The Good, the Bad & the Ugly - the American "Church" Version.
Once Upon A Time, The Church Was the Center of Community Life.
Why Seven Churches?
What the churches are not.
They definitely are not John's vision of the seven ages of Christendom to come, as many scholarly types would have you to believe, for the following reasons.
- It would require this passage to be allegorical rather than literal. The fact is these were seven literal historic churches existing at the same time as John's vision. No church was more than 50 miles from one or more of the other churches in Asia (modern Turkey); encompassed in an area equivalent to the size of the distance of Seattle to Portland and from the Cascades to the Pacific. Most likely each of the churches were very familiar with one another whether by business or personal relationships. It does not differ from what we now experience as to our knowledge of people, relatives and inter-church cooperation. It strikes me as a very good cross section of what you and I would come across in our normal everyday living and has been for nearly 2,000 years.
- Jesus commands John to write concerning the Church "the things which are". The verb "are" in Greek is in the 3rd person plural present indicative; translation - this is the present state of affairs in existence. Nearly 2000 years later, amazingly the Greek grammar has not changed; the only thing that has changed are the intellectuals trying to be more intellectual than godly.
- We will see Jesus' observation of Sardis was they were dead. Now I wonder why a sovereign God would allow His Bride to die? Many of us have seen churches come and go, but the Church is very much alive and has been since the first century.
- Another thing, those who hold to it being ages of the church do not all seem to agree on the same terms and dates of the supposed ages. It reminds me of evolutionists throwing around billions of years to cover the fact that they have no conclusive evidence to support their theories.
- Look around you; I am sure you will find evidence or have personal experience with almost every one of the seven churches strengths and weaknesses. Remember, Jesus did not have to search the world over to find His seven churches for our admonition. They came from a relatively small geographic area, existed during the same time period and most likely spoke the same language.
- Finally, those who continue to pontificate upon there being ages of the church, one glaring fact remains: it is all based upon the western church and its history. I am sorry, but Jesus and His church was never and is not today confined to any geographic area, language or racial group. If you take all the believers in Europe, North America and Australia which represent the western church; we probably comprise no more than ten percent (10%) of the world's faithful.
Seven Literal Churches.
What the Churches Are.
The wonderful number seven, the number of that which is complete in itself. From Genesis to the 70th week of Daniel in Revelation, the number seven dominates. A great exercise is to look up the word seven in an exhaustive concordance, where you will discover the hundreds of passages that encompass this spiritual number: 48 times alone in Revelation. Nothing will be held back by our Lord as He unveils His Person, His insight, His admonition and His promises to the over-comers, the true believers.
Remember, we as the church will not take part in the 70th week of Daniel this side of heaven. Our response from hearing and reading revelation is to be encouraged to live a life of courage and faithfulness; knowing our coming judgment for our works and the future that will befall the rest of mankind. The words of our Lord in chapters 2 & 3 are his personal instructions to his bride to make herself ready for our Lord's return.
SEVEN ATTRIBUTES of our LORD JESUS for HIS BRIDE the CHURCH
1. Ephesus (2:1) He is central to all worship.
2. Smyrna (myrrh) (2:8) He is God Almighty and Savior.
3. Pergamos (fortified) (2:12) He is the discerner of the soul and spirit.
4. Thyatira (2:18) He is Judge of the Living and the Dead.
5. Sardis (3:1) He is life to the church.
6. Philadelphia (brotherly love) (3:7) He is holy, He is true and He is sovereign.
7. Laodicea (the people's rights) (3:14) He is the last Word, the witness to all Truth and the beginning of Creation.
What more could be said of our Bridegroom? Is our worship centered on the person of Christ; do we really live like He is God Almighty; do we actually believe He knows every particle of our being; do we live like we will give an account for our life in Christ; look around you, is your church alive or is it dead; do we understand our responsibility before a true holy and sovereign God; and is He the final authority in our lives as well as the Church? Notice the meaning of Laodicea; does this sound vaguely familiar? We in America are consumed with demanding our rights as earthly citizens; but of course this could be just a "coincidence", if you believe in such a thing.
