The Seven Churches – A Dispensational View

Seven Churches Copy

6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

In the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, we read of the seven churches of Asia Minor - what we now know as modern day Turkey.

Although these were literal churches in Asia, identified on a map, with a real and relevant historical and contextual setting, they are also symbolic of seven dispensations of time that fall between the ‘Early Church’ and ‘The Return of Christ’ – the period known as the ‘Age of Grace’ in which we are still living today.

The idea of a prophetic message being contained in the letters to these churches is indicated by the opening statement in Revelation 1 v 3.

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy..."

This statement precedes the description of and the message to these seven churches. I accept that the seven churches are first and foremost literal churches with a geographical and historical setting, however, I have no doubt whatsoever that there is also a prophetic dimension which would unfold throughout the age of grace. History has provided compelling evidence to support this view.

Andrew Miller compiled his volume 'Short Papers on Church History' which would later be published by Pickering & Inglis as 'Miller's Church History'.

It is widely recognised as a comprehensive and reliable history of the church from the first to twentieth century. Pages 1-6 outline the prophetic message of the seven churches. The content of the book is based on this assumption and ought not to be ignored.

Seven Churches Asia

The seven churches of Asia Minor

With the advantage of extended history and hindsight, this view has become much more apparent and more widely accepted in the last two centuries.

This view is also supported by the 'contextual setting' of these churches in the book of Revelation; i.e. the churches and their respective letters are outlined in Revelation chapters 2-3, this precedes the Rapture which happens between chapter 3 and 4, and it also precedes the Tribulation as it unfolds from chapters 4-16.

It must not be ignored that the content of the messages to these seven churches follows after the opening statement of the book - Revelation 1 v 3

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy..."

The book of Revelation is a book of prophecy from chapter 1 v 1 to chapter 22 v 21.

On this basis I encourage the reader to accept the prophetic dimension of the message to the seven churches as it unfolds during the 'Age of Grace'.

Have a look at these churches on the above map of Asia (Turkey) and you will see how distinctly they sit as separate from Israel. These churches clearly represent the gospel as given to the Gentiles during the age of grace.

We shall consider them briefly in the order in which they appear in the book of Revelation. In particular I want to draw attention to the closing statement in each of the messages to the seven churches. See Revelation 2 v 7, 2 v 11, 2 v 17, 2 v 29, 3 v 6, 3 v 13, and 3 v 22.

"Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." 

We deduce from this that;

a) Anyone with ears is invited to listen

b) We are invited to listen to what the Spirit says

c) We are invited to hear the message to all seven churches

We have pointed out on the 'Early Church' page that the Holy Spirit has been sent to the church to be the primary means of conveying the truth of God's word and in particular - the truth about Christ. This also supports the dispensational view that we are now going to outline.

We will now consider the ‘literal condition’ and ‘dispensational forecast’ of the seven churches. For this outline I will use the headings from J Allen - Revelation.

1 - To the Church in Ephesus

Church 1 Ephesus

Literal condition: Fallen

Symbolic of Passion: AD 70 – 170

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.   

4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

6 But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.   

7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

The literal condition of the church at Ephesus is described as fallen; they had forsaken their first love. Today we would say this church was backslidden - 'you have forsaken the love you had at first'.

This church had much to commend it; hard work and perseverance, intolerance towards wicked people and identifying false apostles and teachers. They had endured hardships and had not grown weary. 

The church was based in the City of Ephesus, renowned for its strategic location as a Mediterranean port often used as the first point of entry by the Roman galleys on their trade route to Asia. It was also the site of the temple of the goddess Artemis of the Ephesians. Acts 19 v 35.

The church at Ephesus would face the challenge of worldly influence in the form of Godlessness, materialism and opposition to the message of the gospel.

The dispensational forecast was one of dire warning! Any departure from the simple truth of the gospel message or from the simple structure of the church assembly under the Headship and Lordship of Christ himself would result in failure.

Quote from J Allen - Revelation

Page 68: “The word ‘Nicolaitan’ is composed of two words – nike (victory) and laos (people) – which gives the meaning ‘conqueror of the people’. These were the forerunners of the clerical hierarchy who arose to dispute the Lordship of Christ and bring the people of God under their own dominion."

"It is the rise of Clericalism and Ecclesiasticism in its earliest stages – their ‘deeds’ – the strife, the underhand activities and whisperings that eventually led to one man taking control of the gathering – thus displacing the Lord."

