I had the opportunity to speak to the conference that’s called Together for the Gospel, and I was assigned the responsibility of speaking on the subject of “Christ’s Call for Reformation.” We are essentially 500 years past the Reformation itself, back when Martin Luther pinned his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg and launched the Protestant Reformation. And so they were kind of celebrating the Reformation at that conference, and this was the particular responsibility that fell to me to speak about Christ’s call to Reformation.
There’s only one place you would go with that assignment in the Bible because there’s only one place in the Bible where Christ actually calls His church to reformation, and that is in the opening chapters of the book of Revelation. And that is why I wanted to read those to you, or at least a portion of it, chapter 1. His call gets specific to His church in chapters 2 and 3. And I will confess to you that the more familiar you are with Revelation 2 and 3, the more you’ll be able to track with me as I speak to you, because we’re not going to go down into those chapters and into those seven letters specifically, but rather to look at them in general. And I think it’ll be very helpful for us.
Christ spoke to His church. He spoke to seven churches, specific churches in specific cities in Asia Minor, which is modern Turkey. They were actual churches with actual conditions that He addressed. The uniqueness of His letters to these churches is that they all include an assessment that leads either to a commendation or a threat. I don’t know that we really think much about the Lord threatening the church. We do think a lot about the Lord threatening the world with judgment, threatening unbelievers with judgment. But here in the book of Revelation we have the Lord of the church threatening His church with severe judgment.
I think most people who go to a church - and I would probably ascertain that most pastors - think the church is about the safest place you could be when it comes to threats from Christ. But that’s not true. Very strong, very direct threats are made against churches, and they’re found in this section. That is not something that is very often discussed. It’s not acknowledged, but it’s critically important. You have only this passage where Christ actually addresses specific churches and calls them to repent and reform.
So that led me to ask the question, which I asked back at the conference, “Have you ever heard of a church that repented – ever - a church that repented?” Not individuals, but collectively a church that came together and repented. Have you ever been part of a church that repented, that looked at itself and recognized its collective and congregational transgressions, and openly, genuinely, with sadness and brokenness for its sins against its head, the Lord Jesus Christ, came together in a full act of repentance?
You probably have not heard of a church that did that. Churches that perhaps least need to repent don’t even consider that. Churches that most need to repent resent the idea. Have you ever known a pastor who led his church to repent for collective congregational transgressions and then threatened them with heavenly judgment if they refused to repent? It’s not likely. Pastors have a hard enough time calling individuals to repent, let alone the whole church and all its leaders for their corporate sins against Christ their head. In fact, those who might be so bold to call their own church to repent would most likely lose their job. But they would certainly receive hostility, resistance, scorn, some level of rejection.
On the other hand, if a pastor or church leaders called another church, not their own, to repent because they could see the sins of that church, they would receive the same kind of scorn and vilification and be told to keep their nose out of that church’s business. Churches very rarely repent. We don’t hear about churches that are broken as a collection of people, that are desirous of cleansing and purity and forgiveness and restoration. And when that is suggested to a church and its leaders and congregation, it is met with resistance if it rarely is suggested at all. There’s some history on why that’s not done very often, and you can go back to the seventeenth century for that history.
There had developed in England a group of preachers who were called Puritans. That was a label of derision and scorn that identified them as those who were always trying to purify everything. They were calling the churches of England to repent for their extensive doctrinal deviation, heresy, and their extensive sins and corruptions. They were essentially churches that were functioning in defiance of their confessed Lord and Savior.
The result to the Puritans who called for churches to repent was persecution by the impenitent leaders and the impenitent churches. That sort of dominating impenitence led to one monumental day in English history which is called the Great Ejection, the Great Ejection. It is the official day when the Church of England threw out all the pastors who had been calling for repentance. They took away their churches; they took away their ordination. They marginalized them. They removed them from their congregations. This had massive effect, not only on the church, but on the nation of England as well, and even beyond. It just simply needs to be said: Why in the world would we expect the nation to repent when the church won’t even repent?
