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Early Trends That Affected the Future of the Church

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In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus Christ sends a different message to each of seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (Asia Minor), part of modern Turkey.

The number seven shows completeness, just as seven days make a complete week. The seven messages of Revelation 2 and 3 paint us a comprehensive picture of trends that had already begun and would continue through the history of the Church—trends that would dramatically shape its future. The seven messages give us several good indications why the deep divisions among Christians developed and why this divisiveness continued to plague subsequent generations.

The seven congregations are represented as seven candlesticks in Revelation 1. Together they represent the Church and its mission to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14 Matthew 5:14You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus stands in the midst of the seven congregations as the source of their light. He is always present and accessible. He will make good His promise always to be with His Church until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20 Matthew 28:20Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
American King James Version×
). But, as is obvious from the messages to the seven congregations, not everyone who comes into the Church will remain faithful to Him.

The seven messages accurately reflect conditions in the Church as it existed in the first century. But they are also prophetic; they reveal some of the reasons for divisions in later centuries.

Each of the seven congregations receives a warning: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7-29 Revelation 2:7-29 7 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the middle of the paradise of God. 8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things said the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 9 I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be you faithful to death, and I will give you a crown of life. 11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death. 12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things said he which has the sharp sword with two edges; 13 I know your works, and where you dwell, even where Satan’s seat is: and you hold fast my name, and have not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. 15 So have you also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. 16 Repent; or else I will come to you quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows saving he that receives it. 18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things said the Son of God, who has his eyes like to a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; 19 I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first. 20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you suffer that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searches the reins and hearts: and I will give to every one of you according to your works. 24 But to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put on you none other burden. 25 But that which you have already hold fast till I come. 26 And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 3:6-22 Revelation 3:6-22 6 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches. 7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things said he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the key of David, he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens; 8 I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth. 11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown. 12 Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will write on him my new name. 13 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches. 14 And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things said the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would you were cold or hot. 16 So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. 17 Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness do not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21 To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. 22 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches.
American King James Version×
). Each congregation’s message is a warning to the other six congregations: The same or similar conditions could develop among them.

In these messages Christ cites examples of obedience and disobedience among His followers, showing whom He will bless and whom He will reject. He lavishes compliments where approval is due. He criticizes the unrepentant for faults that threaten their relationship with Him.

The Church, when the messages were written, was suffering trials, persecution and imprisonment. Antipas, a local resident and martyr, had already been killed. Christ encourages the congregations not to lose heart, not to quit, not to compromise their beliefs, and—if necessary—to be willing to die for His sake. He reminds them to look ahead to the era of the Kingdom of God, when they will help Him rule the world in righteousness.

Jesus compliments the devoted members for their service, labor, patience, perseverance, endurance and faith. However, His criticisms and some of His other compliments are revealing. They show that the threat from within the Church was—and always will be—cause for concern.

Many members of these congregations had remained faithful in spite of many hardships and trials. But others had lost their first love. Some are lukewarm and spiritually blind—badly needing salve for their eyes so they can see their deteriorating spiritual condition. Christ warns them: “I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23 Revelation 2:23And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searches the reins and hearts: and I will give to every one of you according to your works.
American King James Version×
).

Besides the growing problem of spiritually weak members, false prophets were infiltrating the congregations. Doctrinal errors were developing. The doctrine of Balaam, the teachings of the Nicolaitans and the beguiling influence of Jezebel are mentioned. Jesus tells the Christians in Thyatira: “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 Revelation 2:20Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you suffer that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.
American King James Version×
). This concerns the introduction of licentiousness—license to sin based on a wrong view of law and grace.

Dissent was developing from within. That was the real threat to the Church. Attending with members of these congregations were two types of people. The faithful members are those “who cannot bear those who are evil” and “have not known the depths of Satan” (Revelation 2:2-24 Revelation 2:2-24 2 I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars: 3 And have borne, and have patience, and for my name’s sake have labored, and have not fainted. 4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come to you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. 7 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the middle of the paradise of God. 8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things said the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 9 I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be you faithful to death, and I will give you a crown of life. 11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death. 12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things said he which has the sharp sword with two edges; 13 I know your works, and where you dwell, even where Satan’s seat is: and you hold fast my name, and have not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. 15 So have you also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. 16 Repent; or else I will come to you quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows saving he that receives it. 18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things said the Son of God, who has his eyes like to a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; 19 I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first. 20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you suffer that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searches the reins and hearts: and I will give to every one of you according to your works. 24 But to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put on you none other burden.
American King James Version×
). But the implication is clear that others could and did “bear those who were evil,” and some were beginning to plumb “the depths of Satan.”

We find a portrait of the Church near the end of the apostolic era. Satan had successfully infiltrated congregations raised up by the apostles. He lures people away from the faith of Christ, using false prophets to introduce his attitudes and teachings.

But, in spite of the devil’s efforts, many of the brethren remained strong and faithful, holding fast to the apostles’ teachings. Christ complimented them: “You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2 Revelation 2:2I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars:
American King James Version×
).

Others, who had lost interest, were beguiled by the heresies of Satan—a being “who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
American King James Version×
). One entire congregation was already spiritually dead, having only a few members who were not already too defiled to count as converted Christians. Satan had succeeded in taking over a large portion of Christianity.

So here we find, from Christ’s own messages to His Church, that two distinct classifications of Christians emerged from the apostolic era. One group was faithful; the other consisted of people who, for many reasons, were moving further and further away from the true faith of God.

Many who were unfaithful ultimately departed from God’s truth. “They went out from us,” says John, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19 1 John 2:19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
American King James Version×
).

Two distinct religions developed from the apostolic era—one faithful to Christ, the other deceived by Satan.

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