The Seven Churches (Revelation Chapters 2-3)

A Unique Feature

A unique feature of the book of Revelation is its application to John’s time, to Church history and to the last days. The same principal applies to the Seven Churches mentioned in chapters two and three. They represent seven types of churches that actually existed in John’s time. They can also represent seven types of churches that can exist at any time in history. They can also represent seven types of churches than will exist in the last days; however, they can also represent seven periods of Church history, which is strongly suggested by what the names of the specific churches mean. While each Church individually is worthy of a study in itself the following article is an overview. In passing it is interesting that all of them were located in what is Modern Turkey today. This is no accident as it is highly likely the Antichrist will come from Turkey. John writes; “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (Rev 2: 3) Pergamum was the city where they first deified the Roman Emperors. The first one to be deified was Caesar Augustus. While these Churches existed in the time of John they have a prophetic significance for the Last Days. We will look at these primarily in view of Church history. So let’s now look briefly at the Seven Churches beginning with the Ephesian Church.

 1. The Fading Church (Ephesus) 2:1-7

Ephesus: means, “Not Lasting” and refers to the Apostolic Age. The testing of false apostles is specifically mentioned (2:2). Today; in the Church we have many claiming to be Apostles and most of them, when tested by the standards of God’s Word, fail the test. Usually they claim spiritual revelation that goes beyond what is clearly written in God’s Word. In some cases they claim the same authority as the twelve apostles had themselves. Indeed Paul the apostle said, “We must not go beyond what is written.” One such movement today is the “New Apostolic Movement” that has certain leaders in its ranks claiming to have “revelation” and “doctrines” that are equal to the scriptures and implying that what they have is on the same level as what the Apostles received when writing scripture. Indeed Paul spoke about such “Super Apostles” when he said; “And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15) In these last days the Church, primarily in the Western democracies, is infested with false apostles and prophets of every kind just as the Lord Jesus and the apostles warned us about.

2. The Persecuted Church (Smyrna) 2:8-11

Smyrna: means, “Myrrh” or “Anointed for Burial.” This represents the persecuted Church of the second and third centuries. The “ten days” of persecution may well refer to the ten major Imperial persecutions under the Caesars of Rome. (2:10) Today over two thirds of true Christians in the world are persecuted or disadvantaged in some way because of their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the persecution is at the hands of their governments or at the hands of other religious groups. Today the majority of the persecution is happening in Muslim countries. Eventually this persecution will spread to the western democracies. Ultimately persecution of faithful Christians will become a global phenomenon. The apostle John saw this in the Spirit when he wrote; “The beast (empire) was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander His name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13:5-8)

The one thing that we need to know is that our names are written in the book of life. Is your name there? Have you been born again from above? Do you know that all of your sins have been forgiven? Have you repented of your Christ-hating, Christ-rejecting way of life and now have a Christ loving, Christ accepting way of life? Are you sheltering under the protection of the Blood of Christ by faith alone? Do you have the witness of the Spirit with your spirit that you are a true child of God? If you have these assurances then you are not only called to know the power of His resurrection but to also participate in the fellowship of His suffering. It has been said, “There is no crown without a cross.” May the Lord grant all of us who confess the name of the Lord Jesus to be faithful to Him even unto death that we may gain the crown of life.

What happened to the Lord Jesus in His last days will happen to His body the faithful Church in its last days. In fact it is already happening. Like the Lord Jesus, His body the Church, will be crucified but raised to life again at the end of the Great Tribulation! The Lord Jesus said this would be so. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me.” (John 15:18-21)

In fact He also said that there would be those who kill His faithful followers actually believing they are doing God a service and fulfilling His will. “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or Me.” (John 16:2-3) Historically when you look at the persecution of believers during the 600 years or more of the Inquisition or the atrocities perpetuated on Christians by Islam through their long and bloody history even down to today you can see that Jesus was right when He said that those who do this actually they think they are doing God’s will! Now let’s move on to the next Church.