There are many people today running around calling for the nation to repent who need to be calling for the church to repent. Unless churches repent and turn from sin and pursue holiness, there’s no hope for the nation. But impenitent churches refuse to repent, and that’s how it was in England in the seventeenth century. It was August 24, 1662, Saint Bartholomew’s Day. Two-thousand faithful English Puritan pastors were permanently ejected from their churches by the corrupt clerics of the impenitent Church of England. They did this under a law called the Act of Uniformity; you either get in line with the Church of England or you’re out.
In effect, the active uniformity led to the Great Ejection, which silenced the majority of faithful preachers. This had not only a devastating effect on the church, which goes on even to this day, the Church of England, but a devastating effect on the nation. It was no isolated event. The Great Ejection had no temporary significance. Rather, it was a massive, far-reaching, long-enduring spiritual disaster that some say divides England’s history.
There is England’s history before the Great Ejection and England’s history after the Great Ejection. It is a huge dividing line. One of those ejected was a minister by the name of Matthew Mead, and Matthew Mead wrote, “This fatal day deserves to be written in black letters in England’s calendar,” end quote, and indeed it was. Some said it was the greatest tragedy ever in English history, led by apostate Protestant leaders. It was a wholesale condemnation of the Bible, the gospel, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our friend Iain Murray writes on the subject of the Great Ejection and says, “After the silencing of the 2,000 came an age of rationalism, of coldness in the pulpit and indifference in the pew, an age of skepticism and worldliness that went far to reducing national Christianity to a mere parody of Christianity,” end quote.
J. B. Marsden, writing a couple of hundred years later in the mid-1800s, said, “As proofs of God’s displeasure over the Great Ejection, a long, unbroken course of disasters began in England. Within five years, London was laid waste twice.”
The Great Ejection was in 1662. In 1665 there was a plague that came, transmitted through the bite of a rat flea, and before it was done, it had left 100,000 Londoners dead, one-fourth of the population. One year later a massive fire swept through London and incinerated 70,000 homes and people with them, as well as 90 churches. Many historians, including Marsden in his history of the later Puritans, saw this as divine judgment over the Great Ejection. Marsden wrote, “Other calamities ensued more lasting and far more terrible. Religion was almost extinguished; the lamp of God went out.” There followed in England a culture of liberalism, coldness, and darkness.
J. C. Ryle, the beloved bishop of Durham who lived from 1816 to 1900, wrote, “The Great Ejection was an injury to the cause of true religion in England which will probably never be repaired.” Simply stated, if a church will not repent, the results are not only devastating on the church, but on the nation in which the churches exist.
The following twenty-five years after the Great Ejection, wrapping up that seventeenth century, was one long list of attempts to continue to silence the scattered preachers, because the Puritans, though they were thrown out of their churches, were not silent. Efforts were made to shut their mouths. They continued to call the churches to repent, which the churches refused to do. Preaching God’s truth became a crime, and history reveals that that nation was affected by the corruption of the churches that threw out the true and faithful preachers. That could happen here, and it might not be far away.
The Puritans in their faithful effort to call churches to repent or else suffer judgement were following the lead of their Lord, because that’s exactly what He did in the first century through the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is the final book in the Bible, and it is the last book revealed. It was given to John in the last decade of the first century. And though we think of the book of Revelation as essentially a treatment of the second coming of Christ - and it is that - chapter 1, verse 7 declares, “He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him” - that would encompass all the people who rejected Him – “and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.”
It’s a horror for the world to think of Christ coming because of all the judgment connected with it. We think of the book of Revelation rightly when we think of it as a book of judgment on the world; it is that. But before the book of Revelation gets to the judgment, it opens with three chapters addressed to the church, to the church. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 are for us, and for all churches in all eras.
