Head Gives Authority, Members Have Fellowship
The use of the body lies in fellowship. The first body principle is that of authority, the second principle is that of fellowship. The supply of coordination is based on the supply of authority and the supply of fellowship. What comes from the Head is authority, what comes from the body members is fellowship. The Head gives authority that we may have order in the body—that is to say, order in the church. Further, though, within the members there is mutual fellowship. These are the two fundamental principles of body life.
—CW, 111: 17-18, 56-7, 59-60, 148
The ground of the Church is quite an important matter. For the Lord has truly shown in the Scriptures that the Church has a definite ground. I would suppose all the brethren know that the blessing of God is in the Church, that God’s Spirit is in the Church, that God’s light is in the Church, and that especially the life of our Lord Jesus is in the Church. Though we usually pay attention to the Lord’s life being in us individuals, His life is in fact in the Church. Since God has deposited so many spiritual things in the Church, it is evident that she becomes an important issue. . . . Whether the place I am in is a church forms a most serious personal challenge for each one of us to consider.
We must see clearly before God that many spiritual things are in the Church, not upon individuals. The word of the Lord is plain yet wonderful: “upon this rock I will build my church.” And the outcome will be, added the Lord, that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16.18b). In other words, this promise is given to the Church, it is not given to individuals. How often in the Christian life it is hard individually to resist, but when the Church arises, Satan is defeated. I surmise that in these years there has not been a lack of personal blessings, but such are nonetheless rather limited. Only in the Church are the blessings unlimited and abundant. Hence, as a person walks outside of the Church the presence of God as well as the blessings he receives become circumscribed. He will not be able to touch many things in God. Pardon me for speaking frankly, but within the last ten years I have noticed that the people who do not know the Church are unable to keep that which they had had before but gradually lose out; whereas those who know the Church keep on growing and find the riches of the Head as their richness.
Let me mention here two things which are essential to a local church. The New Testament clearly presents these two fundamental conditions. They are (1) the authority of the Holy Spirit and (2) the boundary of locality. Let us notice that without the Holy Spirit there can be no church. . . . From start to finish, the church can have only one authority, one power and one life—that of the Holy Spirit. There is but one authority, one power and one life, which is the Holy Spirit. . . . For the assembly of the saints is where the Spirit of God can unhinderedly express His thought. Just as the Lord while on earth used the body given Him by Mary, so today in the Holy Spirit He is able to use the church. . . . In one word, only that which can express the mind of the Holy Spirit can be called a local church.
Today’s basic problem lies in our obeying authority. Yet to whose authority do we submit? Let me tell you that if it is considered an infringement should a younger brother speak out of himself, the action of an older brother who likewise speaks out of himself is also an infringement. Only the authority of the Holy Spirit is true authority. Why is it that the younger should be subject to the elder? Because the elder ones having learned more before God know more of the authority of God and thus make it easier for the Holy Spirit to flow out from them. It is like a pipe that—without any obstacle clogging up the passage—is accustomed to the flowing of water for many years. For the younger ones to be subject to the elders is not because the elders are themselves authority, but only because the Holy Spirit finds it easier to speak through them. . . . We do not establish the authority of the elder. We assent to the authority of the Holy Spirit which comes more easily through an elder. In other words, in the local church there is but one authority, the authority of the Holy Spirit. What comes out of man himself has no authority. Neither the elders, nor the older ones, nor the more spiritual have any authority in themselves. The Holy Spirit alone has authority. This is called the body of Christ. . . .
You who serve God must remember one thing: Whether you have served twenty, thirty, fifty or sixty years till your hair has turned white, you are but a channel transmitting authority; you are only the outlet of authority, you yourself are not authority. Whenever you become authority, everything is finished!
We use authority to serve brothers and sisters, not to control them. . . . Authority is not for control, but for supply. Therefore, do not exercise authority to rule over the brethren; rather, use it to supply and to serve them. . . . Let us learn to be the outlet of the authority of the Holy Spirit that we may support the brethren. Let us not establish our own authority. . . .
