Revelation Chapter 3:1 cont2
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]Verse 3:1 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive–but you are dead.[/symple_highlight]
The History of Prophecy Interpretation
Misunderstanding of the Future
One of the worst mistakes of the Reformers was the failure of most of them to correct the erroneous interpretation of Bible prophecies that had developed during the Middle Ages about Israel, the Second Coming of Christ and the other aspects of the future that were given by the Old Testament prophets, the Lord Jesus Himself, the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation.
As we mentioned above, the best guiding principle of the Reformation was expressed by the concept called Sola Scriptura, meaning “only Scripture,” or “by Scripture alone.” This was understood to mean that the Bible is the only inspired, and the most authoritative, source of truth. There is value in exposition (explanation) of the Word, as is done in preaching, and in the writing of theological books, commentaries, and devotional literature, but all of these are subordinate to, and are to be corrected by. The written Word of God.
Jesus, the “living Word” (John 1:1, 14), declared Himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:5), but even this great reality is revealed by the “written Word,” The Bible.
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. – John 17:17
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. – Matthew 24:35
The Reformers meant well, but there were just so many misunderstandings about the plain teaching of the Bible that it was virtually impossible to correct everything at once. Therefore eschatology (the study of “last things” – from the Greek word eschatos) was not revised, and was even made more confusing during the Reformation period.
Near the beginning of this commentary (chapter 1, verse 10) we discussed various ways that people have interpreted Bible prophecy through the years.
The main question about the prophecies of the Bible is whether or not they will be fulfilled literally. This is especially true about the many places in the New Testament where we are told that Jesus is returning and that His coming could take place at any time.
The Early Church interpreted these passages literally, and lived in the anticipation of Christ’s any-moment return. Knowing his had a purifying and motivating effect on them. They wanted to be living holy lives when Jesus would return. And, if He might return at any time, there was always an urgency to share the Gospel with those who had not yet received Him as Savior and Lord!
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . . – 2 Peter 3:11-12a.
The other kind of interpretation is the allegorical method. An allegory is a story that is meant to teach a moral lesson. Of course the Bible does contain allegories and many other kinds of symbolic language, but the literal approach to interpretation accepts the idea that once the figure of speech is understood; there is a literal fulfillment for any prophetic utterance. This allegorical approach does not look for a future historical event, but is satisfied with the idea that the story teaches a general moral principle. From this point of view, the promises to Israel may mistakenly be transferred to the Church, and the numerous Bible promises of a glorious messianic kingdom and a literal thousand-year reign of Christ can be wrongly interpreted as a gradual transformation of the culture from a pagan civilization to a Christian kingdom.
Now we need to look at the predominant beliefs about the future over the course of history.
Early Church Eschatology
The first three of the churches in this prophecy would all be part of the Early Church. They were: Ephesus (Apostolic), Smyrna (Persecution), and Pergamum (Compromise). They took the simple, biblical “futurist” method of interpretation, which resulted in a “premillennial” view of eschatology. These are pretty technical expressions, so let us break it down a little bit.
The “futurist” interpretation accepts what the Bible says about future events literally.
The “premillennial” eschatology was built on this literal futurist approach. It was the belief that Jesus would return to Earth to reign for a thousand years. The Early Christians expected that, at any time, Christ would “catch up” His Church at the Rapture (John 14:1-3; 1Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18;; Revelation 4:1), and after the Tribulation period (Jeremiah 30:1-7; Daniel 11:20-45; Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39Matthew 24:9-28; Revelation chapters 6-19), would return to establish the Messianic Kingdom (Isaiah and most of the Old Testament prophets) promised extensively in the Old Testament. According to this Book of Revelation, the Kingdom would be a thousand-year reign of righteousness over a peaceful and prosperous world (Matthew 24:29-32; Revelation 20:1-8). After the millennium there would be a judgment of non-believers (Revelation 20:11-15), followed by the creation of a New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation chapters 21 and 22)!
The Catholic Church is defined by the fourth church of this prophecy: Thyatira (Middle Ages). The leaders of the Church felt that they were establishing the Kingdom of Heaven. They employed the historicist (allegorical) method of interpretation, believing that the events in their generations were gradually fulfilling the prophecies.
Since the theologians of the Middle Ages thought that they were building the kingdom they didn’t feel a need for a literal thousand-year reign of Christ in the future. Using the allegorical method of interpretation, they taught that the Old Testament prophecies of a messianic millennium referred to the kingdom they were creating themselves, that would last forever. They believed that Jesus would come back to reign once they had finished preparing for His return. And from their point of view, Israel had been replaced by the Church, so they did not look for literal fulfillments of the Old Testament promises.