Now the churches that are mentioned here in chapter 1, recited there in verse 11, and also the churches that are listed in chapters 2 and 3 that received letters from the Lord, were actual churches, actual towns on the postal route in Asia Minor, which is modern Turkey. Churches there existed. They were planted, of course, by the apostles. John is still alive. He is from that area, from Ephesus where he shepherded. And Ephesus was the mother church for those other churches. They’re actual churches. They are also representative of churches in all periods of church history, so that what our Lord says to those churches extends to all churches.
As we come to the book of Revelation, we come to the last decade of the first century. You need to know that what our Lord had promised His disciples on Thursday night of Passion Week was now coming to pass. You remember in John 15, when He met with them on that night, He said, “You will be persecuted. They hated Me; they’ll hate you. They persecuted Me; they’ll persecute you. They’ll throw you out of the synagogue. They’ll think they do God a favor when they kill you.” This is coming. “In the world you’re going to have tribulation.” Get ready for persecution.
Within thirty years after that upper-room discussion with the apostles, the persecution began. There had been persecution before that. As you well know there are martyrs in the New Testament. But an all-out, wholesale persecution led by the dominant power of Rome began under Nero in 64 A.D. and lasted until about 68. During those years, there were thousands of Christians that were killed in all kinds of ways, including in that slaughter Peter and Paul.
The second great, official persecution of the church – and our Lord predicted this – came under the Emperor Domitian, and it lasted longer. It lasted from 81 to 96. So it is still going on when John receives the Revelation, and that is why he is on the Isle of Patmos, because he has been sent there to a prison colony for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He is persecuted.
Again, thousands of Christians have been slaughtered during the Domitian years of persecution; others were banished, and some were sent to penal colonies like the Isle of Patmos. Historians tell us Timothy was clubbed to death. John, who is on the Isle of Patmos when he receives the book of Revelation from God, was boiled in oil before he was sent there. He is now exiled to Patmos. Testimony to that fact and the fact of his boiling, not only in the book of Revelation, but given to us by Tertullian the early church father, and affirmed in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
So the book of Revelation opens with John on this island called Patmos, which is a rock that juts up out of the Mediterranean about ten miles long and five miles wide. I’ve been there, and I’ve sat contemplating in the cave that they say was the very cave where John stayed - the tradition that it’s a place where he saw his first vision. He is an exiled prisoner; he is an old man. As an old man he is sentenced to die at hard labor with meager food and desperate conditions and exposure.
He is the last living apostle. All the others have been martyred, and there is reason why he survives. He is the last living apostle because there is one more book to write, and it is the book of Revelation. And in that first chapter we read in verse 11 that the Lord says to John, “Write in a book what you see.” And then in chapter 1, verse 19, again, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” “Write all that I’m going to show you in the series of visions that make up the book of Revelation.” One more book to write, the final book. This then is the final book of God to the world about judgment and the return of Christ.
But it is also the final book of God to the church, and the message that our Lord has to the church in chapters 2 and 3 is also a very threatening message, very threatening. Now we know that God is the author of this book, back in chapter 1, verse 1: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His slaves, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His slave John, who testified to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” And it was those two things that got him put in prison, as he says at the end of verse 9. So it comes from God, it comes to and through John. John writes it down – all that he has seen, all that he’s looking at, and all that he will see makes up the book of Revelation.
It starts out with a recognition that our Savior has given us this revelation. It’s verse 5, “From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the one who is the firstborn of the dead, the premier of all who have arisen, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the one who loves us...released us from our sins by His blood—the one who made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—and to Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” It is then from God, through John, to us; because Christ wants to disclose this revelation.
Yes, verse 7 says, “He’s coming with clouds.” That is a threat. “All the nations of the earth, all the tribes of the earth, will mourn when He comes in judgment.” But before we get to the judgment part there is a message to the church, and that is what we read in verse 11, “‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches.’” They are mentioned there.
John, sitting in a cave on Patmos, is hoping, is hoping against hope, I think, for a very different revelation than he gets. I think he’s hoping for comfort. I think he’s hoping for encouragement. I think he’s hoping for something that’s going to lift his spirit.
