Series: Great Doctrines
Now, turn again to the first chapter of the Revelation. It had not been my thought to enter this book because we have it ahead of us. In our preaching through the Bible, it will not be too long until we come to the Book of the Revelation, the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God opened to John on the isle of Patmos[Revelation 1:1, 8].
But we are following for these few Sundays the mysteries in the Bible. There are two of them in the Revelation, and we’re going to take one of them. Last Sunday morning, we spoke of the seven mysteries of God that were revealed to the apostle Paul. And this morning we’re going to take one of them that is revealed to John, the sainted disciple of the Lord Jesus, here in the Apocalypse – the unveiling.
In Revelation 1:20, it says: “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks” or lampstands. Then it says those seven stars and those seven candlesticks, lampstands, represent the angels, the messengers, and the churches – seven of them in the Roman province of Asia. Now in the eleventh verse, it names those seven churches [Revelation 1:11]. Then in Revelation 2 and 3, there are the messages of the Spirit of God to each one of the seven churches in Asia.
Now to us, Asia is that great, vast continental expanse beginning at the islands this side of China and going clear through to the Soviet republics in Europe – all of that vast stretch. To us, that is Asia. And then we call Asia Minor that part of the country which is largely made up of Turkey and a few other adjacent territories.
Now, the name was applied to all of that continental expanse from this province of Asia in which these seven churches are selected. In the days of the apostle Paul, in the days of Jesus, in the days of John, in the days of the New Testament, Asia was the Roman province that comprised the large part of the western part of what we call Asia Minor.
When you go to the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, the Roman province of Asia was that country against which the waves of the sea lapped. It was made of several ancient provinces: Mysia, up there at the north; and then Lydia in the center; and then Caria down to the south; and then a part of Phrygia on the inside; and then the islands like SÃ¡mos and Patmos and Kos. All of those territories the Romans, in 130 BC, formed into a province, and they called it the province of Asia. The capital at first was at Pergamos, the ancient capital of Mysia, but under Caesar Augustus it was transferred to Ephesus at which time Asia was the most wealthy of all of the provinces of the Roman Empire.
Now, these seven churches of Asia are selected. There are more than – there were more than seven churches in Asia. For example, in the Bible I read about Troas. Paul preached all night long there [Acts 20:6-11]. That was a church in Asia. In Colossians, I read of a letter addressed to Colossae – the church at Colossae[Colossians 1:1-2]. That was in Asia. In that same Colossian letter, there is a church named at Hierapolis [Colossians 4:13] which is another city in Asia. So these seven churches in Asia were not the only churches in Asia. They were selected among other churches, and we’ll find in a moment why they were selected.
Now for one thing, they were in a great circle; and when John wrote the Revelation, a messenger carried it. And he took it first to Ephesus which is in the center; then to Smyrna up here; then to Pergamos there; then to Thyatira there; Sardis here; Philadelphia there; and Laodicea there. So the messenger, as he carried the letter, made a complete circle starting at Ephesus, the capital, and going all the way around. Then of course, they were selected because of the great prophetic foreview that God gave to John and to us of the entire course of the history of this church age.
Now these messages to the seven churches have a fourfold application. First, they were addressed to the local church. “This is the message to Thyatira”[Revelation 2:18]. “This is the message of God to Sardis” [Revelation 3:1]. Sardis was there at the time; Thyatira was there at the time. So the message was to the church as it was then. It was a local, applicable message to that congregation. That’s one thing.
Then it was a universal message of admonition to all the churches of all of the ages. There are messages to every church in every age in these letters to the seven churches of Asia.
Then a third thing: there is an application personally. Every message ends with this recurring word: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit of God says to the churches” [Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22]. So to each one of us, if we have an ear to hear, we can get a message for us out of these letters to the seven churches of Asia.
Then the last and the most important and this is the mystery: “the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest . . . and the seven golden candlesticks”[Revelation 1:20]. The mystery is this: that these seven churches were selected and they are typical of the successive stories, history, recounting, development of the church age through each successive era.
Now, the reason it was a mystery is this. When it was given there to John and written and the circular carrier took it to all of those seven churches, they had no idea that two thousand years later we’d be talking about them here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Those early Christians had no conception, had no idea, no revelation at all of the long course of this church age. I’ve been telling you that these last several Sundays talking about the mysteries. That was a mystery hidden in the secret counsels of God this long period of time.