Therefore their eschatology (teaching about “last things” or end times) was “amillennial.”
The Reformation is represented by Sardis, the fifth church of this prophecy. As we noted above, it failed to live up to its own standard of “Scripture only,” and continued to hold the amillennial view of the future which they thought would result in a godly church/state union to which Christ could eventually return as King.
John Calvin did introduce a variation to the eschatology the Reformers had inherited from the Catholic Church. He called it “Covenant Theology.” This viewpoint considers all of history as the development of three overarching theological covenants – the covenants of redemption, of works, and of grace. In their system, the covenants include the return of Christ, resurrection of the dead, and the Great White Throne Judgment, but no literal 1000 year Millennium.
It was common for the Reformers to consider the Catholic Church with its church/state alliances, the evil last world empire of the Book of Revelation, and to claim that the Pope was the Antichrist.
A completely new view of the future was invented during the Reformation period by the Jesuits, a new Catholic order that we will explore next. It was called Preterism (from the Latin praeter – meaning “past.”) Versions of this theory relate most, or even all, of the Book of Revelation to the events of the First Century, revolving around the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and/or the persecutions of the Roman Empire. It was presented as an alternative to the growing belief that the Pope was Antichrist. Preterism was later adopted by some Protestants.
Later Developments in Eschatology
When we get to the next church in Revelation 3 we will see that there was a strong return to the literal interpretation of prophecy, resulting in a renewed interest in the Rapture of the Church and the development of end times events. It was also a boon to evangelism and the missionary movement.
Another important reason the Reformation period was “dead” was the success of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the failure of the new Protestants to walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Rise of the Jesuits
Most Christians have heard of the Jesuits but don’t know much about them. This is especially interesting in the light of the fact that they are now the largest order in the Catholic Church, and Pope Francis, who was recently enthroned as Pope is the first Jesuit ever to become Pope.
Their story began with the dramatic life of Ignatius of Loyola (1491 to 1556), an aristocratic young man who became a Spanish knight, but was seriously wounded in the Battle of Pamplona in 1521 when he was struck by a cannonball. The injury left him partially disabled, but during his long recovery he devoted himself to serve God with a zeal that was equal to his former military discipline. He had spiritual visions and developed an intense devotional life, from which he conceived and published “Spiritual Exercises” that would eventually be required of all who would follow him.
Ignatius travelled to the Holy Land, and some believe he received secret information about the practices of the Knights Templar, which had been disbanded in 1312 (F Tupper Saussy, Rulers of Evil, 1999, Ospray Bookmakers, p. 33).
He studied theology during the early days of the Spanish Inquisition and the Protestant Reformation. He became a priest, and then, with a few disciplined followers, including Francis Xavier, who would become a missionary the to the far East, formed the “Society of Jesus” in 1539. This organization was recognized by Pope Paul III in 1540 as a new Catholic order. Their purpose was to “do battle in the Lord God’s service under the banner of the Cross.”(Saussy, ibid, p. 46) They were to counteract the effect of the Protestant Reformation. Jesuits pledged absolute loyalty to the Pope. One of Loyola’s most famous quotations is:
That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Loyola)
Loyola was appointed the first Superior General, with dictatorial powers over the members of the order. In this role he was to be honored, like the Pope, as the representative of Christ. This equality with the Pope led to the unofficial title of “The Black Pope.”
The emphasis of the Reformation was to return to the Bible, and to allow common people to read and study it in their own languages. This raised serious questions about all of the un-biblical concepts that had been adopted by the church during the thousand-plus years of the Middle Ages. From the beginning, the Society of Jesus, which began to be called “Jesuits,” sought to counter biblical knowledge with other kinds of knowledge. They became the champions of science and education. Their members, who were actually monks, were encouraged to wear normal clothing and assume positions in all areas of influence. In essence, they became undercover agents for the Catholic Church to discredit Protestants and bring them back into the fold of the Catholic Church.
The statue of Ignatius of Loyola in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome portrays him stepping on the neck of a Protestant (presumably Martin Luther).
Loyola died in 1556 but his successors kept building on his foundational concepts.
