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Revelation 2-3 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:52 mins 8 secs

Ecclesiastical Evaluation Summary

 

Probably nothing tests our stability and our mental attitude more than being the recipients of injustice. The more extreme the injustice the more difficult it is for us because we all have a certain sense of fair play and we believe that things ought to be done in a certain manner. But living in the devil's world we often face injustice, evil, victimization, betrayal, maltreatment, and these are among the most difficult, the most challenging of circumstances for us as believers to handle. Too often we see believers go through life and if they are mistreated by other believers, if they are betrayed, of they are maltreated, if they become victims, there it is parents, whether it is children, whether it is business partners, whatever it may be, it is easy for too many to cave in to cynicism, bitterness, anger and resentment. And often, directly or indirectly, God is the one who is blamed. When we face injustice in life, when things don't go the way we think they should, or when we are betrayed by those we trust, if we don't see some sort of immediate response by God we often think that God is just asleep at the switch or that somehow people are getting away with evil. But what we learn as we come to the last book in Scripture is that no one gets away with anything. There is accountability.

 

Throughout the centuries people struggle with the same problem of accountability. The Psalmist asked: "Why do the wicked prosper?" The unstated question is: "God if you are really just, if you are really fair, how can they be getting away with it?" However, one of the things we learn from Scripture is that God is just, and God is righteous. In the book of Revelation a major theme is that of accountability, that there is justice from the throne room of God, either in time or in eternity future. No one gets away with anything, and that is one of the themes of the book of Revelation, that there will be judgment, there will be evaluation for everyone. For the unbeliever, they look forward to the great white throne judgment. The issue there is not sin because the penalty for sin was paid for by Christ on the cross. The issue is their own righteousness. Do they have righteousness that qualifies to get them into heaven? No matter what they have done all their works are evaluated and if they do not have the proper righteousness then they are not admitted into haven and there is eternal condemnation in the lake of fire. For the believer the issues are different. Sin is paid for, heaven is a certain destiny, we have a secure and certain salvation, our sins have been completely and totally paid for, and we have an eternal position in the royal family of God. However, there is still an evaluation judgment coming. This evaluation judgment is the judgment of the judgment seat of Christ.

 

This lies in the background of what we have studied for the last several lessons. We have been though Revelation chapters two and three studying these seven letters to the seven churches in Asia. These are ecclesiastical evaluation reports where God the Son of pictured as the Lord of the church, the Head of the church, who is moving among the seven lampstands of the seven churches, a picture of the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is infinitely involved in the life of His church, His bride. Because He is intimately involved with His church He knows everything that is going on and he is the one who is qualified to eventually evaluate and judge the church. These seven evaluation reports are written to give us an idea of what the issues will be, what will be evaluated at the bema seat, the judgment seat of Christ. So we will go back and review the high points of what we have seen in these chapters.

 

As we go through this one thing that stands out is this principle of eventual evaluation, eventual judgment. And what we need to remember is that no matter what we see, what we experience in life, whenever there is injustice, whatever happens, whenever there is evil in the world, whenever we are the unfair victim of whatever happens, we must remember what was said by Abraham in Genesis 18:25: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" We know that God will eventually make all things right. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive the things done [practiced/prassw] in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

 

When we come to these seven letters they represent trends in the church age, strengths and weaknesses that are present in every generation. Each one of these churches is promised incentives, rewards, to the overcomer, to the victorious believer. This happens after the Rapture of the church, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. As we look at these evaluation reports they fit a pattern. Each one has a commission, an opening address, a character citation referencing an attribute of the Lord Jesus Christ. Usually this attribute has something to do with the commendation or the condemnation within the evaluation. There is a commendation, a praise for what they are doing right in their spiritual growth and spiritual advance. Of the seven there are two that have no commendation whatsoever, they are congregations that are in spiritual failure. There is a section of condemnation, a warning about a spiritual flaw or spiritual flaws within each of these congregations. There are two that have no condemnation, they are only commended for their spiritual advance. For those who have a spiritual flaw there is a prescription for recovery, a correction that is given, usually in the vocabulary of "repent" or "watch." It has the idea of changing something. There is a certain mentality or vocabulary or carnal practice that needs to be changed. Then there is a call, that is, a command to listen—"Those who have ears to hear, let them hear." That is, those who are really responsive to the Word, who care about the Bible, then listen to what it says and then make application. Then there is a challenge, a personal promise of a reward. This is addressed to a category of a believer called an overcomer, a victorious believer.

