CHAPTER 25: Christ's Letters To The Churches
Our Lord's letters of
Rev. 2 and 3 can be read with the same kind of latter-day reference as
many other New Testament letters. The date of Revelation's
writing is therefore important; if it was written before A.D. 70,
the letters of Revelation 2 and 3 can be seen as being descriptions of,
and warnings to, the ecclesias in the run up to the Lord's 'coming' in
A.D. 70. As the Olivet prophecy has reference to the events
of both A.D. 70 and the last days, so likewise our Lord's letters must
have an application to the ecclesial world of the last days.
The many connections
between Revelation and the Olivet prophecy would suggest that the Apocalypse
is our Lord's detailed enlargement upon that prophecy. Ample
evidence for a pre-A.D. 70 date for Revelation has been presented in recent
times. Some of the allusions of Revelation to the Olivet prophecy
were outlined in Chapter 12. If Revelation was given after
A.D. 70 and does not concern itself with the Lord's manifestation then,
such allusions are merely incidental. Their number and detail
surely makes this conclusion difficult.
The second coming
There is a significant
amount of language used in the letters of Rev. 2 and 3 which has unmistakable
reference to the 'coming' of the Lord. It must at least be
conceded by all students that this must have some application to the second
coming, and/or A.D. 70. This means that the letters must also
be indicative of the state of the latter-day ecclesias. No
less than eight times in the letters do we read of Christ 'coming' to
the believers (Rev. 2:5,16,25; 3:3 (twice), 10,11,20).
" I will come unto thee quickly...I will give unto every one of you
according to your works" (2:5,23) is language found in Matt. 16:27
and Rev. 22:12, unquestionably concerning the second coming: "
I come quickly...to give every man according as his work shall be"
. Christ's coming " unto thee quickly" (Rev.
2:5,16 cp. Isa. 11:4) has particular aptness when this is understood as
being addressed to believers living on the brink of the second coming.
Likewise Rev. 2:26 has
a specifically last days relevance: " He that overcometh, and keepeth
my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations"
- " the end" being the second coming. Surely the Lord is referring
back to his comment that in the final tribulation period, he who endures
to " the end" of the period will be saved (Mt. 10:22)- as the
one who comes to the end of the days in Dan. 12 is blessed. Enduring to
the end therefore means keeping (guarding, doctrinally) the works of Christ-
holding on to the One Faith until the end. This evidently won't be as
simple as it sounds.
The Lord knocking on
the door and 'coming' when the believer opens, hints at His second coming
once the ecclesia shows a suitable level of spiritual response (Rev. 3:20).
In the same letter to Laodicea, the ecclesia being " rich and increased
with goods" (3:17) recalls the days of Lot and Noah, both typical
of the second coming, and the unworthy walking naked is a figure picked
up in ch. 16:15 concerning judgment day.
A study of the letters
from this angle reveals many other reasons for thinking that they have
particular application to the believers living just prior to the Lord's
return. We will also try to highlight links between them and
other passages concerning the latter-day ecclesias which we have considered.
" I know thy
" I know thy works,
and thy labour" (2:2) indicates that there will be a lot of genuine
hard effort for the Lord in the last days. The spreading of
the Gospel world-wide before the second coming (Matt. 24:14) will need
plenty of this. However, there will be a tendency (already
beginning to be seen?) to push ahead with these " works" to
the neglect of keeping purity of doctrine, and not taking adequate action
against false teachers: " I know thy works, and charity, and
service, and faith...patience...and thy works, and the last to be more
than the first. Notwithstanding, I have a few things against
thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel...to teach and to seduce
my servants" (Rev. 2:19,20). This group will maintain
the commendable attributes of love, faith and patience in the last days,
and yet the implication is that they will misapply them, with the result
that false teaching is tolerated, and the flock ravaged. The
R.V. mg. speaks of " Thy wife Jezebel" , likening this element
of the ecclesia to weak-willed Ahab.