3. The Compromising Church (Pergamum) 2:12-17

Pergamum: means, “Divorced.” This period of Church history began with the Emperor Constantine who professed to be a Christian. As a result he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. At this time many Pagan festivals, symbols, practices and ideologies were intermingled with Christianity. The eating of food sacrificed to idols is specifically mentioned (2:14). After the time of Constantine the sacrifice of the Mass started to immerge as the major practice of the professing Christian Church where the participants were taught to believe they were actually eating the flesh of Jesus Christ and drinking His physical blood. At this time the Church as an institutional and ecclesiastical organization started to move away from the authority of the scriptures towards the doctrines, traditions and commandments of men. Today multitudes of churches have long departed from the Word of God and going in for Secular philosophy, psychology, ecumenism, Postmodernism, The Emerging Church and interfaith worship. Even in the Evangelical churches today many are moving away from the plain teaching of God’s Word where doctrine, ministry and worship are concerned. (See the other articles related to these things on this website)

Remember that “The Apostasy” mentioned in Second Thessalonians will pave the way for the coming of the Man of Sin. Also Pergamum was the first city where the Roman Emperor Augustus had himself deified. Caesar Worship started at Pergamum. It is no accident that the Lord Jesus said to this Church; “These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (2:12-13)

Like the Caesars of Rome the Antichrist will proclaim himself to be God! It is highly probable that the Antichrist will not be a European man but a Middle-Eastern man who most likely will surface in Turkey. His empire will extend into much of Europe making him both a Middle-Eastern and European potentate. At first he will be a “little horn” i.e. someone who arrives on the scene who does not look great but who will prove to be the scourge of the globe! Look at Adolph Hitler and how insignificant he was yet how with Demonic power he was raised up to ignite the fuse that started World War II. Today look at Erdogan of Turkey and you can see another ‘Adolph Hitler’ in the making as it were on the rise. When you look at a man like Erdogan today he is just the type of man who could well start World War III if the circumstances advanced his agenda for a global Islamic Caliphate.

4. The Apostate Church (Thyatira) 2:18-29

Thyatira: means, “Continuing Sacrifice.” This period of Church history saw the immergence of the Roman Catholic Church where the Popes replaced the Emperors in the Western Leg of the Roman Empire and made the doctrine of the Mass the central celebration in the worship of the Church. At this time the spirit of false religion really spread rapidly through the rank and file of Christendom. “Jezebel” is mentioned. Of course this was not the real Jezebel but a symbol of the spiritual deception and seduction being perpetuated in the professing Christian Church. In the context of Church history the spirit of false religion related primarily to the Mass but also to the other false doctrines introduced by the Roman Catholic Church (2:20). All of these false doctrines can be called “Satan’s so-called deep secrets” (2:24).

Mysticism is not only a new age concept or a conspicuous feature within other religions and sects but has also been a part of the Roman Catholic tradition for centuries. Mystics have been quite common within the ranks of the professing Christian Church throughout its long history. Mysticism has always been a strong feature of false religions throughout the centuries. Mysticism is a strong feature of Sufism, the third branch of Islam.  Erdogan of Turkey has Sufi Muslim roots which would make him predisposed to demonic possession. Also Gnosticism is rampant today and has always been associated with mystical experiences and revelations that go beyond what the Apostles themselves clearly teach in scripture.

When you look at the history of the Institutional Church going all the way back to Constantine you can see a long and protracted period of time where compromise, idolatry, immorality, interfaith, heresy, and Popery not to mention the perpetual persecution of those who remained faithful to the Word of God. Listen to what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” (1Timothy 4:1-2)

When you look at “enforced’ Celibacy on the Clergy today it is little wonder that the Roman Catholic Church has a huge problem with immorality, paedophilia, homosexuality and Lesbianism. According to what Paul said to enforce celibacy on others is a doctrine of demons. The Lord Jesus said that celibacy was something that a person willingly chose to practice for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Furthermore, He went on to say that if a man can receive this saying then let him receive it. However celibacy was not the norm but marriage and family. God created Adam and Eve did He not? He knew that it was not good for a man to be alone but that he needed a help mate fit for him. How wise was the Lord in doing this. When you suppress what is natural inevitably you have what is unnatural! But let’s move on.

5. The Incomplete Church (Sardis) 3:1-6

Sardis: means, “Incomplete.” This represents the reformation period when the reformers returned to the authority of the scriptures specifically targeting the doctrine of the Mass, however, they never succeeded in separating the Church as an institution from secular government. Also the reformers moved away from the Gifts of the Spirit because of the superstitious practices of the Roman Catholic Church. They even persecuted those who held to the priesthood of all believers, baptism by immersion and who practiced the gifts of the Spirit. These were Bible believers like the Anabaptists and non-conformists who insisted that the Church was separate from the State and not an institution but a universal, invisible kingdom made up of all those who were born again by the Spirit.

