“I KNOW THY WORKS”
Reading: Revelation chs. 3 and 4
If it were known that the Lord Jesus Christ would personally preside at one of these meetings on Sunday morning, then only reasons absolutely beyond our control would prevent us from being here. In the same way, if it were known that a letter was going to be read from the Lord Jesus Christ we should make every effort to be here to listen to it. This morning we have, not exactly a letter, but a last message, a last request, from the Lord Jesus Christ, and that message we have commenced to read once again in the course of our daily readings.
To those in the world this letter is what is known as a closed book, and indeed to many Christadeiphians it is also a closed book. They say, “We do not understand it, we cannot get down to understanding the exposition of Eureka”. A closed book is in effect a sealed book, and Christ said in delivering this message, “Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book.” Therefore it is not a sealed book, and Jesus exhorts in the opening chapter: “Blessed is he that readeth and they that understand.” It is not likely that Jesus would say, “Blessed are they that read,” if it were not possible to read and understand it. So we ought to treat this book as our book, as the last message from Christ, and we ought to have a working knowledge, at any rate, of what it contains; and if through various reasons we cannot get down to the deep study of Dr. Thomas’s expositions of Eureka, we can at least read Bro. Roberts’ Thirteen Lectures where the contents of this book are expounded in a more simplified form.
The Lord Jesus Christ addressed his message first of all, in the opening chapters, to seven ecclesias in the first century. They were literal ecclesias to which the message was addressed, but at the same time they were typical ecclesias. We read chapter 2 yesterday and chapter 3 today, and we have noticed that each letter is prefaced with the words, “I know thy works.” We have illustrations of the power of Christ to know the works of those with whom he associated in the days of his ministry. We remember it is recorded concerning the scribes; “And Jesus knowing their thoughts.” Also in connection with the Pharisees, “Jesus knew their thoughts.” Again with the disciples: “And Jesus perceiving the thoughts of their heart.” Then there was the case of Judas; Jesus knew what was in his heart, and at the last supper said, “That thou doest do quickly; but no man at the table knew for what intent he spoke this unto them.” It helps us to understand the sense in which Jesus knows, not only the works of his brethren and sisters, but indeed all that goes on in the world. So, all power having been given unto him by the Father, he is able to control all things, working toward that ordained end which God has in mind. By that same power, just over half a century after his death and resurrection, he was able to send these messages to the ecclesias, and to preface them with, “I know thy works.” The record says, “He walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks”; in other words, all things which were happening among the ecclesias of that time were known by Christ. It is just the same in our day. Jesus knows exactly what is going on among the brethren and sisters of this ecclesia. Now supposing a message were sent to us this morning and prefaced by those words, “I know thy works,” what would it be that Christ would have knowledge of? Let us examine these letters and judge by comparison. We have no time this morning to go into all the details and exposition of these two chapters, but there is much that we can cull from them which will help us in our walk to the Kingdom of God, for in them we shall find rebuke, warning, encouragement, and a reiteration of those promises which form all our hope and all our desire.
Take the rebuke to Ephesus: “Thou hast left thy first love.” How does that apply to us? The test lies in those other words of Jesus: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” We all know how we felt when we first came to a knowledge of the Truth and were baptized into the saving Name of Jesus. We were full of zeal for the things of the Truth, we could not keep it back, we talked about it to others, we worked hard in the ecclesia, and in all respects we were live and ardent Christ adelphians. Well, the years have passed: in some cases many years, in others perhaps only a few months, but time has passed. If we examine ourselves as individuals, can it be said that we have the same ardent love and enthusiasm for the things of the Truth which we had at the beginning? and if the answer is Yes, then it will be manifested in our lives, in our attendance at the meetings, in our diligence in doing our readings day by day; in other words, what we do in our private lives, what we hear, what we talk about; and so, very simply, by self-examination we can tell whether these words of Jesus which were sent to Ephesus apply to us.
But surely our presence here denotes that all is well in our lives? Then we think of Sardis; “Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead. I have not found thy works perfect.” Profession and a reputation among the brethren are not sufficient. What do we think about, what do we talk about, what do we read and what do we do? Those are the tests which apply in our case, as they applied in the case of Ephesus. The true answer will be reflected in our characters, and those in turn will be reflected in our ecclesial life, and strengthen or weaken our ecclesia.
