(below is copied and pasted from the Blue Letter Bible study web site)
And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,
a. The church of the Laodiceans: Laodicea was an important, wealthy city, with a significant Jewish population. Like other cities in the region, it was a center for Caesar worship and the worship of the healing god Asklepios. There was a famous temple of Asklepios in Laodicea, with a more famous medical school connected with the temple.
i. After an earthquake devastated the region in a.d. 60 Laodicea refused Imperial help to rebuild the city, successfully relying on their own resources. They didn’t need outside help, they didn’t ask for it, and they didn’t want it. “Laodicea was too rich to accept help from anyone. Tacitus, the Roman historian, tells us: ‘Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.’ ” (Barclay)
b. The church of the Laodiceans: Laodicea was also a noted commercial center, and some of its goods were exported all over the world. “It is frequently noted that Laodicea prided itself on three things: financial wealth, an extensive textile industry, and a popular eye-salve which was exported around the world.” (Mounce)
c. The church of the Laodiceans: One of their problems was a poor water supply that made Laodicea vulnerable to attack through siege. If an enemy army surrounded the city, they had insufficient water supplies in the city, and the supplies coming into the city could be easily cut off. Therefore, the leaders of Laodicea were always accommodating to any potential enemy, and always wanted to negotiate and compromise instead of fight.
i. Their main water supply came on a six-mile aqueduct from the hot springs of Hierapolis. Because the water came from hot springs, it arrived unappetizingly lukewarm.
2. (Rev 3:14b) Jesus describes Himself to the church at Laodicea.
These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:
a. These things says the Amen: Jesus is the Amen, the “so be it,” the “it is done.” As 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, For all the promises of God in Him are “Yes,” and in Him “Amen.” Jesus is “the personification and the affirmation of the truth of God.” (Barclay)
b. The Faithful and True Witness: This is Jesus, and this was a contrast to the Laodiceans, who will be shown to be neither faithful nor true.
c. Beginning of the creation of God: The idea behind the word for beginning [the ancient Greek word arche] is that of a “ruler, source, or origin,” not of first in a sequential order. This verse does not teach that Jesus was the first being created, but that He is the ruler, source, and origin of all creation. It has the idea of first in prominence more than first in sequence.
3. (Rev 3:15-16) What Jesus knows about the church of Laodicea.
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
a. You are neither cold nor hot: This picture of lukewarmness would immediately connect with the Christians of Laodicea because the water they drank every day was lukewarm. Jesus said, “Just as the water you drink is disgustingly lukewarm, you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot.” In this spiritual sense, lukewarmness is a picture of indifference and compromise. It tries to play the middle, too hot to be cold and too cold to be hot. In trying to be both things, they end up being nothing – except to hear the words, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
i. Did Jesus mean to say that these Christians were intrinsically cold, but warmed up by their religious trappings? Or, that they were essentially hot, but cooled down by their apathy and self-reliance? Both are possible, but since He spoke to His church, there is an emphasis on the later.
ii. Has there been a greater curse upon the earth than empty religion? Is there any soul harder to reach than the one who has just enough of Jesus to think they have enough? The church of Laodicea exemplifies empty religion, and tax collectors and harlots were more open to Jesus than the scribes and Pharisees.
iii. Satan will have us any way he can get us, but he prizes a lukewarm religionist far above a cold-hearted sinner.
b. I could wish that you were cold or hot: What Jesus wanted to change in them (and us) as much as anything is the deceptive playing of the middle, trying to please both the world and Jesus.
i. I could wish that you were cold or hot also points to another aspect of lukewarmness, as a picture of uselessness. “Hot water heals, cold water refreshes, but lukewarm water is useless for either purpose.” (L. Morris) It was as if Jesus said, “If you were hot or cold I could do something with you. But because you are neither, I will do nothing.” The lukewarm Christian has enough of Jesus to satisfy a craving for religion, but not enough for eternal life.
ii. The thief on the cross was cold towards Jesus and clearly saw his need. John was hot towards Jesus and enjoyed a relationship of love; but Judas was lukewarm, following Jesus enough to be considered a disciple, yet not giving his heart over to Jesus in fullness.
