The Seven Churches
Book of Revelation was written in A. D. 96. The writer was the Apostle
John. He was told to write the things which he "saw" and "heard." The
Book therefore is a divinely given book, and is the "Revelation of
Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:1)
and not of John. It is the most important and valuable prophetic book
in the Bible. All through the Old Testament there are scattered
references to things which are to come to pass in the "Last Days." The
Book of Revelation reveals The Divine Program, or order, in
which these events are to happen. It is the Book of Consummation and
its proper place in the sacred canon is where it is placed, at the end
of the Bible. The Book is full of "action." Earth and heaven are
brought near together. The clouds roll away, thrones, elders, and
angelic forms are seen; harps, trumpets, cries from disembodied souls,
and choruses of song are heard. Earth touches heaven, and alas it
touches hell also. There are strong moral contracts. Good and evil
meet. There is no blending, but sharp contrasts, and a long protracted
conflict that ends in victory for the good.
The Book is addressed to the "seven churches which are in Asia."
By Asia is not meant the great Continent of Asia, or even the whole of
Asia Minor, but only its western end. Neither were the seven churches
named the only churches in that district, for there were at least three
other churches: Colosse, Col. 1:2; Hierapolis, Col. 4:13; and Troas, Acts 20:6, Acts 20:7.
These Seven Churches then must be representative or "typical" churches,
chosen for -certain characteristics typical of the character of the
Church of Christ from the end of the First Century down to the time of
Christ's return for His Church, and descriptive of
Seven Church Periods clearly defined in Church History.
when he received his message was a prisoner on the Isle of Patmos. He
heard behind him a "great voice, " as of a trumpet, and when he turned
he saw "Seven Golden Candlesticks, " and standing in their midst one
like unto the "Son of Man, " who held in His right hand "Seven Stars."
He was told that the "Seven Stars" were the "Angels" (Ministers or
Messengers) of the Seven Churches, and the "Seven Candlesticks"
represented the Seven Churches. "Lampstand" is a better translation for
the word "Candlestick, " and is so given in the margin of our Bibles. A
"Candlestick" requires a light which is self-consuming, while a
"Lampstand" is simply the "Holder" of a lamp whose light is fed from a
reservoir of oil, thus typifying the oil of the Holy Spirit. Thus
Christ looks upon the churches as not the Light, but simply the "Light
Holder." 'the use of the figures "Lampstands" and "Stars, " which are
only for service in the night, indicates that we are living in the
"Night" of this Age.
The "Key" to the interpretation of the Book of Revelation is its "Threefold Division." Rev. 1:19.
I. Things Past.
"The Things Which Thou Hast SEEN."
The Vision of Christ in the midst of the "Lampstands." Chapter one.
II. Things Present.
"The Things Which ARE."
the Seven Churches. Chapters two and three. John was not far from 100
years old, and the only remaining Apostle. The Temple and city of
Jerusalem had been destroyed, and the Jews dispersed 26 years before,
and John's attention was called to the condition of the "Seven"
representative churches of Asia.
"The Things Which SHALL BE HEREAFTER."
Beginning with the fourth chapter unto the end of the Book. Rev. 4:1.
It is worthy of note that the "Messages to the Seven Churches" are inserted between Two Visions, the "Vision of Christ" in the midst of the "Seven Lampstands" in chapter one, and the "Vision of the Four and Twenty Elders" round about the Throne, in chapter four.
As chapter four is a vision of the "Glorified Church" with the Lord, after it has been caught out (1Thes. 4:13-15), then the Second Division of the Book-
"The Things Which Are, "
which includes chapters two and three, must be a description or
prophetic outline of the "Spiritual History" of the Church from the
time when John wrote the Book in A. D. 96, down to the taking out of
the Church, or else we have no "prophetic view" of the Church during
that period, for she disappears from the earth at the close of chapter
three, and is not seen again until she reappears with her Lord in
chapter nineteen. This we shall find to be the case.
interpretation of the "Messages to the Seven Churches" was hidden to
the early Church, because time was required for Church History to
develop and be written, so a comparison could be made to reveal the
correspondence. If it had been clearly revealed that the Seven Churches
stood for "Seven Church Periods" that would have to elapse before
Christ could come back, the incentive to watch would have been absent.
the character of these Seven Churches is descriptive of the Church
during seven periods of her history, we must not forget that the
condition of those churches, as described, were their exact condition
in John's day. So we see that at the close of the First Century the
leaven of "False Doctrine" was at work in the Churches. The churches
are given in the order named, because the peculiar characteristic of
that Church applied to the period of Church History to which it is
assigned. It also must not be forgotten, that, that which is a
distinctive characteristic of each Church Period, does not disappear
with that Period, but continues on down through the next Period, and so
on until the end, thus increasing the imperfections of the visible
Church, until it ends in an open Apostasy, as shown on the chart "The
Messages to the Seven Churches Compared with Church History."