What emanates from this early threat would pollute the church and eventually divide it into many forms of ritual, doctrine and practice far removed from the early church that we read about in the New Testament.

Roman persecution broke out during this time under the following Emperors:

Nero AD 54-68

Domitian AD 81-96

Trajan AD 98-117

Marcus Aurelius AD 161-180 (overlap with Smyrna)

2 - To the Church in Smyrna

Church 2 Smyrna

Literal condition: Fearful

Symbolic of Persecution: AD 170 – 312 

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

The literal condition of the church at Smyrna is described as fearful; they were facing persecution. Christians in Smyrna were excluded from civil trade guilds and therefore unable to buy and sell, as a result they were poor.

The city of Smyrna was renowned for its scenic beauty; it had as its backdrop the blue waters of the Aegean Sea with its sandy coves and the contrasting dark green of the cypress trees on the surrounding hillsides.

The beauty was skin-deep; under the surface was evil opposition to the gospel which would be manifested in an unprecedented attack on the early church. It was here that Polycarp would die at the stake in 169 AD.

Persecution loomed - 'I know your afflictions and your poverty'. 'Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer'.

The dispensational forecast was one of awful persecution under various Roman Emperors and for many this meant almost certain death. Physical persecution and mistreatment would bring actual segregation and poverty.

The sequence would be simple; no work, no money, no food, no clothes. Sadly, much of the persecution at this time stemmed from Judaism, hence the term – ‘synagogue of Satan’. This was residual from the leadership regime that had originally rejected and persecuted Christ.

Fierce Roman persecution continued under the following Emperors:

Marcus Aurelius AD 161-180 (overlap with Ephesus)

Severus AD 193-211

Maximinius AD 235-238

Decius AD 249-251

Valerian AD 253-260

Aurelian AD 270-275

Diocletian AD 284-312

History note by J Allen - Revelation

"Diocletian launched a fierce attack upon Christians at the instigation of his mother in-law. When news of his death reached York in England in 306 AD, Flavius Valerius Constantius was proclaimed Emperor."

"When Constantine marched to Rome with his legions then Maxentius, claimant to the throne of the Western Roman Empire attempted to oppose him in a battle at the Milvium Bridge just outside Rome in 312 AD. The conversion of Constantine to Christianity just before the battle has been recorded by the historian Eusebius."

"While some hesitate to accept all that his defensive historian has to tell of his conversion there is no doubt of the absolute change in Constantine and certainly this was the biggest change in the Roman Empire ever to occur."

"Constantine persuaded his Eastern counterpart, Licinius to accept him as overlord of the Roman Empire and the Edict of Milan was issued in AD 313 – granting toleration to all Christians throughout the Empire. Believers found this almost unbelievable. The Roman persecution had come to a sudden and unexpected end."

3 - To the Church in Pergamum

Church 3 Pergamum

Literal condition: Faltering

Symbolic of Patronisation: AD 312 – 606

12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.

Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.

15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

The literal condition of the church at Pergamum is described as faltering; compromise in the guise of tolerance would creep into the church and erode the truth of the gospel and change the scriptural structure of church leadership.

Pergamum became known as a centre for academia and was acknowledged by many as the early capital of Asia from as early as circa 133 BC. It became an important Roman city and from as early as 27 BC it was possibly the first city to publicly promote Emperor worship. Resistance to this would eventually invite the death penalty.

Nowadays the church is attacked under the guise of ‘political correctness’; it is in fact external worldly influence, sometimes legislative, driving change within the church.

The dispensational forecast would set the scene for the period from the ‘Edict of Milan’ through to the election of the ‘Bishop of Rome’ – the first Pope. The source and nature of the danger that the church would face was about to dramatically change.

The awful persecution under the Roman Emperors had ended, but a new danger was going to unfold – partnership with the world system. Erroneous doctrine would be introduced and wayward disobedient behaviour would follow suit.

History note by J Allen - Revelation

"When the city of Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian on the night of 13 October 539 BC (Daniel chapter 5) the priests of the Babylonian Mystery Cult, who had betrayed the city, fled to Pergamum – they would later move to the Etruscan Plain outside Rome."

"Julius Caesar became the high priest of these Babylonian Mysteries and wore the ring – pontifex maximus – the great bridge. The present Pope still wears the same ring."

