Introduction to the Book of the Revelation

The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is one of the most fascinating and yet misunderstood books in the Bible. It contains vivid, frightening, yet awe-inspiring visions of the completion of God’s plan for mankind and the end of time itself. This post will be the first in a new series, the purpose of which is to explain various themes in the book and provide deep insights.

Revelation chapters 2-3: the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor

In Bible prophecy, it was common for the prophets to see visions which had a double meaning: one meaning for the time they lived in, and one meaning for the future which had not been fulfilled. On a first reading of chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, Apostle John is given instructions from the Lord Jesus Christ to write to the angels of the churches in Asia Minor (Modern-day Turkey).

7 Churches of Asia Minor

These letters contained words of encouragement, chastisement, commendation and calls to repentance. However, I believe that the letters had a second meaning; the seven angels of the churches represented the seven church ages ranging from the first church which started after Pentecost to the current end-times church. While I admit that some of the issues mentioned could apply to the church in any period, I believe that there are also some key themes which fit specific historical segments of time. I also think it is possible that the church ages overlap with each other so that some of them start before the previous age fully ends.

Structural issues

Each letter to a church began by stating who the letter was addressed to and giving a description of Jesus Christ.

As you can see all the letters to the each church contained warnings. Ephesus was warned about the danger of diminishing love, Smynra about the danger of fearing suffering and death, Pergamos about the danger of false doctrines, Thyatira about sexual immorality and idolatry, Sardis about the danger of being spiritually asleep, Philadelphia about the danger of spiritual weakness, Laodicea about the danger of lukewarm faith.

With each letter, Jesus states the rewards that will be given to those who overcome. These are:

  1. Eating the fruit of the Tree of Life,
  2. Not being hurt by the second death,
  3. Eating the hidden manna and being given a white stone with a new name on it,
  4. Being given power over the nations, ruling with Christ and being given the morning star,
  5. Being clothed in white clothes, not having their name blot out of the book of life and  having their name confessed by Jesus Christ before His Father, and before His angels,
  6. Being made a pillar in the temple of God and having the name of God, of New Jerusalem and of Jesus written on them, and
  7. Sitting on Jesus’ throne.

All the letters also end with the phrase “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”.

The Church in Ephesus

The first letter, which is to the church of Ephesus, is written in Revelation 2: 1-7. It states:

“2 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; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy 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 candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”

Pentecost
Baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

I believe that this is a reference to the first Church age (the age of the Apostles) which lasted from approximately 30-100 AD. Jesus’ disciples and eye-witness followers were still alive during this time period. The mention of false apostles in verse 2 is talking about the false church leaders who were rampant in this period and were denounced many times in the New Testament (for an example see Jude 1:4). I believe that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans was to eat food that was offered to idols because the name Nicolaitan may derive from the Greek word nicolah which means “let us eat“. The Nicolatians are mentioned again in Revelation 2:14-15 in the letter to angel of the church in Pergamos. For more on the Nicolaitans see here.

The Church in Smyrna

The second letter, which is to the church of Smyrna, is written in Revelation 2: 8 – 11. It states:

“8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”

Roman persecution
Roman persecution of christians

This church age represented the persecuted church who were persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire. This period lasted from 64 – 313 AD, i.e from the start of the persecution by Emperor Nero to the Edict of Milan, signed by Emperor Constantine, which ended it. Jesus promises to give those who die for his sake a crown of life.

The Church in Pergamos

The third letter, which is to the church of Pergamos (or Pergamon), is written in Revelation 2: 12-17. It states:

“12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; 13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. 14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. 15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. 16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; 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.”

Great Altar of pergamon
The Great Altar of Pergamon reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin

This church age represented the compromising church. The church compromised because after the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire, the church started to blend the pagan practices of Rome with church doctrine. Pergamos is called Satan’s seat because it was the location of a temple dedicated to the Greek god Zeus  This age lasted from around 380-600 AD.

The Church in Thyatira

The fourth letter, which is to the church of Thyatira, is written in Revelation 2: 18-29. It states:

“18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; 19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. 20 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. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. 24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. 25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. 26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27 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. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

Jezebel death
Queen Jezebel suffered a sudden and violent death. Will the same fate befall the Church in Thyatira?

This church age was the corrupt papal church which lasted from 590-1517 AD. At this point in history, the church was full of idolatrous practices and immorality. The church worshiped Mary as the “queen of heaven” (which is the title Semiramis, the wife of Nimrod, used – I will make a post about this later), prayed to saints and angels, practiced indulgence etc. The mention of Jezebel is likely a metaphor of Queen Jezebel from the Old Testament (see The First Book of the Kings) who led Israel into committing Idolatry and sexual immorality. This church age is often informally known as the Dark Ages. Jesus promises to give those who overcome power over the nations and verse 27 is a reference to Psalms 2:9, a verse talking about Jesus ruling from New Jerusalem in the Millennial Reign and destroying every enemy resisting Him. Verse 28 may mean that Jesus will give himself to His church seeing that He Himself is the Bright and Morning Star (as Revelation 22:16 tells us).

The Church in Sardis

The fifth letter, which is to the church of Sardis, is written in Revelation 3: 1-6. It states:

“3 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. 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. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

This church age represented the age of the reformation in which the protestant church emerged from the catholic church. This age lasted from 1517-1648 AD. The reformation was started in 1517 by the theologian Martin Luther and is said to have ended in 1648 when the Peace of Westphalia Treaties, which ended the religious wars in Europe, was signed.

The Church in Philadelphia

The sixth letter, which is to the church of Philadelphia, is written in Revelation 3: 7-13. It states:

“7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. 10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 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. 13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

David Livingstone Africa
David Livingstone – A Missionary in Africa

This church age was that of the Christian missionary which started from around 1648 till the present day. During this time period, the European state powers began to discover “new worlds” and this allowed christian missionaries to take the Gospel to new continents and spread the Good News. Verse 10 may be a reference to the coming great tribulation which Jesus is promising to spare this age’s true Christians from, i.e a pre-tribulation rapture.

The Church of the Loadiceans

The seventh letter, which is to the church of the Loadiceans, is written in Revelation 3: 14-22. It states:

“14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 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. 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. 22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

Prosperity Gospel
The prosperity gospel is dangerous

This church age is the apostate church which lasted from around 1950 AD to the present. The age of empires ended after World War 2 as the world’s superpowers concentrated on rebuilding their war ravaged home-fronts. As these countries’ economies started to grow in the decades after the devastating world wars, their populace started to become rich and gradually began to abandon Christ. The age of science convinced many that they did not need God in their lives and the spread of televisions gave rise to many famous televangelists, most of whom were false prophets who amassed great wealth for themselves. Also, the new age belief system and atheism became popular in this period. Verse 20 may be a reference to the rapture being at hand, Jesus stands at the door ready to come in to the world to take those who hear his voice with him and sup with him. I think “sup with him” is a reference to the marriage ceremony of the Bride (the church) and the Lamb (Jesus Christ)

Conclusion

We are living in the final age of the church: the era of the Loadiceans. Jesus is standing at the door knocking, ready to have fellowship with us. I pray that we will let Him in.

God bless you.

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