The Seven Churches
The first chapter of Revelation corresponds to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet—the alef. It literally means a bull, but also signifies “first, primary, or strength.” So in the first chapter of revelation we see Christ presented (in Greek) as “alpha and omega” (Rev. 1:8), which is synonymous with “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17). In this case the emphasis is on the “first,” though it is linked with the “last,” that is, the (Greek) omega and (Hebrew) tav. Jesus is also presented as the “first-born of the dead” (Rev. 1:5).
The first chapter is also linked in this way to the last chapter, which emphasizes the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (tav).
The second chapter of Revelation is the beth chapter. Beth is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It means a house or household. Hence, the church is presented to us as God’s household, or, as Paul would say, “the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
The word translated “church” is from the Greek word, ecclesia, which is the normal word for “church.” It means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.”
The nation of Israel, then, was the first church, and it was called out of Egypt at Passover in order to assemble before God at Sinai to be made into a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). I call it the Passover Church, because Passover was its dominant feature.
The second church was called out of Judaism at Pentecost (Acts 2:1) to assemble before God in the upper room to be made into a kingdom of priests a second time (1 Peter 2:9). I call it the Pentecost Church, because Pentecost was its dominant feature and anointing.
The third church is yet to come. It is the assembly of overcomers who are called out of the Pentecost Church into a greater anointing of the feast of Tabernacles. I call this the Tabernacles Church, because Tabernacles will be its dominant feature in the age to come.
The first and second church partially manifested the Kingdom of God in the earth, but they proved to be inadequate in fulfilling the purpose of God. Yet each was necessary in God’s three-step program, even as all three feasts were necessary to bring a complete revelation. Passover was (and is) necessary to bring justification, but by itself can only impute legal perfection. Pentecost was (and is) necessary to bring sanctification as we learn obedience and experience the law being written on our hearts; yet it is inadequate by itself, for it teaches us obedience as we grow toward the feast of Tabernacles.
To experience God fully, we must hear three calls of God. These three calls are represented also by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-Israel. Abraham is the father of faith (Gal. 3:7) and corresponds to Passover, which extends justification by faith in the blood of the Lamb. Isaac is the one who was dedicated to God as His servant when his father placed him on the altar in Gen. 22:9. Hence, God calls Israel, “My servant” (Isaiah 42:19). Servants learn obedience when led by the Holy Spirit, which is also the main purpose of Pentecost.
Jacob is the classic overcomer, whose name was changed to Israel. When he was transformed from a believer to an overcomer, God gave him a new name that reflected this change. Israel means “God rules,” and the name testified of the sovereignty of God in his life. Because he had this revelation, he was qualified to rule under God. As a mere believer during his earlier life, Jacob had been a deceiver and supplanter (usurper), as his name indicated. He tried to fulfill prophecy by the power of the flesh. It was only when He realized that he was called to bear witness to the works of God that he became an overcomer. Israel is the name given to “Amen” People.
Two Sets of Seven Churches
There were seven churches under the Old Covenant which run parallel to the seven churches under the New Covenant. The seven Old Covenant Churches have been overlooked by Bible teachers, probably because they think of the Church as being only a New Covenant entity. Yet Acts 7:38 speaks of “the church in the wilderness” that was called out of Egypt under Moses.
In John’s day there were seven main churches of Asia that John oversaw from his house outside of Ephesus. Each of these received a message from the Alpha and Omega. Those churches, however, when viewed prophetically, also represented seven successive church ages.
Rick Renner, in his book, A Light in Darkness, Vol. 1, p. 50, sets forth the seven church ages as follows:
1. Ephesus: The Apostolic Age—Pentecost to 170 A.D.
2. Smyrna: The Age of Persecution—170-312 A.D.
3. Pergamum: The Age of False Doctrine—312-606 A.D.
4. Thyatira: The Age of Darkness—606-1520 A.D.
5. Sardis: The Age of Reformation—1520-1750 A.D.
6. Philadelphia: The Age of Missions—1750-1906 A.D.
7. Laodicea: The Age of Apostasy—1906 to the present
My own view is a little different, but overall, our views divide the church eras into similar time periods. I do not know how “The Apostolic Age” could continue to the year 170, when the last apostle died around the year 100. Likewise, history shows that persecutions at the hands of Rome began shortly after the martyrdom of Paul in 67, which is long before the year 170.
Insofar as the time of the seventh church is concerned, Renner seems to identify the “Apostasy” with the Pentecostal outpourings in Wales and in Azusa Street in Los Angeles. I see Laodicea not so much in terms of “Apostasy” as with Captivity. The reason for this is that I compare the New Testament church eras with those of the Old Testament.