A church must have the second fundamental condition earlier mentioned, which is the boundary of locality. You may ask, is it not enough for the establishing of a church if all who assemble together live under the authority of the Holy Spirit? No, that is not enough. For the Scriptures show us that two things are essential in the establishment of a local church. First is the authority of the Holy Spirit, and the second is the boundary of locality. Does this seem strange to you as though this is falling from heaven to earth? The church appears to be half heavenly and half earthly. Indeed, the divine church is on earth as well as in heaven. The heavenly half speaks of the authority of the Holy Spirit, while the earthly half speaks of the boundary of geographical locality. How marvelous that the Scriptures show us clearly that the church belongs to locality. This we can see in such descriptive phrases as “the church which was in Jerusalem” (Jerusalem being a city), “at Antioch, in the church that was there” (with Antioch being a locality) or “the church in Ephesus” (Ephesus being a seaport) (see Acts 8.1, 11.22, 13.1; Rev. 1.1). The ground of all the local churches mentioned in the Scriptures is set on the geographical localities where they are. They all take locality as their boundaries. . . .
City Church vs. House Church
In the New Testament there are four places which employ the phrase “the church that is in . . . house”: (1) “Salute the church that is in their house” (Rom. 16.5). The “their” points to Prisca, and Aquila who are mentioned in verse 3. This indicates the simple fact that the church in Rome, just as the churches in a thousand localities elsewhere, began in a brother’s home. The principal persons in that brother’s house are brothers and sisters. At that time the number of brethren in the local church was few; therefore, they could meet in a house. This is a matter of history, not a matter of teaching. Teaching can be explained away; history cannot be explained away because a fact of history is a fact. All who are familiar with history know that thousands of churches have begun in somebody’s house. The church in Rome at that early period was the church that met in the house of Prisca and Aquila. . . .
(2) “Aquila and Prisca salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16.19b). This was in approximately A.D. 59. At that time, Aquila and Prisca did not live in Rome but in Ephesus (see Acts 18.18-19). And the church in Ephesus met in their home. Hence, it is called “the church that is in their house.” This does not suggest at all that in Ephesus at that time there was on the one hand the “city church” and on the other hand the “house church” that met in the house of Aquila and Prisca. No, it means that the church in Ephesus was the assembly of the saints that met in the house of Aquila and Prisca. This is unalterable history.
(3) “Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church in their [or, her] house. And when this epistle hath been read among you [Colossians], cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans” (Col. 4.15-16). It is a historical fact that the church in Laodicea assembled in the house of Nymphas. Nymphas was a believer in Laodicea, not in Colosse. Accordingly, Paul called the church in Laodicea the church that met in the house of Nymphas.
(4) “To Philemon our beloved and fellow-worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house” (Philemon 1-2). Philemon was a believer who lived in Colosse. He was Paul’s fellow-worker. And the church in Colosse was the church that met in his house. Again this is plain history. . . .
Having now seen how the so-called “house church” was mentioned four times in the New Testament and what that meant, let us next look at it from another angle: Can or cannot the house be the unit of the boundary of the church? I do not know if you understand what this phrase—“the unit of boundary”—means. Let me try to explain. When we weigh a thing, we use the “pound” as the unit of weight. When we measure a thing, we use the “foot” as the unit of length. Can a “house” therefore be deemed the legitimate unit of the local church’s boundary? A careful reading of the New Testament will reveal that that just cannot be. No, the unit of the boundary of the local church is not a “house church” but is a city or a locality. This is God’s teaching.
Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea were all localities at the time of the New Testament. And in each of these localities there was a single local church.
So that with locality serving as the unit, in those biblical instances where there were two or more units spoken together, they could not be called one church but rather they were called churches. Accordingly, in the Scriptures we find such descriptive phrases as “the churches of Judea” (Gal. 1.22), and “the churches of Galatia” (1.2)—yet these were both provinces, and a province constituted a composite of many localities.
Let me inquire again in our discussion as to whether a house can be deemed the boundary unit of a church. Here our mind needs to be very clear, or else we will be mistaken. We must understand that the term “house” as employed in the Scriptures (see earlier for the four instances) and the term house as spoken of nowadays by the advocates of the house church are two different things. The house according to the teaching of the New Testament Scriptures referred to the place where the local church met. And this meant that the church that was identified with a certain person’s house was also the church of that locality.
But today? Man’s teaching asserts that in the city of Rome, for example, there can be two local churches: one whose location is on a given street and one that is in the house. Or that in Colosse, there could be three churches: one on the street and two in two different houses. And thus, according to the teaching of man, the house church is one that is smaller in boundary than the locality. Taking unjustified advantage of the word “house” in the Scriptures, they consider the unit of the local church’s boundary to be the house and not to be governed by locality.
