[Table of Contents]|
B. W. Johnson|
Vision of the Ages (1881)
THE SEVEN CHURCHES.
The Lordsday.--The Three Parts of Revelation.--The Seven
Angels.--The Letters to the |
The opening scenes of Revelation are of the most striking character. Though the apostle is confined upon a lonely rock of the sea and is far away from the saints assembled in the name of Christ, yet be is "in the spirit" upon the Lordsday. This day, rendered sacred by the resurrection of the Savior, the day on which he appeared a second time, and upon which the wonderful scenes of Pentecost occurred, had been observed by the Church from its organization as a time set apart to congregational worship. John, though denied the privilege of joining in the exercises of a Christian assembly, evidently devoted the day to prayer and meditation, thereby setting an example for every lonely saint; and his soul  was lifted to a spiritual exaltation that peculiarly fitted him for communion with God. While thus engaged, the silence and loneliness of Patmos were broken by the sound of a mighty voice which rang out loud and clear like the tones of a trumpet, saying:
I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
John turned to see the speaker whose voice had startled him, and his eyes rested upon a vision of surpassing glory. Ile behold seven golden lamps, and among them walked one "like unto the Son of Man." He was not like the Son of Man as he had seen him when he walked in humility upon the earth with his divine glory vailed by the likeness which he had assumed to sinful flesh, but more like the transfigured Christ as he had appeared on the holy mount to his wondering disciples. He was arrayed in a kingly robe and girt with a girdle of gold. Heavenly purity was indicated by the dazzling whiteness of his head and hair, and the splendor that shone from his countenance was like that of the unclouded sun. Every manifestation of the divine glory is accompanied with brilliancy and splendor.  "In him there is no darkness at all." The burning bush of Horeb, the glory of Sinai, the Shekinah of the tabernacle, the City of which God and the Lamb are the light, the transfigured Savior of Hermon, the Son of Man of Patmos, and all the visions of the prophets of both covenants, indicate that whenever Deity manifests itself, there is a revelation of heavenly splendor. The Son of Man, the Man of Sorrows, the Lamb of God, is also the Bright and Morning Star, and the Sun of Righteousness. It is thus, crowned with majesty, garbed in light, and shining as the sun, that John beholds the Son of Man walking amid the golden candlesticks and holding the seven stars in his hands. Though he had been familiar with the lowly Jesus is brother with brother, had leaned upon his bosom, and had seen the glory of the transfiguration; when he beheld the wonderful vision of Patmos, his heart sank within him and he fell to the earth as one whose life had fled; but when the hand that held the seven stars was laid upon him, it was with the same familiar tenderness that he had known in the bygone years in the earthly Christ. Then the Lord declared the purpose of his coming, saying:
Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and I have  the keys of hell and death. Write the things which, thou hast men; the things that are, and the things that shall be hereafter.
A careful study of the first chapter shows: 1, That Revelation is a message of the Lord; 2, It is made directly to the seven churches of Asia; 3, It is written to the seven stars of the churches; 4, The book records what John had seen, or the vision of the Son of Man on Patmos; the things that are, or the condition of the churches as unfolded by Christ, and the things that shall be, or a revelation of events yet concealed in the womb of the future; 5, The vision of the Savior walking among the golden candlesticks and holding the seven stars in his hand, teaches a lesson of trust in him. He is with his people always; always in the midst of the churches.
The letters written to the angels of the seven churches occupy the second and third chapters. I shall not consider these in detail, but there are, certain matters which pertain to all of them, that it is not proper to pass over.
THE SEVEN ANGELS.--I shall not take up space to discuss the various views as to the nature of the angels of the churches. It has been held that they were heavenly angels, were diocesan bishops of the cities, were pastors or elders, or were messengers sent from the churches to visit John in Patmos. The word  angel means a messenger, and is equally applicable to the messengers of God and those of men. John the Baptist is called in Mark 1:2, an angel, or messenger, and the term is often applied to human beings. It is certain that it is in this passage. John is told to write to these angels, and certainly the letters were not sent to the angels of heaven. Nor does this language suggest the idea of messengers sent to visit John in Patmos. In that case the letters might be sent by them to the churches, but would certainly not be written to them. It becomes evident, therefore, that the angels were men filling some office in connection with the churches. There is not the slightest evidence that diocesan bishops existed in this age, and hence I do not think that they are meant. The term can hardly apply to an elder, for there seems to have been a plurality of elders in all the churches, and it is not likely that one would be singled out. It is my judgment that the angels were the preachers or evangelists of the churches. As these evangelists not only labored at home, but were often sent out, and were messengers to carry the good tidings, there is a fitness in applying the term to them. We know from the epistles of Paul and from church tradition, that Timothy was long the evangelist at Ephesus, and it is possible that he  may have lived and labored until the time of John's banishment. If so, he was the angel to whom the epistle to the church at Ephesus was directed. Then we conclude that the seven stars held in the hand of the Lord, supported and strengthened by him, shining with his light, are the seven preachers of the churches of Asia.
