The Seven Church Ages: Introduction
The 7 churches and what they symbolize; 15 proofs
1.) Rev. 1:1-3, The book is written to more than just these Christians in Asia, for these words declare that this unveiling or apocalypse is written "unto his servants."
This encompasses much more than just 7 local churches. The whole Christian world was meant and intended to hear this open message to all believers. Also all N.T. books were read and were written for all believers. We also read in verses 1-3 that he that hears and reads these words and keeps the things that are written therein is blessed. And if these were only written unto the churches in that day, for these 7 churches, it would not be possible for us to keep the things that are written therein and be blessed by keeping them.
2.) There were more than 7 churches in Asia in Roman times.
3.) Each individual existing Asian church was not alone in their spiritual problem.
In chapters 2 & 3, the Lord goes on to reveal the problems of those churches, and we find that these are not problems that were isolated to these particular churches. For instance, Ephesus was not the only church to leave their first love. There were many other churches in that day and later who left their first love.
So each of these Asian churches and each Christian church in the world throughout history has had all of these conditions mixed in among it to a degree. And this is a proof that there is more implied under the guise of these local 7 churches.
4.) Each individual existing Asian church was not the only one with a specific reward offered to overcomers which Jesus gave to each one of these churches.
Each overcomer would partake of the same rewards; the only exception being that the living at the time of the Rapture would have a special reward of never tasting of death. And the Laodiceans would be the ones to go through the great tribulation and overcome in that regard.
(e.g.)--The overcoming saints at Ephesus weren't the only ones to receive the promise to eat of the tree of life, because this is scripturally open to all overcomers, Rev. 22:14. The point is, that each victorious Christian is heir to all of these same promises. Each overcomer in any era of the church's history receives these same promises.
5.) We know that these 7 churches are symbolic of 7 church ages, because John turned behind him to look toward the voice that spoke to him as a trumpet.
John was in spirit in the Lord's day (1:10) before he turned behind him to hear that voice. And the Lord's day is a period of time yet future. So when he turns around to look behind him, he's symbolically looking back through history towards 95 A.D. or so, when he wrote the book. When he turned, it was understandably a visionary turn. It was something directed by the spirit to be part of the vision. This turn then was a turn to look back in time. Certainly the span of time from A.D. 30 to the day of the Lord, in time, is not covered by 7 little churches in a localized period of time. It must have applied to the full age of the Gentles between Christ and the Lord's day spanning the full time period within 7 successive time eras or church ages because you see the separation.
6.) We know that these 7 churches are symbolic because the church of God was called Israel in the O.T., but here dramatically different. Jesus speaks exclusively to Gentle church names.
All the names of these cities are Gentle names, showing that it's a new dispensation. This indicates the era of the Gentles from A.D. 30 to the end of the tribulation and the sealing of the 144,000 of Israel (that's when God begins to bring Israel back to himself in mass). These Gentle names show that this Gentle era is in view.
Romans 11:25-27 talks about the Gentle church age; we haven't reached that point in Christ yet.
7.) We see in chapter 1:4 that the #7 is obviously a symbolic # in scripture.
And the first readers of the book in 96-100 A.D. would immediately recognize this numerical symbol. Even if they didn't catch the full significance of what it was, they knew it was symbolic of something more.
And concerning this, # 7 being symbolic of spiritual completeness, 7 is used in scripture
--7 days of natural and spiritual creation.
--7 days in the week.
--7th year God commanded that the land was to rest.
--Israel marched 7 times around Jericho, which showed a complete spiritual work before the walls fell down.
--Naaman 7 times washed in the Jordan--completely cleansed.
--7 priest and trumpets went before the ark of the covenant.
--7 seals, trumpets, and vials in apocalypse.
--7 spirits of God, the fulness of the spirit of God in all ages sent forth.
--7 eyes and horns in the lamb.
--7 years Jacob worked for Rachael.
--7 years Jacob worked for Leah.
--70 weeks of Daniel are 70 weeks each comprised of 7 years.
--7 years Nebucchadnezzar was insane.
--Luke 11:26, the parable of the unclean spirits- they came back and brought 7 more
worse than himself; the man's state was completely worse.
8.) No book of the entire Bible was written to be heard and read by only one category of people or by only those original saints to whom it was written.
2 Timothy 3:16 " All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness."
9.) This letter is addressed to 7 churches in John's day, yet the book is full of revelation dealing with mainly end-time events.
It is inconceivable that God's primary concern would be to fill in those early day Christians on events which they would not live to face.
10.) This book is prophecy. Rev. 1:3--This means that the book contains things written concerning future times and that includes these 7 churches, because they are part of the prophecy of this book.
11.) Rev. 22:16, " In the churches " not in the 7 churches of Asia. What churches? All the churches.
12.) Each of the 7 messages contain the phrases--" He that hath an ear, hear what the Spirit saith to the churches " and " He that overcometh. "
We find that these are both timeless categories of people. It's not just the first century; it's the whole church down through the ages. " He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches " is used by Jesus 7 times in Matt., Mark, and Luke and we know that these books apply to saints of all ages.
13.) Rev. 1:19,20 proves conclusively that these 7 churches are churches which reach down in time, for the things which are and shall be hereafter, are the 7 churches.
