The Pattern of the Book
We have seen the reward offered to those who listen and obey the warnings of the Lord in our previous study in regard to the Church at Ephesus (Rev 2). We have seen that the reward if promised to the obedient ones, the overcomers. That reward is seen later on in the Book itself. The obedient will have access to the Tree of Life and we see that promise come to pass in Revelation 22.
This pattern holds true for the other churches in the Revelation. We see in Revelation 22 that the Lord is still speaking to the seven churches. As we've noted, the revelation is limited to a certain people at a certain time. It involves Jewish believers (the remnant spoken of in the Prophets and by Paul) and how they respond to the judgments and testing in the Day of the Lord.
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
The Church at Smyrna
Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life... He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. -Rev 2:10
As is the pattern in regard to servants, the reward here is attached to WORKS (service, obedience, faithfulness). These believers are being called upon to be martyrs. This is specific to the coming Day of the Lord as this will be a tremendous time of testing for Israel as a nation and for individual Jews. Obviously, some will be faithful to the Lord while others will not be faithful. All are believers.
We see this Crown of Life referenced by James in his letter to "the twelve tribes scattered abroad" (James 1:1). James tells his readers that they must be "approved" to receive the crown. Remember, in the Acts Age, they were expecting the tribulation and the return of the King. James and Peter, both Apostles to the Circumcision (Jews), spoke of testing and suffering to bring believers to maturity.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation [testing]; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect [mature], stablish, strengthen, settle you.
-1 Peter 5:8-10
In this present dispensation (Post Acts, the Dispensation of the One Body), Paul also reminds us that rewards are based on obedience. We must continue to make this distinction in scripture. Immortal life is a free gift, but position, reward, crowns, the prize, etc. are matters of obedience.
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
-2 Tim 2:3-5
Note in Titus 1 how Paul speaks of some believers in our dispensation.
Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified [disapproved] for every good work.
And in the Acts Age, note what Paul feared. He did not fear losing his free gift, nor did he fear being separated from the love of God (for that is impossible, Rom 8). But he could find himself "disqualified" for a crown.
But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection. Lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
-1 Cor 9:27
The Church at Smyrna is promised that if they overcome, not only will they receive the Crown of life, but that they would be spared the "second death." More on the SECOND DEATH in a future study. But here we have a reward which is NOT experiencing something. These believers could gain something by works and avoid something by works. This could never be the gift of life.
Being rescued from experiencing the second death is found in Revelation 20 and 21. For now, note again that it is believers who are addressed at Smyrna. And rescue is not a matter of faith alone, it is a matter of obedience ("be thou faithful unto death"). All have the gift of immortal life, not all will be found obedience. We are on the grounds of WORKS. You may feel I am beating this point into the ground, but we are up against centuries of terrible error. There are many things about the Revelation that can be more clearly seen if we'd put tradition aside and let the scripture speak.
The Church at Pergamos
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 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.
I included part of the indictment against this church to help us see, once again, how this book is centered on Israel. We see similar references in the Book of Jude (the book immediately preceding the Revelation in the canon). Jude was the brother of James and also wrote to the Circumcision (Jews). The Revelation is contained within a parenthesis. It is the story of a coming age, and not the culmination of all thing.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
Dr. E.W. Bullinger notes the progression in the rewards follows the Pentateuch.
- To Ephesus it was the tree of life (Gen. 2).
- To Smyrna it was not to be hurt of the second death (Gen. 3).
- Now, to Pergamos, it is the manna of Exod. 16:32-34.
We see the false prophets here. The faithful remnant will be hidden and God will supply for them in a way the enemy will not know. When the Lord comes to judge Israel's enemies, he tells them in part:
You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen;
For the Lord God will slay you,
And call His servants by another name
The book is John's vision of Israel's time of testing ("the time of Jacob's Trouble"), the emergence of the remnant foreseen in the Prophets and in the Book of Romans. It is the coming down of the New Jerusalem ("the city whose builder and maker is God"), the reward longed for in their hope of a "better resurrection" (Heb 11:35). It also take us to the new heavens and the new earth and the fires of Gehenna seen in Isaiah 66. It is a Jewish timeline.
The Church at Thyatira
Here we will look at the longer passage. We will note that Israel is once again the context, WORKS are in view, and the reward is found later in this same book or the prophetic word to these people.
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. 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. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 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. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 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. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The Lord clearly states that some of his "servants" will be deceived and led into fornication and eating things sacrificed to idols. The latter being relevant only to Jews under the law (as they were in the Acts Age and will again be in the coming age). Jezebel will seduce "my servants," says the Lord. Seduce them to lose their free gift? No, seduce them into physical and spiritual sins.
