THE BOOK of REVELATION
Revelation about Jesus Christ’
“Revelation of Jesus Christ”
we have in Revelation an unveiling for us of the exalted and glorified Jesus Christ. All the events of this book center around visions and symbols of the resurrected Christ, who alone has authority to judge the earth, eventually to remake the earth, and then to rule over the earth in righteousness. So many people get caught up with the intricate details concerning future events, that they miss the point that the Lord Jesus Christ is the chief subject of this book. If you miss Him, you’ve missed everything.
We also mentioned the fact that many people approach this book with fear and trepidation. It’s a bit mysterious to them, and that usually is because of several of the misunderstandings concerning this book that I believe are often derivative from false methods of interpretation that are applied to it.
Now look with me very, very quickly at chapters 1 to 3 – we see Christ as the exalted Priest King in the midst of His churches. Chapter 2 and chapter 3 in particular – Christ is in the midst, ministering to His church. Then if you look quickly at chapters 4 and 5, we see Christ as the glorified Lamb in the midst of the throne, Christ is in the midst reigning. Then chapters 6 through to 18, a few more chapters, we see Christ as the Lion in the midst of the nations of the world, Christ in the midst judging. Then in chapter 19 we see Christ as the conquering King of Kings, and Christ comes into the midst returning. In chapter 20 we see Christ as the Heavenly Bridegroom in the midst of the marriage supper, and Christ is in the midst of His people rejoicing with them and over His new-found bride and wife, the church. Then in chapter 21 and 22, the last two chapters of the book, Christ is the light in the midst of eternal glory, Christ in the midst of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, shining.
If you think knowledge is the most important aspect to interpreting the book of the Revelation, you’re wrong, it is love: love for the Lord, love for His word, love for His people. May I remind you in our introduction of 1 Corinthians 13:2: ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy’, Paul says, ‘and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity’, love, ‘I am nothing’. Christ is the love of God to our hearts, let’s not miss Him.
John, the author, wrote this book from a vision he received on the Isle of Patmos, and the book was probably written in the late first century, around the 90s AD, which were the latter years of the reign of the Roman Emperor, Domitian. Now that’s important, it’s important as we’ll see a little bit later, the message that this book conveys to these Christians and to ourselves today – to know that John himself was exiled as a persecuted Christian to the Isle of Patmos, and John, when on the Isle of Patmos, receives a vision to give and write to persecuted Christians in seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey.
Incidentally, there are seven ‘beatitude’, blessings pronounced in the book of the Revelation. We’ve just read the first in chapter 1 verse 3, turn with me to the rest. The second is found in chapter 14 verse 13, speaking of martyrs during the tribulation period here on the earth, in chapter 14 verse 13 John says: ‘I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth’ – those martyred for the cause of the Lord Jesus are blessed. Chapter 16 and verse 15, we read there: ‘Behold, I come as a thief’, Jesus says, ‘Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame’ – those who are faithful until the coming of the Lord Jesus are blessed. Then turn with me to chapter 19 and verse 9, the marriage supper of the Lamb when the Lord Jesus will be united with His church, ‘He saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb’. Then in chapter 20 and verse 6, we read: ‘Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years’ – those who rise when Christ raptures His church are blessed. Chapter 22 verse 7 Jesus, speaking of how He will come: ‘Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book’. Chapter 22 and verse 14, the ending blessing: ‘Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city’.
Then we see in this blessing at the end, we are to ‘keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand’. Now the word for ‘time’ there in the original Greek that Revelation was written in, is the word for an ‘epoch’, or an era, a season of time in history. But he is saying that this time, this epoch is at hand. John is telling us that the great epoch, the next great epoch in God’s redemptive history is imminent, it is at hand. Now the word ‘imminent’ is very important in Biblical prophecy, it means ‘impending’, something that is about to take place without delay. Now the word ‘imminent’ is different than ‘immediate’. ‘Immediate’ is something that is going to happen there and then, but the second coming of the Lord Jesus, as it is portrayed within the whole of the Bible, tells us that we can expect it at any time – and yet 2000 years have passed and it still could be at any moment, because it is at hand, it’s imminent not immediate
Is it? Will you be with Him evermore? Well, let’s move on. For an introduction I want to give you four points tonight. The first is: my motivation for studying this book. The second is: the mystery that is often perceived in this book. The third is: the methods of interpreting this book. The fourth is: the message of the book.
let me add a caveat to it: it is essential to distinguish in Christian doctrine fundamentals, fundamental issues, from issues that are important but not fundamental. Now listen carefully to this, because this will stand you in good stead for a lot of doctrinal disputes: it’s important to distinguish between fundamental issues and important issues that are not fundamental. Now what do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is: the fundamental non-negotiable truth in prophecy is, Jesus is coming again! Anyone who denies that has denied a fundamental, and has put themselves beyond the pale of Christianity. You’ve got to understand that. But though that is the fundamental, how we understand prophetic scripture, and how Jesus will return again, is not a fundamental – and that’s why we need much grace and love when we deal with a subject like this. There’s much heat rather than light when it comes to prophetic preaching and teaching these days
Now it has to be said that no one has all the answers concerning this book. We cannot be dogmatic on many things that we find within this book. But that being said, we must face, all of us, whatever our prophetic persuasion, the fact that this is the only book in 66 books of the Bible that is called ‘a Revelation’ – the opposite of a dark concealment! It is revealed!
Both are apocalyptic literature, Daniel was told in the Old Testament ‘Conceal it’, John is told in the New Testament ‘Reveal it’. Well, the answer is very simple: Calvary, Jesus died for sinners; the Messiah of God, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the King of Israel – He was buried, three days later He rose again, He ascended into heaven forty days later, ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit into this world. All of these events, these New Testament gospel events, ushered in what the Bible calls ‘the last days’.
Now, the reason for the misunderstanding of the book is probably due to my third point: the methods, the various different methods of interpretation that are applied to it. Here are four – now if you don’t have a notebook and pen with you tonight, you need to get one because you’ll never remember all these things, or get the CD or tape and study these things again. There are four basic approaches to the book of the Revelation. The first is called the preterist school or approach. Really the preterist, which means ‘past’, he interprets Revelation as having already been fulfilled in the first century AD in the events after AD 70, which was after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the scattering of the Jews. They say it symbolises and records the struggle of the Christian church with the Roman Empire of the day, and now that is all past, it’s all fulfilled – that’s what the preterist says.
Then secondly there is the historicist school. The historicists really believe that the book comprises the unfolding of Church history until the second coming of Christ. Now the strength of that view is that it makes it relevant to subsequent ages, and it has a meaning to other generations other than the generation to which it was written. It has to be said there are many parallels between truths in the book of the Revelation and things that have happened in Church history. The weakness of the historicist view is that though it becomes relevant to us, it becomes therefore irrelevant to the original readers, because they would have needed to have an extensive knowledge of history which hadn’t happened yet, and even subsequent readers need to be au fait with history. Though there are parallels, it has to be said that the interpretation of this book by historicists is often in the light of Western European church history, it forgets the rest of the world – and there’s a great divergence of opinion regarding what these symbols represent, and what historical characters they represent, among historicists.
Now, finally, if you’ll bear with me for five minutes: the message of the book. H.B. Sweet says this, and it is profound, and I want to spend a bit of time on it: ‘In form this is an epistle’, never forget that, this is a letter to seven churches that was circulated around Asia Minor. ‘In form it is an epistle containing an apocalyptic prophecy’, apocalyptic meaning, it’s full of signs and symbols that are revealing something, it’s a prophecy, it’s pointing to the future. ‘But’, he says, ‘in spirit and inner purpose it is pastoral’. Warren Weirsbe puts it well, who is a pre-millennialist and a futurist, he says this: ‘Do not get lost in the details, but try to see the big picture and keep in mind that John wrote this book to encourage believers who were going through persecution. Every generation of Christians has had its antichrist and Babylon, and the hope of the Lord’s return has kept those saints going when the going was tough’. Now, yes, it is speaking of the future – hope for tomorrow – but that hope for tomorrow is meant to give you strength for today. It has an application for today: it was a book that wasn’t originally given to these early saints to satisfy their curiosity about the future, it was given to them pastorally to comfort them, to give them hope for the days that lay ahead. Remember what we said: it was written by John, a persecuted Christian; it was written to the churches of Asia Minor, persecuted churches; and it was written for the purposes of encouraging and exhorting them, by reassuring them of this central fact – don’t miss it – Jesus Christ controls the course and the climax of history! The course and climax of history is in His control!
This is how it went, and I’ll just read it as it is, the American pastor asked the Chinese leader: ‘What book in the Bible is most precious to you?’. The Chinese pastor said: ‘Well, probably the book of Revelation, because…’, and the American pastor interrupted him, ‘Because your suffering makes you long for the end of the world, and you’re strengthened by the vision of how it will end with Christ’s victory? Yes?’. The Chinese pastor: ‘That too, but we don’t just take Revelation to be a description of the way the world will end, we see it also as a description of the way the world is now’. ‘I’m not understanding you’, the American pastor said, ‘Surely Revelation is a book that tells us how the world will end?’. He agreed, ‘Yes it is, but I am telling you that it is also a description of the way the world is now. Suffering has made this clear to us in China, clearly prosperity has hidden this from you in America’. ‘You see’, he went on, ‘We had a Caesar here in China called Mao Tse Tung and he, like the Caesar of the early church period, demanded what was only God’s – that he should be worshipped as a god. As in Revelation, he used a beast to coerce us, communism; and a false prophet to beguile us, false bishops. When we resisted this idolatry with the testimony of the Lamb, we were slaughtered and jailed. In this way we saw that Revelation is a description of spiritual warfare that always goes in any society, including yours’. The American pastor said, ‘But it’s not going on in America today – you say we have that hidden from us, what do you mean?’. ‘Well’, said the Chinese leader, ‘this conflict is obvious to us in China. You could not miss that Mao Tse Tung was setting himself up as an idol and demanding worship, so the veil was removed and we saw the world as it really is – a place where idols are demanding our worship. But this is not obvious to you in America because it is more subtle’. The pastor from America said: ‘Maybe it’s not happening at all, we are a Christian country and we have a Christian president’. The Chinese pastor said: ‘I tell you, there are Caesars or idols in your society just as much as in ours, and even in your churches – and there are false prophets telling you that the idolatry is biblical, and beasts coercing you. For example, your Caesar may not be a person but an idea. In our fellowship’, he said, ‘we have a clever young man who lived with an American family for a year whilst studying. The couple was generous, but he noticed something about them: they were always exhausted. Both worked incredibly hard, though they had plenty of money. They had three cars, two homes, expensive country club memberships – and, as far as he could tell, gave only a minimum to the Lord’s work. They never asked him a single question about the Chinese church, and when he left they give him an envelope with $20 in it. He told us: I felt so sorry for them, they thought they were free but they were slaves. They were dropping from exhaustion because they had to live up to something called the American dream, but they never knew that the pursuit of that life had stolen their heart from Christ’. ‘Hmmm’, said the American pastor, ‘If what you say is true, then consumerism could be a more effective killer of faith than communism’. The Chinese pastor said: ‘You’re right, and this is what we are afraid of here in China. Consumerism clutters up life so much that’ – listen to this – ‘we fail to see the world as it is: full of idols trying to steal our worship from God’.
Revelation is about the future, but do not miss its message for the present. It doesn’t just describe the world as it will be, but that iniquity works already – it describes the world as it is!
“Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible Word of God.”
Revelation: From God to man (man hears what God wants written)
Inspiration: From man to paper (man writes that which God wants written)
Illumination: From paper to heart (man receives that which God has written)
This is absolutely a must if we are going to read and believe the Bible that every word is inspired by God and from God!
2nd Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
20Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost
So we believe in what is called the plenary, verbal inspiration of holy Scripture. That means: plenary, every word of the verbal Scripture, that is every word of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that were given to the authors of those books, are divinely inspired by God. Let us never lose that, for we are living in a day where in many places it has been lost. The ancient designation is given to the source of this letter, God is described as ‘him which is, and which was, and which is to come’. Now there is a lesson for us: these Christians who were facing fiery trials from the Emperor Domitian, they were taking security in the One who was the source of this letter, that is the unchangeable God – the One who was, and is, and ever shall be the same. There is another doctrine: the doctrine of the immutability of God, the unchangeableness of the Almighty.
There is another doctrine: the doctrine of the immutability of God, the unchangeableness of the Almighty.This God that is inspiring, who is the source and signature to this book, He’s coming! He’s not just the One who ever will be eternally in His nature, but He’s coming, He’s going to enter history again…I want you to note one difference in this designation of God in verse 4 from the original ancient name for God. You see the original name goes like this: ‘The One who was, and is, and ever shall be’, that’s not how John has it. He has it: ‘The One who was, and is, and is to come’. I want you to note that, because right away we are seeing that John is emphasising the prophetic nature of this book. This God that is inspiring, who is the source and signature to this book, He’s coming! He’s not just the One who ever will be eternally in His nature, but He’s coming, He’s going to enter history again.
