The Seven Churches
of Revelation 2 and 3

by Elder James S. White

Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,
Vol. 55 No. 2, 1880, Jan. 8
"Signs of the Times #2"

(part 9)
The messages to the seven churches of the second and third chapter of Revelation are prophetic, and are addressed to the Christians of the seven periods of the Christian age. The following are some of our reasons for taking this position, which differs from the popular view that these addresses are a simple narrative of facts as they existed in seven of the churches in Asia, in John's day:—

(1.) The entire book of Revelation is addressed to the seven churches. " I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify these things in the churches, " What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches." Chaps. 1 : 3, 11, 19 22:16,18,19.

(2.) Most of the book relates to events then in the future, with which the Christians of John's day had no connection whatever.

(3.) The seven addresses of the second and third chapters of Revelation were no more applicable to the Christians in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, than to the other churches in Asia Minor, or those of any other country.

(4.) The grand design of the book of Revelation is to foretell future events, with which the church should be connected in the Christian age. " The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass." Chap. 1:1. In a few instances, past and present events are mentioned in his book, as in chap. 12 :1-5, but in all such cases the past and present are alluded to only to introduce future events, which in every case are the burden of the prophecy.

(5.) The seven addresses to the churches do have fitness to seven periods of the Christian age, while the harmony of revelation and reason forbid the application of some portions of the seven addresses to the Christians of John's day.

The view that the seven messages are prophetic has prevailed extensively among Biblical expositors of the past, but has been rejected by those who have received the modern doctrine of the temporal millennium, which makes the last state of the church the most glorious, and not properly described by the address to the church of the Laodiceans.

We give the extracts that follow, from Newton, Scott, and Henry, as proof that many able expositors of the past have held that the seven churches of Asia represent seven periods and states of the Christian church. Benson quotes Bishop Newton as saying :

" Many contend, and among them such earned men as More and Vitringa, that the seven epistles are prophetical of so many successive periods and states of the church, from the beginning to the conclusion of all. But there are in these epistles several innate characters, which are peculiar to the church of that age, and cannot be so well applied to the church of any other age. Besides other arguments, there is also this plain reason : The last state of the church is described in this very book as the most glorious of all, but in the last state in these epistles, that of Laodicea, the church is represented as wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."

The Comprehensive Commentary says :

" Many expositors have imagined that these epistles to the seven churches were mystical prophecies of seven distinct periods, into which the whole term, from the apostles' days to the end of the world, would be divided. .... It cannot be conceived, if the concluding part of this book itself be recollected, that the last period of the church will be worse than any that has gone before, as the Laodicean church was far more corrupt than any of the rest." —Scott.

" An opinion has been held by some commentators of note, which may be given in the words of Vitringa : ' That under this emblematical representation of the seven churches of Asia, the Holy Spirit has delineated seven different states of the Christian church, which world appear in succession, extending to the coming of our Lord, anc the consummation of all things. That this is given in descriptions taken from the names, states and conditions of these churches, so that they might behold themselves, and learn both their good qualities and their defects, and what admonitions and exhortations were suitable for them. Vitringa has given a summary of the arguments which may be alleged in favor of this interpretation. Some of them are ingenious, but they are not now considered sufficient to support such i theory. Gill is one of the principal of the English commentators who adopt this view, that' they an prophetical of the churches of Christ, in the several periods of time, until he appears again.'"— Henry.

We suggest, however, that the message to the last of the seven churches is in harmony with Paul's description of the last day: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. or of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." 2 Tim. 3:1-7.

It is not our design to give an exposition of the subject of the seven churches. That is given in thoughts on the Revelation, to which we invite the attention of the reader. As our object, in the small space we shall occupy, is to show the signs of the times in the fulfillment of prophecy, we shall, in rapidly tracing the events of this prophecy, briefly notice each of the seven churches.

(1.) Ephesus signifies " desirable," which well represents the first Christians who had received the doctrine of Christ in its purity. They enjoyed the benefits and blessings of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They were noted for works, labor, and patience. In faithfulness to those pure principles taught by Jesus Christ, they could not bear those who were evil, and they tried false apostles, and searched out their true character. If the work of trying false apostles belonged to any one congregation of Christians, that at Jerusalem was the very one. Acts 15. Paul also writes to the Corinthians respecting false apostles. 2 Cor. 11: 3.
We would here suggest that the angels, or messengers, of the churches, may represent Christ's true ministers, through whom, he speaks to his people during the several periods of the Christian age.