The ones committing adultery with her are believers. These are called on to "repent." Some believers will "know the depths of Satan" and some will not. These warnings to believers are serious.
These will be judged "according to your works." God is looking for "overcomers" to reward.
Tradition imposes itself on this passage and teaches that John suddenly changes subjects and the warnings concerning deeds and works somehow are directed at unbelievers. But God does not judge the works of unbelievers. There is nowhere in any of these passages a call for men to come to faith.
Servants, however, do have their service and work judged. Failing to make this distinction muddies up many of the Lord's parables as well and allows men to teach salvation by works or the maintenance of salvation by works. These are both great blasphemies against the finished work of the Savior!
We again see fulfillment of the promise to the overcomer later in this book.
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
The Church at Sardis
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
A very powerful passage which has been butchered by tradition. Note, again, the Lord judges this church based on "works." They are to watch for the Lord. This is for believers in that age. And what are the garments noted here?
Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Note that the "fine linen" is the "righteous acts of the saints." That is WORKS. We have looked in other studies how the faithful remnant of Israel will be the true Bride of Christ ("O Virgin Israel" Jer 33). We are, again, in the shadow of the blessing of entrance into the New Jerusalem.These are the ones who are found "worthy."
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
We cannot escape this passage. When we look at it in light of the warning to the churches, to believers, we must rightly divide. The firs problem is "the lake of fire." This phrase is found nowhere apart from here in the Revelation. Unfortunately, the Greek dichotomy of heaven/hell rears its ugly head over all of scripture. It is a tradition of men which makes God's word of no effect. It is the lie of Satan.
How can a Christian saved by grace apart from works, who understands that immortal life is a gift and that grace and works are mutually exclusive, how can he look at this judgment of works and conclude God is judging unbelievers? That makes even less sense in light of all the warnings to the believers in the churches in this book. God judges the works of his servants, whether good or bad.
In our dispensations we see this truth:
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
We saw the Church at Smyrna threatened with the SECOND DEATH. We saw the Church at Sardis threatened with having names blotted out of THE BOOK OF LIFE. We see those blotted out cast into THE LAKE OF FIRE at THE GREAT WHITE THRONE judgment. We will look at all of these in a future study.
Look again at the instructions to these churches. Study them in light of the free gift of life through Christ. If these are unbelievers, why would they be commanded to offer good works? How can unbelievers "be faithful unto death?" Here in Sardis, the evil works are juxtaposed against the "perfect works" of some. We cannot play fast and loose with God's message.
- Believers in the Day of the Lord
- The Children of Israel (true Jews)
- A Choice to Obey or Not
- Rewards in the Millennium and in the New Jerusalem and in the New Heavens and earth
Once we understand this, the mythology will go away, the finished work of Chris is exalted, the fears of men of this current dispensation are allayed, and the false gospel of salvation from fiery torture by God can be dismissed. We are saved from the curse of death and decay. God is not torturing people.
There is a parable which deals with entrance to the wedding feast and the necessity of having on the wedding garment in Matthew 22. We looked at that HERE. We quickly note two things, the invited one gained entrance by accepting the invitation, but was cast out because he had no garment. A different company of believers is pictured there, but the distinction between faith and works is evidenced.
The Church at Philadelphia
These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
This is passage rich in truth. In light of what we've seen as the pattern of the Lord's dealings with these churches, truths we may have passed over in the past now start to leap off the page. I had to get the blinders of tradition off my eyes before i could start to see the truths in this book. The blinders bring only confusion and fear. They muddy the doctrine of grace. They make God into a monster.
The Lord is, again, addressing "works." He is speaking of true Jews and those who are claiming to be Jews. While this may not be absolutely clear to us, it will be to them. This is the second mention of "the synagogue of Satan." We are on Jewish ground. We again see the New Jerusalem and reference to the end of the book and vision.
In our own dispensation, we have some who claim to be the "real Jews" who are not. This is terrible error in any age.
These in Philadelphia are commanded to "hold fast what you have." Why? So that their crown may not be taken from them. This cannot have anything to do with the free gift of immortal life in resurrection. It is clearly about a reward. The free gift cannot be "taken," and unbelievers do not have any rewards or crowns.