Seven Omniscient Insights into His Church; I Know x Seven
- Ephesus - Lost Love (2:2-4) Hard working church that hated evil but without compassion, legalistic towards outsiders and among themselves. A church that most likely shot their wounded.
- Smyrna - Persecuted (2:9) Hard working in tribulation, hated by the Devil and his false workers. A great resume' before the Lord, for He lays no charges against this church as they are well pleasing to Him.
- Pergamos - Compromised by the Many (2:13-15) Living in a spiritually dangerous place but have stood fast and not denied the name of Christ even when one of their own was martyred. But two things they have not dealt with are like an albatross around their necks. First, allowing those that bring immoral teaching and secondly, those that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus HATES, within the church. See Note on Nicolaitans below.
- Note: Nicolaitans is a compound Greek word, nikos - conquer or subdue + laos - the people (it is the root word for our word laity). we get the name Nicholas which means one who conquers or subdues the people. their name suggests that their doctrine was very abrupt and corrupt. two early church leaders, Ireneus and Hippolytus stated that the Nicolaitans were spiritual descendants of Nicholas of Antioch, who was ordained as a deacon in acts 6:5. The verse states that he was a proselyte, from pagan to Pew to Christianity. He could have brought great deal of baggage from his pagan days and was averse to letting it all go. This is nothing new; in my many years of being a Christian, I have seen it many times when one converts from a religion to Christianity, they have a difficult time letting old habits die. Nicholas may have been a Christian but there is a good possibility that some of his early admirers took his old habits and created their own version of Christianity.
- Thyatira - Compromised by the One (2:19-21) A spiritually growing and influential body of believers, known for their love, their service for our Lord, as well as for their godly patience and works. But they have tolerated one who has brought into their midst a wickedly seductive doctrine and like a cancer has affected His servants. To compound her sin; she has been shown the error of her ways but repented not.
- Sardis - Dead (3:1b-2) The church that has a name that is respected but in truth it is just a façade, a sham. A godly congregation should be known by its works not by the size of its edifice, the number of those who attend or even the status it may hold in the surrounding community. Their works were not found perfect (pieroo - to fill a net with fish; see John 12:3 "..and the house was filled - pieroo - with the odor of the ointment) by our Lord. Their works were done halfheartedly and never completely followed through. Every thing about this church is ready to die, including their name. Remember the Lord's admonition to Israel in the O.T.; the only reason His name was not feared among the heathen was because of their failure to obey Him. The first of the seven churches with nothing praiseworthy about it.
- Philadelphia - Alive with an open door (3:8) The church that depended upon the grace of God for their strength: they knew they were weak. A godly assembly that made His Word central to their worship and their works; in turn they were not ashamed of the Gospel and the Name above names while standing fast in their faith. This is the second church our Lord lays no charge against.
- Laodicea - Self-sufficient (3:15-17) A wealthy, smug, self-satisfied church that Jesus finds as repugnant as vomit. They think they are on top of the world, the best of the best and are to be envied by their sister churches. Again, this is the second church that our Lord has nothing favorable to say for they have fallen into the trap of blinding wealth and power. If they could only see themselves as Christ sees them, I believe they would horror stricken.
We Need to Not Repeat the Churches Past Mistakes.
We as Believers are Without Excuse.
We are not to condemn or judge the failures of the above churches but seek to follow the example of the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia along with the praiseworthy elements of Ephesus, Pergamos and Thyatira. Remember, Jesus called out these churches by name and He knows our church as intimately as the seven. As we shall see, all churches are to consider His words to these seven specific fellowships and to hear obediently with our heart and souls. We are never to look at another church before we consider our own circumstance, Even then, it is not to judge or criticize but to pray for your leadership, your personal commitment to godliness and for the grace of God to lead us in a path that honors Him rather than serving ourselves.