Recently, in a discussion about the Pope and the broader connection to the Catholic Church, a friend and reader asked me several questions that brought to mind Christ’s message to the Seven Churches. I told my friend I would write a post about this topic and how it is connected to the Catholic Church. Well, this is the post I promised. I only hope he sees it. We start in Chapter 1 of The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Before we look at the message to the seven churches, it is important that we understand the meaning of the full title of this Book in the Bible. For too many, it is simply “Revelation(s).” However, the full title is The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This is important because it tells us that the Revelation comes from Christ, Himself (I will expand on The Revelation of Jesus Christ in a later post, but for now, I want to focus on His message to the seven churches).
So, now that we know the message to the Seven Churches is from Christ, let us look at the best understanding I have been given as to whom they are addressed and what they mean. First, at this time in history, there were more than seven churches. So why did the Lord single out these seven? One possible explanation was to set a time line over them. What I discovered is that these seven churches all lay on the same Roman postal road, and in the order they are listed. Thus, the road and order provide a physical representation of the Spiritual message. This would be in keeping with the Hebrew culture as they were a literal, concrete people. They dealt in those things they could see, feel and touch much more than they dealt with the abstract. So, if the Lord meant for us to see a time line in His message to the seven churches, picking seven churches on the same road and in the order they appear when one travels along that road would be in keeping with the way the Lord speaks to His people throughout the whole of Scripture: by teaching a Spiritual truth but also manifesting that truth in physical form or representation (the ‘church language’ for this physical manifestation of a Spiritual lesson is often called a type ‘type,’ as Moses, David and Gideon were ‘types’ of Christ, each depicting one aspect of Christ’s full nature).
In addition to the indication of an intentional order, I discovered three main interpretations of Christ’s message to these seven churches. I also learned that all three are equally correct. They would be:
1 — All seven were literal churches in Asia Minor, and all seven had been encouraged or exhorted by John.
2 — The messages to each church is allegorical in nature, each message depicting the spiritual state of individual churches throughout the entire Christian era.
3 — The messages represent seven different periods in the Church’s history. In this case, the messages accurately foretell the changing spiritual condition of the Church as a whole throughout the Christian era.
In this sense, the messages tell us that the Church will go through seven periods, and in each period, the spiritual condition of the Body of Christ will be:
Ephesus (32-95 AD)
“Left your first love…” (Rev 2:1-7)
Heresy enters the church: Marcionites, Gnostics, Nicolaitans, etc
Smyrna (95-321 AD)
“Persecuted 10 days…” (Rev 2:8-11)
Very likely, the ten major persecutions under ten Roman Emperors: (1) Domitian (2) Trajan (3) Hadrian (4) Antonius Pius (5) Marcus Aurelius (6) Septimus Severus (7) Maximian (8) Decius (9) Valerian (10) Diocletian
Pergamum (321-450 AD)
“Where Satan’s throne is…” (Rev 2:12-17)
Constantine makes Christianity a state religion. Church hierarchy begins (in direct contradiction to Christ’s own command).
[NOTE: many believe that ‘Babylon’ was understood to be the capital of Satan’s kingdom. Thus, in Peter’s day, it was Rome; but before that, it was the capital of Greece, and before that, Persia, and before that, Babylon. Thus, wherever the capital of Satan’s earthly kingdom is, there is Babylon, or Satan’s throne. Today, that could very well be Mecca).
Thyatira (450-950 AD)
“That woman Jezebel…” (rev 2:18-28)
Beginning of Mary worship. Idols brought into churches. Bishops rise to power.
[NOTE: in Scripture, ‘the harlot’ is repeatedly used as a sign of paganism, or the worshiping of false gods. So harlotry and adultery are descriptions of the spiritual state of those who chase after and worship those false gods. So where it may be that the message spoke of a false female prophet in John’s time, when the Church ages are addressed, this reference to Jezebel is likely speaking to the introduction of false gods into the church, of which Mary is primary in the Catholic church. (One does not pray to the mother of Christ or the saints, but to God and God alone).]
Sardis (950-1450 AD)
“But you are dead…” (Rev 3:1-6)
Dead Catholic formalism/legalism. Bible taken away from the people and placed in the hands of the priests. Persecution of those who try to remain faithful to the Gospel intensifies.
[NOTE: The Catholic church recently admitted to murdering some 20 million Christians throughout the Dark Ages, but many Christian scholars place the number much higher.]
Philadelphia (1450-1948 AD)
“Have kept my word…” (Rev 3:7-13)
The Reformation; Protestant church begins, the Puritan movement, foreign missions founded and the birth of the New World built by those seeking religious freedom.
[NOTE: it is no coincidence that Philadelphia means brotherly love. Christ said that those who seek to do the will of the father are His brothers. All of this fits the argument that we are dealing with an intentional order to the churches and Church age as this order was only possible with these seven churches on this road. No other order could have placed Philadelphia sixth in Christ’s list, and with God, there are no coincidences.]
Laodecia (1948 — ??? AD)
“You are neither hot nor cold…” (Rev 3:14-22)
The lukewarm Church of today. Great organizations and works, but Spiritually poor. The health, wealth and prosperity message has taken the place of preaching the Gospel and willingly ministering to the sick, poor and needy in the name of Christ. Today, we would rather give our money to others to do for us what is commanded of us individually.
Now, to specifically address my friend’s question about Christ’s reference to Jezebel. I do not think Christ was specifically singling out the Catholic church. Rather, he was speaking to the Spiritual condition of some churches, and of a specific age in the Church. At the same time, we must understand that, since Jezebel was a harlot, and harlotry is the symbol of paganism and apostasy, then Jezebel — as used here — refers to any form this may take in a specific church or Church age. In both cases, the virgin Mary is the clearest symbol of the apostasy of which Christ was speaking. The form of Mary is just a symbol or a ‘type’ of apostasy within the Church, but it is the most well known type. Still, it does speak directly to the Spiritual condition of the Catholic church.
I hope this helps.