Bible Study with Jairus- – Revelation 3 Part 1
The Epistles to the Seven Churches Reveal Seven Spirit-Filled Stages of the Church and Individual
The Letter to the Church in Sardis Reveals God’s Expectation for the Church to Live in Righteousness
The letter to the church in Sardis reveals God’s expectation for the church to live righteously. As we learned in our last study, the letter to Thyatira reveals God’s expectation that the church members become Spirit-filled kings who can rule the nations with a rod of iron. The letter to Sardis describes the outward manifestation of the inward reality revealed in the letter to Sardis. The infilling of the Holy Spirit (Sardis) and its outworking in righteous living (Thyatira) are two sides of the same coin. Without the infilling of the Holy Spirit, we cannot truly manifest the righteousness of God in our actions. We can only live righteously if we are righteous on the inside. If we claim to have the infilling of the Holy Spirit but do not demonstrate any outward righteousness, then our infilling is unreliable. We need to be justified by faith as well as by works.
The letter to Sardis contains some phrases that refer symbolically to people who live in righteousness:
- Those who have “not soiled their garments” (v. 3)
- Those “clothed in white” (v. 4) walking with the Lord
- Those who overcome are clothed in “white raiment.”
The imagery reminds us of the description of the righteous Bride in Revelation 19:8, who is clothed in “clean and white fine linen.” The Bible says that “the fine linen is the righteous works of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). The righteous works of these saints are the righteous deeds that they naturally live out and demonstrate after experiencing the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
From this letter, we can see that God’s judgment on the church has produced positive fruits. The church is growing into the spotless Bride of Christ. The stage of growth described in the letter to Sardis will lead naturally to the next stage of God’s work on the church, God’s work in the Philadelphia church. The purpose of the Philadelphia stage is to produce the prototype of the New Jerusalem.
The Progressive Spiritual Relationship of the Seven Churches
In our last study, I mentioned that the letters to the seven churches are not limited to describing God’s work in seven different chronological periods of church history. Nor are they limited to revealing God’s different ways of working in the same time period. Instead, it describes the seven stages of spiritual growth as God helps the church grow toward maturity. I believe the letters reveal a pattern of continuous and progressive spiritual growth.
As I read the book of Revelation, God enlightened me about this message of progressive growth. I believe that Satan and his evil spirits work differently in every church mentioned in Revelation. But God has given each church unique provisions that help it combat the work of Satan. In this way, each letter exposes a different aspect of the work of evil spirits, and also reveals an aspect of the Lord’s provision. God’s provision helps the individual church escape the deceptions of evil spirits and “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
To recap what we have learned, let’s briefly review the ways God provided for the unique struggle in each church.
- In the church of Ephesus, the evil spirit of indifference tempts the Ephesians to abandon the love they had at first. But the Lord reveals Himself as the High Priest who trims the lamps, removes the charred wicks, and anoints the church with oil (the Holy Spirit) to help them return to their first love.
- After the churches and believers return to their first love, Satan raises up the evil spirit of death to persecute them. This is what was happening in the church of Smyrna. The Lord reveals Himself as the resurrection who could strengthen the church to be victorious over the attacks of the evil spirit of death.
- When Satan sees that persecution fails to weaken the faith of the church, he sends false teachers (the teaching of Balaam and the teaching of the Nicolaitans). Just as Balaam tempted the Israelites to sin, these false teachers tempt the church to commit sexual immorality and leave their position of God’s blessing. As a response to this temptation, the Lord reveals himself as “the sharp two-edged sword” (Rev 2:12). His word is powerful in discerning and defeating the wiles of the enemy in the church of Pergamum.
- In the church at Thyatira, Satan raises up the spirit of Jezebel, which is the spirit of the false prophet, to confuse believers. To combat his schemes, the Lord releases the spirit of Elijah to defeat Jezebel. Elijah foretold the death of Jezebel and anointed Jehu to kill Jezebel. In the same way, as believers defeat the evil spirit of Jezebel, they will grow into spiritual kings. God will give them authority to rule over all nations and they will “reign in life.” (Romans 5:17) In this way, the church will mature to such an extent that it can be “filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)
- This fullness will naturally be manifested in outward righteousness, which is the work that God is accomplishing in the church in Sardis.
- The work of God in the church in Philadelphia is to produce the precursor of the New Jerusalem.
- God’s work in the church of Laodicea is to achieve an ultimate victory, allowing us to sit on the throne and reign together with Christ.
Each of these letters reveals a stage of spiritual growth, a stepping stone toward God’s ultimate purpose for the church. It also represents the seven stages of trials that the Lord sends to the church, the seven ways that evil spirits work, and the seven provisions of God to combat these evil spirits. The Lord’s epistles to the seven churches represent God’s responses to the seven aspects of the work of evil spirits, helping the church to overcome them. In this way, the Church as a whole (the Bride of Christ) continues to grow in all things into Him who is the head, Christ.
