SEVEN CHURCHES OF REVELATION: Orientation  


 

ORIENTATION TO THE 7 CHURCHES OF THE REVELATION

The 7 churches of the Revelation should be viewed as having a double application.
However, I do not hold to the theory that the 7 churches also represent 7 different and consecutive phases of church history from John to the end time.

The first and primary application is to 7 specific churches that have specific problems and needs at the time of John’s writing. Then, through divine providence, these 7 churches also demonstrate what the general condition of the church will be all throughout the history of the church, and accordingly what it will be like just prior to the return of Jesus at the day of the Lord.  Thus, the second application is to that generation of the church which will actually witness those end time events.

In either case the 7 churches represent 7 different CONDITIONS within the body of Christ as evidenced by 7 general types of believer who live at any time throughout history, and therefore, will also be living during the final days of the church. Thus, we see believers who claim allegiance to Christian values but who have compromised in one or more of the various areas represented by the 7 churches.

The reason 7 churches were chosen is because 7 is sufficient (and those specifically) to completely illustrate what that condition of the church will be throughout history and right up until the return of the Lord.

In these seven letters, there are general and specific issues dealt with for each church, and each category needs to be kept within its right context. And the belief that each of the 7 churches represent the over all condition that the church will be in at the time of the return of Jesus, is valid only because (1) they all fall under the umbrella of the “Revelation 1:7” promise, and (2) the events which will precipitate the 70th week of Daniel can take place at any time in the history of the church.  Once these events occur and the 70th week begins, it is that generation of the church which will see the Lord’s return. But in four of the letters there is no specific or implied reference to the Lord’s return - just respective praise and exhortation concerning specific historical factors concerning them.

The application of these letters to the second coming generation is really no different than what is present in the letters of Paul to the Thessalonians, Peter’s letters and the letter of James. However, we need to keep a contextual balance and realize that in the first three letters to these 7 churches (Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum) and in the last letter (Laodicea), there is no mention or even a hint of the second coming of Jesus. Even the image of Jesus coming to them at Revelation 2:5, carries the idea of visitation for punitive discipline and not His physical arrival at the second coming. It is therefore, not advisable to make SPECIFIC application to the generation of the church that will see the arrival of Jesus in the clouds of the sky. It is better to keep the application local and historical for each particular church. Beyond that, we can find only GENERAL application in the principles that are taught, and to the second-advent generation.

For example, in the second letter, which is to Smyrna, they are told that the devil is about to cast some of them into prison, and that they will have specific TROUBLE (tribulation) for ten days. Although we do not know historically what this was about, it must be limited to something they specifically went through, and has no eschatalogical application at all. However, the GENERAL principle that is stated about being faithful unto death and they would receive a crown of life, can be universally applied to all believers of all ages because it is, in fact, true that the believer will be rewarded for faithfulness in the midst of threatened physical death (James 1:12).

At the same time, as already mentioned, it is imperative to recognize that the general promise given to the church as a whole as  stated at Revelation 1:7, certainly applies to each of these seven churches.

 Behold, He is coming with clouds,
and every eye will see Him,
even those who pierced Him;
and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.
Even so. Amen.

This is simply a repetition of the promise made to the disciples by Jesus Himself at Matthew 24:30, and at John 14:1-3, and by the angels at Acts 1:9-11, and by Paul at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

The promise given at Revelation 1:7, BEFORE the letters to the churches; the promise of escape from God’s testing of the earthdwellers given WITHIN the letters; and the arrival of the Lord Jesus at the Day of the Lord via the 6th seal AFTER the letters to the churches indicates what all the apostles taught about the possibility of Christ’s return within their lifetime if the necessary eschatalogical events were to fall into  place first.

Thus we find in the middle three letters (Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia) specific references to the possibility of Christ’s return as per the promise of Revelation 1:7, and THREE different ideas associated with that return.

The FIRST idea is the exhortation to “hold fast what you have until I come,” which urges us to faithfulness in the midst of serious spiritual compromise found within the church collectively
(Rev. 2:20-25).

The SECOND idea is the exhortation to repent from error or else the coming of the Lord will catch them off guard like a thief in the night (Rev. 3:3; 1 Thes. 5:2-9).

And the THIRD idea is the specific promise that the church will be kept “from the hour of trial that is about to come upon the earthdwellers” (Rev. 3:10), which refers to the time of judgment during the trumpets and bowls, directed upon the unbelievers after the rapture.

Thus, any generation after John can find fulfillment in the 7 churches, for at anytime during the history of the church, the events could take place which would precipitate the 70th week.

Furthermore, there is certainly found within the letters teaching that is beneficial to the church throughout its entire history. Many of the principles found in the letters have universal application. But the specific application must be kept within the historical context of each specific church, and only in general, applied to the second-coming generation.

