Unveiling the Symbolism in Revelation
Chapters 2 and 3 are linked to chapter one. In greater detail John is shown the relationship of the church to its source - the stem of the lampstand - the Lord Jesus Christ! This is a very important truth! Christ is the source and the head of the church, and He has only one body, one church!
Although the letter was written to seven individual churches which were experiencing very real persecution from a very real government, these seven churches symbolize the complete church. Together they symbolize seven aspects of the church, just like the seven Spirits of God symbolize seven aspects of the Holy Spirit, and the seven colors of the rainbow symbolize seven aspects of the rainbow. We focus on the individual, and God sees the complete picture. We focus on the seven branches of the lampstand, and God shows us that there is only one lampstand and that there is no light without the stem!
The symbolism of the seven churches identifies and makes real to us the pitfalls the church is prone to fall into. Each letter to each individual church begins with a reference to the vision in chapter 1. It is a revelation of Christ in His essence, and that His being is the provision for our need. We get sidetracked so easily! Instead of focusing on Christ, we are drawn back to our old way of thinking. The world's way seems so much easier than the walk of faith because of the deception that is in the carnal mind.
These seven churches do not represent seven ages of church history. At any time in church history we can find the conditions that are represented by the various churches - we can find a church like the one in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Philadelphia, Laodicea, etc. God is speaking to the church and showing us how important our relationship is to Him! God is against everything that is not His nature!
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:" (v.1)
This message for the church in Ephesus comes from the One who holds the stars (their spiritual ministry) in His right hand - the hand of power and authority. The church is reminded that Christ is in the midst of them. Why? Because they had forgotten that! They thought they were in charge. They had forgotten that their ministry was a spiritual ministry, and that they had to submit their thinking to God's thinking. They had permitted natural thinking to lead and guide them. Our natural thinking says God is on our side, but God does not say that. He says He is for us! That means He always wants what is best for us. He does not take sides; He always does what is right!
The light of the lampstand has the highest position. Since we are the lampstand, where is our light? It has to be in the highest realm, and that is in our mind, isn't it? It has to come from a mind that is enlightened by the light of Christ! A mind that thinks carnal thoughts is in the death realm. (Rom. 8:6)
"I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary." (vv. 2-3)
Christ, the central stem, knows all about the work we are doing, and the situation in which we find ourselves. He looked at the church in Ephesus and saw their perseverance in the face of their toil, grief, sorrow and pain. They could not tolerate the depravity of evil men. They scrutinized those who claimed to be apostles, and those who did not pass the test were labeled "false apostles". They were very keen in their judgment. Every church has a right to scrutinize the life of its elders, but not without love!
It is impossible to grow spiritually without leaving our old way of thinking. Paul said that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they examined the scriptures to see if these things were true. (Acts 17:11) They had to search the scriptures because spiritual realities were being presented to them. Unless we are willing to bow in humility to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and have a burning love for truth, we will not be willing to forsake our old traditions and our old concepts. If we search the scriptures without receiving enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, we will be enriched with knowledge but we won't receive life-giving food. Life is in Christ, not in the scriptures. The scriptures are a witness of this life! Jesus told the Jews, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." (Jn. 5:39-40) Life is only in Christ, and they refused to come to Him. Life and light come to us through our spiritual union with Christ!
"But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent." (vv.4-5)
Christ comes and finds us where we are. He does not look at the external impression that we are trying to make; He looks at the heart - the motive. He saw that this church was not functioning in their first love. First love can mean that which we used to love, or that which we love first in our priorities, or both. At the beginning, the first priority of the Ephesian church was to love Jesus Christ. Now their priority had changed! Love for Christ no longer dominated their thinking.
Although the church had endured persecution and remained zealous, they needed to shape up and return to their first love where Christ was first in their priorities. . Do you remember when you first fell in love? Everything centered in the person of your love! Nothing was too much for him/her! In Acts 19 we read about the first love of the Ephesian church for the risen Lord! They burned all their magic books, and they experienced miracles! Their light was so great that a riot developed because the craftsmen were afraid the worship of the goddess Diana would become extinct. What an exciting time that was when they first knew the Lord and He was first in their priorities. How things had changed!
Instead of growing and maturing in love, the church had fallen from love. The enthusiastic excitement their love for Christ had brought them, had vanished. With it went their love for their brethren! Knowledge became more important than love, but love is greater than knowledge! Without love the church had grown very legalistic and pharisaical.
