The Seven Messages to the Churches

“Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” —Matthew 13:16

“HE THAT hath ears to hear, let him hear.” These words, spoken by our Lord Jesus when he was here on earth, were recorded in seven scriptures. Whenever he wanted his disciples to realize they could understand his words only because God had opened their ears, he used this expression. Our Lord also used this phrase seven times after he had ascended to the Father. All seven instances are found in the second and third chapters of Revelation.

In these two chapters, the spotlight falls on one church after another, from Ephesus to Laodicea. Some of their actions are commended, others condemned. What does all this mean? Three explanations have been suggested:

1. These messages were directed at the seven named churches, and are meant for them individually and particularly. Or,

2. They represent seven distinct phases of the true church starting at Pentecost (the Ephesus phase) and extending to our day (the seventh and final phase). Or,

3. All the messages are meant to give insight to all members of the true church throughout the entire Gospel Age. Let us examine each of these explanations.

The Named Churches

It is not surprising that some believe the messages are meant for the particular church named, “Because that’s what the scripture says; it needs no interpretation.” However, in these chapters we read about removing a candlestick, giving someone a white stone, tolerating a woman named Jezebel, and inviting someone to open a door. That is also ‘what the scriptures say’, and such expressions do need interpretation.

Revelation 1:3 says: “Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy.” This was a prophecy, a revelation, to show God’s faithful servants what must shortly come to pass. If it were meant for churches which disappeared soon after these words were written, it would not be a blessing to the readers and hearers of today.

Why were the messages only to these particular seven churches? We know something about the class at Ephesus, and there is an extremely brief mention of the brethren in Laodicea in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. But the churches at Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia are not mentioned in any other place in the Bible. Were these chinches so important they warranted special messages in John’s time? Why was not Galatia, Philippi, Colossi, or Antioch mentioned? Why, in fact, not Jerusalem?

We suggest it is because these messages are to be seen in another context. What is said is not meant to be taken literally.

Phases During the Gospel Age

The seven named churches are all in Turkey. A traveling preacher might start at Ephesus on the seacoast, make a circuit to Smyrna and Pergamos to the north, then south to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Because these cities look like stopping places on a circular pilgrim journey, these messages could be viewed as a kind of mad-map of the events of the Gospel Age.

One strong theme in these messages is Christ’s promise to return to his true church. Note what is said to five of the first six churches: “I will come unto thee quickly; hold fast till I come; I will come on thee as a thief; behold, I come quickly.”—Rev. 2:5,16,25; 3:3,11

But at the seventh and final church, the message changes: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”—Rev. 3:30

Because the Lord is invisibly present “knocking on the door” so to speak—our time may be considered as the Laodicean phase of the church’s experience. The lukewarm nature of Laodicea also sounds like some spurious Christians of today: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” (Rev. 3:17) This is the trial of prosperity, and, in general, the counterfeit church of Laodicea does not handle it well at all. To the true church at the end of this age, it is another temptation which is overcome. Because Satan could not destroy the true Christians in the Early Church with physical persecution, he is trying something different in our day: prosperity. And in some cases we can see that it does cause individuals to forget God as they enjoy the good things of this life.

Applying these messages to seven distinct phases of the Gospel Age does raise some questions. When did one phase end, and the next begin? Revelation experts have opinions, but they do not agree among themselves. Who were the seven messengers, or angels, to each of these churches or phases of the true church? It is equally hard to find agreement concerning the names of all of them.

The Gospel Age from Seven Viewpoints

Every message ends with the words, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches [plural].” Why doesn’t it say, “unto this particular church [singular]”? Because those with open ears are expected to hear all the messages, not just one. All the promises made to all the churches are important.

To the church at Ephesus he said, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life.”—Rev. 2:7

To the church at Smyrna, “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”—vs. 11

To the church at Pergamos was this promise made: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone.”—vs. 17

To the church at Thyatira, “He that overcometh, to him will I give power over the nations.”—vs 26

To the church at Sardis: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.”—Rev. 3:5

To the church of Philadelphia was written: “To him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God; … and I will write upon him my new name.”—vs. 12

To the Laodiceans he said “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”—vs. 21

It is inspiring to read about the things God has in store for us. Israel also loved to hear about the prospects God had prepared for them. What Israel often forgot was that God’s promises were conditional, not automatic. We have consecrated our ALL to God and are carrying out the terms and conditions of our covenant of sacrifice. The good things promised to all the churches will be ours only if we overcome the world.

Now notice, in contrast to the blessings promised above to the faithful church of the Gospel Age—the overcomers—the words of warning and messages of condemnation also made to the churches. These conditions represent; not the Spirit of Christ—the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of the adversary. And those with his spirit are warned by these condemnations to reform, else they will continue to constitute the false church of Christ, also developed during the Gospel Age:

Ephesus: “Thou hast left thy first love.”—Rev. 2:4

Pergamos: “Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.”—2:14

Thyatira: “Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel to teach and to seduce my servants.”—vs. 20

Sardis: “I have not found thy works perfect before God.”—Rev. 3:2

Philadelphia: “Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”—Rev. 3:11

Laodicea: “Because thou art lukewarm, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”—Rev. 3:16

Christ loves his church, and gave himself for her. Does the church love Christ? Yes, of course, the true, overcoming church loves her lord supremely, and remains a faithful virgin until her marriage with her bridegroom. But these messages remind us of the danger ever lurking of becoming unfaithful, and of committing spiritual “adultery,” in the manner common to the false church, and this is another theme in these messages.—Rev. 2:22

