In Revelation chapters two and three, Saint John the Apostle of Jesus is writing in exile on the Isle of Patmos, Greece. From his time in an open-air prison, with the angels being John’s source of inspiration came the Book of Revelation. Revelation as a book in Scripture is considered alluring, symbolic, allegorical, eschatological, futuristic, bewildering, and confusing all wrapped up into one.
One thing throughout the ages that has remained a constant is the fact many serious Biblical scholars disagree on the topics addressed and what they mean in its twenty-two chapters. Conformity of thinking is not the norm across the Christian world, especially in its symbolism. Even its very name is a source of contention in different denominations. Some call it the Book of Revelation, others call it the Apocalypse, while others call it The Revelation to John. But all of it is not a mystery. Certain things are abundantly clear. As Mark Twain once said about the Bible, “It’s not the parts of Scripture I don’t understand that bother me, it’s about the parts I do understand.”
The angel tells St. John, “Now write what you see; what is and what is to take place -hereafter. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand; and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven lampstands” (Rev. 1:9-10).
Revelation chapter two begins where the angel reveals to John what the future churches of the world will look like in characteristics and attributes through the ages, henceforth to our modern era. There are a total of seven churches addressed by city. They are: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
If one were to look at this another way, each city has a “spirit” that more or less defines it. When one thinks of New Orleans they may think of a carnal Mardi Gras bursting with flesh and exotic cuisine in a large port city, New York City as a liberal financial center, Washington, D.C. as a political power, Los Angeles and San Francisco as lust and sex capitals, some town in the Midwest still called Mayberry, and so forth.
To each of the Seven Churches in Revelation Our Lord has something amazingly positive about every one, and in six of the seven churches He has something negative to say. The angel dictates:
To the Church of Ephesus “You have been patient and bearing for my name’s sake…but you have left your first love.”
To Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty…do not fear what you are about to suffer… you are a synagogue of Satan…the devil is about to throw some of you into prison…He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.”
The message to Pergamum, “But I have a few things against you, you have some there who hold the teachings of Balaam…Repent then…To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna…”
To Thyatira, “I know your work, your love, your faith, service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first…But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality…”
To Sardis, “I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake and strengthen what remains…for I have not found your works perfect…He who conquers shall be clad in white garments…”
To Philadelphia, “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, and shuts and no one opens… and learn that I have loved you…I will keep you from the hour of trail which is coming on the whole world…” The angel has nothing against the church that loves until the end. There is nothing negative said about this church. It has endured the trials and maintained fidelity.
To Laodicea, “I know your works: you are neither hot nor cold…you are lukewarm… I will spew you out of my mouth…For you say I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing….For those I love, I reprove and chasten so be zealous and repent…”
Each of those brief statements above have a much longer narrative in chapters two and three. Several things are clear. All churches have their tribulations. All the churches fall short in some capacity except the church of Philadelphia, as it is the sole church that endures to the end loving God. They do not succumb to the wiles, whims, and false doctrine of the day where their ears are being tickled by the fancy of the age. Each church in the age has their challenges, but an encouraging word is always given to those that do not falter.
These churches have contemporaneous spirits throughout history. There has always been child sacrifice, suffering, the worship and pursuit of pleasure and wealth in its many forms, witchcraft, drugs/stimulants, immorality, loss of faith, the pursuit of the new abandoning and the old, false mysticism, the occult, deceivers, a sterile intellectualism, and those identical to the Seven Churches. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Yet, over the centuries God raises up His saints — the overcomers. Saints Vincent Ferrer who worked thousands of miracles, Faustina, Anthony of Padua, Dominic, Francis, Clare, Pio, Teresa, Therese, and a litany of others to combat the false doctrine of the age. God raises up His own to combat the evil of the age.
When one looks at the confusion of today, do we really see anything that has not been seen before? Revelation was written two thousand years ago and it is as relevant today as it was then. Human nature remains a constant. There is a theme that is consistent in all of the messages to the Seven Churches above. First, it is imperative to remain steadfast to the end in spite of obstacles. Second, the remnant must remain faithful to obtain the eternal prize. Three, the devil is always active and is out to destroy heaven’s plan for mankind as the evil one’s agenda is to kill, destroy, and steal (John 10:10).
As King Solomon said one thousand years before Saint John was penning his letter on Patmos, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Jesus assures us the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. Every generation has its trials, and as we are already in a de facto schism, we must endure as those before us did.
JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU