"There were seven
lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven
Spirits of God" (Revelation 4:5b).
I want first to say a word as
to the occasion of this book of the Revelation, and of these
first chapters in particular.
A sufficient period had elapsed
from the time that the Lord, through His servants, had first sent
His word to the Church, and to these churches in particular, to
find out what was their continual reaction to His word. A
sufficient time had been allowed for the truth given to find a
really concrete expression. The first of these messages is
addressed to Ephesus. We know from the book of the Acts how that
church came into being, and what the first reactions to the
message were. We know that, some considerable time afterward, the
apostle Paul, who had ministered long and fully amongst that
company of the Lord's people, wrote to those believers a very
great letter. He probably wrote it about the year 60 or 61. Now
John is writing, at the command of the Lord, probably between the
years 80 and 90. We will not argue over dates; there is some
difference of opinion on this matter; but I do not think that all
the things that had come about in the churches could have
developed as quickly as is implied by the date assigned by some
people to the book of the Revelation. My point is that, if these
dates are right - 60 or 61, to 80 to 90 - a sufficient period
would have elapsed to provide a very good test amongst the
believers of the results of the ministry which had been given.
and Reactions Tested
Now the Lord, taking account of
that sufficient period, in His own mind, has Himself returned to
the churches, in this revelation to John, in order to
investigate, to search out, to test, and to draw the conclusions.
Each message concludes with the words: 'He that hath an ear, let
him hear what the Spirit saith' - seven times. And here, in
symbolic representation, the Holy Spirit is spoken of as 'the
seven Spirits of God before the throne'. The Holy Spirit, as a
burning lamp, is searching, testing, and bringing about a
verdict. As it has ever been - it was so in the life of Israel,
and it has been so more than once since - that after a certain
time, when we have come into knowledge of the Lord, or of the
things of the Lord; when we have been recipients of His grace, of
His mercy, and of His truth - the Lord says: 'It is time: the
time has come when we should weigh up the result of that; it will
not do just to leave it all to some future date when it is too
late to adjust.' The time of visitation has come, when we have
got to measure up to what the Lord has given, to what the Lord
has shown. It is a time of searching, a time of heart-burning, a
time of Holy Spirit exercise.
I wonder if you are able to
recognise the working of that principle in our own time? We need
not look far afield, but there is no doubt that that is what is
happening in the world. It has happened in an almost terrible
way, we might say, in China; and it is happening in other parts
of the world, and spreading. In its own way, it is beginning to
work in the west: there is a deep exercise of heart; wherever we
go we find Christians who are troubled about the state of things
in the churches, and in their own lives; there is a sense that
things are not all well, not what they ought to be. In some
places, of course, we are not able to discern a great deal of
exercise and distress, but we do know that something is going on.
It is as though the Spirit of God is moving to bring everything
to the judgment bar, and judgment is to begin at the house of
Well, we need not look out into
the world - it may be what the Lord is doing with us. But it is
true to His method and to His principle: in His mercy, in His
grace, He does not leave things too long. When He sees that an
adequate time has elapsed, He comes and He says: Now then, are
you sure that you are up to the level of all that you have
received? Can you really measure up to the light that has been
given? Can you answer, in experience and spiritual history, to
all that I have made known to you? How far are you [in] that
which you know so well, by teaching, preaching and other means?
That is what is here, undoubtedly - a time point for judgment.
But there is another thing
here. As we come into this book of the Revelation, we come into a
situation of great trouble, adversity, suffering. These churches,
for instance, were existing under conditions of considerable
difficulty. You can see the marks of this in what the Lord says;
He takes note of it. It is a very difficult time for the churches
here, and for the whole Church - a time of great adversity.
Historically, that had two
sides. On the one side, there was the great revival of Jewish
opposition, which had been provoked, in its turn, by the action
of Rome. Rome had come down with a heavy hammer on the Jews, and
they were standing for their very life: so they must have a
scapegoat; they must have someone to blame for the events
complained of, so as to divert the trouble from themselves. They
therefore blamed the Christians; they said it was the Christians
who were responsible for this and that. And so there was a
tremendous revival of Jewish antagonism to Christianity; a
renewed upsurge of militant Judaism, of which the New Testament
is full, with its hostility to Christ. These churches were up
against that; it was everywhere.
On the other side, there was
the tremendous hatred and antagonism of pagan Rome. This was the
time of the great persecutions; the time in which ten million
Christians were slaughtered, either by the lions in the arena, or
else by being soaked in oil and pitch and made living torches for
a festival, or in some other way. And the Lord came at that time.