This condition introduces formalism, the strict attention to outward forms, rituals and customs. Legalism means that we have fallen from grace. (Gal. 5:4) There is no grace in legalism. The law is based on self-effort and therefore majors on works, blame and guilt! Legalism is a severance from Christ - from our union with Him and from the oil of His anointing! The result? Darkness and death, for anything that is separated from Christ is without life.
The word Ephesus means permitted. This church had permitted natural thinking and knowledge to displace spiritual thinking and knowledge. They had permitted themselves to fall from love into legalism. They had permitted works to take the place of love. They had permitted doctrines to become more important than love.
The Ephesian church was to remember from where they had fallen! It does not say they are to remember their sins. They were to remember where they were before, and then recognize that they had fallen from the lofty position of loving Christ and their brethren! They needed to recognize what had caused their fall; they needed to repent and get back into the place they had been. Christ said that if they did not repent, their light would die out and their lampstand would be removed! How important our union with Christ is!
They needed to repent from the root of their problem - from their carnal thinking. Then everything else would fall into place. They needed to repent, and let the love of Christ reign - the love that had been poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit!
Repentance requires a change of heart - a change in one's thinking. They had forgotten that the source of their being and of their works was important. When Christ is the source of our works, our works will not be works for righteousness or for the church, but works that flow out of our obedience and love for Christ, and the righteousness that is ours in Him!
Unless repentance occurs, their lampstand will be removed. Its light will be extinguished because it is not receiving oil from the stem. Separation from the source of its existence extinguishes the light. Instead of light, there will only be darkness! We have to remain in Him who is the Light in order to be a light!
"Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (v.6) Who were the Nicolaitans? This word is derived from NIKOS meaning victory, to utterly vanquish or conquer; and from LAOS meaning people - laity is derived from this word. In its earliest form it divided equal brothers into priests and laity, the priests having power over the people. We are to hate the hierarchy that brings division among God's people.
What a wonderful relief to know that God has not given us a hierarchy to lord it over us, but pastors and elders who are to lead us into a relationship with Christ, the great Shepherd! Pastors and elders are to be undershepherds that guide us to green pastures (Christ) and to the water of life. As we feed on Christ we will learn to be obedient to the Lord of lords, whose word is a sword that cuts off all our fleshly desires.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God." (v.7) These are not physical ears that pick up physical vibrations, but inside ears that can hear the Spirit! Not everyone has them. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice." Only the sheep in the Shepherd's flock have spiritual ears. We received them when we were born again, so let's use them. The mark of a born-again Christian is the ability to hear what the Spirit is saying. It requires humility of heart to hear Him; those who are full of pride consider themselves to be self-sufficient and have need of nothing.
Hearing implies obedience. Children may hear what their parents have said, but when they do not obey, we say that they did not hear them. To hear what the Spirit says means we are obedient to His instructions.
This does away with choice. Choice comes from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but there is no choice in the tree of life because it has no evil. Living in God's kingdom requires a life of obedience! He has chosen us, and He chooses the way we are to go. Jesus did not choose for Himself; He only did what the Father showed Him to do! He is the pattern Son, and we need to follow His example.
Next is a promise or blessing limited to overcomers, for it is linked to the state of overcoming. Therefore it is not for escapists nor for the whole church. Overcoming is not always a popular word because it carries with it the knowledge that there will be testings and trials. Obstacles will be placed in one's way, and they will have to be overcome by faith in what the Spirit is saying. Listening to the Spirit does away with carnal thinking, for carnal thinking is always against the Spirit. We have been called out of carnal thinking into spiritual thinking. God has purposed that His ecclesia, His called-out ones, will be overcomers, for they have received the mind of Christ!
Overcomers let Christ rule them; they do not obey their carnal thinking. Christ is the Captain of our salvation. He is the Firstborn; He is the first to triumph over all the lusts of the flesh! By His Spirit He comes to live in us and to rule us until our every thought and action is under His control. The Christ in us is the power, the dynamo that overcomes every lie, every deception, and every obstacle that the enemy would hurl at us. This is the omnipotence of Christ! In His strength there is power and victory! Overcomers, like Moses, proclaim the deliverance of God when everything around them in the natural proclaims gloom and doom! These can eat of the tree of life that is in the Paradise of God.
