BOOK OF REVELATIONA Study of
The Last Prophetic Book
of Holy Scripture
by Clarence Larkin
III. THE CHURCH AT PERGAMOS.
(A Licentious Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--"And to the Angel of the Church in Pergamos write: These things saith He which hath the Sharp Sword with two edges.
2. THE COMMENDATION--"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.
3. THE COMPLAINT--"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the DOCTRINE p. 22 OF BALAAM, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block 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.
4. THE WARNING--"Repent! or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the SWORD OF MY MOUTH.
5. THE PROMISE--"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."
In this Message Pergamos is spoken of as "Satan's Seat." When Attalus III, the Priest-King of the Chaldean Hierarchy, fled before the conquering Persians to Pergamos, and settled there, Satan shifted his capital from Babylon to Pergamos. At first he persecuted the followers of Christ, and Antipas was one of the martyrs. But soon he changed his tactics and began to exalt the Church, and through Constantine united the Church and State, and offered all kinds of inducements for worldly people to come into the Church. Constantine's motive was more political than religious. He. wished to weld his Christian and Pagan subjects into one people, and so consolidate his Empire. The result of this union was that two false and pernicious doctrines crept into the Church. The first was the "Doctrine of Balaam," and the second the "Doctrine of the Nicolaitanes." The latter we have already considered under the Message to the Church at Ephesus. And the foothold it had secured in the Church was seen in the First Great Council of the Church held at Nicaea, in A. D. 325. The Council was composed of about 1500 delegates, the laymen out-numbering the Bishops 5 to 1. It was a stormy council, full of intrigue and political methods, and from the supremacy of the "Clergy" over the "Laity" it was evident that the "Doctrine of the Nicolaitanes" had secured a strong and permanent foothold.
The "Doctrine of Balaam" is disclosed in the story of Balaam found in the Book of Numbers, chapters 22 to 25 inclusive. When the Children of Israel on their way to Canaan had reached the land of Moab, Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam the Son of Beor, who lived at Pethor on the river Euphrates, to come and curse them. When the Lord would not permit Balaam to curse Israel, he suggested to Balak that he invite them to the licentious feasts of "Baal-Peor," and thus cause Israel to fall into a snare that would so anger the Lord that he would Himself destroy them. This Balak did, and the result was that when the men of Israel went to those sensual feasts and saw the "daughters of Moab" they committed whoredoms with them, which so kindled God's anger that He sent a plague that destroyed 42,000 of them. Now the word "Pergamos" means "Marriage," and when the Church entered into a union with the State it was guilty of "Spiritual Fornication" or "Balaamism."
The "Balaam Method" that Constantine employed was to give to the Bishops of the Church a number of imposing buildings called Basilicas for conversion into churches, for whose decoration he was lavish in the gift of money. He also supplied superb vestments for the clergy, and soon the Bishop found himself clad in costly vestments, seated on a lofty throne in the apse of the Basilica, with a marble altar, adorned with gold and gems, on a lower level in front of him. A sensuous form of worship was introduced, the character of the preaching was changed, and the great "Pagan Festivals" were adopted, with but little alteration, to please the Pagan members of the church, and attract Pagans to the church. For illustration, as the Winter Solstice falls on the 21st day of December, which is the shortest day in the year, and it is not until the 25th that the day begins to lengthen, which day was regarded throughout the Heathen world as the "birthday" of the "Sun-God," and was a high festival, which was celebrated at Rome by the "Great Games" of the Circus, it was found advisable to change the Birthday of the Son of God, from April, at which time He was probably born, to December 25th, because as He was the "Sun of Righteousness," what more appropriate birth-day could He have than the birthday of the Pagan "Sun-God"?
It was at this time that "Post-Millennial Views"
had their origin. As the Church had become rich and powerful, it was suggested that by the union of Church and State a condition of affairs would develop that would usher in the Millennium without the return of Christ, and since some scriptural support was needed for such a doctrine, it was claimed that the Jews had been cast off "forever," and that all the prophecies of Israel's future glory were intended for the Church. This "Period" extends from the accession of Constantine A. D. 312 to A. D. 606, when Boniface III was crowned "Universal Bishop."
