The Seven Church Ages
The Seven Churches of Revelation 2 and 3 were literal churches in John's day; however, the prophecies about them extended far beyond those local cities. Among other things, they represent seven Church Ages that are actually seven stages of development in Church history from 33 to 1993 A.D. The overall Church Age is a period of 40 Jubilees—or 49 x 40 years, which is a total of 1,960 years. In 33 A.D. the Church Age began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and ended at Pentecost, May 30, 1993. If we would understand this part of the overall Plan of God depicted in the Message to the Seven Churches, we must study some Church history.
King Saul as a Type of the Church
First let us indulge in a bit of review regarding one of the foremost biblical types of the Church: King Saul. In our book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost, we devoted an entire chapter on this fascinating Old Testament type. Saul was crowned king on the day of Pentecost (1 Sam. 12:17), which was, in ancient times called the “Feast of Weeks.” It was also called the day of wheat harvest, because the first fruits of the wheat were offered to God on that day, signaling the beginning of wheat harvest.
Saul reigned over Israel for 40 years (Acts 13:21). During that time, he persecuted David, the type of the overcomer, because his own heart was not right with God. He blamed David for all his troubles. He felt that David was trying to usurp the legitimate authority that God had given Saul. He felt that David was causing a rebellion, a schism in the land, and turning people away from the established monarchy.
While his arguments must have seemed right to many of the people at the time, the Bible reveals that his true motives were rebellion against God (1 Sam. 15:23), guilt in knowing that he had been disqualified in the sight of God from having an enduring dynasty (1 Sam. 15:26-28), and fear of the one God would raise up to replace him.
Saul started out as a fine young man, literally the best in the land (1 Sam. 9:2). But any time man gets his hands upon power over other men, it begins to corrupt him unless he has been trained rigorously by the heavy hand of God, even as God trained David through the persecution of Saul. Saul was a good king in his first year, but his problems began in the second (1 Sam. 13:1).
Some years later, in the incident involving Agag in 1 Sam. 15, God rejected Saul fully. Yet even so, God allowed him to remain as king for many more years. In that time Saul's lack of repentance, along with God's refusal to speak with him, finally made him so desperate that he consulted with the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28). He started by rebelling against God, and Samuel told him that “ rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft ” (1 Sam. 15:23). He ended in actual witchcraft, where rebellion ultimately leads.
But many wonder why God did not simply remove him immediately and make David king. First of all, David was only eight years old at the time. Of course, God could have seen to it that David was older, but instead, God thought it good to use Saul's rebellion to train David and teach him obedience by the things which he would suffer. God knows how to work all things out for our good, and this is a prime example.
King Saul had seven sons, who represent the Seven Churches in the book of Revelation. They unlawfully persecuted the Gibeonites, with whom Joshua had made a covenant (2 Sam. 21). As a result, the seven sons of Saul paid the price for their father's sins. They were hanged on the first day of barley harvest, the day of the wave-sheaf offering shortly after Passover (2 Sam. 21:9). The Gibeonites in this story represent the overcomers in the book of Revelation. Even as Saul persecuted the Gibeonites, so also did the Church persecute the overcomers in the past 40 Jubilees of its reign.
The fact that the seven sons of Saul were hanged on the day of the barley harvest foreshadows the fact that the Seven Churches of Pentecost will not receive the inheritance which is reserved for the overcomers, when they come into their inheritance. The wave-sheaf offering was the day Jesus was raised from the dead, coming into His inheritance. The overcomers identify with Him as His body; but the Seven Churches are disinherited at the same time. For a more complete discussion of the prophetic meaning of this story, see our books: The Purpose of Resurrection, The Barley Overcomers and The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost.
The Seven New Testament Churches
With all this in mind, let us turn to the history of the Church and see how these Old Testament types and shadows play out from 33 to 1993 AD. First we give an outline of the seven Church Ages as described by John:
- Ephesus: “Desirable” (33-64 AD)
- Smyrna: “Bitter” or “Myrrh” (64-313 AD)
- Pergamos: “Married to Power” (313-529 AD)
- Thyatira: “Castle of the Goddess” (529-1517 AD)
- Sardis: “Precious Stone, Remnant” (1517-1776 AD)
- Philadelphia: “Brotherly Love” (1776-1914 AD)
- Laodicea: “Power of the Laity” (1914-1993 AD)
Since there is so much that could be said about each of these churches, we will not write out the passages in Rev. 2 and 3. We hope that you will keep your Bible open and read through each passage before reading our comments.
These Seven Churches also have counterparts in the Old Testament Church (Israel). Understanding these types and shadows give us a more complete picture of what has happened in the 40 Jubilees of the New Testament Churches. So we will list them for you here before starting our study.
The Seven Old Testament Churches
1. Moses' Church at Sinai, which refused to go up the mount to hear from God (Ex. 20:18 -21). They preferred to send Moses and let him tell the Church what God said.
2. The Korah Church, where rebellious Levites desired to be priests, although they were not called by God. (Num. 16:10).
3. The Balaam Church, which joined itself to the Moabites by the council of Balaam (Num. 31:16). This problem extended later to Israel 's joining with the Canaanites, with the same idolatrous results. Temple worship was paganized.
4. The Jezebel Church, which is pictured in King Ahab's marriage to Jezebel, the Baal-worshipping princess of Sidon (1 Kings 16:31, 32). It is a time when the true prophets of God were persecuted (1 Kings 18:13).
5. The Remnant Church during the days of Elijah that was persecuted by Jezebel (1 Kings 19:14 -18).
6. The Hezekiah Church, which had enough strength and faith to forestall captivity and death long enough to bring forth his son, Manasseh (2 Kings 18-20). Then he sowed seeds of destruction by showing his wealth to the Babylonians. This Church ends with the captivity.
7. The Captivity Church, which seemed to prosper in Babylon. Most became too lukewarm to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, because they were getting rich doing business in Babylon. Less than 50,000 returned (Ezra 2:64) .
When we see how John describes the Seven Churches in Old Testament terms, it is apparent that there is a close association between the two. That which occurred in Israel in the Old Testament is being repeated in the 40 Jubilees of Church history since the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
The Seven Churches of the New Testament run parallel to the Old Testament Church periods:
|OT Church||NT Church||Characteristics of Both|
|Moses||Ephesus||Refusing to hear their first love|
|Korah||Smyrna||The Rebellious Church|
|Balaam||Pergamos||The Paganized Church|
|Jezebel||Thyatira||The Persecuted Church|
|Remnant||Sardis||The Remnant of Grace Church|
|Hezekiah||Philadelphia||The Missionary Church|
|Captivity||Laodicea||The Captive Church|
The parallels run very close indeed, as we shall see in our study of Revelation 2 and 3.