At the other extreme,
the letters suggest that there will be another element of the believers
whose struggle to maintain purity leads them into such bitterness that
they, too, will be displeasing to Christ. The spirit of Judaism
and legalism which plagued the ecclesias just prior to AD70 will be seen
in the last days too. Thus Ephesus could not bear " them which are
evil" and " tried them which say they are apostles, and are
not, and hast found them liars...and for my name's sake hast laboured
(i.e. for the defence of doctrine)...nevertheless, I have somewhat against
thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (Rev. 2:2-4). The commendable
works and doctrinal zeal of Ephesus indicates that leaving their "
first love" does not refer to any cooling off of enthusiasm in those
ways. Rather there is a rebuke that they had lost the spirit
of agape-love which first characterized them.
The balance between
such un-loving legalism and the 'anything goes' attitude, will be rarely
seen in the ecclesias during the tribulation period - as it seems well
nigh impossible for us to manifest that balance now. It should
be noted that the Lord was pleased with their 'trying' the false apostles
and open pronunciation that such people were 'liars', despite their repeated
protestations that they held true doctrine. These men stated
their acceptance of the doctrines, whilst simultaneously holding and teaching
ideas which flatly contradicted it. There will therefore be some in the
last days who will 'try' the false teachers, and perhaps openly pronounce
their opinion of them. However, it is the view of the present writer that
it is debateable whether we have yet reached this stage of false teaching
within the community.
The problem of false
teaching in the latter day ecclesia and how to deal with it will lead
spiritual Israel to be bitterly disunited in the last days, as natural
Israel will be. We have seen this situation foreshadowed in many types
of the last days, considered in Section 1. The friction in the ecclesias
in the lead up to AD70 is the clearest type of this situation. Thus James
5:9 pleads with believers not to grudge / groan / sigh (Gk.) against
each other on the very eve of the Lord's coming.
There is a marked warning
throughout the letters that there will be a spirit of self-deception and
hypocrisy amongst the latter-day ecclesias. Jezebel "
calleth herself a prophetess" (2:20), some " say
they are Jews and are not" (2:9), others " say they are
apostles, and are not" (2:2), Sardis had " a name that thou
livest" but was dead (3:1). This must be seen in the context of other
NT warnings that deceivers would enter the ecclesia, appearing to have
the Apostolic gifts of the Spirit.
The Laodiceans reasoned,
" I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing"
(3:17). There are grounds for thinking that the wealth and sufficiency
which they felt was in spiritual terms; they were unaware that spiritually
they were poverty-stricken and naked, needing to develop the riches of
faith and clothing of righteousness. It seems to follow that
their feeling of being spiritually rich and needing nothing was fuelled
by being " increased with goods" - as if the material prosperity
of the very last days will lead some to interpret this as God's blessing
upon them, and a sure sign of their acceptability. Such presumption
upon God's mercy is not absent from our community today. " I am rich..."
is alluding to Hos. 12:8, where Israel's wealth was associated with a
feeling that they were therefore without sin: " Ephrain said, I am
rich...in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were
Knowing the time
This spiritual self-confidence
is the equivalent of the " peace and safety" cry within the
latter-day ecclesias (1 Thess. 5:3). " I will come on
thee as a thief" (Rev. 3:3) is an evident allusion to 1 Thess. 5:2
concerning the thief-like coming of Christ to the unworthy in the latter-day
ecclesia. " Thou shalt not know what hour I will come
upon thee" (Rev. 3:3) implies that they should have 'known
the hour'. This probably continues the allusions to 1 Thess.
5 - this time to v. 1: " Of the times and the seasons, brethren,
ye have no need that I write unto you (faithful ones). For
yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief
in the night" .
Their knowledge of "
the times and the seasons" does not necessarily refer to the ability
to pinpoint the date of the second coming. The first
century brethren did not " know perfectly" about this.
Rather does it speak of their awareness of what the run up to the Lord's
return would be like, appreciating that it would be " as a thief"
to the spiritually self-confident and unaware among their fellow brethren.