God’s judgment begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Only after the house of God has endured judgment can God continue to judge the rest of the world. This is why the seven seals and seven trumpets (Revelation 5-11) are not revealed until after the Lord’s letter to the seven churches. The seven seals and the seven trumpets represent God’s continued judgment and cleansing of the world, which must take place after God’s judgment and cleansing of the church. I believe the letters to the seven churches are the seven stages of God’s judgment and cleansing which purify the church and prepare it to enter the next stage of God’s work.
Our spiritual growth and skill prepare us to “level up” in our ability to withstand trials. A video game player can only advance to the second level after gaining sufficient skills and abilities to “win” the first level. In the second level, there will be even stronger enemies which will help the player prepare to face the challenges of the third level. Similarly, a child is only allowed on certain Disneyland rides after he has reached a certain height. In the same way, our level of growth or spiritual stature determines whether or not God will allow us to enter the next stage of his work.
Only when God’s church is mature and cleansed will God be able to begin the process of cleansing the world. In this age, the church is experiencing judgment, cleansing, and trials. The church’s degree of maturity determines the timing in which God begins to cleanse the world. If we fail to mature spiritually, God cannot allow us to advance to the next stage of His work, which is judging the world. Just as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, many churches and believers are wandering in circles. But we must mature spiritually so we can cooperate with God’s work and enter the spiritual land of Canaan.
The Hologram Theory: The Seven Churches are a Microcosm of the Entire Kingdom of God
Through an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I understood that the Lord’s epistles to the seven churches not only reveal seven stages of growth in the worldwide church, but also reveal a microcosm of God’s work in the entire book of Revelation. The church is a microcosm of the kingdom of God. In the future, the whole earth will become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ (Revelation 11:15). But before this can be accomplished, the church must first become the kingdom of our Lord and of Christ, which is why the Lord wrote epistles to the seven churches. He wanted to purify the church and defeat the deeds of evil spirits in the church so the church could fully embrace its status as the kingdom of God.
What is the Hologram Theory? In Chinese medicine, the Hologram Theory says that the acupuncture points of our feet correspond to all the acupuncture points on our bodies. If you go for a foot massage, as long as you find the right acupuncture points, you can treat the diseases of the whole body. Similarly, the abdomen also has acupuncture points that correspond to the acupuncture points of the whole body. All diseases in the whole body can be treated by doing acupuncture on the torso. An acupuncturist from our church frequently administers abdominal acupuncture on me, and it works every time to heal my body. What’s even more amazing is that the ears also contain acupuncture points that correspond to the acupuncture points on the entire body. Another Christian brother in Christ gives me ear acupuncture to help me regulate my entire body and health.
This principle is not only true of Chinese medicine. In Western medicine, understanding one cell can help scientists decipher the mysteries of the human body. The Hologram Theory means a partial and tiny thing, which can reflect a whole and entire picture.
As I read the Bible, I realized that the seven stages of God’s work in the churches are a microcosm of the work of God in the entire book of the Book of Revelation. Here are a few examples of this phenomenon.
- The Lord’s letter to Laodicea says that the one who overcomes will sit on the throne with the Lord, just as Jesus overcame and sat on the throne with the Father (Rev 3:21). This mirrors the “throne of God and of the Lamb” mentioned in Revelation 22 (22:1).
- The Lord’s epistle to the church at Philadelphia mentions “being a pillar in the temple of God” and that “the name of God and the name of the city of God (that is, New Jerusalem) are written on the overcomers,” both of which are reflected in Revelation 21 as the “new Jerusalem came down from heaven” (21:2).
- The believers in Sardis are “clothed in white,” walk with the Lord and live righteous lives. This concept is reflected in the bride in Revelation 19. The bride wears fine white linen, which represents the righteous acts of the saints.
- Jesus’ letter to the church in Thyatira mentions an iron rod that governs the nations. This reflects the male child in Revelation 12 who “will rule the nations with an iron rod.”
- In the letter to Pergamos, Jesus rebuked the evil spirit of Jezebel and sent the spirit of Elijah. This mention can remind us of the two witnesses and prophets released by God in Revelation 10 and 11.
- The epistle to Smyrna reveals the work of the spirit of death, which can remind us of Revelation 9, where it says, “In those days men desired death, but never died; they longed for death, but death shunned them” (9:6). Not only is life in the hands of God, but death is also in the hands of God.
- In the letter to Ephesus, Jesus mentions leaving our first love. Perhaps this reference can remind us of the seal judgments and the trumpet judgments, the purpose of which was to encourage humans to return to The One who created them. Humans were created by God, but they have left their first love. These judgments will make them return to God Himself.
These examples show that the letters to the churches are a microcosm of the book of Revelation as a whole. In the book of Revelation, God’s purpose is to ultimately reveal the male child, the Bride, and the New Jerusalem. But God must first produce a prototype in the microcosm of the church. When all the prophecies of the Book of Revelation are fulfilled, Christ will publicly return to earth in the Parousia. But God has already returned in a hidden way to his body, the church, in a miniature Parousia. Parousia means the appearance and coming of Christ. Before the Lord’s public appearance to the whole world, He has already made a hidden, early appearance in the church. The word Parousia has a two-level meaning which includes both the public coming of Christ and the hidden coming of Christ. For the people of the world, the Lord Jesus has not appeared publicly. But for those who walk with the Lord as Enoch did, God has already appeared to us like the morning star appears before the dawn (2 Peter 1:17). Those of us who walk with God have already experienced the appearance of Jesus.