iii. Deep down, there is no one more miserable than the lukewarm Christian is. They have too much of the world to be happy in Jesus, but too much of Jesus to be happy in the world.
iv. But how could Jesus say, I could wish that you were cold? We know His deepest desire is that they be hot, with an on-fire love for Him (see Revelation 3:19, where the word zealous is associated with this same word hot). Yet if they would not be hot, Jesus preferred cold rather than lukewarm. “So the Lord is saying, ‘If instead of being lukewarm, you were so cold that you should feel that coldness, then the very feeling of your need might drive you to the true warmth, but now in your lukewarmness, you have just enough to protect yourselves against a feeling of need.’ ” (Barnhouse)
c. Lukewarm: Such prayers mock God. “O my brethren and sisters, have you ever really thought what an insult it is to God when we come before him with lukewarm prayers? There stands the heavenly mercy-seat; the road to it is sprinkled with the precious blood of Jesus, yet we come to it with hearts that are cold, or we approach it leaving our hearts behind us. We kneel in the attitude of prayer, yet we do not pray. We prattle out certain words, we express thoughts, which are not our real desires, we feign wants that we do not feel. Do we not thus degrade the mercy-seat? We make it, as it were, a common lounging-place, rather than an awful wrestling-place, once besprinkled with blood, and often to be besprinkled with the sweat of our fervent supplication.” (Spurgeon)
d. Lukewarm: Such lives turn people away from Jesus. “Now, lukewarm professor, what do worldlings see in you? They see a man, who says he is going to heaven, but who is only travelling at a snail’s pace. He professes to believe that there is a hell, yet he has tearless eyes, and never seeks to snatch souls from going down into the pit. They see before them one who has to deal with eternal realities, yet he is but half awake; one who professes to have passed through a transformation so mysterious and wonderful that there must be, if it is true, a vast change in the outward life as the result of it; yet they see him as much like themselves as can be. He may be morally consistent in his general behavior, but they see no energy in his religious character.” (Spurgeon)
i. “The careless worldling is lulled to sleep by the lukewarm professor, who, in this respect, acts the part of the syren to the sinner, playing sweet music in his ears, and even helping to lure him to the rocks where he will be destroyed. This is a solemn matter, beloved. In this way, great damage is done to the cause of truth; and God’s name and God’s honor are compromised by inconsistent professors. I pray you either to give up your profession, or to be true to it. If you really are God’s people, then serve him with all your might; but if Baal be your god, then serve him. If the flesh be worth pleasing, then serve the flesh; but if God be Lord paramount, then cleave to him.” (Spurgeon)
e. The name Laodicea means “rule of the people.” This church well represents a church run by majority rule instead of God. “Its name designates it as the Church of mob rule, the democratic Church, in which everything is swayed and decided by popular opinion, clamour and voting.” (Seiss)
i. This is reflected in Jesus’ address to the church: the church of the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14). For the other churches, it was the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1) or the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8) or the church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1). But here, it is the church of the Laodiceans.
ii. We might even say that lukewarmness is the natural tendency of our fallen natures. “Alas, this state of lukewarmness is so congenial with human nature that it is hard to fetch men from it. Cold makes us shiver, and great heat causes us pain, but a tepid bath is comfort itself. Such a temperature suits human nature. The world is always at peace with a lukewarm church, and such a church is always pleased with itself.” (Spurgeon)
f. Because you are lukewarm: In his sermon An Earnest Warning against Lukewarmness, Spurgeon described the lukewarm church:
· They have prayer-meetings, but there are few present, for they like quiet evenings home
· When more attend the meetings they are still very dull, for they do their praying very deliberately and are afraid of being too excited
· They are content to have all things done decently and in order, but vigor and zeal are considered to be vulgar
· They may have schools, Bible-classes, preaching rooms, and all sorts of agencies; but they might as well be without them, for no energy is displayed and no good comes of them
· They have deacons and elders who are excellent pillars of the church, if the chief quality of pillars be to stand still, and exhibit no motion or emotion
· The pastor does not fly very far in preaching the everlasting Gospel, and he certainly has no flame of fire in his preaching
· The pastor may be a shining light of eloquence, but he certainly is not a burning light of grace, setting men’s hearts on fire
· Everything is done in a half-hearted, listless, dead-and-alive way, as if it did not matter much whether it was done or not
· Things are respectably done, the rich families are not offended, the skeptical party is conciliated, and the good people are not quite alienated: things are made pleasant all around
· The right things are done, but as to doing them with all your might, and soul, and strength, a Laodicean church has no notion of what that means
· They are not so cold as to abandon their work, or to give up their meetings for prayer, or to reject the gospel
i. “They are neither hot for the truth, nor hot for conversions, nor hot for holiness, they are not fiery enough to burn the stubble of sin, nor zealous enough to make Satan angry, nor fervent enough to make a living sacrifice of themselves upon the altar of their God. They are ‘neither cold nor hot.’ ” (Spurgeon)
g. I will vomit you out of My mouth: How are churches in the mouth of Jesus?
