Although it is not on my Bible-in-a-year reading schedule until December, the book of Revelation has come to my attention in two ways recently. First, a blog that I came across through the WordPress Blog Surfer included a link to this chart about the 7 churches of Revelation. Second,a fellow blogger has recently started working his way through Revelation and posting his thoughts on this sometimes controversial book.
In looking at the chart and the website it is posted on, I learned about the historicist view of Revelation, which holds that “from John`s day, there has been a chronological fulfilment in history of the prophecies of the Book of the Revelation.” The chart I linked to above shows this historical view and indicates the period of time in which this group believes the 7 churches of Revelation have existed, culminating with the present time being the time of the 7th church, the church in Laodicea. I had never heard of this view of Revelation before. I have read much about what this site calls the futurist view, which holds that much of the prophecy of Revelation has yet to happen, but that at some point in the future the rapture of all believers will occur followed by the rise of the antichrist and the second coming of Christ, referred to as Armageddon. This futurist view is consistent with the popular Left Behind series that is a fictional account of the end times.
This is all very interesting and one could spend hours studying whether the historicist view or the futurist view of Revelation is a true and accurate interpretation of a highly symbolic book based on a vision of the apostle John. However, as I have been reading the posts by my friend and fellow blogger Vineet, it occurred to me that as a practical matter the focus he has taken is much more appropriate for the average Christian. He has focused on Christ throughout his reading of Revelation and what God is speaking to him in his daily walk with the Lord.
I’m not sure it matters whether the 7 churches represent the church at 7 distinct periods of history or 7 actual churches that existed at the time of John’s vision or 7 examples of the church as it exists today. Perhaps it is all 3 to some extent. And maybe the 7 churches of Revelation represent the 7 possible states of the individual believer at any one time in their walk with Jesus. Christ found fault with 5 of the 7 churches, and He had praise for some characteristic of 6 of the 7 churches. But for each, even the church in Laodicea for which He had no praise, there was a promise to those who overcame. Here are the 7 promises:
- To the church in Ephesus: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7b.
- To the Church in Smyrna: “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:11b.
- To the Church in Pergamum: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17b.
- To the Church in Thyatira: “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations — ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ — just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.” Revelation 2:26-28.
- To the Church in Sardis: “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” Revelation 3:5.
- To the Church in Philadelphia: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him 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 him my new name.” Revelation 3:12.
- To the Church in Laodicea: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21.
Throughout these messages to the churches, Jesus repeats, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 2:11a, 17a, 29, 3:6, 13, 22. He makes it clear that we cannot ignore what He has to say to all 7 of the churches. If we are to have our names written in the book of life, we must overcome the stumbling blocks that might trip up members of each church. But how do we overcome?
During His earthly ministry, Jesus made it quite clear how we overcome, and it is by putting all our hope, faith, and trust in Him. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” John 14:6. We cannot trust in ourselves because then we become idolators, setting ourselves up as god. This is the failing of the church in Pergamum.
We overcome by not continuing in habitual sin because of grace or claim that which is sin is not in fact sin. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, ” Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11. This does not mean that any failing on the part of the Christian leads to loss of salvation, but only habitual sin, especially sexual immorality and idolatry. This is the failing of the church in Thyatira.
We overcome by not being lukewarm about our faith in Christ, proclaiming Him only when it is convenient for us. Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:26. Lukewarm faith doesn’t change the believer or cause him or her to desire to change for the better. This is the failing of the church in Laodicea, and so Christ wanted to spit them out.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be an overcomer! I want all of those promises that Jesus makes to those who overcome. And so I will listen to what He has to say to the churches, whether they be historical stages of the church throughout history or representations of the churches that exist today. Because ultimately whether I overcome will depend not on whether the historicist or futurist view of Revelation is correct, but on whether I put all my hope, trust, and faith in Christ alone to give me the wisdom and power to overcome.