THE message to the seven churches covers a period in ecclesiastical history, extending from the time of Christ's first advent to His second coming. To John, Christ appeared walking in the midst of the churches, -- the candlesticks; and it is a most beautiful truth that the Divine Presence has never been withdrawn from the earth. One of the last promises made by Christ to His disciples was, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world," and it matters not how torn or scattered His people may have been, that promise, reverberating from age to age, has been the comfort and solace of each individual Christian, and of the church as a body. Heaven looks upon the earth as one vast mission field, and the church is a beacon light in the midst of darkness. The incarnation of Christ drew the sympathies of all the universe earthward, and "the whole creation groaneth," waiting for our adoption. Christ, attended by the host of heaven -- His ministering spirits - -is always found in the midst of the church, and he that toucheth the church, toucheth the apple of the eye of Christ.
The first message which John was bidden to deliver was to the church of Ephesus. There were other churches in Asia Minor, but there were reasons why Ephesus was first addressed, and why it should be taken to represent the church in general during the first years of its existence. The word "Ephesus" means "first," or "desirable." In the first century, Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor, and the center of trade from both the east and the west. It was strongly under Greek influence, and in position, corresponded to Corinth in Greece, and Alexandria in Egypt. It has been called the "rallying place of paganism," and was a stronghold of the recognized religion and the popular education of the world, when, soon after the death of the Saviour, it was first visited by the apostles. It may well be taken to symbolize that period of ecclesiastical history when the Gospel in its purity met, in open conflict, the darkest forms of pagan worship. Side by side with the Greeks, dwelt Jews, men who ought to have held aloft the worship of Jehovah, but who had lost the Spirit by mingling with the idol worshipers. It was into this city, restless and turbulent and easily wrought upon, that Paul, as a missionary, went to preach of a risen Saviour. He met with difficulties. Opposed on one side by science, falsely so called, and on the other side by a religion which had the form of godliness, but which had lost the power thereof, Paul offered the crucified Son of God.
Miracles attended his preaching. In the synagogue of the Jews, he reasoned three months concerning "the kingdom of God;" and when men hardened their hearts against the Word, he entered the school of Tyrannus, where he taught for two years with such power that the Word of the Lord Jesus went abroad throughout all Asia, among both Jews and Greeks. The Greeks were scholars, and exalted the power of intellectual culture. Paul, as a Christian missionary, first taught in the synagogue, then in the schools, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ was offered in place of the philosophy of Plato, whom the Greeks deified. Said he, "The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." So powerful was this teaching of the apostle that many who owned books of sorcery, or magic, which passed for wisdom in the eyes of the world, brought their books and burned them before all men.
Students from this school of Tyrannus became earnest workers in Asia Minor, and through them the Gospel was made known. Not only was the learning of the Greeks, who were the intellectual lights of the world, opposed by Paul and his disciples, but the trades were affected; so much so that there was an uprising of the people, who with one voice cried, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Diana, the patron goddess of Ephesus, was a personification of fecundity. In this city, Christianity -- the power of God unto salvation -- came in open and bitter conflict with the false religion and the false education of the world.
He who walked among the churches, watched the lighting of the torch of truth in Ephesus, and so the first words addressed to the church are, "I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience." Those, who, on the day of Pentecost, received the baptism of the Spirit, and those who heard the Gospel from their lips, were filled with a burning desire to spread the news of a Saviour. They were married unto Christ, and in the ardor of their first love, the converts sought for their friends and relatives, pleading with them to forsake evil and to accept salvation. There was no work too arduous, no journey too difficult, to be undertaken for Him whom they loved.
It can be seen that the power of God and the power of evil were in each other's grasp. By the side of pagan temples, were erected Christian churches; Christian schools sprang up in the very shadow of the Greek institutions of learning. In spite of the power of the enemy, the spread of truth was rapid, so rapid, indeed, that paganism trembled for its life.
Among the converts to the new doctrine, were some who were convinced of the truth, but who failed to experience the change of heart which comes with the new birth. There were others, who, for policy's sake sought fellowship with the Christians; but as long as the church maintained a close connection with God, a clear and distinct line separated believers from impostors. "Thou had tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars."
The power which attended even the common converts, and their ready spirit of discernment, is seen in the case of Priscilla and Aquila, when Apollos, who received the Gospel, or at least a part of it, in Alexandria, came to Ephesus. Apollos was fervent in the Spirit, and taught with power; for he was an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures; but he knew only of the baptism of John. When he preached in the hearing of those with whom Paul abode in Corinth, and who had studied with the great Apostle, Aquila and Priscilla detected his ignorance of the outpouring of the Spirit, and the eloquent man received instruction from those who had recently come into the truth.