This is a prophetic book, don’t let anybody tell you it’s not
If you have a margin to your Bible, if it’s a study Bible, it might even render the seven Spirits of God as ‘the sevenfold Spirit of God’. Now, let me show you what I think this actually means when it says ‘the seven Spirits of God’. Turn with me to Isaiah 11, verse 2 of Isaiah 11 reads like this, speaking of the One who was to come, that is Messiah in His first coming to earth, that’s already happened, it says that: ‘the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him’, there is the first description of the Holy Spirit there, ‘the spirit of the LORD’, which is the name for Jehovah, so it is ‘the spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him’, one; ‘the spirit of wisdom’, two; ‘the spirit of understanding’, three; ‘the spirit of counsel’, four; ‘the spirit of might’, five; ‘the spirit of knowledge’, six; and ‘the spirit of the fear of the LORD’, seven. It’s speaking, I believe, of seven characteristics of the one Spirit of God. If you had time, and we don’t tonight, you could go into Zechariah chapter 4 and see that the Holy Spirit is represented there as the seven branches of the Jewish menorah, the candlestick, the lampstand
The only reason He is third in this instance is that there is going to be a long description of Him in the rest of this portion of Scripture. Verse 5: ‘And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth’, we’ll stop there. Jesus Christ, this message comes from Him, and is about Him.
I remember when we had our gatherings over in the old building, that one evening after a Monday night meeting, or before it, or before Sunday or something, I lifted a little booklet that was pushed under the door about the book of the Revelation. The long and the short of it was, this author – who remained nameless, but I know who he is because sometimes he comes to this meeting – he actually propounded that the book of the Revelation was not inspired. His reasoning for doing that was, he said it portrays Christ as a mere man apart from God. He was implying that the book of Revelation is not trinitarian, and because it’s not trinitarian it should be rejected. Now that man is not here tonight, but if he were – just in case any of you are thinking along the same lines – you need to read the fact that this book is not only a book with a blessing, it’s a book with a curse. In Revelation 22, we read at the end of it: ‘If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book’. It’s bad enough to take something out of the book, but to take Revelation out of the Bible is an entirely different and more serious sin.
Then He is described secondly as ‘the first begotten from the dead’, or ‘the firstborn of the dead’ – now that doesn’t mean that He was the first person raised to life again, because He wasn’t, He raised three Himself. But He was the first to rise from, now mark this, the mass of men who had died, in order that He would die no more, now that’s different. Lazarus was raised, he died again. The widow of Nain’s son was raised, he died again. Jairus’ daughter was raised, she died again – but Christ has risen to die no more in the power of an endless life!
But I want you to see also in these three names of the Lord Jesus Christ that, first of all, faithful witness speaks of how He began this age. What am I talking about? Well, He came as the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us, and He witnessed to God, He displayed Him. Then we see that He died, but He became the firstborn from the dead – He rose again! He ascended to heaven, and that’s the present, that’s where we are now. How is it all going to end? He’s coming back as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Those are the three offices of the Lord Jesus Christ: the faithful witness, He is God’s Prophet; the firstborn from the dead, He is a man in the glory at the right hand of God, a Mediator for us, a Great High Priest, Prophet Priest; and He’s coming again as King, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Well in verse 5, at the very end, is it any wonder that John bursts into a doxology of praise? Can I just say that it’s wonderful to have a spirit that naturally and spontaneously bursts into praise? We don’t have too many like that these days! How could you not praise God after getting a glimpse of the One who was, and is, and is to come, of the seven Spirits before the throne, of the faithful witness, the firstborn from among dead ones, the ruler over the kings of the earth? He cries, look at it, ‘Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood’. Why does he do that? Apart from the obvious, as I’ve stated. I think it is because he knows that this One who he has just seen and had described to him by the Holy Spirit is not an august and distant Deity who is administrating His rule passively without care or feeling, but this Christ is the One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His very own blood!
Now I know I say this all the time, and I’m probably going to get sued by whoever wrote the song, but I hate it: ‘From a distance God is watching us…’, He’s not at a distance! He’s at blood-nearness, flesh and blood. Incidentally, the tense here is not ‘loved’ in the past, it actually speaks of the present continuous action, ‘He loves us’. He loves us, and ‘washed’ is in the past – completed work! He has loved us, but He does love us, but His washing of us is something that happened a long time ago! There is an order here, now mark it carefully, and this is precious: He loved us before He ever washed us – now that’s mighty. Romans 5 and verse 8 says that it was ‘while we were yet sinners’, while we were still in our sin Christ died for us – add to that fact that He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, and we were in Christ then
Do you need to be washed from your sins tonight, and have the assurance of salvation? There is only one way – water will not wash it, whether it is baptistic water, it’ll not do anything – only the blood of Christ will wash it away. Do you want to be redeemed? Not redeemed by your tradition, or by your religion, or by money, you’re redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. You must trust in that blood. If you’re a Christian and you’re struggling with sin, you need to hear tonight that you’ve died with Christ, and His shed blood has allowed you to have His righteousness. You can overcome the devil himself by the blood of the Lamb and the power of your testimony.
We need, all of us, to be depending upon the blood of Christ. There’s another doctrine – theologians call it ‘soteriology’, the doctrine of salvation. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? To save us at such a price was more than we ever deserved, but do you know what the mighty thing in this portion of Scripture is? That’s not where God stops, for He doesn’t just leave us saved, but verse 6 shows us – look at it: ‘He hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father’. He has enrolled us in service. We have salvation, but now He calls us to serve, and not to serve an earthly sovereign but the Sovereign, the God of all heaven.
Verse 9 of 1 Peter 2 says that as royal priests there’s something we do also, we ‘shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’. So if we operate as holy priests through worship, practical service, what Peter is saying here is that we operate as royal priests in witness. We tell others of the wonderful Saviour whom we have! Can I just say in passing that the priesthood is not the domain of professionals. There is no clergy/laity system in the word of God, for that matter there isn’t any one-man ministry at all. We are all priests before God, men and women. As holy priests we worship, as royal priests we witness – and a priest is a person who speaks to God on behalf of men, and he’s a man who speaks to men on behalf of God, and that’s the two sides of this responsibility. As holy priests we go into the church, the assembly, to worship; and as royal priests we go out to witness. The problem is, because it has become a professional job for ministers and pastors and the rest, the saints of God have ceased doing it and decided, ‘We’ll pay somebody else to do it on our behalf’ – that’s unbiblical.
That will become manifest in verse 7: ‘Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen’. This is the theme of the book, it’s what it’s leading up to in chapter 19, where the Sovereign Lord comes to dispossess His enemies from the earth. This blessed One that you have just seen is coming! Here’s three things about this coming: one, it is an undeniable certainty. ‘Behold, He is coming with clouds’. In Acts chapter 1 we read that the apostles gathered and saw the Lord Jesus go up into heaven in a cloud, and the angel said: ‘This same Jesus that you have seen go in this manner, shall so come again in like manner as you have seen Him go with clouds’ – is that not what it says? ‘Behold, He cometh with clouds’. The scoffers may say, as Peter said in his day, ‘They say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? The fathers have died and sleep, they spoke of His coming, and He didn’t come and they died”.
- 2nd Peter 3:4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
What this is speaking of is that Christ is not only the beginning and the ending, but He is the Supreme Sovereign Divine Alphabet, there is nothing outside His knowledge. Colossians 2: ‘In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’, that’s why He is called at the end of verse 8, ‘the Almighty’ – El-Shaddai, the Omnipotent God! The book of the Revelation is the consummation of all things by the Alpha and Omega, by the beginning and the ending. Someone has called it, and I like this, ‘Revelation is the Grand Central Station of the Bible, because it’s here where all the trains come in’.
The book of the Revelation is the consummation of all things by the Alpha and Omega, by the beginning and the ending. Someone has called it, and I like this, ‘Revelation is the Grand Central Station of the Bible, because it’s here where all the trains come in’.
‘What trains?’, you say. Trains of thought, trains of thought that began in the book of Genesis and followed through to the other Bible books, such as the concept of the scarlet line of redemption, the nation of Israel, the Gentile nations, the church, Satan and the adversaries of God, God’s people, the Antichrist, many many more trains – and they’re all coming together. I wish I had time to show you tonight. In Genesis you have the commencement of heaven and earth, verse 1 chapter 1, ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth’. Here in chapter 21 of Revelation we have the consummation of heaven and earth. Genesis chapter 3 we have the entrance of sin – praise God, in Revelation 21 we have the end of sin, the end of the curse. In Genesis chapter 3 we have the dawn of Satan and his activities, in Revelation 20 we have the doom of Satan and all His adversaries. In Genesis chapter 2 and 3 we have the tree of life relinquished, rejected, and then in Revelation 22 the tree of life is regained. In Genesis chapters 2 and 5 death makes an entrance – praise God, in Revelation 21 death makes an exit, gone forever! In Genesis 3 sorrow begins; in Revelation 21 sorrow is banished – we could go on and on, and on and on – all of it due to what? The Revelation of Jesus Christ, it’s all in Him, He is the total message of this book. Indeed, He conveys the whole revelation of the truth that God wants man to know, it’s in Him! There is nothing revealed before Him, there is nothing after Him, there is nothing without Him – He is the sum total of all of God’s revelation to mankind.
William MacDonald put it well: ‘The one He is who spans time and eternity, and exhausts the vocabulary of excellence. He is the source and the goal of creation, and it is He who began and will end the divine programme in the world. He is the Almighty’. Even so, come Lord Jesus
Now if you look at verse 11 you have there designated the names of these seven churches, the second half of the verse tells us they were: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Let me say right away that there were most certainly more than seven churches in Asia Minor, we know that from the Scriptures. I’ll give you two for instance: there was Colossae, the letter of Paul to the Colossians proves that; there was Miletus, as Acts chapter 20 shows us, and there were various other churches, we’ll not take time to mention them. So the fact that John mentions seven, the Lord Jesus is inspiring him to do so, it’s obvious that these seven in particular were representative of something that John wanted to communicate – and we will see that very clearly when we turn to chapters 2 and 3 and look at those seven churches in detail, but they are chosen for characteristics that the Lord Jesus wanted to highlight
And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches”.
He doesn’t use any ecclesiastical terms concerning himself, not even the title ‘apostle’ that he was perfectly right in using if he had done – but he just calls himself ‘John’, and he also confesses his solidarity with those who were in the churches of Asia Minor who were suffering for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, just as the apostle John was there incarcerated on the Isle of Patmos. So we saw in previous weeks that this book is a letter written by a suffering saint to the suffering saints of Asia Minor. It’s terribly important that we remember that in all of our interpretations.
God’s plan is that suffering, tribulation, is the pre-requisite for entering into the kingdom of God. In other words, there will be no crown without the cross – for the Savior the cross must come before the crown, and it is no different for us, His servants. It is the suffering, and then the glory: that is God’s order.
We want to entertain people into the kingdom of God today, these folk were dying to get them in – literally.
Can I say to you, discouraged servant of the Lord: that is always the case for the saints of God. No matter what you have experienced in your past, and no matter how useless you feel you are in the present, the best is always yet to be – even if that is death itself. Things can only get better for the people of God!
Psalm 25:14 “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant” Do you really want to see and hear Him? It’s up to you!
There is a lesson for us all, and please don’t miss it: to love the Lord Jesus Christ is to view the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not how much you know, but it’s got a lot to do with how much you love. This beloved disciple who had a special place before the Lord when He was on the earth, also found a special place before the Lord when He had ascended to heaven.
So the voice that spoke and said ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last’ is the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God the Son. How could anyone doubt the doctrine of the Triune Godhead, and the deity of our Lord Jesus?
Now, of course, note in verse 13 that the focal point of this vision is not so much the seven churches, but Christ in the midst of the church – He is the focal point of the vision. The Spirit of God wants these seven churches of Asia Minor to recognize the One who is in their midst.
Now why do I tell you all that? Well, at the moment Israel’s testimony for God is suspended because of their unbelief. So, during this age, which is the church age, the Church of Jesus Christ gives testimony to God on the earth, and it is a complete testimony – as the seven lampstands testify, seven being the number of completeness – but these seven lampstands are separate. It’s not now seven lights on one candlestick, it’s not an entity that is one nation, but seven separate local churches giving testimony to the Lord Jesus – individual congregations, each of these lampstands, as you can see, stands alone: single stemmed, freestanding, with one base.
We have to reach out to unbelievers, but we don’t order ourselves according to what suits them, but what suits Christ for He is the one and only Head of the church. Of course the parable of the lampstand, which we looked at as we were going through Mark’s gospel, shows us that the Lord Jesus envisaged that we, the church, should be the ones who should shed abroad His light in this age.
Here’s a second practical application: Christ, just as He is in this vision, today is in the midst of His church. Now let me ask you: do you believe that? Do you believe that Christ is here, now? He said: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age’. He said: ‘I will not leave you comfortless, orphans, I will come to you’. He said: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst’. That is a truth that should revolutionise our gatherings as Christians: that Christ is still in our midst!
Here’s a third practical application of the lampstand: please note that there is nothing between the Lord Jesus and each individual lampstand. Let me be more specific: there is no agency, there are no hierarchies, no organisations – each of these lampstands are autonomous, they are self-governing, and the only thing that unites them in common is their relationship with Christ. I believe that’s the way it should be. No denominations, no churches gathering concerning particular interpretations, but just in their relationship to Christ. That’s the way it was in the beginning, and I believe it’s the way it should be today.
Now how does He appear here in Revelation 1 in the midst of the church? Let’s look first of all at His dress. The first thing we see – and if you look at the screen it will give you a picture of it, but do look at the scriptures primarily – is that the Lord Jesus is wearing a linen white robe, and He is adorned by a sash across His breast. Now Exodus 28 verse 4 tells us that this was the garb of the High Priest of Israel. Now there are many other things mentioned there, but certainly this dress that the Saviour is shown to wear here is the high priestly garb – but it’s a little bit different in that the Lord is appearing here as not just the High Priest in the midst of the churches, but He is appearing to judge them, so we could say that this is the High Priest Judge before us.
