I. Article Title. Present Age Course. The letters to the seven churches in Rev 2-3. The Close Of The Age.
A. The Time Period Of time Of Revelation Two and Three.
1. The course of this present age is presented in a second passage found in
Chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation. Whereas Matthew thirteen surveyed this present age in its relation to the inter advent age, Revelation two and three outline the present age in reference to the program in the church.
a. The time period of Revelation two and three.
b. John, in the book of Revelation, is writing concerning things that were past, things that are present, and things that are future (Rev. 1:19).
c. The great divisions of the book are here written for the instruction of the Church of God. (1)“What thou hast seen” refers to the vision of Christ just beheld (verses 12-16). (2) “The things that are” refer to the several successive, broadly defined features of the professing Church and of Christ’s relation thereto, till its final rejection, not yet accomplished (chaps. 2 and 3). (3) “The things that are about to be after these things.” In this third division, the world and the Jews, and, we may add, the corrupt and apostate Church, i.e., that which is to be “spued out,” are embraced in this strictly prophetic part of the Apocalypse (4—22:5).
d. Nothing has more contributed to throw discredit on prophetic studies, than
the erroneous principle on which it has been sought to interpret this book. Here is the key for its interpretation hanging at the door; take it down, use it, and enter in. There is simplicity and consistency in apportioning the main contents of the book to a past, a present, and a future. It would seem evident, then, that John, in writing to the seven churches, is depicting this present age from the inception of the church to the judgment of the apostate church prior to the second advent. Thus the period of time covered by these chapters would essentially parallel the period covered by Matthew thirteen. As has been previously stated, this time period covers the time from the rejection of Christ in Matthew 12:24 until the time of the return of Jesus to set up his kingdom in Matthew 24:29-30, and is known as the inter-advent age.
2. The purpose of the seven letters. A threefold purpose in the writing of the
seven letters may be suggested.
a. John is writing to seven local congregations in order to meet the needs of these individual assemblies. “There can be no doubt that these letters were
primarily intended for the communities to which they are inscribed, and deal with actual circumstances of the time.” Therefore, there would also be a corresponding direct historical application to that which is here, to that which is recorded for each of the seven churches.
b. These letters would reveal the various kinds of individuals and assemblies
throughout the age. Thus, the seven Churches represent seven varieties of Christians, both true and false. Every professer of Christianity is either an Ephesian in his religious qualities, a Smyrnaote, a Pergamite, a Thyatiran, a Sardian, a Philadelphian, or a Laodicean. It is of these seven sorts that the whole church is made up.
c. Every community of Christian professors has some of all the varied classes which make up Christendom at large. There are Protestant Papists, and Papistical Protestants; sectarian anti-sectarians, and partyists who are not schismatics; holy ones in the midst of abounding defection and apostasy, and unholy ones in the midst of the most earnest and active faith; light in dark places, and darkness in the midst of light. Thus the seven Churches are found in every Church, giving to those Epistles a directness of application to ourselves, and to professing Christians of every age, of the utmost solemnity and importance.
d. When taken together, these churches exhibit every phase of Christian society which would ever be found in the various parts of Christendom, and so enabled the Lord to give comfort, advice, exhortation, warning, and threatening, from which something could be found to suit any possible circumstance of His people till the end of the age (Matt 24:29-30). Thus, there would be a spiritual application, in addition to the historical interpretation.
e. There is a prophetic revelation as to the course of the age in the letters. i.e.,
“In the order in which they were given, they foreshadowed the successive predominant phases through which the nominal Church was to pass, from the time when John saw the vision until the Lord came.”
f. The seven churches, which were only seven of many which John could have chosen to address, seem to have been specifically chosen because of the significance of their names. Ephesus means “beloved” or perhaps “relaxation.” Smyrna means “myrrh” or “bitterness.” Pergamos means “high tower” or “thoroughly married.” Thyatira means “pereptual sacrifice” or “continual offering.” Sardis means “those escaping” or “renovation.” Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” Laodicea means “the people ruling or speaking” or “the judgment of the people.”
