7 Churches In Revelation?
The first few of chapters in the book of Revelation mention 7 churches. What exactly are these churches and who are they? Some people say they are actual churches that John was to present letters to that God told him. Others say that they are just types of churches; but possibly they are both literally historic churches which also represent types of churches that include attitudes of every churches in history, especially during the end times. The latter is what I believe. If I am wrong then someone can correct me, but as far as I know they were most likely actual churches during John’s life as well as the attitudes or types of current churches today and during the end times. The names of the churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
The Lord gives this church some praise at first for not being able to tolerate evil and testing false apostles and prophets who are liars. God also says that they have endurance and have tolerated many things for the name of God, and have not grown weary. But the Lord has charges against them. He states that they have “abandoned the first love they had.” God then gives them one more praise and says that they have hated the practices of the Nicolaitans. No one knows for sure what these practices were that the Nicolaitans did but it was an awful heresy that led to hell apparently. The way God deals with this church is in the form of the teaching method of “Praise, Correct, Praise.” I use this often when I teach things to people.
This church in my opinion speaks about the type of church that has high regard for Scripture and proper theology and doctrines. This is a very important thing and God praises them for it. But this type of church has forgotten the first love, which means they have lost their love and grown cold in their emphasis on heresy hunting and purging heretics out of their churches. They forgot to love the lost and each other within the body as well most likely. They forgot their works of service and missions to other people beyond simple Bible teaching and the promotion of proper doctrine. They lacked good works and giving in charity. I have seen attitudes in individual people who are obsessed with theologies and doctrines and fighting heretics who become hateful and cold with no tact for people that have wrong beliefs. I have seen a lot of these people on YouTube making videos fighting people and doing street preaching while insulting people. In reformed circles, sometimes, these people become self righteous heretics themselves and promote hyper-calvinism.
What God demands of such churches is to repent and come back to loving people and encouraging others a long with their emphasis on correct teaching. One must take note though that God in no way condemns them for fighting heresy and false teachers. God praises them and expresses it as a virtue. Churches must always fight heretics and false teachers and kick them out of their churches with no remorse, but these same churches need to actively live out the love of God for other people and be there for one another while showing mercy and grace to people who have incorrect beliefs in order to lovingly correct them into the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. This has to be done with humility.
Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)
God says that this church has deep poverty with tribulation, but even so they are still rich. The people who slander this church claim they are Jews, but really are not, because the Smyrna church itself are the true Jews. God claims that these fakes who are accusing are from the Synagogue of Satan. God then declares they are about to seriously suffer for Him by Satan sending tribulation and persecution to this church. This church is under attack and most likely will be martyred for Jesus Christ. God warns them to be faithful unto death so they can receive the crown of life.
I believe that this church is the type of church that is in hostile territory. It is being attacked by false believers who claim to know God and claim to be the true Jews (i.e. the true Christians, as Jews is a spiritual term for all believers). They are viciously attacking them for their true stance on the Gospel. They are most likely teamed up with other forces of darkness. This type of situation manifests itself not only in Christian religious terminology but also out right false religions. I have heard stories about churches in Indonesia and Africa that have been killed because of Muslim extremists who want to purge the land of Christianity. Muslims claim to be the true followers of God, but they are not. The Lord does not reprimand this church or charge them with any wrongdoing, but he gives a strict warning not to fail in pursuing Him until their death. This church is being tested severely for the sake of God and is being challenged by Satan much like how Job was. If anyone gives into the pressure and denies Christ in their persecution they will lose the crown of life, but there is no reason to assume anyone in the Smyrna church did that.
Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17)
This church lives in the place where Satan’s throne is; yet they kept holding onto the name of Christ. They did not deny their faith at all, even during the days that a man named Antipas, who was a faithful witness to God, was killed among them. Church history says that Antipas was killed by Greeks and burned alive inside a hollow bronze bull that was heated up by fire under its belly. This caused the entire metal structure to heat up white hot and fry and roast the person inside. There were pipes that led to horns on the head of the bull, like instruments that make sound, where all of the oxygen would come in. When it heated up there was no air and the person would be gasping for air on the pipes as well as screaming their lungs out in agony because they were being burnt alive. The sounds that came out of the horns were muffled and sounded funny. This was very hilarious to the Greek king and his followers as they sadistically enjoyed killing people this way while making a mockery of their screams of agony. They killed Antipas because of his Christian faith.
