The Seven Types of Churches In The Last Days
By Thomas Taylor
The book of Revelation begins with Jesus speaking to the Apostle John on the Island of Patmos. Jesus describes seven churches of that day which can give us some insight into the nature of the churches we see today. I have studied these churches and their belief systems to see if we can draw a parallel for today and I have found some astounding applications. I believe the seven churches of Asia Minor in John’s day are a perfect picture of the state of the Church today – in the last days right before Christ’s return. I believe the warnings in the Bible for those churches are not just for them but Jesus meant for us to heed them as well so that we do not fall into the same judgments He pronounced over them.
When Jesus speaks to the seven churches He starts by talking to the “angel” of the church. The word angel means messenger. Many believe this is not referring to an angelic being but rather the pastor of the church. This seems to be the most likely meaning of the word in these passages of Revelation concerning the seven churches. Then Jesus pronounces that the words spoken are from Him directly to these churches. Then He describes a mystery about Himself; for example: “the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands” and “the words of the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze”.
Next Jesus recognizes these church by acknowledging He knows their works. Then He goes on to describe their works. If their works were good, He pronounces a blessing over them. If their works were evil, He describes their evil and the judgment that will follow if the do not repent. But then Jesus says to all the churches “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This is a key phrase telling us we need to pay attention to what Jesus said to them so that the churches of today do not fall into the same folly that some of those churches did and be judged as well. In one admonition to the church of Sardis, Jesus gives a warning:
Rev 3:3 ESV … If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
This is language referring to the Second Coming of Jesus. Therefore, these letters could not possibly be just referring to the historical churches of John’s day. These letters are for us of this last day generation. We desperately need to take heed to the warnings of Jesus so that we can stand strong for the harsh days ahead or we could fall away.
The Message to The Church of Ephesus – The Religious and Legalistic Church of Today
Rev 2:4-5 ESV But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (5) Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
The Ephesian church message describes the churches of today that have lost their focus on loving God and loving people first. They have fallen into a works mentality about God. They are busy doing lots of things, lots of religious works, but they are not doing what God told them to do. They are busy for the sake of being busy. They are doing what they want to do instead of God’s commands to love Him and to love people. You can be doing all kinds of things that you claim are for God…but they’re not. They are just what you want to do.
This represents the church that has lost its focus. They are having no impact on the world around them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are going through the motions of church but having no intimacy with the living God. Church is dry and mundane. They rely on the hand of man instead of the hand of God. There are people with enough money in the church to keep the doors open but there is no real experience with God any longer. They have slowly grown cold toward the real things of God.
Jesus gives this church three steps to recovery from this spiritual malaise:
Remember what it used to be like when your relationship with God was fiery hot. Remember the joy of the Lord. Remember your intimacy with God in the early days. Remember the delight you had in reading the Word of God. Remember the power of the Holy Spirit as He moved in your church. Remember how hungry you were for God. Look back. Then repent. Change your mind and the direction you are currently going. Renounce pride, faith in man, and dead religious works. Give up your critical spirit, your complaining, your judgmental attitude toward other Christians then focus on yourself – how you need to cast the beam out of your own eye. Lastly, return. Come running back into that deep relationship you once had with God and work to make it even better! (Adapted from Ray C. Stedman)
The Message to The Church of Smyrna – The Poor and Persecuted Church of Today
Rev 2:9-10 ESV “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
The word Smyrna means “myrrh” which is a fragrance that when crushed gives a wonder smell. This is a perfect picture of God’s people when oppressed and persecuted produce a wonderful fragrance in God’s nostrils. In the Bible God promises His people will be persecuted. Persecution is something many in the western world do not know about but in several third world countries Christians are being jailed and killed everyday. In many of these places Christians are not allowed to have good-paying jobs because they are Christians. The most they can ever attain to is to be a street-sweeper because of the Muslim oppression that controls the country.
Jesus says to the crushed ones “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Then He says they are to be faithful unto death meaning some of them are going to die for their faith. In these last days the persecution on Christians is going to rise dramatically. The Bible even talks about be-headings for those Christians who will not renounce Christ by the Antichrist and his government:
Rev 20:4 ESV … Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
While the much of western church goes on the lap of luxury, the persecuted third-world church bears under the weight of true persecution for Christ. I wonder if such persecution should come to the western church, would they still stand for Christ?