1 Thess. 5:1,2 also
alludes to Matt. 24:43 (R.V.): " But this ye know" that "
the goodman of the house" would have watched if he knew when the
thief would come. The wise at Thessalonica 'knowing' the times
and seasons of the thief's coming therefore implies that their 'knowledge'
was in terms of appreciating what the spiritual trials of the last days
would be like. Rev. 3:3 brings all these strands together
in warning the apostate members of the latter-day ecclesias: "
If thou wilt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt
not know (appreciate) what hour I will come" .
The Olivet prophecy,
like the Lord's letters, gives a huge emphasis on the need to watch (e.g.
Mk. 13:5,9,23,33,35,37). The watching is for the safety of the house against
the 'thieves' of false teachers; we are each the porter, with the responsibility
for the rest of the household on our shoulders (Mk. 13:34,35). Throughout
the Lord's letters there is this same pointed emphasis upon the need to
watch. " Be watchful, and strengthen the things which
remain, that are ready to die" spiritually (3:2 cp. 3:1), immediately
suggests the parable of the virgins, whom we have portrayed as struggling
to keep the flame of real faith from dying away. Seeing that
the majority of Sardis are pronounced as " dead" (3:1), this
encouragement to keep alive what was about to die can be read as a call
to each of the faithful in the last days to not only keep their own faith
alive, but to make every effort to keep alive those who appear fatally
ill. This command presumes that it will be evident to the
faithful what constitutes spiritual life and death. As our
experience of the last days goes on, the difference between wheat and
tares becomes increasingly marked - without having to anticipate the separation
that will come at harvest. " Be watchful" is in
the context of strengthening what remains (Rev. 3:2), providing further
proof that the command to watch in the last days fundamentally concerns
watching over the state of the ecclesia and one's own faith, rather than
'watching' the political state of the world.
It seems that for generations,
we have thought that 'watching' meant reading 'Signs of the times' articles
which were actually no more than a running commentary on the state of
the world. The Hebrew word translated " watch" is also rendered
" to take heed to oneself" . Thus David spoke of his soul
watching (Ps. 130:5,6). Habbakuk 'watched' for what God's word really
said (Hab. 2:1); God watches over things in the sense of being sensitive
to them (Jer. 31:28 Heb.). This Old Testament background to the idea of
watching carries through to the NT. It's because we don't know
the time that we are commanded to watch- not 'signs of the times', because
we don't know the time; but rather, to watch ourselves. Thus Acts 20:31
speaks of watching in the sense of being aware of the possibility of personal
and collective apostacy. In 1 Cor. 16:31, watching means to stand fast
in the One Faith; in Eph. 6:18 and 1 Thess. 5:6,11 it refers to praying
for each other spiritually. In the last days, many brethren will turn
away, Paul warned Timothy, but by contrast " watch thou"
(2 Tim. 4:5). If we watch, both ourselves and others, the Lord's return
will not be like a thief for us (Rev. 3:3). Thus watching is a sign of
our acceptance by the Lord (Lk. 12:37). Yet watching our doctrine
and way of life, realizing the real danger of mass latter day apostacy,
is increasingly unpopular.
The elders, represented
by " the goodman of the house" , have a special responsibility
in this watching, so that the Lord's return is not thief-like to the 'house'
of their ecclesia (Matt. 24:43). They " watch for your souls"
(Heb. 13:17). In a sense, the duty of watching falls to each of us: we're
all elders (Lk. 12:41-46). The connection with 1 Thess. 5:2,6 therefore
suggests that one of the reasons for the unworthy experiencing the second
coming " as a thief" will be the lack of awareness by their
ecclesial elders concerning the spiritual trials of the last days.