g. The names of the seven churches, themselves, suggest the succession of the development of the periods within the age. Concerning this development, Ecclesiastical pretension and departure from first love characterized the close of the apostolic-period—Ephesus (2:1-7). Next succeeded the martyr-period, which brings us down to the close of the tenth and last persecution, under Diocletian— Smyrna (2:8-11). Decreasing spirituality and increasing worldliness went hand in hand from the accession of Constantine and his public patronage of Christianity on to the seventh century—Pergamos (2:12-17).
h. The papal church, which is Satan’s masterpiece on earth, is witnessed in the assumption of universal authority and cruel persecution of the saints of God. Its evil reign covers “the middle ages,” the moral characteristics of which have been well termed “dark.” Popery blights everything it touches—Thyatira (2:18-29).
i. The Reformation was God’s intervention in grace and power to cripple papal authority and introduce into Europe the light which for 300 years has been burning with more or less brilliancy.
j. Protestantism with its divisions and deadness shows clearly enough how far short it comes of God’s ideal of the Church and Christianity—Sardis (3:1-6). Another Reformation, equally the work of God characterized the beginning of last century—Philadelphia (3:7-13).
k. The present general state of the professing Church, which is one of
luke warmness, is the most hateful and nauseous of any yet described. We may well term the last phase of church-history on the eve of judgment, the christless period —Laodicea (3:14-22). Note that the history of the first three churches is consecutive; whereas the history of the remaining four overlaps, and then practically runs concurrently to the end—the Coming of the Lord.
l. While these seven epochs are seen to be successive, it is important to observe that the succeeding epoch does not terminate the preceding one. The number of parables [in Matthew 13] and of epistles is seven, that number being significant of dispensational completeness; and, in each of the two prophecies, we apparently have set before us seven successive phases or characteristic epochs, which embrace the whole. These epochs commence in the order in which they are given; but any of them may overlap that which succeeds it, or even extend its influence, in a greater or less degree, to the end of the age (Matt 24:29-30).
3. The parallelism between Matthew thirteen and Revelation two and three. While the mystery of the inter-advent age is not synonymous with the visible church, yet, since the time period is essentially the same in the two passages, we may reasonably expect that there would be a parallelism of development. It is not intended to infer that there is an identity in the revelation in the two passages, rather, that there is a similarity in the progress of the course of the age as revealed in the two portions.
B. The Close Of The Present Age (Matthew 24:29-30).
1. Within this present age between the two advents of Christ, God is bringing to fulfillment two distinct programs: that with the church, which will be completed at the rapture of the church, and that with Israel, which will be completed after the rapture at the second advent of Christ. Both of these have descriptive passages concerning the end times of their respective programs.
2. There is a reference to the “last times” for the church (1Pet. 1:20 and Jude 18) and to the “last time” for the church (1 Pet. 1:5 and 1 John 2:18).
3. There is reference to the “latter days” for Israel (Dan. 10:14; Deut. 4:30) and for the church (1 Tim. 4:1). Scripture refers to the “last days” for Israel (Isa. 2:2;
Micah 4:1; Acts 2:17) and also for the church (2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2).
4. There is also a reference to the “last day” for Israel (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54), although this usage of “day” may refer to a program rather than to a time period. In these observations it is important to observe that the references to any given time period must be related to the program of which it is a part.
5. When used in reference to Israel’s program it can not refer to the program for the church. Distinction must be made between the “last days” for Israel—the days of her kingdom glory in the earth (cf. Isa. 2:1-5)—and the “last days” for the Church, which are days of evil and apostasy (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-5). Likewise, discrimination is called for between the “last days” for Israel and for the church and “the last day,” which, as related to the Church, is the day of the resurrection of those who have died in Christ (cf. John 6:39-40, 44, 54).
