I am ready to state my position on the seven churches discussed in Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 after a few days of reflecting on my thoughts and considering the thoughts others have given me. Without further ado, here is my position on these intriguing couple of chapters…
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12 that the Church is one body under Christ. This is a spiritual body that unites all believers together no matter who they are.
“(12) For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. (13) For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (14) For the body is not one member, but many.” (1 Cor 12:12-14)
While there is one body under Christ it is impossible for every Christian to gather at one place due to geographic distance. As a consequence, people have set up churches throughout the world so that people who live in a specific geographic area can have a place to assemble.
- Not every church is the same because each church has different leadership and has different people within its congregation. Therefore, some churches inevitably are “better” than others in terms of staying with the Christian faith.
Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 contain messages addressed to seven churches that were scattered throughout western Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Unsurprisingly, each church received a different message because each church performed differently when it came to adhering to the Christian faith. Christ gave a spiritual assessment of each church, including an overview each church’s positive and negative characteristics.
- The messages given to the seven churches obviously have historical significance. The issue that many Christians wonder is whether these messages have spiritual significance beyond the time period that the Book of Revelation was written.
I believe the message to the seven churches can be applied beyond the time period the Book of Revelation was written for a couple of reasons (there are probably more if I spent some more time thinking about it). First, the end of each church’s assessment contains the message: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”.
- This phrase appears to be a call for people who are not affiliated with these historical churches to take heed of the messages given to these churches because it appears so often. The readers of the Book of Revelation who have “ears” are called to hear the messages given to all the churches.
Second, each church is promised a reward for enduring future persecution. The church of Thyatira’s promise is especially intriguing because the message is to overcome and keep Christ’s works to the end.
“And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:” (Rev 2:26)
The call to endure to the end practically eliminates the possibility that the message is restricted to those living in the first century A.D.
I believe the seven churches reflect the spiritual conditions of seven types of churches that have existed throughout history. The main reason why I see the messages applying to churches rather than individuals is a clue from Revelation 2:24. During Christ’s assessment of the church of Thyatira He recognized that not everyone within Thyatira approved of the church’s detestable doctrine.1
“But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.” (Rev 2:24)
We have a major issue if we argue that the seven churches reflect seven types of people when we considered that Christ recognized that there were exceptional people within Thyatira.
- As I said, Christ recognized that not everyone within Thyatira approved of the church’s detestable doctrine. If we say that the church of Thyatira reflected a certain type of person how can we deal with the fact that not everyone within Thyatira is like how Christ characterized the church to be? A person who did not approve of Thyatira’s doctrine would not belong in Thyatira if the seven churches reflected seven different types of people. The person would be characterized by another church (perhaps Philadelphia). In other words, you can have exceptions when categorizing groups of people (churches), but you cannot have exceptions when categorizing individuals. If a person is an exception to how a certain type of individual is characterized they ought to belong to a different category of person rather than the category they really do not fit in.
In addition, it is hard to see how the spiritual condition of people who lived over the past 1900 + years can be limited to just seven categories. Finally, it seems more natural to say that “the messages given to churches in the first century A.D. also apply to churches throughout history” than to say that “the messages given to churches in the first century A.D. apply to individuals throughout history”.
The Seven Churches
Here is an extremely brief overview of the characteristics of each church…
Churches characterized by the church of Ephesus were once really good churches that deviated from the Christian faith over time. Christ accused the church of Ephesus of departing from their first love in verse 2:4.
(1) 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; (2) 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: (3) And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. (4) Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. (5) 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. (6) But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Rev 2:1-6)
Smyrna: Spiritually Rich
Churches characterized by the church of Smyrna are spiritually rich as they endure hardship, including financial hardship.
“(8) And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; (9) I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” (Rev 2:8-9)
Churches characterized by the church of Pergamos hold onto faith despite enduring living in the heart of enemy territory. However, these churches are not perfect because they uphold some condemnable practices.
“(12) And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; (13) I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. (14) But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. (15) So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” (Rev 2:12-15)
Churches characterized by the church of Thyatira have done good works. However, like Pergamos, Christ expressed dismay by how Thyatira tolerated some detestable practices.
(18) And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; (19) I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. (20) Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. (21) And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. (22) Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. (23) And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” (Rev 2:18-23)
Churches characterized by the church of Sardis are spiritually dead.
(1) And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. (2) Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” (Rev 3:1-2)
Churches characterized by the church of Philadelphia are in very good shape. Christ gave the more praise to the church of Philadelphia than any other church because its members kept His word and remained patient as they wait for His Coming.
“(7) And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; (8) I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. (9) Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. (10) Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. (11) Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev 3:7-11)
People are probably most familiar with the church of Laodicea. Many people today believe that Laodicea best describes the overall spiritual condition of the entire Church today. I merely see a segment of the Church characterized by Laodicea rather than the entire Church (I would not disagree if people argue that is a large segment of the Church is like Laodicea though).
Churches characterized by the church of Laodicea are so well off that they have grown spiritually complacent. These churches have no idea that they are spiritually poor in their complacency.
“(14) And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; (15) I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. (16) So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (17) Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:” (Rev 3:14-17)
The Call to Overcome
The most striking theme throughout Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 is Christ’s call to overcome. It does not matter if a person is from a church that is spiritually dead or from a church that is faithful…he or she will be given eternal life if he or she overcomes.
“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.” (Rev 2:7)
(10) Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (11) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Rev 2:10-11)
“(16) Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (17) 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 hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (Rev 2:16-17)
(24) But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. (25) But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. (26) And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: (27) And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. (28) And I will give him the morning star.” (Rev 2:24-28)
(3) Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (4) Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. (5) He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” (Rev 3:3-5)
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (Rev 3:12)
(18) 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. (19) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (20) Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (21) To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev 3:18-21)
The fact that a person can still gain eternal life even though they come from a bad spiritual background is an indication that there will be people who will rise from a poor spiritual state to overcome and gain eternal life. If it was impossible for someone spiritually dead background to gain eternal life Christ would have not mentioned that it was possible. Therefore, there is little reason for Christians to give up on those who are spiritually dead or have been led astray because there will be some people who will change their ways and obtain eternal life.