 

The first report that we studied was to the church in Ephesus. The letter to the Ephesians references the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand. These are the seven congregations, and he walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. He is pictured as the ever-present Lord who therefore is completely knowledgeable and aware of what is going on in the church and is therefore worthy to judge them. They are commended for several things: for their labours, their works. This is in relation to their spiritual life. They make it a priority, they are working in relationship to spiritual growth. They are coming to Bible class, they are studying the Word, they are putting into practice that which they are learning in their study of the Word. They are praised for their endurance, which indicates staying under pressure; that despite adversities, difficulties, testings and temptation, they are sticking with the Word. It is endurance that is the key to growing and maturing as a believer. They are praised because they have no tolerance for evil, that they cannot bear those who are evil. We live in a world today where we have taken the word "tolerance" and changed it to means "approval," so that if you are intolerant it means you disapprove, and that you are therefore wrong. The Scriptures indicate that you are not to put up with certain kinds of behaviour, even within the local church, and that we should be intolerant of this. It doesn't mean that we don't deal with it in grace, it is not saying there should be a legalistic attitude, but there are sets of standards that apply to behavior in the local church and individuals within it, and so we don't put up with that. Furthermore, they evaluate doctrinal claims. There are those who come in and say that they are apostles, and they test them to see that that is so. They persevered under trial. All of these were things that they were commended for. These are virtues that all of us should focus on. All of these are good qualities, but there is something that has been lost in this particular congregation.

 

Under condemnation, they had lost their priority love for God. When we read in the text that they had lost their first love, this is not first in terms of beginning, it is first in terms of priority. Love for God comes into full bloom as we grow to maturity, but if we fail to grow to maturity, if we fail to press on, then we lost that love for God. Love for God indicates a depth to that personal relationship we have with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not just that simple relationship that an immature believer has with God, but as we grow and mature, as we learn the Word, as we learn more about who God is, it develops a quality of love that is related to our maturity and our understanding of who God is. You can't love someone you don't know, and you can't know God unless you study His Word. This priority love has to do with maturity, and because they had failed in the Ephesian church to grow to maturity they were being challenged with regard to the incentive in 2:7: "To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God." Eating throughout Scripture is used with reference to fellowship and rapport. So eating of the tree of life indicates a special intimacy, a special level of fellowship with God.

 

In Revelation 2:8 we came to our second letter, that to the church in Smyrna. This is the first congregation of whom nothing negative is said. They are praised because they are in the midst of tribulation, experiencing poverty, are attacked by those who claim to be Jews but are not, and as they go through this adversity it will result in the martyrdom of several of them. They will experience a special time of testing, and the admonition is that they are to be faithful until death. So they are commended for the way they have handled adversity and because some of them will experience martyrdom because they will not compromise their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The incentive relates to this. They are encouraged to be faithful unto death, recognizing that martyrdom may come, and they are to be consistent as they have already been consistent. If they do so they are promised the crown of life, one of four crowns mentioned in Scripture as rewards. They are also promised that there will be no loss of rewards, which is the meaning of "He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death." Cf. Revelation 20:6, 7 which shows that what this is talking about is the destruction of non-distributed rewards. The context is inheritance and rewards: "Blessed and holy is the one who has a part [inheritance] in the first resurrection." The focus is on the distribution of a reward and reigning. Many people misread this to think that "part" means destiny or role, but the Greek word for "part" there is MEROS [meroj] which indicates the inheritance share of a will. Cf. Revelation 21:8 NASB "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part [MEROS]{will be} in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Those who continue in rank carnality with no spiritual growth, no spiritual advance, their share, their inheritance portion, goes into the lake of fire. So what we have in 2:11 is the promise that the overcomer will not have his rewards destroyed in the lake of fire. It doesn't mean that the person goes to the lake of fire, but their rewards, because they are not distributed due to failure to grow in the Christian life.

