About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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The Seven Churches Of The Age Of Grace

The seven letters of Revelation were written to seven distinct and historic churches in Asia Minor, which is modern Turkey. When interpreting these letters we must realize the primary interpretation is to these particular churches. The secondary interpretation is directed towards anyone reading the letters, which include you and I. Beyond these interpretations some say that each church represents a particular time period in church history.

You will note that there is one thing that distinguishes the first three letters from the last four letters and that is that the last four have reference to the return of Jesus, while the first three donít. For this reason most scholars who hold to the prophetic view of these letters think that the last four churches extend to the return of Christ.

The following are the seven churches and the time period they represent in church history according to those who view these letters as being prophetic.

 

Ephesus Ė The Post Apostolic Church

We call this era of church history "the post apostolic church". The time period begins around 70 A D and goes to about 150 to 200 A D.

This church was a church devoted to the teaching of the original apostles, and was very strong on being doctrinally correct.

Even in Paulís day, before 64 AD, false teaching began to creep into the church. We see this in Paulís letter to the Galatians. The problem with the Galatians and others was the move towards legalism. This is always the tendency of Christians, that is to live the New Testament life as Old Testament people, under law and legalism. As the second generation of Christians were born into the church, this became a real problem.

Legalism came in the formation of laws and an authoritative ecclesiastical leadership in the church. By the end of the first century church leaders believed unity came through people submitting and obeying them. At this time plurality of leadership began to evolve into one man leadership. By submitting to the one man, everyone would think alike and be in unity. The problem with this is that submission soon turned into dictatorship.

In short, the doctrinalization and structuralization of the church had its roots in this era.

Concerning legalism, some taught that once you were saved you had the chance to sin one time for any particular sin. Beyond this one sin, thereíd be no forgiveness left for you.

In Rev. 2:2 we see the good aspects of this historic church as stated by Jesus. He knew their deeds, their good works and their perseverance. He also knew they did not tolerate wicked men and false apostles. You can see this by what Iíve just said. Their emphasis on right teaching was to counteract false teaching, thus the reason for Johnís three letters.

In chapter 2 verse 3 Jesus acknowledges that these people have suffered much hardship, and so they did. They were persecuted and killed for their faith. Like the first generation church, the second generation church had their sufferings as well.

Yet with all these good points Jesus had something against them, and that was they forsook their first love. The affection they once had for Jesus was replaced by routine and legalism. Their combating of false doctrine and splits in the church led them to Old Testament style religion. This did not impress Jesus in the least. He told them to repent or else Heíd remove their lampstand. The lampstand was the church. God would actually remove His church from this city.

Smyrna Ė The Persecuted Church

This era in church history covers roughly around 150 to A D to 320 A D and is known as the Persecuted Church. This church felt the attack from both the Roman Empire and the Jews. An example of this would be Polycarpís martyrdom. He was captured by the Romans and burned to the stake but the fire didnít kill him. Therefore a Roman soldier killed him with a sword and after he died, the Jews burned his body.

Other means of torture included rolling Christians in tar and burning them. Feeding Christians to lions for all to watch as a sporting event is a well documented means of torture. Despite all of the persecution the church grew, as it always does in times of persecution. A quote from one of the church fathers says that the "blood of martyrs is the seed of the church" Jesus said something similar when He said that a corn of wheat must first fall into the ground and die before it could produce fruit.

In the early 300ís Emperor Galerius of Rome was one of the worst emperors in Roman history when it came to persecuting Christians. He did not tolerate any hint of Christian faith. He would destroy anything to do with Christians, their homes, their businesses and their very lives. Yet near the end of his life he came to his senses and realize the horrible wrong he had done. On his death bed he issued the "Edict Of Tolerance". This decree stopped the persecution of Christians and ordered that Christians should be tolerated.

You will notice of all seven letters this is the only letter in which Jesus does not have anything negative to say. Maybe these people were suffering so much that Jesus did not want to lay any burden on them.

