By Elizabeth Prata
In the first century, there were 7 churches that Jesus caused John to write messages to. These were actual churches with actual congregations, doing and saying actual things. Jesus told apostle John, exiled at Patmos, what to write to these congregations. Jesus spoke commendations, criticisms, and instructions. Not all 7 churches were commended. Not all 7 churches were criticized. All had an instruction, though.
The church at Smyrna and the church at Philadelphia were not criticized. The church at Laodicea was not commended. The rest had both.
The churches were: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.
Can you imagine being assembled on Sunday, hearing a knock on the church door, a messenger arriving and handing a scroll to your pastor, and the pastor reads a letter from the head of the Church, Jesus Christ Himself? Jesus is very much alive and in charge of His global body of worshipers, AKA His bride. He was directly involved then, and He is directly involved now.
Each of the seven churches was not only an actual church but is also a type of church dealing with a problem mentioned in the letters. The problem is not unique to that church for that time. There are always the same kind of systemic problems many churches deal with and have been recurring throughout the centuries. Always, there is a church somewhere that is busy but not alive. Always, somewhere, is a church that is indifferent and lukewarm. On this earth, there is a collection of churches gracefully enduring suffering, or being persecuted. And so on.
Please read Revelation 1-3, it is not hard. Those chapters offer the reader plain language and it’s not heavily symbolic.
Ephesus: I was struck by the fact they had abandoned their fervent love for Jesus. I imagined how, hearing this, John might have felt like he had ashes in his mouth and ears. “Nothing’s as cold as ashes, after the fire is gone.” (Loretta Lynn).
Smyrna: No criticism. Only light, the crown of life in heaven, and joy.
Pergamos: Compromise was their problem. Anyone who ever had a house built knows that if the contractor compromises on the concrete foundation, cracks appear at the first frost-freeze-thaw cycle. Nothing cracks a structure or an organization faster than compromise.
Thyatira: This church had a problem with a seductress teaching sexual immorality and the people tolerated it. It is a harlot church, literally.
Sardis: Revelation has a change in tone here. Sardis is dead. Can you believe that a church alive with people can be dead? According to the word of God here, it can and did happen.
Philadelphia: No criticism. This church is loved eternally from above. Its door will never close. This church is beloved in heaven.
Laodicea: Indifferent. Jesus hates that worst of all. He excoriates it with a lengthy invective no other church received in their message. He will vomit this church from His mouth.
If a messenger were to appear at your church door on a Sunday and hand a scroll written by Jesus to your pastor describing your church, what type of church do you think yours would be? If it is a church sliding into one of the less well-loved type of congregations, is there something you are contributing to its decline? Are you praying for your elders and pastors? Are you helping, or can find a spot to serve that will relieve some of the issues in the church? If your church is gloriously thriving, do you praise the Spirit for this? Pray for your pastor in gratitude for his hard work in the Lord?