2

Abeka's textbook Book of the Revelation teaches that the seven churches of Revelation prophetically represent different periods of church history, and that we are in the Laodicean church today.

Church Approximate dates Meaning of name Description
Ephesus A.D. 30-100 "desirable" "Apostolic church"
Smyrna 100-300 "crushed" "Persecuted church" under Rome
Pergamos 300-500 "married" "Worldly, imperial church"; Early Roman church, "married" to government beginning under Constantine
Thyatira 500-1500 "continual sacrifice" "Pagan, papal church"; medieval Catholic church; "continual sacrifice" refers to transubstantiation
Sardis 1500-1700 "remnant" "Reformation church"
Philadelphia 1700-1900 "brotherly love" "Revival, missionary church"; includes Great Awakening
Laodicea 1900-present "rights or rule of the people" "Lukewarm, tolerant, ecumenical church"

In the rightmost column, the parts in quotes are from a table printed both on page 5 and on the back cover of the book, while the parts not in quotes are my notes based on the content.

[T]here is only one key that really fits the mystery of the seven churches. That key is to put the events of church history alongside the seven church letters and observe how they parallel a prophetic history of the church. Thus the mystery of the seven letters to the seven churches is solved, for the key has been found.

All seven churches existed in John's day and continue to exist in every period of church history, yet there is a dominant church description in each period. Each church description parallels a time period in church history (or the church age). For example, the church at Ephesus, the first of the seven churches, parallels the average, typical first-century church. Though all seven churches existed in the first century, the church at Ephesus describes the typical church of the first century.

All seven churches addressed in Chapters 2 and 3 have existed throughout church history, yet the church in each time period manifests particular characteristics that parallel each letter.

The church's name reveals the character or conduct which provides identification for the sequential period of church history. Even the sequence in which each church is addressed reveals divine inspiration. To reverse their order or to change their order in ant way destroys the description of that church period.

(from Book of the Revelation, Abeka, pp. 5-6, emphasis in original)

The idea is that there have, for the entirety of church history, been churches like Ephesus, churches like Smyrna, churches like Pergamos, and so on, but from 30 to 100, most churches were like Ephesus; from 100 to 300, most were like Smyrna, and so on. As we are, according to the book, currently living in the Laodicean period, most churches today are like the church of Laodicea, although there are churches like each of the seven today.

How common is the belief that the seven churches represent periods of history? Is there a word for this belief?

Wikipedia calls this a historicist interpretation of the seven churches, but this term is not ideal because historicism can refer to any prophecy, so it is vague exactly what a "historicist" believes, and it is also not obvious that the letters are intended to be prophetic, so the concept of historicism may be irrelevant. The linked Wikipedia article indicates that the earliest form of this theory originated with Thomas Brightman, a sixteenth-century Puritan. He believed that his time was in the Laodicean period, while it falls within the period of Sardis according to Abeka's interpretation.

8
  • 4
    So . . . . if John obeyed his instructions and sent seven letters to seven different locations, then . . . . six of those missives were irrelevant to the then present state of the six churches and it was . . . . . pointless sending those six letters ? Does this sound sensible ? Only one letter should have been sent to all seven extant churches.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 29, 2023 at 20:16
  • 2
    So the book claims that on the one hand all seven conditions occur simultaneously throughout history ; and on the other hand that the seven conditions also pertain in sequence - sequentially - during the same period. That all sounds very confusing and highly unlikely, I would suggest. It seems to be a terribly disorganised way of conveying information. Which is the opposite of the highly organised and well structured nature of the book of Revelation, in fact.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 29, 2023 at 20:59
  • 3
    John Metcalfe in his 650 page book on Revelation gives the four main interpretations (Praeterist, historicist, resumptive and one other) then expounds the Resumptive (seven overviews, in sequence, of the entire Church Age, ascension to return). I find it most compelling. The above is, to myself, very unsatisfactory.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 29, 2023 at 21:15
  • 1
    That's a common interpretation in Dispensationalism, but I'm not sure if it has a distinct label.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 29, 2023 at 21:19
  • 1
    This is the fist time I've been introduced to this idea, and if you'll forgive me, as interesting as it is, I'm reminded of 2 Peter 3:16, "...which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." I suspect the letters weren't intended to have a kabbalistic meaning - but that's just my opinion.
    – JBH
    Dec 1, 2023 at 7:39

3 Answers 3

3

One Christian friend I know has spoken of this era being "the Laodicean dispensation". He referred to the previous churches also in terms of being particular times of "dispensation". He was a pastor in a Pentecostal group. Whether that term is common or not, I cannot say.

However, this is an explanation from a book giving parallel accounts of the four main 'schools' of interpretation regarding the book of the Revelation, specifically about "The Interpretations of the Letters":

"Interpreters of the preterist, and the spiritual schools, and many futurists as well, understand the letters to be addressed to the actual, historic churches named in them, and by extension to any churches that may find themselves in similar circumstances to theirs. Beyond this, they seek no additional, hidden meaning behind them.