THE SEVEN CHURCHES.--At the time when John wrote there were hundreds of churches in existence. On the Asiatic Continent many had been founded in Judea, Syria, and elsewhere, and in the district of which Ephesus was the commercial metropolis, and which was especially designated as Asia, we know that in the last quarter of the first century there were not only the seven churches named, but Colosse, Hierapolis, and perhaps many more. Why then should the Lord direct his message to the seven churches alone? If the reader will turn over the pages of Revelation he will be surprised by the frequency with which the number seven occurs. There are the Seven Spirits of God, the Seven Stars, the Seven Churches, the Seven Horns and Seven Eyes of the Lamb, Seven Trumpets, Seven Thunders, Seven Vials, etc., etc. It will help us to understand the reason for the use of seven in many instances to remember that it is  the perfect number and denotes perfection, or completeness. In several of the instances just given this is evidently its meaning, especially where it refers to the Spirit, or to the Lamb, and I suppose that seven churches are named fur a similar reason. This complete number would make them fitting representatives of the entire Church, and those selected probably represent every condition that ever prevails among churches that have not apostatized from the faith. There is first, the metropolitan church of Ephesus, where some had departed from their first love and zeal for Christ, and which is commanded to repent under the penalty of the removal of its candlestick. There is second, the persecuted church of Smyrna, whose members would be cast into prison and endure tribulation, and where a little later Polycarp was burned alive. There is third, the martyr church of Pergamos, persecuted by heathenism, where most had held fast to the name of Christ, but where some had fallen into the worldly sins of Balaam. Next comes the church of Thyatira, seduced by false teachings and induced to compromise with sin. In the fifth place, there is the spiritually dead church of Sardis, which is called to repentance. Sixth comes the tried church of Philadelphia, which had not denied the Lord's name; and lastly, the lukewarm  church of Laodicea, which he threatens to spew out of his mouth. In addressing these seven churches the Lord addresses the Church universal in every phase of its existence.
The plan of the seven letters to these churches is in each instance the same. In each we find, 1. An order to write to the angel of the church. 2. A glorious title of the Lord. 3. An address to the church which describes its condition and gives it an admonition to perseverance or repentance, as its state demands. 4. An announcement of what will come to pass. 5. A promise to him that overcometh. 6. A closing injunction: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
THE FATE OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES.--It will interest many to learn the subsequent history and fate of the seven churches thus singled out to represent the entire body. I will indicate briefly. 1. The church at Ephesus was founded by Paul (Acts, XVIII. and XIX.); enjoyed the labors of Aquila and Priscilla, of Apollos and of Timothy; had at one time the presence of the great apostle for three years and a half, and finally enjoyed the presence of John. The seat of government for the province of Asia, and the commercial metropolis of Asia Minor, the strong church established in this great center received an unusual share of  attention, and was honored with two epistles, one from the apostle of Christ, and the other directly from the Lord. During the half century of its existence, which had passed when John wrote, it had fallen from its first love and was threatened with extinction. It continued to have a visible existence until the Mahometan torrent swept over Asia Minor about six hundred years after John wrote. When the light appears after a century of darkness, confusion, and carnage, the church at Ephesus has passed away, and the city is in ruins. In our generation explorers are excavating the ruinous masses to discover the remains of the great ancient city. 2. Smyrna appears first in sacred writ in this connection, and we know nothing of the previous history of the church. The letter to it speaks only words of praise. The city of Smyrna still exists as the most flourishing port of Turkey in Asia, and has a numerous Christian population. On account of the large proportion of Christians in its population it is regarded by strict Moslems as unclean, and is called "Infidel Smyrna." It is at this date the chief center of missionary operations in the East. 3. The city of Pergamos stood about twenty miles from the sea, and was once capital of a kingdom by the same name. It still exists, is called Bergamos, and has a population  of about 14,000, of whom 3,300 are nominally Christians. 4. Thyatira is named first in Acts, chapter XVI. It is probable that Lydia and her household formed the nucleus of the church. The name is not mentioned again until it appears in Revelation. The city was situated near Pergamos, still exists under a new name, and contains about a thousand houses. The church was rebuked in the letter of the Lord, for falling under the influence of a woman whose likeness to the idolatrous Queen of Ahab gives her the name of Jezebel. There has always been a professed Christian population. 5. Sardis was the capital of the great ancient kingdom of Lydia, which was overthrown by the Persian Cyrus. It was the residence of the rich King Croesus, whose name has passed into a proverb. Of the history of the church we know nothing; but we do know on the testimony of Jesus, that it "had a name to live and was dead." The ravages of the Saracens and Turks, and the shocks of earthquakes have converted the ancient city into a ruin, with only crumbled walls to tell of its ancient glory. 6. Philadelphia stood about twenty miles from Sardis and was the second city in importance in the province of Lydia. It is first mentioned in Revelation, and the praises bestowed upon the church show that it was worthy of a city of  Brotherly Love. Though the old name has been laid aside by the Turks, the city still has three thousand houses and a Christian population. There are said to be five churches in the place, and it is the seat of a Greek bishop. 7. Laodicea is last named. The city was situated about twenty miles from Ephesus, and near Colosse. The church was honored with an epistle from the apostle Paul. See Col. 4:17. Still, it had fallen into the besetting sin of churches and had become lukewarm. This sin is rebuked in the severest language, and the consequences are indicated by a most vigorous figure. The ancient city and church have passed away, and the ruins are entirely deserted. It has been spewed out of the mouth of the Lord.
I have now briefly outlined the introduction and the letters to the seven churches. This carries us over the first and second parts of the Revelation, or the things John "had seen, and the things that are." The third part, which is strictly prophetic and begins with chapter IV., will be entered upon next in order. 
[Table of Contents]|
B. W. Johnson|
Vision of the Ages (1881)