The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 22

The Hour of Temptation

(Revelation 3)

The History of the Church

     As noted earlier, there is indication of a certain parallel between church history and the seven church epistles of Revelation 2 and 3.  This prophetic interpretation, in fact, has often been taken as the primary meaning of these chapters, covering the history of the period between John’s time and the “rapture” of the church.  Entire books have been written developing this one theme.

     The problem with this interpretation, however, is that there is no suggestion in the Scriptures themselves that the intention of these letters was to outline seven periods of church history.  At best, therefore, this could only have been an incidental and secondary purpose.  The format is not one of prophecy, as is true of the rest of Revelation, but simply of exhortation.  The churches addressed were all real churches, active at the time John was writing.  The symbolic significance of the seven-part messages to seven selected churches, as pointed out earlier, is simply that these churches do represent all true churches, in all nations and all times.  The message to each church is profitable for every church.  “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” is the admonition to each church and each reader.

     It is possible, on the other hand, that there may be a secondary prophetic application, even though it is not the primary interpretation.  Although the prophetic aspects are not so specific that they would have enabled the reader to predict the events before they happened, one can indeed discern some historical parallels in retrospect, some correspondence as the following rough correlation suggests:

Letter to the Church           Period in Church History                                             

1.  Ephesus Apostolic Age               Before A.D. 100

2.  Smyrna Age of Persecution A.D. 100 - A.D. 313

3.  Pergamos Imperial Church Age A.D. 313 - A.D. 590

4.  Thyatira Age of Papacy A.D. 590 - A.D. 1517

5.  Sardis Reformation Age A.D. 1517 - A.D. 1730

6.  Philadelphia Missionary Age A.D. 1730 - A.D. 1900

7.  Laodicea Age of Apostasy A.D. 1900 - ? 

     There is no doubt that many parallels can be drawn between the conditions described in each church and the corresponding developments in ecclesiastical history.  At the same time, writers have often seriously strained their exegesis in seeking to make the parallels more convincing than they actually are.

     It is not unreasonable to think that the Lord Jesus Christ should arrange His seven messages in some logical order, since He is “not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33) and, therefore, does nothing capriciously.  For that matter, they are arranged in a logical geographical order, proceeding clockwise around the seven, beginning with the one closest to Patmos, where John first heard the messages.  But it is certainly possible that the order was also selected to correlate with Christ’s prescient awareness of how various movements and problems would later develop among churches worldwide.

     Since such a prophetic application of these seven messages is at least equivocal, however,  and since there is nothing directly said by Christ to require – or even to suggest – such an application, a literalistic approach to the study of Revelation cannot place much emphasis on it.  This reservation, however, in no way suggests that the messages are applicable only to the specific churches to whom they were originally addressed.  The vision of Christ walking in the midst of seven representative churches is more than sufficient reason to conclude that the messages apply to all churches in all ages, some to some churches more than others, and perhaps some to some periods more than others.

     That the messages were intended to apply to the very end of the church age is evident from the fact that, in some cases at least, the imminent return of Christ is mentioned in the epistles.  This is especially true of the last four churches – Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  Chapter 3 of Revelation concludes the seven letters with the last three of these, all written, so to speak, in the shadow of the coming period of judgment, the great tribulation, “the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Revelation 3:10).  

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