Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Do the seven churches in Revelation 1-3 represent seven distinct periods of church history?

"Write what you see into a book and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea." (Revelation 1:11)

In Revelation 1:4, John addresses the entire book of Revelation to “the seven churches in Asia.” Likewise, the command in Rev 1:11 seems to refer to the entire book, not just chapters 2 and 3, in which specific words are spoken to the various churches. The churches are mentioned according the order in which a messenger traveling from Ephesus in a clockwise direction through Asia Minor would have visited them.
Some commentators would assert that the churches mentioned in Rev 1:11 (and further addressed in Rev 2-3) are intended to be indicative of successive periods of church history (the individual churches representing the overall state of the Church in seven distinct time-periods). Readers should reject this view on exegetical and observational grounds. Exegetically, there is nothing within the text of Revelation that would indicate that readers should interpret the churches in such an allegorical manner; identifying these churches with seven church-ages is something that must be read into the text, rather than derived from the text. Furthermore, the letters to the churches in Revelation– along with the letters to other churches in the rest of the New Testament­– show that from the very beginning different churches had different strengths and/or weaknesses; they were not all part of a single “Ephesian age” of church history.[1]
Observationally, readers should note that not all churches today can be regarded as a single homogenous entity. It is simply not the case that all churches are lukewarm in nature. When one considers (for example) the underground churches in China or the persecuted churches in the Middle East, the conclusion that we are currently in the “Laodicean age” seems to be influenced more by alarm over the current state of European and American culture than by a sober, holistic view of the state of the Church across the globe. Furthermore, the notion that we are now in the Laodicean age of church history seems to be influenced by nostalgia; it is easy to overlook the faults of churches in the previous generation and imagine that they were part of an irreproachable “Philadelphian age” while emphasizing the faults of churches in our own generation, counting them as “Laodicean.”
The words written to each of the seven churches– not only to the church in Laodicea– are applicable to churches today, just as in the rest of the New Testament words originally addressed to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, Phillipi, Collosae, etc., are applicable to churches today. Each of the letters in Rev 2-3 ends with the command, “Let he who has an ear hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This indicates that the words addressed to each of the seven churches are revealed for the benefit of every church (“what the Spirit says to the churches”). Indeed, every Christian (“he who has an ear”) is accountable to heed the words to each of the seven churches.
Certainly there may be many churches in America that suffer from Laodicean-style tepidity and pride. On the other hand, a church may find itself more in the position of the church in Pergamum, struggling with the incursion of false teachings, or the church in Ephesus, with a passion for orthodoxy, but lacking evangelistic zeal. Each church and each Christian must carefully and prayerfully discern which of the admonishments or encouragements from Rev 2-3 is most applicable in a given situation.


            [1]Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 62-63.

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