Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by John D. Clark, Sr.
The seven messages given to John on the isle of Patmos were messages to the seven pastors (“messengers”) of seven congregations in the Roman province called Asia. The only way to rightly understand these messages is to read them as messages to the individual pastors instead of as messages to the congregations themselves.
The congregation in Ephesus had been tested by “false apostles” who taught wrong doctrines. This faithful pastor successfully opposed them, but in the process of exposing them as false teachers, he had lost his love for them. He had become proud against those in God’s family who were wrong. His struggle against their error had robbed him of his original love for them. Jesus admonished him to recover his first love if he hoped to continue in the service of God.
Lesson: Jesus demands that his messengers do all things, even hating and condemning evil, in the love of God. We must remember that, no matter how wrong our brothers are, the only difference between them and us is the mercy of God.
The pastor of the saints in Smyrna had pleased the Lord in all things. He was warned by Jesus to prepare to see some of his congregation cast into prison. The love of God that this good man had for his flock made their suffering a trial of his own faith. If he could with patience and faith endure their being cast into “great tribulation”, Jesus would give him a “crown of life”.
Lesson: Obedience to the Lord does not exempt one from suffering. And the faith of a true pastor is tried when members of the congregation suffer.
This pastor had faithfully preached the truth in Pergamos, where “Satan’s seat” was. At the same time, however, he had permitted others to teach false doctrines to the congregation. The good pastor in Ephesus had exposed false apostles as liars, but this good pastor had chosen to tolerate rather than condemn them. Jesus was displeased.
Lesson: A pastor is responsible for more than his own conduct. Not only must the pastor’s personal life and doctrine be pure, but he is also accountable to God for the conduct and spiritual well-being of the saints over which the Lord places him.
The pastor of the saints in Thyatira had faith and zeal, yet he had allowed doctrines of seducing spirits to be taught among the saints for such a long time that evil had taken over his work and the situation was now beyond his control. Drastic measures were needed, which only Jesus had the wisdom, power, and love of God to take.
Lesson: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” The pastor who allows evil to continue among his flock will see evil grow beyond his ability to correct it. Secondly, Jesus will sever a member of his body in order to save the whole, as he threatened to do here.
The pastor in Sardis was spiritually near death, yet he enjoyed a reputation for being spiritually alive. He had forgotten how he humbled himself to receive Christ. In spite of the miserable spiritual condition of this pastor, however, a few saints in Sardis had remained faithful to the Lord. Jesus promised them blessings but bluntly threatened their pastor.
Lesson: One can be thought of as righteous without being righteous. Secondly, it is possible for individual saints to keep themselves pure even if their pastor is backslidden.
The pastor in Philadelphia had done well in adverse situations. Jesus promised to expose his adversaries as liars and to spare him from the horrible “time of trial that is about to come upon the whole world.” He was warned, though, to continue in holiness; otherwise, he could lose the glorious crown laid up in heaven for him.
Lesson: No one ever grows so close to God that he is allowed to become slack in his responsibilities or allowed to be excused for disobedience. The Master had no complaints against this faithful servant; yet, he demanded that he continue in holiness or lose the crown of life which was promised him. “It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful,” wrote Paul, adding, “Woe be to me if I do not preach the gospel.”
The pastor in Laodicea was double-minded and mistook God’s patience for God’s approval. He also taught that earthly gain was evidence of genuine faith and godliness. He boasted of his worldly possessions, claiming to be worthy of them all. Jesus threatened to cast him out of the kingdom of God unless he repented.
Lesson: God blesses everyone, but He chastens only those whom He loves. It is foolish to assume that an increase in earthly goods and worldly prestige is proof of godliness.
In my second year Greek class at the seminary which I attended, we were given the choice of several books from the New Testament to learn. I chose Revelation. As our final exam, we were expected to be able to read, directly from the Greek, any passage that our professor might pick. When the time for final exams arrived, there was virtually nothing I didn’t know about the book, so far as vocabulary, syntax, and other matters of grammar were concerned. I could parse every noun and conjugate every verb. So comfortable did I become with the Greek, that I found that I would rather read Revelation in the original language than in English. However, even though I studied Revelation with great care and thoroughness, it took God to open my eyes to the truths contained in the book, which He did, years after I had graduated from the seminary. I had seen the singular form of the Greek pronoun, “you”, many times in reading these messages to the pastors, yet it was God, years later, who brought it to my attention that Jesus was speaking to one man, not to the whole body.
Regardless of the education, the experience, or the reputation a man possesses, if God does not teach him, he will remain ignorant of the truth which in plain sight is hidden in the Scriptures. When Jesus said that he would send the Spirit to guide us into all truth, he intended for us to understand that, without the Spirit guiding us, we would never know any truth. As Paul worded it, “No one knows the things of God, except the Spirit of God.” And again, “A natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot comprehend them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:11, 14). For this reason, it is true that only those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God (Rom. 8:14), and for this reason, we pray for a new outpouring of the Spirit of God, that we might truly come to know our heavenly Father and the mysteries of His kingdom.