In the reformed churches the practice of Infant Baptism was widely practiced and taught as the primary means of inclusion into the Church. Even to this day the prayer book of the Anglican Church actually states that babies at their baptism are born of the Spirit and actually receive the Holy Spirit. Today the Church needs the genuine gifts of the Spirit as taught and practiced in the Word of God, however, in so many churches what is called the gifts of the Spirit is nothing more than the works of the flesh demons, psychology, mesmerizing manipulation or fortune telling in Christian packaging.

6. The Faithful Church (Philadelphia) 3:7-13

Philadelphia: means, “Brotherly Love.” This represents the great evangelistic and missionary movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During this time men like, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, William Booth, George Whitfield, Hudson Taylor, Dwight. L. Moody, Charles Finney, R.A. Torrey and many others impacted the Church and saw many young converts going to the mission field to serve the Lord. Also many great revivals took place in Europe, England and in America. Also the gospel came to China and to other Asian countries at that time. The Lord Jesus mentions to the Church in Philadelphia that He had, “placed before them an open door” (3:8). This open door was the Lord’s opportunity for the Church at this time to evangelize the world. While false prophets, teachers and apostasy multiply so does the power of the Gospel also multiply. There are many third world countries today where the gospel is going forth. The Lord Jesus is opening many doors for discipleship and Evangelism. Despite the increasing spiritual darkness covering the earth the light of the gospel is still burning bright and true.

7. The People’s Opinion Church (Laodicea)  3:14-21

Laodicea: means, “People’s Opinions.” This represents the Backslidden, materialistic, Lukewarm Church of this present age primarily in the western democracies. The Western Church today is filled with the opinions of men. Church leaders are falling for “every wind of doctrine” that blows their way. Spiritual deception is rampant in the Church today as people’s opinions replace the plain teachings of the Word of God. Whether it is the purpose driven agenda, marketing strategies for Church growth, Seeker Sensitive services, Psychology, psychotherapy, Emerging Church Postmodernism, Kingdom Dominion theology, faith prosperity, Ecumenism or interfaith worship it is all spiritual seduction. Indeed the prophets, the Apostles and the Lord Jesus Himself clearly foretold these times of spiritual deception that would permeate the Church in the last days. Whether it was the laughing revival, Pensacola, the ‘hype’ of Lakeland and who knows what else is coming, it is all spiritual seduction and deception. We know about the cults that deny the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, however, the Laodicean period is unique for its own opinions, spiritual seduction and deception in the professing Christian Church. Much more could be said about the Laodicean Churches of today.

Will it be Revival or Retribution?

Today many third world countries are experiencing genuine revival in such countries as South America, China, Indonesia, North Korea and in many Islamic nations but usually in the midst of severe persecution and opposition while the Church in the West languishes spiritually as it is seduced by money, materialism and false revivals one after another by so-called revivalists who are “clouds without rain” and “shooting Stars” that are here today but nowhere to be seen tomorrow. Often these false deceivers and “sharks” make their money and reputations by “fleecing the flock” and then eventually disappear to live in luxurious retirement. Indeed they have participated in “Korah’s rebellion” and fallen for “Balaam’s error!” These are “Jezebel’s prophets” causing multitudes of western Christians to hover between two opinions. Primarily the spirit of the Bereans has long been lost in the majority of western Churches today. This backsliding will ultimately lead to the great apostasy and the immergence of the Man of Sin who will deny the Father and the Son relationship in the Godhead, and proclaim himself to be God.

It is a fact that Christianity is declining in the west and Islam increasing. Ultimately the Lukewarm Western Church will have to confront the power of Islam before Jesus comes back. The “beast” is already persecuting the saints in every Islamic country today but ultimately will confront the Western democracies, all those countries traditionally associated with historical Christianity. Already Islam has a “Trojan Horse” in Europe and I dare say that there are “sleeper cells” in most other Western democracies today.

Judgement is looming

The Lord always warns the faithful and the unfaithful of coming judgment so that those who need to repent have time to do just that to avert judgment. This is why Jesus has not come back because God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. However, there is a day fixed when God will judge the world by the man He has appointed namely the Lord Jesus Christ. God can send revival to the western democracies but will it happen? Have things gone too far? Only He knows. While revival may not come to the western democracies there can be a personal revival in us. Have we lost our first love for the Lord Jesus? You know if we love and obey His Word then we truly love Him but if we do not love and obey His Word then we do not love Him because His name is the Word of God. After all He, along with His Father and the Holy Spirit, wrote the Bible!

