Vol: 167 Issue: 18 Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The Book of the Revelation is divided into several sections. Chapters 1-3 cover the first section, the message from the Lord to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.
As we’ve discussed in previous briefs, each of the seven churches was a literal church that existed during the first century. They were real churches with real problems. The letters to the seven churches addressed the most egregious problems facing each of these embryonic churches.
But, as they say, “hindsight is 20/20” and using the benefit of hindsight, scholars have determined that each of the seven churches in Asia Minor is also representative of various epochs within this present dispensation, or the Church Age.
When you get right down to it, it is both fitting and logical that the letters to the seven churches would be prophetic. The Book’s formal name is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John” but its short name is from the Greek “apocalyptos” which means ‘unveiling’ or ‘revelation’.
All three of those words can be used interchangeably with ‘prophecy’ – which also means unveiling, revelation or, simply the speaking of God’s Word.
The first church addressed by Christ is the Church at Ephesus:
“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. . .”
Let’s stop here for a second. Notice first to whom each letter is addressed. It is not addressed to the church – it is addressed to the ‘angel’ of the particular church in question. Does that mean that there was a guardian angel assigned to each of the seven churches?
It might – the Scriptures aren’t specific enough for me to be dogmatic on the issue of guardian angels. Daniel does say that Michael is Israel’s assigned guardian angel.
But there is nothing so specific concerning the Church. In any case, the Church is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. So there are two senses of understanding here.
In the first sense of understanding, there were seven literal, existing, flesh-and-blood 1st century churches to whom the Lord was speaking.
In the second sense of understanding, there is a corresponding epoch, or period of time within the overall Church Age whose characteristics are represented by one of these seven churches.
That the ‘angel’ in this instance refers to a ‘messenger’ rather than to a celestial angel, is supported by the fact that it is followed by a message addressed to that church. The message is addressed to those within each Church Epoch charged by Christ with its delivery.
“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers, For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Just as in the 1st Century, when all seven churches co-existed in the same time periods, the characteristics of each continued down through history.
The Epochs of the Church reflect the general characteristics of overall Christendom at various points in history – it doesn’t mean all Christians of the Middle Ages were of the Church of Sardis, for example.
The Church at Ephesus corresponds to the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of the 1st century, or Apostolic Epoch. But the 1st Century Church continues to exist – indeed, it is resurging, of all places, on the internet.
The main characteristic of the 1st Century Church is that its Founder was Jesus Christ. Its doctrine was purely apostolic and its churches were organized according to the framework outlined by the Pauline Letters to the Churches.
The 1st Century Church was non-denominational, obtained its doctrine from the Apostles and claimed salvation by grace through faith. The 1st Century Church was commended by Christ for its patience, but condemned for its lapses into legalism.
“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6)
It is from the Nicolaitanes that we get our concept of ‘laity’ and ‘priests’. Jesus taught His disciples to be humble and lowly, saying the last shall be first and the first last, washing their feet by example.
The Nicolaitanes were big on titles and robes and all the trappings of clergy and the attendant power enjoyed by the Jewish Pharisees. They introduced that concept into the church — in defiance of Jesus’ clear teaching that all Christians are both priests and saints.
There are 1st Century Christians within this present church epoch – a non-denominational Bible church is a 1st century church. (In terms of organization and doctrine, the Omega Letter Fellowship is a 1st century ‘church’.)
The Church at Smyrna reflected the overall characteristics of the Body of Christ from the end of the Apostolic period until the time of Constantine in the early 4th century.
Smyrna was the ‘persecuted’ Church that suffered under the Ceasars. There have been persecuted and suffering churches throughout Church history, but during the Smyrna Epoch, persecution, suffering and martyrdom were the main characteristics.
The Church at Pergamos was reflective of the period from Constantine until the beginning of the sixth century, which corresponds with the Church at Thyatira.
Thyartira marked the beginning of the Dark Ages and corresponds with both the suppression of the Bible by the Vatican and the birth of Islam in 622 AD.
The Dark Ages of Thyatira witnessed the rise of Islam, the Papal Crusades against Islam, Islam’s wars against the Christian world all the way to the Reformation, which roughly coincided with the birth of the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1617.
The Epoch of Sardis begins at roughly this time, and is historically parallel with the European Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation gave rise to the Epoch of Philadelphia, the “Missionary Church” and the only Church for which the Lord had no words of condemnation.
The Church of Philadelphia Epoch began around the middle of the 18th century. It corresponded historically with the Great Global Christian Revival, the overspreading of the globe with the Gospel, from the founding of the United States in 1776 to the first years of the 20th century.
The seventh and final church Epoch began sometime in the early 20th century – the Laodicean Church.