Now in Scripture we find that angels represented nations, we find that Peter, according to the church of his day, had a guardian angel who looked after him when he was in prison and escaping. We find in Hebrews that angels are ministering spirits – should it be strange if we think that angels can represent churches before God? After all, God gave this vision to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ gave the vision to an angel, and an angel gave the vision to John the apostle. Why should it be strange that these letters should be addressed to angels that may well represent some of these churches? But the final reason for me interpreting it like this is verse 20: it’s very unlikely for John to interpret the symbol of a star by another symbol – did you hear that? It is very unusual for John to interpret one symbol by another symbol, because that’s what he’d be doing if these angels meant something other than angels – but he interprets the symbol, star, as an angel. Well, I’ll leave it there, I’m sure many of you won’t agree with me on that. The point is this: these stars are in Christ’s right-hand, and in the next number of weeks we’re going to see in these seven letters to the seven churches that He has some scathing criticism of them as their High Priest Judge – and yet, with all that, they are secure in His right hand.
The sixth description we have of Him here in verse 16 is that out of His mouth comes a twoedged sword – and that is, I believe, the judging power of the word of God as we see it in Hebrews 4 and John 12. It is here Christ’s judgement not of the church’s enemies, but of the church! Then seventhly in verse 16 we see that ‘His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength’, ‘brilliant’ is the word, it is the word ‘dynamus’ that we get the word ‘power’ and ‘dynamite’ from, it is Christ’s glory. When you can find all of these depictions and descriptions of the Lord Jesus, you see Him as the Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest as He is in His ministry to the church now in this age, supremely as the High Priest and Judge of His people. Now later we’re going to see in this Apocalypse that He judges His enemies and His foes, but here He is judging His church – why? Because judgement must begin at the house of God! So that’s where it begins here in the book of Revelation.
I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last’. Now this is beautiful: John expires, as if he was dead he falls. This was not prostration of worship, he was so overwhelmed by what he saw that he falls before Christ! The Lord Jesus reaches out His right-hand and touches him – this is mighty! The hand in which He holds the church is also at the disposal for an individual saint of God who needs His touch. Does that help you tonight? It helps me! He’s not too busy to take my needs into account, and He says to John and He says to us: ‘Fear not; I am the first and the last’, the title of Jehovah Himself – why should we fear?
‘I am He that became dead’, that’s what it literally means. It doesn’t sound that good in English, but that’s what it means, because He could not die. We are dying from the moment we are born, but this is the Eternal Son of God and He became dead. The One eternally alive died and rose again, and is now alive for evermore. He says, look at it in verse 18, He has the keys of Hades and of death. Now Hades was the realm of the dead, and that speaks of the soul. Death speaks of the grave, which is where the body goes. What the Lord is saying is: ‘Because I died, and because I was buried, and because I rose again, I have the keys of Hades – the place for the soul – and the grave – the place for the body’. Oh, this is precious: Christ snatched from Satan his power over death, it was his and it’s no longer his! Now He possesses authority over death; and that means, Christian here tonight, no one can die who is saved apart from His divine permission. That helps me – as one old saint of God said: ‘I am immortal until it is my time to go’, so are you if you’re a child of God.
You see, the potential problem with the church in John’s day, and I believe it has been the church’s problem every day since Pentecost, is that they lose a vision of the glorified Lord. The tempter, Satan, is conscious that many good men will never be deflected by outright evil, so his ploy is that he seeks to get them obsessed by other things. He gives preeminence of place to displace Christ from His central position. Church history observers for years have pointed out that almost every organization that began in the power of the Spirit, sooner or later gradually were drawn away from their devotion to Christ – every one. What has been true of organizations has also been true of individuals: distracted from a vision of the glorified Christ in our midst
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God”.
‘Write the things which thou hast seen’ – that comprises the vision of chapter 1 – ‘and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter’. The things which shall be hereafter, chapter 4 right to the end of the book, things that are yet to be, in the sense of future. What we are looking at these weeks, as we look at the seven churches, in the things which are – the things that were for John as he wrote these books, these seven letters – but these are also the things which are for us, because as they referred to the church age, we are also in the same age as John was.
‘Write the things which thou hast seen’ – that comprises the vision of chapter 1 – ‘and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter’. The things which shall be hereafter, chapter 4 right to the end of the book, things that are yet to be, in the sense of future. What we are looking at these weeks, as we look at the seven churches, in the things which are – the things that were for John as he wrote these books, these seven letters – but these are also the things which are for us, because as they referred to the church age, we are also in the same age as John was.
Now let’s move on to the prophetic interpretation to give it some time for a moment. When we look at the seven churches from that perspective and understanding, we see that this loveless church of Ephesus speaks of the post-apostolic church, that’s how scholars often understand it – that is, the first century church that was generally praiseworthy but had already begun to leave its first love. Next week we will look at the church of Smyrna, which speaks of the persecuted church, the church from the first century through to the fourth century who were persecuted under various Roman emperors. The third church of Pergamos is the compromising church, which fits very well with the church of the fourth and the fifth century Christianity which became recognized as the official religion through Constantine the emperor’s patronage. Incidentally, some scholars see these first three churches as conditions of the early church, and the next four as general conditions and main components of what we would call Christendom today – those who profess to be Christ’s, whether they belong to Him or not. So those four remainder churches are: Thyatira, which we could title ‘The Corrupt Church’, and it fits well with the sixth century to the 15th century, or if you like right up to today. The Roman Catholic Church largely held sway in Western Christendom until it was rocked by the Reformation, and in the East the Orthodox Church ruled. Then we have the church at Sardis, which could be called ‘The Dead Church’, the 16th and 17th century, or right up to today, the post-Reformation period where various reformation denominations began to grow cold and away from the doctrines of the Reformation. Philadelphia could be called ‘The Faithful Church’, and of course it is very similar to the 18th and 19th century right up to today, where there were mighty revivals and awakenings, and missionary endeavour increased right across the globe – and we know that that’s still happening in places today. Then finally the seventh church of Laodicea, and in the prophetic understanding of these seven letters they are ‘The Lukewarm Church’, picturing the last days church, an apostate church through false teaching and various other problems.
‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches’ – seven times it is repeated. In other words – ‘He that hath an ear to hear’ – there is a personal application, as well as a prophetic, a universal and a literal, there is a personal application of the teaching of these seven letters to the seven churches.
So let’s look at these five different features in this particular letter to Ephesus tonight. First of all let’s look at the characteristic of Christ that we find in verse 1. He is depicted for us as the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. In other words, Christ is in His proper place in that sense of guiding, controlling and ruling all that goes on in this assembly. The churches are depicted as being secure because Christ is holding them firmly in His right hand. Now incidentally there are four mentions of these seven stars being held in the right hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at the first, it’s found in verse 16 of chapter 1 and it speaks of the seven stars being in the right hand of the Lord Jesus – that speaks of security. If you look at verse 20 of chapter 1, we read of the seven stars being on the right hand of the Lord Jesus – that speaks of support. In chapter 2 verse 1 He is holding the seven stars in His right hand – that speaks of control. In chapter 3 verse 1 it says He has the seven stars in his right hand – speaking of possession. He controls the churches, He is the support of the churches, He is the security of the churches, He has the churches in His possession – and what is being communicated to us in all of these visions is that all the church needs is in the hand of the risen Christ! Do you believe that?
But very quickly the Lord Jesus moves from commendation of this church to criticism of this church. Let’s look at that in verse 4, for He says: ‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love’. Who would ever have expected it? I doubt none of us would have, other than the Lord Jesus Christ who, remember, has these eyes of fire. With x-ray omniscient vision He was able to see what no one else could see. Now if love was measured by activity, the Ephesians would have been the most loving church in existence, but you see it’s not. Activity is not the same as love.
Now, what does this verse mean? ‘You have left your first love’. What is your first love? Well, it’s not immediately clear from this verse, and some have said that this means ‘a love of first importance’. What I mean is, it’s speaking of their love for Christ, they have lost their love and devotion to the Lord Jesus. Others have said: ‘Well, this means their love for one another’, and it was a common characteristic of the New Testament church how much they loved one another. Others have said: ‘Well, it is their love for mankind in general’. It is very hard to pinpoint exactly which one of those three it would be, but then there are others who say: ‘This is not speaking of a love of first importance, but rather a love that is first in point of time’. What I mean by that is – and that of course incorporates all three of these loves – the love for the Lord, the love for one another, and the love for mankind in general. Let me put it how J. B. Phillips translates it: ‘You do not love as you did at first’, I believe that is the sense of this verse. You do not love the Lord Jesus, love one another, love all mankind, as you did at first. To put it in our terms, if I could, what is being said to Ephesus is: the honeymoon period of your early love in the first days of your Christian faith is now over – for the Lord, for one another, for the lost world.
What about your enthusiasm that you used to have years ago for the Lord Jesus Christ? Could it be said of you: you do not love as you did at first? Has the fire and the passion, and the fervency and the ardour, has it gone? For the Ephesians – who knows, only God – but could it have been that the idol of their sound doctrine had taken the place of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Therein lies a great danger, because orthodoxy costs too much when love has to go out the window. These Ephesians were like the pitbulls of doctrinal dogma: in the midst of their fight with false apostles, and in the midst of their right, correct doctrine, they lost their love for Christ, for one another, and for mankind as it was in the beginning of their faith.
So the Lord gives them this corrective command in verse 5, and it is found in three steps, and they are three R’s if you like alliteration. The first is ‘Remember’, the second is ‘Repent’, and the third is ‘Repeat the works you did at first’. Look at the first: remember. Now, somewhere along their history there had been a considerable drop off in the fervency of their love. Now, a generation earlier, when Paul the apostle wrote the epistle to the Ephesians, we see that they were commended for their love. Turn with me to Ephesians for a moment, Ephesians chapter 1 and verse 15, Paul says: ‘Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers’. ‘I’m rejoicing because I’ve heard of the great love you have’. Now, when we go to the end of the book to chapter 6, turn with me, verse 24, he says: ‘Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity’, and I think the implication is that they did.
Now not only did Paul commend them for their love, but he commanded them to grow in their love. Look at chapter 4 please of Ephesians, verse 2: ‘With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love’, love each other in your dealings. Verse 15: ‘Speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ’, converse with one another and deal with one another in love. Verse 16: ‘From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love’, edify one another, build one another up, encourage one another in love.
What generation of a Christian are you? I know how many generations of a Christian I am, and it is so easy to slip away gradually from our love as it was at first without hardly realising that it is happening! What is the answer to that? The Lord’s corrective command to this church was: remember from whence you are fallen! Go back in your thoughts to those first days – and the Greek of ‘remember’ here is in the imperative present, that literally means ‘keep on remembering’, hold in your memory, never forget on a continual basis the love you once had for the Lord! Pray to God that it will come back again! Again Cowper grasps it:
‘Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the LORD?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus, and His word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill’.
Where Ephesus, those ruins that you saw tonight, are now there is no church as was then! Did the demise of the city of Ephesus, perhaps, affect the church? Or was the manner of Christ’s judgement the demise of this city of Ephesus, and the silting up of the harbour that you saw? Are you viewing it through Christ’s eyes or the world’s eyes? If you see it through Christ’s eyes, He removed the candlestick. He used geographical, meteorological means. He can use political means, He can use theological means. Can I ask you again, whatever assembly you belong to, and particularly the folk here in the Iron Hall: can you see the outcome of Christ in our midst? Do you look objectively at our history and our present and see Christ at work, judging in His church? Do you see conditions prevailing in local churches today as the intervention of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest Judge? Or do you look at it all from man’s perspective?
Another commendation which we missed is found in verse 6: ‘This thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate’. ‘You hate what I hate’, the Lord Jesus says, that’s a wonderful thing. Now notice please that it was the practices of the Nicolaitanes that they hated, not the persons themselves – that’s an important distinction to make. Now we can’t be positive who these Nicolaitanes were, there are really two views on this generally. The first is that the church fathers testify that this sect was connected with Nicolas, who was one of the seven leaders in the church of Jerusalem who were appointed in Acts 6:5, and they say that he started teaching falsehood and people followed him into this sect. But there are other early writings that deny that, and of course Acts 6:5 says that Nicolas was a man full of the Holy Ghost – he was a good man, so I don’t think that’s the case. It may well have been a radical movement that taught immorality and various other heresy. But there are other scholars who believe the second interpretation, that when you dissect the meaning of this name it actually means ‘conquerors of the people’, or ‘rule over the laity’ – and they see a reference there to the clerical system. In fact, Archbishop Richard C. Trench himself stated plainly: ‘Nicolaitanism is clericy’. Now it is true that not long after John wrote this book of the Revelation, Ignatius, a church father, counselled the church to look upon her bishop as they would upon Christ – and we see the beginning of something that has plagued the church of Jesus Christ for centuries.
Now if you don’t want to pinpoint one of those interpretations, I would favour the second – we certainly can see both: that the Lord hates anything that divides His people! Heresy or clericy, Jesus hates it, the Ephesians hate it, and we should hate it too. Incidentally, what the Ephesians rejected, we will see in a later week, Pergamos embraced in chapter 2 verses 15. They fully imbibed the teaching of the Nicolaitanes. There is a lesson for us as an assembly and as churches of God’s people: you don’t do things because other people do them, or other assemblies do them. Though they lacked love, they didn’t get rid of their orthodoxy – notice that? In fact, the Lord commended them for their orthodoxy.
Then fifthly and finally, the Lord makes a commitment to the overcomers among them. Now, again there’s a wee bit of controversy here concerning who these overcomers are, and there are basically two interpretations. The first is that they are all believers, all people who have put their trust and faith in the Lord Jesus, in keeping with 1 John chapter 5 verses 4-5 that says: ‘For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?’. Of course John is writing this book, as he did his first epistle – incidentally, I think that out of 27 references to overcomers in the New Testament, 23 of those are made by the apostle John, so it’s a favourite word of his. Here he shows that those who overcome are those who simply have faith in believing that Jesus is the Son of God.