But does the New Testament warrant accepting the idea of the unit of church boundary being smaller than the locality? This question can easily be answered. We have already seen that there was but one church in Rome, one church in Colosse, and one church in Laodicea. The reference to the church in Laodicea in the Book of Revelation is always singular in number, and in heaven it is also represented by but one golden lampstand.
What is even more striking evidence from the Scriptures is the fact that during the early days the saints who comprised “the church which was in Jerusalem”—which at that time had apparently possessed the largest number of believers, as many as perhaps ten thousand—had met in different houses: “day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home” (Acts 2.46). . . . The word “home” here does not refer to just one house. Once more the Scriptures tell us this: “every day, in the temple and at home” (Acts 5.42). Again, the word “home” cannot be limited to but one house. On a subsequent occasion, after Peter had been released from prison by an angel, he came to “the house of Mary” (Acts 12.12), which was one of the houses where the church in Jerusalem gathered to pray. The question now needs to be posed again: Can such a home be deemed the unit of church boundary? History shows us that among all the churches of that early period, Jerusalem had the largest number of believers and also had the greatest number of home meetings. If God had thought of using the “house” or “home” as the unit of the local church’s boundary, Jerusalem would have been best qualified to be set forth as the model. Yet God did not do so. And if He chose not to make the “house” or “home” the church’s unit of boundary at Jerusalem, then we know for certain that He has not deemed the “house” to be that unit in other places either.
What, then, is the fact which confronts us? Jerusalem had so many home meetings, and yet God had only one local church in Jerusalem. Every time the Holy Spirit mentioned Jerusalem He only and always used “church” in singular number and never “churches” in the plural number. The Scriptures have only “the church in Jerusalem, never “the churches in Jerusalem” nor “the house churches in Jerusalem.” There may have been meetings conducted in many homes throughout the city, but the church in Jerusalem was one local church.
Attempting to make the “house” as the local church’s unit boundary is a human conception; it is not scriptural teaching. The Bibilical formula on this matter—“the church which was in Jerusalem” (Acts 8.1)—makes impossible the establishing of single, independent, isolated house churches. . . .
When the house is smaller than the locality, the house cannot serve as a unit of boundary for the local church. Only when the house is equal to the locality can it be acknowledged as such. Let us see and acknowledge that the unit is based on locality.
—GOC 1-4, 6, 9, 18, 20-1, 22-4, 26
What things the apostle John wrote, whether Epistles or Gospel, were written last. Revelation naturally was also written last. Matthew, Mark and Luke—these three Gospels record the acts of the Lord Jesus while on earth; the Gospel of John, however, narrates the life of Him “who descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven” (John 3:13). The Epistles of John were written at the time when the truth of God was being confused by the gnostics. These writings too, as it were, carry people to heaven to see there God’s eternal fact. John translates us out of ourselves as men into fully accepting the Son of God. What this apostle wrote has a specific characteristic—which is, to bring us back to the very beginning. The Gospel of John tells us that Christ is in the beginning; the Epistles of John communicate to us the Word of life which is from the beginning; the Revelation of John transports us to the eternity to come. The Gospel is to reveal to us the Son of God who came in the flesh. He was in our midst yet men mistook Him. They regarded Him as only Jesus of Nazareth. John nevertheless shows us that this Jesus who was in the flesh is from the beginning. This is the most hidden fact. The Epistles of John are no different. There, His Person is the Son of God and His Office is Christ. Sadly, men neither recognized Him as the Son of God nor acknowledged Him as Christ, the Anointed One of God. Consequently, John emphasizes in his Epistles these two points in order to bring us to the hidden fact at the beginning. When he wrote the Book of Revelation it was at the time of world chaos and the iron rule of the Roman Caesars. He also takes us to the hidden story in the future, enabling us to understand God’s view towards the world situation. Yet in Revelation there is not only the world situation to be dealt with but also the Church condition. The book discloses to us what the Lord is pleased with and what He condemns during the time of disarray in the outward appearance of the Church. It also reveals what is the Lord’s appointed way for His Church. The Church exhibits many varied appearances in history. Yet what kind of state is desired by the Lord? All these are the hidden secrets which John conveys to us in his Revelation writing.
