THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF REVELATION
— Introduction —
Untold numbers of professing Christians have been taught, as I was, that the seven churches of Revelation are somehow related to the body of Christ. Some say they are merely representative churches of the one body that have grievously erred and are being warned. Other regard them as seven churches chosen out of the body of Christ to represent seven consecutive periods of church history. Perhaps the power of contrast between the seven churches to whom Paul wrote, and the seven churches to whom John wrote, will supply some answers.
WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT ABOUT THIS
AND OTHER BIBLICAL ISSUES??
The Lord Jesus has revealed the necessity of Christians standing together in walk and doctrine because of the effect it will have on the unbeliever, for good or ill. It is found in His high priestly prayer in John 17, beginning with vs. 20, "Neither pray I for these [the apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT THOU HAS SENT ME." Here is a plea from the Son for a unity among His own that will help pave the way for the lost to find their way to the cross.
But the Lord doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say in vs. 21, "…that they all (apostles and converts) may be one; as thou Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: THAT THE WORLD MAY KNOW THAT THOU HAS SENT ME, AND HAST LOVED THEM AS THOU HAS LOVED ME."
The Scriptures are very clear on this: In response to His Son’s request, the Father has given the church a supernatural unity that can never be taken from us, nor be improved. BUT, for it to work, for it to have a salutary effect on the unbelieving world, it must have something from us. But what is it? Please read this carefully:
The spiritual unity that the Father has given us is NOT AN OBSERVABLE ONE, as wonderful as it is. Though all believers are one in Christ, having been "raised up together and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:" this sublime oneness is meaningless to a lost and dying world. What the Father and the Son must have from us is what the early church had, a visible, unconcealed in-step-with-one-another-unity that unsaved men and women can see and judge for themselves — and be moved by our unity to receive the truth.
With so much riding on our presenting a VISIBLE united front to a splintered, war-driven, idolatrous, increasingly dangerous and chaotic world, how can we Christians do less than bend every effort to "speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among [us]; but that [we] be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" in matters of doctrine, faith and practice? (see 1 Cor. 1:10)
THE SEVEN CHURCHES TO WHOM PAUL WROTE
THE SEVEN CHURCHES TO WHOM JOHN WROTE
Are These 14 Churches All Members Of the Body of Christ?
"WHEREOF I AM MADE A MINISTER according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you to fulfill the Word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saint…and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery [i.e. Jew and Gentile believers now walking as one new man in Christ apart from all religious and racial distinction]…to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." Signed: The Apostle Paul. (Col. 1:25-26; Eph. 3:9-10)
CHAPTER ONE OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Revelation 1:1-2 — "The Revelation [the unveiling] of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass…"
Verses 9 & 10 are often glossed over and the emphasis put on vs. 19,
yet vs. 19 cannot be clearly understood apart from vss 9 & 10.
1:9 - "I John, who also AM (note, not going to be, but "am") your brother & companion in the tribulation" (NAS, NKJ, Scofield’s margin, The Ryrie study Bible; Bullinger’s companion bible, etc.). John, by the Holy Spirit, was taken spiritually off the Isle of Patmos (a Roman penal colony on a tiny island located in the Mediterranean Sea just off the mainland of Asia) and was projected in a prophetic vision into the seven year period known as "the tribulation." This is confirmed in the next verse.
1:10 "I [John] was in the Spirit on "The Lord’s day," lit. "the day of the Lord" (see Isa. 2:12; 13:6-13) not Sunday, as some suppose, Sunday being a Teutonic (pagan) term for "the day of the sun." Instead, it is "the day of the Lord" - a 7 year interval between the Rapture of the church and the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth.
During the first half of the tribulation, because of a "covenant of peace" (i.e. treaty) that antichrist will make with the nation Israel (Dan. 11:21, 32), the first three and a half years (42 months) of the tribulation will be a time of comparative "peace and safety" (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
In verse 19, John is instructed to write the things WHICH HE HAS SEEN (past tense), the things WHICH ARE (present tense, concerning the seven assemblies in the tribulation into which John has been transported in a vision (1:9-10), AND, future tense, "the things "WHICH MUST BE HEREAFTER, i.e. those things following chapters two and three. See Rev. 4:1.
The second half of the tribulation begins with chapter six. It is during this 42 month time slot that twenty one plagues will be poured out upon the inhabitants of the world in unearthly judgment and divine retribution - twenty one unspeakable, torturous calamities, unmatched by any other period in the history of fallen man. The Lord Jesus foretold of these times when men’s hearts would fail for fear of those things that are coming upon the earth…"and men shall seek death, and shall not find it: and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them" (Lu. 21:26; Rev.9:6).
The last reference in the Bible to the seven assemblies to whom John wrote is found in Rev. 22:16: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things IN THE CHURCHES. I am the offspring David, the bright and morning star."
If the saints of the seven churches of John are members of the body of Christ, as the majority of preachers believe and teach, what are these churches doing in the tribulation? It says of them, "And they overcame him (antichrist) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Rev. 12:11; cp. with Rev. 6:9-10; Daniel 11:32). According to 2 Thess. 2:7-12, the church Christ is building today will have been caught out of this world before the first half of the seven year period of the tribulation begins. How, then, could the 7 churches be part of the body of Christ which, by that time, will have arrived in heaven via the Rapture. (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-18)
- CONTRASTS BETWEEN PAUL’S SEVEN CHURCHES— The term designating Christ as "the Son of man" is used seventy eight times in the four gospels, twice in Revelation [1:13 and 14:14] but, not once can it be found in the epistles of Paul.