But there’s a wee bit of a problem with that, simply because these promises to the overcomer seem to be conditional: ‘If you do this, you will overcome’. It seems to be upon overcoming the conditions that are prevailing in these particular churches that they would be blessed. So the second interpretation is that these overcomers are the faithful and obedient children of God, and failure to overcome means a loss of reward – not salvation of course, but of reward. Now there’s a problem I foresee with that as well, because the blessings that are given to each of these overcomers in the seven letters are all common as the heritage of every believer – you look at them when you get home. It might be up to you to make up your mind, but I think a satisfactory answer may be found in that I think these overcomers are what a true believer is expected to be in the assembly where these conditions prevailed. So in this assembly that had lost its love as it was at first, it needed to remember, to repent, to repeat the works they did it first, and they would know the Lord’s blessing as evidence that they were true believers of the Lord Jesus Christ. For each church that may well be different, but it demonstrates their genuineness in churches that ultimately were a mixed multitude, as you will see next week, and from the parable of the wheat and the tares.
Incidentally, please notice the first three of these churches, the voice of the Spirit speaks to the whole church, and the voice of the Spirit speaks before the overcomer – and so the Spirit is speaking to everyone. In the last four churches we find the Spirit speaking after the overcomer, so the Spirit is speaking to the overcomers in those four last churches – which is like an implication that for the first three churches, they had a chance, but the last four hardly have any chance, and people in it need to listen up as individuals! That’s really the message tonight. You might disagree with the odd point that I’m making tonight, and I’m sure many of you will, but here’s the important question: if you were in any one of the seven churches, would you have overcome the conditions that prevailed? You see the lesson is: we must overcome where we are. There was only one church in Ephesus, probably, and they didn’t have cars and buses and trains to, when they got upset, go to the one down the road! They had to overcome where they were! You don’t hear much of that today.
Their reward was the tree of life in the Paradise of God, the Garden of God, Eden restored, which we find in chapter 21 and 22.
This is mine” as in the book of Daniel chap 2 we read “28 But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these.29As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. 30But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart. 31Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.34Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
Here God gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream of an Image that would give us the world’s leaders from Babylon to the revised Roman empire here in Revelation chapters 1-3 God is Giving John the History of the Church from the cross to the final battle of the world Gog and Magog! Amen
“Smyrna, The Persecuted Church
Turn with me to Revelation chapter 2, to what is the shortest account of the letters given to the churches – the second, that being to Smyrna. Verse 8 of chapter 2, reading through to verse 11 – ‘Smyrna, The Persecuted Church’: “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death”.
‘Write the things which thou hast seen’, that being the vision of the risen, glorified Lord as the High Priest Judge in the midst of His churches – and we find that in chapter 1 and verse 9 and following. Then he is also told to write ‘the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter’. Now the things which shall be hereafter are from chapter 4 right to the end of the book, but the things which are are the things which were current to John in his day and age, that being chapters 2 and 3, the seven churches of Asia Minor
So we are given a complete picture of the moral and spiritual history of the church of Jesus Christ. Now that can be understood in three ways, and let me remind you of those. The first is that that history is understood literally. We have to say that these seven churches were seven literal churches that existed in Asia Minor, those conditions were present in John’s day. Not only are they understood literally, but secondly they are understood universally. What I mean by that is that they are illustrative of the good and bad conditions that will prevail in the church everywhere during every age of her existence. We did say last week that there is a marked resemblance between the seven churches here in Revelation, and the seven parables of the kingdom, mystery parables that we find in Matthew’s gospel chapter 13. Incidentally, every one of these letters has the words spoken by the Lord that, ‘Let him that hath ears to hear, hear’, and those words were spoken in the mystery parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13
So there is a literal approach, there is a universal approach, and then there is a prophetic approach – that approach simply interprets these seven churches as being a preview, chronologically, of the history of Christendom from Pentecost right to the rapture of the church – each of these seven churches representing a distinct period. For instance, last week we thought about the church at Ephesus, and we saw that that was the loveless church, but it also was the post-apostolic church. It was founded by the apostles, and it transpired the period of the late years of the first and the early years of the second century. Generally speaking it was a praiseworthy church, but we see, as church history testifies, that already that post-apostolic church was beginning to forsake her first love. Then that brings us on to the church at Smyrna, understood prophetically as the persecuted church, the church from about the first century right through to the fourth century, the church that endured the persecution of various Roman emperors. We could call this church ‘the martyr age of the church’.
Now it would seem incredible if such similarities with history were only accidental, but though that is the case, I have said in previous weeks that we should not press these analogies beyond their bounds. So tonight I want us to consider first and foremost the literal approach to this church at Smyrna, what it meant to the people, the Christians of this particular first century church that John is writing to. Then I want us to think of the fourth approach that I introduced you to last week, and that is the personal approach. This letter, as all the seven letters, has something to say to each of us as Christians. Notice verse 7a: ‘He that hath ears to hear’, in the singular, ‘Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. It is for us as individuals to take heed to God’s word, to Christ’s revelation to each of these churches, and apply them to our own lives.
We noted last week that each of the seven churches, they are seven letters – with minor exceptions – that are organised in a general pattern. First of all we are introduced to a characteristic of the Lord Jesus Christ from the vision that John received in chapter 1, the vision of Christ as the High Priest Judge in the midst of His churches. The particular characteristic that is introduced to each church is fitting when we consider the needs of that particular church. As far as Smyrna goes, in verse 8 you see that the Lord Jesus is introduced to them as, ‘the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive’. If you look down at verse 10, you will see that the Lord Jesus is encouraging His people in Smyrna to be ‘faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life’. The characteristic that is revealed to Smyrna is for their particular need, to stand firm in the midst of tribulation and suffering, and not deny their Lord. It is particularly applicable to these would-be martyrs
There is no criticism, and there is no corrective command because there is no criticism – which is often the fourth aspect to these letters. But rather, instead of a corrective command, we have in verse 10 counsel given after the Lord’s commendation: ‘Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life’. Then, as in each of these letters, in verse 11 we have the final factor which is a commitment that the Lord gives to the overcomers of that church, a promise that He gives: ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death’.
Secondly please note that this was not only an idyllic but an industrious city. The name ‘Smyrna’ really means ‘Myrrh’, and Smyrna as a city operated a trade in myrrh – that is, the aromatic resin. They produced from that resin from the tree a gum that was often used for embalming dead bodies. It was an industrious city that was famous for myrrh. Thirdly it is also marked for its idolatry, it was an idolatrous city. It offered worship to the emperor through an imperial cult, and this cult, and indeed a large Jewish population, made life extremely difficult for the believers of the Lord Jesus Christ in Smyrna. None of the other cities of the seven cities written to here in the Apocalypse were so stained with the blood of the martyrs like Smyrna.
Now can I just pause there for a moment, because I think there is a worthy lesson for us to note: out of all the seven churches – which, let me remind you, are generally found in the same vicinity – only Smyrna suffered like this. Why? We could equally ask the question: why is it that some people, some believers in the Lord Jesus Christ indeed, suffer more than others? Why is it that the godliest of men and women seem to suffer more than others? Well, I have no answer to that, save to say that I think the answer lies deep in the sovereignty of God – but it’s worth noticing. Smyrna suffered more than the rest of the seven.
So that is the city of Smyrna: it was idyllic with a Satanic undertone; it was industrious in the production of this aromatic resin, myrrh; and it was idolatrous in the emperor cult. Secondly I want you to note this characteristic of Christ that is revealed to the church at Smyrna. Verse 8 gives us that, the second half: ‘These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive’. The first characteristic we have of the Lord revealed to Smyrna is ‘the first and the last’ – incidentally, which is a description of God that John, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, plucked out of Isaiah’s prophecy in the Old Testament. It is a title for Jehovah that is being applied and attributed to the Lord Jesus Christ – hence, you see, He is God of God.
First of all the Holy Spirit wants Smyrna to see He is the Eternal God – and, boy, if you’re going through any form of suffering tonight as a Christian, you need to get a glimpse of Jesus Christ in His deity as the first and the last, the eternal God, and realise that the power of Christ can support anyone, at any time, in any circumstance. He is God! But secondly the Holy Spirit wanted Smyrna to see that though He is the eternal God, He went the same way as they were presently going. He went through a baptism of blood, their blessed and glorified Head was crucified – and in death He slew death, and became Master of it. Having been tested and tried, and lived and died, and rose again, He has now become a Great High Priest to those who believe in Him – and He can enter into the suffering of our infirmities because of all that
The first and the last who became dead and lives – boy, how they needed to hear that, because what the Lord Jesus was saying to them was: ‘You can have all my compassion, you can enter into all my companionship, because you are going the way that your Master went’. Are you hearing that tonight, suffering child of God? Of course, Smyrna had its own death and resurrection. Round about 580 BC the city was destroyed, and then in 290 BC it was rebuilt again completely. So there is an allusion there – the first and the last, the one who was dead and is alive – to their particular history. But Smyrna’s name, as we have seen already, means ‘myrrh’ – and that aromatic resin was associated with death, the embalming of the dead. But the process of getting that resin out of the tree was something deeply symbolic to these suffering Christians in the church of Smyrna, because to get this resin an incision had to be made in the bark of the tree, the sap had to be allowed to bleed, and then that fragrant and bitter resin had to be produced through the wounding of that tree.
Christians during those 200 years or so were martyred, butchered, burned for Jesus Christ – and the church in Smyrna particularly typifies that prophetically speaking…
Prophetically speaking we are entering into a church period where, for 200 years, the church would be crushed by the iron heel of pagan Roman. As we look down this passage, in verse 10 it is prophesied that for ten days they would be thrown in prison, and would be tested and tried, and they would need to be faithful unto death. Now you might not know this, according to the history books there were 10 separate attempts by 10 separate Roman emperors to exterminate and eradicate Christianity from the Roman empire. The tenth attempt was by an emperor by the name of Diocletian, and that tenth attempt lasted 10 years! Christians during those 200 years or so were martyred, butchered, burned for Jesus Christ – and the church in Smyrna particularly typifies that prophetically speaking. They, like the resin that they represent, would be cut, bruised, wounded, crushed for Christ – but from that process of tribulation there would be a savour, and a fragrant smell that would ascend unto God that had never gone up before
Christ was the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant of Jehovah. Incidentally, myrrh is always associated with Him. In Matthew chapter 2 we find that the wise men brought – what did they bring? Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then when we travel from Bethlehem 33 or so years, we come to Calvary and He’s hanging on the cross, dying for men’s sins, and they reach up a sponge on a spear and try to give Him wine mingled with myrrh to dull the pain. Then we find Him dead, being buried, and Nicodemus, John gospel tells us, brought an embalming ointment of myrrh to prepare His dead body for the tomb. What suffering our Lord Jesus experienced from His birth, to the cross, to the tomb itself. Right throughout the Old Testament it is used – that is, myrrh – as a type of our Lord Jesus Christ in His suffering. But there’s something I want you to note: in the Old Testament, in Isaiah chapter 60 and verse 6, we read prophetically of when our Lord Jesus Christ will come again. He will be presented at that time with gold, and with frankincense, but there is something missing! The myrrh isn’t there! Because when He comes again, Isaiah 60 verse 2 tells us, He will not be coming as the Suffering Servant of Jehovah, He will be coming as the Sovereign King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to judge, to reign, and to rule.
If you were a Christian and were seen to be a rebel to the cause of the emperor, the likelihood was that your employer would get rid of you very quickly. Christians were seen in the empire at this time as atheists, because they did not believe in the gods of Rome. They were seen as traitors who were committing treason because they would not acknowledge that the emperor was lord. So it was very easy to arouse a rabble, and to go to a Christian’s home and smash it up, and pillage his goods, and even confiscate his possessions in the name of Caesar and the empire. There’s no insurance policies, and as a Christian you would be living in one of the wealthiest cities in existence in Asia Minor, let alone the empire, and yet like these people in Smyrna you would be destitute – destitute.
Yet with all their destitution, look what the Lord says in verse 9: ‘but thou art rich’ – thou art rich. They have suffered the loss of many things, indeed all things I would say, and though they were poor in this world they were rich in faith! Indeed, as poor, they were able to make many rich because of their faith. What others thought was wealth was actually poverty, and what people saw in their lives as destitution, according to God was rich. Now we’re running ahead of ourselves, but if you turn with me to the church of Laodicea in chapter 3 and verse 17, they had the opposite said of them by the Lord Jesus – chapter 3:17: ‘Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked’. They thought they were rich, yet they were poor! The church in Smyrna was poor, destitute, and yet in Christ’s eyes they were rich!
Can I ask you a very searching question: have you got the values of Christ or the values of this world? Do I need to repeat that? Have you got the values of Christ or the values of this world? Do you value material things over spiritual? Incidentally, do you see suffering as an enriching experience in the Christian life? It’s not the popular health and wealth gospel that you’ll hear on the God Channel, but it’s the Bible’s teaching regarding suffering: it enriches the Christian’s life and testimony! That is why, often, the godliest of men and women have suffered the most. Charles Stanley said: ‘Jesus is specially the partner of His poorer servants’ – why is that? Because to be poor, to be destitute, is to go the way that the Master went.