1. The things which he sees in the vision. 2. The things which are-present tense. 3. The things which shall be here-after.
The semicolon shows that in the next verse he's going to describe "These things which are, and things which shall be hereafter ". Now what is that? Lets look at it. Verse 20 "The things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter " = the 7 stars and the 7 candlesticks. And then he goes on to say that these 7 candlesticks are lampstands and are the 7 churches. So verse 19 "Things which are, and things which are to come = verse 20 the 7 stars and the 7 candlesticks. 7 candlesticks = lampstands = 7 churches (which are, and which shall be hereafter). So this shows grammatically that these 7 churches are things which are, and things which shall be hereafter. The 2 verses are tied together.
14.) Rev. 1:20 speaks of the mystery of the 7 stars and candlesticks and tells us that these 7 mysterious candlesticks are the 7 churches.
If these messages in chapters 2 & 3 to the churches are only to be taken at face value, then what is the mystery?
There's a mystery involved in these 7 churches and there has to be more to it--is what the language is telling us. A mystery in Greek is "musterion" which refers to more than just something unknown. It refers to a sacred secret known only to those who are initiated into it. The false pagan religions of that day had there own foolish debauched mysteries. They called them mystery religions. They would go into secret places and go through mysterious secret rites which only the initiates know--that's foolishness to God. But God has his own glorious sacred mysteries and this is one of them.
15.) We saw earlier that there were 7 days in the natural creation.
God took 7 days to complete his work of this physical creation. And we find that the church is God's spiritual creation, (1 Cor. 5:17;Col.1:15). So we find that there is a spiritual creation in the church and God is working to bring us into His likeness through all these church ages. It's really possible that there's a typological parallel between the 7 days of creation in the natural and the 7 ages of the church in the spiritual. And we find that near the end of this period there is a manchild that is perfected into the image of God; and then there are the tribulation martyrs who are perfected through sufferings. So we find that these 7 church ages are symbolic of a completed spiritual process that happens through time.
Chapter Two Of The Book Of Revelation
Revelation 2:1 " 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; "
What applications do they have? The 7 church ages
1.) They have a local application to the people right then and there at the church in Ephesus, symrna, etc...
2.) They have a prophetic application down in time to these 7 different periods in the history of the church.
3.) They have an individual application to each saint who has ever lived then, in between, and now.
These letters here are addressed to the messengers of the 7 churches, but they're not only written to these men in a leadership position, they are also written to HE THAT HATH AN EAR. He wants every Christian to be the one that receives the things written in these letters.
Dates of the 7 church ages: Some of these dates are approximate and some are very clear cut.
A.) Ephesus--30 A.D. (approximately the date of Pentecost) to 161 A.D. or so (the beginning of severe and intense persecution that didn't let up until Constantine gave his edict of toleration, after which the Christians were no longer persecuted).
B.) Smyrna--161 A.D. the beginning of severe persecution under Marcus Arilius' reign as emperor to 313 A.D. Constantine's edict of toleration.
C.) Pergamos--313 A.D. Edict of toleration to 606 A.D. when the Roman papacy was firmly entrenched as the leader of the church.
D.) Thyatira--606 A.D. to 1517 A.D. This is the time of the full power of the Papacy-- the midnight hour for the church when it was in the grossest period of darkness. 1517 A. D. was the date when Martin Luther tacked up his thesis on the door of the church in Whitenburg, which was the marked beginning of the Reformation.
E.) Sardis--1517 A.D. to 1900 A.D. This is the period of the Reformation until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the USA.
F.) Philadelphia--1900 A. D. until the blessed hope, the Rapture. This encompasses the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the perfection of the church and the body of Christ coming to the unity of the Spirit and the unity of the faith and then the Rapture.
G.) Laodicea-- The Rapture to just before the 6th seal (which is when the last of the tribulation martyrs are killed) Rev. 6:9-11. This is a period of 3 ½ years or 42 months. So it is from the out-translation of the manchild (Rev. 12:5) until the resurrection of the 2 witnesses, the martyrs of the tribulation.
The Laodicea, you might say, actually overlaps Philadelphia and starts earlier because that tendency of lukewarmness is already in the church.
3 main elements in each message that He gives
1.) Jesus reveals that He knows them completely and has a thorough knowledge of them and their state, where they've been and what they've become and what they are like. He knows what our condition is and He shows this in His clear vision through these eyes that are like a flame of fire (Chapter 1:14). He shows that He has full knowledge of our hearts and that we can't hide from the all seeing eye. And also He shows through this that He gives us a reward based on a full knowledge of us. He's totally accurate of what He does and how He judges every man.
2.) The 2nd part of each message is a prophetic announcement or admonition. And in this prophetic announcement or admonition is revealed first: the condition of the church and Jesus' discernment and judgment of that condition. Secondly: He always reveals what must be done. What the church must do in light of the condition that they find themselves in. He shows almost every time that repentance is necessary to get where God wants his people to be and, that steps must be taken to remedy the situation and the different areas of darkness and deception that they had fallen into. Thirdly: is entertained w/ the whole, is a spiritual lesson for us today.
3.) The 3rd part of each message is the promise of reward.