IV. THE CHURCH AT THYATIRA.
(A Lax Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--"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.
2. THE COMMENDATION--"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.
3. THE COMPLAINT--"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."
4. THE PROMISE--"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, p. 24 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."
In His commendation of this Church, Christ lays the emphasis on their "works," as if they depended on them, and claimed they de-served merit for "works" of "Supererogation." But He had a complaint to make against them that was terrible in its awfulness. He charges them not merely with permitting a bad woman, Jezebel, who called herself a "Prophetess," to remain in the Church, but with permitting her to "teach" her pernicious doctrines, and to "seduce" the servants to "commit fornication," and to "eat things sacrificed to idols."
Who this woman was is a question. She was a "pretender," and called herself a "prophetess." Probably she was of noble lineage. She certainly was a woman of commanding influence. Whether her real name was Jezebel or not, she was so like her prototype in the Old Testament, Jezebel the wife of Ahab, that Christ called her by that name. Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, was not by birth a daughter of Abraham, but a princess of idolatrous Tyre, at a time, too, when its royal family was famed for cruel savagery and intense devotion to Baal and Astarte. Her father, Eth-baal, a priest of the latter deity, murdered the reigning monarch Phales, and succeeded him. Ahab, king of Israel, to strengthen his kingdom, married Jezebel, and she, aided and abetted by Ahab, introduced the licentious worship of Baal into Israel, and killed all the prophets of the Lord she could lay her hands on. And this influence she exercised, not only while her husband was alive, but also during the reign of her two sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram. Moreover, the marriage of her daughter Athaliah to Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, introduced idolatrous worship into Judah, and it was not long before there was a house of Baal built in Jerusalem, and so Jezebel caused all Israel to sin after the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 1 Kings 16:29-33.
There is no question that, whether Jezebel was a real person or not, she typified a "System" and that "System" was the "Papal Church." When the "Papal Church" introduced images and pictures into its churches for the people to bow down to it became idolatrous. And when it set up its claim that the teaching of the Church is superior to the Word of God, it assumed the role of "Prophetess." A careful study of the "Papal System" from A. D. 606 to the Reformation A. D. 1520, with its institution of the "Sacrifice of the Mass" and other Pagan rites, reveals in it the sway of "Jezebelism." It was also a period of "Jezebelistic Persecution," as seen in the wars of the Crusades, and the rise of the Inquisition. A careful comparison of this "Message" with the Parable of "The Leaven" will reveal the wonderful correspondence between the two, the "Jezebel" of the Church of Thyatira, being the "Woman" of the Parable, who inserted the "Leaven" of "False Doctrine" into the Meal of the Gospel. This Period extended from A. D. 606 to the Reformation A. D. 1520.
V. THE CHURCH AT SARDIS.
(A Dead Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--"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.
2. THE CONDEMNATION--I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and ART DEAD.
3. THE COUNSEL--Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.
4. THE WARNING--If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
5. THE PROMISE--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 out his name out of the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
The Church at Sardis was called a "Dead Church" though it had a name to live. That is, it was a "Formalistic Church," a church given over to "formal" or "ritualistic" worship. It had the "Form of Godliness without the power." The meaning of the word "Sardis" is the "escaping one," or those who "come out" and so it is an excellent type of the Church of the
By the Reformation we mean that period in the history of the Christian Church when Martin Luther and a number of other reformers protested against the false teaching, tyranny and claims of the Papal Church.
This Period began about A. D. 1500. The condition of affairs in the realm dominated by the Papal Church became intolerable, and came to a crisis when Martin Luther, on October 31, 1517 A. D., nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. From that date the Reformation set in. But it was more a struggle for political liberty than a purely Christian or religious movement.
It had the advantage of encouraging and aiding the circulation of the Holy Scriptures, that had hitherto been a sealed book, the revival of the Doctrine of "Justification by Faith," and a reversion to more simple modes of worship, but the multiplication of sects only led to bitter controversial contentions, that, while they threw much light on the Word of God, interfered greatly with the spiritual state of the Church, until it could truthfully be said, "That she had a name to live and was dead."