I once heard the story of Miss Margaret E. Barber who was very eager for the Lord’s appearance. She lived in the constant hope of the Lord’s coming. One day, as she and Watchman Nee were walking along the street, she said to him, “Perhaps, when we reach the corner of that street, the Lord will return.” She lived in great anticipation of the Lord’s Parousia (the appearance of the Lord). I believe that because of her love for the Lord, she was already experiencing an internal manifestation of the kingdom of Christ. She already had a practical experience of living in Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
The epistles to the seven churches demonstrate the seven stages of the Lord’s work in the church as he perfects his body so we can enter his heavenly kingdom. How is today’s church doing in its spiritual growth? How is your church doing? How are you doing? Can you say that you are already living in the spiritual reality of the kingdom of the Lord? That you are living in the reality of the New Jerusalem? This is the question that we Christians must ask ourselves today.
God Wants Us to Live in Righteousness.
The Lord’s letter to the church in Sardis reveals that God wants us to live in righteousness. How do we live in righteousness? We must experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, which is exactly what God did for the church in Thyatira. The filling of the Holy Spirit and a life of righteousness are two sides of the same coin, as demonstrated in this personal testimony. When I was in the Local Church Movement, I was encouraged to pursue the filling of the Holy Spirit. I was taught that only when we are filled with the Holy Spirit can we be greatly used by the Lord. Only when individual believers experience revival can the church as a whole experience revival. And revival comes from the filling of the Holy Spirit. As a result of this teaching, I began to pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit.
First, in order to experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, we must confess our sins. As I sought God’s infilling, I confessed my sins, repented of the weaknesses of my flesh, and removed the spiritual impurity brought about by the filth of the world. Since sin hinders us from receiving the filling of the Holy Spirit, we must deal with our sins before we can please God. We must deal with our sins because they hinder our fellowship with God and pull us away from our first love, our love for God. Jesus addressed the sin of the church at Ephesus, and we must address our sins as well.
Second, in order to experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, we must overcome spiritual death. For example, watching worldly TV programs is not necessarily a sin, but it can bring us spiritual death. After watching TV for a long time, our prayers feel dry and dull. We feel like we are far from God and it is difficult to get into the spirit of prayer. This is the work of the spirit of death. Just like God overcame the spirit of death in the church at Smyrna, God can resurrect us from our spiritual death. Spiritual death comes from our sin and from our exposure to the world.
The third thing we have to deal with is the influence of the world. The church in Pergamos was a church that was married to the world. The word “Pergamum” means “married, united, and strong tower.” This symbolizes that the church and believers were united with the world, and even allowed God’s dwelling place to become “Satan’s seat” (Revelation 2:13). We must rid ourselves of worldly influence so we can experience more of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, to experience the infilling of the Holy Spirit, we must defeat the fleshly strongholds that allow the evil spirits and false prophets to flourish in our midst. Through our strongholds, we allow false prophets like Jezebel to teach “the depths of Satan” (Revelation 2:24) to the church and to believers. Israel’s entry into the land of Canaan is a picture of the filling of the Holy Spirit. If we want to experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, we need to defeat the evil spirits and the strongholds they establish, just like Israel under Joshua defeated the Canaanites. Only then can we have victory in the land of Canaan.
Fifth, after experiencing the former stages of growth, we can experience God’s work in the church at Sardis. That is, we can manifest outwardly through righteous deeds what God has already filled us with inwardly. Jesus said, “A good tree brings forth good fruit” (Matthew 7:17). Just like a cup only spills the contents that are already inside it, we can only manifest the things that are already filling us.
As we “level up” to later stages of growth, we face more direct attacks and challenges from evil spirits. While I was in the Local Church Movement, I experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit to an extent, but I did not experience the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent manifestation that is described in Acts 2. God led me to join the Charismatic movement, where I received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. According to Brother Derek Prince, the most obvious sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not tongues or gifts, but increased troubles. After receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I began to experience more attacks from evil spirits and observed more acts of evil spirits, neither of which I had experienced in the past. When we advance in our experience of the filling of the Holy Spirit, we will definitely experience more attacks from evil spirits. Through these attacks, God is training us to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). God’s work in Philadelphia and Laodicea also demonstrates the continued work of God through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, allowing us to become the “New Jerusalem” (the manifestation of God) and to sit “on the throne together with the Lord” (reigning with Christ).
The spiritual experience revealed by the letters to the churches not only describes the seven stages of the church’s spiritual growth, but also the seven stages that every individual Christian can experience as they encounter the filling of the Holy Spirit. These seven letters represent a microcosm of the entire book of Revelation. We must see these letters from a new perspective. This inspiration from the Holy Spirit is a timely message for this generation. Both the church as a whole and individual Christians urgently need to grow and mature in their spiritual lives.