The reverse is also true. A good latter-day elder will have
to give his very soul to the work of watching over the flock, fully aware
of the many dangers they face in the last days. It is difficult
to see how this vital role can be filled by those who have sold their
souls to demanding employers. The successful ecclesia of the
last days needs capable Arranging Brethren who have consciously avoided
the entanglements of challenging careers, and whilst providing for their
basic family requirements have energy and vitality left to throw into
this work of 'watching' the flock. Dedicated wives, who have
shrugged off the usual female desire to keep the family 'up' with the
neighbours (in the ecclesia as well as along the street), will play a
vital part, too.
Hold on - tight
To properly keep the
faith in the very last days will indeed be difficult. It is
easy to assume that we will continue to believe and practice the doctrines
which we know now. This is perhaps a special temptation for
those with a long family tradition of generations 'in the truth', or of
those who have recently found the pearl of great price and cannot conceive
of the possibility that they could ever let it go, or allow its beauty
to be corrupted.
The faithful element
at Thyatira were told that they had " none other burden" than
to keep themselves separate from " the depths of satan" taught
by the false teachers among them (Rev. 2:24). The absence of any command
to immediately withdraw fellowship from these people in the run up to
AD70, but rather to concentrate upon one's own continuing to hold true
doctrine, fits in with our earlier interpretation of the parable of the
tares. " The depths of satan" indicates that the pressure
on the faithful will be subtle; there will be a distinctly academic and
sophisticated edge to the wrong teachings that will circulate within the
ecclesia. The apostate brethren will fail to realize that
" Thou art the wretched one" (Rev. 3:17 R.V.), implying
that they will accuse those faithful ones who refuse their ideas of being
spiritually weak. This sort of spiritual and intellectual
elitism can already be seen developing amongst us. The description of
them as wealthy but naked is taken straight out of Ez. 16:7 about natural
Israel. The implication is that both natural and spiritual Israel will
be purged together in the tribulation.
Winds of doctrine
There are a number of
hints throughout the letters of some of the specific doctrines and bad
practices which will be tolerated in the latter-day ecclesia.
It has to be conceded that some of the pictures presented must certainly
become reality if present trends continue. It is also possible
that if we are in the very last days already, what we read in the letters
is a true picture of our community as our Lord sees us. We
should not be surprised if his judgment differs from our superficial,
flesh-justifying vision, which may have led us to an over-positive view
of our community. Let's not forget that one major characteristic of the
judgment will be surprise- for both rejected and accepted (Mt.
Twice it is emphasized
that the false teachers will lead spiritual Israel into the worship of
idols, after the pattern of Balaam and Jezebel (Rev. 2:14,20).
Both of these advocated the use of the idols of the surrounding Arab nations
for political purposes, whilst apparently supporting the true worship
of Yahweh at the same time. We have given several reasons
in previous studies for thinking that the Arab powers will impose the
worship of Islam upon natural Israel, and may use their oil stranglehold
to make the rest of the world persecute any pro-Jewish religions who will
not offer a nominal acceptance of Islam. A few statements
from the Pope in support of this would certainly ease the way; the on-going
Roman Catholic endeavour to down-play the difference between Islam and
Christianity may well enjoy dramatic success within the next few years.
We suggested in Chapter
23 and elsewhere that elements of the political satan/beast which
will persecute natural Israel will also be found at work in spiritual
Israel. It is therefore realistic to imagine fake brethren
within the ecclesias teaching that a nominal allegiance to the (literal?)
idols of Islam is acceptable. The same scenario will then
be repeated as in the first century, when the command to 'just' offer
a pinch of incense to the Roman satan/beast sorted out the wheat from
the tares. Rev. 2:20 speaks of " that woman Jezebel" being within
the latter day ecclesia, teaching brethren to commit fornication. Later
in Revelation, this is the language used concerning Babylon: a prostitue
encouraging fornication. This connection suggests that the flase teachers
within the latter day ecclesia will be connected with political 'Babylon'
and the beast. The similarities between the " man of sin" within
the ecclesia and the beast / little horn teach the same thing (see Chapter
There is another double
emphasis on the fact that the fake teachers " say they are Jews,
and are not" (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). The specific doctrines
which will show their real colours will be those associated with the idea
of our being spiritual Israel, joined to Christ " the hope of Israel"
by our acceptance of the Abrahamic promises. These men will
appear to be spiritual Jews whilst intensely denying these things which
constitute the Gospel. The fact that we are spiritual Israel
and a community " wholly dedicated to the hope of Israel" needs
to be drummed home in our preaching and interviewing of candidates for
baptism. Is the observation true that the Jewish basis of our hope appears
to have been much more to the fore amongst previous generations than it
is at present?