Even so, God still had a charge against this church despite the fact they refused to deny Christ. God says that a few of the people in the church follow the teaching of Balaam son of Beor, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block among the Israelites (this is a story in the Old Testament). This stumbling block taught them to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. Also, God further claims they have people in their church who are following the heresy of the Nicolaitans. God demands they repent or else.
This is bad news that after such a martyr and such persecution, after not denying their faith, that they somehow got so relaxed in their church they allowed false teachings to invade as well as worldly living. This shows that they allowed the outside world and its sin to affect their church members. They became worldly and liberal and relaxed despite such serious persecution in their past. Often times churches have a strong history founded in the Gospel with great works of God done only to be turned into a liberal church with false teaching tolerated as well as outright heresy. Some Christian Universities come to mind when I think about this. A lack of condemning sexual sin often is the result from liberal behavior in teaching the Bible. The problem is not that some people fall into sin, but that it is tolerated and ignored. Every church has sinners but no one is supposed to allow such grievous sins within the church body as well as tolerating heretical and liberal teaching. They were also eating meat sacrificed to idols which means they had been participating in the tolerance of pagan religions, possibly even worshiping with them. I see a reflection of this in how some people want to claim Mormons are also Christians, or that Muslims somehow believe in the same God as the Bible. Then inter-faith dialogue and a complete forgetfulness of their Christian history and then outright inter-faith worship. Many large denominations of Protestantism fell this way.
Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)
God commends this church for their works, love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. God says that he knows all of this about them and that their last works are greater than the first. But immediately God starts tearing into this church about their failings. They tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and teaches and deceives God’s slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. God then says he gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality but she did not want to. He will now throw her into a sickbed (STDs anyone?), and those who commit sexual immorality with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices. God will also kill her children with the plague (maybe an allusion to abortions). God then states that everyone will know that He is the one who examines minds and hearts and gives each according to their works.
Apparently, the problem with this church is that it originally was strong, but then had some faction warring against the true people who kept to God’s Word with some adulterous practices and false religion pressing on them. The reason I assume this is because after he threatens the Jezebel followers God then says to the rest of the Thyatira church who do not hold to this teaching, and do not know the deep things of Satan, that God puts no other burden on them. So there apparently was possibly a church split going on between righteous followers of God and the unrighteous followers of a sensual religion including sexually immoral practices of people unconcerned with their sin. They most likely were upset at the Godly people who did not participate calling them uptight or legalistic. So basically, the people who do not repent will be destroyed but the ones who remain and the ones who repent will be the survivors of this church.
Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)
The works of this church are known to God, they have a reputation for being alive, but they are actually dead. God demands that they get with it and be alert and to strengthen what remains, which is about to die. God has not found their works complete. God demands they remember what they received and heard and to keep it and repent. If they are not alert God will come when they don’t expect it like a thief.
Apparently, this church was a typical seeker friendly style church of its day where they pretended they were alive full of the holy spirit. Applying this today it could be about large mega churches who think they are super Christian because of their numbers, and it definitely applies to the Charismatic movement of this age that claims they are alive and all the other churches who do not experience supernatural things are dead. These churches are devoid of the true gospel as they care only about what is popular and their experiences, and exaggerate their works and make false claims of power. While some of these churches do speak of the gospel and claim to hold the Bible true, and some church members are Christians, overall these churches are actually dead and need to repent of their pretentiousness and false miracle claims. The Lord says that there are some who have not defiled their clothes and they will walk with Him in white because they are worthy. So while the majority of the church is in sin with this behavior, there will be a few, still, who remained true to the Gospel.
Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)
God praised this church and said that he knows their works and they have limited strength, but have still kept His Word and have not denied His name. God has placed before them an open door that no one can close. God will also make the Synagogue of Satan, those who claim to be true Jews but are not, come and bow before the feet of the Philadelphia church. They will know that God has loved them. This shows that God will make it known to the false believers, the ones who think they are true but actually are false, these Satanic Synagogue parishioners who think they are righteous and God is on their side, God will make these know that in reality God loves the true Christians in this church and not the false Jews. This will be a slap in the face of these false believers and a place no one will want to be in before God’s judgment.