(2.) Smyrna signifies "myrrh," denoting that the church in this age would be a sweet-smelling savor to God, while passing through the fiery ordeal of persecution which has always served to keep out pride, popularity, and self-dependence, the bane of true faith, piety, and devotion. This state reached down to Constantine, covering much of the period called the ten persecutions. See Buck's Theological Dictionary, 'pp. 332, 333.

(3.) Pergamos signifies " height, elevation." This period reached from Constantine, about 323, down to the rise of antichrist, about 538. During this period the church became exalted, having her worldly policy, and, like the church of this day, attending to the ceremonies and forms of religion, and neglecting inward piety, the graces of the Spirit, and the life and power of the religion of Jesus. Here was the falling away mentioned by Paul. 2Thess. 2:3.

(4) Thyatira signifies " sweet savor of labor," or "sacrifice and contrition," which seems descriptive of the church of Jesus Christ during the 1260 years of papal persecution. This age of dreadful cruelty, and martyrdom of the true church, improved her real condition. "I know thy works, and charity, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first." .How necessary to the purity and prosperity of the church, has been persecution and affliction! and how corrupting and destructive to holiness has been worldly prosperity!

" Jezebel, is a figurative name, alluding to Ahab's wife, who slew the prophets of the Lord, led her husband into idolatry, and fed the prophets of Baal at her own table. A more striking figure could not have been used to denote the papal abominations. See 1 Kings 18,19, 21. It is very evident from history, as well as from this verse, that the church of Christ did suffer some of the papal monks to preach and teach among them. See the History of the Waldenses."—Wm. Miller's Lectures, p. 11$.

(5.) Sardis signifies " song of joy," or " that which remains." If we are correct in the application of the first four churches, then Sardis represents the popular churches for nearly a century past. This church has a name to live, but is dead. Look at the exalted position and name which these churches have had among the nations of the earth. Look at their high-sounding titles, and the applause they receive from what is called the world. They bear the name of the church of Jesus Christ, and have the credit of doing much for the world. But they are dead to the pure principles of the gospel, and to good works as taught by Christ and his first ministers.

During this period of the church the message of the second coming of Christ is proclaimed, and the duty to watch for that event is enjoined. Those who do not watch will be overtaken by Christ's coming as by a thief, verse 3, while those who do watch are not in darkness, that that day should overtake them as a thief. 1 Thess. 5 : 4,

There are a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments. These come out of the different branches of Babylon, and unite upon the glorious theme of the second advent of Christ, leaving their denominational tenets behind, and form the church of brotherly love.

(6.) Philadelphia signifies " brotherly love," and expresses the position and spirit of those who received the advent message up to the autumn of 1844. As they came out of the sectarian churches, they left party names and party feelings behind, and every heart beat in unison as they gave the alarm, pointing to the coming of the Son of man as the consummation of the true believer's hope. Selfishness and covetousness were laid aside, and a spirit of consecration and sacrifice was cherished. The Spirit of God was with every true believer, and his praise on every tongue. Those who were not in that movement know nothing of the deep searching of heart, consecration of all to God, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit, and pure, fervent love for each other, which true believers then enjoyed.

The Son of God is the rightful heir to the throne of David, and is about to take to himself his great power, and reign, hence is here represented as having the key of David—key, a figure of power. The throne of David, or of Christ, on which he is to reign, is in the capital of his kingdom, the New Jerusalem now above. The opening and shutting, mentioned in the address to this church, can refer only to the change of ministration from the holy to the most holy of the heavenly sanctuary, at the end of the 2300 days, in 1844. It was then that the ministration in the holy place closed, and the ministration in the most holy for the forgiveness of sins, and to cleanse the sanctuary, was opened by Him that hath the key of David.

" Behold, I set before thee an open door." Compare this with Rev. 11:19. We can apply texts of this class to no other events than to Christ's entering the most holy in 1844, and opening his ministration there, where is the ark of ten commandments; hence, since that time, the Sabbath, with the whole law of God, has been present truth in a special sense.