“How did it all end up this way? How is it that I’ve been boiled in oil and sent to a penal colony on a rock as an old man to waste away my meager strength in hard labor? How did it all end this way?
“How is it that Jerusalem, the city of God, has been destroyed and is now in the hands of pagans? How is it that 985 towns and villages in Israel have been sacked and people massacred by the Romans? How is it that there’s no messianic throne, there’s no messianic kingdom? How is it that paganism is in power even in Jerusalem and Israel?
“How is it that all the apostles have been killed? How is it that I languish in exile? This is not the plan that I imagined - not at all. And worse, the churches, the churches are in severe decline.”
There was some hope in the planting of the church. There was some hope in Ephesus with its incredible beginning and its powerful influence, planting all those other six churches. There was hope because John was overseeing the churches of Asia Minor.
How is it that those churches are in decline, severe spiritual decline? How is it that they are succumbing to the presence of the corrupt culture? They’re finding it difficult to disconnect themselves from the dominant paganism. Remember now, there is nothing but paganism; this is the first church. There’s no history of Judeo-Christian morality, and the church is having a hard time separating itself from that corruption. And then you can throw on top of that the fact that the churches are being mercilessly and relentlessly persecuted, and people are dying and being exiled. It all looks like the very opposite of what we expected when the Christ the Messiah, long-awaited Messiah, came. And maybe John was thinking, “Lord, show me a vision for Your church. Show me something that will comfort My heart. Give me hope.”
And then the vision comes, chapter 1, verse 12. He turns when he hears this booming voice that sounds like a trumpet, and the voice is speaking, and he turns and sees that this voice belongs to a person in his vision moving among seven golden lampstands. Verse 20 says the seven golden lampstands are symbolic of the seven churches; they’re lights in that sense. And he looks into the middle of the lampstands and must be with some hope for comfort and encouragement, and instead he sees a warrior. He sees a frightening warrior, “one like a son of man” - a term from Daniel expressing God in form, manifesting blazing glory, who has authority and power and dominion, as it says of the Son of Man in Daniel, “clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. And His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.”
There is nothing cozy and cuddly about that vision of Christ. In fact, it is so terrifying that in chapter 1, verse 17 says, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.” It literally, it literally took away his breath. So terrifying.
Most people think that the church is a safe place that sort of once you’re in the church you’re kind of in the ark and you’re safe from final judgment; and that is true. But the church also can be a very, very terrifying place to be, because as Peter says in 1 Peter 4:17, judgment must begin. “It is time,” he says, “for judgment to begin at the house of God.” And if it’s going to begin with us, what’s it going to be like for the rest of the world?
This is a terrifying revelation, not to the unbelieving world; that will come. This is a terrifying revelation to the church. Christ appears as a sovereign, frightening warrior - ruler, judge, executioner - moving through His churches like some kind of omnipotent invader. And John is not comforted; he is terrified. It is folly to think that just because you are in the church, and you call it a church, and you talk about Christ and all of that, that you’re in a safe place. That’s not necessarily a safe place, not at all.
Twenty-five years earlier than this, the apostle Paul laid out in his epistle some warnings. They sort of are summed up in his last letter to Timothy, 2 Timothy, and what he says to Timothy twenty-five years before this is prophetic of what is coming. He says to Timothy things like, “Don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner. Join with me in suffering for the gospel.” He says, “Retain the standard of sound words. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” All these are warning Timothy.
“You’ve got to exercise your gift. You’ve got to be willing to accept persecution and suffering. You’ve got to hold on to sound doctrine. You have to guard the treasure of divine revelation given to you. And you must know, Timothy, already all who are in Asia” – the same province where John was ministering, where the seven churches are - “all who are in Asia have turned away from me” - defection twenty-five years earlier, the need to guard against false doctrine, to guard against the decline of interest in the revelation of God.
Chapter 2 of 2 Timothy, Paul’s last letter: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier,” he says. “Present yourself approved to God, a workman not needing to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. Avoid worldly, empty chatter that leads to further ungodliness and talk that spreads like gangrene and leads to people going astray from the truth.” It’s coming. It’s coming. “Flee youthful lusts, pursue righteousness, refuse foolish, ignorant speculation.”
