Today: [Revelation 2:] The Seven Churches: Who were the seven churches? They were, in fact, seven local churches in Asia and perhaps something much more. Many godly leaders in history believed that the messages to the seven churches were not only for these specific locations but the churches throughout history as well. We will examine this view and determine its validity in our study.
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[Rev 2:1-17 KJV] 1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4 Nevertheless I have [somewhat] against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. 6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. 8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and [I know] the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but [are] the synagogue of Satan. 10 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. 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. 12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; 13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, [even] where Satan’s seat [is]: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas [was] my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. 14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. 15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth [it].
Chapter 2 of Revelation begins the messages of Jesus to the seven churches in Asia to whom the book is addressed, starting with the church of Ephesus. While these were real churches in the ancient world, there are other viewpoints regarding their meaning to consider. One scholar maintains that the content of the seven messages goes well beyond the local assemblies to whom they are addressed. Many other church leaders of the last century suggest to us that the seven churches constitute seven church ages throughout history.
William Branham believed the seven churches represented seven church ages and the angels were the primary leaders of these church epochs. Branham’s application of this view includes the following:
Paul was the angel of the Ephesian church age. Irenaeus was the angel (or messenger) to the Smyrna church age.
St. Martin was the angel to the Pergamos (or third church age) beginning in 312 AD.
Branham believed that St. Francis was the angel to the Thyatira church age beginning in 606 AD and lasting about 900 years.
The Sardis church age according to Branham began with Martin Luther about the time of the Reformation.
The Philadelphia church age began with John Wesley about 1750 and lasting till 1906.
The Laodicean church age for Branham began in 1906 with the Pentecostal outpouring. While Branham never directed suggested it his followers universally believe he was the messenger to this church age. Branham thought that this church age would conclude by 1977 and we would move into what he called a “gap time” between the church age and the Millennial reign of Christ.
Branham is held to be a false prophet by mainstream Christianity, even by the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Most of those holding these views have never taken a serious look at this man’s messages which are in abundance on the internet in audio and written form. Was he the messenger angel to the seventh and final church age? His influence would be very difficult to exaggerate impactful as it was on dozens of men and woman of God in the ’50s who have profoundly shaped what the church would become in terms of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.
If the church age viewpoint is valid, are we in fact in the “gap time” that Branham believed we would fall into by 1977? The church certainly has radically changed since that time and not for good. Sunday evening and mid-week services are almost entirely unknown currently. Church leadership has been dramatically weakened, and church attendance has plummeted to levels never before seen in history. These things give us pause to reflect on what we can learn by looking at the seven churches in this way.
Jesus reproves the Ephesian church as the church that lost its first love. At the same time, they also represent the high water mark for the churches in history. In its beginning, the Ephesian church demonstrated maturity and power never matched again in the centuries following. Yet they had fallen away from their first love by the time of the writing of the Revelation and as Jesus warned their candlestick was removed when the city declined and became nothing more than the ruin it is today in modern Turkey.
The church in Smyrna was the church that would suffer persecution. If we regard this church as the one existing in Irenaeus time, this perspective would be born out. The Diocletian persecution right before Constantine’s rise to power was the most brutal suppression of the faith up to that point in history and perhaps since then as well.
The Pergamos church was the church that needed to repent. This is the church of St. Martin’s day which existed in the very depths of the period we refer to in history as the Dark Ages. The papacy was corrupt beyond all comparison to the churches preceding Constantine’s day. The people were completely illiterate, and the scriptures were unknown to them because they were no longer translated into the common tongue. Jesus chastized this church for idolatry and eating the things sacrificed to them. By St. Martin’s day, the doctrine of substantiation (believe that communion literally became the flesh and blood of Jesus) and the worship of the saints greatly polluted the faith to heretofore unknown levels.
The doctrine of the Nicolaitans also is repudiated by Jesus. The word Nicolaitan means “destruction of the people” and is a compound word from which we get the terms “clergy” and “laity.” The church of the middle ages and beyond is utterly defined by the clergy/laity dichotomy which Jesus plainly states here that He hates deeply.
[Rev 2:18-29 KJV]
18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet [are] like fine brass; 19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last [to be] more than the first. 20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. 24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. 25 But that which ye have [already] hold fast till I come. 26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The Thyatira church was a church corrupted by false prophecy. During these 900 years in the church beginning in 606 AD the church had joined itself with the political realm in a marriage of convenience just like Ahab married Jezebel. Ahab was an Israelite, but Jezebel was a Gentile. The results of this were disastrous for Ahab and disastrous alike for the church of this period. This Jezebel influence provoked the servants of God to commit fornication and to eat things offered to idols. During this season in the church, the doctrines of Papism completely subverted the health and power of the church substituting them for doctrines of devils, transubstantiation, total suppression of the scripture, and extreme veneration of the falsely appointed saints. This period lasted 900 years whereas God gave them (v. 21) space to repent and she repented not thus Martin Luther was brought on the scene to ignite the Protestant Reformation and the end of the totalitarian grip of Papism on the Western world.
What can we learn from this application of the messages to the seven church as applying to the church throughout history? They represent in the words of Jesus Himself a call back to the benchmarks of purity and power seen in the church of the first century. We have the record of the early church not merely as history but as a standard we are to judge ourselves and our churches by. At every point that church as we know it deviates from church as Jesus and the apostles established – we should deeply question those comparatives and seek to reinstitute in our lives a fidelity for the things of God as the Father intended and not just throw ourselves into Christian culture with no frame of reference to what God actually desires of us.
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