Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question:
“Dear Dave and T.A.: In the book of Revelation where Jesus is addressing the seven churches, how are we to regard them? Are they symbolic of church history, and would that make the church today a correlation or an example of the Laodicean church? Also, in His admonition of the churches, Jesus seems to be indicating that salvation is based upon overcoming, related to the believers entrapped by some issue. In [Revelation] 2:7, He says that ‘he that overcomes shall be given the tree of life from which to eat.’ And in v. 11, ‘he will not be hurt by the second death.’ What else could these be referring to other than salvation?”
Tom: Some good questions.
Dave: Some people are really thinking.
Tom: And that’s what we want, Dave. You know, we want to be thoughtful Christians, and we want to encourage others to be thoughtful, because so much of what’s going on out there in the church, you could pull it back to just thoughtlessness, not thinking these things through. That’s why so many erroneous teachings come in, or fads, or trends, and so on.
Dave: Well, [Revelation] 2:7: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” That’s not salvation, but that’s saying that that person will be there in eternity in the future. We read of that in chapter 22. This is not saying that if you overcome, you get saved. I think it’s saying that the proof that you are saved is if you overcome. For example, how do they overcome? You turn to chapter 12, and it says, “They overcame him through the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
So it’s very clear that the overcoming is on a part of all those who have received Christ as their Savior. I think He’s saying if you’re a real Christian, you’re an overcomer. If you fail—I mean, if you compromise, you go back, you deny your faith, and so forth—you never were a Christian to begin with. That would be my understanding of it, Tom.
Tom: And wouldn’t it also be an exhortation and encouragement to believers to live up to what Christ has already accomplished in their lives?
Dave: Absolutely. Which is what we should do. Now, the seven churches, they were of course literal churches. They existed at that time.
Tom: It’s amazing. None of them exist today.
Dave: Right. I’ve been through that country. These were actual churches at Ephesus. That was a wonderful church. But remember in Acts 20, Paul calls the elders from Ephesus and he warns them. He says, “After my departing grievous wolves will enter in, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.”
He says that, “You remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one of you night and day with tears.” So Paul knew what was going to happen. He knew these churches were going to deny the Lord, were going to go down, but…
Tom: Basically have their lamp stand—as Jesus says here in Revelation 2, their lamp stand will be taken away: that is, the church, the light. I assume it’s symbolic for the light of the Word among these people.
Dave: Yeah, shining out to the world through this church. And indeed it happened. They’re no longer there.
Now, as to whether these churches… Is this laying out a progression of the church, the history of the church? Many people believe so. I think that you probably could look around the world today and say I think we’ve got all of them on this earth. It’s rather representative of stages that churches may go through, from faithfulness in first love, losing their first love, and so forth. Not to set aside the fact that these were actual churches, and that this was the actual condition at the time Christ arose. The Laodicean church, you know, it’s pretty hard to escape the comparison to the church today: “Thou sayeth, We are rich, increased with goods, have need of nothing…” Wow! You look at the property, look at the churches that there are today, some of the megachurches, you have all the…some of them look like…
Tom: Well, they’re clubs! I mean…
Dave: Well, some of them look like a shopping center—they’re as big as a shopping center. They’ve got everything, from Starbucks to bowling alleys and everything else, and closed circuit TV. I mean, talk about wealth—they have almost everything they want. “You say you’re rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing…” That certainly wasn’t the church of the catacombs; it wasn’t the church of the Waldensians and the Albigensians who were killed by Rome by the thousands, you know.
Tom: It’s not the church in the Sudan today.
Dave: Certainly not, or in China, or in Iraq, or Iran, or Afghanistan, but it certainly is the church in America, and in much of the Western world—although if you went to Europe, there are more Muslims that meet in mosques every weekend than Christians in churches. The Muslims have been buying up the churches and using them, converting them to mosques, but you could certainly find many churches today that represent Laodicea, at least in America. You could certainly—and I’ve seen some even in former Soviet Republics that are that way, as well, with money from the West. But I think we’ve got other churches—Philadelphia, they’re faithful; Sardis, and so forth. So I think they’re all represented today. I wouldn’t say that this is a progression. In my opinion, I think you could have them all at any time in history.