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The Seven Churches of Revelation – Part Two – By Ed Wood

The Church at Thyatira

Revelation {2:18-29} 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; 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. 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. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 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. 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. But that which ye have [already] hold fast till I come. And 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. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

The next church, represented by the ancient one of Thyatira, was the one which came to exist as a direct result of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. By the end of the Fourth Century, it was ironically the dominant faith in the Roman Empire, which had once done its worst to eradicate it. Over the course of time it split into eastern and western factions, namely the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches which still exist today.

Jesus praised the original church at Thyatira and by inference, its present incarnation in the two churches mentioned above, for its “works, and charity, and service, and faith,” patience, and thy works; and the last [to be] more than the first.” Clearly both have excelled at both in spreading the word across the globe, stepping in to aid in charitable ways, and persisting in these efforts across the centuries, right up until the present time.

But along with commendation there is condemnation, namely its association with “Jezebel.” As is the case with apocalyptic writings, our task is to try to determine the meaning of its symbolic references. In this case, it would seem that a strong case could be made that this is a reference to the wife of Ahab, king of Israel circa 919 – 897 B.C. According the account in 1 Kings, Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of Tyre and an ardent worshiper of the pagan god Baal. Ahab was very accommodating to his wife’s idolatrous worship and promoted its practice in his kingdom and in the persecution of God’s prophets such as the most prominent of that time, Elijah.

Though neither the Roman Catholic nor Orthodox Churches promote “Baal worship” both have unfortunately incorporated into their beliefs the practice of praying to Mary, the mother of Jesus and other assorted saints. In the Roman Catholic Church the term “saints” has evolved from the biblical meaning which applies it to all believers to someone in whose name a miracle has been accomplished due to prayers made to them. It is hard to imagine how everyone who is familiar with the First and Second Commandments can in good conscience accept a practice of praying to anyone other than God or enlisting the aid of any “intercessor” other than Jesus Christ himself when the Bible is quite clear on both of these matters:

Exodus {20:1-5} And God spake all these words, saying, I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.

1 Timothy {2:5} For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

A simple question I’ve always had is: Since we already have access to God through his Son, why would we need a “second stringer?” I’ve never gotten an answer from anyone who endorses this practice.

Another form of idolatry is the concept of church tradition being put on an equal or even superior basis as Scripture because here we have the exact situation experienced by Peter and the apostles shortly after the birth of the church:

Acts {5:28-29} Did not we* straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the [other] apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. *Members of the Sanhedrin are speaking here.

In this case the Jewish religious authorities were arrogating to themselves the “final word,” when that actually belongs to God alone.

Church “tradition” across denominations has too often darkened its history with such excesses as the Inquisitions, anti-Semitism, the condoning of slavery and racism, making a mockery of what Jesus actually taught.

The message from Jesus to the church of Thyatira, and, we may assume its future representatives, does indicate that its members which do not subscribe to these serious errors but regard Scripture, “rather than men,” to be the ultimate authority regarding doctrine, will be duly rewarded in the life to come, being part of Jesus’ government on Earth when he returns.

To be fair, by virtue of their being so many diverse versions of the Christian Church today, it is probably fair to say most of them have doctrinal problems, except the Church of Smyrna which we explored in the last article and has since disappeared into history and the Church of Philadelphia, along with its present incarnation, which we will examine a little later. Both of them received only praise from Jesus.

Before we move on, it is important to mention that we have arrived at a significant point in our exploration. Remember that in the last article it was mentioned that the first three churches have disappeared into the past? Let’s take a moment to look at how the message to each of them concluded:

For Ephesus:

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

For Smyrna:

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.

For Pergamos

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.]     

Contrast this passage in the conclusion of the message to the church at Thyatira:

But that which ye have [already] hold fast till I come.

In this case the indication is that this church will still exist in some form – at the time Jesus returns! As we look at the remaining three addressed in Revelation, we see the same indications. This may yet be one more sign that his return may be very soon indeed. That being said, let’s continue with our next church.

The Church at Sardis

Revelation {3:1-6} 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 is just one example of an unexpected return of Jesus (only for his followers, in this case) in complete contrast to the time when it is unmistakable to the whole world (Revelation 19:11-16). In order for both accounts to be true, they must be referring to two different events.

This is thought to represent the churches broke away from the Roman Church as it existed during the Reformation. Its most prominent feature is that it emphasized the doctrine of salvation through grace, not works and was likewise critical of what was considered corruption and other doctrinal errors of the Roman Catholic Church.

However, when reading the passage concerning it, it appears that though it might have started out on the right path, it quickly lost its way and was therefore admonished to “strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die.” Could this be reflective of the manner in which the majority of the Protestant denominations today have embraced biblically contrary doctrines such as the acceptance of active homosexual behavior, a denial that Jesus himself as being the only way of salvation, a rejection of his physical resurrection and the reality of a literal afterlife at all, and refusal to believe in his return to this planet to establish his everlasting Kingdom?

Verse 3b of this chapter also clearly indicates that most of this church won’t be ready for the Lord’s return. In other words, it will be just as big a surprise to it as to the non-Christian world alike because there is scant attention given to Bible Prophecy in most of the church today, regardless of denomination. But all is not lost because there is the hopeful mention of those who “have not defiled their garments” by accepting the “doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1) and will one day literally walk with Jesus in his kingdom to come.

 

The Church at Philadelphia

 Revelation {3:7-13} 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. 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.** Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 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***. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. * Perhaps this means that As David was a conquering king over his adversaries, so Jesus is likewise over his. Of course, we are clearly not yet at the point where the results of his victory is fully realized, any more than David’s were immediate in his age, but the Bible teaches that one day they will be (Revelation, chapters 21 & 22).

