Ephesus. In Ephesus the Lord detects the root of all declension. "Thou hast left thy first love." It is threatened with the removal of the candlestick unless there be repentance. Period — from the apostolic age to the close of the second century.
Smyrna. The message of Ephesus is general, to Smyrna it is specific. And though it applied at that time to the assembly there, it shadowed forth, in the most striking way, the repeated persecutions through which the church passed under the heathen emperors. Yet God may have used the power of the world to arrest the progress of evil in the church. Period — from the second century to Constantine.
Pergamos. Here we have the establishment of Christianity by Constantine as the religion of the State. Instead of persecuting the Christians, he patronized them. From that moment the downward course of the church is rapid. Her unholy alliance with the world proved her saddest and deepest fall. It was then that she lost the true sense of her relationship to Christ in heaven, and of her character on earth as a pilgrim and a stranger. Period — from the beginning of the fourth to the seventh century, when popery was established.
Thyatira. In Thyatira we have the popery of the middle ages, Jezebellike, practising all kinds of wickedness, and persecuting the saints of God, under the disguise of religious zeal. Nevertheless there was a God-fearing remnant in Thyatira, whom the Lord comforts with the bright hope of His coming, and with the promise of power over the nations, when He Himself shall reign. But the word of exhortation to the remnant is, "That which ye have already, hold fast till I come." Period — from the establishment of popery to the Lord's coming. It goes on to the end, but is characterised by the dark ages.
Sardis. Here we see the Protestant part of Christendom that which followed the great work of the Reformation. The foul features of popery disappear, but the new system itself has no vitality. "Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead." But there are true saints in these lifeless systems, and Christ knows them all. "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy." Period — from the eventful sixteenth century onwards. Protestantism after the Reformation.
Philadelphia. The church of Philadelphia presents a feeble remnant, but they are faithful to the word and name of the Lord Jesus. That which characterised them was keeping the word of Christ's patience, and not denying His name. Their condition was not marked by any outward display of power; nor of anything externally great, but of close, intimate, personal communion with Himself. He is in their midst as the Holy One and the True, and is represented as having charge of the house. He has "the key of David." The treasures of the prophetic word are unlocked for those inside. They are also in the sympathies of His patience, and in the expectation of His coming. "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." Period — especially from an early part of this century; but activity on all hands is now rapidly developing the last phases of Christendom.
Laodicea. In Laodicea we have lukewarmness — indifference — latitudinarianism; but with high pretensions, a boastful spirit, and great self-sufficiency. This is the last state of that which bears the name of Christ on the earth. But alas! it is intolerable to Him. Its final doom has come. Having separated every true believer from the corruptions of Christendom to Himself, He spues it out of His mouth. That which ought to have been sweet to His taste has become nauseous, and it is cast off for ever. Period — beginning after Philadelphia, but especially the closing scene.
Having thus taken a general view of the seven churches, we would now endeavor, through the Lord's help, briefly to trace these different periods of the church's history. And we purpose examining more fully, each of the seven Epistles as we go along, that we may ascertain what light is shed on the different periods by these addresses; and how far the facts of church history illustrate the scripture history of these two chapters. May the Lord guide for the refreshment and blessing of His own beloved ones.
Chapter 1 - The Rock Foundation