James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;Revelation 2:1-3:22
THE SEVEN CHURCHES
This section might also be entitled “The things which are.”
No agreement exists as to the application of “angel” in the address to each of these churches, but as the word means “messenger,” it may refer to those sent by the churches to interview the apostle at Patmos (see Php 4:18).
Of course, the seven churches existed at this time in Asia, and yet the epistles have not only a local application to them, but apply representatively to the whole church everywhere at that time.
Many also think they have an application prophetically to “the spiritual history of the church at large from that day to the end of this age,” when the true church, which is the body of Christ, will be caught up to meet him in the air. In this respect, they bear a close relation to the seven parables of Matthew 13 to which the student will refer. The apostasy in Christendom outlined in that chapter in Matthew, began in the apostolic days (2 Thessalonians 2), and has been increasing ever since, and will culminate in the “man of sin” at the end of this age after the true church has been translated. It is the course of this apostasy that is thought to be again outlined here prophetically in the epistles to the seven churches. One reason for this view is that we discover a gradual decline from the fervor of the first love of the Ephesian church, or the Ephesian period of the church, to the lukewarm, spewed-out-of-the-mouth condition of Laodicea.
SEVEN PERIODS IN THE CHURCH
The seven periods in the history of the church as outlined in these epistles have been interpreted thus: The epistle to the church at Ephesus represents the spiritual condition of the first period of the church universal from the ascension of Christ to the close of the first century, the apostolic era. The epistle to Smyrna represents the second period, or the martyr church, from the death of John to the rise of Constantine, A.D. 100-311. The third, Pergamos, from the state church under Constantine to the rise of the papacy (Pope Gregory 1), A.D. 311-590. The fourth, Thyatira, from the rise of the papacy to the reformation, 590-1517. The fifth, Sardis, the Protestant churches from the reformation to the rise of Methodism, 1517-1755. The sixth, Philadelphia, the missionary period, 1755, to somewhere near the present time. The seventh, Laodicea, from the present time to the Second
COMING OF CHRIST.
“Nicolaitanes” (Revelation 2:6-15) has been taken to mean an early heretical sect by that name, but the application is doubtful. The word comes from nikao, “to conquer,” and laos, “the people” or “the laity,” and may refer to the earliest notion of a priestly order of the “clergy,” separating the equal priesthood of all believers into a few who were “priests,” and the great majority who were not. In the earlier period represented by the epistle to Ephesus it was only “the deeds of the Nicolaitanes’ which were referred to, but in the later period represented by Pergamos, the “deeds” had developed into a “doctrine.” “The doctrine of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14; 2 Peter 2:5; Judges 1:11), was his “teaching Balak to corrupt the people who could not be cursed” (Numbers 20:5; Numbers 23:8; Numbers 31:15-16), by tempting them to defile themselves by marrying the heathen, and represents the union of the church with the world which is spiritual adultery. “Satan’s seat” is in the world (Revelation 2:13, compare, with John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11). “That woman Jezebel” (Revelation 2:20) brought idolatry into Israel, and suggests Romanism with its pagan ceremonies. “Sardis” stands for the Reformation period or Protestantism which grew out of it, in the sense that it is so largely profession without life. “Philadelphia” is the true church within the professing church, whose history overlaps that of Laodicea, or rather runs parallel with it for a while.
Little space is left to speak of the structure of the epistles, but quoting Archbishop Trench, it will be seen that there are certain forms fundamental to all of them: (1) an order to write, (2) a glorious title of the speaker, (3) an address to the church, (4) a command to hear, and (5) a promise to the faithful. It is further interesting that the title of the speaker, Christ, has in every instance two main features. First, it is taken from the imagery of the preceding vision, and secondly, it always seems to harmonize with the state or condition of the church addressed.
1. What may the term “angel” mean in these epistles?
2. In what sense are the epistles to be regarded as prophetical?
3. Have you referred to Matthew 13?
4. How usually have been divided the seven periods in the history of the church?
5. Give the interpretation of “Nicolaitanism,” “Balaamism,” and “Jezebelism.”
6. Which two epistles find a realization in the present church period?
7. Describe the literary form of the epistles.