** The indication here is that this church will be here on Earth in the present time and will be removed from the “hour of temptation (trial),” a good interpretation meaning the rapture, after which the Tribulation years will begin.”

*** Just as the false prophet will lead people to be marked with the name of the beast (antichrist), so God will cause his own to be marked as described above. Revelation 14:1 shows a partial fulfillment of this as regards to Israel.

As with the church as Smyrna, Jesus has only praise for the one at Philadelphia. In this case, it does not represent any single denomination but is comprised of all believers no matter which one (or even none at all) to which they belong. I suppose it would be safe to say that in many churches these days they adhere to the authority of Scriptural teachings in spite of what’s being preached in their pulpits. Why they choose to remain in some of them rather than leave is complex. Some, no doubt, stay in the hopes of changing them and getting them back on course. Others stay because they’ve gone to the same parish all their lives and don’t want to be uprooted. It’s probably safe to say the former are “Philadelphians” because having the courage of one’s convictions and bucking the tide is not an easy thing. As for the latter, the quality of their faith and is only something that God can decide.

Now it does not mean these individuals are perfect when it comes to doctrine because all of us are subject to what Paul said so well due to our human limitations:

1 Corinthians {13:11-12} When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

What is does say is that to the best of his or her ability, each defends the faith using the Bible as the standard, regardless of the opposition or immediate consequences. As far as the Western world is concerned, this church is sadly losing ground in the Western world, something Jesus no doubt saw coming 2000 years ago:

From the passage above we have:

Revelation 3:8 . . . . for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word . . .

And from Luke 18:8, Jesus said: Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

This is certainly not reflective of the quality of faith of its constituents. If anything, persecution, whether it be comparatively mild as in the U.S. (so far, at any rate!) or openly violent as in the recent cases of Muslim attacks on the Copts in Egypt, it has only served to strengthen their resolve to stand by their faith.

Smyrna and Philadelphia represents the church at its best. Now it’s time to look at it at its worst!

The Church at Laodicea

Revelation {3:14-22} 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; 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: 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. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 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. 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.* He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

* Again, this is suggestive of this church being around in the present and those who do not follow its error will be saved.

It is probably no accident that the Laodicean Church shows up last, because this is indeed the state of affairs we increasingly have today. Jesus has nothing to commend in this one. We can look at it as being comprised of what I call “Comfortable Christians.” They show up each week, listen to latest non-judgmental the humanistic doctrine which pretty much teaches “anything goes.” Here’s an example from Pew Research (May 12, 2015) regarding the acceptance of homosexual behavior:

Denomination                                 Year 2007                             Year 2015

Roman Catholic                                    58%                                       70%

Mainline Protestants                             56%                                       66%

Orthodox Christian                               48%                                        62%

All Christians                                        44%                                        54%

Historically Black Protestants               39%                                        51%

Evangelical Protestants                       28%                                        36%

Mormon                                                24%                                       36%

Jehovah’s Witnesses                           12%                                        16%

If this one example of biblical doctrine being rejected in the church is representative of an overall erosion of the following scriptural precepts in today’s church, it is affecting all of them. Interestingly, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite their other serious doctrinal errors, are doing better in this particular case than all the rest of them.

As a former life-long member of the Episcopal Church, I’ve personally seen this denomination fall apart doctrinally. Though the decline was decades in coming, in 2003 its decline into error became most evident as its triennial convention gave its assent to ordaining an open homosexual to the office of bishop. Now actively homosexual clergy people are no longer the uncommon. In the case of TEC, this was just the beginning of its descent into apostasy.

Former presiding bishop Kathryn Schori preached a “mother Jesus,” pluralistic salvation” (meaning that Jesus is not the only way to salvation (TIME Magazine, July 10, 2006), and that “confessional Christianity,” (i.e. that an individual can be saved by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior) was a “great Western heresy” (opening remarks to TEC’s 76th Convention in July 2009). In the case of the Episcopal Church, there has been a ruthlessness exercised in any member parish not willing to “roll over” for these errors – the loss of its funds and property under the Dennis Canon which states that the church buildings and funds are only held in trust for their respective dioceses, not owned by their members. How this unjust principle ever got ratified into canon law seems positively devilish. The sad part about all this is that TEC is not unique because such heresy would find a welcome in most of the major protestant churches in Europe and North America.

Perhaps the biggest reason heresy has been so easy to foist on members of these denominations is that “Comfortable Christians” are also “lazy Christians” who never bothered to pick up their Bibles and read for themselves.

If one doesn’t know the truth, how can one possibly reject the lie?

Concluding Thoughts

From the best to the worst, the churches of Revelation present the whole spectrum. It seems fairly obvious where we must be in history based on where the church is now and where it is increasingly headed. I’ve personally watched the death spiral of the Episcopal Church from the inside and must admit I was amazed not only at the magnitude of its descent but the speed at which it occurred. I’ve watched many of the other Protestant denominations on the very same trajectory. If allowed to continue unabated, how long would it take before the percentages above top out at 100%? Based on the aforementioned acceleration into acceptance of the “doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:2), it indicates that it will not be allowed to continue much longer.

For we who believe, this is just one more sign for us along with so many others that the time of our redemption must be very, very, near!

It has never been more vital than right now to keep looking up!


1 Comment

  1. perhapstoday1@comcast.net says:

    Strong. I learned from it. Scott

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