 

Then we came to the church in Pergamum. The Lord Jesus Christ is represented as the judge, "The One who has the sharp two-edged sword," which indicates that He comes as a judge to this worldly, compromising church in Pergamum. There they are commended. Even though they have compromised there is positive spiritual growth in that congregation. They are commended for holding fast in a hostile environment. They held fast to Christ's name, they did not deny His faith even when it meant martyrdom in the case of one mentioned there named Antipas. They did not deny Christ or doctrine, but nevertheless they did compromise. They were condemned for compromising with paganism, as indicated with the compromise with the doctrine of Balaam which led them to eating things sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality, and also the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The challenge was to repent. (Confession of sin comes before repentance in the Christian life) There is a warning that the Lord will bring discipline upon those who are responsible for the compromise in that congregation. Then there is an incentive: "To him who overcomes, to him I will give {some} of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it." Hidden manna relates to eating: fellowship. There is a special intimate fellowship for victorious believers with the Father in Heaven. The idea here is some kind of privileged access and nourishment in the kingdom of heaven. The second aspect is being given a white stone. In Roman culture wealthy families would often give a stone with a person's name written on it that would give them special access into the full hospitality of the family. It indicates special access and privilege in heaven.

 

The fourth congregation was Thyatira. Here the Lord Jesus Christ is presented as the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and feet like fine brass. This indicates purification and judgment. Thyatira is another church which has compromised with paganism, with the pagan ways of thinking. They are commended for various things. Even in congregations where there are problems there are those who are advancing to spiritual maturity, those who are demonstrating true Christian love for one another. So they are commended for love. They are commended for Christian service. They have grown to maturity, they are involved in the local church serving in various capacities. Remember, Christian service is not a means of spiritual growth, it is a result of spiritual growth. There are those who exhibit faith, i.e. the faith-rest drill, they are trusting in God and growing to maturity. They have patience (endurance), they are sticking with the Word in times of testing and trial, and their works are increasing, i.e. their divine good is increasing. This indicates that there are those who are truly pressing forward toward spiritual maturity. However, there are failures and there are condemnations. They have compromised with pressure to conform to paganism. This is so often the problem that we have today with too many believers, that in order to get by at work, in order to make it in the university, in order to be accepted by a certain social crowd, they have to compromise their Christian, biblical standards. This was the case in Thyatira, but God gave them time to repent of these things. The incentive is to hold fast, to keep pressing to maturity, and the victor is promised that he will receive eventually power over the nations. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom, then He will rule over them with a rod of iron, and we will be co-rulers and co-reigners with Him in His kingdom, and will also receive the morning star which is some kind of entitlement, some kind of recognition giving us special privilege.

 

Next is the congregation at Sardis. This is a congregation of whom nothing good is said. They are a congregation of spiritual failures. "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." At one time this was a spiritually thriving congregation. They had a reputation, but they no longer have it. They were no longer spiritually growing, no longer spiritually vital. They had a reputation of life but were living in carnal death, living according to the flesh, and they had compromised with paganism. So there was a call to remember that which was before, to hold fast, and to repent; they are to change. Then they are encouraged to be watchful and to strengthen the things which remain. They are called to watch and evaluate their own spiritual growth. They are condemned because they are trying to live their own spiritual life in their own power and effort and they need to change. If they do there are incentives for the overcomers. They will wear white garments, which indicates some special uniform that would identify the overcomer as one who overcame. They are promised that their name would not be blotted out from the book of life. This doesn't mean a loss of salvation, it is a figure of speech indicating a reinforcement of an idea that they certainly will not have their name blotted out of the book of life, not that they could but that this would not happen. It is a statement of a positive by stating the negative. Furthermore, they would be praised before God and the angels: "I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." So at the judgment seat of Christ there will be recognition of spiritual achievement before God the Father and before the angels.