We will now consider each message separately.
1. The Message to the Church at EPHESUS. Rev. 2:1-3.
The complaint that Christ makes against this Church is that it "had left its First Love." Its character is seen in its very name, for Ephesus means to "let go...... to relax." It had become a Backslidden Church. Paul, who founded it, warned it of what should happen, in his parting message.
know this, that after my departing shall grievous 'wolves' enter in
among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men
arise, 'speaking perverse things, ' to draw away disciples after them."
Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30.
significance of this warning is seen in the commendation of the
Message, vs. 6-"But this thou hast, that thou 'hatest' the deeds of the
Nicolaitanes which I also hate." Here Paul's "wolves" are called
Nicolaitanes. They were not a sect, but a party in the Church who were
trying to establish a "Priestly Order." Probably trying to model the
Church after the Old Testament order of Priests, Levites, and common
people. This is seen in the meaning of the word, which is from "Niko"
to conquer, to overthrow, and "Laos" the people or laity. The object
was to establish a "Holy Order of Men, " and place them over the laity,
which was foreign to the New Testament plan, and call them not pastors,
but-Clergy, Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, Popes. Here we have the
origin of the dogma of "Apostolic Succession, " and the separation of
the Clergy from the Laity, a thing that God "hates." The Church at
Ephesus was not deceived, but recognized them as false apostles and
The character of the Church at Ephesus is a fair outline of the Church Period from A. D. 70 to A. D. 170.
II. The Message to the Church at Smyrna. Rev. 2:8-10.
Church in its "Ephesian Period" having lost its "First Love, " the Lord
is now about to "chastise" it, so as to cause it to return to Him.
Smyrna has for its root meaning "bitterness, " and means "Myrrh, " an
ointment associated with death, and we see in the meaning of the word a
prophecy of the persecution and death which was to befall the members
of the Smyrna Church. They were told not to "fear" the things that they
should be called on to suffer, but to be faithful "unto" death, not
"until" death. That is, not until the end of their "natural" life, they
were not to "recant" when called upon to face a Martyr's death, but
remain faithful until death relieved them of their suffering. The
reward would be a "Crown of Life." This is the Martyr's crown.
were told that the "author" of their suffering would be the Devil, and
its duration would be "ten days, " which was doubtless a prophetic
reference to the "Ten Great Persecutions" under the Roman Emperors,
beginning with Nero, A. D. 64, and ending with Diocletian in A. D. 310.
Seven of these "Great Persecutions" occurred during this "Smyrna
Period" of Church History. Or it may refer to the 10 years of the last
and fiercest persecution under Diocletian. This Period extended from A.
D. 170 to Constantine A. D. 312.
III. The Message to the Church at Pergamos. Rev. 2:12-14.
this Message Pergamos is spoken of as "Satan's Seat." When Attalus III,
the Priest-King of the Chaldean Hierarchy, fled before the conquering
Persians to Pergamos, and settled there, Satan shifted his capital from
Babylon to Pergamos. At first he persecuted the followers of Christ,
and Antipas was one of the martyrs. But soon he changed his tactics and
began to exalt the Church, and through Constantine united the Church
and State, and offered all kinds of inducements for worldly people to
come into the Church. Constantine's motive was more political than
religious. He wished to weld his Christian and Pagan subjects into one
people, and so consolidate his Empire. The result of this union was
that two false and. pernicious doctrines crept into the Church. The
first was the "Doctrine of Balaam, " and the second the "Doctrine of
the Nicolaitanes." The latter we have already considered under the
Message to the Church at Ephesus. And the foothold it had secured in
the Church was seen in the First Great Council of the Church held at
Nicaea, in A. D. 325. The Council was composed of about 1500 delegates,
the laymen outnumbering the Bishops 5 to 1. It was a stormy council ,
full of intrigue and political methods, and from the supremacy of the
"Clergy" over the "Laity" it was evident that the "Doctrine of the
Nicolaitanes" had secured a strong and permanent foothold.