4 - To the Church in Thyatira

Church 4 Thyatira

Literal condition: False

Symbolic of Pollution: AD 606 - Rapture

18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24  Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father.

28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The literal condition of the church at Thyatira is described as false; toleration can be dangerous, in Pergamum it led to wrong doctrine and wrong behaviour.

Here, the toleration goes a step further in depravity; the so called prophetess Jezebel is introduced and she is associated with sexual immorality and idolatry.

The connection with Jezebel in the Old Testament cannot be mistaken or underestimated.

Thyatira was a prosperous, bustling city that was strategically located at the intersection of the main trading route connecting Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis, Thyatira and Pergamum in a South to North trade route.

The city was built in a fertile area and had natural agricultural produce with which to trade. It became famous for a purple or scarlet die which Lydia was renowned for trading in - Acts 16 v 14-15.

J Allen observes - Revelation; page 92

"The manufacturing industries were the base of what was recognised as the most noted feature of the city, the existence of workers' trade guilds associated with the various industries. While similar guilds existed in most other cities, they were most in evidence in Thyatira. Potters, dyers, tanners, bakers, metalworkers, textile-makers, bronze-smiths, slave-dealers, leather workers etc. all had their own guilds."

"Membership for all who would practice these trades was compulsory. Refusal to join meant that essential recognition was denied and it was not possible to obtain a job in that trade."

It would become extremely difficult for believers to engage in trade when the pagan rituals that were increasingly introduced and practiced by these trade guilds would be imposed as a prerequisite to their membership.

Any form of compromise would have the double effect of dulling any witness for the gospel and at the same time drag the individual into a dangerous shade of grey as far as their own lifestyle choices were concerned. Sound familiar?

The dispensational forecast was dark, dire and depressing. The progressive Pre-eminence of the Church of Rome would overshadow the simple local assembly of believers that we read about in the book of Acts.

The erroneous tradition of ‘Apostolic Succession’ would culminate in the false claim of the Roman Catholic Church in the ninth century - that the Pope was the ‘Vicar of Christ’, effectively claiming to be Christ’s ultimate authority on earth.

The only person of authority to represent Christ on earth, according to Scripture, is the person of God the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear on this point. In fact, the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament states that he who blasphemes the Holy Spirit is guilty of an eternal sin.

Question based on 2 v 24-25;

24  Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

How can this literal church obey this literal command if the Lord will not actually return for over two thousand years?

This question demands consideration and a credible answer. The only answer that I personally find acceptable is that there is a prophetic dimension to the message given to these seven churches. In my opinion, the dispensational view offers the only credible explanation to this text.

J Allen, in his book, Revelation, maintains that the message to four of these churches and their respective dispensations during the age of grace, would apply until the return of the Lord. These are Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. The implications for the modern day church are sobering.

5 - To the Church in Sardis

Church In Sardis 03

Above - The two surviving pillars of what is thought to have been the temple of Cybele, the mother goddess and patron deity of Sardis.

Literal condition: Formal

Symbolic of Profession: AD 1517 - Rapture

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. 

4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

J Allen - Revelation - page 104;

"A traveller from Thyatira would cover 33 miles in a generally southward direction along the main Roman highway before reaching Sardis. From this northern approach Sardis was a most imposing sight. A fortress-like city set on a commanding escarpment about 1500 feet high, it looked totally impregnable, dominating the broad Hermus valley and backing on to the foothills of Mount Tmolus (5,900 feet). The almost-perpendicular cliffs looked unscalable and the only possible approach was a gentle sloping neck of land to the south. This single approach road could easily be fortified and defended."

Sardis is said to date back as far as 1200 BC. Despite this seemingly impregnable landscape, it nonetheless succumbed to defeat on three notable occasions; it was captured by Cyrus the Persian in 549 BC, Alexander the Great in 334 BC and again by Seleucid Antiochus in 214 BC.

The above defeats all happened as a result of the occupants of Sardis leaving its steep cliffs unattended as the landscape was deemed to be without threat. Complacency and carelessness led to the defeat of the city on all three occasions.

Spiritually speaking, history would be repeated in the life of the church at Sardis. Defeat would be the result of complacency and carelessness regarding the doctrine and practice of individuals within this church.

The literal condition of the church at Sardis is described as formal; they had a reputation of being alive but in reality they were dead - already defeated!

