The letters to the churches in Revelation 2&3 – I know there are a few different “schools of thought” on this, but as I’ve said before, I believe it’s time to revisit all of the End of Days prophecy in the Bible with FRESH eyes because the farther we get in God’s timeline, the more will be “unsealed” and be able to be understood.
These chapters were written prophetically, the words are in red meaning, John the Revelator was listening to the resurrected Christ. If you look at chapter 1:19, Jesus tells John to “write what IS, and what will take place AFTER THIS” as He begins to talk to/about the churches.
Remember that all of the Bible uses types and foreshadowing, and this time is no different. The letters were originally written to real churches of the first century, but they represented and foreshadowed types of churches that would exist throughout the church age.
There are seven types of churches and if you visit many churches today, you’ll see that these seven types are still very much part of Christianity.
- The Loveless Church – Rev 2:1-7
- The Persecuted Church – Rev 2:8-11
- The Compromising Church – Rev 2:12-17
- The Corrupt Church – Rev 2:18-29
- The Dead Church – Rev 3:1-6
- The Faithful Church – Rev 3:7-13
- The Lukewarm Church – Rev 3:14-22
The Loveless Church – The church at Ephesus – Rev 2:1-7
This is a church that has solid doctrine, a church with strong leadership that tests all things and doesn’t put up with evil or false apostles and prophets. They do good works and have suffered their own form of struggles because of Christ and persevered. (verses 2&3)
But, Jesus says they have lost their love. Even this church is admonished to repent, and to go back to the works they had done at first. To return to their “first love” which is Jesus. They have lost their focus and their hearts are cold. (verses 4&5)
Where else are we warned about hearts growing cold? Matthew 24:12 Jesus says that in the last days, “because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold.”
What is the consequence if they don’t heed Jesus’ warning and repent?
Verse 5, Jesus says He will remove their “lampstand,” or their right to be a church at all (Rev 1:20 explains that the “lampstand” is the “church.”
Then He goes on to explain that out of this church, there will be “Victors,” those who return to their first love and repent – and for them He has a reward. Verse 7 tells us that they will eat from the tree of life, in the paradise of God.
The point I want to make here is that not everyone in this church will be “victors,” and not all of them will receive this reward, regardless of their religious activity, regardless of how much they are doing right.
The Persecuted Church – The church at Smyrna – Rev 2:8-11
This is a church that is facing prison and death because of their faith, a church that is from an economic situation of poverty. Fear is this church’s biggest struggle, and Jesus encourages them not to be afraid, even though the Devil is coming after them. Jesus literally tells this church that they may have to remain faithful even unto death in order to receive the crown He has for them.
There are “victors” in this church also, and Jesus guarantees them they will never suffer the “second death.”
Where else do we find out about the “second death?” Revelation 20:6, which repeats this promise to those who have been martyred.
The point here, is that even in the persecuted church, it is implied that not all will be “victors.” If all of the church would be “victors,” then He would not have had to point them out specifically. We see this bear out as we see reports from Iraq and other areas, where not all of the Christians who are faced with death stand firm. Many are killed anyway, but there are some who renounce Christ in hopes of saving their lives, and surely, they are not “victors,” regardless of their prior deeds or confessions of faith. (Mark 8:38)
The Compromising Church – The church at Pergamum – Rev 2:12-17
This is a church that is in a community filled with demonic activity, occult, idolatry, and godlessness. They are trying to be a light in a very dark place and are holding on, but struggling. Jesus calls them out on a few things – first being that they have some “Balaam” prophets in their midst.
Now, Balaam was the Assyrian seer who was offered money to curse Israel. Even though that was what he was hired by the king of Moab to do, instead, three times he blessed Israel, and left without being paid. However, he didn’t leave the Moabites, and instead it has become so much a part of Jewish lore that even Jesus referred more than once to the idea that Balaam was responsible for the Moabites finding a different way to harm Israel – by advising them to tempt the Israelites into idolatry. His story is found in Numbers 22, 23, 24 – and although it’s a bit of a confusing story, and the serious damage he is accounted with levying is not fully explained, 2 Peter 2:15-16 gives us a glimpse at how much he must have betrayed Israel. Jude and Revelation also both call out prophets who have gone the way of Balaam.