"Doctrine of Balaam" is disclosed in the story of Balaam found in the
Book of Numbers, chapters 22 to 25 inclusive. When the Children of
Israel on their way to Canaan had reached the land of Moab, Balak the
king of Moab sent for Balaam the Son of Beor, who lived at Pethor on
the river Euphrates, to come and curse them. When the Lord would not
permit Balaam to curse Israel, he suggested to Balak that he
invite them to the licentious feasts of "Baal-Peor, " and thus cause
Israel to fall into a snare that would so anger the Lord, that he would
Himself destroy them. This Balak did, and the result was that when the
men of Israel went to those sensual feasts and saw the "daughters of
Moab" they committed whoredoms with them, which so kindled God's anger
that He sent a plague that destroyed 42, 000 of them. Now the word
"Pergamos" means "Marriage, " and when the Church entered into a union
with the State it was guilty of "Spiritual Fornication" or "Balaamism."
The "Balaam Method" that Constantine employed was to give to the
Bishops of the Church a number of imposing buildings called Basilicas
for conversion into churches, for whose decoration he was lavish in the
gift of money. He also supplied superb vestments for the clergy, and
soon the Bishop found himself clad in costly vestments, seated on a
lofty throne in the apse of the Basilica, with a marble altar, adorned
with gold and gems, on a lower level in front of him. A sensuous form
of worship was introduced, the character of the preaching was changed,
and the great "Pagan Festivals" were adopted, with but little
alteration, to please the Pagan members of the church, and attract
Pagans to the church. For illustration, as the Winter Solstice falls on
the 21st day of December, which is the shortest day in the year, and it
is not until the 25th that the day begins to lengthen, which day was
regarded throughout the Heathen world as the "birthday" of the
"Sun-God, " and was a high festival, which was celebrated at Rome by
the "Great Games" of the Circus, it was found advisable to change the
Birthday of the Son of God, from April, at which time He was probably
born, to December 25th, because as He was the "Sun of Righteousness, "
what more appropriate birthday could He have than the birthday of the
It was at this time that
their origin. As the Church had become rich and powerful, it was
suggested that by the union of Church and State a condition of affairs
would develop that would usher in the Millennium without the return of
Christ, and since some scriptural support was needed for such a
doctrine, it was claimed that the Jews had been cast off "forever, "
and that all the prophecies of Israel's future glory were intended for
the Church. This "Period" extends from the accession of Constantine, A.
D. 312 to A. D. 606, when Boniface III was crowned "Universal Bishop."
IV. The Message to the Church at Thyatira. Rev. 2:18-20.
His commendation of this Church, Christ lays the emphasis on their
"works, " as if they depended on them, and claimed they deserved merit
for "works" of "Supererogation." But He had a complaint to make against
them that was terrible in its awfulness. He charges them not merely
with permitting a bad woman, Jezebel, who called herself a "Prophetess,
" to remain in the Church, but with permitting her to "teach" her
pernicious doctrines, and to "seduce" the servants to "commit
fornication, " and to "eat things sacrificed to idols."
this woman was is a question. She was a "pretender, and called herself
a "prophetess." Probably she was of noble lineage. She certainly was a
woman of commanding influence. Whether her real name was Jezebel or
not, she was so like her prototype in the Old Testament, Jezebel the
wife of Ahab, that Christ called her by that name. Jezebel, the wife of
Ahab, was not by birth a daughter of Abraham, but a princess of
idolatrous Tyre, at a time, too, when its royal family was famed for
cruel savagery and intense devotion to Baal and Astarte. Her father,
Eth-baal, a priest of the latter deity, murdered the reigning monarch
Phales, and succeeded him. Ahab, king of Israel, to strengthen his
kingdom, married Jezebel, and she, aided and abetted by Ahab,
introduced the licentious worship of Baal into Israel, and killed all
the prophets of the Lord she could lay her hands on. And this influence
she exercised, not only while her husband was alive but also during the
reign of her two sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram. More daughter Athaliah to
Jehoram, son of Jehoshoaphat introduced idolatrous worship into Judah,
and it was not long before a house of Baal built in Jerusalem, and so
Jezebel caused all Israel to sin after the sin of Jeroboam the e son of
Nebat. 1Kings 16:29-31.
is no question that whether Jezebel was a real person or not, she
typified a System" and that "System" was the "Papal Church." When the
"Papal Church" introduced images and pictures into its churches for the
people to bow down to it became idolatrous. And when it set up its
claim that the teaching of the Church is superior to the Word of God,
it assumed the role of "Prophetess." A careful study of the "Papal
System" from A. D. 606 to the Reformation A. D. 1520, with its
institution of the "Sacrifice of the Mass" and other Pagan rites,
reveals in it the sway of "Jezebelism." It was also a period of
"Jezebelistic Persecution, " as seen in the wars of the Crusades, and
the rise of the Inquisition. A careful comparison of this "Message"
with the Parable of "The Leaven, " (see the chapter on "The Kingdom"),
will reveal the wonderful correspondence between the two, the "Jezebel"
of the Church of Thyatira, being the "Woman" of the Parable, who
inserted the "Leaven" of "False Doctrine" into the Meal of the Gospel.
This Period extended from A. D. 606 to the Reformation A. D. 1520.
V. The Message to the Church at Sardis. Rev. 3:1-3.
Church at Sardis was called a "Dead Church" though it had a name to
live. That is, it was a "Formalistic Church, " a church given over to
"formal" or "ritualistic" worship. It had the "Form of Godliness
without the power." The meaning of the word "Sardis" is the "escaping
one, " or those who "come out" and so it is an excellent type of the
Church of the
the Reformation we mean that period in the history of the Christian
Church when Martin Luther and a number of other reformers protested
against the false teaching, tyranny and claims of the Papal Church.
Period began about A. D. 1500. The condition of affairs in the realm
dominated by the Papal Church became intolerable, and came to a crisis
when Martin Luther on October 31, 1517 A. D., nailed his 95 Theses on
the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. From that date the Reformation
set in. But it was more a struggle for political liberty, than a purely
Christian or religious movement.
had the advantage of encouraging and aiding the circulation of the Holy
Scriptures, that had hitherto been a sealed book, the revival of the
Doctrine of "Justification by Faith, " and a reversion to more simple
modes of worship, - but the multiplication of sects only led to bitter
controversial contentions, that, while they threw much light on the
Word of God, interfered greatly with the spiritual state of the Church,
until it could truthfully be said, "That she had a name to live and was
While the reformers
swept away much ritualistic and doctrinal rubbish they failed to
recover the promise of the Second Advent. They turned to God from
idols, but not to "wait for His Son from the Heavens." The "Sardis
Period" extended from A. D. 1520 to about A. D. 1750.
VI. The Message to the Church at Philadelphia. Rev. 3:7-9.
is no question about the meaning of the word Philadelphia. It means
"Brotherly Love, " and well describes the charity and brotherly
fellowship that dissipated the bitter personal animosities that
characterized the theological disputants of the "Sardis Period, " and
made possible the evangelistic and missionary labors of the past 150
Three things are said of this Church.
It had a "little strength." It was like a person coming back to life
who was still very weak. It was the "dead" Sardis Church "revived, "
and Revivals have been characteristic of the Philadelphia Period. These
Revivals began with George Whitefield in A. D. 1739, followed by John
Wesley, Charles G. Finney and D. L. Moody.
It had set before it an "open door, " that no "man" could shut. Note
that this promise was made by Him, who "hath the 'Key of David, ' He
that 'openeth' and no mail shutteth; and 'shutteth' and no man
openeth." In 1793 William Carey sailed for India, where he found an
"open door, " and since then the Lord has opened the door into China,
Japan, Korea, India, Africa and the isles of the sea, until there is
not a country in the world where the missionary cannot go.
It was to be kept from the "hour of temptation" (Tribulation), that
shall come upon all the world. As the Church at Philadelphia is still
in existence, and the only one of the seven that has survived, and
while it suffered more or less under the "Ten Persecutions" of the
"Smyrna Period, " it has never yet suffered in a persecution that was
world-wide. This "hour of temptation" then must be still future and
refers doubtless to the "Great Tribulation " that is to come upon the
"whole world, " ' just before the return of the Lord to set up His
Millennial Kingdom, and as the promise is that the "Philadelphia
Church" shall not pass through the Tribulation, is not this additional proof that the Church shall be "caught out" before the Tribulation?
"Philadelphia Period" covers the time between A. D. 1750 and A. D.
1900. We must not forget that the characteristics of all these Periods
continue on in the Church down to the end. This is true of the
Evangelistic and Missionary movements of the "Philadelphia Period, "
but they are now more mechanical and based on business methods, and
there is less spiritual power, and this will continue until Christ
VII. The Message to the Church at Laodicea. Rev. 3:14-16.
Christ has no "commendation" for this Church, but much to complain of. He says-
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold or hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."
is nothing more disgusting or nauseating than "tepid" water. So there
is nothing more repugnant to Christ than a "tepid" church. He would
rather have a church "frozen" or "boiling." It was the "chilly
spiritual atmosphere" of the Church of England that drove John Wesley
to start those outside meetings which became so noted for their
"religious fervor, " and it was the same "chilly atmosphere" of the
Methodist Church that drove William Booth in turn to become a "Red-hot"
Our churches today
are largely in this "lukewarm" condition. There is very little of
warm-hearted spirituality. There is much going on in them, but it is
largely mechanical and of a social character. Committees, societies,
and clubs are multiplied, but there is an absence of "spiritual heat."
