Note.-- "Under this emblematical representation of the seven churches of Asia, the Holy Spirit has delineated seven different states of the Christian church, which would appear in succession, extending to the coming of our Lord."-- Vitringa's Commentary, published in 1705.
1. 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:
2. 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:
3. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.
4. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because 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, except thou repent.
5. 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, except thou repent.
6. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Note.-- The Revelation was given about A.D.96, when already the church was in danger of departing from apostolic purity, These believers of the first century are called back to their first love, and commended for hating the ways of the Nicolaitanes,-- one of the sects that had begun to arise, leading away from purity of life and obedience to the law of God and the faith of Jesus. Lawlessness early began to appear as the way of false religion. This message to the apostolic church has a lesson for us also. We are to hear what the Spirit saith to the church of every age.
8. And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive:
9. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
10. 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.
11.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.
Note.-- This time of trial under pagan rulers continued to the early fourth century, the time of the so-called conversion of Constantine, emperor of Rome, A.D. 323.
The pagans scoffed at the Christians' hope. "They say that they will rise again after death!" sneered the persecutors in that age. How sweetly must have come the assurance: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write: These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges:
13. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
14. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
15. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.
16. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: 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.
Note.-- This period may well be fixed from the era of Constantine to the full development of the Papacy.
In this age of the uniting of the church with the world, the purity of the faith was corrupted. "The doctrine of Balaam" came in -- that method of mingling the true worship with the idolatry of paganism, which corrupted Israel. Numbers 22 to 25, and 31:13-16.
Prof. Henry Cotterill (Church of England), wrote: "Paganism could not overcome the church as an enemy: the danger now arises from its friendship. The experiment is now tried, whether, by an alliance with Christianity, under the plea of attachment to Christian doctrines and practices, and of a desire to conciliate the heathen world, this new Israel, which cannot be crushed, may be gradually corrupted. The successful result of this attempt may be seen to the present day, in the virtual paganism of a large majority of the professedly Christian world, in which every abomination which the early church resisted unto blood, may be found disguised under Christian titles... The martyr worship of the Nicene church was in all respects the counterpart of the 'offerings of the dead' in the worship of Baalpeor."-- "Seven Ages of the Church," pp. 89-91.
The famous Roman Catholic writer, Cardinal Newman, said of this compromise with paganism: "Confiding then in the power of Christianity to resist the infection of evil, and to transmute the very instruments and appendages of demon worship to an evangelical use,... the rulers of the church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated classes."-- "Development of Christian Doctrine," p. 371.
18. And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass:
19. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
Note.-- All through the centuries of papal exaltation, God had loyal hands of believers, here and there, keeping the faith and keeping the light of truth shining in the Dark Ages of superstition and error.
20. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
21. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
23. 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.
25. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
26. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
28. And I will give him the morning star.
29. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Note.-- An early Church of England expositor, A. Maddock, wrote: "This state of the corruption of the church of Christ, by the popish doctrines of the Church of Rome, and the Pope's tyrannizing over the consciences of men, most plainly mark this era of the church, which began at the time when the Pope was declared supreme over all other bishops, and lasted till his power and reign met with a check at the Reformation, when began the Sardian church-state, which still continues." (London, 1779.)