Are the seven churches John writes to in Revelation 2 & 3 literal churches or are they representative of church “ages”, the last of which is representing the age The Church is allegedly currently living in.
Any blog article I’ve read on the end times almost inevitably cites the age we’re living in as the “Laodicean church age”. I’ve even encountered this from numerous preachers when teaching on end times events as I was growing up.
I’m not a big end times buff; I say instead of waiting for the rapture to happen, let’s go get us some more souls to get raptured whenever that event happens–which I believe is after the tribulation, but if you disagree with me and I’m wrong, I’m going home earlier than I thought.
Since I’ve repeatedly heard “we’re living in the Laodicean age” of the Church, I thought I’d take the time to quickly look at this topic since statistically speaking, most people reading this will probably have been taught the same thing — that the seven churches of Revelation are church ages, and therefore the end of church history is terrible.
But is that true exegetically, and even logically?
There are several reasons why this “church age” thing doesn’t hold up.
Problem Number 1:
There’s no hint or suggestion that we’re to interpret these words as anything other than seven actual churches John is writing to, like Paul, Peter, et al wrote when they wrote to churches in the New Testament.
Likewise the Apostle John here is writing letters to actual churches in this part of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Is there no application to apply to our day and age from these writings? I’m not saying that at all; we apply the teaching here as the shoe fits just like we do with other things written in the New Testament that may not be culturally relevant to us.
But the idea that John is writing about ages or epochs of future history to unfold is pretty far-fetched and unscriptural.
Problem Number 2:
How do we know where we stand in church history? Do you think the church 1000 years ago had any idea there was 1000 years of history still to go? It seems as though every generation thinks theirs is the last or close to the return of Christ! The Church in the year 500 would have thought they were the church of Laodicea (if this doctrine is true), and the same presumably with the church during the Reformation.
The way we divide up history in order to make this fit the ‘church descriptions’ idea doesn’t add up properly. If I had a pie, and invited several friends over, I wouldn’t know how to cut the pie until they’ve all arrived and I see who they each brought or if anyone declined my invitation, and if any aren’t going to show.
If I began to cut the pie into 6 pieces and eight friends showed up, I’d have a mess on my hands trying to remedy the way the pie needs to be divided in order for everyone to have an equal share. So I would be smart to just wait and see who all would show up, and then cut it accordingly.
Likewise, let’s pretend these are to be interpreted as church ages (which they are not) — then we won’t know how to properly apply them to history and our current generation until the end has actually taken place, for only then will we have seen how things were supposed to go.
Even if they were seven church ages, it’s not so bad because Jesus has wonderful promises for this church “age”, and let me paste the passage in question in its entirety:
“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.
15“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16So, 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. 18I 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. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20Behold, 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. 21 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. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'” (Revelation 3:14-22, ESV, emphasis mine)
Notice Jesus doesn’t give up on them, but counsels them in what to do. And secondly, it could be said this church is made the greatest promise of any of the churches written to-if anyone of them, [or any person gleaning from reading this] hears His voice and opens the door, He will come in to him and eat with him and He with Him.
Interesting invitation and promise for a write-off church as it’s commonly taught in our churches.
I read that last bit as encouragement to persevere and be conquerors and sit with him on His throne. Whatever exactly that means, but I won’t sit here in front of my laptop and speculate. Let’s just let the text say what it says, and it definitely says they were lukewarm, and Jesus counsels them as to what they are to do.
Also worth considering: even if these are to be interpreted as ages (which they aren’t), they still interfere with pre-trib rapturism instead of supporting it. Many Christians erroneously quote or cite Revelation 3:10 as evidence God has promised to snatch the faithful away before the Tribulation. The verse says,
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 trythose who dwell on the earth.
Chronologically, the Laodicean church was written to after the church of Philadelphia, and again I repeat, these were written to factual historical churches. Even if they were referring to ages, that still leaves one more church age, the Laodicean “age”, which means the Church is still on earth after the rapture if Revelation 3:10 is a reference point to the Church universal being rapture before the Tribulation!
For those of you who need me to be more “Jane see the ball” about it: verse 10 comes before 14. My pre-trib friends can’t have it both ways and mix and match which passages of Scripture apply to them and which don’t.
Keep in mind the Laodiceans are still the Lord’s people because He pleads with them to change their ways (v 18) and says He loves them (v 19) and promises rewards to the overcomers (v 21). If one follows the “seven ages” idea this also knocks imminent “any moment rapture” on its side, because IF the Church has always expected the Lord’s return at any moment, then they were wasting their time because the seven ages had to be fulfilled first.
These “ages” could not be fulfilled if the Church had (imminently) been raptured at any time before their completion.
It is arrogant and small-minded to apply these verses to over 2/3 of the modern Church because most of it (besides North America and Europe) is under heavy persecution, and not truly living in affluence like the Church spoken of in this passage.
How can these verses be applied to the persecuted underground church in China? The church of Smyrna fits the description of most of the Church around the world today, or the one in Philadelphia, but not the Laodicean church, which again, like the rapture teaching altogether, is another thing that seems to me is taught in the Western world who is not going through any form of persecution or trials.
If the description DID fit, the church that Jesus most strongly rebukes is also the one Jesus promises the greatest blessings to!
There could be more reasons by just using logic and from reading the Scriptures for what they say, but I felt these suffice it since I didn’t want to lengthen this entry unnecessarily.
Blessings and fire on your head.
Check out a recent podcast roundtable I did with a few other authors on this subject.
Make sure to check out recent audiobooks I narrated by two of our guests, The Power of His Reign: An Easy Introduction to Amillennialism and The Beast of Revelation, both on Audible and the latter on Spotify and all the other major audiobook retailers.