However, those of the historicist school, and some of the futurist school, have called attention to certain prallels between the individual letters and successive periods of church history, from John's day until the end. They conclude that the seven letters present a panorama of the age of the church." Revelation: Four Views - a parallel commentary Ed. Steve Greg, p.62, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997

Then comes details akin to your tabulation. Now is a quote that lends some support to the possibility that the name "Dispensations" may apply to such a school of interpretation:

"Though this concept arose originally within the historicist camp of interpreters, it is today found chiefly among futurist commentators - particularly among many (but not all) dispensationalists." (Ibid. p.62 3rd last paragraph)

This belief is probably stronger in the last 100 years or so among 'charismatic' groups and also in some 'evangelical' circles, but Anglicans, Church of Scotland etc plus Reformed Presbyterians generally criticize such a 'dispensations' label, as the book goes on to explain. Its concluding paragraph under this heading is worth copying, though:

"Since the Reformation, whenever a new 'period' has been introduced, there has not been a passing of the previous type of church, but simply the addition of another kind existing alongside. Today there continue to be churches of the pre-Reformation type, the Reformation type, the 'missionary' type, and the liberal type (said to be represented by Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea). Those of the Reformed traditions also object to the identification of Sardis with the Reformation church, since that church is described as having only a reputation for being alive, while it is in fact dead." (Ibid. p.63, last paragraph in the box.)

Answer: A likely name for this is "Dispensation Era" interpetation - e.g. the Ephesian Dispensation, through to the Laodicean Dispensation. It is not a majority view in Protestantism but is strong in certain circles.

1

Technically, the OP's presented view of the seven church representing seven period's of Christian history is called, "Historicism". It is widely held but I am unaware of any demographics.

Historicism is one of several general schemes used to understand apocalyptic Biblical literature. Others include:

Preterism - most of the prophesies were intended and were fulfilled in the first century

Idealist/Spiritual - The prophesies are intended only to teach spiritual and moral lessons and apply to all people in all periods of time

Dispensational - most of the prophesies apply to a period before Jesus returns

These systems are not mutually exclusive and some parts overlap. For example, Some dispensationalists believe that the seven churches must be understood in a preterist sense. Further, most historicists simultaneously believe in seven ages of Christian history, they also accept that the seven churches were real churches with characteristic described in Rev 2 & 3.

0

Church History The historicist approach to Revelation was popular among the Reformers, often referring to the Muslims, Catholics, etc. But the application of the Seven Churches to a time-line of Church history is most associated with the Dispensationalists which was started in the 1830s by the anti-establishment Plymouth Brethren. See the early editions of the Scofield Reference Bible.

This belief of the Seven Churches being the Time-line of Church history is rife among those who espouse Dispensationalism. Unfortunately, this modern interpretation of the Bible has infiltrated American society through the cultural arts (movies, books, songs), as well as evangelical pulpits. (But see, THE RISE AND FALL OF DISPENSATIONALISM by Hummel.)

As an aside, notice that the seventh church era is associated with modern times! In other words, they imply that we are in the End-times! History has shown, however, that all those who taught that before, have a 0% track record! Each generation of these preachers has been 100% wrong. And yet a new generation keeps coming and making the same error. And the dates assigned to the other church eras are purely speculative, with no proof whatsoever to back them up.

5
  • 1
    I address this theory at length in my book “Peace, like Solomon never Knew”. I include evidence from archaeology, church history, mathematics, and cross references with other parts of scripture to back it up, though with different date ranges than given by the OP. It can be defended by more than baseless speculation. Nov 30, 2023 at 2:37
  • @ Pasul Chernoch - Thank you for the info; will try to get the book. In the mean time, does not the differing assignments of the date ranges by different commentators show that they are speculative? And the main reason for not seeing "history" in the seven churches is that there is no direct statement to that effect in any of the verses!...Also the idea that this history ends with a Church Rapture, based on the Apostle being told to "come up hither," (in the next chapter) is patently false. Only one man is called to see visions, and that is hardly a "rapture" of all the Church folk.
    – ray grant
    Nov 30, 2023 at 21:33
  • @raygrant the passage I've generally heard used to support the Rapture is not Revelation 4:1, which I would agree does not indicate that the entire Church is raptured, but 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. ...
    – Someone
    Dec 1, 2023 at 18:47
  • ... For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
    – Someone
    Dec 1, 2023 at 18:47
  • @ Someone - Missing the point. We are aware of 1 Thess. But that verse does not at all relate to Revelation's verse about John's being called up. The position still stands: the Seven Churches are not consecutive, neither are they ending with with a luke-warm church being raptured! (3:16). There is no plain, literal statement to that effect in the first four chapters. (Recall the "Golden Rule" of herm. in Disp.? Stay "literal" unless common sense reason forbids it. Thanks for your response. Peace.
    – ray grant
    Dec 1, 2023 at 22:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .