A couple of years ago, I wrote about how the Church in America has become Missing In Action. Well, it’s gotten worse – it’s gotten soft – lukewarm. One would expect to see many Churches of Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) and Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) out there, but they are few.
There are many more churches that fall into the categories of Ephesus, Laodicea, Sardis, Pergamum and Thyatia – churches that are corrupt, spiritually bankrupt or aren’t focusing on preaching the gospel with authority and fervor.
In fact, of the seven churches written to by Christ in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, only Smyrna, which endures persecution, and Philadelphia, which does not deny His name and patiently endures and waits on the Lord, come away unscathed in God’s eyes.
Let’s look at the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, and see if we can’t see these churches operating openly today. Some churches operating today, could well fall into more than one category – just sayin’.
The Church at Ephesus
The Church at Ephesus, on the surface, doesn’t look so bad, let’s see what Jesus said about this church:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 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. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Rev. 2:1-7)
Here, we see a church that is holding onto doctrinal vigilance – but they’ve abandoned their first love. This is interpreted by scholars as either the loss of their early love of Jesus Christ – their “fire and zeal” for Christ, or their love for their fellow man and their need to revive their compassion for one another. It could well be both, as they’re related.
Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31, “Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In 1 John 4:20, the apostle wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
The Nicolaitans were a Christian sect that was heretical who seduced God’s people to participate in idolatry and sexual sin by making it look like “freedom in Christ” – the Ephesians couldn’t stand this and railed against it, but again, they hated the person – not the behavior.
They were warned to love their fellow man, and correct the bad behavior – but above all, love Christ and their fellow man.
The Church at Smyrna
This is the church that’s rich spiritually and endures persecution. It’s described in verses 8-11 of chapter 2:
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
“‘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. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
This describes the church in countries like China, North Korea, and countries in Africa and the Middle East, and any other nation where severe persecution runs rampant.
Today, in China, the Christian church – even the “government licensed” ones – are being shuttered. Pastors are being jailed and congregants are being sent to for re-education, along with Muslims and other followers of other faiths. There’s only one “faith” in China, and that’s Atheism and the State – all others are a threat to their power.
The North American Church generally knows nothing of this kind of persecution. They’ve never had to suffer it personally – although they’ve gotten a small taste.
When the state governments ordered the churches to shut down all worship due to COVID-19 – they complied. The government deemed worship “not essential.” A church in Bangor, Maine was permitted to keep operating their drug treatment clinic, but worship wasn’t allowed – even though the same number of people were involved – one was deemed “essential” – the other, not so much.
Thank God for organizations such as Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defending Freedom, who’s taken up the cause of over 2,000 pastors and churches across the USA, and the American Center for Law and Justice, and their European counterpart, the European Centre for Law and Justice – who’ve stepped up to help – at no cost to these churches and pastors. What’s been done to the Church is appalling and must not be tolerated.
We have pastors, elders and congregants being fined and harassed for merely going to church. A pastor in Chicago was harassed by the local authorities so much, that their parking lot was blocked and cars in a 9-block radius of the church were ticketed and towed.
Worship is essential – period!
And if the church thinks that this is persecution – they ain’t seen nothing yet! The persecution being suffered in other nations such as China, will be coming here – mark my words. What’s going on in this country is merely grooming for compliance for what’s to come.
They’re already removing God out of schools. They’re removing God out of the Halls of Government. God help any chaplain who prays in the name of Jesus!
Pastors and elders need to take a stand and say, “No More! We will not permit government to trample our right to assemble and worship as we see fit – including praying in the name of Jesus!” There are still many churches in the town I live near – still shut. Signs lit up saying “Join us online” – online is a good option, I have to use that because getting to church is physically a challenge, but for able bodied Christians, get to church!
Yes, churches should take precautions – but open back up! The church I worship with is a small to medium sized church – they take precautions, and they’re open! The big churches in town could take an example from this church.
The Church at Pergamum
This church is where you’ll find the false teachers and preachers. Let’s look at it – verses 12-17:
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 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. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
Where the Ephesians resisted false teachings and Smyrna endured persecution, the believers at Pergamum were hit with both. They resisted persecution, but they wrongly condoned deception. There was a lot of pagan ritual in this city, but also Christian and Jewish tradition as well.
Jesus’ mention of a “sharp two-edged sword” warns the church of their failure to discipline false teachers – to the point where He’s going to have to intervene directly,
There are those pesky Nicolaitans again, and the mention of Balaam and Balak — where Balaam told Balak to seduce the Israelites into sexual and spiritual adultery, the Nicolaitans were spreading it around like water in Pergamum. The Ephesians opposed the Nicolaitan teachings – the believers in Pergamum were buying the teaching, and anything else that gave pleasure, without question.