Jesus introduces Himself as the one who died and rose back to life, maybe because so many Christians were being put to death in this era that they needed such comforting.

Jesus also acknowledges these Christians afflictions, which were many. He also takes note of their poverty. Christians in this time period were very poor. Many could not hold jobs because they were Christian.

Jesus speaks of the synagogue of satan. Rome presented the biggest problem for the Christians but Jews also presented a problem as well.

Jesus also says that the devil will imprison these people. This tells us that it is the devil behind the Roman Empire. The era was a great time of suffering for the believer.

 

Pergamum Ė The Church Of The Roman Empire

The Pergamum church represents the Church of the Roman Empire from roughly 320 AD to 600 AD.

The distinguishing feature of this church was the union of church and state. In 312 AD Emperor Constantine supposedly became a Christina. During a battle of war he claimed to have seen a vision of a cross, and either a voice or some form of writing told him to fight in the name of the cross. He thus converted to Christianity. His conversion led in subsequent years to the government decreeing that all Romans must be Christian. Everyone was now pretty well forced to be a Christian. In order to be a Roman citizen and receive the rights of a citizen, you had to be a Christian. Pastors and bishops were paid by the government.

The emperors in years following Constantine ordered the church leaders to formulate its teaching and over the next two hundred years had many conferences to formulate doctrine of which decrees were then issued presenting these doctrines. The Nicene Creed of 381 AD is one of the more well known of these creeds. The doctrine of the Trinity was developed in these years. It took almost 200 years for the doctrine of the Trinity to be ironed out and formalized.

Concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, some theologians that disagreed with the final decree were actually killed for their theological position.

This was the age of the paganization of the church. So many people converted to Christianity because they had to. People had no real choice, so their conversion was not necessarily real. The church tolerated pagan influences in the church to make these false converts comfortable. Thus the marriage between pagan culture and Christian culture that has effected us even to this day.

So in this era we have the union of church and state, and the union of Christianity and paganism.

One example of this paganization is the churchís thinking on Christmas that was a compromise between Christian and pagan thinking. Most of our modern Christmas symbols and traditions originated from this era and were borrowed from pagan religious worship.

Sunday became the legal and traditional day of worship for Christians in this era as well. Many Christians were already celebrating Sunday as being special but it was in this time period that this tradition became formalized and legally accepted as the Lordís Day.

In simple terms Christians who once were persecuted now were privileged. Church was no longer a counter culture but the culture of the land. In short, something that you might have thought was a good thing actually turned into be a very bad thing for the church

Jesus addresses Himself as having the double-edged sword to this church. Because of the marriage of church and state you might think that Jesus wanted to separate this unholy union with His sword. .

Jesus said that these people live in the midst of satanís throne. The throne could be in reference to the Roman Empire. If this is so, then satan himself was behind this mixture.

What Jesus didnít like about this church was the fact they had people in their church that held to the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolatians. The teaching of Balaam as seen in the Old Testament was a marriage of Judaism and the surrounding pagan culture with its emphasis on sexual immorality as a form of worship. The Nicolatians were very similar in their thinking.

As the above two examples mixed Godís ways with pagan ways, so did the church of this era. It mixed itself with both the state and pagan culture.

Jesus said that Heíd fight against this church with the sword of His mouth. It was near the end of this era when Mohammed was born and rose to power Many conflicts soon took place between the church and the Muslims. Now Muslimís were killing Christians.

It is interesting to me that the rise of one of the worldís largest religions took place in the middle of the era when the church was at its worst. I believe the churchís neglect to follow the Biblical mandate resulted in the Muslim religion.

 

Thyatira - The Church Of The Dark Age

The church at Thyatira represents the "church of the Dark Age" which began roughly around 600 AD and ends at the return of Christ.

By 600 AD the Roman Catholic church was well established with its popes and ecclesiastical system. It was just as much a nation in itself and was just as powerful, and at times more powerful than Roman government. The church was in fact the head of the empire. Wars were even fought in the name of the church.

