Bible Study with Jairus – Revelation 2 Part 3
The Work of Evil Spirits in The Seven Churches
The book of Revelation reveals that the church and the Body of Christ will judge the evil spirits who cooperate with Satan to deceive and snare people and drag them into hell. First Corinthians 6:3 says that believers will judge angels, and we will also execute God’s judgment upon Satan. After the birth of the male child in chapter 12, God eventually threw Satan in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12). This is the ultimate destiny of Satan and the evil spirits. That’s why Satan and the evil spirits are strongly opposing the church’s maturity and the maturity of the bride, because the church’s maturity signals the beginning of their final judgment. For this reason, Satan has sent all kinds of evil spirits into the churches to oppose the victory and maturity of the church. These evil spirits tempt believers and try to snare them into sin and deception.
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 1-2 not only reveal characteristics of Christ, but also reveal the work of Satan and the evil spirits in every church. By exposing their works, Christ judges not only the church, but also the work of the evil spirits in the church. For example, Jesus not only exposed the lack of love in Ephesians, but he also exposed the evil spirit of indifference operating in their midst. Jesus said that in the end times, “lawlessness will be increased, [and therefore] the love of many will grow cold.” (ESV, Matthew 24:12). When lawlessness increases, righteous things are suppressed, people’s expectations are not met, and love grows cold. This is the result of the work of the spirit of indifference in the church. Jesus exposed the spirit of indifference in His letter to the church in Ephesus. When the evil spirits’ tricks are exposed, their defeat will not be far away.
The Bible reveals three major realities about the world:
- God’s nature and work
- The tricks of Satan and the evil spirits
- Humans’ identity in Christ and our weaknesses.
When we study the Bible we must learn about God, Satan, and ourselves. The book of Revelation is no exception. In the letter to the church in Ephesus, these three things are revealed.
Humans are an object of contention between God and Satan. We were created by God to worship Him, and lead everyone to worship Him. This was once Satan’s role. This is why Satan hates us so much. Satan tempts us to sin and tries to convince us to follow him so he can rob us of our worship of God. We were created as mirrors and vessels. We reflect the light of Christ, see his face, and become like Him, or we accept Satan’s infusion of sin and the disguise of sin.
In the letters of Revelation to the seven churches, there are five major things we can learn.
- The characteristics of Christ
- The characteristics of Satan and evil spirits;
- The positive work of Christ in the church, which is what the Lord praises;
- The negative work of Satan and evil spirits in the church, in which the Lord criticizes
- The Lord will give us reward if we correct our mistakes.
To simplify even more, these chapters discuss the characteristics of God, the acts of Satan, and the condition of man.
When we think about the church, we often focus on God’s work and on people’s positive testimony or negative witness. But we often ignore the work of evil spirits. And evil spirits will never stand idle. They will design all kinds of snares to lure believers into sin. So we must pay attention to the work of the evil spirits.
The Work of Evil Spirits
How can we learn about the work of Satan and his evil spirits? This is not an easy task. Many liberal theologians don’t even acknowledge the existence of Satan and evil spirits. There are also some church members in the United States who think that evil spirits only exist in the third world where idols are still prevalent. But this is not the case. Evil spirits also exist in American churches.
There are different theological explanations about the origins of evil spirits. But we know that the Bible discusses many different kinds of evil spirits, which seemingly rule over different regions and have different functions. Some evil spirits seem to influence politics, such as the spirit of Jezebel. Others seem to be spirits of adultery. The spirit of indifference tempts people to give up on changing the church, and the spirit of legalism shuts down passion for God and focuses instead on dogmatism. We will not be spending a lot of time discussing the sources and types of evil spirits. But we must know enough about the work of evil spirits to know how to spot and avoid their tricks, and to seek God’s wisdom to know how to deal with them. If we ignore or do not understand the work of the evil spirits, we will give them the opportunity to work in the church.
For example, the spirit of unforgiveness often use people’s unforgiveness to build unforgiving strongholds in their hearts. These strongholds will become the enemy’s bridgehead, hardening believers’ hearts towards God and causing them to lose their love for others. The Lord Jesus taught us many times that we must forgive others. In addition, if we watch sinful videos or commit sexual sins, it opens the door to the spirit of lust. These are some common ways used by the evil spirits at work.
Why Did the Church in Ephesus Leave Her First Love?
The spirit of indifference was likely at work in the church in Ephesus. Some theologians believe that the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2:6 were an arrogant group of privileged people within the church. They wanted to control the interpretation of the Bible and restrict the saints from functioning independently and reading the Bible on their own. They wanted a monopoly on God’s word. In many churches, a small group of privileged people does the majority of the work of the church. Only one pastor preaches the sermons every week. As a result, the other members begin to wither and lack functioning, allowing many people to lose their first love.