To eat of this tree, we have to be in Paradise, because that is where this tree is found. Paradise is a place where God rules. It is one with the kingdom of God! And Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within us! God rules from within - by His Spirit who has been poured into our hearts! So Paradise is not a place we go to after we die; it is a place we are in when we are ruled by God! The tree of life is Jesus Christ - He is the life! His words are spirit and are life! Since Jesus is life and truth, eating of Him means we are receiving life and truth. Truth brings us into life because it does away with the lies and deception of darkness! It brings us into who Christ is!
Those who tour the East and visit Ephesus, will see the ruins, but they will not find a strong Christian church. Over the centuries its lampstand has been removed.
The name Smyrna is of Semitic origin. It comes from the Hebrew MOR, from a root meaning bitter, a gum resin of a fruit that is smooth and a little larger than a pea. The color of myrrh varies from pale reddish-yellow to reddish brown or red. The taste is bitter. Among its many uses it is well-known as an ingredient in perfume, for its use in the purification of women and for embalming. Hence its association with suffering and death.
"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last who was dead, and has come to life, says this." (v.8) This message comes from the One who is in the midst of the lampstands; it ties in with the vision in chapter 1:17b-19 where it says, "I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." The message is clear. Don't be afraid of death. Just as I was dead and have come to life, so you will also come to life through death!
Jesus Christ experienced two deaths. His first death was His death to sin, "For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God." (Rom. 6:10) His second death was the death of His physical body. His life did not receive carnal thinking or any thoughts that did not come from the Father; His life gave Him the power to be dead to sin. He was the resurrection even before He passed through physical death. His life has no death in it. Death did its utmost to destroy that life, but it couldn't! It could kill the physical body, but it couldn't do away with His life!
And death can't do away with our life in Christ either! For this reason we are not to be afraid of death. Death to our self-will seems so tragic to us, and many of us fear it and fight it, but it is our only way to life. The life of Jesus proved that He was dead to self-will; He always did the will of the Father! We too have to pass through this death to sin while we are living on this earth in order to reign in life with Jesus Christ! This is for now!
"I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." (v.9) The church at Smyrna was under heavy persecution because they wouldn't proclaim the emperor as Lord. This caused them to be jobless and hungry.
Christ sees our tribulation. He sees the pressures we are under - the things that cause our affliction, distress and misery. He sees our poverty and our struggle to survive. He then quickly reminds us not to focus on that. Our focus is to be on the riches that are ours in Christ! We think we are poor, but we aren't - we are rich, we have all that Christ is! But we have to appropriate it by faith. As we walk in life we will appropriate His nature, and radiate His love.
He also sees all the blasphemy or slander that we have to endure from the religious ranks - from those who say they are Jews but are not. This slander comes from pretenders, from those who come as angels of light, but in actuality are of the synagogue of Satan. These accusations come from religiosity, from false pretense.
These religious pretenders symbolize the carnal mind. It is very religious, full of legalism and against everything God says. The word Satan means an adversary. Satan is an adversary to whatever God says and is! Our natural mind tells us to believe the things we see and feel instead of the promises of God! It is the synagogue or school of Satan. It is full of lies and contradictions. It accuses us of wrongdoing, makes excuses for not believing God, or inflates our ego. It teaches us to disobey God!
As long as we blame the devil or others for our own problems, we will not change. We will not recognize that our problems come from the condition our heart is in. If we find it difficult to love and to forgive, it is because we are filled with legalism instead of grace. Loving people does not mean that we let them rule us, or that we entrust ourselves to them. Jesus loved everyone, yet He could not entrust himself to anyone because He knew what was in the heart of man. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit and only did what the Father showed Him to do, so He loved and forgave!
In order to grow spiritually, we need difficulties and pressures to show us what is in our heart, as well as obstacles to overcome. Without experiencing pressures we may think that we are walking righteously before God, when in actuality we are only creating a religious impression - like the scribes and Pharisees. Difficulties prove whether we actually believe God or whether we are just giving mental assent to His promises.
"Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (v.10)
What a message! Do not fear sufferings! Most of us fear them and try to evade them! We even invent a rapture theory that will bring an escape from the sufferings of the great tribulation. The message to the church is that it will suffer, but it is not to be afraid of it. Paul and Barnabas strengthened and encouraged the church by saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22)
To a prosperity-minded church this message is not an encouragement, is it? But to those who are suffering and enduring persecution, it is a great encouragement to know that this is God's will for them. It is a normal part of living in the kingdom while we are in this world. Through tribulation we enter into the kingdom and obtain the promises! Tribulation reveals the reality and extent of our faith! Abraham's long wait for the promised son, then his obedience to God's order to sacrifice that son, proved the extent of his faith. His faith had grown to the point that he knew God would resurrect his son, if necessary, to fulfill His promise! Similarly, we have to believe that when God asks us to lay down the ministry He has given us, He will also resurrect it in a greater spiritual dimension!
"Behold the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested (or disciplined)." This is not the devil's reason for casting us into prison, but it is God's reason for giving the devil some leeway. This may not be a prison consisting of bars, locks and bolts, but the prison that the carnal mind puts us in. The lies and deception of the carnal mind lock up our thought processes and tell us conflicting lies. They keep us from believing who God says we are in Christ. Our natural, carnal mind tells us that we are in charge of our life, and that our own works of righteousness will cancel out our mistakes. On the other hand, it tells us we are bad and under condemnation. The list goes on and on! Why do some of us need to be put back into that prison? Because we have forgotten that the truth makes us free! We have to get back into truth, into Christ, to be free!
Lies keep us from seeing who God is! They block our understanding. When difficulties come our way, lies cause us to think God is against us. We cannot see His wonderful purpose for us. Job's faith was unshaken during his adversity, for he did not rail against God in the midst of his affliction.. He did not blame the devil, nor did he blame people. Instead, he blessed God! In the end he saw God in a new way! This revelation became the basis for new and greater blessings! The pressures of life and the rejection and censure by religious friends cause us to look to God in a greater way. So why should we get angry with these people, when through them we are blessed with greater revelation of God and His ways?
This tribulation will continue for ten days. Again, ten is a spiritual number, a symbolic number for completeness. Because the law has ten commandments, some people associate ten with the law. However, the law has ten commandments to symbolize the completeness of the law. If man could keep the whole law, he would be righteous. But he can't, and therefore he needs Christ who has kept the law. This tribulation will continue for ten days - that is, until it has accomplished what it was sent to accomplish. Once we truly recognize that truth is only in Christ, we will come out of that prison and into the freedom that truth brings!
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." What is death? Let's remember that this is a message in symbolism. Rom. 8:6 says that the mind set on the flesh is death. The carnal mind is death. Being faithful to God puts this mind of death to death in us, and it no longer rules us. This brings us into life. A crown symbolizes authority or victory. It is worn on the head - the highest place of our body. That is also where our thinking takes place. The crown of life symbolizes our victory over our old thinking. Our old mind has been replaced with a new mind - the mind of Christ! Notice that it does not say "a crown", but "the crown". There is only one mind of Christ, one crown of life!
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death." (v.11) We are to hear what the Spirit says to the churches because He always conveys true spiritual messages that are customized to fit our need! If we do not hear the Spirit, we will hear lies and follow them
Let's look at some verses that talk about the second death. "Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power... Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire...But for the cowardly and unbelieving...their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Rev. 20:6,14; 21:8)
Notice that it does not say that overcomers will not encounter the second death, but that they will not be hurt by the second death. In death we pass from one form into another form. When Adam ate the forbidden fruit he departed from the realm of righteousness and life, and entered the realm of self-will, the realm of death. So in Adam we have all been cast into the first death, the realm of self-will. The degeneration and decay at the death of our physical body symbolize the corruption, lies and deception that are in the mind of the flesh.
The second death is not a repetition of the first death, just as the new covenant is not a repetition of the old covenant. God's seconds are never duplicates of the first; they are always in a higher realm - in a spiritual realm. Sin brought us into the first death, and God in his wisdom, then uses death to bring us into life. Let me explain.
The second death takes us back into the realm of righteousness. Our second death is our death to sin. Christ's whole life was a death to sin. (Rom. 6:10) The second death or the lake of fire for Christ consisted of all the rejection, temptations, loneliness, persecution, and the horrible death on the cross. He passed through the second death, but it had no power over Him, neither did it hurt Him. He went through this death, and came forth in victory and life!