This church did many good works in this era. This was the age where monasteries came into existence. Within these communes were very dedicated men of service to their community. These men had much love, service and patience.

This was also an era where large and great cathedrals were built in the name of the Lord. The church was the leader in all things, including, art, architecture, music and commerce. The church had great influence on the world in all respects except pure Biblical thinking and living

You will note in Rev. 2:20 that Jesus detested the teaching of the woman Jezebel. Many relate Jezebel to the Catholic churchís teaching on Mary, who they call the mother of God. Mary was worshiped as God Himself. Mary worship stemmed from the pagan worship of the many female gods in the Roman Empire, which was one of those consolations to paganism, Diana being one example. Pagans had their female gods, so Christians needed one as well.

Sexual immorality was ramped in church leadership in those days. Pope Pius the second who was born in 1405 was maybe the worst, having many mistresses. He taught young men how to seduce women and he wrote pornographic books.

There was great lack of personal faith and missions during this age of church history. Salvation was by works and was bought with money.

Jesus introduces Himself as having eyes of blazing fire and bronze feet. He could well see what was happening in the church of these days. Sexual immorality might have taken place behind closed doors but Jesus can see through doors.

His feet of bronze that have been tested in the fire of judgment on the cross brings judgment as well, and Jesus would surely judge this church.

Jesus does acknowledge this churchís love, faith and works. This age of church history wasnít totally bad. The Catholic Church did do much in serving. We also should note that this church is still present in the world today and serves in many places to help the poor. The present day leadership may not be as bad as it once was but sexual immorality problems still plague the Catholic Church.

Many claim the Catholic Church to be involved in idol worship when it comes to Mary and the emphasis on saints of the church.

Jesus tells these people that He will bring judgment to this church and put her on a bed of suffering and kill her children.

Jesus does acknowledge that there are some faithful people in this church, and so there is some true Christians in the Catholic Church, that is, assuming they have genuine Biblical faith. Jesus only tells these people to hold on to what they have until He returns for them. They are not to give into what the rest are doing.

 

Sardis - The Protestant Church

You might say that the Protestant Church began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 statements of protest to a church door in Wittenberg Germany in 1517. Thus this historic church roughly starts around 1520 A D and goes to the return of Christ .

Luther and others are called Reformers, thus the name of the movement is the Reformation . The Reformation is one of the most far reaching movements in world history, whether religious or secular. Both the words Protestant and Reformation tell us something about this time period. Protestants protested against the Catholic Church and its practices. . The Reformers wanted to turn the pages of the church back to more Biblical teaching. Yet the great changes that they instituted took place largely in their thinking, in their teaching and not their way of life. Luther himself even said that this new church "was in a state of disrepair", and the earth was in danger of losing Godís word if the teaching didnít resonate into daily life.

The Reformer leaders were just as hostile as many of the Catholic popes. Many Reformed leaders had people killed because they didnít believe as they did, even on secondary issues as baptism, communion, and eschatology. The founders of what has progressed into the modern Mennonite church actually tried to build the kingdom of God in Germany. They took a city by military force and killed all those who didnít believe in what they taught and what they were doing.

The Reformation Church became just as much a state church as the Catholic Church it protested. Thus we have the "Church of England" that came into existence later on. The final authority of the Church of England, that is the Anglican Church is the queen of England.

In Rev. 3:1 Jesus tells this church that they had a reputation of being alive but in fact they were dead. This is a clear picture of the Reformed Movement. They appeared to be alive, especially in relation to the Catholic Church they came out of. Yet, spiritually they were did. There was little to no thought given to the Holy Spiritís involvement in the daily life of the believer. Yes, they brought the teaching of salvation by faith alone back into the forefront which clearly was a prerequisite to the believer receiving the Holy Spirit, but they did not progress to this point, neither in thinking or practice.

