Dispensational View of the 7 Churches
A dispensation is a period of time, we are living in the dispensation of the Church Age. We need to remember the view point of this revelation. John was taken to the Lord’s day and hearing a voice behind him turned and was looking back at the Church Age – Rev. 1:10-12. John saw the whole Church Age from the beginning to the end. The seven churches all together tell the story of this Age and how the Church has traveled from the Day of Pentecost to the present time and even beyond where we are now.
Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-3) represents the beginning of the Church Age. On the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Christ’s resurrection, all believers were baptized into one body and the Church began – I Cor. 12:12-14. The book of Acts tells the glorious beginning of the Church. It was separated from the world, and gladly received the Word and continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they had all things common, rejoicing and praising God and the Church grew daily – Acts 2:1,4,41-47. God’s purpose for the whole Church is outlined in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. What the Lord has provided for the Church and what He wants for them.
Paul said, he had heard of their faith and love to all the saints. He prayed for them to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation and to know the hope of their calling and that they might experience the power that raised Christ from the dead – Eph. 1:15-23. In Eph. 2:1-6, Paul tells them they had been dead in trespasses and sins, but they have been quickened, raised with Christ and seated in the heavenlies. That truth is for the whole Church, we are a heavenly body, a heavenly people. God did not intend for the Church to be a part of this world – Jn. 17:13-17. We are in the world, but not part of it. Neither did God intend nor instruct believers to fix up the world. It will never change until Christ comes back to set up His kingdom. We are not to be as Lot, who fellowshiped with the world. We are pilgrims just passing through on our way to our heavenly home – Jn. 14:1-3.
Verse 4 of Rev. 2, tells the first failure of the Church. They left their first love, their love for Christ as the Head of the Church, as their Lord and Bridegroom. The Church as a whole ceased to love Christ supremely and began to degenerate. We read in Acts 19 of Paul going to Ephesus and God gave him a great revival. The city was so stirred and many who came to Christ, burned their idolatrous books, idols and shrines. But when Paul returned to this same church (Acts 20), he had to warn them, to examine themselves and to feed the church; for grievous wolves shall come in not sparing the flock and draw away disciples to themselves. In Paul’s last imprisonment he said all Asia had forsaken him – II Tim. 1:15. They no doubt like Demos loved this present world – II Tim. 4:10. They wanted the easy way. Paul’s way meant suffering. People were going away from the truth even back then – Rev. 2:5. The Ephesus period probably didn’t last until the end of the first century.
But we will notice that in every phase down through the years of this age, there has always been overcomers, those who held true to Christ – V. 7. The Smyrna church are the overcomers of this condition. No fault is found against them. They will exist clear up to the coming of Christ. Rev. 2:8-10, “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” They represent the full overcomers who have died in the Lord down through the years, if we die before the Lord comes and are full overcomers, we will be of them.
Just as Smyrna represented the overcomers of Ephesus, the Pergamos church represent the nonovercomers who dwell in the world, where Satan’s throne is – Rev. 2:12-13. Satan is the god of this world, II Cor. 4:4. Declension takes a while whether it is in the church or individuals. The early Church had terrible persecution. Believers had to hide out to worship God. Then Constantine the Emperor of Rome made friends with the Church and gave them freedom to worship. Christians thought this was the answer to all their prayers. But Constantine had a motive, he wanted to be the head of the Church.
There were those who stood against it. One was Antipas (or Polycap), Rev. 2:13. He warned the Church not to make friends with the Emperor and he lost his life, He was a faithful martyr. When any individual or church departs from the truth, they do not stay on one level. They keep going down, unless they repent. This is what happened in the Church. The sect of the Nicolaitanes (Clergy over laity) had tried to infiltrate Ephesus earlier (2:6), but they wouldn’t have them. But during the Pergamos period, they were in the church (2:15). Not only their doctrine, but also the doctrine of Balaam (evil associations, false doctrine, spiritual fornication) was found there (Rev. 2:14-15). Shortly thereafter a state religion began, the Roman Catholic Church.
Thyatira tells of this further decline, with papal supremacy the climax. In this condition the prophetess Jezebel represents the Church as the teacher. Rev. 2:18-21. This is actually what the Roman Catholic Church did, she put herself up as the teacher of the people (not the Bible), but the church. For years the people were forbade to read the Bible. If they wanted to know anything, they had to ask the priest. Their doctrine is a mixture of the Jewish Religion (their priesthood and offerings, etc.); and the Christian doctrine (virgin birth of Christ, His death and resurrection); and paganism (idols, pagan practices and worship). It has been called the dark ages of the Church.
During this period no one was allowed to profess any other doctrine, but what the state church endorsed. The Scriptures were hidden and only a few had assess to them. But God preserved them through that very means. They hoarded them so perfectly that it prevented them from being lost or destroyed. About 1500 A. D. the first man we know much about (although there were others) was Martin Luther. He found in Scripture (Rom. 1:17), “The just shall live by faith.” And there he was doing penitence for his sins. He was very disturbed by the hypocrisy of the priests and how evil they were. For they sold indulgences for a certain amount of money. If you wanted to sin you just paid the priest and was given permission to sin. The history of the popes, is anything but good people. Many bought their way into the Pope position. You no doubt heard about Borgia, they had illegitimate children that they put up in the Church as Cardinals, etc. It was a very evil time. It is all recorded in Church history.
Martin Luther came out of the Roman Church and the Lord brought a revival of the Church. It was an upward trend for awhile, Rev. 2:24-25. This brought in the Sardis period, the reformation, which we will cover in the June issue.