The Seven Churches of Asia

Robert E. Surgenor

Before sailing to Ephesus, let me bring before you some basic facts regarding the Lord Himself and the persons that will be directly addressed regarding the condition of the assemblies of which they form a part. Many things in the Book of Revelation are made known by signs and symbols. This is what the word signified means in the first verse of this Book. The Book falls into three divisions as noted in 1: 19. (1) "The things which thou (John) hast seen." That would embrace the vision of the first chapter. (2) "And the things which are." Namely the contents of chapters two and three, involving the seven churches in john's day. (3) "And the things which shall be hereafter," which embrace the remaining contents of the Book. Nothing past chapter three has been yet fulfilled and will not even commence to be fulfilled until after the rapture of the Church, Christ's Bride. Even though we take chapters two and three as literally as possible, yet we find symbolic language, but not to the extent as the rest of the Book.

You will notice that the description of our Lord in chapter one is very symbolic. "And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flume of fire; And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength" (1:13-16). In this description we find certain characteristics, qualities and attitudes of Him who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. There are two other Books in your Bible where we are given physical descriptions of our LORD, Solomon's Song being one of them, Isaiah the other.

Consider His head and His hair. In the Song 5, His locks are black as a raven. Why the difference? The answer is simple. In the Song He is our Beloved, displaying what God said to Him. "But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end" (Psalms 102:27). Thus we see His youthfulness, vitality, unchangeableness and incorruptability. Wonderful qualities for One who is our coming Bridegroom. However, as He walks in the midst of the churches He is not displaying Himself as the Bridegroom, but rather as the Son of Man clothed in priestly array judicially exposing to the churches their failures and His remedy. Here we have a girded Christ - the judge. As such His hair is white, reminding us of the Ancient of days, invested with divine wisdom, symbolized by white hair. His thoughts are pure (white) and His judgments are likewise pure. You will notice that there is no crown on His head, for His day of reigning over the nations has not yet come. We are considering our day, the day of grace when the Church is still abiding on earth, awaiting its rapture.

In Solomon's Song, "His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set" (5:12). Thus indicating the tenderness of His constant gaze upon us as we, like trees, abide by the river of waters (Ps. 1). How different here. "His eyes were as a flame of fire." Christ is very much concerned. His eyes are uncovering and revealing hidden sins. He is penetrating the very insides of each church and scrutinizing every recess of the heart. Nothing misses His searching eyes.

"His feet like unto fine brass as if they burned in a furnace." Even though He walks among defiled assemblies, yet His feet never become defiled and as brass conveys judgment in righteousness, so He walks, judging each assembly with divine righteousness. Later those feet that walk in our midst will tread "the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (19:15), when He comes to exercise His sovereign rights over the nations.

His voice is as the sound of many waters. It is majestic, judicial and authoritative. Over Niagara Falls roars twelve million cubic feet of water every minute. What power in that tremendous flow! Christ's voice manifests overwhelming power! The sword that went out of His mouth was sharp and twoedged. The final authority is His (the sword). It cannot be warded off (twoedged). It is sharp. His word is extremely effective. His execution of divine judgments is totally accomplished by simple force of His word.

His countenance was as the sun shineth in its strength. While here He was the Light of the world (jn.8). To the Church He is the Bright and Morning Star (Rev. 22:6). To Israel He is the Sun of righteousness arising with healing in His wings (Mal.4). However, here we see One invested with supreme authority, the glory of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ, thus the full-orbed revelation of God in a glorified Christ. Is it any wonder that when John beheld Him, he fell down as one dead? How do you behave when gathered with the saints in assembly capacity, with Him, though not seen, actually in our midst?

In His right hand we observe seven stars. Then we read, "The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" (Revelation 1:20). We will consider the word candlestick (lampstand) later, but who are the angels of the churches? If you maintain that they are literal angels, let me ask you these questions. (1) How would you go about writing a letter to an angel? (2) If God's angels never sin, how is it that these 'angels" are called upon to repent because of sin? If you consider the word 'angel' you will find the simple solution to the mystery. In the following passages, the word messenger is the same word as translated elsewhere, angel. "So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that joab had sent him for" (2 Sa. 11:22). Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah' (l Kings 19:2). "And there came a messenger unto job, and said' tjob 1:14). "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me' (Mal. 3:1). Was John the Baptist a literal angel of God? Hardly! "Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?' tjas. 2:25]. "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts' (Mal, 2:7). An evangelist is a messenger. Notice what is in that word - evANGEList.

The angels in our consideration are the elders of the assemblies, for they are messengers to the churches, bringing before them the Word of God. That is their work, to feed the flock of God. They feed it by bringing, as a messenger, the mind of God to the saints as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. You will notice that they are referred to as stars, a symbol of light, rule and guidance. Wise men were guided by a star to our Lord (Matt.2). False teachers are termed, 'wandering stars' (Jude 13), while faithful teachers are spoken of thus in Daniel 12:3. "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.' Stars are not controlled by earthly things, but alas, in five of the seven churches the elders had failed in that respect and our Lord rebukes them and calls upon ones guilty in the assembly to repent. How inspiring that in spite of the dreadful conditions that prevailed in some of these churches, yet there was a faithful remnant that did not run away, they stayed and sought to maintain a testimony in spite of sad conditions. What lessons are in store for us as we sail next month, in the will of God, to the busy port of Ephesus, on the western shore of proconsular Asia.