While the reformers swept away much ritualistic and doctrinal rubbish they failed to recover the promise of the Second Advent. They turned to God from idols, but not to "wait for His Son from the Heavens." The "Sardis Period" extended from A. D. 1520 to about A. D. 1750.
VI. THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA.
(A Favored Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--"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.
2. COMMENDATION--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.
3. THE PROMISE--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. Because thou hast kept the word of My Patience, I also will keep thee from the HOUR OF TRIBULATION, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy CROWN. Him that overcometh will I make a PILLAR in the Temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the NAME of My God, and the name of the CITY of My God, which is NEW JERUSALEM, which cometh down out of Heaven from My God: and I will write upon him My NEW NAME. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
There is no question about the meaning of the word Philadelphia. It means "Brotherly Love," and well describes the charity and brotherly fellowship that dissipated the bitter personal animosities that characterized the theological disputants of the "Sardis Period," and made possible the evangelistic and missionary labors of the past 150 years. Three things are said of this Church:
1. It had a "little strength." It was like a person coming back to life who was still very weak. It was the "dead" Sardis Church "revived," and Revivals have been characteristic of the Philadelphia Period. These Revivals began with George Whitefield in A. D. 1739, followed by John Wesley, Charles G. Finney and D. L. Moody.
2. It had set before it an "open door," that no "man" could shut. Note that this promise was made by Him, who "hath the 'Key of David,' He that 'openeth' and no man shutteth; and 'shutteth' and no man openeth." In 1793 William Carey sailed for India, where he found an "open door," and since then the Lord has opened the door into China, Japan, Korea, India, Africa and the isles of the sea, until there is not a country in the world where the missionary cannot go.
3. It was to be kept from the "Hour of Temptation" (TRIBULATION), that shall come upon ALL THE WORLD, and as there has never as yet been a WORLDWIDE Tribulation, this "Hour of Tribulation" must still be future and refers doubtless to the "Great Tribulation" that is to come upon the "whole world," just before the return of the Lord to set up His Millennial Kingdom, and as the promise is that the "Philadelphia Church" shall not pass through the Tribulation, is not this additional proof that the Church shall be "caught out" before the Tribulation?
The Philadelphia Period covers the time between A. D. 1750 and A. D. 1900. We must not forget that the characteristics of all these Periods continue on in the Church down to the end. This is true of the Evangelistic and Missionary movements of the "Philadelphia Period," but they are now more mechanical and based on business methods, and there is less spiritual power, and this will continue until Christ returns.
VII. THE CHURCH AT LAODICEA.
(A Lukewarm Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--"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.
2. THE COMPLAINT--I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
3. THE COUNSEL--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.
4. THE CHASTENING--As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
5. THE PROMISE--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 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. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
Christ has no "commendation" for this Church, but much to complain of. He says--
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold or hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."
There is nothing more disgusting or nauseating than "tepid" water. So there is nothing more repugnant to Christ than a "tepid" church. He would rather have a church "frozen" or "boiling." It was the "chilly spiritual atmosphere" of the Church of England that drove John Wesley to start those outside meetings which became so noted for their "religious fervor," and it was the same "chilly atmosphere" of the Methodist Church that drove William Booth in turn to become a "Red-hot" Salvationist.
Our churches today are largely in this "lukewarm" condition. There is very little of warm-hearted spirituality. There is much going on in them, but it is largely mechanical and of a social character. Committees, societies, and clubs are multiplied, but there is an absence of "spiritual heat." Revival meetings are held, but instead of waiting on the Lord for power, evangelists and paid singers are hired and soul winning is made a business. The cause of this "lukewarmness" is the same as that of the Church of Laodicea--Self-Deception.
"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."
