“Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches : to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyathira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.” (Rev 1 : 11 )
The cities mentioned were actual cities in the ancient world where a church existed. John listed them in the order in which a messenger on the road would have found them, starting with the chief city of Ephesus and then circling back clockwise. The cities lie in what is now part of modern Turkey. But none of these churches survived the religious wars that took place. However these seven churches represent the universal church throughout the age. Since these churches existed at the same time, it would be irrational to interpret them as different periods of the church age. According to this interpretation, the Church age has been divided into different periods based on Church history.
Ephesus upto 170 AD
Smyrna upto 312 AD
Pergamos upto 606 AD
Thyathira upto 1517 AD
Sardis upto 1750 AD
Philadelphia upto 1900 AD
Laodicea upto Rapture.
The fallacy of such an interpretation is the notion that we are in the Laodicean period of lukewarmness and therefore there can’t be an endtime revival. Yet the greatest revivals happened after 1900 AD. The Welsh revival in 1904, Asuza street revival in 1906, the healing revivals from 1947, the latter rain movement in 1949, the Charismatic revival in 1959, Jesus movement in 1970, just to mention a few ! Infact the 20th century has witnessed more awakenings and revivals worldwide than in the centuries preceding it.
In addition to this incongruity, some have even gone to the extent of identifying the seven angels of the seven churches, as men through whom these periods of church history were ushered. That is because the Greek word ‘angelos’, which was translated as ‘angels’ or ‘messengers’, could mean either angelic or human messengers or even both.
But whom did John see in his vision? “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand … are the angels of the seven churches …” ( Rev 1 : 20 )
‘I saw the seven angels who stand before God and to them were given the seven trumpets.’ ( Rev 8 : 2 )
‘Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues.’ ( Rev 15 : 6 )
So undoubtedly he was speaking about angels ! Just because the letters to the churches were written to the ‘messengers’ of the seven churches, does it mean that the seven stars in the right hand of Jesus were men ? ( William M Branham taught about the seven church ages and identified St Paul, St Irenaeus, St Martin, St Columba, Martin Luther and John Wesley as the six ‘messengers’ that preceded him and declared himself to be the seventh and last messenger to the Laodicean church. No wonder the ministry he founded eventually became a Christian cult! )
What then is the central message in all these letters to the churches ? A searching of the hearts by the ‘one who stood among the seven golden lampstands’, revealed the state of the churches, which otherwise is the state of believers themselves :
Ephesus the ‘loveless’ church,
Smyrna the ‘suffering’ church,
Pergamos the ‘worldly’ church ,
Thyathira the ‘adulterous’ church,
Sardis the ‘hypocritical’ church,
Philadelphia the ‘faithful’ church and
Laodicea the ‘complacent’ church.
The call to repentance rings through the letters and five out of the seven churches were admonished to repent. But it was to the ‘faithful’ believer that Jesus promised : “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown.” (Rev 3 : 8 – 11 )
So whatever be the period we are in or whichever be the church that we attend, what matters is our obedience, if we want to ‘escape all that is about to happen and be able to stand before the son of man.’ ( Lk 21 : 36 ) Amen.