Can I remind you of a verse that you know well, 2 Corinthians 8:9: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich’, that’s the same word that is used here of Smyrna, ‘yet for your sakes he became poor’, that is the same word for destitute used of Smyrna, ‘that ye through his poverty and destitution might be spiritually rich’. It’s the way He went. It was the way He came into this world – Joseph and Mary, heavy with child, came to the inn, and an inn was a place where you were judged regarding what you had, and they were refused entrance. He was born in a stable. Then when Mary comes to bring the offering to the Temple, after birth she brings a working man’s offering. The Lord Jesus for 30 years adorns the apron of a carpenter in His father’s shop. When He begins His ministry, He has to ask a man for a penny. He borrows a boat in which to preach. The very tomb that His cold corpse lies in after His crucifixion is not His own! The moment He died, He left nothing behind Him, even His clothes were gambled for by the soldiers. Yet being destitute, He possessed everything! He holds the world in His hand!
Is that the way we are? Do you know what our problem is? Oh yes, we ought to be thankful for what we have here in the West, but I think all of us have got too rich – we have you know. I think we would be better men and women, myself included, if we had a lot less. Churches are often judged today on how much money they have, and how much clout they can bring – that’s not how Christ judged this church: they were destitute, yet they were rich.
‘I know thy tribulation, I know thy poverty, I know’ – look at it – ‘the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan’. Now that word for ‘blasphemy’ is the word for ‘slander’: ‘I know those that slander you’, and this slander was caused by Jews who called themselves Jews but were not. Now what that simply means is the same as what Paul said in Romans chapter 2, they were Jews outwardly in external religiosity, but they were not circumcised in their heart toward God. Isn’t it amazing that these Jews, who in the Old Testament were called the congregation of Jehovah, are now being spoken of as a synagogue of Satan. Satan, incidentally, is the accuser of the brethren. Satan is the one who is inspiring these Jews to slander God’s people in Smyrna. They may have been the Judiasers of the book of Galatians, but I happen to think that these Jews primarily were a group of folk who were rabble-rousers, who were just stirring up trouble towards these Christians.
They looked upon the early Christians really as a sect of Judaism, and so they were allowed to practise as the Jews were. But you see the Jews didn’t like Christians being seen as part of Judaism, and so they created a fuss and often spread slander concerning the Christians. Now this is not a Jewish slander in the early church, but it certainly was one that went about, and that was that the love feast – when the believers broke bread and drank wine – was the practice of cannibalism, the flesh and the blood of the Lord Jesus. They slandered the church as cannibals!
Let me remind you: it doesn’t matter that it says here that the Jews were bringing this slander, as many of the pagans often did. In all this neither the Jews nor the Romans were the real problem – we’ve got to see that. This had become a synagogue of Satan, Satan was the instigator behind this persecution. The seven churches at Asia that we have before us here in chapters 2 and 3, Satan is mentioned five times as being against the church! When are we ever going to wake up to the fact that Satan is real and alive in the 21st century, and he is working against us – and, incidentally, some Christians are working along with him! Ephesians 6:12 says: ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood’, we’ve got to see beyond flesh and blood, and see that there are spiritual principalities and powers in high places that are orchestrating this persecution towards the church in John’s day and in ours. Christ says, this is the message, ‘I know thy tribulation, I know thy poverty, I know the slander of the synagogue of Satan’. Isn’t it wonderful that they could know that He knew? Child of God tonight, He knows:
Their commendation: ‘I know thy tribulation, thy poverty, and the blasphemy’. Fourthly look at the counsel to the church, verse 10: ‘Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer’. Hold on a minute now! ‘Thou shalt suffer’? Would they be forgiven in thinking: ‘Lord, hold on a minute! OK, we’ve endured a lot so far, but the things which we shall suffer – future? No more, Lord! Is it not enough, Lord?’. Do you ever feel like that? There’s no talk of deliverance here, there’s no talk of the miraculous – whilst God can do it, it’s not mentioned here – but Christ is telling them: ‘You’re going to have to go through more! You might be destitute, but there’s more to come!’. It’s frightening, isn’t it? Yet please note, we don’t find any complaining among them. I know I would be complaining, wouldn’t you? But they were Christ-like
Can I remind you of what Peter said: ‘What glory is it if, when we be buffeted for our faults, we take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, you do take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were we called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously’. Not a complaint! The Lord counsels them first to be fearless, ‘fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer’. We fear many things, don’t we? Yet they were facing things that we could understand them fearing. We need a reality check as we study this passage of Scripture tonight: these Christians were facing prison, they were facing death, and the Lord said to them literally, ‘Stop being afraid!’.
I love that little phrase in the Scriptures, and I think some of you love it too: ‘And it came to pass’. It will end, don’t fear – though this might be instigated by Satan, it is controlled by Christ! Do you hear that? Often our sufferings do come from the devil, but praise God: our Lord Jesus Christ is in control. What He was saying to these believers was simply: he might rob you of your wealth, he might rob you of your health, he might rob you of your very life – but he can’t rob you of your eternal riches! Maybe we have become so earthly minded that that doesn’t matter any more. It mattered to them because they didn’t have anything else.
Be fearless, then the second counsel was: be faithful. Incidentally, this is coming from the One who in chapter 1 verse 5 is spoken of as ‘the faithful witness’ – be faithful rather than renounce your faith Smyrnan Christians. I have really searched my heart today, I want you to search yours: could you be faithful unto death? Now let me add a caveat to that: I believe God gives grace to die whenever the time comes – that’s maybe why I don’t feel like being able to do that just now. Yet they were encouraged in anticipation. What are we: fearful or faithful? Now it might even be fearful – these people were going to die, but your fear might be even to be a witness with your mouth of Christ. We all know about spiritual lockjaw when it comes to speaking a word for the Saviour.
. Fearful or faithful, if these believers were faithful unto death, they would receive a reward – look at verse 10. They would be given a crown of life. Now the Greek word there for ‘crown’ is ‘stephanos’, not ‘diadema’ – ‘diadema’ is a kingly crown, ‘stephanos’ is the laurel wreath that was put on the head of a victorious athlete. James 1:12 speaks of the same crown: ‘Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him’. Under trial, even to the point of death, there is a reward. Now there are several crowns that are reward for believers, and I haven’t the time to go into those tonight, and I don’t even want to because I want to labour on this one: will you, will I, get a reward for enduring trial, for suffering? Now it’s not suffering with an ingrown toenail, this is suffering for the cause of Christ. You say: ‘Sure, who’s suffering for the cause of Christ today?’. I don’t have time to elaborate on this, but I believe all of us, in some shape or form, should be suffering for the cause of Christ today. Maybe it’s because we’re not taking our stand? Will we be faithful or fearful? Will I? When it comes – and it’s very close to the day – when to say that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination in the eyes of God, you’ll be put in prison for it, will I say it? Or will we just keep quiet about it? That’s what we’re talking about here. The Lord Jesus says: ‘You count the cost. Lose your life for My sake, and you’ll find it’. This is the crown of life:
James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
That death for these Smyrnan Christians could have been torture, then maybe the rack, perhaps out to the stake to be burned, or to be fed to lions. Now, if you were in this church, Smyrna, would you overcome? Remember who the overcomers are: in one sense they are those who, John says, are born of God and overcome the world, and it’s our faith that gives us that victory – those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. This is a church where believers had to prove their faith by their devotion to Christ to the very point of death! If that was you, would you take the name of Christ? The Lord said that if they did, they would not be hurt by the second death – that is in the emphatic double negative: ‘You certainly will never be harmed’ – never!
We’ve been to Smyrna tonight, the purifying lamp of affliction has caused the lamp of testimony to burn all the more brilliantly – but I want to ask you as we close tonight: what if, one day soon, you will be called to be faithful unto death? You know, it wasn’t long after this book of Revelation was written that Polycarp, a bishop in Smyrna, 86 years of age, had a knock on his door. Then he was hauled before the courts of Smyrna to renounce Jesus Christ, and they said to him: ‘Just say, ‘Caesar is Lord’, and we’ll let you go’. He flatly refused, he never wavered, and said these words: ‘Fourscore and six years I have served the Lord Jesus, He has done me no wrong, how then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?’ – and he was burned alive. The present-day church of Smyrna told the world in April of last year that five Muslims entered a Christian publishing company, and killed three believers in the southeastern province of Malatya, Turkey – 300 miles from Antioch where believers were first called Christians. One of them was a man called Necati, and he was buried in his home town of Izmir, Smyrna. His wife says these words – wives, could you say this? – ‘His death was full of meaning because he died for Christ and he lived for Christ. Necati was a gift from God, I feel honoured that he was in my life. I feel crowned with honour, I want to be worthy of that honour’. Do you know what the pastor said? I think at the funeral, he asked the world: ‘Don’t pray against persecution, pray for perseverance’.
No later than three weeks ago a dozen Christians in the Izmir district of Istanbul were attending Sunday morning worship, and were suddenly rounded up and taken to police stations. They were all accused of holding illegal meetings, and were fined, and the church in that Izmir district remains closed and sealed pending the results of a court case that could take months. Do you know something? The devil hasn’t changed, this world hasn’t changed, Jesus Christ hasn’t changed – but the Western church has changed. In the south of Scotland there is a monument to two women. For their faith they were brought to the sea, sentenced to death by the stake – and the stake was put, for the older woman, way out in the ocean. She was asked to recant her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and she refused, and she died of drowning. The young girl whose stake was planted nearer the shore watched it all, and as the tide rose to her ankles, then to her calves, then to her hips, then to her chest, then over her head – a couple of soldiers ran and lifted the stake high, and said: ‘We’ll give you another chance, recant and live’. What would you have done? She refused.
“Pergamos, The Compromising Church”
Revelation chapter 2, beginning to read at verse 12: “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it”.
John was told to write the things that he had seen, that is chapter 1, the vision of the risen Christ as the glorified Lord and Judge-Priest among the church. Then we see that he was also told to write the things which shall be hereafter, which comprises the visions from chapter 4 onwards, things that are yet future. But he was also told to write the things which are, that’s what we have here, these seven churches are the divine revelation concerning the church age – a complete picture of the moral and spiritual history of the church.
Then we’re looking this evening at the third church, Pergamos, which I’ve entitled ‘The Compromising Church’. Now each of these churches say something to us by their name, their name means something that sheds light on the teaching of God’s word. ‘Pergamos’ means ‘thoroughly married’. Here we have a compromising church that, in a historical sense, really correlates to the church of the fourth and the fifth century – the church that lost its fidelity to Christ, and actually became allied to the world. ‘Now how did that happen?’, you might say. Well, you may have heard of a man called Constantine, and Constantine had a spurious conversion. There’s a lot of doubt
whether he was genuinely saved, and indeed he adopted, for the whole empire, Christianity as the state religion around AD 313. So there was a great influx of people who professed Christianity to get into the empire, and there was much incentive to do that, and with them they brought much of their pagan spiritual baggage.
‘Let he who has ears to hear, hear’
He tells Pergamos, ‘Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth’. In other words, if the Pergamos Christians didn’t deal with the falsehood, false teachers, false doctrine and false living that was in their ranks, the Lord Jesus Himself would come and fight against those false teachers with the sword of His holy word.
So that is the characteristic of the Lord revealed to Pergamos, He has this two-edged sword. Then in each letter, with the exception of course of Laodicea, there is a commendation to the church, and here we have it to Pergamos in verse 13: ‘I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth’. We’ll look at that in detail in a few moments. Then each letter, thirdly, has a criticism – except, of course, Smyrna that we considered last week, and Philadelphia that we have yet to consider. In verses 14 and 15 we have the criticism of the Lord Jesus towards Pergamos, and we sum it up just with the first few words of verse 14: ‘I have a few things against thee’ – and we will see tonight what those were.
Then fourthly, each letter has a corrective command, except those who didn’t need to correct because they were not critiqued. But Pergamos did need correction, and we find it in verse 16: ‘Repent’, or the Lord Jesus was going to take direct disciplinary action against this church. Then, as in each of the seven letters, we have finally a commitment that the Lord Jesus makes to the overcomers, overcoming the conditions that prevailed in each church. We have it here in verse 7, that the Lord promised to give to the overcomer hidden manna, and a stone with a new name written on it.
Not only was it a centre of culture and learning, but we see very clearly that Pergamos was a centre of spirituality. You could describe it as like the Hyde Park Corner of ancient Asia, it was a marketplace for all kinds of false religions and beliefs. As you have already observed, high on the Acropolis of the city was an altar to Zeus overshadowing the whole of the populace. There was also, within Pergamos, a temple to Zeus, as well as a temple to Athena, and a temple to Dionysius – all pagan gods, and Dionysius, incidentally, is the same god as Bacchus, who was the god of drunkenness. One of the more renowned temples in Pergamos was dedicated to a god called Asclepius, and in that temple to Asclepius there was a prominent monument and object, that being the wreathed serpent. Now you’re familiar with that, whether or not you realise it, if I just go a couple of slides you might recognize it now. On the left you have actually a statue of Asclepius from the Berlin Pergamum Museum, that statue actually from ancient Pergamum; and on the right you have what is the modern symbol for medicine. That is in fact where it derives – it’s not from Moses lifting the serpent in the wilderness as many people suppose – but it is in fact from this pagan god Asclepius, who was understood as the god of healing. That is why Pergamos was considered to be the Lourdes of the day, and all sorts of people from all over the empire and indeed the world would come to find healing for various diseases, particularly from the god Asclepius. The supplicants would actually enter into the temple of Asclepius, and lie on the floor, and non-poisonous snakes would come and writhe over them – and they believed that by these snakes touching them, the god Asclepius might indeed heal them. So Pergamum was indeed a centre of spirituality.