God says because this church has kept His commands He will keep them from the hour of testing that will come over the entire world to test everyone who lives on the earth. This is the wrath of God in the final judgment. The true believers in this church will be spared this and raptured before God’s judgment. This gives plausibility to either a Prewrath view or a Pretribulation view of the Rapture depending on what you believe about that doctrine. God then says to hold on to what they have so that nobody can take their crown. So, God is saying that there is a possibility that if they do not hold onto the truth someone will snatch their crown and they will have no place in God’s kingdom. But there is no reason to assume the Philadelphia church or anyone in it lost their crown, but it is a warning to individual Christians to stay true. This church is a good model for any church to follow and act like because God did not once reprimand them or complain about anything they did. He only praised them for a job well done.
Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)
God saw that the works of this church were neither hot nor cold. God wishes they would pick either to be hot or cold, but since they are lukewarm he is going to vomit them out of his mouth. This shows that such behavior of neither being serious about God, nor unconcerned and worldly disgusts God in a different kind of way than if they just simply were worldly and secular, and admitted they do not believe in God. This is because lukewarm churches do not take a stance on anything and are ambiguous and confusing to people. They are not concerned with really helping the cause of Christ, yet they will claim they do but are very passive. They act sinful one time and then pretend to not act sinful never taking a true stance in either direction. This is was Laodicea was doing. This happens often in liberal churches and groups who claim to be Christians but do not really live it. They say they are Christian when it gets them something, but when it does not they never mention Christ. They use Christianity for their own benefit.
God tells them that because they claim they are wealthy and need nothing, when in reality they are not, they are actually wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. He advises them to buy gold from Him refined in fire and white clothing, so that they may be dressed and their shameful deeds will not be exposed. He also tells them to buy ointment to spread on their eyes so that they can see. Lukewarmness is full of sinful behavior and a worldly lifestyle that has no shame while at the same time claiming Christ and profaning His name to the world. This is hypocritical behavior at its finest and plenty of people in this world claim they follow Jesus and act exactly like the world. They have low moral standards and a lack of personal holiness and constantly justify their sins. In fact, when people call them out on it all they do is get offended that you noticed they were naked and told them about it and noticed they were poor and tried to give them help, and blind and tried to help them see. Their pride in their lifestyle makes them snap at Christians who genuinely want to help them become close to God. God also tells them that as many as He loves He rebukes and disciplines. God commands them to be committed Christians and to repent. Unfortunately, many probably in this Laodicean church did not repent, but some did. Just like today hardly any of these hypocrites will repent and will tell the world of their “christian” faith yet live a godless lifestyle and end up in hell. God will vomit them out of his mouth and reject them in disgust.
The Lord then tells people to pay attention by stating that if He is at the door and someone hears Him knocking and opens up then He will come in and eat with them. This is acceptance. He is stating that the ones who repent will be accepted and that there is still a chance for them because He will be in the process of coming as well as taking the time to knock when He shows up to warn them He wants them to open to Him. So they better prepare for Him. The lazy lukewarm people will ignore the knocking and refuse to answer the door to their own doom.
After looking into these passages about the 7 churches in Revelation one can understand that these churches probably actually existed in history and served as a prophetic type of attitude that future churches would have in various forms. It is also safe to apply these types into not only churches, but denominations, associations, small groups, Christian colleges and universities, ministries, missions organizations as well as individual Christian’s lives. The only churches out of the 7 that God did not have a problem with at all were Smyrna, who seem to become martyrs suffering extreme persecution, and Philadelphia, who kept God’s commands and endured. I personally would want to be a part of a Philadelphia type of church, but if God grants that a Smyrna church is what His will is then I would have to submit to the suffering that will only honor me to the Lord. The rest of the churches, if they do not repent are going to face judgment for their sins. Only a few people will make it out through repentance at the last moment it seems. When starting any Christian association or church we need to look at these types of churches and make sure that the only thing we do is follow the positive traits God praised the 7 churches for and avoid all of the things God condemned 5 of the churches for.
Churches need to fight heresy and promote true doctrine and Scriptural authority while doing good works of service and showing genuine love for the lost as well as each other within the church body. Churches need to endure even to the point of death without denying Christ, their last works should be greater than the first but they should avoid sexual immorality and spiritual adultery with heretical teachings and the embracing of false religions as being acceptable. They must avoid church splits if they can, but if it is necessary then reject the heretics and let them go while keeping a remnant of the original, true church. They cannot have an attitude of pretentiousness and false supernatural wonders to impress the masses, but only honest Gospel truth. This is what 5 of the 7 churches should all have been doing that the other 2 were doing, and what all churches should be doing today until the end when Christ returns.