Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Seven Churches of Revelation: Introduction Part 1 of 8

The Seven Churches of Revelation
Introduction: Part 1 of 8
David Q. Santos

Revelation 1:4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;
In chapter one verse nineteen, John the Apostle is given the command to “write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” This verse gives the key to understanding the book. John first wrote about that which he had seen, the resurrected glorified Jesus Christ. Secondly, he wrote about the things which are. The “things which are” spans chapters two and three which are the churches, and chapters 4-22 cover the things which shall be here after or after the churches.

In general, each church is given a commendation, a criticism, instruction, and a promise in addition to being a type or foreshadow of a segment of the church age. There are two churches that do not receive any criticism, Smyrna and Philadelphia. It is interesting to note that these are the only two of the seven cities that are still in existence today. There is only one church that does not receive any commendation, Sardis.

The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse

Ephesus 2:1-7
Commendation: Rejects evil, perseveres, has patience
Criticism: Love for Christ no longer fervent
Instruction: Do the works you did at first
Promise: The tree of life

Smyrna 2:8-11
Commendation: Gracefully bears suffering
Criticism: None
Instruction: Be faithful until death
Promise: The crown of life

Pergamos 2:12-17
Commendation: Keeps the faith of Christ
Criticism: Tolerates immorality, idolatry, and heresies
Instruction: Repent
Promise: Hidden manna and a stone with a new name

Thyatira 2:18-29
Commendation: Love, service, faith, patience are greater than at first
Criticism: Tolerates cult of idolatry and immorality
Instruction: Judgment coming; keep the faith
Promise: Rule over nations and receive morning star

Sardis 3:1-6
Commendation: Some have kept the faith
Criticism: A dead church
Instruction: Repent, strengthen what remains
Promise: Faithful honored and clothed in white

Philadelphia 3:7-13
Commendation: Perseveres in the faith, keeps the word of Christ, honors His name
Criticism: None
Instruction: Keep the faith
Promise: A place in God’s presence a new name, and the New Jerusalem

Laodicea 3:14-22
Commendation: None
Criticism: Indifferent
Instruction: Be zealous and repent
Promise: Share Christ’s throne

Chapters two and three, the letters to the seven churches are two of the most important of this prophetic book. Many scholars have seen a four fold message in these two chapters. C. I. Scofield wrote,

The messages to the seven churches have a fourfold application: (1) Local, to the churches actually addressed; (2) admonitory, to all churches in all time as tests by which they may discern their true spiritual state in the sight of God; (3) personal, in the exhortations to him “that hath an ear,” and in the promises “to him that overcometh” (4) prophetic, as disclosing seven phases of spiritual history of the church frame, say A.D. 96 to the end. It is incredible that in a prophecy covering the church period there should be no such foreview. These messages must contain that foreview if it is in the book at all, for no church is mentioned after [chapter] 3… These messages do present an exact foreview of spiritual history of the church, and in this precise order.[1]

This fourfold application of the messages to the seven churches makes the study of these two chapters very important and relevant to modern students and scholars. First, there was a message given to the churches in the first century. In studying the good and the bad from these early churches it is easy to see their characteristics, both good and bad, in today’s churches and apply the appropriate correction. These church descriptions could be like a mirror to every congregation showing their spiritual state and giving advice on how to fix any problems that may exist and giving credit to the positive characteristics of the modern church. It is also easy to apply the correction of the churches to individuals.

The fourth application of chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation is that each church addressed represents a period or age within the church age. The first three churches, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, did not continue on past their initial age. All of the final four churches have continued on into the present and will exist until the time of Christ’s return. The prophetic ages that are represented in the church age can be summarized in the following manner;

The church of Ephesus represents the apostolic times.
The church of Smyrna represents the period of great persecution.
The church of Pergamos represents that time when the church was united with the world.
The church of Thyatira would represent that period of church history when the church would enter the dark ages.
The church of Sardis represents that period of time during the Reformation when Protestantism had its beginning and Luther came out of and protested against the Catholic Church
The church of Philadelphia represents that period of time we refer to as “the revived church.”
The church of Laodicia would represent that period of time of the apostate church-the lukewarm church.[2]
Some have argued that the view that these seven churches represent seven ages in church history should not be accepted citing that it is to close to taking a historicist view of the book of Revelation. However it has been argued by scholars like John Walvoord that this view is in complete agreement with the futurist view. He wrote, “There does seem to be a remarkable progression in the messages. It would seem almost incredible that such a progression should be a pure accident, and the order of the messages to the churches seems to be divinely selected to give prophetically the main movement of the church history… The prophetic interpretation of the messages to the seven churches, to be sure, should not be pressed beyond bounds, as it is a deduction from the content, not from the explicit statement of the passage. It is fully keeping with the futurist point of view father than the historic.”[3]

Work Cited: (Whole Series)

Courson, Jon. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament. Nashville. Thomas Nelson Publishing. 2003.
Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nashville TN. 1997.
Ryrie, Charles, Caldwell. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Chicago IL. Moody Press. 1999.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. The Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, Moody Press. 1978.
Showers, Renald Dr. Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc. Bellmawr, NJ. 1995.
Strong’s Bible Dictionary. The Online Bible Millennium Edition Version 1.2. Winterbourne Ontario, Canada. 1999.
Scofield C.I. Rev. D.D. Scofield Reference Bible-Reproduction of 1917. Greenville, SC. Stonehaven Press.
Townsend, Jeffrey L. The Rapture in Revelation 3:10. Dallas Texas. Bibliotheca Sacra. July-Sept 1980.
Wallace, Roy Dr. Studies from Revelation. Shreveport, Louisiana. Lin Wel Publishing. 2002.
Walvoord, John F. The Rapture Question. Grand Rapids MI. Zondervan Publishing House. 1979.
Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary By John F. Walvoord. Chicago. Moody Press. 1966.

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[1] Scofield C.I. Rev. D.D. Scofield Reference Bible-Reproduction of 1917. Pg 1331-1332.
[2] Wallace, Roy Dr. Studies from Revelation. Pg 18-19.
[3] Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary By John F. Walvoord. Pg 52.

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