I’m in the middle of preaching on the seven churches in Revelation. I take the literal view that these letters were written to and about churches in the seven cities named. The application of these passages is to evaluate our own church and, in the context of Sunday Morning, our own lives. But what if the naming of those seven cities was just figurative and the real literal meaning was to deliver a prophecy about the church age between John’s time and ours? It’s an intriguing thought and one held by many theologians over the years.
What if the Ephesian Church (2:1-7) represented the church at the end of the Apostolic Era, continuing to function with a certain militancy but with a receding first love? What if the Smyrnan Church (2:8-11) is the years of Roman persecution, beginning approximately with Trajan (AD 98) and ending with the reign of Constantine (AD 313)? What if the Pergamian Congregation (2:12-17) describes the period following Constantine’s embracing of Christianity during which the church became increasing married to the world and eventually theologically and morally apostate? What if the church at Thyatira (2:18-29) is the church of the Middle Ages, immersed in heretical teaching and moral turpitude? What if the Sardines (3:1-6) is the church of the Reformation when some are found who have not defiled their garments, even though the majority of the church is still dead? What if the church at Philadelphia (3:7-13) is the church of Missionary Expansion, beginning with William Carey (1792) and continuing up to the contemporary period? And what if the lukewarm church at Laodicea (3:14-22) is now? What if we, individually and corporately, are one of the relatively few places people can find the cool refreshing water of love and acceptance (Great Commandment) and the hot water of truth for growing up in Christ (Great Commission)?
As widely popular and as wonderfully fitting as this view* is, it’s just speculation. It could be exactly what the Lord Jesus wanted the Angel to communicate or it could just be a fun exercise in historical correlation, but either way our mission is the same! We all need to return to our first love and be about His teachings; to love each other and disciple each other in His truths!
*Credit to Paige Patterson, New American Commentary on Revelation, for this summation