of His own Church. But how gracious He is that He is still seeking entrance.
The evaluation of these seven letters to the seven Churches reveal that Christ loves each one of the Churches. However worse the Church may be Jesus has not forsaken it. He rebukes, disciplines and asks her to repent. Jesus has abundance of promises and blessings to every repentant believer. Repentance is the turning point to every child of God to gain the favor of God.
These letters to the seven Churches are very relevant to the 21st century Churches to evaluate themselves and present themselves before the Lord as holy, pure and unblemished. The voice of the Lord is clear,
" He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches" Rev. 3:22
To those faithful hearers the Lord Jesus has abundance of promises.
The Great Promises to the Over- comer-
1. " I will give to eat of the tree of life" Rev. 2:7
The tree of life here symbolizes eternal life
2. " I will give thee a crown of life" Rev. 2:10
The crown of life suggests the eternal glory of life in heaven .
3." I will give to eat of the hidden manna and will give a white stone and in the stone a new name written." Rev. 2:17
Hidden manna-signifies the bread of life i.e., Christ Himself.
" a white stone with a new name-"- stone most likely speaks about the redeemed person in Christ Jesus, while white color may represent his righteousness. New name may refer to the new character of the person in Christ Jesus.
"Behold, I make all things new" Rev. 21:5 cf IICor 5:17
4." I will give power over the nations. He shall rule them with a rod of iron." Rev.2:26. Also see Lk.22:29,30 ; ICor.6:2; Rev. 5:10; 20:4,6
5. "I will give him the morning star" Rev. 2:28
Jesus Himself is the Morning star. Jesus said, " I , Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the Churches. I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright Morning star." Rev. 22:16
6. "..he tht overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment" Rev.3:5
It speaks of the righteousness of the saints whose garments are washed in the blood of the lamb. Rev. 7:13,14
7. "will not blot out his name out of the book of life" Rev.3:5
The names of the believers (over comers) are written in the lamb's book of life and will remain there eternally never to be erased. It means that they will live with the Lord Jesus eternally.
8."I will confess the names of the believers before the father and before his angels. " Rev.3:5
Jesus will confess the names of the believers before the father. The same has been told in Math.10:32
"whoever acknowledge him before my father in heaven " . Also see Lk. 12:8
9. " Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God . Rev. 3:12
It means that the over comer will remain forever (permanently) in the presence of God. The pillar also speaks of the importance of the believer in the Kingdom of God .
10. " I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God . Rev.3:12
'the name of my God' speaks about the sealing of God as a mark of identification and recognition. The over comer will be forever His.
"the name of the city of my God' speaks of the permanent citizenship in heaven.
'my new name' one of the names of Christ from among the hundreds of different individual names given to Him in the Scripture. It also refers to the new character of the individual in Christ Jesus.
11. " I will come into him and will sup with him and he with me ." Rev. 3:20
This is a marvelous illustration which reveals Christ's attitude to every repentant believer and His willingness to commune with him. The picture is very incredible that Christ stands at the door knocking and gives an open invitation to repent, i.e., to turn from their own ways to the ways of God and accept Salvation free of cost.
12. " He that over cometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne." Rev. 3:21
This is a wonderful promise of the Lord given to the Church. So Christ ends His letter with a note of a wonderful hope. Christ is now sitting at the right hand of the Father (Heb 1:3). But He has also given the right to all the over-comers sit with Him on His heavenly throne.
These are the wonderful promises given to the Churches by our Lord Jesus Christ. This shows His attitude as well as His relation towards His Church. He has also warned the Churches of the consequences of not remaining pure and undefiled in this present world of conflict. When He calls, He also equips. The children of God are challenged to grasp hold of the vital truths that are going to take place shortly and depend upon the riches of His grace.