Judgment Begins with the House of God(e)
James R. Davis
The judgment of God and the victory of the saints are the two major themes of Revelation. The theme runs throughout the book. It is in Revelation that John reminds us that the judgment of God begins with the house of God. To each of the seven churches of Asia, Jesus says, "I know your works . . ." and then he gives the proper commendation or rebuke.
Peter wrote, as he was preparing Christians for the suffering ahead: "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." (1 Peter 4:16-19)
It seems the church today is being taken to the laundry by the godless. We could shorten and simplify the process if we would judge ourselves. But if we don't, God will.
"I believe God is withdrawing His hand of protection from the church in judgment, but the church hasn't realized it yet.In our pluralistic society, which is willing to tolerate any philosophy, except one that claims to be exclusive truth, there is a strong tendency to dilute the proclamation of Christ as the only way to God. This makes the message of Revelation especially relevant to the church's problems today. After each admonition to each of the seven churches John writes, " . . . Listen what the spirit says to the churches . . . (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22) Although a different message was given to each church, each message was also directed to all the churches in Asia Minor. This implies that each message is a message that applies to every congregation of God's people today. If we have any doubt about God's judgment of Christians, we need to fully understand these two chapters. They give us insight as to how God deals with churches today.
It's a well-known fact that there are as many divorces today within the church as outside it. The pleasures and values of most people in the church are not much different from other people's, either. The line that once distinguished Christians from nonChristians has become severely blurred. Why has God not judged . . . ?
When God described in Deuteronomy the judgments He would bring if Israel disobeyed Him, the scattering of families was His final judgment. Because of America's high divorce rate--both inside and outside the church--children are being torn away from their families and being torn apart emotionally. Yet the church seems to be mostly unaware that today's events may be part of God's judgment on the church in America.
The main problem is not so much secularism as it is the secularization of the church. "The salt is losing its savor," he says. The purity of the church has been compromised, and we've lost sight of the value of a pure church. Persecution always cleanses and purifies the church wherever it occurs, but we don't have to wait for persecution. We can repent now for violating God's Word, bringing the world's values into the church, and failing to obey God's voice."1
Of the seven churches discussed in Revelation, five needed renewal, and that was only 60 years into church history! To each church John writes, "He who has an ear, let him hear . . . John is asking them to stop, look and listen to what Jesus Christ is saying.
Judgment upon the Churches in Asia
Ephesus the hateful church. (2:1-7) In Acts 19 & 20 we see Ephesus' response to the truth. Paul warned the elders of the false teachers that would rise in their own ranks. He commended them to God and the Word of his grace would build them up and give them an inheritance among all the saints. (Acts 20:32) In the book of Ephesians we see the church in all its glory. Yet, by the end of the centruy the church had become so militant against false teachers that their own hearts had grown cold toward the truth of God's Word. Ther was probably an attitude of witch hunting among Christians. It is great that churches hate error, but when they lose their love for the lost something has gone wrong. It is great to hate the sin that nailed the reigning Christ to the cross, but we must retain our love for the one committing the sin. We are not out to get vengeance but to extend grace.
Today many faithful Christian teachers are endeavoring to move away from a cold callused way of proclaiming the Word of God. Too many times they are accused of not having any backbone for telling it the way it is. We fail to realize that it takes just as much backbone to take one position as it does another, whichever it is. But we need backbones that will bend over and touch the man dead in sin. It just has to be more flexible. A bridge builder told me that a bridge must be flexible or it would collapse and fall. A bridge must be designed to expand and contract with the heating and cooling of the atmosphere. It must also be flexible in high winds. The right kind of flexibility is a sign of strength not weakness. Especially if it is intent on bringing one to Jesus Christ the judge of all.
Congregations that lose their love for the lost must repent or else Christ will remove them from his presence. The amazing thing about this cold-hearted church is that Christ pleads with them to repent and do their first works. Christ even gave hateful dead cold churches the option of repentance. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." (2:7) They were encouraged to return to the first works. We can rest assured that if we listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us today through the Spirit breathed word, God will make us more than conquerors through the blessing he bestows. (2:1-7)
Smyrna the poor but devoted church. (2:8-11) The congregation in Smyrna was poor in this worlds goods but rich in their devotion to God. It is no wonder that Satan's agents in that city were attacking them more fiercely. They were winning their battle over difficult circumstances. Jesus only encourages them and finds no criticism for them.
The city of Smyrna had a strong movement toward emperor cult worship. A temple was built to the emperor Tiberius. Later Domitian pressed emperor worship as a sign of loyality to Rome. Smyrna was placed in the forefront of this cult movement. This brought extreme pressure upon the Christians who practiced monotheism. There was also a large Jewish population that posed a threat to the church. The persecution was about to increase.
Jesus indicates that they will be persecuted for a period of time. He promises them that if they continue to listen to what he has said, they would not be hurt with the second death. Remember it is Jesus who has the keys to Hades and death. They need not worry. Jesus will give the crown of life.
I know your afflictions and your poverty-- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Pergamos the persecuted church. (2:12-17) Pergamos was Hell's headquarters, Satan had set up his throne in this city. Pergamos was the center of emperor worship, a shrine for emperor worship was erected in this city. Jews were exempt from emperor worship because everyone knew they practiced monotheism. But this was not so with Christians and inevitable conflict was a reality. Since they were not Jews, they were expected to worship the emperor of Rome. Antipas had already been martyred therefore great persecution was at their doors. There were also false teachers in the church that were placing a stumbling block before God's children. They were eating food sacrificed to idols, which indicates that they were partaking in the fellowship feast with the idolatrous. We are not absolutely sure what the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans were but we know it was the work of Satan.
