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The Historical Church

The Historical Church

(Applies to Revelation Chapters two and three)

It is a sad situation, but for almost two thousand years the physical Church has not fulfilled the requirements of the Scriptures.  Man has corrupted the Church by misrepresenting the Scriptures.  Today, we have many different denominations, and groups who have a wide range of views on the doctrine of the Church.  Some even go so far as to deny the virgin birth, deity and resurrection of Christ.

The apostle John was on the island of Patmos when the glorified Christ appeared unto him in a vision, and told him to record what he was told and what he saw.  Jesus said “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (Rev. 1:19). In the second and third chapters of Revelation, John recorded “things which are” as Christ wrote letters to seven churches in Asia.  These churches were Ephesus, Smyrna, Thyatira, Pergamum, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  The question must be asked, why would these churches be singled out for special attention when there were many other churches existing at that time?

Since the book of Revelation is prophetic in its view, it seems that the letters to these churches would also be prophetic in scope.  As we look back over the past history of the Church, probably we would find each of these Churches was represented throughout history.  However, some believe that each Church, individually, represents the prevailing Church or predominant groups of Churches during specific periods throughout Church history. These letters follow the format of commending, condemning, counseling, and challenging each of the churches.  All churches, except the Church at Smyma, were condemned and all were commended except the Church at Laodicea.

The Church at Ephesus represents “The Apostolic Church”, and the time period from 30 AD to 100 AD.  It’s name means desirable, but it became a Church of duty without love.  Jesus condemned the Church for leaving its first love.  During the first 70 years of the Church age, divine revelation came to the apostles from the Holy Spirit.  

Scriptures had not been canonized, and the apostles were the authority on all Church doctrine.  During this time, many false teachers came upon the scene, and heresy entered into the early Church.  Ephesus was commended for refusing the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.  It is thought that the Nicolaitans taught that the flesh was not sinful, and therefore immoral conduct was condoned.  There was also an attempt to organize the Church hierarchy so that man could assume power.

The Church at Smyrna, which was located in a wealthy, heathen city, was a most persecuted Church.  It represents the period during which all churches were severely persecuted by the Roman emperors between 100 AD and 312 AD.  Although persecution began in the first century, it became more severe under the tyrannical reign of the later emperors.  Satan made an all out effort to eradicate the Church.  During the reign of Diocletian, the Roman Empire was crumbling, and the Church went through the greatest persecution of its entire history.  During this time, it has been estimated that five million Christians were martyred because of their faith.  Some people even believe that the prophecy of the tribulation of Revelation was fulfilled during this period of history.  It is also during this time that the Church experienced it greatest growth in relation to the world population.

The Church at Pergamum was an indulged Church, and represents the period between 312 AD and 606 AD.  They compromised with the world system by introducing the doctrine of the Nicolaitans into their Church.  What the Church at Ephesus would not do, the Church at Pergamum did.  This symbolism finds its place in history as many changes take place in the Roman Empire.  Constantine followed Diocletian as emperor, and was soon converted to Christianity.  He forced all the people to convert to Christianity, and married the state to the Church.  Soon the Church leaders became more powerful in the government.  

Constantine moved the seat of government from Rome to Constantinople, and ushered in the Byzantine Empire, which ruled the eastern bloc for the next 1000 years.  Local churches were now part of a larger man made organization called “The Church”.  As the years went by, the organized Church was split into two groups.  The Church in the west was under the control of the Roman Catholics, and the one in the east was under the control of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  During this period, man introduced many false doctrines into the Church. These include prayers for the dead, worship of saints and angels, worship of Mary, introduction of purgatory, prayers directed to Mary and many others.  Emphasis was placed on form and not substance.   It was a time where liturgy, relics, and icons became very important in their worship services.  The Church declined drastically in spiritual power and blessings from heaven.

The Church at Thyatira was a pagan Church, where a woman named Jezebel taught heresy.  The Church represents the period beginning in 606 AD, and probably will continue until the rapture.  The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, which was located in the west, controlled both the state and the Church.  It was during this time that “The Church” took Western Europe into the dark ages by merging paganism with the Church.  A two-class system developed with Church leaders in the upper class, and others in a suppressed lower class.  Later, this developed into the feudal system where powerful lords ruled over lesser lords and lesser lords ruled over servants.  

The Church controlled the masses of the lower class by denying them education, and forbidding them to have Bibles.  Church services were held in Latin, and control was maintained with the threat of excommunication.  Excommunication meant, among other things, that they could no longer associate with other Church members, including their own families.  In 607 AD, Boniface III became the first pope with absolute control over the Church.  As the years went by, tradition was placed on the same level as Scriptures.  Man continued to introduce false doctrine, which included the use of “holy water”, canonization of dead saints, confession, and the forgiveness of sins by priests, doctrine of purgatory, Immaculate Conception of Mary, infallibility of the Pope and many others.  The Church taught salvation by works, and ultimate obedience to Church leaders.

The Church at Sardis was known as the dead Church.  Jesus said to them “but you are dead”.  Sardis represents the Protestant state churches, which began in 1520 AD during the Reformation under Martin Luther.  Martin Luther, after studying the book of Romans, began teaching that salvation is by grace through faith, and that “the just shall live by faith”.  However, this new Church order under Luther and John Calvin continued to practice the same form of Church government as the Roman Catholic Church.  The Church was still married to the state, and the head of state was also head of the Church.  Many of the pagan practices continued in the protestant Church.  Those wanting religious freedom were persecuted, and many people fled to America.  Protestant state churches continue today, and will probably continue until the Rapture.  Many of them are spiritually dead.

Jesus had only praise for the Church at Philadelphia.  He said, “I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it”.  Philadelphia means “brotherly love” and apparently this Church reflected the love of Christ.  Beginning about 1750 AD, several Church movements began, and ushered in the modern missionary movement.  Beginning with William Carey, followed by others, the gospel was taken to other parts of the world.   Revivals broke out under the preaching of great evangelists such as George Whitefield, John Wesley, C. H. Spurgeon, D. L. Moody and others.  These revivals were referred to as “The Great Awakening”, and greatly influenced the thinking of America’s early leaders, and the formation of the American constitution.  Some people believe that these revivals saved England from the same Cultural Revolution that overthrew the French government.

The last letter was written to the Church at Laodicea, and Jesus had no commendation for them.  He said: “Thou are neither cold or hot” and “I will spew thee out of my mouth”.  

The Church at Laodicea represents the apostate Church, which began around 1900 AD.  The apostate Church is a worldly Church with a humanist agenda.  They have elevated man and declared that God is dead, and have replaced the teaching of creation with the teaching of evolution.  Many deny the virgin birth, the deity and the resurrection of Christ.  They have corrupted the teaching of the Bible, and have replaced what God calls sin with a new teaching, called situation ethics.

The apostles had words of warning about these churches.  “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation'” (2 Pet. 3:3-4).  “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away” (2 Tim. 3:1-5)!

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Thessalonica about the rapture, the antichrist and the great day of the Lord, he was referring to the apostate Church.   He said that there must be a great falling away before these events occur.  “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:1-4).