In the letter to the Seven Churches contained in Revelation chapters 2 & 3, Jesus Christ gives a prophecy of what is going to happen to Christians from the first century to the 21st century, until his second coming. The seven churches represent seven successive and distinct periods in church history.
The letter to the seven churches is the basis and key to understanding the rest of the prophecies in the book of Revelation. It is the key to understanding the seven seals and the seven trumpets as they are parallel prophecies.
One cannot discuss the letter to Laodicea without going through the six churches before her. In our article here, we are going to give a brief introduction to the seven churches of Revelation.
The first church is the Church of Ephesus, which existed in the first and early second century. It is the Apostolic church that Christ formed in the first century with the 12 Apostles on the Day of Pentecost after His death and resurrection and ascension to heaven. The name Ephesus means “Desirable.” The Lord commended the great work done by the church of Ephesus and had many positive things to say about them. However, the Lord also said that they had lost their first love and called them to repent.
The Second church is the church of Smyrna, which existed from the second to the early fourth century. Smyrna is the persecuted church. The name Smyrna means ‘bittersweet myrrh’. If we remember, one of baby Jesus’s gifts at birth was myrrh, which represented his death. The church of Smyrna was persecuted, and many killed during Roman Emperor Diocletian’s rule. One of the bloodiest periods of Christian persecution in history from the year 303-313. Jesus had only praise and commendation for the work of the church of Smyrna.
This is a picture showing the state of the church of Smyrna in the early fourth century. Most members of the Church had to abandon their homes and properties to live in the caves and mountains to escape intense Roman persecution and to worship God in peace. Those who could not escape and were caught were thrown into prison or burnt at stake or killed by wild animals in the coliseums, as shown in the picture illustration.
Jesus told the Church of Smyrna that even thought they were poor in earthly possessions, they were rich in heavenly possessions. He also promised them that ‘if they were faithful to Him unto death, He would give them a crown of righteousness”. Nothing negative was said about this church.
The Third Church is the church of Pergamos, which existed from the fourth century to the sixth century. The name Pergamos comes from two Greek words ‘pergos’ and ‘gamos’, which combine to mean either ‘citadel’ or ‘united in marriage.’ It is from the word ‘gamos’ that we have in English the word polygamous marriage. During the time, the church underwent many changes which Jesus described as the doctrine of Balaam entered the church, causing many of His children to fall into sin. Jesus asked those who had fallen to the doctrine of Balaam to repent and praised those who had faithfully kept His name.
The Fourth Church is the church of Thyatira that existed from the sixth century to the fifteenth century. The Church of Thyatira is the longest period in church history spanning about a thousand years. Thyatira means ‘sacrifice offerings.’ Jesus had some issues with this church, especially about allowing the doctrine of Jezebel into the church to seduce the servants of God to do abominable practices, including eating things sacrificed unto idols. Jesus strongly warned those involved with the doctrine of Jezebel to repent or else face the full wrath of God.
Jesus, however, praised those in Thyatira which had not participated in this doctrine of Jezebel. It was during the time of the Church of Thyatira that early church Reformers like John Wycliffe and Jan Huss came onto the scene.
The Fifth Church is the Church of Sardis, which existed from the sixteen century to the eighteenth century, the church or period of the Protestant Reformation. The name Sardis means ‘Escaping’ or to escape’. During this period of church history, Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, etc. came unto the scene, and the King James Bible was written and published for the common man to be able to read the word of God. However, despite the work of the Protestant Reformers, Jesus Christ states in His letter to the church of Sardis that they had a name that they were alive, but rather they were dead and that their works were not complete in the eyes of God. Jesus asked them to be watchful and strengthen the things which remained that were ready to die and to remember what they had received and heard and hold fast and repent before God came upon them like a thief.
Jesus, however, praised a few names in Sardis which had not defiled themselves.
It is worth noting here that, it was just before the start of the Protestant Reformation that the New World or North America, was discovered by Christopher Columbus and that during the period of the protestant reformation, there was a mass migration of puritans and pilgrims from Europe across the Atlantic to settle in North America. And that at the end of the eighteenth century, the end of the period of the church of Sardis, culminated in the formation of the United States of America. We can understand the meaning of the name Sardis, which means escaping or to escape.
The sixth church is the Church of Philadelphia that arose in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The name Philadelphia means brotherly love. This is the period in church history described as the First & Second Great Awakening. During this period of church history, great missionaries took the protestant message of salvation by faith worldwide, especially to the developing world in Asia, Africa, and South America. The Methodists and Baptists denominations, and Presbyterians, and Anglicans and other protestant denominations experienced steady growth worldwide. Missionary schools at the elementary and secondary levels were established in these countries during this period. Notable men of faith of this generation included the John and Charles Wesley, William Carey and Adoniram Jackson, just to mention a few.
Yours sincerely benefitted from studying at a Methodist Secondary school established by missionaries in 1876 in the Gold Coast of West Africa. The foundational work laid by these protestant missionaries worldwide cannot be overemphasized.
Jesus praised the work done by the church of Philadelphia and stated that because they had kept the word of his patience, He would also keep them from the hour of temptation, which would come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
The Seventh and Last church in church history is the church of Laodicea, which will exist from the 20th and 21st century until the second coming of Christ. This is the Lukewarm church. The name Laodicea means the People of the Judgement or Judging the people. The name Laodicea comes from two words ‘Laos’ which means ‘the people’ and ‘dike’ meaning justice or judgment. This is the church period we are living in today.
If you are alive and reading this message, you are a member of the church of Laodicea. It is the only church Jesus has nothing good or positive to say about. There’s no one in Laodicea that Jesus commends. Jesus strongly rebukes the entire church of Laodicea and tells them to be zealous for God and repent, or else he will spew them out of his mouth. Jesus tells the church of Laodicea all its shortcomings and failures and also counsels them on the path to take to get back right with God.
He tells them that he is standing at the door of the church of Laodicea and knocking that if anyone who hears His voice comes and opens, he will come and be with them.
Someone might ask why is it important to know all this? In answer to that we are reminded of the popular saying that “if we do not know where we are coming from, we will not know where we are going.”
If we do not know and understand what the doctrine of Balaam and Jezebel is, which destroyed the people of God for over a thousand years, causing the church of Sardis to escape, we would not understand why we are here today and what God is expecting from us his church now.
We have the opportunity today to read from the bible ourselves, and learn from the mistakes and triumphs of our forebearers, so not to repeat the same mistakes. God says he wants the old Godly way. Luke 12:48 says to whom much is given much is expected.