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The Last Days Duncan Heaster  
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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 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 works"

" 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 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.

Fine balance

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 all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin" .

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" .

Watch! Watch!

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. 25:37,44).

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 23).

A pseudo-seed

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.

Balaam's doctrine

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 repentance.

The holocaust to come

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 of Atonement.

- optional?

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. 3:10).  

Particular tribulation 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.