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HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS TO THE CHURCHES

 

 

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 1:7).

 

It may be that the letters to the seven churches of Asia represent seven church ages during the gospel dispensation. Some teachers put a great deal of time and research into this approach to the seven letters. While on the surface there appears to be some validity in this approach, no matter whose approach you follow, you will encounter some discrepancies. Often, the approaches are more dependent upon the prejudices of the teachers than consistent with historical facts. And being quite honest, this is true of most of the approaches championed by many of our Church of God teachers in their church-historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

As we have studied these letters, we know for certain that each of the churches mentioned in the Revelation were actual churches that existed at the time the Apostle John received the Revelation from the Lord. We have to accept that the conditions described in each of these letters actually existed in each of the churches addressed. In the church-age concept, the condition of each church supposedly is the predominant condition of the Christian church at-large in the church-age represented by each church. However, one does not have to stretch the imagination to realize that any or all of the conditions addressed probably have existed in many churches in any or even all of the supposed church ages.

While the seven churches of Asia were singled out by Christ as representative of their individual conditions, one must not conclude that these conditions were necessarily prominent in the church-at-large at that time of the Revelation, somewhere around 90 a.d. The Christian church was actively spreading across the then-known world. At this date, the message of the gospel had not been corrupted and genuine conversion experiences and resulting holy lives were the rule. But, the devil is ever present to plant the seeds of lethargy, unbelief, and worldliness where the gospel has been successful.

If there is a single message behind these seven letters, it is “this can happen to you”. Rather than an exposition on historic church ages or just letters addressed to certain churches, the seven letters are perhaps better viewed as a book with seven chapters that outline various conditions that any church can experience at any time.

 

Hear What The Spirit Says

 

The one consistent theme throughout the seven letters is the Glorified Christ’s continuous admonition to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches”.

To each of the churches, Christ appears in an attribute He determines necessary to meet the problem in each church. All the conditions have their serious elements; some are more serious than others because of the depths to which a specific church immersed itself in those conditions.

Many of the churches receive a serious reprimand from the Glorified Christ, some of which almost suggest a total lack of remedy.

However, Christ holds out His loving hand of grace to any and all in each of the seven churches that will give heed to His instruction and overcome the condition of that church.

We are all too often condemning of people in churches that seem to be too far-gone. While we do not condone apostasy, it still remains that there could be faithful people who are overcoming those conditions through the grace of God. We would like for them to come out of those churches, and there is a command for God’s people to come out of Babylon in Revelation 18:4; but Christ alone can stand in judgment on such people. Many of them have nowhere to go. Sad!

One obvious question comes to mind when we hear the statement “hear what the Spirit says to the churches”: What exactly does the Spirit say? There is nothing in any of the letters that is a direct statement of what the Holy Spirit has to say. A second question might be asked, to what churches is the Spirit speaking? Is it just the seven churches of Asia, or could it be to the church at large?

The answer to the question of what does the Spirit say to the churches is the lesson to be learned from each of the seven conditions exposed in the seven churches. The answer to the second question is that the lessons to be learned are for the church-at-large until Jesus returns.

Let us briefly look at those letters and glean from them what the Spirit says to the Churches—especially, what He might be saying to us.

 

The first church is the church of Ephesus

 

Christ appeared to this church holding the seven stars in His right hand and walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.

This church tested those who said they were apostles and were not. While that was an appropriate thing for the church to do, in the course of doing this the people of the church left their first love. They did not lose their first love, they left it. They had become obsessed with defending the faith; they were so involved in the battle of devising arguments and counter arguments against divergent doctrines that they actually fell in love with the battle and substituted that love for the love of the Savior.

While sound doctrine is essential and we must earnestly contend for the faith, we must never do it at the cost of our love for the Savior or any of His people. Christ commands us to love one another as He has loved us. That love not only puts Jesus first, it is also a love that follows the example of Christ’s love. His love in us is the love that unreservedly loves other disciples of Christ.

How is that love shown? “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”. (John 15:13) Jesus said in no uncertain terms: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another”. As disciples of Jesus, we can set aside our differences and accept all people that are saved from sin and endeavoring to live for God.

The unregenerate world looking on will take notice and think there is really something to this being a Christian thinking, “If those people can love each other with their differences, maybe they would love me.”

So, what does the Spirit say to the Churches? Love the truth and stand firm on it, but love Christ first. In loving Christ, love all those that also love Christ even though they might understand some issues of truth differently. Showing that kind of love is not compromise, it is a testimony to the lost world that salvation works and truly unites people in faith and love.

 

The second church is the church of Smyrna

 

Christ appears as the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.