One can, in imagination, picture the sacrifice which seems necessary on the part of those who accepted Christ in this central stronghold of paganism. Light and darkness met fact to face, and paganism made a desperate struggle for existence. It is for these reasons, that the first message, addressed to Ephesus, is applicable to the first era of the Christian religion. Into the darkness of the worst forms of heathenism, the religion and culture of the Greeks, backed by the government of Rome, -- Christianity walked as a spotless virgin clothed in white. By preaching and by teaching, two methods which are divinely ordained for the spread of the truth, Paul and his fellow laborers raised up a church at Ephesus.
John had known of the work at this place; for he, as a pillar in the Jerusalem church, was acquainted with the progress of the light as it spread from that center, and from Patmos his heart turned to the believers on the mainland. The angel said, "Unto the church of Ephesus write: 'I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.'"
The message is sent by the One who in heaven "holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." God Himself had watched each soul as it had separated from the world and linked itself with Christ. The power of Christ Himself attended the spread of the Gospel in those early days; for it was carried by men who had received of the Pentecostal showers.
Christianity was a strange power as viewed by the heathen, for there were no idols, no outward forms, only a spiritual worship which they could not comprehend. The kingdom of Christ was invading the realm of the enemy, and there were no weapons which could attack it. In the space of thirty years, the Gospel went to every creature under heaven. Rich and poor alike heard the glad tidings of the Desire of all Nations, who had been born in Judea.
Caesar ruled with unlimited power at Rome. No hand was raised against the throne; and yet Christianity crept within those palace walls, and Paul preached to some of Nero's household. This growth is recognized in the message. Thou "hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted." This was the experience of the first century of the Christian religion. The power by which it grew was that of love, -- the first love, which in its ardor knew no bounds. It was the love of which Paul writes when he says that "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Christ watched over the believers with the joy of a bridegroom, and they in return gave Him their heart's devotion.
There were many among the pagans who listening to Paul, were convinced of the truth in their minds, but retained their Greek manner of reasoning. Indeed, they applied to the Scriptures the same interpretation which they had formerly placed upon their own Greek writings. These converted Greek philosophers stood side by side with the simple Gospel teachers, and in trying to refute paganism by argument, Christianity was in danger of weakening. The shadow of the enemy was falling upon the church. God called after these first believers, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place."
The Nicolaitanes, referred to in verse six, are said by Mosheim to have been a branch of the Gnostics, a sect living in Asia, who denied the divinity of Christ, and "boasted of their being able to restore to mankind the knowledge of the true and Supreme Being."
Their belief concerning the creation of the world, conflicted with the writings of Moses, and led to a denial of the divine authority of the Old Testament. Still other beliefs, contrary to the teachings of Christ, the result of a mixture of Greek and Oriental philosophy, led to practices which the church of Christ could not tolerate. He does not say they hated the presence of the Nicolaitanes, and could not endure them; but that they hated their deeds, "which I also hate." This church was in a position where they could hate the sin, and not the sinner, where they could have patience, and labor long for the erring, and love them; while they hated the deeds that separated them from the Lord. The Lord closes with a message to every one: "He that hath an ear let him hear." The message comes to all ages in all time, to every one who receives the gift of hearing. It is the Spirit of God speaking to the church. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." Adam was overcome by Satan, and thus lost his right to the tree of life; but to every son of Adam the message comes, "I give to eat of the tree of life." It is the privilege of every child of God to claim the victory, and to overcome every attack of the enemy through the strength given by Christ. To the tree of life, the faithful are promised access, in contradistinction to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life was transplanted from the garden of Eden to heaven, but its boughs hang over the wall for all who will reach upward for its fruit.
As the experience of the church is applicable to each denomination, to each organization, and to each individual, so to the end of time, Christians will be placed in positions where they must choose between the wisdom of God, and the philosophy of the world, -- wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good fruits; and the philosophy which, if adhered to, brings loss of light, and eventually death.
Smyrna, the second church addressed, was only about fifty miles from Ephesus, and doubtless knew of the conditions at the central church of Asia Minor; but as it was not a great trade center, many of the perplexities with which Ephesus had to contend were not present in Smyrna.
Its members were poor, but still they worked earnestly for others. The wealth of Ephesus was one of the greatest drawbacks to the spirituality of that church; but Smyrna, though poor in worldly goods, was rich in the eyes of the Lord. Through false teachers, claiming to be the children of God, persecution came to those who wished to follow the teachings of Christ. the true Jew is an heir by faith of the inheritance promised to Abraham, but many pride themselves on the inheritance of the flesh. Such belong to the synagogue of Satan; for righteousness by works is the devil's counterfeit of the Lord's plan of salvation through faith alone in the merits of the Son of God. The words written by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, who had this same false teaching to meet, makes clear the difference between those who are children of promise and those who are Jews in name only. Paul illustrates the truth by repeating the life experience of Abraham. Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the Egyptian bondwoman, represents in allegory, those who hope to obtain righteousness by their own efforts. Such are the Jews against whom the church at Smyrna was warned. Isaac, the son of Sarah and Abraham, was the child of promise, and represents those who accept Christ by faith. "But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now." So to the Smyrna church God said, "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
The message was signed by Him "which was dead, and is alive." Christ's sacrifice of life and His victory over death, was pointed to by Gabriel as a special lesson and source of encouragement to those followers who would be called to pass through the fire of persecution. By faith the martyrs could see the crown of eternal life held out to them by the Son of God.
