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THE CHURCH AGE
(1) A Special Revelation
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand (Rev. 1:1-3).
In 1903, Dr. C. I. Scofield said, “[Revelation] is so written that as the actual time of these events approach, the current events will unlock the meaning of the book.” I believe verse 3 puts it well: “The time is at hand.”1 The outline below may also be the key to unlock Revelation.
Cross - Church Age - Rapture - Tribulation - Return - Millennium - Last Day
We could call Revelation 1 an introductory chapter. Verses 1-3 tell us where the revelation came from, the purpose, who wrote the book, and that those who believe it are “blessed.” In verses 4-6 John greets the seven churches of Asia. Verse 7 tells us the primary theme of the book is the return of Christ. “Behold, he cometh with the 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.”
The question has been asked: How can every eye see Him at His return? If we can arrange for the world to see astronauts return to earth from the moon, I’m sure the Lord can take care of the details concerning His return from heaven to earth. In fact, many may see it all on TV.
(2) When and Where Was Revelation Written?
Revelation 1:9 tells us where the book was written and gives a clue as to the date it was written. “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
The Island of Patmos was located in the Aegean Sea about 25 miles off the coast of Asia Minor. It was used as a prison for disloyal subjects of the Roman Empire during the time of Domitian, who was the emperor of Rome from 81-96 A.D. He was also famous for his persecution of Christians and the first emperor who tried to compel Christians to participate in emperor worship. Verse 9 indicates that John was in prison for his faith, and this is probably when he wrote Revelation.
(3) A Message to the Churches
I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea (Rev. 1:11).
When John wrote Revelation there were many small churches scattered throughout the Roman Empire. You may ask: Why did the Lord pick only seven churches and why these particular seven? I believe one reason is: each one of these seven churches had a certain characteristic which represented a certain stage in the history of the Church. Another is: the number seven means completion. In other words, after the church age has run through its seven stages, it will be finished and God will be working in the world in a different way.
In studying the message to the seven churches of Asia, we need to keep in mind the difference between the body of Christ, which is made up of the true believers, and a congregation of people who call themselves Christians. Within each church there will be different situations. Some churches may have a high percentage of true Christians by the new birth; others may have hardly any. Also, within each church there will be different characteristics and levels of growth. People are different, and so is each church.
Joseph Smith, Charles Russell, Mary Baker Eddy, Herbert W. Armstrong, and others down through the years, have said they have restored the true faith and their way was the only way to God. Mr. Armstrong even said the true Church became lost and he found it again “on the first Sunday in 1934 . . . precisely at 10 o’clock.”2
Be careful of anyone or any group that claims some special revelation from God and that their church is the only true church. Those who teach that the early church became lost and we need to get back to it, ask them which one. The early churches were no better than many today. Each had its good and bad points and only a few of the many mentioned in the New Testament were what they ought to be. They, like Peter and Paul, were not perfect. There is a saying: If you are looking for the perfect church and ever find it, don’t join—for it will no longer be perfect. Look for a good one that exalts Christ and work to make it better, and strive to keep a sweet spirit.
(4) Message to Ephesus: Rev. 2:1-7
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars (Rev. 2:1-2).
The message to the church at Ephesus seems to indicate that the majority were true Christians. Apparently they had “labored” hard at spreading the Word and at being very doctrinal. They probably had a discerning ability to keep out unbelievers who would come in and try to distort the Scriptures. The Lord commended them for these things, but in verses 4-5, He said, “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.”
It seems their work had become routine and they no longer looked for the Lord to return. Some may have stopped meeting on a regular basis with other Christians.
We have this same thing today with certain Christians. They are on fire for a time, but they cool off in their daily walk with God. Others pride themselves in being so doctrinally correct that they lose the whole point of God’s message. Paul stressed sound doctrine, but he said the greatest gift is “love” (1 Cor. 13).
Many believe the church at Ephesus represented the first period in the history of the Church, which was from Pentecost until about the turn of the first century.
(5) Message to Smyrna: Rev. 2:8-11
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 (Rev. 2:8-9).
When a person named Christ as Lord and joined the church at Smyrna, he faced the possibility of financial poverty, imprisonment, and maybe even the loss of life for refusing to worship the image of the emperor. No doubt there were not many unbelievers in the group.
