THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF ASIA
PROPHETIC VIEW OF REVELATION TWO AND THREE
By R. DeWitt, 2004; add: 3/17
It is remarkable that God has recorded some overviews of the condition of man down through the ages, so we might learn from prophetic pictures. Here in the book of Revelation is one of those pictures or overview of the church. It is for those who are serious seekers, showing the downward slide from the beginning, much failure, some faithfulness, and the present day. Some thoughts are from a presentation of Revelation two and three from 1957 by H. Alves, and adapted here with commentary by this writer.
In Revelation two and three we see messages to seven churches as stated in Revelation 1:4, 19-20. Many Bible commentators believe these seven churches and the messages are also a picture of the universal church down through history since then. Seven speaks of responsibility and fulness in overall divine government ---God's view, who knows the end from the beginning, compared to man's limited understandings.
God judged these seven churches for their conduct good and bad, and it also shows the mind of God, and is recorded to show the Spirit of God dealing with the universal church in all ages to follow, I believe. These seven are chosen to teach church condition, it appears. We can see the character of: 1. Departure from Christ; 2. Great troubles; 3. Religious innovations; 4. Religious deception; 5. Gospel revival; 6. Church truth revival; 7. Apostasy and worldliness.
Notice that each address begins with the One who is speaking, which is different for each condition, but the same Lord. We also see reference to the seven stars which I see as those with exercise ---light bearers and messengers in the local assemblies, who are held by God; and there are seven candlesticks (lamps) as the representative testimonies established. In chapters 1:4 and 3:1 God also speaks of the seven Spirits, which I believe tells of the Spirit of God dwelling in the midst of God's testimonies (see Matt. 18:20). It seems to be the Holy Spirit manifested in completeness (as seven) in various ways, and acting together with the trinity.
One can find an interesting representation with Paul's voyage (Acts 27) and the parables of Matthew 13, which also appear to show church history:
Ephesus 2:1-7: meaning desirable or fully purposed; showing also the apostolic age about A.D. 37-167; commendation v.2,3,6; condemnation v.4; counsel or comfort v.5; call to hear and overcome v.7; like sower and the Word in Matt. 13 ---like Paul's voyage began Acts 27:2. The saints at Ephesus (and the universal church) had a good beginning, but began to leave their first love. The message is to the conscience of the church and especially the overseers, who God holds accountable. They are commended for some things and condemned for others. I understand "thy candlestick (lampstand)"--v.5, refers to the testimony there. The reference to "Nicolaitanes" (v.6) means "nico"-- ruler, and "laitanes"--laity or people, and describes the condition of lords or "clergy" over God's people --a religious hierarchy. It is not good in God's sight and denies the lordship of Christ. Verse 7 is that "tree" which was also forbidden in the garden of Eden, but is now available for life for those in Christ.
Smyrna 2:8-11: meaning myrrh or bruised incense; showing also the coming persecution of about A.D. 167-316; commendation v.9; condemnation, none; counsel or comfort v.10; call to hear and overcome v.11; like wheat and tares in Matt.13 ---like winds contrary in Acts 27:4. This was a time of much persecution and the saints there are encouraged to be faithful and withstand the tares among them, as began to be so also everywhere. God shows His sympathy and care for them and encourages them on, in spite of their failure to honor God. Verse 11 indicates also the broader picture of the churches in ages to follow.
Pergamos 2:12-17: meaning twice married or high tower; showing the worldliness there and also about A.D. 316-500; commendation v.13; condemnation v. 14, 15; counsel or comfort v.16; call to hear and overcome v.17; like the mustard tree in Matt.13 ---like fair havens in Acts 27:8. They (like the church in all places) began to mix with the world (twice married), embrace them, and feel satisified, and only a few were faithful. Verses 14 & 15 shows they were compromising the faith and not judging evil among them. Verse 17 is again a reminder to us that God is thinking also of the church in ages to follow; and He speaks of the personal reward for faithful ones in the end---the stone and new name.
Thyatira 2:18-29: meaning continual sacrifice or burning incense; showing also that period of about 500-1500 A.D. under the papacy of the Roman Religion and continuing; commendation v.19; condemnation v.20-23; counsel or comfort v. 24, 25; call to hear and overcome v. 26-29; like woman and leaven in Matt. 13 ---like no sun or stars in Acts 27:20. This condition describing the careless ways of Thyatira, speaks also of the evil of the RC religion that began to affect the universal church from about A.D. 500 on (referred to later as ecclesiastical Babylon); and speaks of the various denominations (daughters) that came out of her, but continued her ways rather than follow the Word of God. Jezebel (v.20) has often been likened to the Roman Catholic religion. I believe "her children" (v.23) speaks of all the so-called churches which descended from her and follow after the ways of the RC religion even today. The call is given for overcomers.
Sardis 3:1-6: meaning those escaping or renewed; showing also protestantism of about A.D. 1500 & continuing; commendation v.1, 4; condemnation v. 2; counsel or comfort v. 2, 3; call to hear and overcome v. 5, 6; like hid treasure in Matt. 13 ---like word from God in Acts 27:24. The lack of appreciation of God's good work at Sardis and their spiritually dead condition, is like the reformation movement later that recovered the true gospel testimony, but many saints held on to the evil traditions for the church which they had learned for 1000 years in the RC religion. These all give us a picture of the course of the church. God sees that even with the failure there are those who remain faithful (v.4). He calls all to be overcomers, and in verse 6 God exhorts all in all ages to hear and learn from this.
Philadelphia 3:7-13: meaning brotherly love or love of the brethren; showing also the revival of church truth about A.D. 1827 & continuing; commendation v. 8; condemnation, none; counsel or comfort v. 9,10,11; call to hear and overcome v. 12, 13; like costly pearl recovered in Matt. 13 --- like bread to eat in Acts 27:35, 36. The saints there kept God's Word (v.8), and it shows forth also that recovery and revival of church truth which followed in the early 1800's. The saints there (and today) have the truth set before them (an open door), and those who embrace it are commended---"a little strength, and hast kept My Word". Verse 9 is a solemn thought, and in verse 11 the saints are exhorted to "hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown"; then verse 13 gives the same call to hear what He is saying to all.
Laodicea 3:14-22: meaning people rule or people's rights; showing also the self-satisfaction and worldliness of about A.D. 1910 & continuing; commendation, none; condemnation v. 15,16,17; counsel or comfort v. 18, 19, 20; call to hear and overcome v. 21, 22; like the drag net of Matt. 13 ---like the ship broken in Acts 27:44. Failure of the Laodicean saints to take a stand for the Lord and keep His Word is like unto our present day, and speaks of setting aside God's standards and following after the religious ideas of men at the end of the church age. All true saints will be saved (Acts 27:44), but many will suffer loss of rewards for their carnal ways and unfaithfulness. The total collapse of free government and the rise of a dictator (the beast of Rev.13 --who could be living now) will be the final system of man. The Word for the church speaks of rebellion and assertion of the flesh, and then final judgment. In both Acts and Matthew we see God preserving that which is of Himself. God warns and exhorts and blesses true saints, and calls us all to hear what He is saying and be overcomers.
Truly our God knows the end from the very beginning. We can be thankful for those teachers of past years, now with Christ, for opening up good ministry for our profit. It is a valuable lesson to contemplate. - RLD.