Keeping our first love

For all of us who belong to Jesus our greatest struggle is to keep our first love. When you were first truly saved you may have been pushy and even preached at people instead of to them and lacked sensitivity in many areas but you had your first love! This is the greatest trap that we can fall into as believers in Jesus. We can be gifted, in ministry, in serving the Lord in our local church and teaching Sunday school yet not have our first love. Our ministry becomes more important than the Lord Himself. While we think we are doing well we have lost the true motivation for what we are saying and doing. If what we are doing, as well intentioned as it may be, is not being done to please the Lord but for any other motive then we have lost our first love. Christian activity does not mean we have our first love. Undoubtedly the Laodicean believers were Christians but they had lost their spiritual mooring and focus and were adrift in the sea of compromise, lukewarmness, motivated by self-interest and materialism and especially by people’s opinions replacing the plain teaching of the Word of God.

Ploughing up the soil

The prophet Hosea wrote; “Break up your unploughed ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12b)  The Bible is all about the Lord Jesus Christ in the matter of revival! He would much rather revive His Church than see it fall under Divine judgment. Any church can have a revival and God is more than willing to give it. For example, if you have a Church with 50 believers in it and they all decide to love Jesus first, to re-organize their lives and church activities according the standards of the Bible and in tune with the will of the Holy Spirit they will see a revival! If they plough up the soil of their hearts to receive the seed of God’s Word then, when the showers of the Spirit come in the God ordained season, there will be abundant fruitfulness. Will it be Revival or retribution for the western democracies? Will it be revival or retribution for your church? Will it be revival or retribution for you?

In all of these Churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation the Lord Jesus reveals to each one an aspect of His Majesty and Character

To the believers at Ephesus He reveals Himself as the one who holds their destinies in his right hand and walks among them knowing everything that is happening. To the believers at Smyrna He reveals Himself as the Eternal Son of God who died and came to life again. To the believers at Pergamum He reveals Himself as the one whose word divides the things of the Spirit from the things of the flesh and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. Then to the believers at Thyatira He reveals Himself as the one whose penetrating gaze sees everything, whose ways are pure and as the one who judges according to His righteousness and holiness. Then to the believers at Sardis He reveals Himself as the one who directs the ministry of the Spirit within the seven churches. To the believers in Philadelphia He reveals Himself as the one who is holy and true and their rightful Messiah and King, the one who directs their works and creates opportunities for them to serve Him. “What He opens, no one can shut; and what He shuts no one can open.” He is in fact the one who controls and administers all things necessary for the churches. Finally to the Church of Laodicea He reveals Himself as the One who is the Faithful martyr and the ruler over all of creation whether on the earth above the earth or under the earth. All things are under His control and nothing escapes his deep discernment.

The Revelation of John was given to warn, to encourage and enlighten faithful believers in every age.

To the persecuted believers of Johns’ time this revelation of the Lord Jesus as the one who rules and reigns over the Universe would have brought them great consolation, comfort and hope. The Lord Jesus knew that His return would not be in their lifetime so He gave John this special revelation to encourage and to enlighten His faithful followers throughout the coming centuries. Also there are warnings to believers to be faithful and to keep their garments of Salvation on and to keep them clean. The Lord Jesus also points out their strengths and weaknesses and the fact that there will always be good people in bad churches and bad people in good churches. Finally He says to every Church, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Also there is a promised blessing given to each church if they meet the Lord’s standards and priorities He has for their lives.

When you look at the churches in today’s world they fall into four main categories.

Firstly, there are the Persecuted Churches.

Today in our world the majority of faithful believers are suffering persecution. Most of this is at the hands of the Islamic Beast Empire. Everywhere in third world countries there are numerous accounts of Christians suffering terribly for their faith. We in the west cannot fully appreciate what these precious brothers and sisters are experiencing. Overall the western democracies, mainly associated with Historic Christianity, are not persecuted as yet. However, this will change before Jesus comes back. The global Beast Empire will persecute the saints, both faithful Jews and Christians (Daniel 7:21, 25) (Daniel 12:7) (Revelation 13:7). The predominant preaching and teaching in most churches in these days is not preparing the saints for what is to come. The emphasis in many churches is on wealth, prosperity, blessing and having it good in this world. Some churches avoid Bible Prophecy altogether. This is a conspicuous feature of this Laodicean age.

