Jesus appeared to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos and told him to write what he would be shown. Then, in visions, John was shown the events (in figurative views) of the End Times.
The key to understanding the book is given to us in verse 1:19. “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this (Rev 1:19). The book is divided into three parts: (1) Things which you have seen, (2) Things which are and (3) Things which will take place after this. “The things you have seen” are covered in the first chapter, “Things which are” covered in chapters two and three, and “Things which will take place after this” are covered in the remaining jchapters.
At this time, approximately 90 AD, there were many churches in the Roman Empire, and some had strayed from the beliefs and practices of the early church. False teachers had introduced heresy within the churches. In many churches, they had lost their first love and spiritually had become cold. Many had become worldly in practice, and they were deep in sin. Others were suffering severe persecution.
The seven churches are representative in the second and third chapters of Revelation. They probably represented the mix of churches that existed at that time. Many believe that they are prophetic in that they represent the characteristics of the churches that have and will exist at specific times over the history of the Church.
Even though the Church has, at times, has done a good job of carrying out its mission, history has shown that it may have failed in many instances. Unfortunately, selfish ambitions and power struggles within the Church have sometimes hindered its work. Just as with the Jewish nation, the history of the Church has been a roller coaster ride – sometimes faithful and occasionally unfaithful. However, there has always been a remnant of believers who continued to serve under God’s leadership and inspiration in its darkest hours.
Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia
Addressed to: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
Purpose of Letters: To reveal characteristics that are representative of all churches at any time in history and characteristics that represent most churches during various ages of church history. These characteristics included commendation, condemnation, counsel, and a challenge.
What Jesus said to the seven churches.
Church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7)
Represents: The Apostolic Church, A.D. 30-100.
Commendation: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My names sake and have not become weary…. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
Condemnation: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
Counsel: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works.”
Challenge: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
Note: Most Bible scholars believe that the term “Nicolaitans” refers to a cult of false teachers teaching false doctrine and heresy.
The Church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11)
Meaning: Myrrh (Symbol of Death).
Represents: The Persecuted Church, A.D. 100-312.
Commendation: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich).”
Condemnation: No condemnation.
Counsel: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer…. Be faithful until death.”
Challenge: “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Church at Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29)
Meaning: Continual sacrifices.
Represents: The Pagan Church, A.D. 606-1520 (some say to the tribulation).
Commendation: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.”
Condemnation: “You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce. My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
Counsel: “I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come.”
Challenge: “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potters vessels as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.”
The Church at Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17).
Meaning: Has two meaning – Marriage and Elevation.
Represents: The indulged Church, A.D. 312-606.
Commendation: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satans throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”
Condemnation: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”
Counsel: “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”
Challenge: “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
The Church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6)
Meaning: A Remnant.
Represents: The Dead Church, A.D. 1520-1750 (some say to the tribulation).
Commendation: ” I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive.”
Condemnation: ” You are dead… I have not found your works perfect before God.”
Counsel: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die…..Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”
Challenge: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
The Church at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13)
Meaning: Brotherly Love.
Represents: The Church Christ Loved. A.D. 1750-1900 (some say to the rapture).
Commendation: ” I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
Condemnation: No condemnation.
Counsel: “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
Challenge: ” He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.”
The Church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22)
Meaning: The rights of people.
Represents: The Apostate Church, A.D. 1900 to the tribulation.
Commendation: No Commendation.
Condemnation: “You are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Counsel: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”
Challenge: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
He who Overcomes
Many times, it helps to understand by changing the sequence of information. In the following I have pulled all the Challenges with the word “overcomes” together.
These are some of the things that The Church will receive in heaven – the emphasis is placed on the word “overcomes.” “He who overcomes” applies to the Church that will go to heaven. They have placed their trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. Our citizenship is in heaven and not of this world. We have overcome the world. (See John 3:16 and 1 John 5:1-4).
“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7) (Ephesus).
“He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Rev 2:11) (Smyrna).
“To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Rev. 2:17) (Pergamum).
“He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potters vessels as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star” (Rev 2:26-28)
“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev 3:5) (Sardis).
“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name” (Rev. 3:12) (Philadelphia).
“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev 3:21) (Laodicea).
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.
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 that 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 Smyrna, 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. Its 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.
The Church at Smyrna, which was located in a wealthy, heathen city, was a most persecuted Church. It represents the period during which the Roman emperors severely persecuted all churches 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, the 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 when 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, the traditions were placed on the same level as the Scriptures. The 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, the doctrine of purgatory, the 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 the 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 nor 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).
Pagan Practices Introduced Into the Church
Historical Pergamum (Pergamos)
AD 300 – Prayers for the dead
AD 300 – Making sign of the cross
AD 375 – Worship of saints and angels
AD 394 – Mass first instituted
AD 431 – Worship of Mary begun
AD 500 – Priests began dressing differently than laymen
AD 526 – Extreme unction
AD 593 – Doctrine of purgatory introduced
AD 600 – Worship services conducted in Latin
AD 600 – Prayers directed to Mary
AD 607 – Boniface III made first Pope
AD 709 – Kissing the Popes feet
AD 786 – Worshiping of images and relics
AD 850 – Use of holy water begun
AD 995 – Canonization of dead saints
AD 1079 – Celibacy of the priesthood
AD 1090 – Prayer beads
AD 1184 – The Inquisition
AD 1190 – Sale of Indulgences
AD 1215 – Transubstantiation
AD 1220 – Adoration of the wafer (Host)
AD 1229 – Bible forbidden to laymen
AD 1414 – Cup forbidden to laymen
AD 1439 – Doctrine of purgatory decreed
AD 1439 – Doctrine of seven sacraments affirmed
AD 1508 – The Ave Maria approved
AD 1534 – Jesuit order founded
AD 1545 – Tradition granted equal authority with Bible
AD 1546 – Apocryphal books put into Bible
AD 1854 – Immaculate Conception of Mary
AD 1864 – Syllabus of Errors proclaimed
AD 1870 – Infallibility of Pope declared
AD 1930 – Public schools were condemned
AD 1950 – Assumption of the Virgin Mary
AD 1965 – Mary proclaimed Mother of the Church
Outline from Revelation by Tim LaHaye
Note: Pagan practice are any religious practices not supported by the Bible.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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