The book of Revelation is known for the Bible’s most detailed explanation of the apocalypse. However, in the book’s second and third chapters, there are seven letters to seven churches.
These churches existed when John penned the book. The seven churches were the first to receive the book of Revelation. However, with the aid of hindsight, as Christ talks about the characteristics of the individual churches, we can see these characteristics displayed throughout church history.
Here is a list of the seven churches and the time in history they represent: Ephesus – from the resurrection of Christ until roughly 100 AD. Smyrna – 100-313 AD. Pergamos – 313-600 AD. Thyatira – 600-1517 AD. Sardis – 1517-1700 AD. Philadelphia 1700-1900 AD. Laodicean 1900-present day.
There is some overlap from one church age to the other. Not every Christian or church fits the description of their time. Still, in general, Christendom’s condition holds the church’s attributes representing its particular time period.
In talking about the churches, Christ has good points and bad points about four of the churches. Two of the churches, God only has good things to say. Then there is one church where the description is all bad. Jesus had nothing good to say about that church.
Ephesus is the church in the days of the Apostles. God praises them for their hard work, knowledge of the Scriptures, and their ability to recognize the false doctrine. However, over time they lost their first love.
Smyrna is one of the two churches in which God has no negative comments about their character. However, this church suffers massive persecution. This church falls into the time of history when the Romans were feeding Christians to the lions.
Next up is a church that compromised – Pergamos. They continued to preach Christ, but pagan rituals and idols were held onto by many new converts attempting to mingle old traditions with their newfound faith. God did compliment them for standing true to the faith despite the evil influences around them.
Thyatira lasted for nearly a millennium. The church’s love, patience, and endurance were highlights Jesus emphasized, but the church plunged into false doctrine. The church’s false doctrine is eventually exposed by Luther’s 95 theses, which also ushers in the next church age.
The church of Sardis shredded the false doctrines that crept in over the preceding years, but they had trouble with sin. Christ says they are spiritually dead, yet “a few” keep the faith, stay spiritually clean, and promote the doctrines of the faith.
Number six of seven if Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the second of the churches without any error mentioned. This time period, 1700-1900, is when mass revivals occurred worldwide, and this is what Christ said this church would do, as God opened a door that no man could close.
Number seven is Laodicea. Jesus describes this church as making Him sick to His stomach (Revelation 3:16). He had nothing good to say about them. Notice the time period – 1900 to the present day. The absence of a compliment begs the question – What’s wrong with the church?
Christ said the church is lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16). Not against God, but not on fire for Him either; in other words – apathetic. Some will argue that point because of all the singing, stomping of feet, raising of hands found in churches today. How can you say these people are apathetic?
Remember your high school pep rallies? Remember how the band played? Remember how the cheerleaders danced, leading everyone in chants of victory? Remember how the coach would speak for five minutes, telling everyone how great the team is and how wonderful it is for everyone to be part of the school? If you can, exchange the cheerleader for the praise and worship team and the coach for a pastor, and you have many of today’s church services. Like high school, the problem is that by the time we get home from the pep rally, the excitement is gone. The big game (living a Christian life, growing in Christ every day) is no longer critical (apathy).
Additional complaints Jesus had is their wealth (“increased with goods”), their “need of nothing,” and the fact that they were spiritually “poor, and blind, and naked.”
Today, money is a goal to strive for in many churches, not something that God will provide when needed.
This material wealth brings an attitude of a “need of nothing.” Having so much causes us to forget the thankfulness for our daily bread. This attitude can also morph into a lack of living faith as God’s provision is no longer considered necessary.
Being spiritually poor, blind, and naked is when Christians do not recognize they are in a bad spiritual situation. An earthly example of this spiritual truth would be a man who thinks he is the best husband in the world. Meanwhile, his wife is talking to divorce lawyers. He has no clue anything is the matter. The Christians in a Laodicean church believe everything is hunky-dory between them and God and do not realize that is the farthest thing from the truth.
Where does this lead us? In the current church age, the Laodicean age, most Christians do not realize Christ is outside, knocking on the door trying desperately to get into the church. To the Laodicean church, Christ said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
We are in the last church age before the rapture. Faithful Christians are needed more now than possibly any time in history. Are you a Laodicean Christian? Will you open the door to Jesus?