When you look at Eschatology in the Bible it is always connected to holy living. Some will say we don’t want Eschatology preached in our church but only Christian living, however, as sincere as they are they are deceived. You cannot divorce Eschatology from Holy living! Indeed the Bible itself tells us that prophecy is like “a light shining in a dark place” and the world is getting progressively darker. In the end the light of God’s prophetic purposes revealed in the Bible will be the only light in a spiritual dark world that is getting darker by the hour. Jesus was the truest and most powerful prophet that ever lived and if we do not hear Him then God will require it of us! We must not ignore the prophetic words of Jesus, or the apostles or the prophets who spoke in His name. Before Jesus comes back His body the Church will suffer crucifixion as He Himself did but, like Him, be raised with Resurrection power at His Second Coming. Kingdom Dominion will occur for the saints but only after they have experienced death, burial and resurrection. In the book of Daniel the saints receive the kingdom physically only after the Antichrist and his beast empire have been destroyed and Jesus has returned to reign on the earth (Daniel 7:22, 26-27).

Secondly, there are the Biblically Evangelistic Churches.

These are the churches that build their ministries upon the sole foundation of God’s Word. These churches are building God’s Kingdom upon the foundation rock of God’s Word and that Word is the standard by which they practice their ministry, worship and service for the Lord. While most of them may not be Mega churches they are seeing sinners saved and saints sanctified. Unfortunately there are those who claim to be “evangelical” but are progressively moving away from the standards of the Bible. Much more could be said about these kinds of churches. A truly Biblical and Evangelical Church will not only preach the Word of God faithfully and without compromise but also be open to and regularly practice the Gifts of the Spirit.

Thirdly, there are the Liberal Churches.

These churches are those that do not accept the authority of scripture as the final authority in matters of doctrine and faith but have turned aside from the truth towards Ecumenical and interfaith associations. Their ministers and theologians deny the basic tenants of the Christian faith, especially the supernatural aspect of Jesus life and ministry. Many of them actually substitute the main truths of the Bible for secular humanism, worldly philosophy and psychology. These would have been primarily associated with the “Sadducees” of Jesus day.

Fourthly, there are the “Charismatic” Churches.

These churches emphasize the gifts of the Spirit. Some of them are Biblical in their worship and ministry; however, multitudes of them are in doctrinal error. The two main areas are in the Faith Prosperity camp and the Kingdom Dominion Camp. Of course you have the laughing revival from the past and more recently Todd Bentley, not to mention the so-called coalition of “apostles” under Peter C Wagner who actually commissioned Todd. However it needs to be said that the gifts of the Spirit have never ceased to operate. Also no one can tell you either from scripture or from Church history when they actually ceased because they never did! Some will quote that verse from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which says, “When the perfect has come the imperfect will pass away.” They will say, “Now that we have the completed Canon of Scripture we no longer need the Gifts of the Spirit especially the manifestation of prophecy, however, they are quoting this verse out of all reasonable context. If you look at this quote in its context it is saying that when the Lord has come back that we will no longer need the Gifts of the Spirit because “we will know as we are known” by God. Until that day comes we will still need the Gifts of the Spirit as well as the Word of God. Apart from this verse there is nowhere else in the Bible where we are told that the Gifts of the Spirit will cease before the Lord comes back.

There is a place for the gifts of the Spirit provided they are practiced Biblically. If you can find a church (they are scarce) that teaches the Bible in depth and also practices the gifts of the Spirit there you will find very effective evangelism, discipleship and spiritual warfare. The Devil hates this kind of Church. He wants to have churches go into extremes. God tells us to “avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18). Today there are extremes. There are churches that actually emphasize the expository teaching and preaching of the Bible but are completely closed to the gifts of the Spirit; consequently, they are very legalistic whereas on the other hand you have churches that emphasize experiences, gifts and manifestations while ignoring the plain meaning of Scripture.

Every gift, every utterance and every dream, every revelation, every prophecy and manifestation must be tested by the Word of God. As Paul said, “Test all things.” He also said, “I want you all to prophesy” and “forbid not speaking in Tongues.” There is definitely a place for spiritual gifts in the local church and the church that does not know this aspect of worship and ministry is at a disadvantage where real spiritual warfare, evangelism and discipleship is concerned!

Conclusion:

“To which “church” do you belong?” When we look at the seven churches it is the last two that leave us with a personal question to ask ourselves. Are we a Philadelphian type of Christian or a Laodicean type of Christian? Is our church a Philadelphian kind of church or a Laodicean type of church? We, or our church, cannot be both. Either we are taking the advantage of the open door that Jesus has provided and pressing in to know and to do the will of God for our lives in this generation or we are “at ease in Zion” and Jesus is outside knocking at the door of our lives and our church. It was to the Christians at Laodicea that Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with Me” (3:20).

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