By the 1700’s Jesuits were viewed as foreign agents in some countries. They were banned in France and Spain, and then, in 1773, Pope Clement XIV dissolved the order. They were restored however in 1814. (https://www.gracecentered.com/christian_forums/catholic-forum/the-extreme-oath-of-the-jesuits/)/font>
They have now grown from a small band of dedicated soldiers to the largest men’s single religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church with approximately 18,000 members world-wide. They are constantly infiltrating governments, businesses, the arts, and especially education. There are now 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States and some 189 Jesuit institutions of higher learning worldwide! (https://www.ajcunet.edu/institutions) Their students are not taught to know and revere the Bible, which would advance the Protestant agenda, but to trust humanism, psychology, and philosophy instead.
We will return to the influence of the Jesuits in the historical portions of the last two churches in Revelation 3: Philadelphia and Laodicea.
The Council of Trent
If the Jesuits were the undercover agents of the Counter Reformation, the Council of Trent was the visible, spectacular, and formal declaration of war against Protestants. It was a series of meetings over a period of 18 years in various venues. It began in 1545 and concluded in 1563.
The Council reconfirmed all of the beliefs and practices that were questioned by the Protestant Reformation, and pronounced anathemas (eternal damnations) upon anyone who believed the things the Reformers taught, which are basically the same things that evangelical believe and teach today!
Some of the key concepts of Catholicism that were reaffirmed by the Council of Trent were:
– Works-based salvation through the sacraments and confession. Man participates in his own salvation. There was no mention of assurance of salvation – one could die with an unconfessed mortal sin.
– Sacrifice of the Mass
– Veneration of Saints/ Images
– Prayers for the dead
(Encyclopedia Britannica: Council of Trent, https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/604238/Council-of-Trent)
(Catholic Encyclopedia: Council of Trent, https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15030c.htm)
(Catholic Encyclopedia: Prayers for the Dead, https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04653a.htm)
The result of this Council was great persecution of Reformers and the prolonging of the Inquisitions. Whole groups of dissenters, such as the Huguenots and Waldensians were massacred. Religious wars continued for decades in France, the Netherlands and Spain. The “Thirty-Years War” (1618 – 1648) involved fighting between Catholics and Protestants throughout all of Europe, and is considered the continent’s most devastating war.
Need for the Fullness of the Holy Spirit
As we saw at the beginning of this verse, Jesus described Himself as “He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” This expression was first given in chapter 1, verse 4. It was a reference to the Holy Spirit. We have already seen that the number seven is used repeatedly in the Revelation to signify completeness and inclusiveness (“seven churches,” “seven stars,” etc.). John MacArthur suggests that it might also be a reference to an Old Testament description of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. – Isaiah 11:1-2
MacArthur comments, “The Spirit of the Lord is described as the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear, adding those six to the title Spirit of the Lord gives you the seven-fold Spirit, that would be the Holy Spirit described in the fullness of His operation.” (https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/66-11)/font>
This gives us an insight about the biggest problem of all for the Reformation Church. In spite of their diligent study and their courageous actions, they often failed to realize that victory in spiritual warfare depends on the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual life and vitality does not come from merely knowing the truth, but from the power of the Holy Spirit literally living within us and controlling our thoughts and actions (John 14:15-27; 16;5-15; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:18-21; 6:10-18).
The Apostles and other early church leaders depended completely on the Holy Spirit. It has been noted by many commentators that the Book of Acts is really a record of The Acts of the Holy Spirit. By the time of the Reformation the Church was no longer steeped in the details of God’s Word. We have no doubt that the Reformation was the work of the Holy Spirit, or that godly Christians during this period were often led by the Spirit. However, there was little emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately this was another error that was carried over into the Reformation Church – a dependence on self-effort instead of dependence on the Third Person of the Trinity.
When we study the next Church – Philadelphia- we will see that the missionary movement was characterized by much greater reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit, like it will be in the future kingdom predicted by Zechariah.
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel:
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,”
Says the LORD of hosts. – Zechariah 4:6
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We are now living in the absolute End Times as per biblical prophecy.
Our Lord Jesus Christ – King of Kings. 2nd Coming and return is IMMENENT!.
Please do not waist another a minute.
No matter what religion you serve, there is only one God.
If, you want to be assured that you will not have to endure the perilous times that will befall you.
Irrespective, of what sins you may have committed at any time of your life. If you humble yourself and ask for God’s forgiveness. He will forgive you and wash them all away and welcome you as his beloved son or daughter with open arms.
If you are not a child of Father God or have not asked Jesus Christ to come into your life yet?
I implore you to do this without delay.
Read this prayer of Salvation and ask God to forgive you now and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and you will be assured of eternal life.