We need to keep that in mind as we read those words of His:
"I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne
is" (Rev. 2:13). 'I know...' The Lord knows the conditions
in which His Church has to live in this world; He knows the
sufferings of His people; He knows all their adversities. Let me
repeat: We must not always read these messages from the
standpoint of the Lord's wrath, anger, judgment. There is the
note here all the time of appeal, of entreaty and of love,
finishing every time with: 'To him that overcometh will I
give...' His heart is with them, and for them.
We have pointed out that there
is something very much like that in this world today. Over a very
large part of the earth it is like that. On the one side, the
'Jewish' - that is, the religious - antagonisms; on the other
side, the pagan antagonism of the world. Oh, the sufferings of
many of the Lord's people today; multitudes of them! And who is
to say that we in the West are not going to pass into the
crucible - that it will never come our way? But whether it be in
our lifetime, or in the Lord's knowledge lying ahead, perhaps not
so far ahead, the Lord comes. With what purpose? Is it to put His
finger upon the wrongs, to be saying all the time, Well, that is
wrong, and that is wrong, and that is wrong; just to be
is Faithful in Judgment
No. This is the point, and this
is the inclusive message of this whole section. He is saying:
'You cannot stand up to this world situation; you will never be
able to go through triumphantly unless you are in a condition to
do it. You are not going to get through just because you are the
'Church', so-called; because you are 'Christians', so-called!
Your victory, your coming through triumphantly, your ability to
stand up to the situation, requires that what you profess to be,
you are; that things are true about you; that
such things as will weaken your testimony and destroy your life
be eliminated; and that such things as are required for your very
life be brought in.' The Lord is saying, in effect: 'Adjustment
is necessary for your very life - for your very life.'
We know that this is true in
our own physical experience. We do not like the doctor's probing
and investigation; it can be painful. But no one in his senses
would say to a doctor, 'Please just cover it all over; make
nothing of it; just take no notice.' The Lord is not like that.
There has to be probing; there has to be a getting down to the
root of the trouble. It is very painful, but we know quite well
that our very life, our very continuance, depends upon it. The
Lord knows that quite well. So, whatever there is here of
judgment, even of condemnation or rebuke, it is all with the
positive object of securing our very life - the life of the
Church. He is faithful and true - so He is described here (Rev.
3:14; cf. 19:11). It is a good thing for any Christian, going
through seemingly painful handling of the Lord, to be able to
arrive at that: The Lord is faithful!
What is faithfulness in
relationship? Would to God that we had more grace to let people
be faithful with us! We like to be faithful with them, but we do
not like them to be faithful with us. Being faithful means their
not allowing us to go on to our own hurt when they can see the
thing that is doing the hurt; saying, 'Look here, brother, look
here sister, I am not taking the position of one superior and
better, but I do see that you are hurting yourself, doing injury
to yourself, you are spoiling your own life by doing this or
that; you are limiting your own influence in this way.' That is
faithfulness. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend"
(Prov. 27:6). The Lord here is a 'Faithful and True Witness'. He
must, from time to time, come and say, 'Now, look here, we have
gone on for quite a time, giving, waiting, working. There are
things that are spoiling, limiting, hurting. We must deal with
these; we must get them eliminated.'
Universality and Heavenly Position of the Church
We pointed out that the opening
up of this whole matter was, significantly enough, with Ephesus.
And Ephesus is the key to the whole; for, by His address to
Ephesus, the Lord comprehends the whole: "He that holdeth
the seven stars in his right hand" (2:1). He says that to
Ephesus, as though He were speaking to all. And we know that when
Paul wrote his letter to Ephesus - so-called - it was a circular
letter for the churches in Asia. The whole is comprehended by
this approach to Ephesus. We look at Ephesus; we remember what
the Lord had given there.
First of all, that letter, that
marvellous letter of Paul's, presents, as no other writing in the
Bible presents, the great truth of the absolute universality
of the Church: something far more than what is local, something
far more than what is earthly, something far more than what is
temporal. It is universal. There is a marvellous revelation of
the Church there!
Then, as to where that Church
really is. The letter was written to the company in a city called
Ephesus; but when you begin to read it, the Church is not all in
Ephesus by any means - indeed, you are taken a long, long way
from Ephesus. You find, when you are looking for the Church of
the letter to the Ephesians, that you have to go to Heaven to
find it - it is 'seated together with Christ in the heavenlies'
(Eph. 2:6). Would to God that that had got the grip on us that it
ought to have done! Let us get our eyes and our mentality off the
earthly aspect of things, and let us be gripped by this truth: If
there are people who are really born from above, who are really
indwelt by the Holy Spirit, baptized in one Spirit into one Body,
no matter where they are, who they are, what their connections
may be here on this earth, that earthly connection is not the
important thing, the ultimate thing. By reason of their birth,
and by their union with Christ in Heaven, they are in Heaven
positionally - they are positionally above all that!