The message came to Smyrna, a church in Asia Minor, and likewise to the Christian church as a whole, during the second and third centuries. It was a time when paganism was making its final stand for supremacy in the world. Christianity had spread with wonderful rapidity, until it was known throughout the world. Some embraced the faith of Christ because of heart conversion, others, because of the might of argument brought to bear, and still others, because they could see that the cause of paganism was waning, and policy led them to the side that promised to be victorious. These conditions weakened the spirituality of the church. The Spirit of Prophecy, which characterized the apostolic church, was gradually lost. This is a gift which brings the church to which it is entrusted, into the unity of the faith. When there were no longer true prophets, false teachings spread rapidly; the philosophy of the Greeks led to a false interpretation of the Scriptures, and the self-righteousness of the ancient Pharisees, so often condemned by Christ, again appeared in the midst of the church.
The foundation was laid during the two centuries preceding the reign of Constance for those evils which were fully developed during the two centuries following. During this period, martyrdom became popular in many parts of the Roman Empire. Strange as this may seem, it is none the less true. It was the result of the relationship existing between Christians and pagans.
In the Roman world the religion of all nations was respected, but the Christians were not a nation, they were but a sect of a despised race. When they therefore persisted in denouncing the religion of all classes of men, when they held secret meetings, and separated themselves entirely from the customs and practices of their nearest relatives and most intimate friends, they became objects of suspicion, and often of persecution, by the pagan authorities. Often they brought persecution upon themselves, when there was no spirit of opposition in the minds of the rulers. In illustration of this spirit, history gives the details of the execution of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. When his sentence was read, a general cry arose from the listening multitude of Christians, who said, "We will die with him."
The spirit with which many professed Christians accepted death, and even needlessly provoked the enmity of the government, probably had much to do with the passage, in 303, A.D., of the edict of persecution, by the emperor Diocletian, and his assistant, Galerius.
The edict was universal in its spirit, and was enforced with more or less strenuousness for ten years.
Many Christians suffered death. The sacrifice of a child of God opens afresh the wound made in the Father's heart when Christ was slain. The death of Christ was a sign of separation from sin, on the part of him who accepted the sacrifice. Like the smoke from the altar of incense in the sanctuary service, a life given for the Saviour becomes a sweet savor in the sight of Jehovah. Smyrna means "myrrh” or "sweet scent." This name is applied to those who willingly offered their lives for their faith. The mercy of God is shown in this message in a most wonderful way; for although some doubtless suffered needlessly, and brought persecution upon themselves, yet God does not condemn them for mistaken zeal. This is a message that contains no reproof, and it would seem that the tenderness of our Father causes Him to lose sight of the fact that death was sought; because He sees the earnestness in the heart of the one who offers his life. It is the same in individual experience. The over-zealous ofttimes suffer when there is no need of suffering, and yet God reads the motive of the heart, and measures out the reward in accordance with what He finds there. Fellowmen may criticize and condemn, but God accepts any sacrifice made in His name; and He says to such a follower as He did to King David, "Thou didst well that it was in thine heart."
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;" "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." The second death is the only death that the people of God need to fear. Satan may bring physical death to the faithful followers of Christ, but they will be shielded from the second death. God's people will rejoice in life everlasting; while the decree of the second death will be passed upon Satan and his emissaries. the Smyrna church immediately followed the time of Christ and His disciples, and was often referred to prophetically in their teachings.
The condition of Christianity for two or more centuries following the accession of Constantine the Great, to the Roman throne may be learned from the message delivered to the church of Pergamos. The ten years’ persecution, which took place during the reign of Diocletian, failed to accomplish the design of its instigator, and a wonderful reaction followed. Constantine, wishing to gain favor above the very men who were foremost in the opposition to Christianity, espoused the cause of that despised sect, and through him, Christianity was raised to the throne of Rome.