Compare with the above texts, Dan. 7 :13, 14 ; Ps. 2:8, 9 ; Rev. 11 : 15 ; Matt. 25 : 10. That Christ receives the kingdom, takes the throne of David, before his second advent, is plainly taught. This union is represented by the marriage of Matt. 25 :10, and is called "the marriage of the Lamb." Rev. 19 :7. Since 1844 has been the patient, waiting, watching time. "Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God." Rev. 14:12. "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning ; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when he will return from the wedding." Luke 12:35,36.

Those who keep the word of Christ's patience, will be kept from the hour of temptation which is to try all the world. Those who now live in patient, faithful obedience to the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ, will be kept in the dreadful deciding hour before us. Rev. 13: 15-17.

The personal appearing of Jesus Christ is also expressed in this address, Behold, I come quickly! This shows the application of the testimony to the church in Philadelphia, to that period when Christ's second advent may be scripturally looked for, and shows the absurdity of that theory which makes the seven addresses to the churches, narratives of matters of fact which occurred, or were to occur, in seven of the churches of Asia Minor, in John's day. There are no such expressions in connection with the first three churches, from the fact that they did not reach down near the end.

In this address the overcomer has the promise of being made a pillar in the temple of God, to go no more out, which here must mean the church, 2 Cor. 6:16, where he is established in the truth, and finally sealed. And let it be distinctly understood that these are all marked direct for the New Jerusalem above, and not for Old Jerusalem where our age-to-come friends think of going, God save us from that mark. These have written upon them, God, New Jerusalem, because they are the property of God, purchased by the blood of his dear Son, to be taken to the New Jerusalem. How glorious the promise, "I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of Heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new name."

(7.) Laodicea signifies "the judging of the people," or according to Cruden, " a just people," and fitly represents believers in the last message in the great day of atonement, or judgment of the house of God, while the just and holy law of God is taken as their rule of life. They are described as being neither hot nor cold. As a body they have not that zeal, devotion, and those good works which are taught in the Scriptures, and yet their efforts to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus are such that they cannot be said to be cold. They say they are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing. They say this, because they believe their condition in spiritual things, and their standing before God, is such. But they are under a most terrible deception, as shown by the declaration, "and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." The words, " and knowest not," vindicate them from all charge of hypocrisy. They honestly think their condition very good, when it is very bad. This is a period of dreadful deception in spiritual things, hence pointed testimony is called for to arouse the deceived to their real danger. The very climax of deception, in which Satan may most exult, is a spirit of fear for the result of the plain and pointed testimony.

The people, and especially unconsecrated professors, love smooth things. They love to be deceived. " A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so; and what will ye do in the end thereof?" Jer. 5: 30, 31. The true Witness counsels the people of God at this time to buy of him tried gold, which may represent true faith; white raiment, which may represent grace from him to enable his people to live a spotless life; and to anoint their eyes that they may see, which may represent the influence of the Holy Spirit upon the mind, which will remove the dreadful deception upon it, so that they may correctly understand their true position and duty at this time.

He stands at the door of the heart, knocking for admission; but spiritual blindness on the part of the lukewarm shuts him out. He pleads for ad- mission, and promises those who will hear his voice, and open the door, that he will come in and sup with them, and they with him. In this appeal, the Son of God uses most touching figures, which illustrate his matchless love for his people who are thrown upon the deceptive perils of the last days, and then closes his special message to them with a soul-inspiring promise of the highest exaltation: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."

In this appeal, the true Witness sets forth, first, the terrible deception of the lukewarm; second, their danger, and fate if they thus remain; third, the requisite zeal in repentance; fourth, his willingness to impart to them great blessings; and fifth, points them, on condition that they overcome, to a seat with him on his throne in the kingdom. This is enough! 0 God, let thy Holy Spirit strike this message home to the heart of every Laodicean.

The seventh is the last church. The number seven represents fullness, perfection, completion. There will be no eighth church to come out of the seventh, as taught by some restless fanatics. The seventh church now existing, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, will be purified and prepared to meet the Lord at his coming.

James White and Seven Seals

James White and an Overview of the Seven Trumpets

James White and Seven Trumpets

Home Page for SDA Pioneers Writings