Then there was Laodicea; they were neither hot nor cold, they were lukewarm, and in chapter 3. 17 Jesus says: “Thou sayest, Jam rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” There is a danger, as we go along in the Truth, of becoming self-satisfied, complacent, having a good opinion of ourselves among ourselves. We can become mechanical in our worship; we can come here every Sunday to break bread and drink wine, without any proper appreciation of why we are here and what it means to us. Israel got like that; they carried out the ritual of the law of Moses but they lost the spirit of the law, they became merely mechanical in their observance of it. It is possible to get like that, to be concerned more about the social activities of the Truth than about the things which matter in relation to the Truth manifested through Jesus.
So there were the rebukes to these three ecclesias from the Master, and with the rebuke came the warning: to Ephesus, “Repent, and do the first works”; to Sardis: “Repent; if therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a their’; to Laodicea: “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire,” that is, a robust faith. If through our self- examination we find that any of these things apply to us, then we still have time to alter matters, to get back to that first love which we had, and strive again to our utmost to serve the Truth with diligence and zeal.
But there was another side to those words of Jesus, “I know thy works”; and here comes the encouragement. To Ephesus: “I know thy labour and thy patience.” To Smyrna: “I know thy tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)”. To Thyatira: “I know thy charity, and service, and faith.” This thought gives us encouragement. Jesus knows. Our brethren and sisters may misunderstand us and our motives, what we try to do in the Master’s service; they may have no conception of our difficulties or our problems, our heart-aches or our mental battles to hold fast to the Truth and to overcome temptation and keep going in the service of Christ; but he knows; “I know thy works.” We think of that when such difficulties arise as ‘bus or train strikes. It is an encouragement and inspiration to many of us to see the way brethren and sisters struggle to get to these meetings in the face of such difficulties; and it is an encouragement to see the way other brethren and sisters band together to assist one another over the difficulties when such things occur. So it is in other things in the Truth. We have trial and tribulation of one sort and another. God’s ways are not our ways; if we had the choice we probably would not choose the kind of life we have, or we would not want the experiences which many of us are called upon to have and to endure. But God is wisdom and God is love, and the Proverb says: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.” So we have faith and confidence that the hand of God is in our affairs, and that the hand which is guiding those affairs is the hand of a loving Father. We know that all things work together for good to those who are the called according to His purpose. But sometimes in our probation we reach that state when it is almost more than we can bear, and then comes the thought, “I know thy works.” It is all right, the Master has suffered before us, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and he learned to say, “Not my will but thine be done.”
So we have that picture in chapter 7 of Revelation v. 13: “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” We remember Paul says that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be manifested in us.
So there we have the warning, and the rebuke, and the encouragement in those words of Jesus, “I know thy works.” But we notice something else in these letters; it is the reiteration of the promises, the things which form all our hope and all our desire, and for a few moments we want to look at those promises, because a consideration of them will encourage us each one, and cause us to have a greater determination to hold fast to the end, that, as Jesus said, no man may take our crown. And so in chapter 2. v. 7 the promise to him that overcometh is that he may eat of the tree of life. At the moment we are groaning under the bondage of the Adamic nature. We remember that Adam disobeyed God and by his disobedience sin and death came into the world; but God sent His own Son who rendered perfect obedience; by his obedience Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for sin, and God accepted the sacrifice, raised him from the dead, and made him immortal, to become the firstfruits of them that sleep. We celebrate that in the eating of this bread and the drinking of this cup. You will remember how Adam and Eve were driven from the garden lest they partook of the tree of life and lived for ever. God does not want immortal sinners, but by the obedience of Christ, by the acceptance of God’s will, manifested through him, we are promised that in the time to come, in contrast to the conditions which came upon Adam and Eve, we shall be permitted to eat of the tree of life. That will be the time spoken of by Paul when these vile bodies shall be changed and fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body.
Then in v. 10 we are told we shall have the wreath of victory. In the olden days the laurel wreath was given to the victors at the end of the race in those national games; but Jesus here exhorts us to be faithful unto death. With those to whom he wrote in the first century it was in many cases a matter of torture: they endured terrible things under the persecution of the Roman emperors. “Be thou faithful unto death.” We have a different kind of trial in these days, but it is very real to each one of us, and we are commanded to be faithful unto death, to endure unto the end. Death is terrible in any case to every one, and often in our cases our trial ends with a terrible disease, suffering and illness, and eventually death. “Be faithful unto death,” says the Master, “and I will give thee a crown of life,” not a laurel wreath which withers away, but an everlasting crown, through the ages of eternity.
In v. 17 the matter is taken a step further in the eating of the hidden manna, in the giving of the white stone, in the incorporation of the new name. We remember the exposition concerning the manna; how it was revealed, when the sun was up, to the children of Israel, how it speaks of the resurrection, how it was laid up in the ark as a symbol of immortality, eternal life, incorruptibility. And the white stone of acquittal. In the old days in the ballot box, the black stone was “against,” and the white stone “for”; and Christ has said if we overcome we shall be given the white stone of acquittal. Paul reminds us that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and Jesus says, “Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his works have been.”
We need not contemplate that time with fear and apprehension. If we are doing our best and striving our utmost in spite of failures and setbacks, and sins which are confessed and forgiven—then Christ knows our works, and in the end we shall receive that white stone of acquittal, and we shall have that new name. There is a sense in which we bear the name of Christ now: we have been baptized into it for the remission of our sins; but in the sense mentioned in the Apocalypse we cannot bear that new name or know it unless we are made immortal and receive it experimentally; in other words, to be one in nature with Christ. Then we follow naturally to the next phase referred to in v. 27: we shall have power over the nations, with the rod of authority; the Kingdom will be established, and Jesus will be the bright and morning Star, that is, the brightest of the stars. Dr. Thomas has given a beautiful exposition in regard to the firmament and the stars, and their various stages of power and beauty. We shall not all have exactly the same kind of power and reward in the age to come; we shall be like the stars in multitude but different in size and glory, nevertheless all immortal and part of that multitudinous man to be manifested through Christ.
In chapter 3. 5 we are promised that we shall be clothed with white raiment, and he will confess our name before the Father. You will remember how he prayed in John 17 that we might be made perfect in one. Again, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Then in v. 12, we shall be made a pillar, no more to go out, no more to be moved. We are now in a sense the temple of God; but in that thy, as Dr. Thomas puts it, we shall be the golden pillars of the future age, saints in glorious manifestation, never to be moved from that immortal nature which will then be bestowed upon us. Verse 21 speaks of the time when we shall sit with Christ on his throne; and in chapter 5. 10 is the acknowledgment by the saints of the work of the Redeemer: “Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth.”
So in this brief way we have a reiteration of the promises which are ours, and to which reference is made by the Master in these seven typical letters. It is an encouragement and a comfort to each one to realise that these are the things to which we stand related; they are not cunningly devised fables, but things of truth and righteousness. They mean absolutely everything to ,and according to our understanding and knowledge of them, so will be our appreciation of that hope which is ours through Christ. These emblems remind us of the reality of Christ, that he died and rose from the dead, that he is now in heaven at the Father’s right hand and that he is about to manifest himself in the earth again. When that time comes and we are called to his presence, and we receive that smile of welcome from him because we have tried to the best of our ability to serve him during the days of our probation, then we shall lift our voices with the others of that multitudinous manifestation who will acknowledge, “Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive honour.” Again, “Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” Again John saw “A Lamb. . . on Mount Sian, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads .
And they sung as it were a new song. . . These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” These expressions are not just meaningless phrases, but contain our hope and the things to which we stand related, and they moreover express the very things we shall experience in the very near future. It is the hope we have laid hold of, and the passing of years should not have dulled our appreciation of what the Truth means to us; rather should it have been an incentive to us to live our life unto God in the full expectation of the near return of Jesus.
In chapter 21 we have that beautiful record concerning the end:
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.” Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Christ was knocking when we heard the call of the gospel, and we believed and obeyed it; and we look forward to the time when, as Jesus says, “I will sup with him and he with me.” He has promised, “I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” More than once in the Revelation Jesus says, “Behold, I come quickly,” and an understanding of what is revealed in this book denotes that all things have been working out in harmony with the revealed mind of God, as expressed in this book, during the last two thousand years. We know today from the 16th chapter, and the outpouring of the sixth vial, that we are right at the end of the time; and the words of Jesus, “Behold, I come quickly”, have a greater significance today than ever before. Happy are we if we can answer as John answered, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”:—F. C. Wood