Updated: Jan 27
The Book of the Apocalypse, by John of Patmos, is filled with many symbols. Some of the ones that stand out immediately are dragons with multiple heads and crowns, seals that are broken, and lampstands. What may be more overlooked is the beginning part of this prophetic dream John had, where Christ told him to write a letter and send it to the seven churches.
I watch television shows about the End Times and read how the seven places named represented places of unrest around 90-100 AD. Because of history, they write off those seven towns in Turkey as having importance then; but that importance has long since waned and died out.
To me, that is about like having a bad burrito cause a nightmare, so you dream about a burrito chasing you. My dreams aren’t like that. Likewise, current events have no significance in prophetic dreams. Prophecy, for old men (remember what Joel said), means dreaming.
Reading of John being instructed to write a letter – that was in his dream. Today you know about that dream because you can read that letter – it is The Revelations of a dream about the end of humanity. However, to read “seven churches” and then to think of seven places in the Middle East, imagining a large cathedral in each place, is reading “church” and thinking that means a building in each of those towns named. Well, that is missing the point of a dream prophecy.
Seven is a symbol, and it is one found throughout The Revelations. There are seven stars, seven eyes, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, seven horns, seven spirits before God’s throne, and seven churches. Numbers in the Holy Bible are there for a reason. One has to realize that the number seven is a special number, one that represents the link that exists between the Divine and humanity. Thus seven is a form of completeness, which is a spiritual connection to God. We Christians refer to that as the Holy Spirit.
Thus, John was not told to write one letter and send it to seven places. He was told to raise the Holy Spirit within those humans who had gathered in the name of Christ. John was an Apostle, meaning he was filled with the Holy Spirit. There were many people just like John, as the early “church” was all about that; and that is the true purpose of a “church.” As an Apostle serving Christ and God, John was chosen to send a warning about times when the word “church” would be misconstrued.
This means the “seven churches” represent symbolic directions that Christianity was foretold to take. It would come after the unification and consolidation of the groups following Christ (under the flag of One Church), when those followers would be stripped of knowing the Holy Spirit. Their shepherds would later be leading the followers into a multiplicity of churches – those present today. Thus, “seven churches” become the symbolism of Arthurian legend, and the fragmentation of Camelot, into a search (quest) for the Holy Grail – the spiritual connection between humanity and God.
Get that? The quest for the Holy Grail will be when the number seven will have become lost. That will be the time when the kingdom of God will become lost from earth’s humanity.
While that is a deep subject to dive into, for now we will just sit on the edge of that pond and dangle our toes and feet in the coolness of that water (the elemental symbol of emotional needs). For the purpose of this writing, let’s look at the symbolism of the seven names of the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Each has to be seen as larger than any physical entity that existed in 99 AD. Each reaches that symbolic height by becoming the meaning behind the name.
Each “name” is a Greek word that existed prior, later becoming the name of something individual. Ephesus means “desirable.” Smyrna means “bitter.” Pergamos means “elevated.” Thyatira means “continual sacrifice.” Sardis means “to escape.” Philadelphia means “loving brother.” Laodicea means “the rights of the people.” [ref.] Thus, each word is representative of a way of human life, to the point that our translation as a capitalized name is more to show the importance of each vein of life, much more than to name seven cities that have long since faded away.
To use the word “church” (rather than temple, synagogue, tabernacle, et al) means “Christian” today. Thus, seven churches means the fragmentation of Christianity. That means humans, each wanting dearly to be with Christ in Heaven, were foreseen making human mistakes in their efforts towards that end. This makes understanding what a “church” is important.
According to Xenos Christian Fellowship (xenos.org), “The word translated “church” in the English Bible is ekklesia. This word is the Greek words kaleo (to call), with the prefix ek (out). Thus, the word means “the called out ones.” This means that the spiritual link to God, through Christ, will be flawed in those who will later feel called to serve Christ. Some are flawed because they think their form of Christianity is more “desirable” to Christ. Some are “bitter” towards other who are Christians, because they do not see things their way. Some feel their version of Christianity is more “elevated,” and thus closer to God. Some believe they will never be able to be with Christ unless they “continually sacrifice,” which could be too much focus on the crucifixion, and too little on the resurrection and ascension. Some see Christianity as a way “to escape” their sins and to gain Heaven by going to a building each week. Some believe they are gods that must give equality to mankind, as displayed in “brotherly love” to all human beings, with that becoming the purpose of their church (unfortunately, not all men are one’s brothers). Finally, along the same line of thought, some will believe Christ called them to stand up for “the rights of the people,” to the degree that the individual never has to stand on its own, as the “church” has become God’s government.
Of these fragments of Christianity, Christ told John to tell them, “Some of what you do is good. BUT!!! God does not care that you do some things good, when you are doing other things BAD!!!” It boils down to this: A church means one is called out by God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to serve God COMPLETELY. Not partially. As such, John the Baptist was said by Jesus to be, “among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” You do not get to Heaven with any flaws of humanity clinging to you!
No individual is strong enough to do this alone, and no individual is strong enough to do that, simply by standing in a group, holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Strength to serve God only comes when you take your ego and leave it at the door, step aside and welcome the Holy Spirit into your heart, giving it full access to your physical wiring, and total control over your life. Nothing less will suffice.
Of course, one individual who does this (receives the Holy Spirit) then wants to share that bliss with others who also did the same. The becomes the true meaning of a church. EVERYONE who is a member is one of the following: A. Filled with the Holy Spirit [not some wannabe desire leading one to pretend to be so filled] and “all-in” for Christ (good); B. Completely dedicated to learning EVERYTHING about Holy Scripture that one who is truly filled with the Holy Spirit has to share with them, for the purpose of them too being filled with the Holy Spirit; C. Those being called to serve God, who need to surround themselves with those A and B type people, in order to respond to that call.
This means the Spirit of Jesus told John to warn those who will come and call themselves “church members,” to tell them clearly, “get right with Christ or suffer the consequences.” I think the symbolism of the rest of The Revelation of John is clear enough to know that consequences show an end that is not desirable.
It is important to open one’s eyes and see where one is now. Are you in one of the “seven church” states of failure or corruption? Maybe you are going to more than one of the seven, at the same time? When it dawns on us that we are individually called out by Christ, we are individually a “church.” Therefore, we can be any and all of the seven symbolically named flaws. The letter was not written for someone else to take heed (i.e. some institution called a Church). It was written for you and I.
The word that wraps around prophecies such as John’s is “eschatology.” That is rooted in the Greek word eskhatos, which means “last.” As far as “last calls” go, they happen in bars every night, not just once in the history of the world. There is not one big End Time, other than our own individual “last” moment alive on earth. We all have beginning and ends. The word “patmos” is Hebrew for “mortal,” which means “human” and “subject to death.” A fitting place for a letter to be written warning people about flaws in their calls.
The whole point of the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, is for the salvation of the world, brought about by God’s priests [from Adam to the Apostles], sent with a calling to spread the word about how each individual can save themselves, and thereby others. Thus, a “church,” is a group of many people, who all bear the responsibility of saving the whole world by demonstration and deeds [The Acts of the Apostles]. On a grand scale level, the warning of Christ to John was of that in a future time there would be too few to save the world. They will be ill-prepared to save anyone, much less themselves.
If you cannot see this in that, then we need to talk. If you can see this in that, then you need to spread the message.
R. T. Tippett.