Some believe, myself included, that the descriptions of the churches are prophetic of seven distinct periods in church history. Along with historical context and prophetic hints, I believe the seven churches also give us an insight to every church. I believe that every church can look at the characteristics of the seven churches, and pinpoint one of them and say, “There we are. This church describes us.” The precise details may not be there, but the general characteristics fit.
Which church is yours? Also, keep in mind – churches are made up of people. Within the general features of a church are the general characteristics of its congregation. Not every piece of brick building is brick, but there is so much brick within the structure, it is considered a brick building.
One last note before looking at the churches individually – Of the seven there were four that Christ mentions some good, some bad; two He has nothing bad to say; and one, well, He had nothing good to say.
• Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. When you read the good about Ephesus, it looks like a dream church, a superstar of churches. They work so hard Jesus complements them twice about their work ethic. The words “works, labour, borne, laboured” are all used to describe how these people will roll up their sleeves and get things done.
God also compliments them on their knowledge of the Bible. They can spot a false doctrine a mile away. In Ephesus, we have a church that are walking scholars and will stop at nothing to get the work of God done. In fact, this church is so good, God has only one item of concern, but that one thing is enough to turn that dream church into a nightmare. They had “lost their first love.”
As Christians we are not to do things because it is our duty, or even because it is the right thing to do. We should do things because we love the Lord, want to please Him, and it is what He desires.
• Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11. Smyrna is one of the two churches in which God has nothing bad to say. They are the persecuted church. Physically the church has suffered at the hands of the authorities and materially they are “poor.” The people of this church also have a knowledge of the scripture, and many of them are in prison because of their faith in Christ. The church of Smyrna has a love for Christ and the Scriptures to go along with an unparalleled faithfulness and commitment to our Lord. I do not know if is possible for any church to compare itself to Smyrna without suffering as she did.
• Pergamos in Revelation 2:12-17. Pergamos is the compromised church. They did not deny the Lord Jesus Christ, but they were tolerant to doctrine contrary to the Bible. They lacked the Biblical knowledge to know false doctrine as Ephesus and Smyrna had.
• Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29. God praises them for their motives. Their heart was in the right place, but they did all the wrong things. This ends justifies the means attitude led to the embracing of false doctrines because the people could no longer discern between good and evil.
• Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6. Sardis was a dying church, little if any life and many folks just going through the motions. The only compliment God can give is that there are a few people remaining that had not denied the faith.
• Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13. Philadelphis is the second church in which God had nothing bad to say. Twice God says they “have kept my word.” Once again, God’s praise comes from the churches knowledge and willingness to follow the Bible. God opened doors for this church to share His gospel with everyone possible.
• Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22. The seventh Church is the one who received no praise from Christ. Spiritually they were “poor, blind, and naked.” They were self-centered instead of Christ-centered. Materially they were “rich … and have need of nothing.” They were the exact opposite of Smyrna. Sadly we find Christ outside the church, knocking on the door wanting to come inside (Revelation 3:20).
Space prohibits me from giving you more than a summary of each church, and I would encourage everyone to read Revelation 2-3 for more details of the seven churches. However, I cannot leave you without a couple of questions. Which type of church is the one to which you belong? Also, which church best describes you as an individual Christian?
Preacher Tim Johnson is pastor of Countryside Baptist Church in Parke County, Ind. Email him at [email protected] and visit preacherjohnson.com.