Pergamos means "exaltation,” or "elevation," and it was when nominal Christianity became popular, and swayed the civil government, that the two-edged sword of the Word was necessary to separate between the true and the false. Naturally the number of converts increased rapidly, and church buildings multiplied. Officers in the church, under favor of the government, spread themselves like the green bay tree. The doctrine of Him who said, "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant," was reversed, and the papal hierarchy grew apace. This was peculiarly true of the Roman See. Other dioceses attempted the same exaltation. Constantinople, Jerusalem, Ephesus and Alexandria, -- all contended for supremacy, but Rome, the seat of the dragon, was finally the acknowledged head of the Christian church. God watched the church as it trod this dangerous path to worldly exaltation, and to Pergamos He sent this message: "I have a few things against thee, because thou has there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication."
During the period of ecclesiastical history, when the message to Pergamos is applicable, the church was guilty of idolatry and fornication. Lest Christians should misunderstand the application, and be led to deny the charge, the Spirit of God cites them to the experience of Balaam with Balac, the king of the Moabites, at a time when Israel was about to enter the promised land. The following quoted paragraphs throw light on the work of Balaam in teaching Balac to cast a stumbling-block before Israel:
"Balaam was once a good man and a prophet of God; but he had apostatized, and had given himself up to covetousness; yet he still professed to be a servant of the Most High. He was not ignorant of God's work in behalf of Israel; and when the messengers (from Balac) announced their errand, he well knew that it was his duty to refuse the reward of Balac, and to dismiss the ambassadors. But he ventured to dally with temptation, and urged the messengers to tarry with him that night, declaring that he could give no decided answer till he had asked counsel of the Lord. Balaam knew that his curse could not harm Israel. ... The bribe of costly gifts and prospective exaltation excited his covetousness. He greedily accepted the offered treasures, and did not change his course when met by the angel. While professing strict obedience to the will of God, he tried to comply with the desire of Balac."
If in reading this paragraph the word "Balaam" is replaced by the "Church," in the fourth and fifth centuries, and for "Balac" is read "Constantine," or "the Roman Emperor," the exact history of the church is portrayed. The church had known God, but it became covetous; while it still professed allegiance to the Most High. The church, tempted by the rich offers of the government, parlied with its ambassadors and refused to declare the statutes of Jehovah, and remain a separate and peculiar people.
The union of Church and State was formed in order to obtain the privileges and protection of the civil power.
The following paragraph, read in the same way, gives the second step in the transaction, when Church and State joined hands:
"Disappointed in his hopes of wealth and promotion, in disfavor with the king, and conscious that he had incurred the displeasure of God, Balaam returned to his self-chosen mission. After he had reached home, the controlling power of the Spirit of God left him, and his covetousness, which had been merely held in check, prevailed. He was willing to resort to any means to gain the reward promised by Balac. ... He immediately returned to the land of Moab, and laid his plans before the king. ... The plan proposed by Balaam was to separate them (Israel, the church) from God by enticing them into idolatry. ... This plan was readily accepted by the king, and Balaam himself remained to assist in carrying it into effect. Balaam witnessed the success of his diabolical scheme."
The scheme was that Israel should be invited to a feast of the Moabites, where meats sacrificed to the heathen gods, were eaten, and that Israel should be caused to commit adultery with the inhabitants of Moab.
The church between 312 and 538 A.D. joined hands with the civil power. It took of the wealth of the State, and asked for civil protection. Then it was that the spiritual sins of idolatry and fornication were introduced. Idolatry was the love of money, the world, and all false worship which took the place of the worship of Jehovah. It is fornication in the eyes of God when His people are wedded to any power save the arm of Omnipotence.
If ancient Israel had remained true to the teachings of their leader, the temptations of the Moabites would have fallen on deaf ears. The same is true of the church to which all this history is sent as an allegory. The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, as described under the church of Ephesus, was a mingling of the pure teachings of Christ with the philosophy of the Greeks. If this doctrine had not been accepted in the church which claimed to be following the Saviour; if the children and the young people had been fed on truth instead of the mixture of good and evil, as represented by the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, the church would never have fallen. The message to Pergamos applies in the fourth and fifth centuries; it has also been the experience of each separate Protestant denomination, and it is a warning to all churches to the end of time. Any interpretation of this period that does not correspond with the history of Balaam is not according to the mind of the Lord, for God has given Balaam's history as a test by which we may know the true interpretation.
"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth," which is the two-edged sword. From the midst of the church, which fell because of its union with the State, God separated, by His Spirit, a little company whose history may be read in a part of the message sent to the church of Thyatira.
God calls to each church, no matter how low the ebb of spirituality, and those who have an ear turned heavenward, hear. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." As the sins of the church of Pergamos are given in the form of a parable, so the blessings to the repentant ones of this period are offered in figure. Those who had in sin partaken of food offered to idols, are offered in exchange the "hidden manna." Manna is the bread of heaven, and as it was the only food necessary to nourish the multitudes of Israel during their forty years' journey, it became a fit emblem of Christ, the bread sent down to the world. Eating flesh sacrificed to idols brings death, but hidden manna brings life. "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." A union of Church and State crushes the spiritual life of any church. Why will men eat the food of idolatry when the bread of heaven is free to all?