In our age, we are given a similar warning:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
The difference is stark. While the overall picture is the same, loss of reward based on our works and service, the content is quite different. This is why we need to "rightly divide the Word of Truth." Israel had to keep the feasts. Israel worships in a Temple. She was judged when she failed to follow commands in regard to these. However, we are instructed that keeping Jewish feasts and ordinances and sabbaths, etc., will result in a loss of reward.
Why the difference? Israel, in her works, testified to the covenant God had made with that people. When the young man came to the Lord in his earthly ministry he asked what he need to do to have life. The Lord told him to keep the commandments. He was not lying to the man. Israel's promises are bound up in covenants and the commandments, ours are not. This is not the gift of immortal life. Again, we MUST make these distinctions.
In this age, holding to rituals and dietary laws and feast days and sabbaths, and a hope in this world system (religious or otherwise) may result in a loss of reward. We are warned that there are some who, in the name of Christ, will try to enslave us to these acts which will engender pride. Beware!
Before we leave Philadelphia, we do not want to miss the presence of the key and the open door. A key is something which can open or close a door. There is a teaching that the "keys of the kingdom" which the Lord bestowed upon Peter (Matt 16) is the key seen here. That cannot be the case.
In Isaiah 22, we see Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, a faithful servant of King Hezekiah (a good King of Judah). He was given the key of the House of David as a faithful servant of the King.
‘Then it shall be in that day,
That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe
And strengthen him with your belt;
I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the house of Judah.
The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open.
I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house.
It is a metaphorical key. The key is connected to the Kingdom. It is connected to the throne of David. It is connected t the promises made to the fathers (Rom 15:8). Note how the Lord uses this metaphorical key.
“He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.
Peter opened the kingdom to Israel at Pentecost. It was shut to all else (again, this is NOT concerning the free gift of immortal life) until he opened the kingdom, for a season (to make Israel jealous), to Gentiles in Acts 10. Remember, the Jews in Acts 10 and 11 were not amazed that a Gentile believed, but that a Gentile received the same gifts as a Jew; kingdom gifts.
Peter is given the keys to the Kingdom. This is done before he even knows the Lord is to die (Matt 16). To that point, the "Gospel of the Kingdom" concerned Israel accepting her King. When Peter and the twelve some day "sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel," they will have the power to bind and loose.
No man today has that power nor does any man have "the key of David." Being shut out of the New Jerusalem and removed the blessings of the kingdom are, however, here in the Revelation. This will help us understand better the judgments at the end of the vision. Remember, these involve a judgment of the WORKS of BELIEVERS and involve reward and not immortal life.
The Church at Laodicea
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
-Rev 3:14-21These are believers. They are people the Lord "loves." The Lord loves his own. Because of that love he rebukes and chastens them as a father chastens his son. He judges the service and works of his servants and children. If one is not judged, he is none of his. This is especially true of the sons of Israel.
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
If these overcome, they will receive a reward we have seen offered previously: to rule and reign with him. These also must be clothed in white garments which we have seen are the righteous works of the saints.
Note how all the things in this passage are tied to works and service.
In terms of figurative language, we note the "vomiting out of [his] mouth," the command to "buy" from the Lord "gold refined in the fire," "white garments," and a "door." We especially note the "fire" here. Fire is a figure of judgment. As we have noted (and will again), there are literal fires and figurative fires. The literal fires are on the earth. The figurative fires may be spoken of as being on the earth or they may be in some future judgment. But there are no literal fires is any unseen, spiritual world burning "bodiless souls." That is the stuff of Greek Mythology.
Our Future Judgment is Based on Works
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
-1 Cor 3:11-13
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
-2 Cor 5:9-11
The foundation is secure. Christ cannot be moved. We have the free gift if we have placed our faith in his death, burial (lack of decay), and glorious resurrection alone. It is given by grace grace alone apart from any works (Rom 11:5; etc.). Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8). But our own rewards, crowns, and the prize must be "attained" (Phil 3:11). Our own position is dependent on our obedience with our calling.
This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.
-2 Tim 2:11-13
He will never abandon us, but we can find ourselves on the outside of some blessings if we fail to follow him according to the dictates of this present dispensation. There are Christians today who preach Christianity means earthly wealth and blessing. Paul refers to these in his service epistle to the Philippians as "the enemies of the cross [sufferings] of Christ... whose god is their belly., who mind earthly things."
As we look at the Second Death, The Book of Life, The Great White Throne Judgment, and the Lake of Fire, we must remember, our context is works, rewards, and the ages seen in this vision. We dare not try to go beyond it, lest we fall into error. And we must not allow man's traditional "hell" cloud our understanding.