· They are in His mouth because they spread His Word
· They are in His mouth because He prays for them constantly
i. What a terrible thing – in either of these ways – to be expelled from the mouth of Jesus!
4. (Rev 3:17) What Jesus has against the church of Laodicea.
Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing”; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked;
a. You say, “I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” The church at Laodicea lacked a sense spiritual poverty. They looked at their spiritual condition and said “rich.” They looked again and said “wealthy.” They looked a third time and said, “We have need of nothing.” They were the opposite of blessed are the poor in spirit Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:3.
i. The Laodiceans put their trust in material prosperity, in outward luxury, and in physical health. They felt like they didn’t need anything. “The loss of a sense of need, as the drowsiness that besets a freezing man, is fatal.” (Newell)
ii. “The cause of Christ has been hurt more by Sunday-morning bench-warmers who pretend to love Christ, who call Him Lord but do not His commands, than by all the publicans and sinners.” (Havner)
b. And do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked: It wasn’t that the church at Laodicea wasn’t spiritually poor – they were, they were simply blind to it. Jesus looked at their spiritual condition and said, “wretched.” He looked again and said, “miserable.” A third time Jesus looked and said, “poor.” He looked again and said, “blind.” A final time Jesus looked and He saw that they were spiritually naked.
i. The city of Laodicea was famous for its wealth, but the Christians of the city were spiritually wretched, miserable, and poor. Laodicea was famous for its healing eye salve, but the Christians of the city were spiritually blind. Laodicea was famous for its fine clothing, but the Christians of the city were spiritually naked.
ii. The contrasts are shocking:
· The contrast between what they think they are and what they really are
· The contrast between what they see and what Jesus sees
· The contrast between the wealth and affluence of their city and their own spiritual bankruptcy
c. You are: This wasn’t just the opinion of Jesus. Spiritually speaking, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. What Jesus saw in them was more important than how they saw themselves. The church in Smyrna thought they were poor when they were really rich (Revelation 2:9), but the church of the Laodiceans believe they are rich when they are really poor.
i. We might say that it all began with their spiritual blindness. If you are blind, you can’t look at yourself and see that you are wretched, miserable, poor... and naked. Mental darkness is worse than a loss of sight; but a loss of spiritual vision is even worse.
ii. “The Laodiceans are typical of the modern world, which revels in that which the natural eye can see but is untouched by the gospel and does not see beyond the veil of the material to the unseen and real eternal spiritual riches.” (Walvoord)
5. (Rev 3:18-20) What Jesus wants the church of Laodicea to do.
I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
a. I counsel you to buy from Me: The change in the Laodiceans had to begin with understanding their spiritual poverty. As long as we believe we can meet the need for wealth, clothing, or sight ourselves, we can never receive them from Jesus. We must seek these things from Jesus instead of relying on them ourselves.
i. Buy from Me gold refined in the fire: If they received from Jesus His riches, His gold – beautifully refined in the fire – then they may be rich.
ii. White garments, that you may be clothed: If they received from Jesus the pure, righteous covering He gives, then they would be clothed, and no longer would the shame of your nakedness... be revealed. The merchants of Laodicea were famous for a glossy black wool they used to make beautiful garments. Jesus says, “I know the beautiful black that the world can clothe you in. But I have white garments, that you may be clothed.”