Jesus told the Christians at Smyrna, “Fear none of these 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” (Rev. 2:10-11).
The message to Smyrna could apply to any time. Since the Church was born on Pentecost many have suffered and died for the cause of Christ. The Bible says we will have trials and tribulations in this life,a some will have far more than others. In recent years the persecution of Christians in certain countries has increased at an alarming rate.
Many believe the church at Smyrna represented the second period in the history of the Church. From about 90 A.D. until the fourth century, the Christians suffered great persecutions under the Roman emperors.
About 112 A.D. Pliny the Younger wrote Trajan, the emperor of Rome, and told him how he was handling the Christians. Pliny said, “I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution . . .”
Pliny also told Trajan how some Christians renounced their faith in Christ, and he let them live. He pointed out to Trajan how they worshiped his image like everyone else and “reviled the name of Christ.”
Trajan wrote back and told Pliny, “You have followed the right course of procedure, my dear Pliny, in your examination of the cases of persons charged with being Christians . . .”3
There is coming a day, soon I believe, when people will be commanded to worship the image of the Antichrist. Those who worship him will live and die. Those who refuse will die but live again. Jesus says, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25).
(6) Message to Pergamos: Rev. 2:12-17
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 (Rev. 2:12-13).
It seems Satan had set up his religious headquarters in Pergamos. One ancient writer said it was “given to idolatry more than all of Asia.” Pergamos was also the first city in Asia to build a temple for the purpose of worshiping the emperor of Rome.
In the midst of all this there was a church established at Pergamos. The Lord commended some within the congregation for holding on to the things of God, but in verse 14, He said, “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 stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
We can get an idea what the doctrine of Balaam was from the Old Testament account of Balaam, a false prophet, and Balac, who was a Mobite king. Balac knew he couldn’t defeat the children of Israel by natural means, so he sent for Balaam to put a curse on them. But when Balaam tried to curse Israel, God filled him with His Spirit and made him bless them against his will.
When Balaam saw that Israel couldn’t be destroyed by persecution, he changed tactics; he suggested to Balac that the Moabite girls should seduce the men of Israel by inviting them to participate in their idolatrous feast. Many did, and God Himself brought judgment upon the ones who took part in this.
Satan, seeing that he could not destroy the church at Smyrna through persecution, and that persecution was actually keeping the church at Smyrna pure of unbelievers, tried another method at Pergamos. It seems he used this method in the third stage of the church age.
Many believe the church at Pergamos represented the third period in the history of the Church, which began early in the fourth century and continued until about 600 A.D. After the death of Diocletian in 313 A.D. Constantine and Maxentius contended for the throne of the Roman Empire. According to legend the night before they were to go to battle, Constantine saw a vision of a cross in the sky. Written on the cross was: “By this sign shall thou conquer.” In his book Outlined Studies of Revelation, Lehman Strauss says:
That night he bargained with Satan to join the church and declare himself a Christian if he won the battle. We know from history that Constantine won the battle, declared himself a Christian and Christianity to be the religion of the state. Christian leaders were invited to witness the wholesale baptism of whole regiments of soldiers in Constantine’s army. When later almost four hundred bishops met, Constantine was carried on a golden throne and he presided over the council as the recognized head of the church. But with all the profession and prompt, there is no evidence that he was born again. After Constantine’s declaration, it was popular to be a “Christian.” True believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who were being persecuted, found themselves being lauded by political and evil authorities. Their rags of persecution and their hideouts in the catacombs gave way to softer garments and more comfortable dwellings. Thus the Pergamos stage of history came into being. The church was married to the world.4
One writer has said that the very word Pergamos has in it the same root from which we get the English words for bigamy and polygamy. In other words, Pergamos signifies a mixed marriage in the most objectionable sense.
The church at Pergamos had another doctrine that the Lord despised. “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:15-16).
It has been suggested the “Doctrine of the Nicolaitans” was the appointing of authorities in the Church, and they were exalted above the priesthood of the individual believer. The Lord says He “hates” this sort of thing. This has been one of the major problems in the Catholic Church.
During the first century Satan’s “seat” was at Pergamos. It seems he moved it to Rome, where the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” became stronger. He did a good job in sowing the seeds at Pergamos for the future super church, called: “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS”b Many believe the Mother of Harlots will have her headquarters in Rome.