Chapter 3, “In the last days” - they’re beginning now – “dangerous seasons will come.” “Get ready. Persecutions, sufferings that happened to Me are going to happen to you. Evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Chapter 4, “People will turn their ears away from the truth, turn aside to myths. This is what’s coming.”
He closes his epistle by mentioning a man named Demas who “having loved this present world, has deserted me.” Twenty-five years earlier Paul said, “This is what is coming.” And here it is, and it’s in the churches; it’s happening.
Now at that point we come to chapters 2 and 3, and we come to the letters to the churches, and I just want to give you kind of an overview of them. Two of them were faithful. Two out of the seven were faithful. How do you know that? Because there is no condemnation given in two letters, none; just affirmation. Five of them are condemned for one thing or another. Most of the time when you study those or when they’re taught, you go through each letter. But I want to go over the big picture with you.
Collectively, the five churches that are threatened had succumbed to the following list. They had fallen to the assaults of Satan in numbers of forms. They were engaged in sexual immorality, idolatry, the absorbing of the culture of paganism, compromise, tolerance of sin – they dealt with it by allowing it – hypocrisy, false teaching. There were false apostles, false teachers, and false prophets and prophetesses. Seduction by error, deception, and preaching for money. Our Lord said that they had sunk to the depths of Satan. These are churches that have only been in existence a few decades, and the Lord knows. He says in chapters 2 and 3, “I know the hearts, and I hate the deeds.”
So He knows the heart, and He sees the deeds. This then is an accurate assessment. They had engaged in the corruptions of Satan; again - sexual immorality, idolatry, absorbing the culture of paganism, compromise, tolerance of sin, hypocrisy, false teaching, seduction by error, deception, preaching for money. They had sunk to the depths of Satan.
You know, it’s shocking to me that there are some in ministry in the name of the Lord Jesus who are proud that their churches are open and welcoming to adulterers, fornicators, immoral idol worshipers, and even to forms of paganism - today. They’re proud of it. There seems to be decreasing concern for doctrinal truth which produces purity, which produces protection. The well-known pastor of the, I think one of the largest churches in America, if not the largest, recently said, “Don’t ever put theology before ministry,” and he said it blatantly.
There are churches that are so concerned to pull sinners in that they don’t want theology getting in the way of their welcome. To such churches in Asia Minor that embrace the culture, that embrace the sinners in the culture, our Lord does not say, “I’m so glad that you make all the assorted sinners feel welcome. I’m so glad you do that. I’m so pleased that all the assorted sinners feel accepted.”
That is the opposite. To all those churches in which these transgressions exist, the Lord sounds an unmistakable call to repentance. Here is the only, the only place in Scripture where you have a call from the head of the church to churches – specific, actual churches - that are dishonoring Him, and He repeats one word over and over again: “Repent!” “Stop, confess your sin, turn around, and go back in the direction of holiness.”
When Peter said it is time for judgment to begin at the house of God, he was anticipating the twenty-five years after he said that; that judgment would be declared on churches that were unfaithful, and that it would continue to be declared on them through all of church history.
There are many churches in the world today, many churches in our country today, many well-known churches, many very popular churches, many successful churches that need to repent. It’s time for judgment to begin at the house of God. That’s a powerful statement: “Judgment begins at the house of God”? What is that?
Peter knew his Old Testament, and he knew the ninth chapter of Ezekiel. You can look at it for a moment. The prophet Ezekiel, of course, is prophesying during a time when the Babylonian Captivity is taking place, and he is given a vision, a vision of the slaughter that is about to come on Israel. And that vision comes to him from heaven, chapter 9, verse 1: “He cried out in my hearing with a loud voice” - this is the divine voice – “‘Draw near, O executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.’” This is God calling His executioners against His people.
“Behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate which faces north, each with his shattering weapon in his hand; and among them was a certain man clothed in linen with a writing case at his loins. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar. Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case.” Here is an angel with writing tools, and He tells him to take his writing tools and to make marks.
“The Lord said, ‘Go through the midst,’” verse 4, “‘of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem...put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.’” Mark out the righteous. Mark out the faithful who are weeping and sighing over this horrible condition. “But to the others He said in my hearing” - the prophet Ezekiel is hearing this in this vision – “‘Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity. Do not spare.’” And then this: “‘Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark.’” And then this: “‘and you shall start from My sanctuary.’ So they started with the elders who were before the temple.”
That’s where Peter drew the statement, “It’s now time for judgment to begin at the house of God.” And it started in vision of Ezekiel with the elders, the leaders. And God says, “Kill them and begin at My house.” This is no revelation of comfort. This is no revelation of encouragement to Ezekiel, and neither is it to John.
What does the Lord want him to write? Primarily He wants him to write, “Repent.” To the five churches that needed to repent this is what our Lord says, chapter 2, verse 5: “Repent. I’m coming to you, and I’ll remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent.”
Chapter 2, verse 16: “Repent; or else I’m coming to you soon, and I’ll make war with the sword of My mouth.” Chapter 2, verses 21-23: “Unless they repent, I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one according to your deeds.”
Chapter 3, verse 3: “Repent. If you do not, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” Chapter 3, verse 16 and following: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth....be zealous and repent.”
It’s, “Repent, or else.” Why? Chapter 2, verse 4: “I have this against you.” Chapter 2, verse 14: “I have these things against you.” Chapter 2, verse 20: “I have this against you.” Chapter 3, verse 2: “I have not found your deeds completed, or sufficient, in the sight of My God.” Chapter 3, verse 16: “You are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” This is threatening to the church, the church that will not repent.
Of course, there are some believers in these churches at the start; and like the angel with the writing tools marked out the believers in Ezekiel’s vision, God marks out those who are faithful, and they are identified all through these seven letters. They are the ones who are dressed in white. They are the ones who will receive the tree of life in the paradise of God. They are the ones who will escape the second death. These letters promise to the faithful hidden manna, a white stone, a new name, authority over the nations, white garments, becoming pillars in the temple of My God. “They’ll be given the name of My God, and the name of Jesus and Jerusalem, and a new name; and they will sit with Me on My throne. And they are identified as the overcomers.” As John says, “Their faith overcomes.” All of these are inexpressible elements of the glories of heaven.
But all of that is in heaven. For now in these churches there’s a need to repent. The issues that corrupted the churches in the first century are the same today: idolatry, sexual immorality, compromise with the world, acceptance of the pagan culture, spiritual deadness, and hypocrisy. There are churches in all periods of church history with people who worship all kinds of idols - not idols made out of stone or wood; all kinds of idols concocted in their own selfish minds; people who engage in all kind of immorality. There are in churches people who are sinful and tolerated by those churches, and even welcomed by those churches. There are churches and church leaders which commonly compromise with all kinds of sins and sinners to gain favor with them.
Churches are alive organizationally - they have a liturgy, they have a program - but dead spiritually. There are churches that are not churches; they’re just collections of hypocrites. Some churches are so far gone the Lord isn’t even there; and all of this had happened by the end of the first century.
So the Lord, the head of the church, says, “Start writing, John, and I’m going to dictate these letters.” And starting in chapter 2 the dictation comes from the Lord of the church. Now we’re not going to look at the specifics, but let me just close by kind of wrapping it all in a package for you. Two churches; good, sound, faithful churches.
One was in the town of Smyrna, the second town on the postal route. To that church - we look at the letter and we find out this - it was a troubled church, a suffering church, a persecuted church, a poor church, a church blasphemed by Jewish agents of Satan. It was a church promised more suffering, promised death, martyrdom; but spiritually rich and spiritually faithful. The fifth church is the church at Philadelphia, also persecuted, suffering, blasted by satanically motivated Jews, tested by trouble, promised more trouble to come, but promised protection as well.