iii. Anoint your eyes with eye salve: If they received from Jesus the healing of their spiritual sight, they would then be able to see.
b. Buy from Me: How can we buy these things from Jesus? We don’t earn them through our good works. Instead, Jesus would say, “All this self-sufficiency must be expended in the labour of getting from Me (Jesus) these absolute necessaries.” (Alford)
c. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: With such a sharp rebuke, had Jesus lost His love for this errant church? Not at all. Jesus’ great love was expressed in His rebuke. “It is, in fact, God’s final punishment to leave a man alone.” (Barclay)
i. The word for love in as many as I love is not agape, but phileo. Jesus’ heart to this church is, “Even though I rebuke you and chasten you, I am still your friend. I love you deeply as My friend.”
ii. “Yet upon a church that has sunk so low as Laodicea, the risen Lord still showers His love.” (Barnhouse)
iii. “The word here used for ‘love’ is a very choice one; it is one which signifies an intense personal affection.” (Spurgeon)
d. Therefore be zealous and repent: He commanded them to make a decision to repent, and to continue in zeal. “Turn your way,” Jesus said. “Don’t look to your own riches and resources, because they are really bankrupt. Turn around and look to Me.”
i. The ancient Greek word zealous comes from the same word as hot in Revelation 3:16. Though Jesus detested their lukewarmness, He would really rather them be hot with zeal rather than cold.
ii. “When you and I shall be stretched upon our dying beds, I think we shall have to regret, above everything else, our coldness of heart. Among the many sins... perhaps this will lie the heaviest upon our heart and conscience, ‘I did not live as I ought to have done; I was not as earnest in my Lord’s cause as I should have been.’ Then will our cold sermons, like sheeted ghosts, march before our eyes in dread array. Then will our neglected days start up, each one seeming to wave its hair as though it were one of the seven furies, and to look right into our hearts, and make our very blood curdle in our veins.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We need to make our life following Jesus, not just a hobby or an occasional activity. This goes against the spirit of our age, which was long ago expressed by a famous Englishman when he read a sermon by G.W.E. Russell: “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life.” (English statesman William Lamb [1779-1848])
iv. Trapp, on the believer’s repentance: “This is the rainbow, which if God seeth shining in our hearts, he will never drown our souls.”
e. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: Jesus gave this lukewarm church The Great Invitation. He knocked at their door, asking entry to come and dine with them, in the sense of sharing warm, intimate time. It only happens as we respond to His knock, but the promise is made to all: If anyone hears my voice.
i. The idea of Jesus at the door applies to the sinner and to the saint just the same. Jesus wants to come in to us, and dine with us, in the sense of having a deep, meaningful relationship.
ii. I stand at the door: Sadly, Jesus stood on the outside, knocking to get in. If the church at Philadelphia was “The Church of the Open Door,” then Laodicea had “The Church of the Excluded Jesus.”
iii. I stand at the door and knock... If anyone hears My voice and opens the door: This statement of Jesus expressed a profound mystery. Why did Jesus stand outside the door? Why did He knock? Why did He wait until someone opens the door? He had every right to break down the door, or enter some other way on His own accord, but He didn’t. The sovereign, omnipotent Jesus lowered Himself to work out His eternal plan by wooing the cooperation of the human heart.
iv. “The occupant must open the door. That is, he must repent of his pride and self-sufficiency, his human wisdom, and his cowardly neutrality.” (H. Morris)
v. “Christ stands – waits long, at the door of the sinner’s heart; he knocks – uses judgments, mercies, reproofs, exhortations, to induce sinners to repent and turn to him; he lifts up his voice – calls loudly by his word, ministers, and Spirit.” (Clarke)
vi. Jesus comes to the door as the lover in the Song of Solomon. This is similar to – or perhaps a quotation of – Song of Solomon 5:2: It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, ‘open for me, my sister, my love.’
vii. The key to opening the door is to first hear His voice. When we give attention to what Jesus says, then we can be rescued from our own lukewarmness and enter into a “zealous” relationship with Him.
