THE SEVEN CHURCHES
Dr. Stephen R. Phinney
The big question, why seven churches?
The seven churches are directly in line with the seven spirits that surround the throne.
John's greeting is to the seven churches which are located in Asia Minor. For those of you who are not familiar with Asia Minor, that's the area of Turkey today. Even though these were actual churches during the time of John's writing, the seven churches also represent the churches throughout the Church Age. Every type of "Christian" described in the world today falls into one of these seven types, and that's what makes the book of Revelation even more relevant for the church today.
Here are a few facts that we need to keep in mind
as we begin to disclose some of the details within this book, particularly in addressing these seven churches.
The book of Revelation has an individual characteristic.
Therefore, the writing of John may be misunderstood by a reader who does not understand Hebrew history, culture, customs, and manners. God is consistent in revealing Himself in the very way He did from the beginning of man's time. Confusion frequently sets in when Christians attempt to unlock the mysteries of prophecy or the hidden things that seem to be contained within these pages, and this cannot be simply understood by human skills revealing historical or self-perceptive ideologies about this particular book. The symbolism and the dramatic representations are impossible to know without the supernatural insight offered by the Holy Spirit. God is Hebrew, and it takes the Holy Spirit to interpret the Hebrew foundation of the book of Revelation, by bringing the Truth to the surface through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the centuries, many different approaches and methodologies have been used to understand this book. There are four primary methods of interpretation.
The first is the futurist method.
This group views the events stated in the book as immediately preceding the end of the world. It's a little bit of a doomsday kind of perspective of the book of Revelation. The Truth of the matter is, the first four chapters are past and present events while the remaining chapters fall into the futuristic category.
Next is the preterist (destructive) approach
, which interprets the book in light of the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Roman Empire.
The third category is the continuous-historical method.
This approach is much like the preterist view but moves beyond the fall of Rome. It is also considered a snapshot view of Revelation, the entire History of the body of Christ and the world, from the era of the writing of the book to the final closure of time itself, at least from man's timeline. This perspective aligns the church and History accordingly to what is written regarding the most literal sense.
The last and certainly not least is the symbolical approach.
This method is the most popular amongst the theologians as a whole. Symbolical interpretation suggests that the eternal truths of the prophecies should be deduced and then applied to day-to-day living. An example would be personal sins. These interpreters read the book primarily to gain personal or church-related spiritual encouragement, correction, and warning. They carefully analyze the content to benefit themselves. These interpreters frequently have a struggle with the "prophetic" elements of John's writings. This is the primary reason why this group tends to put this book on the bottom of the list when it comes to studying the Word of God. This process is what theologians call demythologizing (revealing and understanding the true character, nature, or meaning of something by ridding it of all mythical and mysterious aspects). In other words, if it doesn't logically make sense, get rid of it.
My approach will be to integrate all four types. In Revelation, we find God revealing the future—the destruction and fall of Jerusalem (preterist), His continuous History, and His use of the symbols contained within the book—all to benefit the Bride of His Son. For whatever reason, people think that they need to categorize fellow believers to secure their personal beliefs. I reject such labeling. God wants us to see, hear, and embrace His Truth in its entirety. He doesn't want Calvin, Luther, or any other definite leader to "pigeonhole" His revelation. What is found in the book of Revelation is far beyond any human mind, any theologian, any well-studied Christian who has the good intentions of discovering what the book of Revelation contains. Unless we were there like John, we could not understand precisely what he was seeing.
One of the many eternal blessings connected with the Holy Scriptures is that even though each writing is timeless, it becomes very timely, to us. You will not find any other book in the Bible more accurate of this than the book of Revelation. Consider this: a book written almost 2,000 years ago has hit its mark 100% of the time since the day it was written. Did you know that to become a CIA Agent in the United States, the candidate must study the book of Revelation, as well as the major prophets of the Old Testament? Why might you ask? It's pretty simple—even the secularist knows the book is accurate. The book of Revelation is relevant because God is relevant. For those of us who are Bridal members of Christ, the book is our road map—the big picture of where we came from, where we are, and where we are headed.
The eternal message of this book
is that Christ, our Husband, is coming back for His Bride. That's the bottom line. After removing us from this mess, He will take matters into His own hands and destroy anyone (man and spirit) who has offended His woman—the church. It won't be pleasant to watch. It will be horrid to hear and grievous to be a part of—for many of them will be our family members and our friends, sad to say.
This book was written for the Bride of Christ. It is used to give His Bride a "heads up" so that we can prepare ourselves for the coming of our Husband, Jesus. As you go through this study, please be in an attitude of prayer. Ask the Lord to give the understanding you need to comprehend this knowledge. There's no better time to understand the power of Christ in you than now. But, if you have NOT had a born-again experience, it will be next to impossible for you to do this study. The Holy Spirit must be present to give insight. If you are one of those, who know that you're not a Christian, if you've not been filled with the Holy Spirit, you might want to take that step before continuing with this study.
Don't be afraid of this book. Consider it a gift from God. It is to give us a snapshot of our future. God loves us so much. He wants you and me to see with our eyes the living proof that He is in charge and that we should not be frightened by sudden fear. He is the great I Am.
I'm going to be spending a great deal of time talking about the seven churches throughout this series, obviously because the book is written to the seven churches. Still, first, I am going to do a brief overview of each one of the churches. What I'm going to do is state the church, state the label of the church that has been known throughout the ages, and then I'm going to give you a brief statement regarding what Jesus Christ Himself says is this churches strengths, faults, and the instruction and the promise He gave to them.
The first church is the Church of Ephesus.
It was known throughout the ages as a loveless church. But their strengths were that they were hard workers, they patiently endured things, each rejected evil, and were persevering in the state in which they were experiencing unrest at the time that the church was operational.