6. Careful distinction must be made, or one will relegate to the church that which constitutes closing events for Israel or vice-versa. In this present consideration attention is not directed to the events concerning the close of the age in reference to Israel. This will be considered later and will include all those prophecies which take place after the translation of the church preceding the second advent of Christ.
7. Attention is directed to the events connected with the close of the age in relation to God’s program for the church. A very extensive body of Scripture bears on the last days for the Church. Reference is to a restricted time at the very end of, and yet wholly within, the present age. Though this brief period immediately precedes the great tribulation and in some measure is a preparation for it, these two times of apostasy and confusion—though incomparable in history—are wholly separate the one from the other.
8. Those Scriptures which set forth the last days for the Church give no consideration to political or world conditions but are confined to the Church itself. These Scriptures picture men as departing from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-2). There will be a manifestation of characteristics which belong to unregenerate men, though it is under the profession of “a form of godliness” (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The indication is that, having denied the power of the blood of Christ (cf. 2 Tim 3:5 with Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2 Tim. 4:2-4), the leaders in these forms of righteousness will be unregenerate men from whom nothing more spiritual than this could proceed (Cf. 1 Cor. 2:14).
9. The following is a partial list of the passages which present the truth respecting the last days of the Church: 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3-4; James 5:1-8; 2 Peter 2:1-22; 3:3-6; Jude 1:1-25. Since the church is given the hope of an imminent return of Christ there can be no signs given to her as to when this event will take place. Therefore we pass by the subject of “the signs of the times” in reference to the closing days for the church. However, from the Scriptures cited above, there are certain revelations concerning the condition within the professing church at the end of the age.
10. The following conditions center around a system of denials. There is a denial of God (Luke 17:26; 2 Tim. 3:4-5), a denial of Christ (1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:6), a denial of Christ’s return (2 Pet. 3:3-4), a denial of the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-2; Jude 3), a denial of sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-4), a denial of the separated life (2 Tim. 3:1-7), a denial of Christian liberty (1 Tim. 4:3-4); a denial of morals (2 Tim. 3:1-8, 13; Jude 18), a denial of authority (2 Tim. 3:4). This condition at the close of the age is seen to coincide with the state within the Laodicean Church, before which Christ must stand to seek admission. In view of its close it is not surprising that the age is called an “evil age” in Scripture.
II. Article References.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Th. D. (1871-1952). J. Vernon McGee, Th. D. (1904-1988). Merrill F. Unger, Ph. D. (1909-1980). Charles L. Feinberg, Ph. D. (1909-1995). John F. Walvoord, Th. D. (1910-2002). J. Dwight Pentecost, Th. D. (1915-2014). Charles C. Ryrie, Ph. D. (1925-2016). Robert L. Thomas, Th. D. (1928-2017). Stanley D. Toussaint, Th. D. (1928-2017). Robert P. Lightner, Th. D. (1931-2018). Harold W. Hoehner, Ph. D. (1935-2009). Thomas S. McCall, Th. D. (1936-2021). Edward E. Hindson, Ph. D. (1944-2022).
III . Article Considerations.
A. One of the most difficult and most important factors of writing an article is related to sources of information. A writer must ensure that such sources have a high degree of knowledge on the subjects that are being written, and also must have a high degree of respect from other writers. A second factor that must be considered relates to how to lawfully use material of other writers. In this web site, copyright statutes are not violated. Also, “public domain,” is to be considered. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain
B. In this article, I have chosen theologians whom have proven themselves to be highly respected by others in the Biblical doctrine of eschatology (the study of what Scripture teaches about the end times), and other doctrines of scripture. All of the references in this article have a connection with Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) as graduate or instructor.
C. For education and other supporting data for each source of information in this article, please refer to my Page, “About My References.” The following links show information about Dallas Theological Seminary; I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the Seminary. It is important to understand that DTS is not a denominational seminary, and is totally independent of such.
D. About Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).
1. General Info. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas_Theological_Seminary
2. Doctrinal Statement. https://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinal-statement/