Practically all, if not all, of the people who lived here in the New Testament times thought the Lord Jesus was coming immediately. We ought to think that. The immanency of the return of our Lord is one of the tremendously great and effective and pertinent doctrines of the New Testament; and without it, you can’t explain anything else. They lived in the hope and in the expectation that they would see Jesus in their lifetime – that He would come while they were still living. Consequently, the mystery of the seven stars and of the seven golden candlesticks is this: the story of these seven churches is the story of the development of all of the kingdom of God in the earth, in these churches, in this church age – the same sort of a thing as Jesus spoke of in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew when He said, “We are going to speak now by parables of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 13:3, 34-35] – that is, the development of the will, and work, and message, and gospel of Christ in Christendom in this earth.
Well that is the mystery of the seven churches. The story of the seven churches covers the entire brick of the development of the church in all of this age from the days that Jesus founded it [Matthew 16:18] until the end time when the church is caught up to meet Christ in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
“Now how do you know that, pastor?”
All right, this is how we know it.
In the first chapter of the Revelation and the nineteenth verse, John is commanded this: “Write the things which thou hast seen;” second, “the things which are;” and third, “the things which shall be” – and you have it translated “hereafter” [Revelation 1:19]. The Greek is meta tauta: “after these things.”
So John is commanded to write three things: the things that he has seen. What are the things that he has just seen? He has just seen the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ [Revelation 1:9-20], and we read it this morning. John is commanded to write that vision down. “Write the things which thou hast seen” [Revelation 1:19]. And there it is – the first chapter of the Revelation, the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ which he has just seen.
Second, he is to write the things which are [Revelation 1:19]. He’s to write down these things which are, and that’s in the second and the third chapter of the Revelation, and that is the messages of God to the seven churches which are in Asia. “Write down the things which are” [Revelation 1:19]. And these seven churches are. And he is writing down to each one of them and for us these messages of God to the seven churches of Asia.
Then he says: “And last, write down the things which shall be – mellei” [Revelation 1:19] intending to be, dei [Revelation 4:1]. In chapter 4, the things which are going to be are certainly ordained of God to be. Third, write down the things which shall be after these things, after these things.
Now, turn to Revelation 4 and 1, and we’re going to see how John did that thing just like God told Him to do it, and how God Himself so turned the thing that John wrote it down just like Jesus asked him to.
Now Revelation 1 [Revelation 1:19]: “Write down the things which thou hast seen” – that’s the revelation of Jesus; then “the things which are,” and that is the letters to the seven churches of Asia, and that’s Revelation 2 and 3. Now He says, “And third, write down the things which shall be,” meta tauta, “after these things.” So I turn to the fourth chapter of the Revelation, and this is what I read in the first verse:
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, “Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must be meta tauta, after these things.”
So John is not in the earth any longer. He’s now in heaven, and he is writing from heaven the things that are happening in the earth and in heaven, meta tauta, “after these things.”
All right, I look at these things that are written in the Revelation from the fourth chapter to the end. That’s the way the book is divided: “The things which thou hast seen,” the vision of Christ, the first chapter of the Revelation; “the things which are,” the seven churches of Asia, and that’s in the second and third chapters of the Revelation; then the things which are after those present things, the things after those seven churches, and that begins at the fourth chapter and continues to the end of the book.
And I find out something, and this is what I find out. This is the mystery of the seven stars and the seven candlesticks [Revelation 1:20]. I find out that at the fourth chapter, the church is gone. It isn’t anymore. The word “church” is never used again, not in the Revelation, until everything is fulfilled – the end. The word “church” absolutely disappears out of the book beginning at the fourth chapter. And the church is not seen anymore, nor is it referred to anymore, until in the nineteenth chapter of the book you see the church at the wedding supper – the Bride of Christ at the wedding supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-10].
So by putting those things together, just as it is written here in the Book, I find out that when I divide that thing like Jesus commanded John to divide it, I have these three great periods of time. First, “the things which he has seen,” and that’s the vision of Christ; then “the things which are,” and that’s the seven churches of Asia; and then all of “the things that are after those things” – they follow after the story of the church. And those are the things from the fourth chapter of Revelation to the end that comprise the great final consummation of what God is going to do with His chosen people, and what God’s going to do with all the Gentile unbelievers, and what God is going to do in the great final judgments of the world, and what God’s going to do in heaven, and what He’s going to do in earth, and the remaking and the renovation of the old heaven and the old earth and the New Heaven and the New Earth when it is renovated and revamped and remade and glorified, and all the things that pertain to the end time.