The Message to The Church of Pergamum – The Wordly Church of Today
Rev 2:14-16 ESV But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. (15) So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (16) Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
This is a church of doctrinal compromise with the world and paganism. Balaam tempted God’s people in Numbers 25 to mingle themselves with ungodly people through sex. This led to God’s people worshiping idols. There are some segments of the Church today that are mixing themselves with this world. They are compromising in the name of “freedom”. But it is not freedom – it is sin. God’s grace is not a license to sin and live like the world. Why would God’s people want to live like the dead? We are alive and should live like God which is the true freedom called holiness!
Verse 15 talks about those who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Some commentators have said that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans came about because of a reaction against the extreme legalism of the Jews. So instead of being legalistic, they went into the opposite ditch and became extreme in freedom….to sin! God has called us to freedom but it is a freedom FROM sin, not TO sin. Today people are teaching grace to an extreme just like in the days of John. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans says because Jesus has taken away all sin it really doesn’t matter what you do in the body. It is as if sin does not exist. But the New Testament constantly warns again committing sins, therefore sin does still exist. When we sin we are told to confess it; in other words, we are to come into agreement with God that it was a sin. We are to repent.
Many churches of today do not mention words like “repent” and “sin” anymore. However, we read in the Bible Jesus specifically tells the Ephesian church to repent (Rev 2:5). Therefore, even a Christian local church does need to repent from sin if they are committing it! Paul in the NEW TESTAMENT, after Jesus’ resurrection, constantly exhorts people to avoid sin:
Gal 5:13-24 ESV For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh… (16) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… (19) Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, (20) idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, (21) envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God….(24) And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
The doctrine of grace is being taught today in many churches correctly but it is being misapplied by the listeners into permission to sin. Others are just simply teaching it is okay to sin. Both of these dangers are in the churches and must be repented of for us to be ready for the Lord’s coming. Jesus says He hates this doctrine of freedom to sin. He is coming quickly and we need to be ready by walking in the proper balance of God’s grace which is holiness and freedom FROM sin!
The Message to The Church of Thyatira – The Liberal Church of Today
Rev 2:20-22 ESV But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. (21) I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. (22) Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,
Jezebel weaved a web of deceit for the church of Thyatira leading them into false teaching. She seduced them into sexual wickedness and idolatry. Her manipulation pulled away the godly people of the church into accepting false doctrines of mixing Christianity with paganism. Today this would represent the liberal church which accepts doctrines of homosexuality under the banner of tolerance. There are churches appointing homosexual pastors and celebrating gay marriage. They have been deceived by the doctrines of this world to reject God’s law of marriage, between one man and one woman, to replace it with what the Bible calls an abomination.
These churches promote pluralism – meaning it does not even matter which god you serve because all paths lead to Heaven. If you want to follow the Christian God, then fine. If you want to follow Buddha, that’s fine too. If you want to mix Christianity and Buddhism, well that is “commendable because you are moving higher in your spiritual journey.” They believe all religions are true. Co-existence and tolerance are the higher moral ground. But this doctrine is the complete opposite of the Bible. The Bible clearly establishes what happened to people who follow these ways of idolatry and sexual immorality:
Rom 1:21-28 ESV For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (24) Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, (25) because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (26) For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; (27) and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (28) And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
Jezebel and her web of deception is to be destroyed. Jesus Himself says “I will strike her children dead.” The true Church must separate ourselves from these liberal church doctrines called the “deep things of Satan“. We must split away from any person or denomination that holds to this deception so that we can keep our doctrines and lives pure for the coming of the Lord.
The Message to The Church of Sardis – The Dead Church of Today
Rev 3:1-3 ESV “… You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (2) Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. (3) Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
This is the church that started with a relationship with God. They had revelation, knowledge of the Bible, and a move of the Holy Spirit long ago. But things have grown cold and died. This describes many churches and denominations today. They are so dead the nails are being nailed into the coffin. They have a few within the churches that are truly hungering for God and are trying to reignite the flame, but it is an uphill battle. The church must be a resurrection from the dead and that only happens by the power of the Holy Spirit of God!
This is the group that goes to church religiously. Going to church is just the cultural norm but nothing ever happens at church…except maybe some gossip and swapping of recipes. The moves of God in the past are in the historical records but very few of this generation remember it. Those that remember relish in the past but do not know how to get back to it. They think it is up to God and so they keep coming to church hoping God will do something like that again someday. But it is not up to God. God has already given them Jesus and the Holy Spirit and it is up to them to reignite their own flame. They need the real revival that will awaken those that are asleep and raise the dead but fail to recognize it is up to them to seek God for it…to hunger for it….to pray for it….and to go do it. If they get filled with the Holy Ghost and step out in the deep things of God, God will show up!