(7) Message to Thyatira: Rev. 2:18-19
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 (Rev. 2:18-19).
Paul stayed at Ephesus longer than any other church. So you can imagine, they were well “rooted and grounded” in the basic doctrines. But even after all this teaching, he said, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
Apparently after Paul left Ephesus and before John wrote Revelation, the Ephesians had “tried them” who said they were called to preach Christ and found many to be “liars.”c There are many “liars” today that love money, power, the glory of their ministry, and everything else but the Lord and His people.
Just as the Lord commended the church at Ephesus, He did the same at Thyatira, but in verse 20 He said, “I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest [put up with] 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.”
It is interesting to note the contrast between the believers at Ephesus and the ones at Thyatira. The church at Ephesus would tolerate no evil and seemed to stress sound doctrine, but it was lacking in love. The church at Thyatira was gaining in love, but it was tolerating evil within the congregation (which could have been the result of a lack of sound Bible teaching).
Not only did we have these two extremes existing in the early church, but this has been the case all down through the church age. Even today we have many self-righteous perfectionists, but they’re lacking in the most important things, such as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23).
There are other people who preach love (so-called) and toleration, even to the extent of seeking peaceful coexistence between good and evil. The Bible plainly teaches that we’re to love everyone, but it also says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14.)
Many Christians during this day and age are like the ones at Thyatira. They seem to have a gentle spirit but will tolerate most anyone and anything, even after their hypocrisy is exposed. The ideal church is one with the commendable characteristics of both Ephesus and Thyatira. We need to be as the Lord said, “Wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
In the church at Pergamos Satan brought in the doctrine of Balaam, but at Thyatira he brought in a Jezebel, “who called herself a prophetess.” The Old Testament Jezebel was the daughter of a pagan king who worshiped the god of Baal. Just as Jezebel in Elijah’s day came into Israel with her wicked ways, the self-styled prophetess did the same thing at Thyatira.
Many believe the church at Thyatira represented the fourth period in the history of the Church, which was from about A.D. 600 until the Reformation of the 1500s. When Jezebel came into Israel she married the king and became the real authority. The king became her puppet. She also introduced many pagan practices.
This same sort of situation existed from about 600 A.D. to the Reformation of the 1500s. Much of this time the Roman Catholic Church was the ruling authority over the state, and it introduced many false doctrines and pagan rituals. The authorities of the Church were exalted over the layman, and the Bible was forbidden to him. William Tyndale, one of the leaders in the Protestant Reformation, was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1536 because he translated the Bible in the language of the common man.
Part of the message to Thyatira may be a prophecy that deals with the Catholic Church entering the tribulation and being judged. “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 [minds] and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:21-23).
Just as the church at Thyatira had its true believers in the midst of false doctrines and works, I believe the Roman Catholic Church has many true Christians who love and serve the Lord. Many do better than many Protestants.
(8) Message to Sardis: Rev. 3:1-6
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God (Rev. 3:1-2).
The church at Sardis had made a name for itself; in fact, it seems the congregation had promoted the name of their church and its doctrine above the Lord of the Church.
Many believe that the church at Sardis represented the period from the Reformation of the 1500s to the missionary movement in the 18th century, but it may have extended to about the middle of this century. During this whole period much of the institutional church, Catholic and Protestant, promoted their denomination and their cause more than the cause of Christ. The Church appeared to the world as alive with works when actually much of it was “dead.” Many had an outward form of worship but no real commitment to Christ. They love religion more than people. Billy Graham calls this: Dead Orthodoxy!5 Dr. Graham says concerning this stage in the history of the Church:
Time after time in history one could point to corrective measures and movements that have arisen in the Church and have eventually followed the way of the Pharisees. For example, Protestantism became a giant corrective in the sixteenth century. But in the course of time, parts of it degenerated to a lifeless formation, nearly as bad as that against which it revolted . . . . Orthodoxy is absolutely essential, but it is no safeguard against spiritual degeneracy.6
The church at Thyatira may have been lax in doctrine and put up with bad works, but Jesus said He was pleased with their good “works, and charity, and service.”d Jesus had much to say about good “works,” and James, the brother of Jesus, said, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17, NKJV).