This church faced a trial because of the presence of a synagogue of Satan. There were a significant number of people in the church that professed salvation but had no relationship with God whatsoever. The presence of these hypocrites put the real people of God in a prison. That prison was a trial that would go on for a period of time and it would put such pressure on these saints revealing their true godliness in contrast to those that had only a profession. When Christ allows a synagogue of Satan to infiltrate a church, it always is a test of the faithfulness of the true church.

So, what does the Spirit say to the Churches? Recognize that there will be people in the church that have only a profession of salvation. When a significant number of this kind of people is in a church, their influence might overwhelm the influence of those living holy lives. They do this to shrug off conviction and make themselves feel good, religious, and secure. While this is grievous to those who are truly saved, hold steady and let Jesus reveal them for what they are and thereby destroy their influence. They will either get saved or they will leave the church.

 

The third church is the church of Pergamos

 

Jesus appears to this church with the sharp two-edged sword.

While the church at Smyrna had a synagogue of Satan, Pergamos was in a yet worse condition in that Satan’s throne was there. Satan’s throne was there largely because the church had given up reading and following the Word of God.

Without faithful reading and teaching the Scriptures, both from the OT and the NT, a church becomes open to any kind of doctrinal error and false worship practices. Without faithful teaching of the Scripture, the influence of the ministry is killed and is unable to lead people to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

So, what does the Spirit say to the Churches? Be faithful to read, teach and obey the Scriptures because in them God is revealed. The Word is spiritual food for God’s people. And from obedience to the Word, people will have a real experience with God.

 

The fourth church is the church of Thyatira

 

Christ appears with eyes like fire and feet of fine brass.

This church was the worst of the seven as it was totally consumed by apostasy. The ministry of this church was corrupt, holding to any kind of teaching and practice other than the Word of God. The apostasy was so deeply entrenched that it would be passed on to the following generations; they would not have the opportunity to hear the real message of salvation.

However, in spite of the depths of apostasy in this church, there were a few, a remnant of people, that had a real experience with God.

So, what does the Spirit say to the Churches? Guard against apostasy because its consequences are irreversible. However, there are a few people in apostate churches that do have a relationship with God and we must accept them as spiritual brethren even though they remain in such churches. They remain because they walk with God and do not see a way out for whatever reason that may be.

 

The fifth church is the church of Sardis

 

Jesus appears having the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.

We found this church to be full of nominal Christians; people professing Christianity but without the experience of salvation from sin. There is no spiritual life in this church except for just a few names that had not defiled their garments. Also, this church was not polluted with doctrinal errors; its doctrine is sound and its religious practices are correct.

This church was deceived in that it looked on its works as proof of its salvation and relationship with God. It mistook works, programs and activities, for spiritual life. In fact, the church was concentrating more on its works to influence people than on preaching the gospel.

So what does the Spirit say to the Churches? While activities and programs can be helpful in furthering the gospel, they must not become an end in themselves. Remember HOW you received and heard the gospel—you were called to repent of your sins. Our mission is to teach the gospel, not to entertain people.

 

The sixth church is the church of Philadelphia

 

Christ appears as holy and true having the key of David.

Christ controls who is added to the church, and that is through salvation from sin. It is inevitable that we will face personal temptations in which we must stay true to Christ. There will be backsliders in the church that must be brought back into the fold. Remember that Christ loves them and actively seeks to bring them back.

So, what does the Spirit say to the Churches? The Lord will keep us in the times of temptation and in doing so He will use us to uphold and strengthen His church. In staying true to Christ, He writes His name on us: we need no other name than the Church of God.

 

The seventh and last church is the church of Laodicea

 

Christ appears to this church as the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness.

As His church, we have been called to be the witness of Christ to the world. This church lacked the consecration to be that witness, which made Christ sick to His stomach, wanting to spit them out of His mouth. This church had become so complacent with salvation they refused to move on in the will of God; they had no zeal for Christ. Because of its complacency, it was so deceived that it could not see its true condition. They looked upon their accomplishments as proof to themselves that they were right with God.

So, what does the Spirit say to the Churches? Shake yourself out of your complacency, be zealous and repent. Listen to the voice of Christ calling you and act before you lose the ability to hear Him.

 

So, what does the Spirit say to the Churches?

 

Love Christ before all else,

Live a holy life regardless of what others do,

Be faithful to read the Scriptures and obey what they teach,

Do not fall away from the truth and a real experience of salvation,

Our mission is to teach the gospel, not to entertain people,

The Lord will keep us in time of temptation, and

Do not become complacent in the things of God.

ARE YOU LISTENING?