So I have the period of time in here, then, the things which are. I have the period of time in here from the first that John saw the vision of Christ until the day when the Lord takes the church out of the world, catches it up into the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] – that what you call the rapture, the translation, the gathering out of the children of God. I have here in Revelation 2 and 3 the story of the course of the church of Jesus Christ in all of that period of time from the day that it was founded by the Lord [Matthew 16:18] until the day when it is caught up to meet the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
Then beginning at the fourth chapter of the Revelation, then we have the story of all of those things meta tauta, after the church is caught out, after God’s people are translated, after they rise to meet the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], after the resurrection of the dead and all of us are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:51-53].
So the mystery of the seven stars and of the seven-branched candlestick is this [Revelation 1:20]: it is the story of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ from the day it was founded [Matthew 16:18] until the day when it is caught up out of the earth [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And beginning at the fourth chapter of the Revelation, your church is gone.
Beginning at the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there they are; and we have the story of the church age.
Now let’s look at it in three minutes. We’re going to look at two thousand years in three minutes. There’s just nobody can do things like we can. And there’s no need, I say, for us to feel, “Oh, that we had seven hours today” because all of this will be ahead of us.
Now just briefly to go through it: the church at Ephesus [Revelation 2:1-7]. You’re going to have the story of the church of this age. The church at Ephesus in the fourth verse, Revelation 2:4: “Thou hast left thy first love.” The church is beginning to cool off. Their first fervor and devotion to Christ and commitment to Jesus, they’re beginning to cool off. As the story goes on through the history, they’re beginning to cool off, the church at Ephesus. The sixth: “And thou hast there the Nicolaitans”[Revelation 2:6].
Wonder who the Nicolaitans were? That’s a strange Greek word, nikaō, nikē: means “to overcome, to conquer,” and laos means “the people,” and the Nicolaitans is the beginning of the doctrine of the hierarchy. There’s a group set apart, leaders set apart, who are lording it over God’s flock. Started way back there right at the beginning, and that’s the truth. When you read church history, it’ll be just like it is here in the Revelation. God foreknew, foresaw it all. All right, we must hasten.
The church at Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11]: that’s where Polycarp was pastor. The church at Smyrna is the church of the persecution [Revelation 2:9-10]. It’s the one church that Jesus found nothing wrong with. Every piece and part of that church, that age, pleased God. They laid down their lives unto death. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” – Revelation 2:10 – “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer.” Smyrna is the church of the persecution.
Pergamos [Revelation 2:12-17] is the church of when the world got in it, of evil compromise. Look at verse 14: the doctrine of Balaam [Revelation 2:14]. No, if I had another hour, we’d talk about the doctrine of Balaam that gets in the church.
Did you know I didn’t know what the doctrine of Balaam was until this week? Did you know that? You don’t learn anything when you go to school – nothing at all. Don’t tell these kids, don’t tell them, they ought to go; but you don’t learn anything. You have to learn it yourself. Did you know that? You can just go to school all your lives and you don’t know anything. You got to do it yourself. The doctrine of Balaam: well, I read it there but wish I had time to tell you what it was. We will down the line.
Then you have the church of Philadelphia [Revelation 3:7-13], and you got a revival. “I have set before thee an open door . . . I am going to keep you from the hour of tribulation” [Revelation 3:8, 10].
Then you’ve got the last one, the church at Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22]. There’s only one church that He found nothing good about and that was the church of the Laodiceans. “You say, ‘I am rich, and increased in goods, have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” [Revelation 3:17]. That’s the way the church is going to be at the end time. They’re going to have the most beautiful cathedrals you ever saw. They’re going to have the most beautiful edifices. They’re going to dress their ministers up in the most gorgeous robes. They’re going to have the finest services. They’re going to be endowed – why, the government’s going to help them do all that too. You’re going to have the beast and the false prophet right like that [Revelation 13:1-18]. You’re going to have one world [Revelation 13:8, 16-18]. Did you know that? And you’re going to have one church.
The whole thing says it by God in the Word, and as I look at it in the newspapers, I don’t read anything different from the newspapers than what I read in the Bible. You’re going to have one great super church. You’re going to have one great world ecclesiastical authority, and these churches are more and more going to get together – going to get together. You’re going to have these Protestant churches going together, and then, finally, you’re going to have them sit down and with the Roman church – all of them.
Let’s stand and sing this song: “The Church’s One Foundation” [by Samuel J. Stone, 1866]. And while we sing the song, somebody today who’s given his heart to the Lord, come and stand by me; or to put your life with us in this fellowship, you come and stand by me while all of us stand and sing together.
For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit www.wacriswell.com