This church at large had slipped into the formality of going through the motions, mere external religion. There were however a few isolated individuals who had not ‘soiled their clothes’, they had not succumbed to the formality of religion but were living in a personal and right relationship with God.

The dispensational forecast was one of an extended age of church formality. Whether we look at the Catholic Church or the Reformed Protestant Churches, there would be an extended age where the masses would find their hope for eternity founded on attending church and in their own personal interpretation of good works.

There are countless millions of people in the world today who are deluded by this false man made system of worship and self righteousness before God.

The truth of the gospel declares - We are not saved by our 'good works', we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

History demonstrates that the following ‘Denominationalism’ stemmed from this dispensation:

Germany: Lutheranism - worldly influence from political arm of German Princes.

Switzerland: Calvinism - worldly influence from the state.

England: Anglicanism - worldly influence from the monarch. Methodism - Salvation Army & Faith Mission.

Scotland: Presbyterianism - worldly influence from the nobles.

In contrast to the contaminated teachings of this formal church, Jesus made it abundantly clear that he was the way, the truth and the life (John 14 v 6).

The church had become polluted and manipulated by Clericalism and Ecclesiasticism

Denominationalism was the offshoot of the inevitable disagreement of men within these systems.

6 - To the Church in Philadelphia

Church 6 Philadelphia

Literal condition: Feeble

Symbolic of Power: AD 1750 - Rapture

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

8 I  know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

J Allen - Revelation page 114;

"Philadelphia was the most modern of the cities addressed in these letters. It had been built c 189 BC by Attalus the second the king of Pergamum as a tribute of loyalty to his older brother Eumenes the second. The name, derived from phileo (to love) and adelpho (a brother), reflects this brotherly devotion."

J Allen goes on to explain details of the historical and geographical setting of this ancient city. It suffered significant inconvenience as a result of the great earthquake in AD 17.

There is no direct reference to Philadelphia anywhere else in the New Testament, however, it was situated within fifty miles of Colossi. It is very likely that the gospel message was carried to Philadelphia from there as well as other missionary centres such as Ephesus.

The literal condition of the church at Philadelphia is described as feeble; they had little strength, but they had kept God’s word and had not denied his name. They had endured patiently in spite of opposition from the synagogue of Satan. There is not a hit of criticism address to this church.

The dispensational forecast was straightforward; "I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut." We have no clear record of this promise being literally fulfilled during the time of the historical church at Philadelphia. There is no dramatic event that we can trace in history that aptly describes what is promised in the above text.

The one who is described as 'Holy and True' 3 v 7, would shine forth in the midst of the darkness during the 'Middle Ages' and awaken his church. The reformation would open wide the door for the light and truth of the gospel to be preached across Europe and America.

The gospel would once again be preached in public and many souls would be converted and saved. The great awakenings in America would ensure that this door would remain wide open for world evangelism and freedom of speech regarding the gospel message.

J Allen - Revelation - page 119-120

"Because of their past endurance Christ gives them a further promise. He promises to keep the saints out of the tribulation period about to come on the earth. The tense of the verb "kept" summarises the whole lifetime of the believers. They have shown throughout their lives the same endurance that Christ showed when He was here on earth (2 Thess 3 v 5; Hebrews 12 v 3)."

J Allen goes on to highlight three vital aspects of the Tribulation and how we must glean the following lessons;

1. The Period of the Tribulation.

Rev 3 v 10 "the hour of trial" NIV

Matthew 24 v 21 "For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again." NIV

Daniel 9 v 27 "He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven'. In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering." NIV

This period of Tribulation referred to in the above scriptures is still future, it is a unique period of human history and it must not be confused with any other period - it is unique.

2. The Place of the Tribulation.

Revelation 3 v 10 "...I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth."

Matthew 24 v 14 "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

The Tribulation period will affect the whole of the earth; every country, every nation, all of mankind. This is not an event that can be traced back to the local church at Philadelphia. This aspect of the message to the church at Philadelphia is clearly of a prophetic nature.

3. The Purpose of the Tribulation.

Revelation 3 v 10 "...I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth."

The trial or test that mankind will face during the tribulation is outlined on the Rapture and Tribulation page. It unfolds in a series of three successive judgments in the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath. At the close of this time of judgment men are described in the most awful way;

Revelation 16 v 21 "...And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible."

