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I have heard of the Seven Church Ages interpretation of the seven churches of Revelation, specifically that each church identified there also represents ages of the church since that time. I've also heard people specify that we are now in the Laodicean church age, as we look around and see the church "rich, increased with goods, having need of nothing."

Yet, this appears to me to possibly be true of some elements of the church in America, but I can't see how the church in Iran or Vietnam would ever come to the same conclusion.

So, I see three possibilities, of which one or more may be true.

  • The churches in Revelation are just churches that existed at that time.
  • They not only refer to churches that existed then, but are symbolic of church ages
  • They not only refer to churches that existed then, but are representative of churches that have existed in different places since then.

Am I missing any possibilities? What reasons are there to support each interpretation?

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I've seen remarks that the more people claim to interpret the Bible "literally", the more likely they are to interpret this verse symbolically. –  TRiG Oct 21 '11 at 13:25
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That's a pretty interesting claim. It reminds me of the claim I heard last night that children of women who smoked are three times more likely to rebel. I have no idea why it reminds me of that, though. The mind is mysterious... –  Richard Oct 21 '11 at 13:40
    
@TRiG Do you have a reference or source for that? –  jimreed Oct 21 '11 at 16:11
    
@jimreed. It was somewhere on slacktivist (where else?). –  TRiG Oct 21 '11 at 16:17
    
@jimreed. I've found the case I was thinking of in a comment. I'm sure that wasn't the only case, though. –  TRiG Oct 21 '11 at 16:40

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The seven churches are described in Revelation 2 and 3. My opinion is that the seven churches not only refer to churches that existed then, but are representative of churches that have existed in different places since then.

Here's what Revelation Commentary says about the seven churches:

With two thousand years separating the seven churches of Asia and the modern churches of the world, the question of relevance is critical. What is the relationship between the seven churches mentioned in Revelation and modern churches? Some commentators have tried to make the case that the seven churches of Revelation depict seven periods of church history. This view is woefully inadequate. First, there is no explicit scriptural support for this view. Second, the seven periods of church history must be subjectively determined, which undermines credibility and fosters date setting. Third, such an approach deprives the first century churches of any application for their time.

However, the messages, themselves, yield the necessary clues to answer the question of relevancy. For believers of all ages the issue is the same in connection with the Son of Man: forgiveness or judgment. The Lord instructs six of the seven churches that there are both immediate and long-term consequences to their deeds. The threat of immediate discipline for a lack of repentance is given to the churches of Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Laodicea. Equally, each church is also warned about the possible rewards and punishments to be experienced at the Lord’s coming (parousia). This indicates that the messages to the seven churches have both a "near" application and a "far" application--both a temporal and an eternal application. The fact that each message ends with the same trademark: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches," is compelling. That the term church is plural extends the message and application to the church universal. Believers in two thousand AD can claim the same promises and fear the same warnings.

Here's a link to the contributors of Revelation Commentary.

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I’m not sure who I am addressing this to, or how old this is, so I hope this helps. Bear in mind that I am not a biblical scholar, nor did I go to seminary. These are just my observations. From what I’ve seen topics in the bible very often have a multi-layered approach to them. For example, when we look the story of the Exodus we can see all sorts of wonderful pictures of Jesus Christ in it.

With the 7 churches though, it seems like many people only want to take one approach and stick with that. (1) The literal approach, that this is discussing the 7 churches in Asia Minor and their character. This is certainly true, but God put it there to be relevant to us. The characteristics of the 7 churches certainly do apply to Christian congregations all over the world; First Love, Persecution, Joined with the World, congregations in recovery, congregations that are full of the Holy Spirit, congregations that have become lukewarm, etc.

These can also apply to various phases of a believers experiences as he walks with Christ, and experiences that first love, and then that distress when the enemy attacks, or we find that we’ve been too abrasive and made enemies, etc, or that point where we find ourselves seeking accommodation with the world around us, or later when we recommit ourselves to Christ. So here we have 3 applications: the literal 7 churches, 7 distinct types of characteristics of a church congregation, and 7 attitudes or even attitude phases of a Christian’s development. I think it also applies to 7 distinct ages of Christianity, beginning with the early church (Ephesus), the church under Roman persecution (Smyrna), the church joined with the world under Constantine (Pergamos), the church in a kind “Babylonian captivity”, the papal system (Thyatira), the reformation that started a work but didn’t finish it; The first Orthodox split and/or the early reformation (Sardis), and so on.

There are other images that paint broad-strokes of the future from the time they were written, such as the images in Daniel and the Beasts of Revelation, so it makes sense that this application would also apply here. So; (1) original churches (2) congregational attitudes (3) individual attitudes (4) Eras. I think all 4 apply and that this is another multi-layered thing.

Like I said, I’m not a theological scholar, but I hope this helps.

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Welcome to C.SE. When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. As it stands, however, this is an excellent first answer (+1), and really gets what we do here. Welcome aboard! –  Affable Geek Nov 8 '13 at 15:30

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