In the Bible there are two sets of seven letters. God used Paul to write the first set of letters to seven churches; namely, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He used John to record the second set of letters—likewise sent to seven churches. The first set of letters deals with the Church in a time of relative normalcy, while the second set of letters deals with the Church in an extraordinary time. Just as the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke convey a normalcy about them in that they help men to know God, the Gospel of John is God’s reaction to men’s distortion, and hence this latter Gospel lays much stress on truth and grace. The Epistles of John are also God’s reaction to abnormality, so they touch a great deal on light and love. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, God can be seen dealing with the abnormal conditions of the Church. The first set of letters to seven churches—those written by Paul—consider the proper conduct and behavior of the Church. But in the time of John’s writing, the Church has degenerated terribly. Accordingly, he was commanded to put into writing the second set of letters to seven churches as found in the Book of Revelation. The first set of church letters confirm the truths the Church should know; the latter set communicate the way the Church ought to travel during her earthly pilgrimage. Today we who really desire to walk in the way of the Lord must read Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Today the Church constitutes a very serious problem for the Lord. So Revelation tells us what we should do. If Christians are not going to Revelation to find the way, I wonder where they are heading!
Going a step further in this comparison, the first series of church letters was written before “the last days”; on the other hand, the latter set was written during “the last days.” 1 John 2.18, for example, clearly mentions another time—“the last hour”: “Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that anti-christ cometh, even now have there arisen many anti-christs; whereby we know that it is the last hour.” Christians who only read the first series of Church letters will not be able to understand God’s will for the last days.
In the Bible the ministries of three persons are especially prominent: those of Peter, John and Paul. 2 Peter is the last extant letter written by Peter. There he mentioned apostasy. 2 Timothy is the last extant letter written by Paul. In chapter 2 he wrote: “the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same [that is, the testimony] commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (v.2). In his 1 Timothy letter he had stated that the Church is the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth (see 3.15). But in 2 Timothy he wrote that “now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth” (2.20a). The issue revolves around whether or not a man purges himself from being a vessel unto dishonor to be one unto honor and follows after righteousness, faith, love and peace with all those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (see vv.21-22). The Epistles of John are the last extant ones written by that apostle too. In them he talked about the coming of the spirit of the Antichrist and how we need to hold on to the truth (see 1 John 4.1-3).
I today sense a great burden within me. Usually we say that from the first formation of the Church to the present time is the Church Age. The matter is not that simple, however. We should at least distinguish between the normal and the abnormal therein. Today the outward appearance of the Church is in ruin. If we do not see this fact, how can we read with understanding the Book of Revelation? The first set of Church letters dealt with the normal. Now, though, things have become abnormal. What should we do about it? True, confusion on earth will not affect spiritual reality, for God’s reality remains unchanged. Yet in outward appearance, the Church is at least confused. The Roman Church declares that she is the Body of Christ. According to a 1914 report, apart from various fragmentary groups, there were already one thousand five hundred well-organized and formidable denominations. Each has proclaimed itself to be the Body of Christ. Even prior to the departure from the scene of John, Paul and Peter, disintegration within the Church had already commenced. Paul wrote to Timothy: “all that are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Tim 1.15a). This included even the Church in Ephesus where Paul had taught and labored the longest. In the light of such circumstances, every child of God must seek to know one thing: How should I follow and serve the Lord? When the Church is outwardly in ruin, we should ask ourselves what we must do. Revelation chapters 2 and 3 can show us the way. If we are truly seekers before God, these two chapters can tell us what to do.
When reading the Book of Revelation, the first thing everyone would like to know is, what kind of book it is. All seem to recognize that Revelation is prophecy. But if we should pursue the matter further and ask whether the section dealing with the seven churches is prophecy, many would begin to waiver. Both in chapters 1 and 22 we are told that the characteristic of Revelation is its prophetic nature. Not only the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls are prophetic portions, even the portion covering the seven letters is prophetic in nature. For this is indeed a thoroughly prophetic book.
No one, as the Book itself declares, should dare to add anything to it, nor should any man take anything away from it. Since, then, it is a book of prophecy, we ought to treat it as such and try to discern its fulfillment. Let us therefore pay attention to the nature of this Book of Revelation: that first, it is prophecy; and second, that because it is prophecy, it shall be fulfilled. At the time when Revelation was being set down, there were of course more than seven local churches in Asia. Why, then, did John mention only these seven churches? While on the island of Patmos receiving from the Lord the divine revelation he was to set down for the Church, John saw only these seven local churches because they were able to represent all the other churches. God chose these seven particular yet appropriate churches and infused each one of them and all of them with the prophetic element.