Today, these would be people who prophecy for money as Balaam was known to do, people who prophecy with ulterior motives, people who puff themselves up in order to lend weight to their message (read Balaam’s oracles, he thought really highly of himself), and people who use their spiritual gifts to cause others to stumble, cause drama, division, or promote idolatry and sexual immorality. These would also be people who oppose Israel, even if with their words they bless Israel, but in their heart they seek or work toward her destruction as it would appear Balaam was guilty of.
So, the Corrupt church was/is harboring these destructive types of people.
These same people would have no problem with the ideas of the Nicolatians then, which Jesus calls out next. The Nicolatians were a sect that sprouted from Nicholas of Antioch, who was one of the first deacons selected along with Stephen in Acts 6. In Acts, we learn that he was a “proselyte,” meaning, he was not Jewish by birth and upbringing like the rest of the deacons but was a convert to Judaism. Being from Antioch we can assume his actual upbringing was pagan. The Nicolatian sect was a conglomeration of paganism and Judaism, with Christianity thrown in. It was weak, worldly, and full of occult mysticism. That’s why Jesus hated it so much. HATES it so much.
Even today, we can easily find churches that are riddled with occult influences, and those that are so keen to “coexist” or be “ecumenical” that they hardly even seem Christian at all. Couple this with the idolatry, immorality, greed and anti-Zionism of the Balaamites, and you’ve got one messed up “church.”
Jesus warns this church to repent and to kick out these compromising evil people or else He Himself threatens to fight against them – with the “sword of My mouth” or His Word.
BUT even in this corrupt church where there seems almost to be no hope, there will be “Victors.” To the ones who repent and remain pure, Jesus promises the “hidden manna” or that He will sustain them. He promises even to give them a new name – another indication of how big of a turn-around the repentance must be from this church’s deception.
The Corrupt Church – The church at Thyatira – Rev 20:18-29
Jesus has many good things to say about this church – they are loving, faithful, they do good works and they are equipped to endure. He even says they’re doing better than before.
But they are not dealing with a serious spiritual issue in their midst. He says they tolerate the “woman Jezebel.” Well, He wasn’t talking about a first century woman named Jezebel, He was talking about an ancient spirit that has come to be known by the name Jezebel because old Ahab’s wife made this thing famous in 1 & 2 Kings. The original Jezebel was a murderous wretch who killed the prophets of God and opposed Elijah violently. She finally met her gruesome end in 2 Kings 9, but the spirit with which she was possessed continues to harass God’s people.
In fact, the only reason the Corrupt Church is called “Corrupt” is because of their tolerance of this spirit and its outworkings in the lives of the people in the church. Jezebel is much more than just sexually immoral, she’s a controller, abusive, divisive, manipulative, obsessive, compulsive, brazen, indulgent…the list goes on. When the Jezebel spirit is allowed to fester in a church body, it grows like a cancer, destroying families and bringing leaders to disgrace.
Jesus says the church can’t wait for “Jezebel” to repent. It’s not going to happen. She has a horrible fate, just as the woman Jezebel did in 2 Kings 9:30-37. They have to repent and get rid of her (it) on their own because this spirit will not leave willingly, and will not stop.
He says He will send her *and those who “commit adultery” with her* into “great tribulation” unless they repent.
Where else does Jesus talk about “great tribulation?” Matthew 24:21.
But not everyone in this church is corrupted with the influence of this Jezebel spirit. Jesus says in Rev 2:24 that those folks are doing ok, and just have to hold on until He comes. Then in vs 26, “The VICTOR and the one who keeps My works TO THE END I will give him authority over the nations.”
This church most certainly still exists today, and probably is even more common today than in generations past. Of all the 7 churches, this one has the most references to the end times. In verse 26 alone, He points directly to both Matthew 24:13 and Revelation 20:6.
Those in this kind of church who are afflicted with this Jezebel spirit must open their eyes and choose to repent before they fall victim to its fate. If they repent, or if they remain pure and unaffected, then they will be the “Victor.” But otherwise…no.