f. I will come into him: What a glorious promise! If we open the door, He will come in. He won’t ring the bell and run away. He promised to come in, and then to dine with the believer.
i. When Jesus said dine with him, He spoke of a specific meal known as the deipnon. “The deipnon was the main meal of the day and was a leisurely affair, not a hurried snack.” (L. Morris) This speaks of fellowship. This speaks of a depth to the relationship.
ii. “Supper (deipnon) was the main meal of the day. This was the meal at which a man sat and talked for long, for now there was time, for work was ended... it is not a mere courtesy visit, paid in the passing, which Jesus Christ offers to us. He desires to come in and to sit long with us, and to wait as long as we wish him to wait.” (Barclay)
iii. This is where Jesus wants us, in the place of fellowship with Him. Everything He said to the Laodicean church up to this point must be seen in light of this loving desire for fellowship. “Rebuke and chastisement are no signs of rejection from Christ, but of His abiding and pleading love, even to the lukewarm and careless.” (Alford)
g. If anyone: Notice that Jesus gave the call to individuals. He didn’t say, “If any church,” but if anyone. “We must not talk about setting the church right, we must pray for grace each one for himself, for the text does not say, ‘If the church will open the door,’ but ‘If any man hear my voice and open the door.’ It must be done by individuals: the church will only get right by each man getting right.” (Spurgeon)
6. (Rev 3:21) A promise of reward.
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
a. To him who overcomes: Jesus’ promise to the overcomer, even at Laodicea, showed that we don’t have to be Christians who are compromising and lukewarm. If we are, we can change and become one of Jesus’ overcomers.
b. I will grant to sit with Me on My throne: Those who overcome the battle against indifference, compromise, and self-reliance, receive a special reward. They enjoy a place with the enthroned Jesus (as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne).
i. “This is the worst of the seven Churches, and yet the most eminent of all the promises are made to it, showing that the worst may repent, finally conquer, and attain even to the highest state of glory.” (Clarke)
7. (Rev 3:22) A general exhortation to all who will hear.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
a. He who has an ear, let him hear: Few want to identify themselves with the church of Laodicea. We would much rather identify ourselves with the church at Philadelphia.
b. Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: We must hear what the Holy Spirit says here, because He speaks to the churches – including us. May God deliver us from the self-reliant, compromising lukewarmness that marked the church of the Laodiceans!
PUTTING THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF REVELATION INTO HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Many have attempted to make sense of Revelation chapters 2 and 3 (the letters to the seven churches of Asia) by taking them as a unified whole. It is significant that Jesus chose these particular seven congregations to address, though there were other churches in the region that were not written to (such as the church at Collosse). Additionally, some have pointed to the order of the letters as evidence of their significance as a broad explanation of church history in the period between the Ascension and Jesus to His return.
It is also interesting to note that Paul addressed seven churches: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Colosse, Phillipi, and Thessalonica (some also note with interest that Jesus gives seven “Kingdom Parables”). Early commentators on the Book of Revelation emphasized that as seven is a number of completion and fulfillment, so Jesus and Paul wrote to seven churches as an indication that they were in fact speaking to the complete church, not just these seven congregations. Speaking to seven churches means speaking to the church in perfection, in completion and totality. As one commentator puts it, “The churches of all time are comprehended in seven.”
Here is what some say about each of these periods as they relate to church history:
Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (written in 1983)
“Although it is by no means the dominant theme, there is a sense also in which the seven churches seem to depict the respective stages of development and change of Christ’s churches during the ensuing centuries. History has, indeed, shown such a general development through the years... He is not capricious in His selection. There is bound to be some significance in the sequence of the seven, as well as the total.”
Following is a chart from page 66 of The Revelation Record:
Church Period in Church History Dates
Ephesus Apostolic Age Before a.d. 100
Smyrna Age of Persecution a.d. 100 to 313
Pergamos Imperial Church Age 313 to 590
Thyatira Age of Papacy 590 to 1517
Sardis Reformation Age 1517 to 1730
Philadelphia Missionary Age 1730 to 1900
Laodicea Age of Apostasy 1900 to ?