According to Revelation 2 and 3, on earth there are but seven churches in view; in heaven there are likewise but seven lampstands in view. This presents a problem. A church on earth has a counterpart lampstand in heaven. Are there only these seven churches in the entire world? If so, then it would appear that the church in Chungking is cut off, so, too, the church in Nanking is excluded. How can this apparent discrepancy be solved? The answer can be found if we bear in mind that this of which we are speaking is prophecy. And hence, in prophecy only seven churches need be chosen for whatever prophetic purpose may be in view. These seven churches, therefore, can and do represent all the churches—the history of the church past, present and future. If so, then there is no need for an eighth item of representation beyond these seven. Though there are indeed more than seven local churches on earth, these seven now before us can be taken as representations of them all. There are only seven lampstands in heaven because the histories of these seven particular churches on earth reflect the history of the entire Church.
Let us pay special attention to the word in chapter 1 that declares,
“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand” (v.3). Let us also pay attention to what is written in chapter 22: “Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book” (v.7b). We may therefore conclude that these prophecies are the commandments of God. Though they are clothed outwardly with a prophetic garment, they are inwardly the commandments of God. And hence this is a book of practice (“keep the things”, “keep the words”) and not a book of research. The prophecy given here is different from the other prophecies of the Bible in that the prophecy of this book is given to men to keep. There is a common rule between John and us, which is, that this prophecy—from the beginning of it to the very end—is given us to keep. How can anyone who does not keep the words and keep the things written about in this book ever understand Revelation? How, for example, can he comprehend the section that deals with the seven churches?
In reading Revelation 2 and 3 we see not just the prophecy we need to keep, we also see the Lord as the Lord of judgment. The very first portion of Revelation is the preface to the entire book, and the next portion serves as the prelude to chapters 2 and 3; for chapters 2 and 3 commence with the revelation of the Lord Jesus. Here we see the Lord “clothed with a garment down to the foot” (1.13). The priest of old would wear a long garment; hence, the Lord Jesus here is represented as the Priest. The lamp-stand mentioned is in the Holy Place of the tabernacle of old. Its light was never allowed to go out: it was to shine day and night incessantly. Thus it would require the priest in olden times to do the work of trimming and adding oil all the time within the Holy Place. The Lord Jesus is now the Priest who, as pictured here in chapter 2, walks among the churches to examine which lamp is bright and which lamp is dimmed.
The act of trimming is representative of correcting and judging, and judgment—the Bible tells us elsewhere—begins with the House of God: the Church. Christ is therefore seen walking among the churches and doing the work of judgment. And that judgment today is viewed from the perspective of eternity. John was most intimate with the Lord, so much so that he had even leaned on His breast (see John 13.25, 21.20). The Son is in the bosom of the Father, and John is in the bosom of the Son. But in this moment of revelation, when John saw the Lord, he fell down as one dead because he saw the Lord as the Lord of judgment. In the past we have seen Him as the Lord of grace; now, however, we see Him as the Lord of judgment, and that will cause us to fall down as dead. His judgment now, though, is the judgment of a priest who performs the work of trimming. The day will come when it is pure judgment. Every child of God must one day encounter the terror and holiness of the Lord. Then he will not argue any more, for light eliminates all argument. Light not only enlightens, it also slays. Every enlightening revealed in the Scriptures slays the natural life of man. Man may have many reasons, but before the Lord of judgment all these vanish. Like John, all will prostrate themselves on the ground as though dead. The farther people drift away from the Lord, the greater shall be their self-confidence. But none can stand the light of God. We need one day to be dealt with by God.
Now the heading of each of these seven letters reveals something of who the Lord is; and all the words of each letter which follow thereafter are based upon this facet of revelation as to who the Lord is. All who do not know the Lord cannot see the Church; for the Church is the continuation of the cross; and he who knows not the cross does not know in reality the extension or continuation of the cross.
All seven letters commence with some facet of the Lord in revelation and conclude with the call to overcome. Who are the overcomers? Are they special, “above level” persons? The meaning of overcomers in the Bible denotes ordinary, common people. Those who do not conduct themselves in an abnormal way in an extraordinary time are overcomers. Today most people are “below level.” Yet overcomers are not above level, but are simply on or at the level. Today God is calling for overcomers who will respond to the normal rule of what was from the beginning. Let us see that the will of God never changes; on the contrary, it is like a straight line. Today men have fallen, and in falling they have fallen down below this straight line. Overcomers, however, are those who are being restored to God’s original purpose.
Two more things need to be observed here: one is that the churches are said to be golden lampstands among which the Lord walks; the other is that in the Lord’s right hand are seven stars which are the angels of these seven churches.