The Dead Church – The church of Sardis – Rev 3:1-6
This church seems vibrant and “alive,” but spiritually, they are dead. Or, mostly dead. There is something on life support that Jesus instructs them to revive and feed, and to repent for letting things get so bad. This church is full of sleepers – folks who are not alert, not watching for the Lord, comatose.
Even in this mostly dead environment, there are a few people who get it, a few who are alive and paying attention. Jesus says He will walk with those people, and they will be the “victors” who will be dressed in white clothes.
Where else do we read about “white clothes?” Rev 7:14 – the raptured & martyred saints who are being prepared to return with Jesus for the 1000 year reign. What about the dead ones? Not gonna be “victors,” even though they’re in the church.
Then He says those folks – these “victors” – that He will never erase their names from the book of life, but will acknowledge them in front of the angels and the Father. Now, when I read this it hits me hard. What about those who don’t endure or don’t wake up? If He says He will never erase the Victor’s name from the book of life…that means to me there IS AN ERASER.
Is there any other place in the Bible that says anything like that? Actually, back when the Israelites were in the wilderness, and they made the golden calf, God told Moses that entire generation would be destroyed. He said He would “blot out their name under heaven.” (Deut. 9:14)
Now, Moses interceded for them and they didn’t die on the spot, but we do know that entire generation died having never set foot in the promised land. Did they end up in heaven? We can’t know! What we can learn and fearfully remember here is…there is a BLOTTER, an ERASER that is threatened to be used in the heavenlies. It exists, and the potential for it to be used exists.
The Faithful Church – The church of Philadelphia – Rev 3:7-13
This is another church hanging on in the midst of hardship – with limited strength – but whose people are faithful. They haven’t denied Christ, and have kept His Word. They are using all of their strength to endure, and because of their faithfulness, Jesus promises to keep them from the “hour of testing.” Notice He doesn’t say “remove them” or “rescue them,” but “keep them.”
This is not the “persecuted church” that has to remain faithful in the face of death – it’s not that kind of “denying Christ” that this church deals with. The original Philadelphia church was in the heart of Greek country – in a city founded with the express purpose of spreading Greek culture and ideology. In modern times, the “Greek” culture is the liberal, evolutionist, worldly knowledge culture that traps many Christians with its twisting of “rational” thinking, making them believe that their faith is at odds with science, or reason. They have an intellectual battle going on, and they need intellectual tools of warfare. In our age, we have those tools, combating liberalism and evolutionism with scientific facts and moral objections, but we have to learn these tools and employ them.
He tells them He is coming quickly, and to hold on to what they have (their faith) so that no one takes their crown. Even from this faithful church, it is implied that some may let go of their faith and lose their crown…and some will not be part of the “Victors” who will become pillars in the sanctuary of God. (Another reference to Rev 20:6, where it says the martyred and raptured will be priests of the Lord)
Are you seeing how although these really were letters that edified and admonished first century churches, they each are speaking through time and carry valid and valuable instruction even today? How they have spoken to churches throughout this “church age?”
The Lukewarm Church – The church of Laodicea – Rev 3:14-22
Jesus doesn’t even start out saying nice things about these guys. He had at least SOMETHING good to say about even the Compromising Church and the Corrupt Church – but the Lukewarm Church? He lights right into them! None of their works are acceptable – basically this church makes Christ want to vomit. He says He will “vomit” them out of His mouth! Geez.
These people are cozy and pampered. They have nice things and plenty of money. They go to church to be seen and to socialize, but they don’t really care about God. They are comfortable and “happy.”
Jesus advises them to submit to the refiner’s fire so they can have the “white clothes” (another raptured/martyred reference). He says that although they are all fancy and dolled up, He sees their hearts that are naked and pitiful, poor and blind!
He loves these people, and so He is offering His discipline and asking them to repent and recommit their lives to Him. To light the fire of holy passion in their souls. This is a church full of people who call themselves Christians, think they are saved, and yet, Jesus is standing outside their “heart doors” and knocking, waiting to be let in.