They thought they were rich, and outwardly they were, but Christ saw the poverty of their heart. There are many such churches in the world today. More so than in any other period in the history of the church. Many of these churches have Cathedral-like buildings, stained glass windows, eloquent preachers, paid singers, large congregations. Some of them have large landed interests and are well endowed, and yet they are poor. Many of the members, if not the majority, are worldly, card playing, dancing, and theatre going Christians. The poor and the saintly are not wanted in such churches because their presence is a rebuke. These churches do not see that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
If we were to visit such churches they would take pride in showing us the building, they would praise the preaching and singing, they would boast of the character of their congregations, the exclusiveness of their membership, and the attractiveness of all their services, but if we suggested a series of meetings for the "deepening of the Spiritual Life," or the "conversion of the unsaved," they would say--"Oh, no, we do not want such meetings, we have need of nothing." The Church at Laodicea was not burdened with debt, but it was burdened with WEALTH.
The trouble with the church today is that it thinks that nothing can be done without money, and that if we only had the money the world would be converted in this generation. The world is not to be converted by money, but by the Spirit of God.
The trouble with the Church of Laodicea was that its "Gold" was not of the right kind, and so it was counseled to buy of the Lord "gold tried in the fire." What kind of gold is that? It is gold that has no taint upon it. Gold that is not cankered, or secured by fraud, or the withholding of a just wage. What a description we have of these Laodicean days in James 5:1-4.
But the Church of Laodicea was not only poor, though rich, it was blind. Or to put it more accurately--"Near-Sighted." They could see their worldly prosperity, but were "Short-Sighted" as to heavenly things, so the Lord counseled them to anoint their eyes with "Eye-Salve." Their merchants dealt in ointments and herbs of a high degree of healing virtue, but they possessed no salve that would restore impaired Spiritual Vision, only the Unction of the Holy One could do that.
But the Church was not only poor, and blind, it was naked. Their outward garments were doubtless of the finest material and the latest fashionable cut, but not such as should adorn the person of a Child of God. So they were counseled to purchase of Christ "White Raiment," in exchange for the "raven black woolen" garments for which the garment makers of Laodicea were famous.
Then a most startling revelation was made to the Church of Laodicea, Christ said--
"Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock."
These words are generally quoted as an appeal to sinners, but they are not, they are addressed to a Church, and to a Church in whose midst Christ had once stood, but now found Himself excluded and standing outside knocking for admittance.
This is the most startling thing recorded in the New Testament, that it is possible for a church to be outwardly prosperous and yet have no Christ in its midst, and be unconscious of the fact. This is a description of a Christless Church. Oh, the
Excluded from His own nation, for they Rejected Him; excluded from the world, for it Crucified Him; excluded from His Church, for He stands outside its door Knocking for Entrance.
How did Christ come to be outside the Church? He had been within it once or there never would have been a Church. How did He come to leave? It is clear that they had not thrust Him out, for they do not seem to have missed His presence. They continued to worship Him, to sing His praises, and engage in all manner of Christian service, yet He had withdrawn. Why? The reason is summed up in one word--Worldliness.
But how is Christ to get back into His Church? Does it require the unanimous vote or invitation of the membership? No. "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." That is the way to revive a lukewarm church is for the individual members to open their hearts and let Christ re-enter, and thus open the door for His reappearance.
The character of the Church today is Laodicean, and as the Laodicean Period is to continue until the Church of the "New-Born" is taken out, we cannot hope for any great change until the Lord comes back.
What do these "Messages to the Churches" teach us? They clearly teach the DECLINE OF THE CHURCH. That the professing Church instead of increasing in spiritual and world converting power will become lukewarm, faithless, and CHRISTLESS.
In Paul's Parable of the "Two Olive Trees" (Rom. 11:15-27), he shows how the "natural branches" of the "Good Olive Tree," (Israel) were broken off because of UNBELIEF, that the "Wild Olive Tree" of the Church might be "grafted in," which in turn, because of UNBELIEF, would be displaced that the "Natural branches" might be "grafted back again," thus showing that the Church does not take the place of Israel permanently, but simply fills up the "Gap" between Israel's "casting off" and "restoration to Divine favor." As the Laodicean Period closes the "Church Age," the Church disappears at the end of Chapter Three, and Israel comes again into view.
The Church as Seen in the Book of Revelation
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