This type of behavior is damaging and breeds discouragement and indifference. As members of one body, believers are supposed to be connected directly to Christ, so he can provide for us. However, when a privileged group tries to control God’s word and believers, members will lack the direct provision from Christ the Head. They will also lack training of their senses (Hebrews 5:14) and never grow past spiritual infancy.
The spirit of indifference operates in many churches, but many people are unaware of it. When we have been in a church for a long time and friction and misunderstandings continue to grow, we feel a passion to change things. But when a monopolizing group shuts us down, we slowly stop caring. We open the door to the spirit of indifference.
When I was small, I remember having a desire to attempt a certain task. But my family wouldn’t let me do it. “You are too young,” they said. I was sad, because I felt capable enough to do it. Since no one encouraged my passions and desires, I stopped bringing the subject up. I was frustrated and no longer talked about my wishes. In the same way, we often hear people in companies or even churches complaining, “I don’t want to raise any opinions anymore. They are the ones who have the final say anyway. They don’t listen to us at all.” Many people are discouraged because their suggestions are not adopted. Therefore, well-managed companies attach great importance to the annual survey of employees. They collect their opinions and adopt reasonable opinions in response. Poorly managed companies, however, don’t usually pay attention to and adopt the opinions of their employees. Over time, they lose the loyalty of their employees. Jesus was right when He said, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8).
When the monopolizing group focuses on its own interests and shuts down other believers, it prevents them from using their talents. These believers can easily become discouraged and disappointed. Even if they are unwilling to leave the church and their beliefs, they become negative and discouraged. They may even lose their first love.
Randy Clark, a teacher at my seminary, told a story that serves as an excellent example of this point. He mentioned that he leads an annual ministry team that preaches the gospel and serves the church in Brazil. One of his burdens has been to train believers to do the work Jesus taught: healing the sick and casting out demons. He believes that everyone can heal and cast out demons. But when he went to a Brazilian church and tried to do this, he was met with opposition from the pastor. The pastor said, “If you teach all the believers to pray and heal the sick and cast out demons, who will still need us?” The pastor opposed their attempts to train the believers in his church. “Please teach the clergy to do this,” they said. “But we do not want all believers to learn it.”
There are many reasons why believers can lose their first love (2:4). But one of the reasons may be the work of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus hates. It is no accident that this is mentioned here. In verse five, Jesus mentions that believers should remember from where they have fallen. And immediately following this statement, he mentions that he hates the works of the Nicolaitans (2:6). It logically follows that the Nicolaitans may have caused the Ephesian believers to lose their first love.
In historic Catholicism, only the clergy could read the Bible, and only the Pope could affirm the doctrine, which limited the enthusiastic growth of individual believers. After Martin Luther translated the Bible into the common language and the printing press made Bibles widely available, a great revival broke out! But unfortunately, the banal influence of the middle class is still circulating in the church today, even in the Protestant church and some Chinese churches. What a strange and unfortunate situation! When a new servant arises in the church, the long-standing church workers feel threatened. As a result, they begin to suppress these new servants. Evil spirits often take advantage of people’s narrow-minded and selfish interests to restrict the growth and functioning of believers. This suffocates the growth of the Body of Christ.
Evil Spirits at Work in The Church In Smyrna
What types of evil spirits were at work in the church in Smyrna? To answer this question, we must return to the church in Ephesus. When a privileged group oppresses the rest of the church, as it may have done in Ephesus, some believers become discouraged. But other believers are able to overcome the persecution of this evil spirit. These faithful believers continue to love the Lord. They do not lose their first love. Now Satan is left with a conundrum: what should he do with these people? He decides to directly persecute them, just like he did with Job. Satan had attacked Job’s possessions, property, and family, but Satan had not failed to trust God. Satan concluded that direct persecution would cause Job to curse God. Satan said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life.” (Job 2:4). In the same way, Satan launched a direct attack on those who had survived his subtle attack of lovelessness.
The letters to the seven churches build on one another, just like the progressively difficult levels in a video game. After passing one level, the next level is more difficult. In the same way, trials can be progressively more difficult. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress portrays a man named “Christian” who goes through increasing difficulties and trials in order to eventually reach his destination and find eternal life. In the same way, God allows believers to experience many difficulties on their way to the eternal city of God.
The religious spirit often oppresses believers and tempts them to lose their first love. If believers successfully overcome the religious spirit and stay true to God, Satan may attack them directly to see if they can pass the test. Anyone who can overcome the oppression of the religious spirit in the church will surely suffer persecution. But Jesus tells us that this tribulation will only last ten days. Those who overcome will receive the crown of life (2:10). Not everyone will experience persecution that leads to physical death, but many people will experience the mental and emotional persecution that Paul described in 2 Corinthians 1:8b-9a: “…We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, felt that we had received the sentence of death…” Many believers have experienced seemingly hopeless situations, yet they have also experienced the hand of the Risen Christ leading them through the valley of the shadow of death.