 

Next is the church at Philadelphia, and there the Lord is referred to as the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David, a reference to the Davidic covenant: "who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens." Because He is the Davidic messiah He is the one who is the source of eternal life and is the only one who gives life. This church has no negatives, no condemnations, only commendations, like the earlier church at Sardis. They are praised because they have taken advantage of the opportunities that God has given them. They are an evangelistic and missionary-minded congregation, they have spiritual strength, they are obedient in applying the Word of God. They had not denied Christ even though there was persecution and they were enduring, they were consistent in pressing on to spiritual maturity. As a result of this they are promised that they will be kept from the hour of trial. This indicates that church age believers will not go through that time known as the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob's trouble, the seventieth year of Daniel's seventy weeks. Then there are some incentives given and these are based on them holding fast, continuing with what they had done. Then they are warned to hold fast so that no one may take their crown. "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God," a figure of speech for someone who was prominent, someone who had a role to play, and this is in the temple of God in the Millennial kingdom. "…and he will not go out from it anymore," once again indicating a special position of privilege and access to God in the Millennial kingdom. "…and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name." These three things indicate a special relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ—special access into the New Jerusalem, special access to God in the temple. This is for the one who responds positively to these warnings an is an overcomer in their spiritual life.

 

Then we come to the oast church, the lukewarm church of whom nothing good is said. They are neither hot nor cold, and because they are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm the Lord Jesus Christ says he will vomit them out of His mouth. This is because they are not usable, not serviceable. Because they are operating in carnality they are not usable by the Lord. The idea of hot or cold isn't hot being positive an cold being negative, but the idea that hot water is usable and cold water is usable but lukewarm water just makes one bilious. Here the Lord is referred to as the stable one, "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." A lukewarm believer is undependable, unstable, vacillating, and their emphasis is on their own efforts. They are self-sufficient. They are condemned for being lukewarm, for having compromised with the pagan system around them, and for being self-sufficient. They think they are rich, that they have no need of anything spiritually, but the Lord says, "you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." Because of their arrogance they have nothing. Therefore they are challenged to repent, i.e. to change. The problem is that the Lord has been excluded from the life of the church and they need to let the Lord be the centrepiece of their lives again. That is why the Lord says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." That is not a salvation verse, it is a verse for fellowship. To those who respond positively to the message there are incentives, and the incentive here is to be a co-ruler with the Lord Jesus Christ. "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."

 

The challenge to us as we go through these seven letters is to recognize that this isn't just written to first-century Christians, but it is written to every congregation, every believer down through the centuries. As we go through the positive traits here we see some of our positive traits. As we go through the negative traits we also realise some of our negative traits. And the challenge is the same for us, that is, to repent, to change what we need to change, to respond to the message of the Scriptures and to apply these truths in our lives so that we, too, can be victorious believers. The promise is just as much for us as it was for them: that if we are victorious in our spiritual life there are special rewards, privileges and positions in the eternal kingdom that will be ours because we have matured and have the capacity, the righteousness, to handle those positions. But it depends on our volition; it depends on whether or not we are truly interested in serving the Lord. What is demanded here is an eternal perspective, the recognition that what is going on in these forty, fifty, sixty, seventy or eighty years that we have in this life is going to determine what is going to happen when we arrive in heaven. That is why each one of these letters closes with the admonition: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"—not just to listen, not just to know, but to respond with application. As James says, "Don't be a nearer of the Word only, but a hearer and an applier."

 

Illustrations