“You have left your first love.” (Rev. 2:4) “Some there say they are Jews [Israelites indeed, John 1:41] but are the synagogue of Satan.” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9) “Some hold the doctrine of Balaam,” who caused Israel to commit fornication. (Rev. 2:14) “You permit Jezebel to seduce my servants to commit fornication.” (vs. 20) “Your works are not perfect before God; hold fast, repent.” (Rev. 3:2,3) “You say you are rich, but you really are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17) What a pitiful state these words describe! This condition is hopeless, because those shown to be thus have deceived themselves into thinking they are enjoying God’s rich favor. These words certainly are not descriptive of the pure, faithful church espoused to their Master, Christ Jesus!

Down throughout the entire Gospel Age there have been two classes of Christians—one representing good elements: “Spiritual Israel”; the other, evil elements: “Nominal Spiritual Israel.” Consider the twelve disciples. Even though all were with Jesus and walked with him, heard his words, ate with him, preached with him, lived with him—one was a traitor. The heart of Judas became so hard, instead of reforming and resisting the adversary, he betrayed the Son of God. This certainly does not represent the spirit of the true church! It is, however, a warning to us to keep watch over the intents of our hearts, our motives, very carefully, lest we fall into this reprehensible attitude.

Again, consider the parable of the wheat and the tares. The master told his servants to ignore the tares and let them grow together in the wheat field until the harvest. Although the tares were the predominant plants in the field, it was not a tare field—it was a wheat field, and the crop which the Great Sower is interested in, is the wheat! The Lord had planted the wheat, and an adversary had crept in during the night and sown tares. And thus it has been a fact during the length of the Gospel Age, nearly two thousand years, there have been the true Christians, of God’s planting, and the false Christians, of Satan’s planting.

For these two millennia, the professed church of God has been endeavoring to convert the world to “Christianity.” But this effort has been unsuccessful, since it is out of harmony with God’s will for this age. The time for this work to be successfully completed, as we know, is the next age—the Millennial Age. Considering the spirit which controls the pseudo-church, it is not surprising to discover in the warnings to the churches in Revelation, that, instead of effectively convening the world, it finds itself in danger of being converted to the world! As the Apostle Paul put it: “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be … lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away.”—II Tim. 3:1-5

When Babylon became a serious threat to Israel, they wept. After generations of disobedience, they expressed willingness to rend their hearts and to serve God acceptably. But it was too late. Their long-continued lack of concern with God’s will and ways earned them banishment to Babylon—the great city which was the home of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Its wealth and fame were known everywhere. There was considerable freedom of worship there—one could practice whatever religion he preferred. But none of these were acceptable to God for his people. When the time came that they were asked to leave Babylon, it appears that many were not interested in returning to their homeland, and so they remained in Babylon.

With such a confusing freedom of choice, Babylon aptly pictures ‘confusion’, which is what the original word means, in the religious world. ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils. … The kings of the earth have committed fornication with her. … Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”—Rev. 18:2-4

Babylon also pictures the dangers of spiritual “adultery,” of being corrupted by prosperity, by “the abundance of delicacies,” to use the expression in verse three. Israel succumbed to these temptations despite the fact that they had received the ten commandments, and had promised to obey them. The very first commandment said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” But in just a few days after they had agreed to live according to the Law, they violated it. “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And [Aaron] made a molten calf.”—Exod. 32:1,4

This principle echoes down the corridors of time—from Moses—throughout the Gospel Age, even to our day. The seven messages to the churches warn of the likelihood that the world, the flesh, and the devil, our deadly foes, will do their best to try to tempt us to replace God’s will and ways and pure worship of him, with the worship of their will and ways.

Some examples of our falling in line with the temptations offered by our three mortal enemies could include, or be pictured by, the following experiences: We could succumb to the temptation to leave our first love for the pure Gospel, for another that does not involve so much sacrifice or suffering, or which offers a present reward. As unlikely as it might seem, if our hearts are not pure before our Heavenly Father, we could be led astray by following a wicked leader such as Jezebel, who instituted the worship of a false God instead of the true God. There is another possibility, that we could lose our crowns through lack of attention to know and do God’s will completely, or by becoming ‘lukewarm’—which describes a lack of zeal and enthusiasm to serve ‘God—because an abundance of earthly good things commands our attention.’

This word lukewarm appears only once in the Bible. We find it in the message to Laodicea. Lukewarmness has very little use except for breadmaking. Leaven placed in a lump of dough multiplies very quickly in a lukewarm environment. Leaven will not reproduce when it is cold; it is killed by heat. In the Scriptures, leaven represents hypocrisy and sin. “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1) The word is of Greek origin, and means ‘to play on a stage’, ‘to feign a belief’, ‘to pretend’. There is no place for hypocrisy in our fellowship—our zeal for truth and righteousness makes the very idea of hypocrisy repulsive, since it is incongruous with our love for doing God’s will and for servicing the brethren and the truth.

How thankful we are that our eyes have been opened, and our ears unstopped! But having hearing ears is not enough. The words of Revelation remind us that blessed “are they that hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written therein.” Let us all make fresh resolves to resist Satan’s temptations in order that we may eventually receive the good things promised to those who overcome. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”—Rev. 3:22

Dawn Bible Students Association
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