The first week of the lessons on the church, we discussed the Trail of Blood – how Christianity began, how the disciples and early Church was martyred for the faith and how the Baptist line transcends denominations and runs parallel to Catholics and Protestants who both persecuted our Baptist forefathers.
Last time, we discussed types of the Church – the Body (including members and systems that work together to complete the body), the Bride (being virtuous and exhibiting the other traits of the Proverbs 31 woman), and the Battalion of Christ (the army of God using the whole armor of God in our battle against spiritual wickedness and eventually toppling Satan and his minions).
This week, I intend to finish up with a typology that bridges the past, present, and future of the Church.
The Churches of Revelation
There are seven distinct churches that are mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. There are three ways in which we can view these churches and their descriptions.
The first is a literal interpretation. These are literal churches that existed when John was writing the book of Revelation.
The second is a dispensational interpretation. Each of these churches represents a different period of history from 33AD to now – and many Christians believe that the end of the Church Age is upon us.
The third is a spiritual interpretation. This is the view that there are “types” of each of these churches around today. This lesson will focus on the dispensational and spiritual interpretations.
The Church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-6)
This is the early Church that represents the period from 33 – 200AD. Ephesus was soul winning under heavy persecution from both the Pharisees and Rome. This is the period in which Steven, the disciples, Mark, Luke, and Paul were martyred for their faith.
This church was also under attack by gnosticism, docetism, Legalism/Pharisaism, etc. as detailed in part two of The Church.
God is “somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love” (v. 4). The Ephesian church started out on fire, but at some point became complacent. They began to compromise, but it was not too late for them to repent (v. 5).
The Ephesian model represents a good, but flawed, church. Despite their problems, they would reject false teachers today, just as the early church rejected the Nicolaitans (more on that later). This would be an imperfect, but soul-winning, Bible believing and preaching, God fearing, Christ focused, New Testament church that would not give up or quit in the face of persecution
The Church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-10)
The historical period here is around 200-350AD, when Christians were heavily persecuted and murdered by pagans.
They faced “blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (v. 9). This sure sounds like the heresy of replacement theology today.
God recognizes their suffering and promises heavenly rewards to a church like Smyrna. This is, again, a pretty good church. It was similar to Ephesus in that way, but the “crown of life” for martyrs demonstrates that this is a type of the Tribulation church and of foreign churches in dangerous lands planted by Christian missionaries today.
The Church at Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-16)
After Smyrna, the churches really started to deteriorate. Pergamos represents the period between 325-500/600AD.
The “doctrine of Balaam” (v 14) caused the Jews to stumble back in Numbers 24.
The Nicolaitan doctrine – nico (ruler) over laitan (man) – referenced a “special” church hierarchy, verse 15 shows us that God hates Nicolaitan doctrine (v 15)
Pergamos is a church “where Satan dwelleth” (v 13). This could be literal or figurative. Perhaps Satan hangs out in a church like this. Perhaps this church spiritually represents Satanic doctrine.
Catholicism has a Nicolaitan doctrine (see the Papal system of hierarchy) and began during this period when their version of “Christianity” merged with pagans to become the Roman Catholic Church. Many Baptists believe that this is the religious system of Mystery, Babylon mentioned in Revelation 17.
The Church at Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-25)
This is the church of the “Dark Ages.” 500-1000AD. It was a persecuted church that, like Ephesus, was a good church that fell into compromise. The spirit of Jezebel is a seductive, unrepentant theology, much like we see in Mystery, Babylon.
Modern churches like Thyatira are liberal, “low-tension” churches. They are apostate in that they began to turn from their doctrinal beliefs. The “recovering fundamentalist” movement that sprang from the Baptist ranks would be a good example. These are churches that began as traditional, “high-tension” Baptist churches that preached from the KJV and sang hymns, but compromised on their Bible translation and incorporated Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), while also trashing the traditional churches that they left.
The Church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1-4)
This period lasted from about 1000-1500AD. This was a major period of death for the Church. It was during this period that the Crusades and Black Death occurred. Likewise, the church at Sardis is spiritually dead.
This church was Humanistic and politically correct. It could be filled with members who are not being saved. This church might have huge numbers in attendance, but the members unaware that they are unsaved (spiritually dead).
There are several modern examples of this kind of church. Catholics, prosperity gospel, and charismatic churches can have thousands – even tens of thousands – of people in attendance.
This is a dangerous church, because it resembles Christianity, but is not Christian.