We too have to pass through this death process. A planted seed has to die in order to produce a harvest. In order to grow into the image of Christ we need to pass through the second death. This is not a pleasant experience, but God has given us this precious promise that it won't hurt us. Our God is a consuming fire, and He burns away everything in us that is not of Him!
The lake of fire has no power over those who have participated in the first resurrection. Our first resurrection took place when we were raised with Christ - symbolized by our water baptism. "Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col. 2:12) We have been raised with Christ, and have been made a new creation, and this new creation has a new mind - the mind of Christ! His mind does not need to be purified; it is pure and holy. It already is in life; it does not need a second death to bring it into life. But we need to appropriate it in every aspect of our life experiences. For this to materialize, we need to be cleansed of all our wrong thinking. This cleansing by the fire of the Holy Spirit brings us into truth and the freedom that truth brings. God's fire is a spiritual fire. The trials we face give us an opportunity to grow in faith. The temptation is to function in the mind of the flesh rather than in the mind of Christ. An overcomer is not ruled by the mind of the flesh but by the mind of Christ.
What is the meaning of "the lake of fire that burns with fire and brimstone"? It is a spiritual fire, not a literal fire. Brimstone is another word for sulphur, and sulphur is a cleansing agent - it kills disease germs. It says that death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire, and the last enemy to be overcome is death. Hades is a place of darkness and unperception - figurative of death, that is, all who are not in life! This includes all unbelievers. We have already seen that the carnal mind is death, so this is a place where all lies and deception, where everything that is perishable, is burned away. Fire only burns that which is perishable. So the lake of fire does away with death; it does away with the carnal mind; it does away with all that is perishable. The first death got us into self-will, and the second death takes us out of self-will!
How can the second death hurt us? It cannot hurt those who are ruled by Christ because their deeds had their source in Him. But those who did all their good deeds for self-exaltation or for self-gratification, will not receive a reward. Our encounter with truth is painful at first, for it brings with it a revelation of the depravity of natural man. It shows us the areas which have not yet been submitted to Christ; the areas in which we are still functioning in self-will and unbelief.
"And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: `I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells." (vv.12-13)
To the church in Pergamum, Christ reveals Himself as the One who has the sharp two-edged sword in His mouth. This is the word of God that cuts deep, and shows us whether we are living in truth or religiosity. We cannot deceive God! He knows exactly what the condition of our heart is. He knows how deep or how shallow our Christianity is.
The church in Pergamum had yielded on the inside to the world system. Pergamum was the principal center of emperor-worship in the region. An immense altar to Zeus dominated the town from the acropolis. This was Satan's throne room. The people of that time were well acquainted with this, and could understand the symbolism. The throne is the place from which a king or despot rules. From where does Satan rule us? He rules us from our carnal mind, doesn't he? So they were being ruled by their carnal mind - the mind that is in death. They were not dwelling in Christ, and they were not being ruled by the mind of Christ; they were receiving spiritual truth in their carnal minds, thus carnalizing the word of God.
This church, with all its programs and zealousness, looked like a flourishing church. Externally it seemed to be growing and in good condition. But there was something wrong inside. The two-edged sword of the Spirit finds the core problem and addresses this problem.
Judaism, in Jesus' time, also looked good externally, but because of their carnal thinking, the Jews could not accept Jesus as their Messiah. Carnality always rejects Jesus, and works against Him. Jesus told these Jews that they were of their father, the devil. Their throne or authority came from the wrong place. Natural thinking was their authority. Those who receive the message of Revelation in the natural, carnal mind are also dwelling where Satan's throne is. They expect a physical brilliant city with its mansions and backyard waterslides for the elite, to come down from the sky, and Jesus to come back as a giant man, and rule the world from present-day Jerusalem. These thoughts do not come from Christ! They come from Satan's throne room!
In spite of the fact that the church in Pergamum was thinking carnally, it kept its faith while under persecution. The name ANTIPAS means like the father. According to tradition, Antipas was the bishop in Pergamum, and had been martyred for his faith.
"But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality." (v.14)
You remember the prophet Balaam who was offered money to curse Israel. But God wouldn't let him curse Israel; instead, he had to bless them! This made Balak, the king who had hired Balaam, very angry. What a dilemma now faced Balaam! He desperately wanted Balak's goodwill because he craved the money that had been offered him if he would curse Israel. His love for money overpowered his morals. If he had to sacrifice the morals of God's people to obtain it, he was willing! To achieve this end he hatched a plan that later cost him his life. He advised Balak to throw a great religious party and invite the Israelites to join them. At this gathering scrumptious food that had been offered to idols would be served. The pagan women were instructed to entice the men of Israel to commit acts of immorality with them. This would bring the wrath of God upon the Israelites, nullify the blessing, and achieve the mission for which he had been hired.