A centre of learning and culture, a centre of spirituality, thirdly it was also a centre for the Imperial cult – that’s a bit of an offshoot from being a centre of spirituality, but I want to highlight this in particular because it is highly relevant to what we’re doing tonight. This was a centre for the Imperial cult that worshipped the Emperor of the day as divine. As early as 29 BC there was a temple dedicated to the worship of the Emperor in Pergamos. In due course there was a second temple added, and eventually a third. So you can imagine how all that has been said would make it very difficult for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to live and operate in a place like Pergamos, especially when you consider that it was the centre in this particular region for the worship of the Emperor. Now what did that mean? Well, every single year every Roman citizen was required to go to the temple of the Emperor, to take a pinch of incense, to drop that incense on the altar, and to confess ‘Caesar is Lord!’.
Now, obviously a true Christian could never do that – but can I ask you before we paint the picture of Pergamos any more this evening: how do you think you would fare if, by law, you were required to do that? What would your reaction be? That leads us on a little to the characteristic of the Lord that is presented to the church at Pergamos in verse 12, the one who has the two-edged sword. Now Christians who refused to go through this rite and confess that Caesar was Lord may well have to face the sword of the Roman proconsul, and here Christ is revealing Himself to these Christians, fearing persecution and perhaps even death, and gives them a salutary reminder that there is an even greater power than the power of the Emperor. There is a greater power than any earthly governor or government, that is the power of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ!
Now if you remember last week, we highlighted the fact that Smyrna faced the opposition of the synagogue of Satan – you remember that? Satan was coming to hound that church in a religious way, but now we are seeing that Satan is coming to the believers in Pergamos in a different ilk: he’s coming through a regime. Now I want to remind you of a verse that is very familiar to most, it is found in Ephesians 6 and verse 12, Paul says: ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’. Pergamos was a place where Satan’s throne was, it was the administrative capital for this particular province as far as Rome was concerned, but I want you to see beyond Rome: there were principalities and powers, high spiritual realities that were working through the politics and the regime of the day, and so this wasn’t just the Roman administrative centre of Asia, this was the Satanic administrative centre of Asia. It was where Satanic policies emanated from, indeed I believe that the primary aim of the devil at this point from this place was to attack the whole Church of Asia Minor.
Minions demons as funny little men who are little jokers but yet Satan uses them to make us laugh and there you have it, once you laugh at sin you cannot take it serious again! Just a thought!!!!!
Now we’ve got to remember something concerning the devil: he is not omnipresent, he can’t be everywhere at the same time – that’s why he utilises his minions, a hierarchy of demons in a network of activity. Some believe that Ephesians 6 verse 12 that I quoted really illustrates that type of rank among demonic spirits – but at this time it seems that the centre of Satanic operations was the city of Pergamos. Now historically we know that the original seat of Satan and idolatry on the earth was Babylon. In Alexander Hislop’s book, ‘The Two Babylons‘, one I would recommend for you to read, he details how the Pagan mystery cults at Babylon transferred to Pergamos after the death of Belshazzar, the Babylonian Emperor. So it moved from Babylon, moved to Pergamos, and incidentally Hislop traces how it moved from Pergamos eventually to Rome – and many of the trends we find in the Roman Catholic Church are owed to paganism.
If that’s what witnessing meant in our day and age, how many of us would be doing it? Sure we’re not even doing it now, and it doesn’t mean death! At the most it means a bit of an embarrassment! Yet here we have Antipas, do you know what his name means? ‘Against all’, I love that. Can I give you an illustration concerning Antipas that is actually taken from the prophetic approach to this church of Pergamos? It was during this particular period of church history that we’re talking about, the fourth and fifth century, there was a theological controversy that was raging for over a hundred years. It was called the ‘Arian’ controversy, it was concerning false teachers who were casting doubt on the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The debate really went like this: is it just that the Lord Jesus was of like substance with the Father, or was He of the same substance as the Father? Now in modern Christianity that would be seen as splitting hairs, but in these early days it was a fundamental issue. Is Christ just like the Father, or is He of the same substance with the Father? In AD 325 at the Council of Nicaea in the South of France, the church there ruled that the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures teach, was the same substance as the Father, God of very God. Now if that hadn’t taken place, and they had decided He was just of like substance, the rest of Christian history would have been characterised by Unitarianism. Thank God that that never happened.
After that ruling concerning the deity of Christ, the teaching of Arianism stayed in the church, many were still espousing it. A godly man called Athanasius, who championed the fight for Christ’s name just like Antipas, would not permit fellowship around the Lord’s Table to anyone who was of the Arian persuasion. He was so strict in this regard that the emperor, Theodosius, commanded that Athanasius would admit these Arians to partake of the bread and the cup. Athanasius refused the emperor, and Theodosius reproved him sternly for what he saw as insubordination to his emperor, and Theodosius said these words: ‘Do you not realise that all the world is against you?’. This was Athanasius’ answer: ‘Then I am against the world’. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Of course it’s not! Prophetically speaking this church at Pergamos were commended by the Lord for not denying the name and the faith of the Lord Jesus, the name that is high over all in hell, or earth, or sky; the name of the one who is God’s Son and God the Son. It’s no coincidence that during this church period this Arian controversy was raging, and with all the faults that there may have been in Pergamos – praise God, they held fast to the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ!
So come with me, fourthly, to the criticism of the Lord Jesus. Now you remember that the first church we considered was Ephesus, and there was one cause for censure that the Lord Jesus brought to them: ‘You have left your first love’; but here to Pergamos He says, ‘I have a few things against you’. Now, incidentally, let me say that if you look at the screen you will remember that we are saying prophetically that in the history of the church – though the church seems, in an external sense, as the kingdom of God, to progress and even appears to expand just like the parable of the mustard seed that grows into the great tree – the true spiritual condition of the church declines, particularly in relation to purity and doctrine, that being the parable of the leaven
The Lord Jesus says to Pergamos: ‘You have those there’ – and before we look at the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, just note this fact that the Lord is saying to this church, ‘You have those there’. Now that means there were true Christians in this church, and there were false Christians. I think that’s the case in every church, through each period of church history – by the way, that is the parable in Matthew 13 of the wheat and the tares. This church in Pergamos allowed these false teachers to fellowship with them, to stay there, and the Lord was telling them: ‘If you don’t discipline them and put them out, I’m going to come with my sword of judgement, and I’ll do it’ – that’s the parable in Matthew 13 of the dragnet, when the Lord is going to separate those that are His from those who are false professors. It’s interesting, isn’t it?
‘You have those’, look at the verse, verse 14, ‘who hold the doctrine of Balaam’ – now what’s that? We have to go into the Old Testament to find out what that is. Let me recap the story for you from the book of Numbers. The Moabite king called Balac was afraid that Israel would do to the Moabites what they did to the Amorites, so he came to one of the prophets of God by the name of Balaam, and he hired him. Incidentally the New Testament talks about ‘the way of Balaam’, Peter talks about it, and it’s simply covetousness. Just as Balaam served the Lord for filthy lucre, the way of Balaam is to be covetous in the work of God. That’s not what we have here, it’s the doctrine of Balaam, and Balac hired Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Incidentally, Jude verse 11 talks about the error of Balaam, which was supposing that you could get God, as Balaam thought, to be forced to curse the children of Israel – that’s the error of Balaam, that’s not what we have here, we have the doctrine of Balaam. What is the doctrine of Balaam then? It’s simply this, now come with me: Balaam couldn’t get God to curse Israel, so he decided he would give King Balac a plan to corrupt Israel. Now stay with me, we read in Numbers 25 that at the place called Shittim Israel’s consecration and separation unto God was completely obliterated when the Moabite women committed fornication with the Israelite men, and they ate flesh offered to idols – that’s what we have here in verse 14.
‘The doctrine of Balaam’, look at it, ‘who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock’, a trap, ‘before the children of Israel’, look, ‘to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication’. The devil couldn’t use Balaam to curse God’s people, so he used him to coerce God’s people! He couldn’t corrupt them, so he courted them into compromise and powerlessness through these Moabite women. As a result they became powerless, now here is a lesson for all of us as children of God and as churches of God, that if the devil can’t get at us as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, he’ll come as a serpent with subtlety and beguiling. Here we have both in Numbers and in this church in Pergamos what is effectively the breaking down of their holy separation unto God and consecration to His service. We have an encouraging of union with the world.
Maybe you think that’s a bit strong, just over eating a piece of meat. The fact of the matter is, in James 4 and verse 4 we read: ‘Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God’.
Looking at this from a prophetic approach, we see that this became a problem in the fourth and fifth century – because Constantine professed conversion, he made the whole empire Christian, supposedly. All of a sudden it was popular to be a Christian, all you had to do was be baptised and then you were given a white robe and a few pounds – that was any incentive to someone to get ‘saved’. What was happening was that the church was in the world and the world was in the church, and universally this has always been a problem! Whether it is union with the world socially, or union with the world sexually that we have here, worldliness has always been a scourge in the assemblies of Jesus Christ! Socially, let me say, we must beware of any philosophy that says that we must be like the world in order to reach the world – did you hear that? I don’t believe we should put unbiblical barriers in the way of people getting saved – no, no. I think there’s more that we could be doing, even than we’re doing here in the Iron Hall, to see people saved – but don’t you swallow this lie of the devil that we have to get like everybody in the world and appease their appetites and attitudes to get them saved
We need to be socially aware, and we also need to be sexually aware. The doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock, an entrapment, before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. This entrapment used seductive women. Now I’m going to be near the knuckle just now. There shouldn’t be any seductive women in the church of Jesus Christ. Whether it is in a literal sense or a mental sense, no man should be seduced because of what you wear, sister. But in a literal sense: we need to be aware that seduction, sexually, is still the honey trap of the devil. I believe personally that the church of Jesus Christ is suffering from a secret epidemic that we’re all in denial about.
Let me give you a few statistics. There was a survey done very recently in the United States that found that 5 out of 10 Christian men in America are addicted to pornography, 5 out of 10 – 2 out of 10 women were too. Does that surprise you? I know some of you folk, dear help you, you can’t even turn a computer on! You don’t realise what’s going on out there in the world, but I’m telling you what’s going on: 50 percent of men in America who regularly attend a church said they were addicted to pornography – 50 percent, 20 percent of women said the same. There was a recent University survey done in universities, I believe, in the United Kingdom that found that only the cream of Roman Catholic students and only the cream of evangelical students went into marriage with virginity intact. That just tells us that Christians in the 21st century church are bogged in sexual sin – and there are probably several men, young, middle aged, and older, who have a problem with this. All men generally do, and all men have to come to a crisis experience in their life where they put it to death! And that then has to go on daily after that.
The teaching of Balaam. Life was hard in Pergamos, I know life is hard today – you look everywhere, and it’s before you, and the temptation is there – but the message is from the risen Christ: ‘It is possible to overcome! Not be overcome!’. Listen to what John said in 1 John 2:14: ‘I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one’. We have all faced problems similar to this, but it is possible to overcome. People are saying today: ‘It doesn’t matter if you go out with a non-Christian, or even marry them for that matter’, and the unequal yoke doesn’t seem to count any more – whether it’s in marriage, or incidentally in business – ‘Ah, that’s old hat now, unequal yoke in business? Who talks about that any more?’. It’s an unequal yoke, and 2 Corinthians 6 and verses 14-18, which is often quoted regarding churches, has got nothing to do with leaving one church to go to another, it’s got everything to do with the world: ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty’.
The Nicolaitanes may have been involved in immorality, but it seems that the primary aspect to this doctrine was the starting to divide God’s people into two classes: clergy and laity. Prophetically speaking this happened during these centuries, and eventually evolved to the point where these men who were separating themselves as priests were pronouncing absolution over the people of God, forgiveness of sins, taking confessions, sending people to heaven, damning people to hell! Christ says: ‘I hate it!’. He hates immorality, He hates heresy, and a good judgement of where you are spiritually before the Lord Jesus tonight is: do you hate what He hates, or do you love what the world loves? You see, people talk about ‘grey areas’ and confusing questions, but we are moving so far away from this simple Christian holiness that we find in the New Testament: ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for if you love the world the love of the Father isn’t in you’
Then we have a corrective command in verse 16: ‘Repent’. Now the only way these folk could repent was to put these people out. Phew! How often does that happen? This is New Testament discipline that the Lord Jesus prescribed in Matthew 18. Now there are principles that have to be operated, and they have to be operated correctly, but the only way these believers could repent was to put these false teachers out. This was the Lord’s ultimatum: ‘If you don’t put them out, I’ll come and fight against them myself!’. You remember a couple of weeks ago we were thinking about how the Lord ministers in the churches, and sometimes maybe when an oversight doesn’t do what they ought to do, sometimes the Lord can come in and do it – whether it’s taking a person home to glory, or maybe even sending them to hell, who knows? Taking them off somewhere else – but the Lord is moving about in His church. We are seeing Him here in a way, perhaps, we’re not used to seeing Him. He is writing these letters, as He inspires them through John, but we’re seeing Christ hating and fighting. He says: ‘Repent, change your mind about your sin, change your mind about your false doctrine, and change your mind about Me. You as a church, Pergamos, should not tolerate evil!’.
Not only are they given hidden manna, but a white stone. That has been explained away in many comparisons. In this ancient age the white stone was often a token of acquittal in a legal case, to say that you were not guilty; or it was a symbol of victory in an athletic contest, to let you into the celebrations afterwards. It could also be an expression of welcome to a guest from a host – but whatever it is, it seems to be a reward to the overcomer, expressing individual approval of them by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. They are even given a new name upon it! Acceptance with God, and a title to glory!