Let us discuss briefly the first of these two matters. Metals in the Bible have their symbolic meanings. Iron symbolizes governmental power; brass signifies judgment; silver, redemption; and gold, the glory of God. Whether in the ancient or in the modern world, there is one thing no one can ever know—which is, the glory of God. Though God’s holiness is hard to comprehend, we can still know it. We can also know His righteousness. But His glory is unknown to men because it is akin to God himself. Notice, however, what we are told here: that the Church is made of gold, the Biblical symbol for God’s glory and nature. People in the Church are born of God; they are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man (see John 1.13). The Church has absolutely no intrinsic relationship to men. What are the works of wood, hay and stubble as spoken of in 2 Corinthians (see 3.10-15)? They are the works of the flesh. But the works of gold, silver and precious stones signify that they are all of God.
The second matter. These seven letters were written to the angels of the seven churches. They are different from Paul’s set of church letters in that these latter were written directly to the churches themselves. In the letter to the Philippians, for example, we read in it especially how Paul has mentioned all the saints, the bishops and the deacons—those to whom the letter had been addressed. The seven letters in Revelation, however, were written to the angels of these churches, notwithstanding the fact that they were words spoken by the Holy Spirit to all the churches. The seven stars to be seen in the Lord’s right hand, we are told, are the angels of these seven local churches. Angel in Greek is “angelos,” meaning “a messenger.” In reading Revelation 2 and 3, many have attempted to discover similarities between this latter set of church letters and the former set written by Paul, with the result that all sorts of wrong interpretations have been made concerning these angels. Who are these angels? The term angel used here is singular in number; and hence, each letter was written to but one angel. Yet the one angel to whom each letter is addressed, though singular in number, is corporate in nature. This is borne out by the fact that at the end of each letter (which, it must be kept in mind, was written to one angel) the repeated call to overcome is always addressed to a plural number. And hence the angel is a corporate messenger who is capable of representing the few in the entire local church. Accordingly, the way of God—though not His purpose—has changed. Formerly it was the church that stood before the Lord; now it is the angel who stands before Him. Lamplight is inferior to starlight. In this new situation, therefore, the Lord has chosen the star whose light ever shines—and shines more brightly. Moreover, He says that this star is His messenger. Let us note, too, that the star is in His right hand. Today a group of people is considered by the Lord to be His messenger, since the character of that local church is deemed to be reposed in them. Whenever the outward appearance of the church becomes a problem before the Lord, a group of people—as seen here in the angel—is viewed by the Lord to be representative of the church. Formerly, those who were representative of the church had position, they being elders of the church. Now, though, the responsibility of representing the church rests upon a spiritual messenger corporate in nature. The messenger may therefore not be elders or deacons but merely ordinary common saints who overcome. Today God places the responsibility of the church upon those who can truly represent the church. Today the issue of responsibility no longer lies in position or office but in real spiritual power before God.
The Book of Revelation is written to all the servants of God (Rev. 1.1). Whoever is not servant in heart cannot understand it. All who are not blood-bought and constrained by divine love to be bondservants of the Lord are unable to comprehend the Book of Revelation.
John wrote this book in about 95 or 96 A.D. during the time when Domitian was the Roman Caesar. Of the twelve apostles, John was the last one to die. The apostolic church ended with John. At the time of his writing Revelation these seven letters of chapters 2 and 3 were prophetic in nature. Today as we read them they are still prophetic though now they stand fulfilled in the history of the Church. John had looked forward, while we today look backward.
In the first three letters [see Rev. 2], the call to overcome is placed after “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” First, “He that hath an ear,” and then, the promise to the overcomer. But commencing from the letter to the church at Thyatira, this order is reversed. This indicates that the first three churches form one group while the latter four churches form another. Between the two groups there is a basic difference. Formerly, only after the history of Ephesus had passed away would Smyrna come into view; only after Smyrna had passed away would Pergamum come into being; and only after Pergamum had passed away would Thyatira come into the picture. But now Sardius did not have to wait till Thyatira had passed away because Thyatira will continue on till the Second Coming of the Lord. Nor must Sardius pass away before Philadelphia came into being or Philadelphia pass away before Laodicea came into view. While Sardius yet existed, Philadelphia came on the scene, and while Philadelphia still existed, Laodicea came. Thyatira, Sardius, Philadelphia and Laodicea will all continue on till the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. The first group of three churches came and went—each of the three in turn; but though the four in the last group came indeed one after another, they all shall continue to co-exist till the Second Coming of the Lord.
—OC 3-10, 44