Balaam was unfaithful to God. Outwardly it seemed as though he was faithful, for he only spoke the words God gave him. Secretly, he used his spiritual insights to cause God's people to stumble. His love of money brought in an immoral practice.
"So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans." (v.15) There is a similarity between Balaam's behavior and that of the Nicolaitans. In the message to the church in Ephesus, we already mentioned that the Nicolaitans divided equal brothers into priests who exercised power and control over the laity. Why? They wanted to use the laity to serve their ego, and to make money at the expense of the laity. Once they conquered the people, this would be possible. So they caused them to eat spiritually of things that are not of God.
This practice is still going on in ever so many clever disguises. Many leaders of ministries beg for money, and get rich in the process. They make you pay for your information about God, pay for getting your sins forgiven, pay for being counseled, etc. Instead of being faithful to Christ's words, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give," God's name is put into disrepute, because God's people do not trust God to provide for them. It is so much easier to manipulate and use worldly methods than to trust God! How careful we have to be to do God's work in His way - under His direction! We need to hate the things God hates, and love the things He loves!
"Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth." (v.16) Repent means to turn, to change direction. We need to change our way of thinking. Instead of indulging in natural thinking, we have to change to God's way of thinking. If we don't, God will make war against us with the sword of His mouth. This is not a literal sword to pierce us, but He will speak His words into our heart. Just as a sword cuts, God's words will war against our carnal thinking and cut it off.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it." (v.17)
To qualify for this blessing we have to have ears that hear the Spirit's teaching. Hearing encompasses listening and obeying. Hearing His teaching enables us to overcome the lies and deception of natural thinking. These lies are an obstacle to faith. Truth, the Spirit's teaching, dissipates these lies just as light dissipates darkness. Walking in truth makes us overcomers.
To receive the hidden manna is a blessing. The Israelites received manna from heaven that sustained their natural bodies. They could see that manna. Hidden manna is in the unseen realm. This is spiritual food - the food that sustains spiritual life. Jesus said that His words are spirit and are life. Spiritual words have to be received spiritually. Receiving the revelation of what His words mean spiritually, feeds us and brings us into a greater dimension of His life. Jesus said, "If any man eats of this bread, he shall live forever." Christ (the truth) is the living bread that came down from heaven. Eating Christ's flesh means receiving Christ's nature, for He is the truth.
"And I will give him a white stone." A white stone was the pebble of acquittal in the Greek courts. In the Greek judicial system, if an individual was handed a black stone, it meant condemnation, and if the word "theta" was engraved on it, it meant he was guilty and condemned to die. But if he was handed a white stone, he was judged not guilty and was acquitted of all sin.
We have been justified by faith! (Rom. 5:1) The meaning of the Greek word for justified means "not guilty, never been guilty." How can God say that we are not guilty and have never been guilty when we know that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"? It is because we have been made a new creation in Christ. This new creation has no past. Christ has never sinned and He now dwells in us and we in Him. His life has become our life!! The old I no longer lives in us; it has been replaced by Christ! His righteousness has become our righteousness! Our identification with the old man who sins, is completely gone!
The Greeks also used the white stone in casting lots in elections. The black stone indicated nay, and the white stone yea. In giving us the white stone, Christ is saying that He has chosen us! We are His, not because we chose Him, but because He chose us!
A white stone was also given to the victors of a race. Christ ran the race and overcame death! In union with Him, we too are overcomers and share His victory!
Sometimes a white stone was handed to a guest as a sign of welcome. This meant that the guest had the right to everything that was in the house. Similarly, when Christ gives the white stone to us, it means that all that is His is ours. God has given us the Holy Spirit, and in Him we have everything God is!
White stones were also used in the allotting of an inheritance. We receive an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled; it does not fade away, and it is reserved in heaven for us. (1 Pe. 1:4)
He also gives us a new name! In this stone there is a new name, a new nature. Notice that this white stone is Christ! Everything is in Him! The Greek word for name is ONOMA, and it covers everything a person is - character, power, excellence, rank, majesty, and personal attributes. To qualify for receiving a new name, we too have to submit to the Father's purpose for us, even as Jesus did.