Jesus warned them that he would come in judgment against them with sword of his mouth. Jesus coming is not just a foreboding reality, but it is also a message of encouragement to those who were endeavoring to remain faithful as martyrs are falling around them. He leaves no doubt that he is able to handle the situation.
Jesus promises them that if they remain faithful he will feed them with manna. That is he would sustain them just as he sustained the Israelites who were fed manna for forty years. He also promises them that he would give them a white stone with a new name written on it. A white stone in that era was given to a man who had been tried and acquitted of a crime. It was given to a slave who had been set free to be a citizen. It was given to the winner of a race. It was given to a warrior returning home victorious in battle. The sacred promise of Jesus Christ was one calculated to increase efforts of loyalty.2
Jesus promises them the sweet taste of victory. But they must remain faithful.
Thyatira the home of Jezebel. (2:18-29) In Acts 16, we see that Lydia was a seller of purple from Thyatira. Paul converted her as she visited the city. She perhaps, is the lady who started the church in Thyatira.
When Jesus comes to this church, he comes with eyes like a flame of fire and feet of burnished brass. This indicates that he comes searching the minds and hearts, but he comes with stern judgment to crush those who do wrong. Christ commends them in that their last works are greater than their first works. But there is a wicked Jezebel among them who is leading others astray. They have been tolerating her as she has led others to idolatry and fornication. Jesus warns that he will come in judgment on her children, that is, on those who follow her.
The faithful among them were doing a great work, in spite of the work of Jezebel. They had retained their love, service, faith and patience in difficult times. Their last works were greater than their first. So Jesus makes them a promise. "Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-- 'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'-- just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 2:24-29)
Sardis a church that was a living corpse. (3:1-6) The church at Sardis had a name for being alive, but Christ told them they were dead. Christ told them that they needed to resurrected. They needed to repent and remember what they had received and heard. You have heard of people sleeping through church, they were dead. Preaching to this church would be like a fellow holding a sunrise service in a graveyard and no one shows up. He goes ahead and preaches to the dead. There were a few in this dead church that had not soiled their garments and to them he promised victory.
There was a lot of activity in the Church at Sardis. The organization was oiled and running smoothly. This would be the place you would want to go if you were looking for a church. But there was no real life. Have you ever noticed how well organized a graveyard is. Maybe it is like that because there is no one there with enough life to disorganize it. Maybe it was one of those churches that had no problems, because there was no one there that cared enough to cause a problem.
Richard Ganz and William Edgar in their book Sold Out! wrote, "Churches want to hear nice, optimistic messages, free of mention of sin or a call for repentance. Churches want nice, lean programs, directed at nice, clean families, leading to growth without sacrifice. They want their organization to become bigger and bigger, even as their God becomes smaller and smaller." 3
But there were a few names there that had remained faithful even in that dead church. It must be extremely hard to worship in a dead church. The songs and prayers don't get above the rafters but the faithful hang on and the Lord reminds them of his faithfulness.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.
Philadelphia the faithful church with an open door. (3:7-13) This was a weak church that was strong in faith. They had not denied Jesus Christ. Jesus sets before them an open door that no one could shut. It is a door of opportunity. He is going to make those who belong to the synagogue of Satan come and bow at their feet because they have kept his word. He only encourages them to hold fast so that no one can seize their crown. Hell itself will not prevail against them. Really that has been the promise to all the faithful in the churches thus far.
Jesus promised them that he would make them a pillar in the temple of God. Of all the churches of Asia, Philadelphia was the only one that survived through the centuries. It remained a column among the ruins. God and Christ engraved their names on them and they stood through the centuries.
Laodicea a church with closed doors. (3:14-22) Laodicea was a city of trade and commerce. This city was built at the intersection of three major roads. It was a city that was a great banking center where riches were gathered. They had gold and didn't need much of anything else. The church had adopted the same lifestyle. They were lukewarm. Jesus was on the outside knocking to get into this church. But when you are prosperous and need nothing, why get up and open the door. The city was rich, lethargic and complacent. Riches have a way of deadening many to the realities of life.
Laodicea was like many churches today that are not concerned about spirituality as long as the economy is fine. They are trusting in their bank accounts.
You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Faith involves total commitment on a personal level, choosing to value the Lord Jesus above any other person. In some ways persecution may be easier to handle than the materialism of our society that masks the issues. Persecuted Christians have a clearer understanding of what is at stake, since they often have to risk their personal liberties or even their lives for the sake of their faith. By comparison, we in the West have lost our first love. 4
The judgment on the seven churches of Asia remind us of Jesus' teaching concerning the judgment.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
1. Ed Lewis, The State of the Church Pulpit Helps, Mar 1995 (Vol 20, No 3). Pages 1-2 Via InfoSearch Database.
2. Ray Summers, Worthy Is The Lamb, Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. 1951. pg. 116.
3. Quoted in HELP for Christian Leaders, Wint, 1992
4. Ross Paterson, Lessons from the Suffering Church. Charisma & Christian Life, May 1991. Pages 92-99.