Why do Christians in the education of their children, cultivate in them an appetite for "food sacrificed to idols," instead of spreading the table with manna which will give life to the soul?
The lesson for the church as a whole is total separation from the civil power. The lesson to the home and to the individual is complete separation from the world. Cling to God; for He has the hidden manna. Feed the children on hidden manna; for it is well adapted to supply every need.
God is teaching in these words a wonderful lesson on the laws of physical growth by simplicity of food; of mental growth by purity of food, -- food unadulterated with heathen teachings, -- and a spiritual lesson of marriage with the Lamb, instead of with the dragon.
The keen heart searching of the Spirit, represented by the sword with the double edge, is shown in the second reward which is offered the repentant soul. To him is given a white stone, and in the stone a new name, which is known only to the one who receives it. As Zerubbabel was called a signet, or stone of sealing, represented as worn upon the hand of the Lord, so is each one who chooses to follow Christ in preference to the world. The stone is white, of dazzling purity. There are seen in it none of the tints which are admired by human eyes, but it is a stone free from all signs of impurity, and on it is impressed, by the power of God, the name which is known only to the individual and his Redeemer. Others may pronounce that name, it is true, but its significance is a secret between Christ and the individual. The one who receives it has been guilty of idolatry and fornication, and none other save his Lord can know the soul experience which brought the new name. Once it was Jacob, supplanter. None but the bearer knew how applicable was the name. Every time it was pronounced by friend or foe, it was an open rebuked from God. and when at the close of the night of wrestling, the angel said, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel" -- a prince of God, -- none but Israel knew the depth of meaning in that new name.
When the Jewish nation lived near to God, and the voice of Jehovah could be heard, every child was named under the direction of the Spirit. Today heaven has a new name carved on a pure white stone for each sinner who repents, and the deeper the crimson dye of sin, the purer the stone will appear by contrast. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile."
The message to Pergamos carries ecclesiastical history to the year 538 A.D., at which time the union between civil and ecclesiastical power, begun in the days of Constantine, was consummated. During the period covered by Pergamos, the Spirit of the Lord was with the church as a church; but near the end of that period, a separation began to take place.
In the years following, there was formed an organization still carrying the name of Christian; and another company, separating from that first organization, because of the practices of Balaam, -- the idolatry and fornication practiced by those who were once Christians indeed. Thus improper education was the cause of the apostasy of the church, and the one sign of its fall was that, in its spiritual weakness, it sought the civil power for support.
It is under these conditions that the message comes to the church of Thyatira. It is sent by "the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass." Christ still walks among the candlesticks, but to Thyatira He comes with "eyes like unto a flame of fire" to search the very hearts of those who profess to be His followers. To these He says, "I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works." This was not an idle period; their works are thrice mentioned in the one list. Those who established a state religion, replacing paganism by the papacy, were most diligent workers. The church absorbed every government, every industry, all the educational institutions, -- everything. There was not a corner of Europe which was not under the direct inspection of that allabsorbing organization known as the papacy. Not only kings on their thrones, but every private individual in his own home, was amenable to the power of Rome. The church stood between the king and his subjects; it stood between parents and children; it came even between husband and wife.
The secrets of men's hearts were open to the confessor. Works, works of all kinds were advocated; for the church taught that men were saved by works. Long pilgrimages across continents paid many a debt of sin. Penance and indulgences took bread from many a hungry mouth. the strongest government that ever bore sway was seated on the throne. Nevertheless the masses thought that in their works for the church, their service, their charities and their faith, they served the Christ. "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which called herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols." The sins imputed to the church of Pergamos are repeated in the message to Thyatira, but they are introduced by a different character. The woman Jezebel is taken as an object lesson.
Jezebel was a Zidonian princess, a prophetess of the god Baal. Unlike Balaam, who before his fall worshiped the true God, Jezebel never made any pretensions of worshiping the Lord. Ahab, the king of Israel, married her for the sake of her influence, but found himself completely under the control of a headstrong, wicked woman. At her table, in the kingdom of Israel, sat the prophets of Baal. In the capital were erected temples, groves, and altars, to the heathen god; sun-worship took the place of the worship of Jehovah. The prophets of God were put to death by order of the queen; even Elijah fled before her face.
She was a propagator of whoredom and witchcraft, and in the name of the king, she wrote a letter causing innocent men to be put to death. Israel had war, bloodshed, and finally captivity, as the result of the evil of this woman. It was during her lifetime that the heavens were stayed so that it rained not for three years and a half. The history of Jezebel is an unerring guide to the interpretation of the prophetic history of the church during the Dark Ages.