These pseudo-seed of
Abraham will be " the synagogue of satan" (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).
" Synagogue" carrying a similar idea as 'ecclesia' (see James
2:2 A.V. mg.) could suggest that these people emanate from whole fake
ecclesias which the 'satan' have planted amongst Christianity- or from
ecclesias which have become completely corrupted by the new wave of tolerance.
The faithful group who existed " even where satan's seat is"
(Rev. 2:13) may indicate the existence of an ecclesia at the very headquarters
of the Arab satan/beast. Our earlier suggestion that some
faithful natural Jews would be taken to such a place, e.g. a rebuilt 'Babylon',
would make this possible.
As Balaam and Jezebel
taught Israel idolatry, so the false teachers in the latter day ecclesia
will also teach fornication (Rev. 2:14,20). Israel were on the very
borders of entering the land when they succumbed to Balaam's false teaching,
and the new Israel of the last days, on the brink of the Kingdom, will
face and may fail a like temptation. As Balaam well understood,
the way to break the strength of a fundamentalist religious movement is
to morally corrupt them. The spirit of sexual permissiveness
which is in this Sodom-like world of the last days, is evidently affecting
the brotherhood. A few false teachers refusing to oppose this,
and suggesting that personal relationships are not a spiritual indicator,
would vastly speed up this infiltration.
Already many ecclesial
elders, notably in the third world, have recognized that fornication and
other sexual malpractices are amongst the greatest problems found among
the flock. Those guilty will be given " space to repent
of...fornication" , but they will not take up the offer (Rev. 2:21).
This " space" is interpreted by Dr. Thomas as the 1260-day period,
which would appear reasonable (1). We have earlier applied
this to the holocaust period. The inference is that the state
of fornication exists within the ecclesias before the holocaust
begins, and that the tribulation of that period is designed to bring about
The holocaust to
Any prophecy of the
last days as extensive as the Lord's letters is bound to make some reference
to the great physical trials which are to come upon the ecclesias.
The letters are a call for deep-seated repentance, which we have earlier
shown to be the purpose of the holocaust. " The devil
shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried" (Rev. 2:10)
is alluding to Luke 21:12 concerning the latter-day tribulation.
" Some of you" may correspond to " some of you shall they
cause to be put to death" (Luke 21:16), seeing that Rev. 2:10 exhorts
them to be " faithful unto death" . The prison tribulation
would be for " ten days...and I will give unto thee a crown"
. This points back to Daniel's 'trial' of ten days (Dan. 1:12),
and his later going into prison and emerging to receive a crown.
Daniel's 'devil' was Arab Babylon, and the 'devil' of Rev. 2:10 refers
to a like power in the last days. The idea of ten days of affliction suggests
the 10 days of self-examination and affliction of souls before the day
of Atonement- as if the purpose of the holocaust is to evoke self-examination
and repentance in preparation for the High Priest's appearing on the Day
We have shown above
how some of the faithful will suffer the holocaust and die during it.