We see that image all over the place – Jesus at the door, knocking. But do we realize that the door He is standing outside of belongs to someone who ALREADY THINKS THEY ARE SAVED? I never thought of it like that when I would see tracts and mirrors and such with that so-sad Jesus standing out in the cold. I always thought He was standing at the heart of the UNBELIEVER! It shook me UP to realize this verse (20) is speaking directly to BELIEVERS….who are lukewarm, lazy, comfortable with life and the status quo. WHAT?
Then again – He says that from within this Lukewarm Church, some will repent, and some will be “Victors” who will sit with Jesus on His throne. Who is NOT the Victor? Who DOESN’T get to be with Jesus? The unrepentant, lukewarm, (UN)believer! What a shock that will be to these people.
When the END of the Church Age finally arrives…the BRIDE will be called out from within each of these churches. Not one of these churches has it 100% right, not one of these churches are guaranteed that 100% of their congregations will be raptured! OUT of the Church, the BRIDE will rise. No one church anywhere is perfect, or the ONLY ONE that is going to be taken up.
There are several denominations and “cults” that say this however! They may not say it outright, and you may be hardpressed to find it on their about us pages, but the 7th Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the Hebrew Roots folks, the Independent Fundamental Baptists, the Anabaptists, the Catholics, these are just a FEW of the groups that teach that THEIR PARTICULAR BRAND of “Christianity” is the only assurance of salvation or that a person will be part of the rapture.
I had a young gal come to church with me once from an Independent Fundy Baptist upbringing, and after our service she looked at me just stunned and said she was so relieved to realize that we are worshiping God! She really thought anything outside of her fundy world was UNGODLY.
This is why UNITY among the TRUE BODY of Christ is so important, and also possible – WITHOUT the compromise of Ecumenicalism. Somewhere, in EVERY CHURCH that professes Christ even just a little bit – somewhere in there are people who will be VICTORS in the END. And if we approach UNITY from the perspective of seeking out and locking arms with the VICTORS, we will not only be stronger, but we will begin to take shape as the BRIDE of Christ!
We don’t have to align with denominations or leaders or ideologies, we just have to draw out and recognize in the Spirit, those who are on that Victory Road no matter where they worship or what their church’s issues are.
The enemy is selling a very different brand of unity in this hour – the “Coexist” and ecumenical lie – that all faiths and religions can and should join together to solve the problems of the world. We can’t fall for that. Only JESUS can solve the problems of this world, and His plan is not so much to solve them, but to eliminate them.
So, we need to stay focused and rightly aligned, in agreement with Him and His will and plan, even if it confuses or upsets us. That is maturity in the faith – and that is what will enable us to endure!
No one church has ever been, or will ever be 100% perfect, although some folks church shop incessantly, expecting to find the perfect church somewhere. In every church there are people who are fakers, sleepers, dead, corrupt, lazy, etc…but in every church there are on fire believers, filled and equipped by the Holy Spirit.
There are MANY churches, cults, denominations out there that claim their brand of Christianity is the only brand that will be deemed worthy at the rapture. These letters prove each one of those folks to be wrong.
These letters serve as warnings to Christians across the ages that being part of a church is no guarantee of becoming a “victor,” and that each of us must repent and submit to the Lord for ourselves, regardless of where we worship.
These letters give pastors & church leaders a scorecard from which to check their ministries, a way to steer their “ships,” and goals.
These letters also help us identify church issues as we may be church shopping – it would be a no-brainer that if you are looking for a new church home, and you visit a dead church, or a corrupt church, or a compromising church, that these are not places you’d want to go back to. Not places where you’d want to raise your children. They give us a scorecard for decision making. They also give us a litmus for deciding when to leave a church that might be damaging to us or our family.
Jesus is speaking directly to believers – both carnal and true. His letters come with a dire warning and great hope, for the eternal future of their souls. This entire passage reinforces Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-23 and Matthew 25:31-46. Reading them should put the holy fear of God back into the fakers, the sleepers, the dead, the corrupt, the lazy – and jolt them into repentance that leads to life.