Christ in the Seven Churches

CHAPTERS TWO AND THREE portray present and future conditions of the Church. Christ dictates seven letters to John that are addressed corporately and individually to the messengers of the seven churches in Asia.

THE PRETERIST VIEW holds that the letters to the seven churches were for John’s day and nothing beyond. Therefore, the messages have only didactic value for succeeding centuries.

THE IDEALIST VIEW holds that the letters present principles on which God acts throughout human history, with no particular concern for the early church, nor with a historic church of any age. The language is seen as symbolic of the struggle between good and evil and Church and the world, with the Kingdom of God. The Church and good are victorious in the end. This view fails to recognize the interpretive key to the book (1:19) and it ignores the claim of its prophetic nature (1:2; 10:11; 22:7, 10, 18-19).

THE HISTORISTIC VIEW holds that these letters forecast the whole of human history, especially of the Western Church from apostolic days to the second coming of Christ. This view is because there is no clear break in the book between John’s day and Christ’s second coming. The weak points in this view are:

1. The interpretation is based only on the Western Church
2. The evolution of many theories
3. The earlier readers, who would have understood this meaning, would not have been able to maintain a living hope of the return of Christ

THE FUTURIST VIEW holds that the seven letters are descriptive of the seven historical churches in Asia as well as local churches of all ages up to the end times. Prophetically, they view the seven churches as periods in history:

1. Ephesus represents the first century
2. Smyrna represents the period of persecution
3. Pergamum represents the age of Constantine
4. Thyatira represents the Middle Ages
5. Sardis represents the Reformation
6. Philadelphia represents the time of the modern missionary movement
7. Laodicea represents the apostasy of the last days

The key verse 1:19 and its central and unifying theme is the Second Advent. Futurists interpret literally where possible, not resorting to wholesale allegorizing.

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