In every detail, even to this last period of years, the history of Jezebel is a parable of the church history during the time, times, and half a time -- the three and one half years of the papal supremacy, the period covered by the message to Thyatira. As a result of the doctrine of justification by works, which was the stronghold of the church during this period, Europe had over a thousand years of darkness, known in all history as the Dark Ages. It was a tyranny of the most absolute kind, -- a tyranny of theology over thought. Whosoever raised a hand against the church, fell as did Naboth whom Jezebel slew. Sorcery, witchcraft, idolatry, and fornication took the place of the religion of Jesus Christ. Antichrist, or the "mystery of iniquity," had full control of the world. As Jezebel wrote in the king's name, and in his name slew an innocent man, so the apostate church opposed and exalted itself above the King of heaven, and while speaking in His name, it changed the law of Jehovah, and put to death thousands who were, indeed, followers of Christ.
Jezebel had an opportunity to repent, so also had Ahab her husband; for there were many prophets in Israel, and the truth of God was taught; but the royal family were so under the control of the mother that there was no salvation for them. So God said of Thyatira, or the church of the Dark Ages, "I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not." But as there was a day of recompense with Jezebel, so there will be with the oppressive power of the papacy. Jezebel was thrown from a window and dashed to pieces, and dogs ate her body. Ahab was slain, and dogs licked up his blood, and his sons also killed. Of the "mystery of iniquity" it is recorded, "Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works."
Herein is given the final destruction of the apostate church. The civil power of the papacy was broken in 1798, when Pope Pius VI was taken prisoner by the French; but the influence continues. Thyatira is Babylon itself, and the churches spoken of elsewhere as "daughters of Babylon," will meet with the fate of the mother, Thyatira; for when the history of all churches is over, Babylon and her daughters will be destroyed in the lake of fire. The time of trouble spoken of by Daniel, the prophet (Dan. 12:1), will be the time of tribulation for Thyatira. Of this the dreadful death of Jezebel is a symbol; as her life and deeds are taken to typify the church itself.
Mention has already been made of a separation from the church as a church in the days of Pergamos and the early days of Thyatira. Individuals, who recognized the leadings of the Spirit, gathered in little companies, hidden away in the caves, mountain fortresses, and dens, like the prophets of God in the days of Jezebel. In these secluded spots were thousands who did not bow the knee to Baal. Among these were the Waldenses of Italy, and others scattered all through Europe, who retained the Word of God, and trusted in His promises. Of these scattered, yet faithful ones, the message speaks in the following words: "But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine (of Jezebel), and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden."
The name Thyatira means "sacrifice of contrition," and appears to have direct application to those, who, in the eyes of their persecutors and the world, were looked upon as heretics and outlaws -- fit subjects for the stake.
Their sacrifice was in truth a "sacrifice of contrition. “The contrite heart is the heart which God honors. As the ages passed, much of the light and truth which shone upon the Apostolic Church had been lost; but the Saviour does not rebuke the ones who were sacrificing for the truth which they knew and lived out, because they did not have the light of the first centuries.
Justification by faith was the doctrine which broke the power of the papacy. Christ and Him crucified, a truth so long forgotten, or replaced by faith in the head of the church, was given to the people of the world in the sixteenth century. Many other truths, long hidden by the darkness, or buried under the traditions of the church, were brought forward in the early days of the Reformation. The Sabbath of the Decalogue was acknowledged; some preached upon the true meaning of baptism, and others made known the proper relation of the church to the state; but these subjects were too strong for minds so long held in subjection. The age was not ripe for the fullness of truth. But as watchmen of the night hail the dawn when the morning star arise, so the early Reformers, from Wycliffe to Luther and his contemporaries, opened the Scriptures, and the first rays of light brought joy and gladness to those who sat in darkness. The very ones who saw the darkness break before the light of God's Word, saw also the sign of the coming of the Son of man, which was hung in the heavens.
In 1870 the sun was darkened. This was the first of a series of celestial signs (see chapter VII., Sixth Seal), and it was given to encourage those who had been oppressed.
Christ says, "I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come." How merciful is our God. He measures out to humanity its burdens of life, and no burden is made heavier than can be borne. "Only hold fast till I come," are His words of encouragement. To others, more accustomed to the light, greater truths would be made known.
To the little companies thus addressed, was given the privilege of holding up the torch of truth. As a beacon on a hill, seen from afar, the light shone from the valleys of the Piedmont. Many came in contact with this light, and soon fires were kindled throughout Europe. "He that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations." Truth was bound to triumph, though trampled to the ground for over a thousand years. At last the faithful ones will reign as kings. The hand of the oppressor will be broken to pieces, as a potter's vessel. There was a time when the clay was soft and yielding, when it could have been remolded; but as the fires of persecution kindled, those who remained hardened in sin became so set that any attempt to change them resulted in breaking them to pieces.