Joseph Seiss, The Apocalypse (written in 1900)
Ephesian: Warmth and love and labor for Christ; defection beginning with a gradual cooling of love, false professions and clergy/laity distinctions.
Smyrna: Sweet and precious martyrdom, but a progression of clergy and laity distinctions and Judaizing tendencies, with an increasing departure from the simplicity of the gospel.
Pergamite: True faith more and more disappearing; clericalism systematized, union with the world.
Thyatiran: Purple and glory for the corrupt priesthood; false prophets enthroned in a time when truth was exchanged for darkness (up to the Reformation).
Sardian: Separation and return to the rule of Christ; many great names, but also deadness, and lethargy (Protestant centuries).
Philadelphian: Closer adherence to Jesus’ Word, more fraternity among Christians (modern evangelical movement of the 19th century).
Seiss does not give much of a description of the Laodicean church along this same pattern, because he felt that in his day (1900), it was yet to really emerge upon the scene.
Clarence Larkin, The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World (1918)
Ephesian: a.d. 70 to 170 – “The backslidden church.”
Smyrna: 170 to 312 – “The persecuted church.”
Pergamite: 312 to 606 – “The licentious church.”
Thyatiran: 606 to 1520 – “A lax church.”
Sardian: 1520 to 1750 – “A dead church.”
Philadelphian: 1750 to 1900 – “A favored church.”
Laodicean: 1900 to the end – “A lukewarm church.”
Taylor Bunch, The Seven Epistles of Christ (1947)
Ephesian: “The universal church of the days of the apostles, or the first century of Christianity.”
Smyrna: Second and third centuries, “the age of martyrdom, when pagan Roman emperors attempted to destroy Christianity with the violence of the sword.”
Pergamite: Covering 250 years (from Emperor Constantine to Emperor Justinian the Great) “the church was exalted to royal power and kingly authority through a union, or marriage, with the state.”
Thyatiran: 538 to 1520, the corrupt, political church of the Middle Ages.
Sardian: 1520 to the mid 1700’s (“but doubtless embraces the entire history of Protestantism to the end of the gospel dispensation”); the church of the Reformation, and a partial work.
Philadelphian: From the mid 1700’s to the present; the church of 18th and 19th century revivals, worldwide missions movements, and renewed expectation of Jesus’ return.
Laodicean: Middle 1800’s to the end of the Christian dispensation, “a sad comment on modern Christendom.”
Chuck Smith, What the World is Coming To (1977)
Ephesian: The early church, up until the death of John.
Smyrna: 2nd to 4th centuries, Roman persecutions.
Pergamite: Beginning in 316, “development of church-state system under Constantine.”
Thyatiran: The unrepentant, unfaithful church destined to go through the Great Tribulation.
Sardian: Dead Protestantism.
Philadelphian: The faithful church of the last days.
Laodicean: The apostate church of the last days.
Evaluating these Interpretations
This historical approach to the seven churches of Revelation is useful if these periods are seen as broad, imprecise descriptions of the church through history, allowing for generous periods of overlap. For example, it seems that the last four churches will persist until the coming of Jesus (see Revelation 2:25, 3:3, 3:11, and 3:20). If one accepts these seven letters as descriptive of the flow of church history, it does not require that we see them as exclusive, rigidly sequential ages.
It is good to remember that if these letters are a prophecy of the course of church history, this is their secondary significance. First and foremost, the letters were written to real, existing first-century congregations, and to “all who have an ear to hear.” As Henry Morris says,
“Since there is nothing directly said by Christ to require – or even to suggest – such an (prophetic) application, a literalistic approach to the study of Revelation cannot place much emphasis on it.”
As well, we must remember that every age has had some characteristics of all seven churches. Though certain historical periods are marked by the conditions spoken of in these letters, we could never say that “only one letter” applies only to us or our age. Joseph Seiss speaks to this well:
“There are Protestant Papists, and Papistical Protestants; sectarian anti-sectarians, and partyists who are not schismatics; holy ones in the midst of abounding defection and apostasy, and unholy ones in the midst of the most earnest and active faith; light in dark places, and darkness in the midst of light.”
We need to hear what the Spirit says to the churches (in the plural sense), not just one church.
2013 David Guzik