The world does not know who is within us. We have a wonderful treasure in this vessel of clay. We may be told that we do not look like Christ, but all we have to do is to walk like He did. As we live out of His life and nature, we will progressively grow to be like Him.
"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: `I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.'" (vv.18-19)
Again we see the connection between the Son of God and the One who walks in the midst of the churches in chapter 1:14. Eyes can convey many attitudes and emotions. Before Christ was crucified He was taken to the house of the high priest, and Peter denied Him three times. Then Jesus turned and looked at Peter. What do you think Peter saw in the eyes of Jesus? I think he saw eyes burning with a love so deep that Peter went out and wept bitterly in repentance! Christ's love also produces repentance in us. Just as Jesus prophesied into Peter's life, so He prophesies into our life, and we see those eyes of love. They are not eyes of condemnation, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
His eyes also convey a love for purity in us. God's fire always symbolizes cleansing. His eyes, like a flame of fire, reveal His love for purity. The eyes of Christ see beyond the surface and see what is in the heart. His eyes like fire see into the depth of our being - past all our pretenses and masks and the impression we are trying to convey.
What a commendation this church receives! Here is a group of believers who are commended for their love and faith and deeds! They are alive with love and a living faith! Love and faith go hand in hand; both are necessary for service that is pleasing to God. Love cannot be measured by shallow fervency, but by faith. Christ also saw their perseverance. They persevered through suffering and reproaches, and did even greater deeds than at first!
"His feet were of burnished bronze!" Feet symbolize our walk. Jesus Christ lived the perfect life. His life touched the nitty-gritty of human life but His walk remained pure. What about our walk? Do difficulties, rejection and persecution affect our thoughts, actions and speech negatively? His verdict is always correct, for He is the truth, and truth always reveals the error. Christ sees whether His life and love are evident in our walk.
This letter was written to the church in Thyatira (odor of affliction). Something does not smell right. The odor of affliction is not pleasing, for it is the smell of corruption, decay and of death. Affliction speaks of pain, suffering and calamities. Sufferings can be endured victoriously, but when suffering is mixed with self-pity, it produces an unpleasing odor. Everything that is not rooted in Christ is tainted with corruption, and it does not produce a good smell. The sacrifices in the Old Testament were to produce a sweet smell to the Lord. The Lord is not pleased with mixtures. The good works of the flesh are tainted by pride and self-glorification, and therefore do not produce a pleasing smell. Eternal values speak of life, and there is no corruption or death in life.
"But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bondservants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality." (vv. 20-21)
In spite of the terrific commendation this church received, something was very wrong. It tolerated a wrong teaching. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab, and she influenced him to act wickedly and corruptly. She persecuted Elijah and those who would not worship Baal. She symbolizes the corrupt nature. She takes the mind away from devotion to God, and directs it to a substitute god and to unholy desires. Instead of the Spirit ruling the flesh, the corrupt nature rules.
Jezebel comes in religiosity, in the guise of a prophetess. She even calls herself a prophetess; God did not call her that. Humanistic thinking comes in the guise of spirituality. It produces religious works that lead us astray. We get so caught up with good works that we have no time to hear the Spirit and to receive truth!
She teaches the church to commit acts of immorality. We are quite aware of physical adultery and fornication, but spiritual adultery and fornication are more subtle and harder to identify. Adultery and fornication are illicit relationships. Anything we substitute for a relationship with God is immoral and constitutes spiritual adultery, for it takes away His Lordship and gives it to another. Fornication, or adultery of the heart and mind, is more dangerous and even worse than that of the body. Every mixture, every duality, every carnal thought has to be cast down!
Duality is in the soul. When God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and blew His breath (His Spirit) into him, he became a living soul. Adam was a mixture of dust (earthiness) and God's breath. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a duality - good and evil. It carries the odor of death - if you eat of it you will die. The new creation man is born of the Spirit, born from above; there is no duality in him! There is no duality in the tree of life; there is only goodness!
How important it is to let the Lord direct our thoughts and minds! We are so blind to our own failings. We need to bow to Christ's sovereignty constantly, and recognize that everything we do has to be initiated by Him! Every desire for honor, praise, or pity has to be cast down. All selfish desires carry the odor of death, for they are death! To God belongs all honor and glory and praise!