Today, we have churches that tolerate sexual sin in their membership (the Nicolaitans), and other Christian denominations come against the person, as opposed to the behavior. It’s one thing to hate the person (see 1 John 4:20, above) – it’s quite another to come against the behavior, in the hopes of of either saving their soul, or restoring the person to the body of Christ.
In no event, should the church tolerate sexual sin of fornication, adultery, homosexuality or any of the other deviant variations of any of these. So-called “Christian ministers” who even think of solemnizing and officiating over same-sex marriages fall into this category – even if they are personally against the practice, to do so anyway is to tolerate this behavior and to go against the will of God.
I know of a couple of pastors – one of whom turns a blind eye to the goings on in his church, and the other – when an unmarried couple asked him to marry them, he refused unless they separated for a period of time – and repented for their sexual sin. The couple refused and turned to a more liberal minister willing to do it.
I’m sorry, but God has a problem with unrepentant sin! And this, is where the Pergamum church was headed.
The Church at Thyatira
If there was a heretical church, Thyatira was it. They were the opposite of the Church of Ephesus – strong in love for their fellow man, but weak in that they tolerated heresy and lacked discernment. Let’s look at this church – verses 18-29:
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
“‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 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. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 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, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
This is a picture of many churches – and even society today.
Thyatira had many adherents to a high prophetess – likened to Jezebel, who married King Ahab. Like Jezebel, this prophetess is leading the people astray through pleasure and luxury as well as ruthless violence.
The prophetess is given time to repent, but refuses to do so – leading to great tribulation.
Where are we today?
We have prosperity preachers teaching that if we send a “seed offering” – that the Lord will return it tenfold – “Send in a hundred – God will return a thousand” – That’s the hook – and many people take the bait, leading many down a path to poverty and bankruptcy.
We have so many people hoodwinked into thinking what’s evil – is good, and what’s good – is evil.
Welcome to the Church of Thyatira. You’re being given a chance to repent, but there will come a time where it’s too late, and you’ll find yourself in tribulation.
But – to those who endure all of this, and keep their love of Jesus – the rewards are enormous – verses 26-28: “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 Church at Sardis
Sardis was captured twice in its early history – why? Because the watchmen weren’t watching. They were “asleep at the switch”.
Jesus uses this imagery when describing Sardis – let’s look. Chapter 3, verses 1-6:
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 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. 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. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
This describes the believer – if they’re even a true believer – that is susceptible to any teaching that comes along, but doesn’t read or study God’s Word to be sure that what they’re being taught – is actually truth.
Jesus knows this church’s condition – dead, although it has a reputation of being alive. It’s literally on life support – in a coma, but not beyond Jesus’ reach of telling it to “wake up”.
How many churches are out there, putting on the show that “they’re alive,” but in fact, they’re spiritually dead. You listen to the sermon and it does nothing for you in terms of teaching you, or convicting you – you might feel good about yourself.
I’m sorry – but the electronic praise and worship rock concerts don’t cut it, if the message ain’t there. If you’re not, as the King James puts it, “cut to the heart” – it’s a dead church – you’re in Sardis.
However, there are just a few true believers in this church, as evidenced in verse 4. Those who endure and keep their true faith, will be rewarded.
The Church at Philadelphia
This, is where you will find the true believers of the American Church today. Like Smyrna, there was persecution – they were excluded from the synagogue completely. Verses 7-13:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Verses 10 and 11 are actually a sign of pre-tribulation rapture: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” If we, who are saved, endure the persecutions that will come, that we will be spared the “hour of trial” – or tribulation.
Jesus also says that He’s coming soon – to hold fast so that no one seizes our crown. When do we receive our crowns? At the rapture – at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Are you in the Church at Philadelphia? Examine yourself and be really sure… because there are lots of people found in…
The Church at Laodicea
This is the lukewarm church – they’re not hot, they’re not cold – they’re just there. Jesus ain’t having none of that!
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Here, you’ll find prosperity preachers – those that have the sixty-million dollar private jets, and other preachers and believers that talk a good game and they “look” like they’re on fire, but its just their pride. They’re actually, as it says in verse 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.“
Jesus says here that He will discipline those He loves and they had better get things right – lest He vomit them out. The Greek word for “spit” in most translations of verse 16 is ἐμέσαι pronounced “emesai” (eh-meh-sigh) which means to vomit.
So, you’re either on fire for the Lord, or you’re not. Jesus doesn’t want us coming to him halfway, nor does He expect us to treat Him like some kind of a genie for prosperity’s sake. He wants a true relationship with Him.
So, Which Church Do You Belong?
Take a good, hard look at yourself. Where are you now? Where do you want to be?
Jesus wants you with Him.
Make the necessary changes in your life, with His help and guidance – to ensure that you’re with Him at the Rapture.