God has given most of us more than enough, especially in the Western World. But many church members are not thankful and care nothing about trying to alleviate human suffering, either spiritual or physical. Millions have absolutely nothing to look forward to in this life but a miserable existence culminating in death. We need to follow Jesus’ example and put food on the table and the Word of Hope in their heart. We need to pray—and mean it: “Thy kingdom come.” Only the return of Christ will alleviate a suffering humanity!
The church at Sardis was probably not a very friendly church. Jesus said it was “dead,” but it still had those who truly believed in Him. “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev. 3:4-5).
(9) Message to Philadelphia: Rev. 3:7-13
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth; and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth. I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name (Rev. 3:7-8).
Much of the Sardis church age was characterized by a Pharisee spirit. It seems this began to change about the middle of this century with two different movements. One movement is a “lukewarm” attitude toward the things of God; the other, I believe, is the Philadelphian church age with a stronger emphasis on the Great Commission and the return of Christ.
Romans 2:29 says, “He is a Jew, which is one inwardly [by the new birth]; and circumcision is that of the heart.” Revelation 3:9 tells us, “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.”
We need to keep in mind that just as there are true and false Christians in dead formal churches, the evangelical movement has its liars also.” Many have already been exposed.
Although many preach Christ for every reason but the right one, we should say with Paul, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in that I do rejoice.”e A person’s intentions and manner in proclaiming Christ is not what saves, it is the Spirit of God using His Word. Dr. Herschel Hobbs says, “I have had dedicated people come to me with concern about their salvation because the preacher who preached when they were saved had later gone bad. I assured them that they were not saved by the preacher but by the Lord. The preacher had preached God’s Word. They had trusted in Jesus. Regardless of the preacher’s personal life then or later, the Lord honored His Word. Most preachers preach with a burden for souls—and should do so. Nevertheless, they are only the messengers, not the Savior.”7
Many believe the church at Philadelphia represents the true Church throughout the world, and it will be saved from the tribulation described in Revelation 6 through 19. Jesus says, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10, NIV).
(10) Message to Laodicea: Rev. 3:14-22
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot (Rev. 3:14-15).
Apparently the church at Philadelphia consisted of a high percentage of true believers, but this was not the case at Laodicea. No doubt they were positive thinking with a large membership and great material wealth. They thought they were successful, but it seems most were dead in sin and without the Lord in their heart.
I believe the church at Laodicea represents the unsaved within the institutional church. The Church is ordained by God, but many have joined who have never repented of their sins and do not really believe in Christ, especially His return. They are not openly against Christianity; they just have a “lukewarm” attitude toward it and its Founder. Many who call themselves Christians will be left behind when the Lord comes for His Church. In verse 16, Jesus says, “So, then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.”
Laodicea was famous for its eye ointment and warm mineral springs, which were nauseating to drink. It was also noted for producing black wool and weaving it into carpets and clothing. The church members blended right into this wealthy city. Just like today, they thought they were well off, but the Lord says, “Because 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: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Rev. 3:17-18).
Some even preach—while millions are starving—that God wants you to be wealthy in this world. Money is not evil, but the love of it is! Paul says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” He goes on to add that some covet it and “have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Many church members love the world and have no desire to leave it, and many will be left behind when the Lord comes for His Church. John says, “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love these things you show that you do not really love God; for all these worldly things, these evil desires—the craze for sex, the ambition to buy everything that appeals to you, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance—these are not from God. They are from this evil world itself” (1 John 2:15-16, TLB).
Many believe in a “Kingdom Now.” They see no “Great Tribulation” in the near future and believe Christ’s return is at least 1000 years away. They even believe the Church led by “prophets” is going to enlighten the blind and take over the world. David Lewis says:
Christian men and women should have places in government, education, politics, and all of the legitimate professions. The purpose, however, is not to dominate and take over the world system, but to carry the witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and Christian influence into every segment of human endeavor. Some churchmen, however, have a different vision. They see the Church conquering the world, setting up the Kingdom, and then welcoming Jesus back after the task of political domination is completed. The Dominion teachers are vigorous and on the move.8
The scandals in recent years have vividly brought out the extent of phoniness, hypocrisy, greed, and immorality that some so-called Christians have stooped to in these last days. Paul rightly said, “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves . . . lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof [to lead a Godly life]: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3, Paul said there would come “a falling away” before “the day of Christ.” Many hardly ever attend church anymore. Others wouldn’t miss a service and follow their favorite preacher, no matter what! Some churches have so “fallen” from the faith they are even allowing blatant homosexuals to lead in church affairs, and blessing same sex marriage. They are “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness” says Jude 4.