We only spoil things when we
come down to this sorry earth level with Christians, and look at
them according to their designations and titles and so on - let
us get above that. If you truly love the Lord Jesus, no matter
what you are in, you are my brother, you are my sister; we are
the heavenly family. We do not shut our eyes to all the problems
that will arise. Yes, they will arise, but it will be in another
realm. And when they arise, do not let us allow them to move us
from our heavenly position - that of our true relatedness to
Christ in Heaven. If we keep to that, we make for possibilities;
if we come down to earth level, we close the door at once to so
many spiritual, Divine possibilities. Where are you looking for
the Church? If you are looking for it down here, you will be
grievously and despairingly disappointed; you will have to look
higher than that. Now, you see, the trouble with these churches
in Asia was that they had come down on to an earthly level. And
as you read each message - oh, the earthliness, the wretchedness
of what had come in! It had changed their whole position from
heavenly to earthly.
Turning again to that letter to
Ephesus, we find ourselves in a conflict, a conflict which is
above and behind all that is going on here on this earth. These
letters in the Revelation, and the letter to Ephesus as
inclusive, had a very practical meaning for those who received
the message. Is it Nero, that devil incarnate, there in Rome, who
is causing all this suffering? Is it a later Emperor, not much
better, if any? Is that it? Is it all these things which are
affecting the bodies of the saints and their situations? The
apostle in his letter says: Look further; look behind the men,
the instruments; look behind what they are using and what they
are doing, and you will see other 'world rulers of this
darkness'; you will see 'principalities and powers' that are
higher than Nero or any of the others; you will see multitudes,
'hosts of wicked spirits' at work behind it all; and it is in
that realm that our conflict lies. We are not fighting Nero; we
are not fighting... (put in any name that you like!); we are not
fighting men or regimes here on this earth: we are up against the
ultimate forces of this universe, the forces of darkness.
Forget that, let that slip out
of your consciousness and recognition at any time, and what
happens? You quarrel with people; you let in all kinds of other
considerations where men are concerned; you put this down to that
and that; you account for it on human grounds, and what a mess we
get into when we do that! If only the Church would look this
thing straight in the face, and say: Yes, I know the frailties of
people; I know the imperfections of men and of women, and they
seem to be the real trouble spots, but back of it there is
another force at work to ruin the testimony of the Church. The
determining factor here is the testimony of Jesus, and it is
against that that these wicked spirits, in their countless hosts,
are so terribly at work. You and I have to be very careful that
we are not the unconscious and unwitting instruments of those
powers to weaken the testimony of the Lord, coming down to earth
by our human judgments, appraisements, evaluations, standards,
criticisms, and what not. Don't come down there! If you do, it is
confusion - and it gives pleasure to the enemy.
That is the meaning of Ephesus.
And in at any rate five cases, these messages stand very closely
related to that great factor - that they had forgotten that they
were in a heavenly warfare, they had forgotten that they were in
a heavenly position, and they had come down, and had taken it all
on in an earthly way.
for the Conflict
But we cannot leave it there.
This wonderful letter, which brings those things to light so
strongly and fully, also tells us of the Church's resources in
the battle and for maintaining its heavenly position. Wonderful
things are spoken of in that letter as to our resources.
One wonderful phrase in the
prayer of the apostle is this: 'that He would grant you to be
strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inward man' (3:16).
That is something for position and for conflict. 'Strengthened
with might by His Spirit'. He repeats that in his letter to the
Colossians in another way: 'that ye may be strengthened with
might according to His glorious power' (Col. 1:11).
And then, for the warfare, 'the
whole armour of God' (Eph. 6:13) is provided - everything
that is required!
Now, the Lord had given that
revelation long since, and He comes back and says: 'You have left
your first position and your first works, as you have left your
first love. Repent and do the first works - get back on to the
original ground; recover what you have lost as to position.'
Clearly He is saying, in effect: 'If you recover the position, I
will see to the resources - 'He that overcometh, I will give to
him to sit down with me in my throne' (Rev. 3:21); 'to rule
the nations' (2:26,27)'. What promises!
What is the point? We are not
through yet; the work is not finished yet; there is still
something to be done, and the testimony of the Lord must be
preserved to the end intact. The word of the Lord to us is this:
Make sure that you are not allowing to come in, for the weakening
and spoiling and curtailing of your testimony, those things of
this earth, of this creation, that are of the enemy's projecting.
Make sure that you are not allowing them to come in. Take a very
strong stand against everything of that kind. Stand together
against this vicious foe. Maintain your heavenly position, and
there you will find heavenly resources, and the Lord with you.
The Lord use this word for our