The other five churches are all told to repent. The command to repent is given to the other five churches, and they are to repent because the Lord has something serious against them, against them, and He is about to come in judgment: Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea. Some observations quickly. Our Lord’s words to each of these churches carries the authority of His person as embodied in the vision. Out of His mouth is coming a sword. That picture is of a regal, sovereign warrior judge. His words are like water crashing on rocks. His words come with all the authority of His person, as exhibited in the vision. Secondly, each message calls for the church to repent or feel the fury of this warrior judge – this sovereign, divine warrior judge.
And there’s a third observation. There is a decreasing number of believers as the churches move toward Laodicea. Let me make it simple. In Ephesus, they’re all believers, they’re all believers. In the letter to Ephesus there’s no mention, no mention of unbelievers, no mention of any people who had deviated from the truth at all, none. Ephesus is all believers.
Then you come to Pergamos. Hmm, chapter 2, verse 14: “I have a few things against you, because you have some-” Hmm, it’s not anymore all believers. “You have some there, right there in your church who hold the teaching of Balaam, in the ministry for money, corrupting people, leading to idolatry, immorality. You have some,” verse 15, “who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” – which seems to be some kind of immoral behavior connected to some cultish set of beliefs – “therefore repent.” Now we’ve gone from a church that’s all believers to a church that has some unbelievers.
And then we come to Thyatira, and there are more unbelievers. Verse 20: “You tolerate, you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. False teacher. Leads My slaves astray to commit acts of immorality, idolatry; you tolerate that.” But notice verse 24: “I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching...I place no burden on you.”
Do you see the difference? First, it was all believers; and then it was “some of you,” some believers. And now the believers are “the rest.” So what you have is more unbelievers to the point now where the believers are just “the rest.”
Then you come to Sardis, and you go down to verse 4, and “you have a few people in Sardis who have soiled their garments; and will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” Wow. All believers, some unbelievers, more unbelievers, a few believers.
And then you come to Laodicea; there are no believers. This is the church that the Lord vomits out of His mouth. “You are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked.” Christ, verse 20, is on the outside of the church knocking on the door; He’s not even in it. That’s the flow.
In reverse order, the false church that is no church, made up of religious hypocrites, and there are no believers. The dead church has a reputation for life, but is dominated by the spiritually dead, full of non-Christians with only a few believers. Thyatira, the immoral church, deep into satanic things, still has a remnant of believers. Pergamos, the compromising church, has some unbelievers who begin that process of corruption. And Ephesus is the true, believing church. This is the flow.
What happens in the church is once it gets started down the wrong road it goes all the way to Laodicea, and it’s marked by an increasing number of unbelievers. The more unbelievers are in a church, the more Laodicean it tends to be. It’s an inevitable flow. How do you stop that? I’m going to show you how, but not this morning, because we don’t have time. But the whole thing starts to slide with Ephesus. We’ll see that next time.
We desperately want to be faithful to You, Lord. We want to be a church that is worthy of Your name, a church that walks worthy, that will one day, because we walk worthy, walk in white. We want to be a true church. The church is the assembly of Your redeemed people. It is not a mixed multitude that just slouches in the direction of Laodicea. And once it goes down that road, churches just don’t repent. So, Lord, protect us from that.
We thank You that You’ve blessed us through the years, and You’ve blessed Your Word, and You’ve blessed Your faithful people. Keep us there. And as we look forward to next Sunday, clarify for us how it all begins so that we can be sure it never begins here.
I pray, Lord, that You will speak to every heart here a message that will apply what we have been saying to them. To those who don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, who have not received salvation, the forgiveness of sin, eternal life, the hope of heaven. I pray, Lord, that You would do that mighty miracle in the heart. Break the power of sin and guilt and judgment; set sinners free; open the eyes of the blind; give understanding to those who are ignorant. May the glory of the gospel shine. May Christ be lifted up and draw them to Himself.
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