The Message to The Church of Philadelphia – The Patient Word Church of Today
Rev 3:8-10 AMP … you have kept My Word and guarded My message and have not renounced or denied My name…(10) Because you have guarded and kept My word of patient endurance [have held fast the lesson of My patience with the expectant endurance that I give you], I also will keep you [safe] from the hour of trial (testing) which is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell upon the earth.
This is the church that is known for two primary things: patient endurance and keeping God’s Word. (People often teach that this was a church of love based on the name of the city but Jesus mentions nothing about their love – though I am sure they had love. He only mentions His love for them.) When under the pressure of the world around them, they held fast to the Word of God and would not compromise. This represents the church of today that does not turn to the right or left when the churches and culture all around them are succumbing to deception, worldliness, and sin. These are the people of today that truly love God and His Word. No matter who tries to change them or ridicule them for not being more “open-minded”, they hold fast to the Word of God.
It says these will kept from the hour of trial or testing that is coming on the whole world. The trial or testing is the time of apostasy that is coming. Paul warns about the falling away:
2Th 2:3 ESV Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day [the Day of the Lord] will not come, unless the rebellion comes first…
There is coming a time of apostasy where many in the Church will fall away from the Truth of God’s Word and hold fast to the deceptions of this world and false doctrine. Church people are gathering to themselves teachers who will teach them what they want to hear because they have itching ears. They have grown intolerant of the Word of God. But the Philadelphia church of today will be kept through the time of apostasy and will hold fast to God because they put God’s Word first. They cannot be deceived because the know the Truth. Sadly, this group seems to be growing smaller and smaller and the churches that are worldly, liberal, and materialistic are growing larger and larger. We live in a time where you need to quickly choose, are you going to be popular with men or are you going to be popular with God?
The Message to The Church of Laodicea – The Materialistic Church of Today
Rev 3:15-17 ESV “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! (16) So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (17) For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
This is the materialistic church that says they have all they need. They have grown complacent with God because money and things are more important than the Word of God. This is a picture of the Western, particularly much of the American, church today. Seeking after things and financial prosperity comes first even though it is marketed with the intentions of doing good with the money. The materialism of America has deeply permeated the thinking of many of the American churches. So much so that people do not even realize the motivation of greed that drives much of what they do. Because of their materialism, the people have found refuge in money instead of God. Therefore, they see no real reason to pursue God and have grown apathetic toward God and church.
They may go to church, if it doesn’t take up too much of their time. They may give a little here and there but sacrificial giving or seeking God on how much they give is foreign to them. They think they are prosperous but actually are spiritually bankrupt. They ignore or misapply Scriptures that talk about the pursuit of wealth, such as:
1Ti 6:8-10 ESV But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (9) But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
God does want us to know He will provide all our needs and prosperous us…but the priority is that He prospers us spiritually through His Word and relationship with Him FIRST. He promises to meet all our needs, not to make us wealthy according to this world’s standards. Contentment is never preached in these materialistic churches only an un-balanced view of prosperity. This produces a weak foundation under the people and when the storm comes, and it IS coming, they will fall. Jesus will spew them out of His mouth. This materialistic complacent church needs to repent and seek first the Kingdom of God. They need to wake up and put first things first – not trusting in money but trusting in God.
Suffering or Success – The Two Great Trials of the Believer
Jesus gives us the two great trials we will face as a believer in Mark 4. One can cause us to fall away just as much as the other. They are suffering, or persecution for what you believe, and success, or money/popularity.
Mar 4:16-19 ESV And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. (17) And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (18) And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, (19) but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
If the devil cannot take you out with suffering, he will puff you up and take you out with success. Success is even more cunning and subtle because we can think it must be God that is giving us favor, and it may be. But eventually the devil comes to whisper in our ear that you can trust in the things and money and fame to accomplish your ministry rather than God. And when we listen, great is our fall. The Materialistic church is falling away because of pride that creeps in with success. The worldly and liberal churches are falling away as well. They have been persecuted for their biblical world-view but instead of standing against the pressures, like the persecuted church and the patient Word churches are doing, they compromise. I pray, “God we need an awakening in the churches today!”
The Final Blessings
Lastly, Jesus ends every address to each church with a blessing. But those blessings are not specific to only those churches. They are for us today if we will heed the words and warnings of Jesus by conquering and overcoming. How do we do that? By our faith! Listen to these blessing if we turn from the corruptions that had entered the churches and follow Jesus with all our hearts by faith:
- To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
- The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
- The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.
- The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
- The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
- The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Hallelujah! What great rewards our God has for those of us who choose to follow in the ways of righteous!