There are others who, due to their spirituality, will not need to go through
the tribulation. The holocaust will be because we need to be spiritually
improved. Thus Lk. 21:16-18 describe our sufferings then in language shot
through with allusion to spiritually weak Samson. Those latter-day saints
represented by Philadelphia were assured: " Because thou hast
kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from temptation"
. It may be that this just applies to the faithful natural
Jews in the land, seeing that this " temptation" is designed
" to try them that dwell upon the earth" /land - of Israel (Rev.
will come upon the most deeply apostate believers in order to encourage
their repentance: " I gave her space to repent of her fornication;
and she repented not...I will cast her into...great tribulation, except
they repent" (Rev. 2:21,22). Thus they will be given
a period to repent, the beginning of which will be at the time when the
saints first realize that the Lord is about to return (cp. the virgins
starting to go forth, Matt. 25:1).
Because of their refusal
to repent, they will then have a final tribulation at the end of the holocaust
period. There is the suggestion that this group may choose
not to suffer the initial stages of the holocaust, in that Rev. 3:18 implies
that they are only counselled to buy the golden faith that is produced
by the fiery trial of the holocaust. Thus as with offering
the pinch of incense to Caesar, there will be opportunity to avoid the
holocaust by some apparently tokenistic obedience to the beast.
By doing this they will waste " the space" given " to repent
of her fornication" , and will experience a final tribulation.
It is easy to imagine
- given our knowledge of modern politics and weapons - what the holocaust
will be like, and the Biblical details concerning it should make the picture
even more real. Yet our motivation for keeping " the
word of my patience" (Rev. 3:10) should not just be to escape personal
suffering. It must be an all-consuming desire to see the glorification
of God in our lives through His Word, and to encourage our brethren to
have a similar vision. The Lord's letters therefore seem to
present a picture of the holocaust along these lines:-
The brotherhood will
be able to avoid suffering and persecution by not standing up for the
one faith in its entirety, particularly concerning the Jewish aspect of
our Hope. Those who fall to this temptation will remain prosperous
materially (Rev. 3:17,18) and will mock their suffering and impoverished
brethren. These apostates will receive a final tribulation
and judgment at the end of the holocaust period.
For the others, there
is the possibility that some may be preserved from the holocaust:
" Ye may have tribulation ten days" (Rev. 2:10, R.V.
mg.). This will be " because thou hast kept the word
of my patience" (Rev. 3:10). Others will suffer, and even die,
but are assured of salvation if they respond to the trials properly. There
may be a similar meaning behind Is.26:20: " Come, my people, enter
thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee (i.e. pray intensely-
2 Kings 4:33): hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until
the indignation be overpast" . However, this primarily refers to
the deliverance of Israel from Assyria in Hezekiah's time; and the hiding
in chambers in Jeursalem while surrounded by the terrifying Assyrian army
was hardly the quiet get out we might imagine this verse offers. However,
it seems from the Olivet prophecy that the household will go through
this time of trouble. The fact it is in some sense not required if we
are spiritual enough indicates that the household will be weak in the
last days- and therefore we will need it. There is a general, outline
theme throughout Revelation that the righteous are gathered after
they go through the judgments, implying we will experience them, although
it would be possible, were we more spiritual, that we could be spared
them (Rev. 7:9-17; 11:11,12; 14:13-16; 19:1-10). Thus although the types
of Israel in Egypt, the faithful in Hezekiah's Jerusalem, Noah shut in
the ark etc. suggest that the faithful will be spared the judgments, the
fact is they will need the experience of the judgments to
make them more spiritual, and therefore ultimately these types may not
come true: they will only speak of what was possible. Evidently the latter
day ecclesia will not be as strong as God would wish it to be. Likewise
the coming of Christ is spoken of as being delayed (Mt. 25:5); and yet
it is our spirituality which hastens the day of Christ's coming (2 Pet.
3:12). Putting these facts together shows that the day of Christ will
not come when planned because the ecclesia are not as spiritual as they
were 'expected' to be- or at least, that's how God wants us to see it.
This understanding of
the holocaust clarifies the confusion which can be caused by some passages
clearly indicating a tribulation for God's people in the last days, whilst
others speak of their deliverance from this. However, the
great stress which so many prophecies lay upon a latter-day tribulation,
shows that only a minority of us will totally avoid it. Now
is obviously the preferable time to put our house in order.