Some Thoughts on the 7 Churches of the Book of Revelation

(Added 10/10/99)

This originally was meant to be a relatively "short" reply to a Gideon Group topic related to this article's topic.  This "reply" may turn into a full-blown article, but I still consider it in rough draft form, and open for considerable editing before making it more public.


I know that most of you have (as much as myself) probably been exposed to roughly the same amount of Bible "prophecy"
teaching in the form of sermons, books, your own Bible reading, web page surfing, etc.  More often than not, those few who
try to map out the exact order of tribulation events are "pre-tribbers," though I know of at least one fairly good exception.
Because of the vast influence on ALL believers of "pre-trib" theology, there has been a lot of confusion about the 7 Churches
of the book of Revelation.  From how I see it, one of the major mistakes leading to a misunderstanding of everything God
wants us to know about these 7 churches comes from assuming that the supposed 7th and last age of the church age would
either end before the start of the tribulation, or that the 6th church is "raptured" out, leaving only UNBELIEVERS filling the 7th
"church."

As I have said before, I believe that the entire book of Revelation, except for possibly a few verses in Rev 12 (i.e. Jesus' birth)
is presented to us as the actual order of events of the tribulation, even though it may not clearly IN AND OF ITSELF clearly
include certain predicted events talked about elsewhere in the Bible, such as the timing of the rapture, which can be figured out
elsewhere, and thus inserted, rather than force a complete restructuring of event order to bow to the pre-trib rapture belief.  As
I have said before, I believe that if one makes the diligent and careful effort to read the book of Revelation in one sitting, and
make note of all chronologically related terms (i.e. "Then"), and if one carefully noted the progression of "seal," trumpet," and
"bowl" judgments, one would clearly see that the book of Revelation is not repeating itself chronologically (i.e. chapters 13-19
overlapping any of chapters 6-12), or that the order of events of Revelation is at all jumbled up.  Also, if one sees this,
then chapter 12 is more easily understood as clearly part of chronological events, not only because of the use of the "then"
word, but because the entire chapter, though symbolic of a number of events, where at least one is a past event (Jesus' birth
and going to heaven), ALL of REV 12 is a SIGN THAT WILL BE SEEN IN OUR SKY at the time chronologically between
Rev 11 and 13.  That is why many get tripped up and think that chapter 12 somehow breaks up the chronological listing of
events.

Getting more back to the topic at hand, I think that it is important to understand a more full context of the 7 churches.
Unfortunately, I currently do not have much extra-biblical information about these 7 churches, except that there were 7 Asian
churches in existence at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, and that it appears that the good and bad points
mentioned about all of them seem to be historically valid.

What I suspect is more interesting to us is the question of whether or not these 7 churches symbolize future churches or future
periods within the so-called "church age."  I do not believe that these 7 churches represent any 7 future SPECIFIC churches,
mainly because their descriptions are much to general as to therefore include many different churches thoughout the past 2000
years.  I of course am open to consider other arguments to the contrary of course.

The "full context" that we of course need to look at is once again the entire structure of the book of Revelation.   I think we can
learn quite a lot about this by not immediately jumping to the obviously direct comments to each of these 7 churches, but to
information regarding who the book of Revelation was written to in the first place.
 

Rev 1:1 "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly
take place; and He sent and communicated {it} by His angel to His bond-servant John,"
(NAS)

Revelation comes from the Greek word,
602  apokalupsis (ap-ok-al'-oop-sis);
from 601; disclosure:
KJV-- appearing, coming, lighten, manifestation, be revealed, revelation.