Instead of repenting from sin, mankind reacts in unrepentant arrogance and pride and fly in the face of God. There is no turning back and no escape from judgment for those who refuse to humble themselves before a righteous and holy God.

Just as Noah and his family escaped the judgment of the flood, just as Lot and his family escaped the fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah, so shall the church escape the judgment of the Tribulation when we are removed from this earth at the Rapture. Praise God!

Genuine believers are exhorted to hold on to the truth of Scripture, and to push through this open door of evangelism reaching out to a lost and dark world.

Endure patiently, because the focus is on the return of Christ for his church –

“I am coming soon.”

7- To the Church in Laodicea

Church 7 Laodicea

Literal condition: Foul

Symbolic of Poverty: AD 1900 - Rapture

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!

16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Laodicea was a thriving city situated at the end of our clockwise horseshoe of cities where the seven churches of Asia were located. The gold, the clothing and eye salve referred to in 3 v 18, indicate that Laodicea was a wealthy city with forward thinking entrepreneurs.

The church at Laodicea was undoubtedly influenced by its commercial and political surroundings; it is effectively described as a deluded church. It claimed to be one thing but is told that it is something quite different from what it thinks.

Laodicea was renowned for three particular areas of commerce; gold refinery, durable black wool for making garments, and advanced medicine in the form of eye salve.

The city also had one distinct disadvantage; it had no independent fresh water supply and relied on water coming from two outside remote sources.

J Allen - Revelation - page 127

J Allen describes the significance of this particular feature as follows;

"The sobering words of Christ's first statement must therefore have come to the church almost with the impact of a physical shock, 'Thou art neither cold nor hot'. The metaphor and its implications would have been immediately apparent to every believer with a Laodicean background."...

"They knew that in Hierapolis, six miles away, the water from the hot springs had a real medicinal value. They knew too that in Colosse, ten miles away, the pure cold water was most refreshing. They knew their own water in Laodicea was notorious throughout the province."...

"Ducted in through closed conduits and over aqueducts from six miles south it was lukewarm and totally unpalatable, even nauseous, to drink. A normal reaction was to spit it out as repulsive. For Christ to use such a metaphor must have shocked the church."

The literal condition of the church at Laodicea is described as foul; it was lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. This church claimed to be rich and without the need of help, but in fact it was wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. The Lord uses very strong language to describe his perception of this deluded church.

The dispensational forecast was bleak. The modern day church of the Laodicean dispensation, of which we are a part, would have fewer excuses than any other.

We have the Scriptures translated into our own language, we have innumerable books and commentaries to help us to study the bible, we have the added benefit of the knowledge of church history from the first to twenty first centuries, and yet, we are described as lukewarm. 

Jesus said that in the last days the love of many would grow cold.

It is significant that in the message to this Laodicean church we have a reference to creation and to the fall of man – shameful nakedness.

Just as the literal first century church at Laodicea was infiltrated and influenced by external sources from commerce and politics, we are also warned by the prophetic message for today to be on our guard and not fall into the same error.

We need to remember that in contrast to being rich, wealthy and not in need, we are actually fallen and in dire need.

Dear reader, regardless of what church or denomination you represent; an interesting 'key indicator' for the church and its leadership would look like this:

How many church members in your church have near neighbours or even next door neighbours who do not know about your relationship with God? Perhaps you have never engaged them in conversation about the good news of the gospel or about the danger of spending eternity in hell.

How many of the elders or pastors in your church could also be described in this way? If we are content to attend church in the knowledge that we are right with God and going to heaven but show no concern for our neighbours or work colleagues, there is something seriously wrong. Does this qualify us to be described as neither cold nor hot?

Laodicea - signs of the times

If the modern day church of today was assessed by the early church leaders of the first century or the puritan leaders from the sixteenth and seventeenth century; perhaps the following observations would be noted as points of concern:

1.  Many Christians do not read the bible or do not take bible reading seriously.

2. Opinions are formed based on the writings of men as opposed to Scripture.

3. Gospel preaching has been replaced with something called 'lifestyle evangelism'.

4. Alcohol is consumed with a casual attitude that is shocking.

5. Marriage vows are set aside in favour of freedom to choose a more suitable partner.

6. Freedom of sexual orientation is tolerated in some churches.

7. The fundamental subjects of creation (how it all started) and Revelation (how it will all end) are set aside as being too complex or too controversial.

Sadly, lukewarm is an apt description!

Read more: Letter to a neighbour.

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