The Times of the Gentiles
(Rev. 2 and 3)
If we are correct in our interpretation of these seven letters as being a panoramic history of the Church from the beginning of its failure in testimony until its final rejection by the Lord as His witness on earth, then we might say that had it ended in the state described in the letter to Philadelphia, it would have some credit for ending well in a little remnant. But this would be contrary to all lessons of human history as written by the Spirit of God. His unvarying testimony as to man is that he cannot and does not abide in the place God puts him but without exception departs from it and proves himself to be thoroughly untrustworthy. We should not expect anything better in the history of the Church. Nor do we find anything better.
Let us review some of the things we have gone over already. In the first place the history of the Church in its original condition is portrayed in the first four letters of this series, and shows its path as a gradual departure from God until it ends in subjection to a system described under the symbol of a notorious woman of the Old Testament. Jezebel by name. Then a remnant is marked off and the next three letters bring before us the history of this remnant. Now comes the question, will this remnant, profiting by all the lessons of the past, prove more faithful to the testimony committed to it, than the past generation? What should one look for?
It will be remembered that we have more than once turned back to the Old Testament for help in these studies, and we think that at this point, we may again with real profit turn to its pages. There was a remnant brought back from Babylon to Jerusalem and the history of this remnant is given to us in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, at least the beginning of their history is given to us in these books. What an opportunity they had through the kindness of the kings of Persia to profit by all the lessons of the past, and one cannot doubt for a moment that they did profit somewhat by them and by the discipline in their exile from the land of their fathers. But to what extent did they learn the intended lesson? Only in one particular do we find any real change in their conduct, although it was undoubtedly a very important one, that is to say, they never returned to idolatry after their exile, but outwardly at least maintained their allegiance to Jehovah, the God of Israel. But this is referred to by the Lord when He came here in such a way as to show it to be of little worth on the whole, although He fully acknowledged it.
We would not unnecessarily tax our readers’ patience, but above all things would we endeavor to communicate the truth in such a way as to be understood, even if we may seem tedious at times, so we must ask them to turn to the history of the Old Testament remnant and reflect a little on its lessons. First of all let us recall the three letters written to them or rather the three prophetic books that belong to this period, for these books disclose the conditions of the people as time went on. The prophetic books are Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi and they are well worth the careful study of anyone who would learn the ways of God with man, and the ways of man when entrusted by Him with any testimony. The first two of these books are full of encouragement to this remnant in their endeavor to maintain a testimony for the living God, but the last one written quite a number of years later is an expression of God’s disappointment in them and displeasure with their condition, and severe censure of their ungodly ways.
Now let us remember again. He does not reproach them for their idolatry as He does in the prophecies of old, Isaiah and Jeremiah and others of that time, called “the former prophets” in Zecharia 1-4. This ought to be carefully noticed, because of the words of the Lord Jesus when later on He came among this very remnant. As already noticed, they never returned to idolatry — that is plain —but the way the Lord puts it indicates very clearly they were no more pleasing to God than before. The passage we have in mind is found in Matthew 12:43-45. We quote it in full. He says, “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return unto my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Then goeth he and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”
Now let us remember that this generation so forcefully described by the Lord was the same generation that came out of Babylon, only this is a little later in their history than when addressed by the prophet Malachi. We are using the word generation in the sense of nation, as it is used so often in the Word. They were not of course the same individuals but their posterity, having the same moral characteristics as their fathers in the days of Malachi, only more fully developed. The unclean spirit of idolatry has gone out, but, alas! the true God has not filled the gap, all is mere formality and the time is coming, the Lord says, when the unclean spirit will return worse than ever. This time has not come yet, it points to a day yet to be when the great mass of Israel will bow before the worst form of idolatry that has ever been in the world. But for the time then present the statement is clear, there was no real heart for God, although the house was swept and garnished. So the remnant that came out of Babylon made no better record than their fathers, it all ended in complete failure.
But there is another point we would call attention to as throwing light on the letter to Laodicea and also confirming the interpretation we have offered of this whole series of letters, and that is that the Lord speaks in this letter of Himself and His path while in this world. He says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father on His throne.” Notice the reference to His having overcome. When then did He overcome? And what were the conditions under which He overcame? Of course it was when He was here on earth among men, and the conditions must have been similar to the conditions in Laodicea, if this word is to have any meaning. So that the scene in which He as man figured is repeated in Laodicea. In other words, it was the last period of the remnant history in the Old Testament when He was here and it is the last period of the remnant history of the Church that is here likened to it. Laodicea is a picture of the last stage of the history of the remnant of those who were delivered from Rome and in similar circumstances our Blessed Lord ran His earthly course and bore His testimony while in this scene.
In corroboration of this it might be of service to compare the book of Malachi with this brief letter to Laodicea. One outstanding feature of
Malachi’s prophecy is the repetition of the expression, “YE SAY.” Indeed the whole book seems to be a reply to arguments and complaints offered by the people to God when He seeks to call their attention to their delinquencies. Now observe how this is repeated in the letter to Laodicea. “Thou sayest, I am rich and increased in goods and have need of nothing,” is the language of this church. How painfully like to the book of Malachi! It is in fact its very counterpart.