What is being "disclosed?"  Upon an initial reading of the verse, it is easy to assume that this "disclosure" is ONLY about "the
things that must shortly take place."  Yet, the more I looked at this verse's structure, the more I began to wonder if it was
talking about something else.  I then decided to see if the word "revealed" was used anywhere else in the Bible.  I found an
interesting usage of the word:

Rom 8:18-19
18 "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to
us.
19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God."
(NAS)

Verse 19 is not talking about some "revelation" we will make of future events, but we will be the future event, in the form of our
physical glorified bodies at the time of Christ's 2nd coming at the end of the tribulation.  Guess what Greek word is used for
"revealed" and "revealing" above? It is Apokalupsis.  The structure of both Rev 1:1 from what I can see is very much the same
as Rom 8:19.  The conclusion I therefore came up with is that the "revelation of Jesus Christ" has more to do with the
REVEALING of the person of Jesus Christ to us throughout the predicted events (ultimately His visible return in Rev 19 and
what He does in the rest of the chapters), rather than just a "revealing" of the individual events themselves.

This point is supported by the emphasis of this:

Rev 1:5-8
5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who
loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood,
6 and He has made us {to be} a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him {be} the glory and the dominion forever and
ever. Amen.
7 Behold, He is coming with the 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.
8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
(NAS)

Here, we see that Jesus is the beginning and ending of all things, creator and judge (verse 8).  He is also the ruler of all the
earthly leaders, whether or not they accept this (verse 5).  Verse 6 in the original languages is an interesting contrast to verse 6
(from my Interlinear Bible):

"And hath made us KINGS, and priests unto God and  Father His, to Him {be} glory and dominion for ever {and} ever,
AMEN."

The book of Revelation is therefore about the transition of government.
Jesus not only comes to take away the throne that the Antichrist claims is his, but He will take away the positions held by the
former earthly leaders, and give these positions to His own saints, who had been persecuted by the earthly leaders throughout
history, and especially during the reign of the false Messiah.

Finally, let's take a look at who the book was written to:
 

Rev 1:3-4a
3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the
time is near.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
(NAS)

First off, this passage talks about EVERYONE being being blessed who read AND hear AND heed the words found in this
book.  So often, I hear Christians say that they read this book for the blessing, even if they don't understand it.  They seem to
always miss the word "heed."

Heed comes from the word,
5083  tereo (tay-reh'-o);
from teros (a watch; perhaps akin to 2334); to guard (from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon; and thus differing
from 5442, which is properly to prevent escaping; and from 2892, which implies a fortress or full military lines of apparatus),
i.e. to note (a prophecy; figuratively, to fulfill a command); by implication, to detain (in custody; figuratively, to maintain); by
extension, to withhold (for personal ends; figuratively, to keep unmarried); by extension, to withhold (for personal ends;
figuratively, to keep unmarried):
KJV-- hold fast, keep (-er), (pre-, re-) serve, watch.

This is a strong military term, similar to the word "watch" found elsewhere, but instead of looking for something you don't see
yet (staying "awake" and "alert"), it appears that this "watch" has more to do with keeping an eye on what is ALREADY
THERE, and not letting it escape or disappear.   I believe that Rev 1:4 tells us who in particular ought to keep an eye on what
is already there, THE 7 CHURCHES.  Verses 10 and 11 even more clearly tell us who this book was intended for:

Rev 1:10-11
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like {the sound} of a trumpet,
11 saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send {it} to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum
and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."
(NAS)

Again, the 7 churches are pointed out as being an integral part of the "disclosure:"

Rev 1:20
20 "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are
the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
(NAS)

Rev chapters 2 and 3 without a break goes into a careful critique of all these 7 churches.  Jesus gives each church a review of
what good or bad things they are holding on to, and gives many of them strong warnings.   It is my understanding that these 7
historical churches of the past did have these good and bad traits, but there seems to also be a number of reasons to believe
that these 7 churches also symbolize 7 different chronological periods of the church, all the way up until the return of Christ in
Rev 19.  I do not have the info in front of me right now, but later I could show how the 7 periods have fit into church history.

In a nutshell, the 6th church is made a special promise that clearly appears to extend far beyond the confines of what was
happening to this church back in John's day:

Rev 3:10-11
10 'Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that {hour} which is
about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.
11 'I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown.
(NAS)

Though it is possible that this does not refer to the tribulation, it seems in light of the book that it is found in, that it has reference
to the future "test" that will come upon the earth.  If this "test" is not referring ultimately to the tribulation, then what "test" was
there just after John's day that came upon all those who dwelt upon the earth?  I cannot think of anything that stands out.

Many pre-tribbers believe that verse 11 supports the idea that this 6th church will be raptured out before this "test."  The
problem is, is that they then are forced to make the conclusion based upon their theology that the 7th "church" is really not a
church, but a bunch of unbelievers, even though their "candlestick" and "lampstand" is still in working order.  It seems that this
7th church will not escape the coming tribulation.

As far as the idea of the 7th church being only a portion of all believers appears to be a difficult matter to swallow.  If only
American believers were part of the 7th church, then it would seem that all the other believers in the world should have been
included in the promise to the 6th church for being "kept from" the tribulation.  Let's take a look at the characteristics of the 7th
church:

Rev 3:14-22
14 "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of
God, says this:
15 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot.
16 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
17 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are
wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,
18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe
yourself, and {that} the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
19 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.
20 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine
with him, and he with Me.
21 'He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My
Father on His throne.
22 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' "
(NAS)

Here are the characteristics as I understand them:

1- regardless of their beliefs, the DEEDS of those in this church are neither "hot or cold," but "lukewarm."  Many believers
have tried to use this to argue that the believers here are lacking the "power" of the Holy Spirit, which I will not disagree with,
but I think that there is more to learn about what is missing:

17 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are
wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,
18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe
yourself, and {that} the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

Here, we clearly see that these are people (I think are believers) who THINK they have all the power and "wealth" of the Holy
Spirit, but do not.  In reality, they are blind to the fact that they are poor, wretched, miserable, blind, and naked.  Let's not too
quickly assume that this can only be the condition of unbelievers, or believers who have not done something like "speak in
tongues."
Why I say this, is because of what Jesus also says in verse 18.  "Buy gold REFINED BY FIRE, and WHITE garments, that
you may clothe yourself, and that the SHAME of your NAKEDNESS may not be REVEALED; and eye salve to anoint your
eyes, that you may SEE."

It seems clear to me from verse 18 that the reason why ultimately that this church is so messed up is because they are basically
living continually in SIN, while being in complete denial of this fact, actually convincing themselves that they have as much
power and joy that is possible in the Lord.

When are "white garments" talked about next in the book of Revelation:

Rev 6:9-11
9 And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of
God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained;
10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging
our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
11 And there was given to each of them a WHITE ROBE; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until
{the number of} their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed
also.
(NAS)

Let's look at the next instance of "white garments:"

Rev 7:9-14
9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and {all} tribes and
peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in WHITE ROBES, and palm branches {were}
in their hands;
10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and {around} the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on
their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
12 saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, {be} to our God forever
and ever. Amen."
13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the WHITE ROBES, who are they, and from
where have they come?"
14 And I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and
they have washed their robes and made them WHITE in the blood of the Lamb.
(NAS)

Notice that in verse 14, it does not say that God gave them white robes once they arrived at His throne, but that the robes that
they must have ALREADY had were washed and made WHITE.  The implication is that one of the purposes of the tribulation
is for the purging of sin from Christ's universal body of believers that will be in a very sinful condition at the time of the start of
the tribulation.

The last verse that appears to refer to believer's white garments in Rev:
Rev 19:14
14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white {and} clean, were following Him on white horses.
(NAS)

It seems to me that the tribulation will be in many ways a "boot camp" to prepare us spiritually to be included in this army
invasion of the earth.  Strength
is found in holiness.  Yes, we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to be fully holy, but we can obviously choose to quench Him,
and find a counterfeit Holy Spirit to pretend to ourselves that we must be all right if we seem to have Holy Spirit power still
coming from us.  Never forget that we know each other by our FRUITS (deeds).
 

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