The Letters to the Seven Churches
Do they have any prophetic significance?
Church at Ephesus
The church at Ephesus is representative of the apostolic period from 30 A.D. to 95 A.D., when the Church was concerned about organization and doctrine to the point that it became legalistic.
Church at Smyrna
The church at Smyrna represents the persecuted church or the martyr church that existed from 95 A.D. to about 312 A.D. It’s the Church that existed at the time that the book of Revelation was written.
Church at Pergamum
Then we have the liberal church of Pergamum representing the apostate church that existed from 312 to 590. This period developed after the Emperor Constantine was converted and the Church and the state were welded together. As is always the case in such unions, the state began to corrupt the Church.
Church at Thyatira
The church at Thyatira represents the dark, pagan period from 590 to 1517 when the papacy developed and the Church became full of Babylonian occultic practices. When we come to the Reformation in 1517, we think of it as a time of life. But it was only partially so. The Reformation produced the Protestant state churches of Europe — churches that had a reputation for being alive but were really dead because of their union with the state.
Church at Sardis
So the church of Sardis, the dead church, with the reputation for being alive, represents the post-Reformation period from 1517 to about 1750.
Church at Philadelphia
The opposite of Sardis is the church at Philadelphia, the alive church. It represents the period of church history from about 1750, when the Church began to send missionaries out all over the world, until about 1925, when the German School of Higher Criticism invaded seminaries worldwide and destroyed many people’s faith in the Word of God. As a result, people began to look upon the Bible, not as the revealed Word of God, but as man’s search for God, and therefore they decided it was full of myth, legend and superstition.
Church at Laodicea — The Contemporary Church
The Church of today is represented by the church of Laodicea, a church that says to the world, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (3:17). But Jesus says to that church, “You are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (3:17). It is a worldly, apathetic, apostate church that will not even let Jesus in the front door (3:20).
The best summary of these letters I have ever encountered is the one penned by John Stott in his book, Basic Christianity. He sees the message of Jesus as threefold in nature. To a sinful Church, He is saying, “I know of your sin, repent!” To a doubtful Church, He is saying, “I know of your doubt, believe!” To a fearful Church, He is saying, “I know of your fear, endure.” Repent, believe, and endure — that’s a very relevant message for the Church today.