"I will give him the morning star." Christ is the light, and the faithful ones at the close of the years of persecution were told to lift up their heads, for their "redemption draweth nigh." This is the first church which is pointed forward to the second coming of Christ. The message to Thyatira is in harmony with the Psalmist's words, "My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning; I say, more than they that watch for the morning."
It should be remembered that, as the experiences of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos, will be repeated in the last church before the second coming of Christ, so the history of Thyatira will have its counterpart in the last generation. The power of Jezebel will again be felt. What was once done by a church in days of intellectual darkness will be repeated in days of great light. The union of the church and state will be followed by laws compelling obedience to man-made laws, instead of the laws of God. The law of God will be trampled under foot; for a church with civil power always works the works of Jezebel. Just as Elijah fled before ancient Jezebel, so those proclaiming the last warning message, of which Elijah was a type, will be persecuted by this power. This message is impressed upon the minds of those living in the latter days by the oft-repeated words, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Page 39; Rev. 22:20; Rev. 1:19; Rev. 1:13; Ruth 4:4; Heb. 13:5; John 15:26; Matt. 28:20; Hosea 14:4; Isa: 41:10; Matt. 5:13-17; Luke 2:13.
Page 40; Rom. 8:22; Prov. 8:29-31; Zech. 2:8; Psa. 17:8; Deut. 32:10; Rev. 2:1; 1Cor. 15:33; Matt. 10:16; 1Tim. 1:1-7; 1Tim. 6:20, 21.
Page 41; Acts 19:11; Acts 19:8-10; Acts 17:16-21; 2Cor. 10:5; Acts 19:18-20.
Page 42; Acts 18:4-6; Acts 19:24-28; Dan. 2:10-19; Rev. 2:1, 2; Rev. 2:3; Acts 5:41, 42; Acts 8:4; Acts 11:24, 25; Acts 13:2-5.
Page 43; Acts 13:8-11; Acts 16:16-18; Acts 8:18-24; 2Tim. 1:15; Titus 1:1316; 1Tim. 1:20; 2Tim. 2:17, 18; Rev. 2:2; Acts 18:24-26; Prov. 8:34, 35; Luke 9:23; John 11:9, 10.
Page 44; Micah 5:8; Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15-18; Rev. 6:2; Acts 19:1-7, 9, 10; Psa. 92:13; Gal. 2:9; Acts 19:10; Psa. 84:10; Rev. 2:2; Acts 5:1-11; Rom. 5:3-5; Isa. 42:8.
Page 45; 2Cor. 6:17; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 5:1-11; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 9:16; Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 4:12; John 4:24; 2Cor. 13:8; Rom. 1:5, 8; Rom. 16:19; Col. 1:6, 23; Prov. 22:2; Luke 3:1.
Page 46; Phil. 1:13 [margin.]; Phil. 4:22; Jas. 1:12; Sol. Songs 8:6; Zeph. 3:17; Acts 17:34; Job 11:7-9; Rev. 2:4-6.
Page 47; Heb. 11:3; John 5:46, 47; 2Tim. 2:18; Rom. 5:8; 2Cor. 2:5-11; Acts 28:18-23; Rev. 2:7.
Page 48; Isa. 48:10, 11; Rev. 2:10.
Page 49; 1Tim. 6:8-11; Luke 21:12-17; Titus 1:9-11; Rom. 2:28, 29; Rom. 9:31; Rom. 4:3-7; Jas. 2:14-26; Gal. 3:8-10, 26-29; Gal. 4:22-31; Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:23; Gal. 4:29.
Page 50; Rev. 2:8; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Rev. 1:18; 1Pet. 4:12, 13; 1Pet. 1:5-9; Acts 20:28, 29; 2Thess. 2:2-7; Rev. 2:9; Dan. 11:34; Zech. 3:6, 7; Lam. 2:9.
Page 51; Eph. 4:11-16; Gal. 2:11, 12; 2Pet. 3:16, 17; Titus 1:9-13; 2Tim. 2:19, 20; Phil. 1:12-19; Acts 17:22; 1John 2:15; 1Pet. 1:14; Mark 13:12, 13; Psa. 31:11-13.
Page 52; Heb. 11:35-38; Rev. 13:7; Rev. 2:10; Psa. 72:14; Phil. 4:18 Psa. 144:15.
Page 53; Mark 10:28-30; 2Chron. 6:8; Rev. 2:11; Heb. 2:14; Prov. 19:21; Psa. 107:11, 12; 2Chron. 16:9; Heb. 11:15, 16.
Page 54; Rev. 2:12; 1Sam. 15:22; Rev. 2:13; Rev. 13:2; Matt. 18:6; 1Cor. 5:16; Num. 31:16; Num. 25:1-5; Num. 22:15-22; Rev. 2:14.