For example, Margaret E. Barber who trained Watchman Nee was misunderstood and envied by her Christian co-workers. They smeared her with lies, dragged her reputation through the dirt, and left her in the church to serve alone. Despite these struggles, Margaret trained Watchman Nee and others and brought a wave of revival into the Chinese church.
As you will recall, the theme of the book of Revelation is to usher in the victorious overcomers and the bride of Christ (chapter 12); judge Satan and his evil spirits; and bring in the New Jerusalem, the New Heaven and the New Earth. Our trials are like a fiery furnace, designed to smelt away the dross and make our faith more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7).
The Evil Spirits Operating in The Church in Pergamum
Persecution is not always the most effective method of destroying believers. During the early years of the Roman Empire, Satan’s persecution of the church reached its climax. Many Christians were burned at the stake or sent into the arena to fight with wild beasts. But instead of losing their faith, they became stronger. Their willingness to die rather than deny Christ strengthened other believers. The blood of the martyrs made Christianity spread more widely. The number of Christians increased even more. Satan saw that his methods were not universally effective. Though believers shrank back as persecution became more severe, still others became stronger.
What would Satan do next? Why not mix the tare with the wheats? He began to introduce the teaching of the Nicolaitans (2:15) and Balaam (2:14). Balaam was a gentle false prophet hired by Balak, King of Moab, to curse Israel. God would not allow Balaam to curse Israel, and blessings poured out of his mouth instead. When Balaam realized he could not call down curses on Israel, he used a trickier method. He could not change God’s attitude toward the Israelites, so he decided to change the Israelites’ attitude toward God. He sent Moabite and Midianite women to entice the Israelites into committing sexual sin. Since the Lord hates idolatry and fornication, the Israelites lost God’s blessings. God sent a plague to punish them. Although God eventually judged Balaam, the Israelites also suffered severely for their sin.
In the same way, Satan deployed a subtle tactic against the believers in Pergamum. The believers had not fallen for the trick of lovelessness (Ephesus), nor had they fallen for the trick of death and persecution (Smyrna). But perhaps he could lure them away with sexual sin and idolatry, like Balaam lured the people of Israel. Satan let loose the religious spirit, the spirit of death, and the spirit of confusion at the same time, allowing them to band together. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” What is true in the realm of goodness is also true in the realm of evil. Satan knew that if he could attack simultaneously from several angles, he could seduce more people. He sent several evil spirits to band together against the church. The cooperation of evil spirits and human sinners will eventually become Babylon the Great, which is a combination of religious, political, business and other systems which form a giant snare and attempt to drag the church into hell.
Facing such a united front of evil, believers must recognize that God’s word is even sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). If believers do not know how to use God’s word as a sword (Ephesians 6:17) or how to put on the whole armor of God to fight against the enemy, they will become prey. Satan continues to use all kinds of evil spirits to weave a sticky net, like a spider web, to bind believers and restrict the church. Like flies that get caught in a spider’s web, some believers will fall prey to Satan and evil spirits. But while a spider’s web is strong enough to catch insects, it’s no match for a human with a broom in his hand. In the same way, God’s word will easily conquer Babylon the Great.
Why do some believers get stuck in Satan’s spider webs and lose their spiritual vitality? It is because they lack the fellowship with the Lord. The teaching of the Nicolaitans keeps believers from having personal contact with God and His word. It causes them to lose their fellowship with Him and cut off their rich supply directly from the Head, Christ. Furthermore, it discourages them from repenting, asking for God’s forgiveness, and receiving the cleansing of his precious blood. When we fall prey to these beliefs, we get stuck.
However, when we draw close to God and study and meditate on His word every day, we will receive the hidden manna (2:17). We will experience spiritual transformation and become a pure white stone which will never be trapped by spider webs (2:17). We will receive a new name. God will know us personally (2:17). God will keep us through all trials. Although thousands of people fall before us, we will not be afraid of evil, because God will keep us safe (Psalm 91:7).
Despite Satan’s attempts to destroy the church, God’s work continues forward despite all opposition. The tests and attacks by the religious spirit (Ephesus), spirit of death (Smyrna), and the spirits of idolatry, immorality, and confusion (Pergamos) only strengthen the church. As they choose to keep their first love, overcome death, and put away idolatry and false teaching, they build up the body of Christ. The church’s progress will eventually lead to the seal judgments and trumpet judgments. Many people will be judged, including the church, since judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). These judgments will further purify the church, separate the wheat from the tares, and reap an eternal harvest of souls.
The more the church matures, the more overcomers it will produce. The more Satan’s forces band together, the stronger the opposition. The train has left the station. The train of evil and the train of good are headed for a full-force collision at the battle of Armageddon.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.