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth. 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 . . .” (Revelation 3:15-17)
The Church at Philadelphia was unique in that the Lord offered it no word of condemnation. The Church at Laodicea was unique in that the Lord offered it no word of praise.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (Revelation 3:22)
“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” (Revelation 4:1)
For all of the past three chapters, John has been in the presence of Jesus, walking amidst the golden candlesticks, but John wasn’t in heaven. He was in exile on the isle of Patmos.
“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
“Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:9-11)
John is on Patmos, off the coast of Greece, on Planet Earth. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, heard a voice and turned. Still on Patmos, Greece, Planet Earth. John takes dictation and writes out the seven letters to the seven churches located in various corners of Asia Minor, Planet Earth.
When Jesus finishes dictating, He concludes His letters: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Look at the Big Picture with me as it stands at this moment.
Jesus has finished His revelation to the churches of Asia Minor and to the Epochs of the Church from the days of the Apostles to the days of the Televangelists.
Jesus says, “Pay close attention here . . .” and WHAM – in the very next verse, John is whisked into heaven.
There are several other things I want you to be sure to notice. The first is the presence of the trumpet. John was in the Spirit in the Lord’s Day and the Lord came to John, accompanied by the sound of a trumpet.
The second is that when the Lord was finished dealing the the earthly Church, John hears another trumpet, and he is whisked away into Heaven.
Paul writes of the believer’s resurrection, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1st Corinthians 15:52)
The third is that John heard the call, “Come up hither” and Revelation 4:2 says, “And immediately I was in the Spirit.”
Fourth, note that John was already ‘in the spirit in the Lord’s day’ on the Isle of Patmos, Greece, Planet Earth at the time when he received his vision for the seven churches.
John is now literally ‘in the spirit’ and present in heaven, where he remains for the remainder of the revelation.
Finally, notice that when John is called, it is to “shew thee these things which must be hereafter.” (4:1)
The Voice from Heaven tells John these things MUST be ‘hereafter’. ‘Hereafter’ what? The answer is obvious. It means after what just came before.
And so. . . . what just came before? The Seven Epochs of the Church Age. What follows Revelation 4:2 when John finds himself translated into heaven?
First is the worship of the Lamb of God as the One worthy to open the seals of judgment. Then comes the actual opening of the first seal.
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
“And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:1-2)
Bible scholarship is more or less unanimous on the identity of the rider on the white horse as the antichrist. The opening of the 1st seal begins the series of twenty-one judgments that are pronounced against a Christ-rejecting world.
Now let’s summarize:
- Jesus outlines in detail the future history of the Church Age, divided into seven epochs and concluding with a description of Laodicea that is a mirror-image of 21st century mainstream Christianity.
- Jesus concludes with an admonition to ‘listen up’ to hear the spiritual message behind His words.
- John hears a trumpet, hears a voice saying ‘come up hither’ and says he is now literally ‘in the Spirit’ but instead of merely ‘in the Lord’s Day’ as before, now he is “in the Spirit” but present in heaven.
- It is not until AFTER John arrives in Heaven that the first seal is broken, allowing the judgment of antichrist.
- Make no mistake about it. The antichrist is a judgment on all those that rejected Christ. Paul says he is a “strong delusion” that the world will embrace because ‘they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.”
The antichrist is the first seal judgment specifically pronounced as a judgment against those who rejected Christ. Jesus was speaking of the rider on the white horse when He said,
“I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” (John 5:43)
The judgments of the Tribulation are ALL for the purpose of judging a Christ-rejecting world, beginning with the first seal. According to the prophet Daniel, that first seal is broken with the restoration of Temple sacrifice and worship.
Daniel says it isn’t until three and a half years AFTER the restoration of Temple sacrifice and worship that the antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel.
The Third Temple is as sacred as the Second or the First, according to Jesus Christ, Who ought to know. He calls the antichrist’s desecration of the Temple “the abomination of desolation”.
It could only be an abomination if the Temple were sacred and it could only be made desolate by being desecrated.
During the Church Age, I am the Temple of God. Not a building.
Do you see the chronological flow? Now, interrupt it and see what happens. There is a sudden, loud and discordant clang when one tries to change the order of operation.
First the redemption, then the Church Age, then the conclusion of the Church Age, then the open door in heaven, then the celebration of the Lamb and then the breaking of the first seal.
And THEN the antichrist, the restored Temple, the resumption of Temple worship, the interruption of Temple worship, the persecution of Christians and Jews, Mark of the Beast, etc., etc.
Change the order and it changes the logic of what came before and what is to come ‘hereafter’. And hereafter comes just after we hear a trumpet and a voice saying, “come up hither.”
If hereafter doesn’t mean, ‘after Laodicea’, then ‘hereafter’ can’t really mean anything at all.
Originally Published: September 10, 2009
Featured Commentary: Pitch Perfect ~ Wendy Wippel