THE SEVEN CHURCHES TO WHOM JOHN WROTE
1. "THE SON OF MAN"
2. "THE FIRST AND THE LAST" — This title, found in 1:11, 2:8, 22:13, is nowhere associated with the church in which Paul is "a wise master builder." 1 Cor. 3:10.
3. A PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST, as it relates to His coming in power and glory, is given in Rev. 1:12-15 and 2:1, In contrast, no physical description of the Person of Christ can be found in Paul’s writings.
4. "7 GOLDEN CANDLESTICKS" are words used by the Holy Spirit to describe the 7 churches of Asia — reminiscent of the 7 golden candlesticks in the tabernacle under Moses. In contrast, the body of a man, not candlesticks, is symbolically used by Paul to describe today’s church.
5. AMONG OR IN? Rev. 2:1 tells of Christ walking among the 7 future churches of Revelation. But Paul writes of Christ as dwelling in His church, and all Jew and Gentile believers dwelling in Him, walking as one new man in Christ "where there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:14-16; 1 Thess. 1:1).
6. One of the most surprising verses in the Bible is Revelation 3:20 where Christ says to the seven churches, composed of both the saved and unsaved. "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." Here Christ is calling to the unbelievers in the 7 churches of Revelation to open the door of their hearts that they might be saved and come to know Him, Whom to know aright is life eternal.
Note the distinction between the words of Christ as He stands at the door of the seven churches knocking for entrance, and the following salutations of Paul addressed to the body of Christ:
To the church in Corinth, he writes: "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2).
To the saints in Galatia, he wrote: "Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ." This salutation was not written to attract the attention of unregenerate man but the saints of God.
When Paul addressed the Thessalonians, he wrote: "Paul…unto the church of the Thessalonians, which is IN God the Father, and IN the Lord Jesus Christ:" (1 Thess. 1:1) Only saved people are in the Father and the Son. And we could go on and on through the rest of Paul’s epistles. Here alone is more than sufficient evidence that the seven churches of Revelation, to whom John wrote, are unrelated to the body of Christ.
CONSIDER the language of the Lord Jesus when rebuking the saints in EPHESUS for having lost their "first love." "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 CANDLE- STICK OUT OF HIS PLACE, except thou repent." [Rev. 2:5]. Where in any of Paul’s writings do we find a threat against an entire church for having lost its first love, as the church in Galatia, for example, clearly appears to have done?
CONSIDER THYATIRA where the Lord warns the saints with these words, "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. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her, into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds, and I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts:" (Rev. 2:20-23). An exceptionally strong threat.
CONSIDER the church of the LAODICEANS, beginning with 2:14. Here we find these ominous words from the lips of the Lord Jesus: "I KNOW THY WORKS, THAT THOU ART NEITHER COLD NOR HOT: I WOULD THOU WERE COLD OR HOT. SO THEN BECAUSE THOU ART LUKEWARM, AND NEITHER COLD NOR HOT, I WILL SPEW THEE OUT OF MY MOUTH...As many as I love I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Rev. 3:15-16. Today, multitudes of sectarian churches across America’s fruited plains are lukewarm but they continue to grow and proper.
- SUCH GRIM WARNINGS, AND THAT OF TOTAL DISASTER AGAINST AN ENTIRE CHURCH, IS UNHEARD OF IN PAUL'S EPISTLES!
But more than that, Paul, in addressing himself to the most carnal, self-serving, self-willed, divisive Christians of his day. told them they were "sanctified in Christ Jesus, being called saints (by def. those set apart to serve). [1 Cor. 1:2]. He also said, "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ ...that ye come behind in no gift waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall confirm you unto the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." vs. 8
You may be asking yourself, how can this be? How can the Corinthian church, with all of its carnality and gross sins, be held "blameless"? Paul answers the question in the next verse: "God is
faithful." As he told Timothy: "If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful" [to His Word and promises] for He cannot deny Himself." Yes, the saints in Corinth were "blameless," for the "new man" in each of them was hid with Christ in God, holy and unreproachable, (Eph. 4:23-24) while their carnal behavior is what Paul was essentially dealing with in Corinth.
This being the day of grace, Paul would later write, "He which hath begun a good work in you WILL perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6) None of this is even suggested in any of John’s letters to the seven churches.
Rev. 2:9; 3:9 strongly suggest that the 7 churches were composed only of professing Jews. Yet, (as already noted) word had gone out from the pen of the apostle Paul, as recorded in Eph. 2:14-15; 2 Cor. 5:16-17; Col. 2:6, that Jew and Gentile Christians were now free to walk as one new man in Christ, avoiding all racial discrimination or bigotry for the sake of their testimony.
AN OVERSIGHT? In 1 Cor. 3:11, the Holy Spirit had Paul write these words, "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon…" Paul is referring to the foundation of the church Christ has been building for close to 2000 years. He laid the foundation for this church in His epistles, yet +received no recognition of this fact in any of John’s letters for this spiritual legacy…even though the seven churches to whom John wrote are alleged to have been built on that very foundation!
It is clear, is it not, that we have been looking at two separate and distinct bodies of believers, (#1) the body of Christ that began at Pentecost and will end with the Rapture. The other, (#2) 7 future assemblies that will appear on the scene some time after the church has been caught up "to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
- FINAL WORD
In chapters two and three of Revelation, reference is made to the seven golden candlesticks, Baalam the false prophet, Balak, (who hired Baalam to curse Israel), "Jezebel", apparently named after the wicked idolatrous queen of Israel; the tree of life, the synagogue of Satan, the hidden manna, the new Jerusalem, and the key of David.
All this terminology, Jewish to the core, is totally absent from the epistles of Paul! But why not? As already noted, it seems conclusive enough that we’ve been looking at two separate entities —those whom Paul addressed in his epistles, and those who were revealed in a vision to the apostle John.
Return to Navigation