Therefore, the letters to the 7 churches should be studied with the idea that everything that is dealt with has application to the church in general throughout its history, and that at any given time in that history, all of the issues mentioned will be of concern somewhere within the functional church of that day. And then, for that church, the focus will be on (1) holding fast, (2) changing the mind (repent) about failure, and (3) the promise of deliverance from God’s time of trial for the unbelievers.

Concerning the promises to the 7 churches. They apply equally to all believers of all ages.

FIRST of all, in general, the overcomer promises apply to all believers and refers to a STATUS reward, with overcomer referring to one who has indeed overcome the evil one by his INITIAL trust in Jesus as Savior (1 John 5:5; Rev. 12:11; 21:7). The “hold fast” exhortation refers to FUNCTIONAL faithfulness, but the “overcomer” promise applies to ALL who have believed in Christ as Savior.
SECONDLY, the specific promises apply to wherever the shoe fits in any generation of the church.

EPHESUS

Revelation 2:5 is historical and not eschatalogical. The removal of the lamp stand has to do with discipline on the church and its role as a light bearer. The phrase, “or else I am coming to you,” refers to the visitation of the Lord for discipline and not His physical return. The threat to remove their lamp stand (testimonial impact while on earth) is no issue if this is referring to the second coming.

SMYRNA

Revelation 2:10 is historical and not eschatalogical. Although we may not be able to specifically identify what is going on with the prison and the tribulation for 10 days, it is obviously an historical time of persecution that applies only to Smyrna. However, the promise, “be faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life,”  is a promise that is universally applicable to all believers who remain faithful under martyr-producing  persecution.

See Topic: Rewards

PERGAMUM

Revelation 2:16 is historical and not eschatalogical. In fact, there is nothing eschatalogical in that letter. The phrase, “I am coming” refers to the visitation of the Lord in DISCIPLINE and not His physical return  - the context does not allow for that, just like at verse 5.Making war with the "Nicolaitans" is discipline on believers who are involved with false teaching.

THYATIRA

Revelation 2:18-29  There is no specific eschatalogical context here. The promise of judgment is historical and does not refer to THE tribulation. There is no significance to say that these Jezebelites are going into THE great tribulation because they don't repent - - when ALL THE CHURCH is going into THE great tribulation ANYWAY.

The only eschatalogical focus is at verse 25, “hold fast what you have until I come,” which communicates the oft repeated exhortation to watchfulness and expectation given to all believers of all generations.

SARDIS

Revelation 3:3 is the first REAL and specific eschatalogical reference in these seven letters, and takes us back to 1 Thesslonians 5:2 (see commentary).  The issue here is not discipline upon erring believers, but warning about being UNPREPARED for the return of Jesus. It is a valid promise (or threat) to the entire church for if any of us are not prepared (not walking in fellowship with Him), we will be caught off guard and His arrival will come like a thief to us - and we will be ashamed before Him (1 John 2:28) - but we will still be raptured.

PHILADELPHIA

Revelation 3:7-13   Operating on the corrected, and what I believe to be the BETTER translation, all the CONDITIONAL factors are historical. That is, they apply in general to all the churches and all believers who find themselves in operation “shoe fits” all throughout history.

The promise that is then made - absolutely - says that the church (as a universal entity) and all believers who are part of the church will be delivered (kept out from) the SPECIFIC hour of trial that is designed to come upon the earth dwellers. This hour of trial is NOT for the church, but for the earthdwellers. The tribulation is NOT a test for the earth dwellers. All they have to do is follow the beast and they will be living in peace and security. Everywhere, the tribulation is described as a time of persecution upon faithful Israel and/or the church depending on context - not upon the unbeliever.

This is exactly the very same promise we have received elsewhere; we will not be here during the day-of-the-Lord judgments.

The promise at verse 11 is escatalogical and speaks of loss of reward for unfaithfulness - but NOT loss of deliverance from the hour of trial.

See Commentary: Revelation 3:10

LAODICEA

Revelation 3:14-22  there is nothing eschatalogical here.

It is all dealing with faithless believers in general who need to get back into fellowship with God (open the door) and if they do not, then they will continue to receive punitive discipline from God until they die or until the rapture, according to all that the bible teaches elsewhere on the subject of divine discipline.Verse 19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline." This refers to believers.
See Topic: Divine discipline

In these 7 letters there is no SPECIFIC reference to the church going through THE tribulation or being delivered from the tribulation. The FACT of the tribulation is an ASSUMED concept based on the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Everyone knew that the church would be here during THE tribulation. The real issue is deliverance from the judgment of God that was to come at the return of Jesus, which would bring judgment (divine wrath) and TRIAL upon the earthdwellers after the church is removed. Is there TRIAL or TESTING upon the unbelievers during this time? There most certainly is. The gospel is being proclaimed as the alternative to beast worship, and it is the magnitude of the Day-of-the-Lord judgments that TEST and CHALLENGE the unbelievers to choose God instead of the beast. But of course, for those who have already taken the mark, there is no reprieve.

 

 
 

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