Revival meetings are held, but instead of waiting on the Lord for power, evangelists and paid singers are hired and soul winning is made a business
The cause of this "lukewarmness" is the same as that of the Church of Laodicea-Self-Deception.
"Because thou sayest I am 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."
They thought they were rich,
and outwardly they were, but Christ saw the poverty of their heart.
There are many such churches in the world today. More so than in any
other period in the history of the church. Many of these churches have
Cathedral-like buildings, stained glass windows, eloquent preachers,
paid singers, large congregations. Some of them have large landed
interests and are well endowed, and yet they are poor. Many of the
members, if not the majority, are worldly, card playing, dancing, and
theatre going Christians. The poor and the saintly are not wanted in
such churches because their presence is a rebuke. These churches do not
see that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
we were to visit such churches they would take pride in showing us the
building, they would praise the preaching and singing, they would boast
of the character of their congregations, the exclusiveness of their
membership, and the attractiveness of all their services, but if we
suggested a series of meetings for the "deepening of the Spiritual Life, " or the "conversion of the unsaved, " they would say-"Oh, no, we do not want such meetings, we have need of nothing." The Church at Laodicea was not burdened with debt, but it was burdened with WEALTH.
The trouble with the church today is that it thinks that nothing can be done without money,
and that if we only had the money the world would be converted in this
generation. The world is not to be converted by money, but by the Spirit of God.
trouble with the Church of Laodicea was that its "Gold', was not of the
right kind, and so it was counseled to buy of the Lord "gold tried in the fire." What kind of gold is that? It-is gold that has no taint upon it. Gold that is not cankered, or secured by fraud, or the withholding of a just wage. What a description we have of these Laodicean days in James 5:1-3.
But the Church of Laodicea was not only poor, though rich, it was blind. Or to put it more accurately-"Near-Sighted." They could see their worldly prosperity, but were "Short-Sighted" as to heavenly things, so the Lord counseled them to anoint their eyes with "EyeSalve."
Their merchants dealt in ointments and herbs of a high degree of
healing virtue, but they possessed no salve that would restore impaired Spiritual Vision, only the Unction of the Holy One could do that.
But the Church was not only poor, and blind, it was naked.
Their outward garments were doubtless of the finest material and the
latest fashionable cut, but not such as should adorn the person of a
Child of God. So they were counseled to purchase of Christ "White Raiment, " in exchange for the "raven black woolen" garments for which the garment makers of Laodicea were famous.
Then a most startling revelation was made to the Church of Laodicea, Christ said-
"Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock."
These words are generally quoted as an appeal to sinners, but they are not, they are addressed to a Church, and to a Church in whose midst Christ had once stood, but now found Himself excluded and standing outside knocking for admittance.
This is the most startling thing recorded in the New Testament, that it
is possible for a church to be outwardly prosperous and yet have no
Christ in its midst, and be unconscious of the fact. This is a
description of a Christless Church. Oh, the
Excluded from His own nation, for they Rejected Him; excluded from the world, for it Crucified Him; excluded from His Church, for He stands outside its door Knocking for Entrance.
How did Christ come to be outside the Church? He had been within it once or there never would have been a Church. How did He come to leave? It is clear that they had not thrust
Him out, for they do not seem to have missed His presence. They
continued to worship Him, to sing His praises, and engage in all manner
of Christian service, yet He had withdrawn. Why? The reason is summed
up in one word-Worldliness.
But how is Christ to get back into His Church? Does it require the unanimous vote or invitation of the membership? No. "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to Him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." That is, the way to revive a lukewarm church is for the individual members to open their hearts and let Christ re-enter, and thus open the door for His reappearance.
character of the Church today is Laodicean, and as the Laodicean Period
is to continue until the Church of the "New-Born" is taken out, we
cannot hope for any great change until the Lord comes back.
"If Christ should come today,
I'll not be here tomorrow;
He'll take His ransomed ones away
From death and sin and sorrow.
In the 'Midair He'll come
To call His loved ones home,
To take them to the 'place prepared, '
As He, before He left, declared."
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