False doctrines, sexual immorality, and lying leaders leading in church are not limited just to dead liberal churches. In recent years many bizarre and unscriptural things have taken place in certain churches. Multitudes have not only fallen to the floor, they have crowed and flapped their arms like roosters, oinked like pigs, barked like dogs, roared like lions, leaped like frogs, shook and jerked violently, claiming the Holy Spirit is doing these things. Some have even predicted death to those who speak out against this, only to have their so-called Holy Ghost predictions fail. 9
Both God and the devil attend church, and it is sometimes difficult to tell who is doing what. But the Holy Spirit never gives a false prediction. Even the occultist Jean Dixon got a few things right. Things like this are not all that recent. They have been going on for ages. Franz Anton Mesmer, the hypnotist from whose name the word “Mesmerism” was coined, could cause these things to happen by simply gesturing in the direction of someone. People would testify of being healed by what he called his “animal magnetism.” His seances, in which he supposedly “magnetized” patients, created a sensation in the 1700s.”10
In his book Counterfeit Revival, Hank Hanegraaff says, “As shocking as it may seem, what was once relegated to the ashrams of cults is now replicated at the altars of churches.”11
Much of what goes on in some Christians circles has nothing to do with God or the devil. It’s emotionalism and fake. But demons have supernatural powers and can dupe some people to believe the message or sign came from God. This is why God told Moses that even if someone preforms signs and wonders and some predictions comes true, they may be inspired by demons (see Deut. 13:1-5).
In Deuteronomy 18:15-19 God said He would raise up “a Prophet,” which was Christ. And anyone who did not listen to Him was in trouble. In verses 20-22 God told Moses how to spot a false prophet. He says, “But any prophet who falsely claims that his message is from me, shall die. And any prophet who claims to give a message from other gods must die. If you wonder, ‘How shall we know whether the prophecy is from the Lord or not?’ this is the way to know: If the thing he prophesies doesn’t happen, it is not the Lord who has given him the message. . .” (TLB.)
In Jesus’ day the Pharisees gave the devil credit for God’s work. Many today are giving God credit for the devil’s work. If some so-called modern day prophets lived in the days of Moses, they would be dead prophets. And even true prophets inspired by the Spirit can still be full of the devil. Balaam is a good example. The Holy Spirit used him to bless Israel, but he sold out and became a prophet who preached for profit (see Num. 22-24, Jude 11.)
There are those who misuse the power of God, and there are those who get their power from demons. The Apostle Paul rightly said, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that, in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1).
In another place, he says, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
And the Lord Himself says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23).
No doubt the church at Laodicea had false prophets and those who openly denied the faith by word and deed, but the majority probably had just a “lukewarm” attitude toward it. Many probably no longer even met with other Christians on a regular basis. Hebrews 10:15 tells us, “Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near” (TLB).
I believe this lukewarmness is the predominant characteristic of the modern day church, especially in the Western World. The Lord’s message to the modern day church is: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19).
Many in the Church today give much lip service to Christ, but in verses 20-22 we have a picture of Him standing outside the door of one’s heart, awaiting to be invited in. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup [dine] with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
At the end of each message to each church the Lord says, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” To the last church, He says, “Anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Rev. 3:18). Isaiah prophesied about the spiritual blindness and deafness of Israel at the time of Christ first coming, and his words are just as appropriate for the Church as we approach His coming again:
Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them (Acts 28:25-27).
Throughout the church age all seven conditions that existed when John wrote Revelation have existed at any given time. But it seems each one of the seven churches in Asia had a certain characteristic that characterized a particular stage in the history of the Church. Although many “born again” have become lukewarm, I believe Laodicea represents many end time church members who have never committed their life to Christ.
The number seven stands for perfection and completion. Perhaps this is why Jesus picked only seven churches. The church age will end. The Lord’s Church will be completed and perfected when we meet Him “in the air” (see 1 Thess. 4:13-17).
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