The key to understanding the book of Revelation was given to us in chapter one. John was told by Christ to write the things which he had seen while on the isle of Patmos. This includes the vision of the glorified Christ and the vision of the seven golden candlesticks. He was then told to write the things which are. This section is found in chapters 2 and 3. Later he will write the things which will be “hereafter.” We will discuss this soon.
In chapters 2 and 3 we are introduced to seven churches. Chapters 2 and 3 contain seven literal letters written to seven real churches. While the things said about each church speak of the characteristic of that church, the same things are characteristic of many churches in our day today.
It is worthy to note that these two chapters are placed in between two visions. In chapter one, we have the vision of the glorified Christ, and in chapter four, we have the vision of the four and twenty elders gathered around the throne in heaven. The vision of chapter four is a vision of the glorified church with the Lord after it has been “caught out” or “raptured” out of this world.
This tells us that the things contained in chapters two and three must be the second division of the book containing the things, which are. This must be some sort of prophetic history of the church from the time of Christ to the time of the end. If this were not true then we are left with no prophetic view of the church during that period. We will watch as the church disappears from the earth at the end of chapter three and does not reappear until chapter nineteen. At this time the Lord returns to the earth with His saints on white horses.
I have mentioned these churches are mentioned in a particular order for a reason. They will represent seven church ages, up to the coming of Christ. These were not the only churches in Asia, or even in Asia Minor. These churches were chosen and placed in a particular order by the Lord for a reason.
Let me lastly say that just because one church period ends that does not mean that all the characteristics of that church go away. Many of these characteristics will be seen until the coming of Christ.
The Church of Ephesus is the first church mentioned by our Lord. The Ephesus church period extends from 33 A. D until 100 A. D.
This was a church that started out right. Here the Lord begins to warn this church. This church began as a pure church as we can see in the book of Acts. I believe that had Paul decided to pastor, he would have stayed at Ephesus. The writer John was the current pastor of this church.
Remember that Paul warned this church about those who would enter into the church as ravening wolves upon their last meeting.
"For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of you own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Acts 20:29-30
We see that this church did an outstanding job fighting off these wolves at first, but little by little this faded away as they began to lose their first love. This is even seen in their name. The word Ephesus means to “let go” or to “relax.”
I believe that one of the reasons that this church fell as they did was because they were too busy serving and had no time to spend in fellowship with the Lord.
It is possible for you to become too busy doing things for the Lord. You will remember when Martha was upset with her sister Mary for not serving. Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the good part. She was spending time in fellowship with Christ.
This is true of many today. When they were first saved they loved Christ with all of their heart. They wanted to have sweet fellowship and spend as much time with Him as possible. But somewhere along the way they lost their first love. Because of this they are called on to repent.
This church age probably extends from 100 A. D. to 312 A. D. More than likely this church suffered more persecution than any other church in history. This church took a stand for the Lord and as a result they suffered persecution. The name Smyrna means “bitterness.” Smyrna gets its name from the root word “Myrrh” with was an ointment associated with death. A result of this persecution was poverty. We are told however that although this church was suffering from persecution they were rich in the Lord.
History teaches us that the Smyrna church was so dedicated to the Lord that they brought the gospel to the entire Roman Empire. As a result the Roman persecuted these people for the stand they took. One of the so called sporting events that were so popular in the Roman Empire was to make prisoners fight for their life in arenas. They would fight each other as well as wild animals. It seems hard to believe but in the second and third centuries they feed the members of the church to lions at Rome while multitudes cheered. It is estimated that over five million were killed during this time.
One of the biggest problems this church faced was from those inside the church that proclaimed to know Christ, but in reality was of the synagogue of Satan. Because of these false brethren this church suffered persecution from without and within. Today we do not suffer much on the outside but we are suffering within. We have to contend with those that say they are Christian but are not. Those like the JW's, the Mormon’s, the Muslims and the like. There are many today hurting the case of Christ from within.
The Pergamos church age extended from A. D. 312 until A. D. 606. This age was one of materialism. They were very concerned about satisfying their own lusts. Because of this self-serving attitude the Pergamos church period was one of the most wicked times in history.
The root word for the name Pergamos is the same word from where we get the words "Bigamy and Polygamy." Pergamos signifies a mixed marriage between the church and the world. This happed because the Babylonian religion established its religion in Pergamos.
History tells us that when Attalus III, the priest king of the Chaldeans fled before the Persians to Pergamos and it was at this point that Satan moved his seat from Babylon to Pergamos. At first he persecuted the Christians, which is why Antipas was killed. Soon however he began to exalt the church and eventually united the church and state. This allowed worldly people to come into the church. As a result this was the place where Satan's seat was or literally Satan's throne. They were on the doorstep of Satan's headquarters. They became part of Satan’s ways.
They became accepting to false doctrine, namely the doctrine of Balaam. The doctrine of Balaam was to eat things sacrificed to idols and commit fornication. Balaam was hired by Balak to curse the children of Israel.
Up to this point all churches have received praise for their works. Thyatira however was loaded with good works. Christ names many things that this church had done. In fact Christ mentions this churches works twice saying the last works were greater than the first works. This means that this church really outdid itself. In the midst of all the good this church had done there were still some problems that needed to be addressed.
Thyatira covered the space of history between A. D. 606 until A. D. 1520. Many believe that this church is still in the world today and will continue to be until the day the Lord destroys it in Revelation 17.
God gave this church ample opportunity to repent, but it would not. This is not uncommon today. Many times people or churches will get caught up in sin. God will give them the opportunity to repent but they refuse.
This system is clearly seen in the papal church during the times before and leading up to the reformation. This church can still be seen in our world today.
In Revelation 17 we are told that the church that sits upon seven hills will be destroyed. This church is the revived Roman church which will hold these papal values. We will talk more about this later. We should learn the lesson however that God hates sin and sin will be judged.
In my next blog we will pick up with chapter three and see the last three churches mentioned.