“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” (Revelation 3:8)
In this short series, we will examine briefly the Seven Churches of Revelation. At this point, I’m not sure how much detail we will get into, or how many installments there will be. This is just a brief overview. We will not go into great detail as we see how America is prophetically represented by the seventh church mentioned – the church at Laodicea. To keep things in context we will also look at the other six churches and the message Jesus had for them as well.
There is so much we can learn from Scripture, and in a variety of ways. Prophecy is only one way this portion of the Holy Writ can be applied. Although prophecy is not always spelled out, in hindsight we can see the fulfillment. Shall we begin?
John on the Isle of Patmos
The Fulfilment of Prophecy
The vision of Revelation was given to the Apostle John as he battled persecution on the Isle of Patmos. We know that it was a vision of prophecy for in Revelation 1:3 we read, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
Notice there is a promise here for both the reader of the letter and also those who hear what is read. The promise is nothing short of a blessing but notice further. It was the reading and hearing of “the words of this prophecy.” We tend to look at chapters 4 through 22 as prophecy – the time of the Great Tribulation and beyond, but realize John is saying the whole book of Revelation is prophecy. Chapters 1-3 are also prophecies.
The letters to the seven churches were real letters, sent to real churches, read to real people, and had real implications. But, as in the case of many, if not most prophecies, a secondary application is hidden within. As time passed, the secondary foretelling comes into view. In order to understand the application of Laodicea and its secondary prophecy, we must take a look at the other six churches involved in John’s prophecy.
It has commonly been taught that the seven churches of Revelation prophetically represent seven periods of church history. As we look at the attributes of these seven churches, we can see that over time, each of the church’s characteristics can be seen to represent a specific time period in history. Those periods are generally listed as follows
- Ephesus – The Church Leaving Her First Love; Pentecost to 100 A.D.
- Smyrna – The Persecuted Church; 100 A.D. to 313 A.D.
- Pergamos – The Worldly Church; 313 A.D. to 500 A.D.
- Thyatira – The Compromising Church; 500 A.D. to the early 1300s
- Sardis – The Dead Church; early 1300s to 1517 A.D.
- Philadelphia – The Faithful Church; 1517 A.D. to the early 1900s
- Laodicea – The Lukewarm Church; Early 1900s to Present
Revelation Chapter One
Keeping chapters 2 and 3 in context requires us to quickly take a look at chapter 1. In chapter 1 we are told, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him [John] . . . .” We must consider the fact that what we read of the seven churches of Revelation was given to us by Jesus Christ. It is not the revelation of John. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
It is His revelation. The revelation about to be exposed belongs to Jesus Christ, but it is also a revelation of His person. Christ takes much effort to describe Himself in the first chapter. Not only is it a revelation belonging to our Lord, (“the Revelation of Jesus Christ”), but it is a revelation about (“the Revelation of Jesus Christ”), our Saviour.
The descriptions He uses to describe His being, He also applies to each church. Although the letter focuses on the seven churches individually, it also includes them collectively, just as it includes us. The lessons for the churches of Asia Minor can and must still be applied to Christ’s church today.
John begins in earnest in chapter 2 to describe what each church needs. He follows the same pattern throughout. He begins by addressing the church by name. Then he passes on a description of His character from chapter 1:12-18 that directly relates to His particular church. When we combine the descriptions used for each church, we have the description that Christ uses of Himself in chapter 1.
Next, He gives the church His evaluation. He begins with a commendation of the church. He praises them for what they are doing right. He then moves on to give a rebuke – something that needs to be corrected in the church, followed by measures to correct the error. All who have ears to hear will take it to heart.
The Church at Ephesus
That brings us to the first church mentioned in chapter 2 – Ephesus. Revelation 2:1-7 reads as follows – “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
See how the loving Lord comes to His bride-to-be and communicates his approval of much of what He sees. He describes Himself in the same terms He used in chapter 1. Revelation 2:1, in part, says, “These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks . . . ”
The Ephesian church was, for the most part, a good church. God saw their works and their labors. He saw how they properly judged false prophets. Yet there was a problem; a problem big enough, if not addressed, that would result in the removal of the church. Does God ever close the doors of a church? Absolutely.
What was happening in the church that would call for such drastic measures? They left their first love. There were outward signs of their Christianity, but inwardly they became stale. The work of the church was no longer exciting, but rather routine – business as usual. Have you ever felt that way? That is the Ephesian church creeping in.
The Church began at Pentecost and by 100 A.D. that vibrant, exciting, honeymoon love had dissipated. Historically this came to pass, but also this period of time represents the secondary prophecy. The church, in general, would leave her first love.
We will continue to examine the other churches in the next installment.