Now here’s my question, and I’m finished tonight: Pergamos was the compromising church. The Lord Jesus didn’t say: ‘Get out of that church and go to some other place’, did He? He said: ‘Overcome where you are’. Would you have overcome? Would you? Are you overcoming now? Or are you wedded to the world? I was speaking to our young people on Saturday night on the subject of alcohol. We used this illustration to end, and I want to use it tonight. It is very very simple, but profound: the moon was eclipsed one night, and it said to the sun, ‘Why do you not shine on me the way you used to?’. The sun said, ‘I’m shining on you the way I always do, but the world has come between us’. The world has come between us. May God bless His word to all our hearts tonight.
“Thyatira, The Corrupt Church”
Verse 18 of Revelation 2: “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”.
Chap 1:19 The things that are to be!
‘Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter’
Verbal Means Every Word
Verbal means that every word of Scripture is God-given. The idea is that every single word in the Bible is there because God wanted it there.
Plenary Means Fully Authoritative
Plenary means that all parts of the Bible are equally authoritative. This includes such things as the genealogies of the Old Testament. All parts of the Bible are of divine origin. Jesus said.
How will it all end, that is the question of the ages!
But our Lord Jesus Christ, as we see in chapter 19, is going to return again – and His return will combine all the hopes and dreams of billions of people who have put their faith in God, from the first man Adam until the tribulation saints that we have seen already in the book of Revelation. This chapter 19, the events encapsulated within it, will be the most monumental event in human history to date. The Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth and, as we have read, He will return in great power and glory to set up His kingdom
Now, from a prophetic standpoint, this chapter is the culmination of all prophetic Scripture. Take them all in the Old and New Testament, and this is a great climax. There are approximately 8 times more prophecies concerning this second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in Scripture than there were regarding His first coming to Bethlehem’s manger. There are about 325 prophecies concerning this event in chapter 19 of Revelation that guarantee that it will take place, and that will usher in the most ideal conditions the earth has ever seen since the Garden of Eden.
‘The Lord omnipotent has begun to reign’. Now of course, that doesn’t mean that He hasn’t been reigning at some time in human history – but what the inference is that: God has allowed Satan and man to have his hour; He has allowed, with certain restraints of course, Satan and man to do his will; but now the time has come when God omnipotent shall reign and show His reign to all the universe.
But before we come to John’s depiction from this vision given by the Spirit in this chapter, there is an event that is given to us first in the chapter, and it appears that this must happen before our Lord comes. It is called the ‘Marriage Supper of the Lamb’, and we find it in verses 7 to 10. Now let us just define who is who in this account. The bride here is obviously the church of Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11 verse 2, Paul the apostle said to the Corinthians: ‘For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you’, or betrothed you, ‘to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ’. Now we had, in chapter 17, a harlot; we had in chapter 12 a woman which was the wife of Jehovah, Israel; but here we have the bride. The bride of Christ is the church – Ephesians 5 bears that out: husbands should love their wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.
The Bridegroom here, of course, obviously then is the Lord Jesus Himself. You remember John the Baptist in John 3:39 declared the Lord Jesus to be the Bridegroom, and of course he was the friend of the Bridegroom, or we would call him the ‘best man’. Now at the wedding, as we all know, it is customary to focus our attention on the bride – but here in verse 7 we see that it is the Groom that receives all the honour: ‘Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him’. Now the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is one of the reasons why we believe that the rapture of the church is a separate and distinct event from what we find here later on in this chapter 19 – the second coming, or the return of our Lord Jesus. It’s not the only reason, as we will see in a moment or two. Something that will precede the Marriage Supper is the ‘bema’, spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 10, Paul said that we as believers would stand before the judgement seat of Christ, and our works would be judged. Those things that remained would be accredited to us in reward, and the wood, hay and stubble would be burnt up; and we would get into heaven just by the skin of our teeth, so to speak, because our souls are saved but we have perhaps nothing to offer to the Lord.
We will see in a moment or two that He returns with His saints. Now if that is the case, and it seems to be from this passage and many others, it follows that the church must already be in heaven, completed. That’s why, throughout this series, we have made a distinction between tribulation saints, believing Jews, the 144,000, and the church. Now if this is correct, there is an interval needed before the return of Christ – what we’re looking at here tonight – so that there is a judgement seat, and there is a Marriage Supper, there is an interval needed for this to happen. Of course, the interval is possible – as you look at this chart – because of the rapture of the church. The church will be raptured, we believe, before this seven-year tribulation period. These things, in heaven, will take place – the Bema, the Marriage Supper – while the seven years of tribulation are going on down here on the earth. So we will be judged at the bema, and prepared and clothed for the Marriage Supper, to return with our Lord Jesus Christ in His second advent. So the bride, the church, we arrive in heaven at the rapture. We are judged at the judgement seat, and now the church is arrayed in radiant glory, ‘made herself ready’ – and there is the emphasis on what we do down here for Christ in the Spirit – ‘made herself ready’ to return with the Lord.
Those two passages that we have just read are speaking about the same event. Now maybe you have never seen this before – keep 1 Thessalonians 4 open please, because you probably know John 14 from memory. ‘Let not your heart be troubled’, Jesus told them in John 14; Paul says ‘Ye sorrow not as others without hope’. ‘Ye believe’, the Lord said; verse 14 ‘If we believe’. Verse 1 ‘If ye believe in God’, John 14, ‘believe also in me’; verse 14 of 1 Thessalonians ‘if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God’ – Jesus and God. ‘If it were not so’, the Lord said, ‘I would have told you’; verse 15 ‘We say unto you’. Verse 3 ‘I will come again’; verse 15 ‘We which are alive and remain unto the coming’, there’s the coming, ‘of the Lord’. Verse 3 of John 14, ‘If I come again, I will receive you’; verse 17 of 1 Thessalonians ‘Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up’ – receiving. John 14 verse 3, ‘I will receive you to myself’; verse 17 of 1 Thessalonians 4 ‘We will be caught up to meet the Lord’. ‘To be where I am’, the Lord said in verse 3 of John 14; verse 17 of 1 Thessalonians 4 ‘We will be ever with the Lord’
Now, when you do that with regards to Scripture that relates to the second coming, you begin to see that there is a definite distinct separateness with this event which we call the rapture. I think it becomes clearer that it happens before the seven-year tribulation period, and is distinct from this event we are about to look at tonight in Revelation 19. Let me show how it is distinct. If you look at the screen, we will compare the two. The rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4 tells us that Christ comes to the air. In Zechariah 14 and other passages concerning the second coming of Christ in judgement, He comes to the earth. The second difference: in the rapture He comes for His saints – we’ve seen that from 1 Thessalonians 4 – in the coming in judgement He comes with His saints, and we will see that again in 1 Thessalonians 3, Jude 14, but we see it in this chapter 19 of Revelation. The rapture from the passage 1 Corinthians 15 – which, incidentally, is also about the rapture – speaks of a ‘translation of the saints’, we will be changed as believers. But passages to do with the second coming in judgement speak nothing about a translation or a change of believers. Fourthly, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says concerning the rapture that he was speaking of a ‘mystery’. Now a mystery in the Bible is something that had not been revealed until now, that point of revelation. So what he is saying is that the Old Testament doesn’t know anything about a rapture – some people try to get it out of it, but it’s not there – but the second coming in judgement is something that is right throughout many Old Testament prophecies.
Believers having a blessed hope in being snatched away, doesn’t make sense…if we are looking for antichrist rather than the Lord Jesus Christ…
Another four: the rapture is never said to be preceded by signs in heaven, it could happen at any time; but the second coming of Christ in judgement is heralded by celestial disturbances, Matthew 24:29 and 30. The rapture is presented as a time of blessing, therefore Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 ‘Comfort one another with these words’; but the emphasis on His second advent is judgement. Seventh: the rapture takes place in a moment, the twinkling of an eye, 1 Corinthians 15:52 – which is 1/50th of a second – but the second coming of Christ in judgement is visible worldwide, and it is ongoing as we will see tonight. Eighth and finally: the rapture involves the church primarily – John 14, 1 Corinthians 15 that we’ve looked at, 1 Thessalonians 4 – but Israel and the Gentile nations are primarily the emphasis of the second coming of Christ and what leads up to it. That’s why, in chapter 6 through to 19 of Revelation, the church has not been mentioned once, but Israel on the earth and tribulation saints.
Now there are other reasons why we believe there’s a difference between the rapture of the church before the tribulation and the second coming of Christ at the end of the seven years. We’ve already mentioned a time interval needs to be there for the bema judgement and the Marriage Supper, but also – as the fifth difference on the screen says – there is never said to be any signs preceding the rapture, any heavenly signs. You see, the New Testament teaches the imminence of the return of the Lord Jesus for the believer. Now ‘imminence’ means that it could happen at any time, there is nothing that needs to precede it. That’s why we’re taught, as believers, concerning the Lord’s return: to look, to watch, and to wait. Philippians 3:20: ‘For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’. 1 Thessalonians 1:10: ‘To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come’. Titus 2:13, and also Hebrews 9:28 – we don’t have time to read – 1 Peter 1:13, Jude 21
1 Titus 2:11-15 1For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;13Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;14Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.15These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.
Hebrews 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
Jude 1:21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life
.1st Peter 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
In verse 16 this is indicated again, He has on His vesture and on His thigh a name. Now, before we read that name, the thigh is where the ancient warrior had his sword – isn’t that right? But there’s no sword on His thigh, the sword is out of His mouth, the spoken word – Christ’s sword will be what He says, imagine it! The Word of God who called this world into being, all that we know in creation, will call every human leader and the whole of the world’s armies into subjection to Him. What He is and always has been will become, in man’s experience, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’. King above all kings, and Lord above all lords – as Zechariah put it in 14 and 9: ‘The LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one’.
In verse 16 this is indicated again, He has on His vesture and on His thigh a name. Now, before we read that name, the thigh is where the ancient warrior had his sword – isn’t that right? But there’s no sword on His thigh, the sword is out of His mouth, the spoken word – Christ’s sword will be what He says, imagine it! The Word of God who called this world into being, all that we know in creation, will call every human leader and the whole of the world’s armies into subjection to Him. What He is and always has been will become, in man’s experience, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’. King above all kings, and Lord above all lords – as Zechariah put it in 14 and 9: ‘The LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one’.
In verse 17 of chapter 19, and verse 18, look at it – there’s an angel standing in the sun, and he cries out with a loud voice ‘to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great’. So great will the slaughter be at Armageddon that an angel will call together the fowls of heaven to eat the flesh of those who have fallen in battle. Remember what chapter 14 verse 20 said? Do you remember? For that 180 miles or so, the blood will flow like a river, four feet or so in depth. Now the battle of Armageddon is called in chapter 16 ‘the battle of the great day of God Almighty’, but here this massacre is called ‘the great supper of God’ – all the carrion of the heavens coming to feed upon the carnage.
What He is and always has been will become, in man’s experience, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’. King above all kings, and Lord above all lords…
Picture the scene: people of every creed, class, colour in society – but that’s not where it ends, thank God that’s not where it ends. Verses 19 and 20: ‘I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse’, there will be a last-ditch attempt somewhere along the way here to get at the Lord Jesus Christ as He comes, ‘And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone’. Antichrist and the false prophet will receive justice – 2 Thessalonians 2:8: ‘The Lord shall consume that one with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming’.
In our next study, we will see that the same will happen to Satan, in chapter 20. Now listen, as I cl
chapter 20, The Millennial Kingdom
Let’s rejoice in the fact that, if we are Christians, New Testament believers, we believe that the Lord is coming again.
Now many accuse pre-millennialism of wooden literalism, and I believe that’s true on some occasions – but that’s not what I’m speaking about, I’m speaking about a plain normal understanding of how we read the Scriptures: that is, literally, historically and grammatically. We take it to mean what it says, unless it’s obvious it can’t mean that. We take it in its historical setting, and we take it to say what it actually does write grammatically in the original language – and that ought to be our method of interpretation. Now some a-millennialists have admitted that if you follow this method of interpretation, you will come to a pre-millennial understanding of this portion of Scripture and all prophetic
Scripture. Indeed, Floyd E. Hamilton, an a-millennialist himself, writes, and I quote: ‘Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as premillennialists picture’.
Now when we come to that conclusion and look at the Old Testament, we see that it teaches a literal earthly kingdom of Messiah. Daniel 2:44 reads: ‘And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever’. Isaiah 11 verse 9 says that this is a kingdom that will be on the earth, not in heaven: ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea’.
Isaiah 2 verse 4 reads: ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’. There will be other changes to this earth during the millennial reign of Christ if we understand these prophecies literally in the Old Testament. There will be an environmental transformation in creation. Isaiah 35 teaches that the deserts will blossom, there will be great productiveness in places that presently are barren. One of the most famous prophecies concerning the millennium is the fact that predatory instincts of animals will cease, and all creation will live in harmony. Isaiah 11 and verse 6 reads: ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them’
Something else the Old Testament teaches us: Messiah’s government shall centre in Jerusalem, and there shall no longer be violence in the land. We are so familiar with violence in Palestine, aren’t we? Isaiah 60 verse 18 reads: ‘Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise’. There will also be a great transformation spiritually during the millennial kingdom. Daniel 9 and Daniel 12, along with Ezekiel 40-48, teach of a millennial temple
The Lord Himself supports the idea of an earthly kingdom when He taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6 verse 10: ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’
Let’s spend a moment or two to get this clear, what is being said. The beginning of verse 5, where it says ‘But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished’, is essentially a parenthesis – that means you could put brackets round it. You could put a bracket before the word ‘but’, and a bracket after the word ‘finished’. Therefore, when you do that, it causes you to understand that the second part of verse 5, where it says ‘This is the first resurrection’, refers back to what has been said in verse 4. Speaking of these saints sitting on the throne, and the tribulation saints who would all together live and reign with Christ 1000 years – this is the first resurrection. In verse 6 he goes on: ‘Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power’
But forgetting some of those little details, please notice that this is the reason why Satan was not cast into the lake of fire along with the beast and the false prophet, the antichrist. Now maybe you wondered why that was, a little while ago, why he wasn’t cast in with those two. The reason is simply that God has a final task for Satan to fulfil – what is that? Well, He wants to prove once and for all – as if it was needed – categorically that the heart of man is desperately wicked and can only be changed by God’s grace. ‘Where do you get that from?’, you say. Well, just imagine for a moment 1000 years of the righteous reign of the rod of iron of the pure Son of God. Imagine the tragedy of a revolt at the end of that period, when Satan is loosed and people who have been living for 1000 years in a near-perfect environment under the perfect government of God’s Son, finally rebel against their King.