The Church at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-11)
The Philadelphian church era coincided with the “Enlightenment” and Reformation era around 1500-1900AD.
This church breathed life into the dying church. This was the time when the King James Version was translated (1611). The American Revolution (1776) and two Great Awakenings (1730s and 1830s) occurred during this era.
There was a major emphasis on missions. A modern Philadelphian church is a Bible believing church that is the opposite of Sardis. It is alive and spiritually thriving.
This is a church that will be kept “from the hour of temptation” (either because the era is over or because members will be Raptured) and must “hold fast” for the end is coming.
The Church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-20)
The final church era began around 1900AD and continues to the present day.
This church is “lukewarm” and is filled with wealth, apathetic “Christians” who believe they are saved, but are not (much like the church of Sardis).
In this age, we have seen the explosion of “modern” Bible versions like the NASB, ESV, NIV, NLT, CEB, MEB, NKJV, and dozens of others.
During this period, especially the past 60 years or so, has experienced a boom in Marxism and “science falsely so called.”
This is the “postmodern,” New Age church who cherry picks their beliefs to make them feel more comfortable. It is the church that I wrote The Old Gods of the New Age about.
It is the worst church. It is so disgusting that God spues is from His mouth.
The Tribulation Church? – “to him that overcometh”
At the end of each of these church letters is the phrase, “to him that overcometh.” I took the liberty of extracting each of these verses and reassembling them together to make the following passage:
To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. [He] shall not be hurt of the second death. To him 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. [to him] I give power over the nations: 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. And I will give him the morning star. The same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. I [will] make [him] a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
These sound like promises to Christians, but they seem to apply to survivors of the tribulation. I cannot authoritatively say one way or another, but it is interesting. Now that we have put these verses together, it is time to separate them once again and analyze.
Revelation 2:7, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
Overcometh what? This sounds like “enduring” to the end of the tribulation. Matthew 24:13 says, “but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
Revelation 12:11 reads, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death”
The tree of life only appears in only two places in the Bible. The first mention is in Eden (Genesis 3:22) and the other is New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).
These endure the tribulation and eat of the tree in New Jerusalem? These do not apply to the Body of Christ.
Revelation 2:11, “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
The “second death” is being cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20). Again, this church should endure until “the end” of the tribulation and Millenium and be “saved” at the Great White Throne which is where the “second death” begins for the unsaved.
Revelation 2:17, “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.”
The hidden manna is likely provided to the Jews in hiding in Revelation 12:6. The white stone and the rest? That remains a mystery.
Manna is white (Exodus 16:31). White is associated with holiness and heavenly robes. The names of the 12 tribes were written on black (onyx) stones (Exodus 28:9-10) that were placed in the ephod.
If this is the case, then whose names are written on the white? The 144,000 Jews who are saved during the tribulation? The Bride?
Revelation 2:26-29 says, “he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 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. And I will give him the morning star.”
One cross reference is Revelation 19:15, “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron . . .”
We know that the morning star is Jesus Christ (Rev. 22:16)
So this passage seems to indicate that those endure to the end of the tribulation will be rewarded with power over the remaining nations and Jesus Christ during the Millenium (Rev. 20).
Revelation 3:5-6, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.”
This appears to be another reference to the Great White Throne judgment.
Revelation 20:15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Again, I do not see how this could apply to Christians. We do not need to “overcome” in order to receive our white raiment or have Christ confess our names. There is no risk for the Body to be blotted out of the book of life.
Revelation 3:12, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
The primary text about New Jerusalem is in Revelation 21:2, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
We see here that New Jerusalem is compared to the Bride of Christ. Those who “overcometh” are associated with the Bride, but are not the Bride.
Revelation 3:21, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
During the millennial period, the Church Age Christian “shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10) as priests and kings. Those who endure the tribulation must have a similar reward. The tribulation saints rule with Christ during the millennium as well (Rev. 20:4)
Keep in mind that those of us who are saved do not have to worry about overcoming or enduring. However, some of our loved ones will. We should continue to share the Gospel as often as possible. We should make sure those left behind have copies of a King James Bible on hand in case they crack it open once the Bride meets the bridegroom in the air and prepares for the marriage feast. Perhaps you could buy one for someone and highlight tribulation passages, including these verses in Revelation to give them hope of salvation.
In the meantime, we should continue to study the various types of the Church and the church. This study so far has focused on some very macro concepts with regard to the Church. Next time, I will bring it all back down to the micro-level and focus on the local church.