The Book of Revelation is a fascinating study. John saw Jesus, who gave him an amazing picture of things to come. As part of the prophecy, Jesus dictated seven letters to seven congregations of believers. “Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and undo Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11).
These letters are recorded in Revelation chapters 2-3, and each letter addresses good things and bad things that were happening in those congregations. Although each letter was written to a specific congregation, each letter was to be read by all, which indicates that each letter was relevant to all seven. Those letters also show that there’s a little bit of each of those ancient congregations existing today. When read in order, and looking back through history, we can see that each congregation is representative of the various ages of Christ’s ekklesia… His church.
Many centuries before, Daniel had been given the prophecy of 70 weeks. In that prophecy there is a gap between when the Messiah was “cut off” at the end of the 69th week, and the beginning of the 70th week, which is the final page of history. The 69 weeks and the 70th week all focus on Israel, but the gap between those weeks has been filled by the Christian ekklesia. The letters Jesus dictated were sent to seven real congregations, but they also describe the various ages in Christian history.
The first letter was to Ephesus and describes the first Christians. They were the first to hear the Gospel and respond. In this letter, Jesus congratulated them on the things they had done, their patience, and the fact that they stood firmly on God’s truth. He also pointed out what they were doing wrong.
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love” (Revelation 2:4).
What was that love? Their service to Jesus. Religion had entered their life, and instead of doing good in order to serve Jesus, good works had become just that… works. This “era” lasted until about 170 A.D., but there’s a bit of their good and bad among Christians today. Good works are done because that’s what’s expected rather than being done to glorify Christ.
The next letter was sent to Smyrna. This letter talks of persecution they faced. Jesus said “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Persecution comes from Satan. This letter encouraged them in their time of testing and told of a crown of life that they will receive. The historic era this letter covered lasted until around 312 A.D. We see persecution today and, though it grieves us, we admire the brave souls who face martyrdom rather than denying Christ.
Then came the letter to Pergamos, which held to two standards. They were strong in their faith but also very worldly. Instead of standing firm on God’s truth, they allowed pagan rites to enter their congregation. This era lasted until about 606 A.D. We see many of their errors in congregations today, such as claiming to follow Christ but embracing yoga, allowing homosexuals to be leaders of congregations, and New Age ideas are embraced. Instead of standing firm upon the ways of God, the ways of the world rule.
“Repent, or else I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16).
We need to heed to Jesus’ words.
The next letter is to Thyatira. They did many things right, but they allowed sin into their congregation and deviated from Scriptural truth. The era described in this letter lasted until circa 1520 A.D., but the errors in that church are strongly evident today, especially in the Roman Catholic Church.
Then came the letter to Sardis, which hints at the Protestant reformation and a return to God’s truth. The Protestant revolution re-established truths that had been forgotten, but there were still problems.
“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:1-2).
Sardis couldn’t point fingers of accusations at anybody. They seemed spiritually sound on the outside but were dead on the inside. To the outside world they looked like Christians, but inside they were lacking. Jesus told them to repent. We all need to examine our ways and see if we are just putting on a good front before other people instead of having a heart for God. Jesus knows the difference. This era lasted until around 1750 A.D.
The sixth letter went to Philadelphia. That name means “brotherly love,” and Jesus commended them for their love. “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8).
History shows there was a Great Awakening as evangelicals brought fire back into Christianity, and missionaries went to remote areas of the world to spread the Gospel. There was also a return to a more literal interpretation of Scripture. No wonder so much good was written about Philadelphia. This zeal for God’s truth lasted until around 1900 A.D. There’s still a bit of that era left today, but it’s hard to find.
That brings us to the final letter, which was written to the congregation at Laodicea. This letter describes most congregations today, and isn’t anything to be proud of. The address here is different than the other letters. Each one was written “to the angel of the church” in each city, but Laodicea isn’t addressed that way.
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot” (Revelation 3:14-15).
The name Laodicea means “justice of the people,” and the letter is addressed to “the angel of the church of the Laodiceans.” It was the people’s church, not God’s. The people made the rules instead of Scripture being the guide. The people in this congregation were lukewarm in their faith, and Jesus will spew them from His mouth.
There’s always been lukewarm followers of Christ who look like they’re following Jesus but are far from belonging to Him. Judas was one of those people. He hung out with Jesus, followed Him, and seemed to be one of the disciples. Was he? He may have looked like a follower, but it was Judas who betrayed Christ. How many “Christians” today like to go to youth groups or Sunday services, but betray Christ on Monday morning? They are not true Christians, and Jesus will spew them out.
The people in Laodicea thought they had everything they needed in life. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
Laodicea was a very wealthy place where people were comfortable. There was no real persecution or suffering. Because they were comfortable, they relied on themselves rather than Christ. There’s no doubt at all that Jesus knows what’s truly in the heart of a person. Sitting in a pew and following rituals doesn’t make a person a Christian. If the coziness of our worship services is taken away, how many people will risk worshipping Christ? Will Christ be rejected when your faith is tested?
“I counsel thee to buy of the gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness to not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see” (Revelation 3:18).
Faith that hasn’t been tested can never be trusted. How many Christians profess faith in Christ when life is good, but deny Him when sickness strikes, or the death of a loved one? What happens when you have a nice job that earns enough money to pay bills, but that job is suddenly taken from you? We see this happening today as quarantines and isolation put many people out of work. The riots that are happening in many cities today destroy businesses and take jobs away, causing financial difficulties.
Do you turn against God, or do you draw nearer to Him? It’s easy to profess faith when there’s no trouble in your life. Today’s congregations are full of unbiblical practices and sin is accepted because it shows us to be non-judgmental. These sinful ways are wrong, and God is ready to show us what judgment is really like.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
Repent means to change your mind. God will rebuke those who live in a way that’s not Scriptural. If a congregation is happy with homosexual members, fornicators, liars, thieves, and such, God will rebuke them. Sinners must be witnessed to and encouraged to repent, but their sin cannot be accepted. This last letter describes what’s happening in congregations today.
Does this mean that there’s no hope? Jesus hasn’t given up on us. He’s still there calling to people to come to Him.
“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. 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” Revelation 3:20-21.
While you have breath, it’s not too late to come to the saving grace of Jesus. He’s knocking but won’t force His way into your heart. Don’t wait for your pastor to wake up and lead the congregation back to the path of righteousness, but you answer the knock on the door yourself. Do it today because tomorrow may be too late.
These letters describe Christianity which has filled the “gap” between Daniel’s 69th and 70th weeks. Revelation chapter 4 describes the Rapture.
“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold a throne was set in heaven, and one say on the throne” (Revelation 4:1-2).
It’s a wise person who accepts Christ and lives for Him now. One day soon we will hear that voice calling Christians Home. Are you lukewarm and putting off surrendering your life to Him? If you reject Jesus now, you’ll find it nearly impossible to accept Him at a time when faith in Him will cost you your head. Answer His knock today.
What’s wrong with Laodicea? Everything. Jesus is not inside, but on the outside knocking to be invited in. They don’t see a need for Jesus, they are lukewarm in their faith, they accept sin as normal because they want to please the world, and their faith has never been tested because they’ve never done anything for Christ to cause persecution. A question we might ask is what’s wrong with the church of San Francisco, or the church of Seattle, or the church of London? “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 3:22). These words were written to you.
God bless you all,
Ron and Nathele Graham’s previous commentaries archived at https://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html
All original scripture is “theopneustos” – God breathed.
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