Here we see the result of a mind that is withdrawn from God. Those who do not want to repent, will be thrown "on a bed of sickness" (of sickness has been inserted; it is not in the Greek manuscripts), "and those who commit adultery with her, into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds." (vv. 22-23)
Those who do not want to repent will be cast upon a bed. They are all lumped together and put under pressure - that is the meaning of the word tribulation. He lets them go on with their fornication and unfaithfulness, but they will find themselves in a pressure cooker - that is, until they repent.
"And I will kill her children with pestilence." These children are not the offspring of our bodies, but of our mind - the offspring of humanistic thinking. The mind that focuses on the flesh is death. We have to die to the carnal mind so we can come into life.
Christ will give each of us according to our deeds. This is also promised in Matt. 16:27 and Rev. 22:12. This is not a threat, but a promise! It is an encouragement to do the things that have eternal rewards, not the deeds that bring only temporary accolades. He searches our inner being, and knows the intent of everything we do!
"But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them - I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come." (vv.24-25) Here the Greek HEKO for come, stresses the arrival, not a coming or going like the Greek ERCHOMAI.
This is good news! Not all are carrying that bad odor! Not all are interested in knowing the deep things of Satan - the deep things of self that are in the carnal mind. When you examine yourself, are you examining the deep things of the carnal mind, the Adamic self, or do you examine what is yours in Christ, the new man? In 2 Cor. 13:5, Paul exclaims, "...do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?" Know who you are in Christ! Let's concentrate on knowing the deep things of life in Christ instead of the so-called deep things of Satan! Let's not be side-tracked by the teachings of men, but hold fast to the teaching of the Spirit!
"He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star." (vv.26-28)
Only those who have overcome the enticements of the natural mind are able to follow the Spirit's directives and keep Christ's deeds. They do not do their own will, even as Christ did not do His own will! Like Moses, they do everything according to the pattern that was shown him on the Mount when he was in communion with God and receiving instruction. Those who have learned obedience will be given authority, for they can be trusted to carry out the Father's wishes! God gives those who hear His voice and have learned to obey His voice, the right to act on His behalf.
They shall rule over the nations with a rod of iron. A rod of iron symbolizes inflexibility. It is rigid; it cannot be bent. This rod of iron is the scepter of truth. Truth cannot be bent; it cannot be changed in any way, for then it is no longer truth. When truth rules, there can be no corruption, no bribery, no dishonesty, no compromise and no scandals. Strict adherence to the Spirit's teaching is the norm.
At this point we need to recognize the difference between a legalistic approach to the word of God and a spiritual approach. Keeping the letter of the law differs greatly from keeping the spirit of the law. Lawyers can always find loopholes in laws because of their legalistic adherence to the wording of the laws. They are not interested in the spirit or intent of the law. Those who can hear the Spirit, will speak words of edification. The sword, or word of the Lord, cuts off the fleshly desires in order that spiritual growth can take place! God's purpose is always redemptive!
"As the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces." As a potter works with clay, he has power and authority over the vessels he makes. He can crush or break a vessel as he sees fit. God sent Jesus and crushed Him in order to bring us life! Since He did that to Jesus, don't you think He will also raise us up to be a sacrifice? He will do things His way, and He won't ask for our opinion. Our natural way of thinking has to be completely subdued so that we will do things God's way!
Just as Jesus received everything from the Father, so we receive everything from Him. Whatever comes our way, comes from His heart of love. All our rejections and all our crushings help us to mature in Christ. The more we mature, the more we will be a blessing to others.
"And I will give him the morning star." In Rev. 22:16 Jesus said, "...I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." The morning star gives light and direction to mankind. It is the first to announce the coming of a new day! Christ is the morning star! His coming to earth announced the coming of a new day. This new day came to us in the Holy Spirit! This great light of God is spreading over the earth. We too have been called to be light-bearers - what a glorious calling! This is not a message of gloom and doom, but one of victory, proclaiming that Christ is the true light, and He brings light to the world through His sons! In Daniel 12:3 we read, "Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever."
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (v.29) As in verse 2, this blessing depends on a hearing ear! A deaf ear will not receive admonition, insight and encouragement. All are necessary in our spiritual growth and development!