Page 55; Josh. 13:22; Jude 11; Num. 22:15-21; Eze. 14:7; Eccl. 1:9, 10; Matt. 15:8.
Page 56; Isa. 30:9; Jas. 4:4; Num. 23:11; Num. 24:10, 11.
Page 57; 2Pet. 2:20, 21; Matt. 12:43-46; Num. 31:16; Num. 25:1-3; 2Pet. 2:14, 15; Mic. 6:5; Rev. 17:2-5; Rev. 18:2, 3;
Page 58; 1Tim. 6:10; Isa. 48:18; Psa. 119:11; Rev. 2:15; Num. 23:1-6, 14-17, 29, 30; Matt. 6:25; Jer. 7:17-19; Deut. 4:23-28; Eccl. 3:15; Heb. 4:12.
Page 59; Rev. 2:16; Deut. 13:6-11; Isa. 17:6; Deut. 7;7; Luke 12:32; Isa. 1:18; Isa. 43:26; Ex. 16:32, 33; Rev. 19:12; Rev. 2:17; John 6:31; John 6:51.
Page 60; Isa. 52:11, 12; Jer. 50:8; Jer. 51:6, 45; 2Cor. 6:14-18; 2Tim. 3:15, 16; Zech. 9:17 [margin.]; Judges 5:15, 16 [margin.]; Eph. 6:17; Rev. 2:17; Hag. 2:23; Sol. Songs 8:6; Mal. 3:17; 2Cor. 3:18; Sol. Songs 2:14; Matt. 11:27; 1Pet. 3:4; 1Cor. 6:18-20; Gen. 32:24-29; Hos. 12:4.
Page 61; Gen. 23:28; Gen. 16:11; Matt. 1:21; Ex. 2:10; Rom. 5:20; Isa. 1:18; Rom. 4:7, 8; Hos. 8:8; Hos. 13:12.
Page 62; Deut. 32:32-34; Hos. 13:9; Isa. 4:1; Eph. 2:3, 4; Heb. 10:26, 27; Jas. 4:4; Rev. 2:18; Rev. 2:19; Rom. 3:15; Matt. 23:15; Rev. 13:3; Rev. 18:9-11; Rev. 13:8; 1Pet. 5:8; Rom. 3:20, 28.
Page 63; Rev. 2:19; Dan. 2:40; Acts 22:19, 20; Gal. 1:13; Rev. 2:20; 1Kings 16:31-33.
Page 64; Prov. 5:3-6; Prov. 7:21-27; 1Kings 18:19; 1Kings 18:4; 2Chron. 14:5 [margin.]; 1Kings 21:8-13; Jas. 5:17; 1Kings 17:1; Luke 4:25; 1Kings 21:23, 24; 2Kings 9:30-37; Jas. 2:14-26; 1John 5:4; Rom. 5:13-17; 1Kings 21:25, 26; Lam. 5:12; Dan. 7:21, 25; Rev. 13:7; Lam. 4:18, 18; Rev. 17:1-6; Rev. 16:13, 14; 2Thess. 2:4.
Page 65; Dan. 7:25; Rev. 2:21; 1Kings 18:17-39; 1Kings 21:23-29; 2Kings 9:7-10; Dan. 7:7-11; Rev. 2:21; Rev. 19:20; 2Kings 9:36; 2Kings 9:30-37; 1Kings 22:3739; 2Kings 10:1-7; Rev. 2:22, 23.
Page 66; Rev. 13:10; Dan. 7:26; Rev. 17:5; Rev. 19:20; Dan. 12:1; Rev. 12:6, 14; 1Kings 18:4, 13; 1Kings 19:18; Micah 7:8, 9.
Page 67; Rev. 2:24; Nah. 1:12; Lam 3:45, 46; Acts 24:14; Heb. 11:38; Isa. 63:8; 1John 5:4; 1Cor. 2:2; Mark 7:8-13.
Page 68; Ex. 20:8-11; Rom. 6:3-5; Acts 8:38, 39; Matt. 3:15, 16; Matt. 22:21; Heb. 5:12, 13; Psa. 130:6; Dan. 11:33; Jer. 15:16; Psa. 119:130; Matt. 24:29; Luke 21:28; Rev. 2:25; Psa. 103:14; 1Cor. 10:13; Matt. 24:42; Prov. 4:18; Psa. 97:11; Matt. 5:14-16; Psa. 147:15; Luke 13:21; Psa. 2:8, 9.
Page 69; Rev. 2:26, 27; Jer. 18:1-4; Heb. 12:15-17; 1Pet. 4;12, 13; Rev. 2:28; John 8:12; Titus 2:13; Psa. 130:6; Eccl. 1:10; Dan. 7:21, 22; Rev. 13:15; Rev. 13:17; Rev. 17:3-6; Rev. 12:17; Rev. 2:29.