Jesus tells this church to strengthen what they have, which would be their new found faith. He also told them to remember what they received, obey it and repent, or else Heíd come like a thief in the night to these people. This means that when Jesus returns, these people will not be ready, which is the fate of the present liberal mainline Protestant church.

Jesus says that these peopleís works were not perfect, and so they werenít because the emphasis was on teaching only, and not its outworking in daily living. Their good works were routine and legalistic in nature.

Jesus also said that they should strengthen what they have unless they die. In my opinion the mainline Protestant church as an organization has died, or in the process of dying.

Jesus does acknowledge that there are a few people in this church who have not soiled their clothes. In every church there is a remnant of true believers, and Jesus acknowledged them in this church. For these people who have not soiled their clothes, theyíll walk with Jesus in new clothes of righteousness. To me these knew clothes of white represents the righteousness of God that these people will live in because they have lived in Godís righteousness while on earth, unlike their brethren who merely walked in an intellectual knowledge of God.

 

Philadelphia - The Evangelical Church

The Evangelical Church began in the 1700ís and ends when Jesus returns. Such men as Charles and John Wesley were Bible based fundamentalist preachers. Many of the leaders in the beginning days of this era were just ordinary people. William Carey, a shoe repair man is associated with this movement and is often called the father of the modern missionary movement.

This church is known for its missionary work, just as Jesus acknowledged of them when He used the words "open doorí. This term is normally associated with evangelism. Jesus gave this church an open door to evangelize the world.

Jesus said this church had little strength. This might be in reference to its humble beginnings. So many of these people were just ordinary men. In the beginning days they had simple buildings that reflected their way of life. Yet in recent years this movement has become more complicated and wealthy.

Jesus said that this church endured patiently. The Evangelical Church has been an enduring church. For this endurance Jesus says that they will be kept from the time of great tribulation. Many feel the great tribulation spoken of here is the last days Great Tribulation, and when the word "keep" is used it is in reference to the rapture of this church before the Great Tribulation. Iím not convinced in the pre-trib rapture teaching, although I hope it is correct for my own sake.

 

Laodicea - The Compromising Church Of The End

The Compromising Church of the end would have begun in the late 1800ís with the evolution of the Liberal Church. Like the last three churches, this church exists to the return of Christ.

The modern day liberal church movement began with the demythologizing of the Bible. This means they took all the supernatural aspects out of the Bible. The work of the Holy Spirit meant nothing to these theologians. The church became a social institution.

The acceptance of the gay lifestyle of this modern church is an example of accommodating the world in order to bring people into their churches.

This compromising church has accommodates people of the world, much like the church of the Constantine era, tolerating everything and everyone in the name of unity. This is a wealthy church, with its extravagant buildings and popular charismatic leaders.

Jesus called this church luke-warm when it comes to things of faith. No one attending any of the gatherings of this church should have to cringe at anything they see, hear, or experience. Everyone is welcomed just as they are, with no expectations to change.

You will notice that Jesus is no where to be found in this church. He is actually outside of the church, knocking on the door, waiting for someone to let Him in.

The liberal church today, as well as many Evangelical churches are becoming quite wealthy. Just the value of the real-estate alone would be in the millions of dollars. Yet Jesus says that their wealth means nothing to Him. What they need to do is buy spiritual wealth from Him.

This end time church is luke-warm, not on fire for Jesus. Theyíve left Jesus out in the cold, and is wealthy in the material sense. Theyíve watered down the gospel, all in the name of tolerance and accommodating the world.

If there is a pre-trib rapture, and Iím not convinced there is, this church will be left behind and the Great Tribulation would be the spitting out of these people from the mouth of Jesus.

What all churches need to do today is to evaluate themselves to make sure that they arenít becoming a Laodicean church. The sad fact of the matter is that many churches are turning into this church, the Evangelical church being no exception.

In closing, we do need to realize that in every church mentioned above, Jesus has true believers. He has people everywhere for His glory.

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