In my view, the church eras are as follows:
1. Ephesus: “Desirable” (33-64 A.D.)
2. Smyrna: “Bitter” or “Myrrh” (64-313 A.D.)
3. Pergamum: “Married to Power” (313-529 A.D.)
4. Thyatira: “Castle of the Goddess” (529-1517 A.D.)
5. Sardis: “Precious stone; Remnant” (1517-1776 A.D.)
6. Philadelphia: “Brotherly Love” (1776-1914 A.D.)
7. Laodicea: “Power of the Laity” (1914-1993 A.D.)
These seven churches have presented a progression of prophetic history that is seen in their names. (I will explain this as we proceed in our study of each church.) It is of great help also to compare them to the seven churches under the Old Covenant, for these run directly parallel to the New Covenant churches. By comparing the two corresponding churches, we can see how the same problems inherent in the Old Covenant churches reappeared in their New Covenant church counterparts.
The seven Old Covenant churches are:
1. The Moses Church: Refusal to hear (Exodus 20:18-21)
2. The Korah Church: Rebellion (Numbers 16)
3. The Balaam Church: Misuse of Power (Numbers 22-25, 31)
4. The Jezebel Church: The Persecutor Church (1 Kings 18:13)
5. The Remnant Church: The Persecuted Remnant (1 Kings 19:14-18)
6. The Hezekiah Church: Strength to delay captivity (2 Kings 18-20)
7. The Captivity Church: Prospering in Babylon (Jeremiah 29)
John must have known the connections between the two sets of churches, because he usually linked them with Scriptural references. For example, the third is the Balaam Church under the Old Covenant, which corresponds to the Church in Pergamum. John gives criticism of this church in Rev. 2:14, saying, “you have there some who hold the teachings of Balaam.” In other words, the problem seen in the Balaam church is the same as in the Church in Pergamum.
Likewise, the fourth Church (Thyatira) corresponds to the Jezebel Church under the Old Covenant. Hence, John writes to Thyatira, saying, “I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel” (Rev. 2:20).
If we keep this connection in mind in the course of our study of the seven churches, we will be able to understand John’s messages much better. The Old Covenant churches lay foundations for understanding their corresponding New Covenant churches.
The Seven Spirits of God
Rev. 1:4 tells us that this message to the seven churches comes also from the seven Spirits of God. One of these seven Spirits is needed most by each church. In other words, if each church had the character of its corresponding Spirit, it would have avoided its unique problem.
The seven Spirits of God, as I wrote earlier, are listed in Isaiah 11:2. Their correlation to the seven churches is not in the order given in Isaiah, but nonetheless, they are there.
1. Ephesus needed the Spirit of the Lord to overcome.
2. Smyrna needed the Spirit of Understanding to overcome.
3. Pergamum needed the Spirit of Counsel to overcome.
4. Thyatira needed the Spirit of Knowledge to overcome.
5. Sardis needed the Spirit of Wisdom to overcome.
6. Philadelphia needed the Spirit of Might (or Strength) to overcome.
7. Laodicea needed the Spirit of the Fear of the Lord to overcome.
Those who appropriated the Spirit of God given in his/her time became overcomers, because they were able to see the problem and overcome it in their own lives. Even so, in order to be perfect and complete, the overcomers, as individuals, needed to appropriate all seven Spirits of the Lord in order to be like Christ.
In the end, each Spirit must be united with the other six in order to be able to function fully, as none are truly separate from the others. For example, how can one function with Wisdom without having the Spirit of Knowledge and Understanding as well? Hence, the distinctions are made, not to set forth a lack of unity, but to accommodate human language which has no single word that encompasses the full scope of the character of God. Each is unique, but also forms a part of the whole.
The Seven Rewards for Overcoming
The seven rewards offered to the overcomers do not appear to be specific to the overcomers of each church age. Like the seven Spirits of God, all seven rewards are given to every overcomer. They are separated and are distinct in these messages in order to emphasize the theme of each message, but in the end it is not possible to receive one reward apart from the others.
1. Ephesus overcomers are given access to the Tree of Life (Rev. 2:7).
2. Smyrna overcomers are given a Crown of Life (Rev. 2:10).
3. Pergamum overcomers are given the White Stone (Rev. 2:17).
4. Thyatira overcomers are given the Morning Star (Rev. 2:28).
5. Sardis overcomers are given White Clothing (Rev. 3:5).
6. Philadelphia overcomers are made Pillars in the Temple (Rev. 3:12).
7. Laodicea overcomers are given a Seat in the Throne (Rev. 3:21).
With this overview, we can now study the specific messages that the glorified Son of Man and the Seven Spirits gave to each of the seven churches—the household of faith.