Their faults were:
"You have forsaken your first love," which means they were caught up in the love of the world. The instruction that Christ gave to them was, "Repent, and do the works as you did at first," which was loving Jesus Christ. He was commissioning them to return to their first love. If they did this, there was a promise given to them. He said, "You will eat from the Tree of Life," also known as the Tree of Love. You can discover the basics of Ephesus by reading Revelation 2:1-7.
The second church is the Church of Smyrna
, the church of suffering. The strengths of Smyrna were: "You endure your suffering and poverty, yet you are rich." Their faults—there wasn't a single fault noted by Christ or John in the book of Revelation. The instruction that was given to them was to remain faithful even when facing prison, persecution, or death, and in doing so, the promise was, "Jesus will give you the crown of life" and "you will not be hurt by the second death." I will be discussing this later on in our study. The details of Symrna can be found in Revelation 2:8-11.
The third church is the Church of Pergamum
, the church of worldly ideologies. Even though I will be spending a great deal of time talking about exactly what was going in Pergamum at the time, if you look at Revelation 2:12-17, you will soon discover that this was the throne place of Satan. Pergamum became the headquarters, the university that affected and a lot of times infected the other six churches. But they had some strengths, according to Christ. The ones who were able to separate themselves from the throne influence of Satan in Pergamum were very loyal to Christ. They refused to deny Him. But they had faults of tolerating cults, heresies, idolatry, and immorality, which happen to be the four biggies of his deceptions that Satan has perfected upon the church. Their instruction was elementary, and it was to repent. Those who did repent received the promise of the hidden manna and a stone with a new name written upon it. Again, the details of Pergamum can be found in Revelation 2:12-17.
The fourth church is the Church of Thyatira
, the church of wrong doctrines. Their strengths were that they knew the deeds of love, faith, and service. They were very patient and enduring, and they seemed to be focused on constant improvement. Their faults were that they tolerated cults, idolatry, and immorality. The instruction that Jesus gave them was, "Judgment is coming. Repent. Hold fast until Jesus returns." The promise given to those who did that was, "Jesus will give you authority over the nations and the gift of the morning star." The details of Thyatira can be found in Revelation 2:18-29.
The fifth church is the Church of Sardis
, the church spiritually dead. They did have some strengths. Jesus said, "Some of you have kept the faith." It appears that Sardis was a very troubled church. Not many within this church had any life to them. Jesus noted their faults as, "The church is dead." The instruction given to Sardis was, "Wake up, repent, and turn to Christ again. Strengthen what little remains." The promise for those who did that was, "The faithful will walk with Jesus and not be blotted out of the book of life." Revelation 3:1-6 will reveal more of the details of Sardis.
The sixth church is the Church of Philadelphia
, the church spiritually alive. This is probably the healthiest church out of the seven. Their strengths were that they kept to Jesus' word and that they have not denied His name. Thus, there were absolutely no faults listed with Philadelphia. The instructions that Jesus gave to the Church of Philadelphia was, "I have placed before you an open door. I will keep you from the hour of trial." We're going to discover this principle throughout our study of the book of Revelation. Those who identify with the Church of Philadelphia, there seems to be a constant open door which Christ provides for these believers to reach the world. I'll talk more about that later in our study. But for those who maintain the true health of Philadelphia, the promise was given, "I will make you a pillar in the temple of My God." Pillars are a vast, significant symbol noted throughout the book of Revelation, and this promise that is given to the people of Philadelphia is enormous. Revelation 3:7-13 will reveal more of those details.
The seventh church is the Church of Laodicea
, the church of complacency and lukewarm people. Their strengths were none. They had no strengths. Their faults were that they were neither hot nor cold. "You rely on riches but don't realize your wretched condition." The Church of Laodicea is probably associated today with the church that is classified as the Post-Truth Church (Lukewarm Church). Many denominations are associated with Laodicea. I'll spend more time talking about Laodicea, and the Church Era that the Church of Laodicea is in today. The instruction that Jesus gave to Laodicea was, "Turn from your indifference and repent." And those who did, the promise was given, "I will invite those who overcome to sit with Me on My throne." I believe that the people of Laodicea, who indeed return and refuse to be indifferent any longer, are a very select and exclusive group. Again, I'll spend more time looking at the details, but right now, you can see the basics in Revelation 3:14-22.
These churches represent periods
clearly defined in both secular and Christian History. The seven churches were emptied of Christians when the first president of Turkey originated the Lausanne Treaty. Although I must admit, it isn't much of a treaty. The Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923) was a peace treaty that settled the Anatolian part of the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. This caused purging of the Christians from the territory, and due to the "Islamic cultural protection rights" that were written into this treaty, all Christians had to be removed from this country. I'll spend more time talking about the relative, historical elements of purging Turkey of any of the leftover members of the seven churches. This is a significant part of the continuous History that is unfolding right now in our news today regarding the war between the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Issac.
The whole big deal I am making about the number seven needs to be explored. Here is an example, the seven churches, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven personages, the seven vials, the seven spirits, the seven dooms, and the seven new things. Seven seems to be a significant number to God. Six is the number of man (one mark short of perfection). The Lord God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. This is why man labors in man to discover God. No works can be accomplished to enter God's rest without Christ.
Just a quick review of unlocking the prophecies
stated in the book of Revelation regarding the seven churches; there is so much more that we need to talk about concerning these seven churches, but I'm going to take my time in aligning them with the other seven items that I just mentioned to you. This is a very significant part of the book of Revelation. If people don't take the time to understand the seven churches, they will not understand all these other seven sections of elements of prophecy, so, therefore, they cannot indeed be a part of the unlocking of the power of prophecy related to the book of Revelation.