1 Peter 4:17
As we begin to look at Revelation from the perspective of today, it is important that we, too, start by looking at the church. After all, we don’t want to criticize others (nonbelievers) for the splinters in their eyes while living with logs in our own.
Many see the seven assemblies of Rev 2 and 3 as representative of the church at various times (eras or dispensations) throughout history. IMO, their arguments in doing so are stretching things a bit and typically inaccurate. Since the church is seen as the body of Christ, it’s more likely that the faults found within these congregations correspond to faults found generally within the church as a whole, no matter what era we consider.
So, what are those faults? Here they are in list form.
- Abandoning the love they had at first (Ephesus, Rev 2:4)
- Holding to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (Pergamum, Rev. 2:14-16)
- Following “Jezebel” into sexual immorality (Thyatira, Rev 2:20)
- Eating meat sacrificed to idols (Thyatira, Rev 2:20)
- Having a reputation for being alive while, in truth, being dead (Sardis, Rev 3:1)
- Works being incomplete (Sardis, Rev 3:2)
- Being lukewarm (Laodicea, Rev 3:16)
- Boasting of being prosperous and needing nothing (Laodicea, Rev 3:17)
- Being spiritually blind (Laodicea, Rev: 3:18)
Many of these are tied together. The teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans involved sexual immorality, as did those of Jezebel (whether a real person or a reference to King Ahab’s wife). Two things come into play here. First, sexual immorality involved a variety of lifestyles, many of which were heterosexual (living together outside marriage, bigamy, abuse of concubines, orgies, and more), not just homosexual.
Second, these fall under an issue called antinomianism, which Paul addressed in a letter to the Corinthians. That error of that church was in teaching that God’s grace was sufficient. So, basically, these believers felt that they were absolved of all moral law, could do whatever they wanted, and still be saved by God’s grace. Today, we see the same thing with those teaching that God is love. So, you can do whatever you want, and a loving God will accept you into heaven with open arms. Nope. Not what the Bible teaches.
How many congregations today tolerate sexual sin and fail to address it? God’s morality is absolute, while far too many churches take a relative stance on morality, as does the culture around it. Some churches go so far as to advertise for gay and lesbian members, while others have pastors preaching in drag. Still others teach Marxist ideology, which is antithetical to the Bible.
The eating of meat sacrificed to idols was also related to sexual sin. It wasn’t so much that a person had to determine whether or not the meat they bought at the market had been dedicated to some idol or false god. Selling such meat in the marketplace was a common practice. No, this applied much more to eating such meat in the presence of said idol. That required attending and participating in the orgy that typically accompanied such feasts.
While the trade guilds and idol worship with its orgies and feasting are not common in the Western world today, such feasting isn’t uncommon in the East among the Hindu and Buddhist religions. In the West, other idols are worshipped: monetary success, abortion, the gay lifestyles, politics, Sunday’s golf game, and more.
Other faults can be seen as related to each other. Abandoning their first love didn’t mean abandoning Christ altogether. Rather, when tied to Matthew 24:12-14, we see it as becoming complacent in spreading the Gospel. Becoming lukewarm resulted in the same, although being called lukewarm implied much more extensive issues. Being lukewarm could result in many works (ministries) being pursued only halfheartedly and incompletely. And how many ministries today might seem Christian in origin while having no true faith behind their work?
Pride, too, can produce a ministry that is seen as alive, but is spiritually dead. These people can boast of being prosperous and self-sufficient, but all along they’re blind spiritually and functioning solely on their own power. Prosperity often leads to complacency, if not downright apathy. The prosperous have what they need, and often that doesn’t include the zeal to spread the Gospel. The prosperous are more likely to engage in virtue signaling.
In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, we’re told what to expect in these latter days.
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
In this list of traits, we see many of the faults listed for the church in Revelation, ex., lovers of self and money (idols); lovers of pleasure, not God; and appearance of godliness, but denying its power. People read this and think Paul is commenting on characteristics of nonbelievers outside the church, but does he specify that? Is the “church” today really any different?
In my next post, we’ll look at where the church stands in 2023.