Now you imagine this: when Satan is loosed again, the depravity in those human unregenerate hearts will rise to the surface. Now it will not last, for as verse 9 at the end says: ‘fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them’. Warren Wiersbe puts it like this, and I think he’s right: ‘There is a sense in which the millennial kingdom will sum up all that God has said about the heart of the man during the various periods of history. It will be’, the millennial kingdom, ‘a reign of law, a reign of a rod of iron; and yet law will not change man’s sinful heart. Man will still revolt against God’. Boy, is there a lesson there! Even a perfect environment cannot produce a perfect heart. A man must be born again
Verse 11: ‘And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it’. This is a great throne because of the issues that are involved. It is white because it is a pure, a just, a righteous, a holy throne – and the judgements that are passed down from it are just and perfect. Who is the Judge that is seated on the throne? Well, it is none other than our Lord Jesus Himself. In John 5:22 and 27 He said: ‘For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son, And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man’. So these lost sinners who reject Christ on earth in life, must be judged by Christ in death.
Let me tell you: this is like nothing that our modern court system has ever seen, because here we have a Judge with no jury, a prosecution but no defence, a sentence with no appeal. No one is able to defend themselves, or accuse the righteous just God of unrighteousness or injustice. Verse 14, look at it: ‘And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death’. When we read that death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire, it means complete persons: body, soul and spirit will be cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. Friends, this message is clear: hell is real! It is a witness to the righteousness of God’s character: He must judge sin. It is a witness to the responsibility of mankind, that we have been created in the image of God. He has put an understanding of His desires in our hearts, we have been created moral creatures with consciences – whilst we can abuse them and misuse them. We are not robots, we are answerable to Him for the choices that we make! It is also a witness to the awfulness of sin. All of us, believers or unbelievers, would do well to take note of this: that before God can usher in the new heavens and the new earth, all sin must be eradicated. It’s that serious.
But there is an application for believers tonight, is there not? For if we believe what we have just received – you may not believe it in all the detail that I have delivered tonight – but if you believe there is an eternity, and you believe there is a great white throne, and you believe there is a judgement coming, and you believe that there is a place called the lake of fire, should you not be like Wesley, Charles – we sang his words yesterday morning:
‘I want an even strong desire,
I want a calmly fervent zeal,
To save poor souls out of the fire,
To snatch them from the verge of hell,
And turn them to a pardoning God,
And quench the brands in Jesus’ blood.
We ought to be fired by the truth of prophecy to win the lost, and to cry:
”Tis all my business here below,
To cry, ‘Behold the Lamb!’.
Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp His name!
Preach Him to all, and cry in death,
‘Behold! Behold the Lamb”
Christ has the answer, Christ is the answer, and we’ve got Him – but what a responsibility there is upon us to take Him, to save poor souls out of the fire, to snatch them from the verge of hell and turn them to a pardoning God, and quench the brands in Jesus’ blood.
The Seven new things!
Now chapters 21 and 22 introduce us to God’s future plan not only for His believing people, but for the whole universe. Enough is revealed within these two chapters, marrying them with other things in the scriptures – New and Old Testament – to show us that the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has good reason to be excited, because we have an incredible future in store.
Seven new things, at least, are mentioned for us in this portion of Scripture. There is a new heaven, then there is a new earth; there is a new Jerusalem that comes out of heaven from God to the earth; there is a new universal order that has never been known before; there is a new temple; there is a new light; there is a new paradise – the garden of God. Verse 6 shows us that this is the climax of God’s sovereign and eternal plan and purpose: ‘I am the beginning and the end, I am Alpha and Omega’. God created everything, and this is how God will consummate and conclude everything.
Now, of course, human history began in a garden, the Garden of Eden. Here we see at the end of Revelation, the end of the Bible, that human history will not so much conclude as climax in a heavenly city that has a garden in it, like the paradise of God. So, what began way back at the beginning of Genesis will be brought to completion and fruition here in the book of Revelation. Incidentally – we don’t have time to do this – but it’s worthwhile comparing the book of Genesis with the book of Revelation; the book of beginnings, if you like, with the book of endings.
In the beginning the heaven and earth were created, in Revelation the heaven and earth are destroyed effectively, and a new heaven and a new earth are created. In the book of Genesis we see the start of the reign of Satan as the god of this world, and yet at the end – we’ve already seen it – Satan is cast into the lake of fire and tormented for ever and ever. In Genesis we see the entrance of sin amongst mankind, but in Revelation sin is banished. In Genesis the judgement of sin was a curse pronounced upon all of creation, but here in Revelation the curse is removed. The right to the tree of life was forfeited by man’s sin – you remember the angel with the fiery sword preventing them to enter into that place – but now, in this eternal state, access to the tree of life has now been restored. Man was evicted from Eden, the Garden of God, the place of fellowship and intimacy, but now man in Revelation is welcomed back into God’s paradise. Entrance of death came into the world with sin right at the beginning, but we see tonight the removal of death, that great enemy of mankind. Way back in the beginning we have the first Adam getting married to his wife, and here we have in Revelation the last Adam marrying His bride, the church. Sorrow comes upon all mankind in Genesis, sorrow is eliminated in Revelation. Genesis, effectively, tells us the story of paradise lost; Revelation is paradise restored, regained to those who believe in the Lord Jesus
Well, theologians talk about the destruction of the old heaven and earth, and I think that’s warranted – although I prefer the description of the ‘redemption’, or the ‘renewal’, or the ‘refining’ of the old heaven and the old earth. You remember, going back again to Genesis, that the first time this earth was spoken of as being destroyed was with a great universal flood during the days of Noah. Only eight were saved, and one of the most famous promises in the whole of Scripture was the one given to Noah and mankind after, that God would never ever destroy the earth with a flood – and of course the rainbow was given as a sign of that covenant. Now the second time, I believe, that the earth is spoken of as being destroyed, is spoken of in 2 Peter 3 – and you might want to turn to that just now. Second Peter chapter 3, and incidentally Peter refers to that first destruction of the earth in Genesis, the flood – 2 Peter 3 verse 4, and we’ll read first of all through to verse 7, we’ll skip a verse or two and read verse 10. Verse 4 of 2 Peter 3: ‘[Scoffers say] Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men’. Verse 10: ‘But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up’.
Now you might also be asking another question: ‘OK, I can understand destroying the earth just like the flood, but why destroy heaven?’. Another common misconception about this verse is that because heaven is in the singular here, that it’s referring to the place where God’s throne is. Now, first of all we need to remember that there are at least three heavens spoken of in the Bible. First of all there is the atmospheric heaven, that is the place where the clouds and the birds are. Then there is the second heaven, which is the stellar or planetary heaven. Then there’s the third heaven, which is the residence, dwellingplace of almighty God – that is the celestial heaven, if you like. You can think of it like three layers of a cake: first the atmosphere; then the stars, space; and then heaven itself – and that may be the way it is logistically as well as theoretically
That is why heaven is such a happy place – do you know why? It is a holy place. Now, happiness and holiness don’t often go together in people’s minds – but there’s no happier place than heaven, and there is no holier place than the place where God will reside in the new heaven and the new earth. No more sin! That’s the reason why there’s no more death, that is the reason why there’s no more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more heartache, no more curse! Those are the fruits of sin, but the root that is sin will be dealt with once and for all!
Now today, when we want to make a foundation, what do we do? We mix up some concrete, or get a few stones – and we select them not because of their beauty, but because of their durability, their commonality, and their low cost. But what we see here in this heavenly city is, literally, we will be walking on precious metal and stones that today are only used for the most precious jewellery. Do you know what that tells me? The value system of heaven is the opposite to earth, and earth’s value system is upside down! What I mean is: the things that we value down here on earth, people walk on in the new earth in the new Jerusalem. It ought to make us think – shouldn’t it – that we set our affections on heavenly things, and not on the things of the earth.
Look at the further description, verses 15 and 16, we see that this angel measured Jerusalem and found it to be 1400, or 1500 miles broad, long, high, deep. Now, because of that description some believe that the New Jerusalem will be a cuboid, some believe that because it will be equal length – foursquare, that’s what that means – in every way, in every dimension, that it may be a three-dimensional triangle. Well, we’ll never know until we actually see it – but that’s not what’s important: the measurements are reflecting the utter perfection of the city, its completeness, its balance and orderliness. A city that will reflect a society that has never been seen before, a society as God meant it.
Then, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell in the body of believers – and the church, we, became the Temple of the Holy Spirit. During the millennial reign, we saw last week, it’s depicted in Ezekiel and other places: there will be a millennial memorial Temple that looks back to the sacrifice of Christ – but here in the eternal order there is no longer any need for a temple or, for that matter, any other dwellingplace for God; for God Himself will be there among His people in a way that He has never been before! The whole new heaven and new earth, in other words, will become God’s Temple. For the first time the secular and the sacred will be indistinguishable – that’s something to think about, isn’t it?
- Pierson summarises those verses, 3 to 5, as the following: ‘There shall be no more curse – perfect sinlessness’. The Old Testament ended with the words in Malachi: ‘Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse’, here the New Testament is ending and the curse is gone – perfect sinlessness! ‘But the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it – perfect government’ – at last, God is ruling in a true theocracy. ‘His servants shall serve him – perfect service’ – you’ll not be idle in heaven, plucking some celestial harp forever, singing psalms; you’re going to be doing works for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. But what a great encouragement to servants of God today: then our service will be perfect, what about that! ‘They shall see his face – perfect communion’ – in the Tabernacle, in the Temple, there was a veil separating man from the immediate presence of God. When our Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross, cried ‘It is finished!’, that veil in the Temple was rent in two from top to bottom, and we have an access by the blood into the new and living way – but that’s by faith, then it will be by sight. We will see His face, perfect communion! ‘And His name shall be on their foreheads’ – do you know what that is? ‘Perfect resemblance’, we shall be like Him! ‘And there shall be no night there – perfect blessedness. And they shall reign forever and ever – perfect glory’ – reigning with God and Christ forever, ‘O that will be, glory for me’, will it not?
Now we haven’t time to look at this farewell really in verses 6 to 21 – but the long and the short of it, really, is what Warren Weirsbe says: ‘Heaven is more than a destination, it’s a motivation’ – it’s more than a destination, it’s a motivation. Bright hope for tomorrow must give us strength for today! That’s what it did for the patriarchs: ‘Abraham looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God’. ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city’
Two things he cites in verses 12 and 14: it should invigorate and inspire obedience in us. ‘Blessed are they that do his commandments’, ‘Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be’. Does the second coming of Christ, does the prospect of heaven motivate you to obedience? There’s something else: it ought to motivate us to fulfil the great commission, not just to obey God’s commands but to follow Christ’s commission to go into all the world. Verse 17, surely that enshrines that: the Spirit, through the bride, is calling Christ to return, but we are to be calling sinners to come to Christ and take of the water of life freely. That is surely, if not the only reason, the main reason, why our Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to come: He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come unto repentance.
That is the main reason, why our Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to come: He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come unto repentance…
Heaven is more than a destination, it is a motivation. You’ve heard people say, maybe you have said it: ‘Heaven help us!’ – it ought to help us! Does it not help you to think about what we’ve been thinking about tonight and these weeks? Can I end with a story I began this series with? In 1952 young Florence Chadwick stepped into the waters of the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island. She was determined to swim to the shore of mainland California. She had already been the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways, but on that morning the weather was very foggy and it was chilly. She could hardly see the boats accompanying her, and still she swam for 15 hours constantly. Eventually she became exhausted emotionally, mentally and physically, and she begged to be taken out of the water. Her mother was in a boat alongside her, and she told her mother that she wanted to finish – but her mother said: ‘No, keep going, you’re close, you’re nearly at the end, you can make it’. Finally her physique, her emotions just gave up, and she stopped swimming. She was pulled out of the water, and it wasn’t until she was in the boat and the fog lifted a little that she saw that she was only half a mile away. At the news conference the next day, she said these words – now listen carefully: ‘All I could see was the fog. I think if I could have seen the shore I would have made it’.
‘All I could see was the fog, but I think if I could have seen the shore I could have made it’ – that’s what this book is about: strength for today, through bright hope for tomorrow. Just think of stepping on the shore and finding it heaven, of taking hold of a hand and finding it’s God’s hand, of breathing new air and finding it heavenly air, of feeling invigorated and finding it immortality, of passing from storm and tempest to an unbroken calm, of waking up and finding it home. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
O our Father, we thank You for that blessed hope that is ours. Not only of our Saviour’s returning – and we would say ‘Maranatha, even so, come, Lord Jesus Christ’ – but Lord, what it will be for all eternity to be with Him, and with You as our Father with nothing between. Lord, may we have had a little bit more of heaven put into our hearts. May it lighten the load for dear souls that are struggling here tonight. May it motivate us to obey Your commands, and go forth with the commission that we may have reward when Jesus comes. Thank You for this people here in the Iron Hall, bless them abundantly now and evermore, till we meet again – whether on this earth or in that great congregation round the throne – to God be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.