Where Was the Church That Jesus Built

What had happened to the Church that was established through an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in 31ad? Where was Christ and what was He doing during this time?

In the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation, we find messages that Jesus Christ recorded for the seven churches of Asia Minor. In chapter one, the Apostle John saw a vision of the glorified Christ standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands. These seven lampstands represent the Church of God in its entirety throughout time (Revelation 1:12-20). The seven cities of Asia Minor mentioned in Revelation were physically situated as successive stops on a Roman mail route. What is the significance of these seven messages?

Clearly, this message has a historical application to seven literal congregations in the first century. Additionally, however—and important for us today—these congregations exemplify attitudes and problems that might characterize the Christian community, as well as individual Christians, in the years since John wrote (cf. Revelation 2:7).

When we look at the context of the book of Revelation, we must recognize that it is primarily intended as a prophecy. Revelation 1:1 shows that the book's purpose is to show to God's servants things that would soon begin to happen. Thus the seven churches should primarily be understood as representing the entire history of God's Church in seven successive church eras.

The first Church to be addressed in Revelation 2 is the Church at Ephesus. This Church characterized the Apostolic Era. In verse 2, we read that the great test of that first era lay in determining who were

The Seven Churches of Revelation

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, the Apostle John recorded messages from Jesus Christ to churches in seven particular cities in western Asia Minor (now the country of Turkey). These cities, important in commerce and communication, were linked by major roads as successive stops on a Roman mail route when John wrote his vision. Note that Christ addressed the churches in their exact geographic order. When we recognize that the whole book of Revelation is intended as a prophecy (Revelation 1:1) and that certain different circumstances present in the seven churches could not have been contemporaneous (cf. 2:10; 3:7-8), it is apparent that these churches represent the history of the entire Church of God as seven Church eras which occur in chronological order.

3) Message to Pergamos: "I know your works... I

have a few things against you" (2:13-14).

2) Message to Smyrna: 'You will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (2:10).

1) Message to Ephesus: "You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not... Nevertheless... you have left your first love" (2:2,4).

Aegean Sea

3) Message to Pergamos: "I know your works... I

have a few things against you" (2:13-14).

2) Message to Smyrna: 'You will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (2:10).

5) Message to Sardis: "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (3:1).

6) Message to Philadelphia:

"I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have... not denied my name" (3:8).

5) Message to Sardis: "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (3:1).

6) Message to Philadelphia:

"I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have... not denied my name" (3:8).

ASIA

Pff^ilTlOi Jliyjlirj H^ardis

Smyrna

^ Ptnladelptiia

Isle of Pafmos

The island to which John was exiled, where he received his prophetic vision and recorded it in the book of Revelation

7) Message to Laodicea: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth" (3:16).

the true Apostles of Christ and who were liars (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3-15). This was an era that labored long and hard to do the Work of God and endured much difficulty and persecution in the process. The true Christians of the Ephesian Era were those who rejected and hated the practices of the Nicolaitans (followers of Simon Magus).

However, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70ad, discouragement and spiritual lethargy set in. The brethren had expected Christ to return shortly after Roman armies had surrounded Jerusalem. But now most of Judea and Galilee lay in ruins—occupied by Roman legions. The Jewish Christians were considered traitors by their fellow countrymen, and probable troublemakers by the Roman authorities. Life was hard and dangerous.

This era had left its first love, that early zeal for doing the Work. The membership began losing focus regarding those doctrines, practices and priorities that gave them their true identity and purpose.

The living Christ's message to Christians of the Ephesian era was that if they did not repent, and return to their first works of zealous proclamation of the Gospel, He would remove their lampstand. The apostasy of the overwhelming majority of the Jerusalem Church in 135ad (when the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome was totally crushed), is generally taken to mark the ending of the Ephesian Era. Those who remained faithful during these trying final days were labeled as "Nazarenes" (cf. Acts 24:5) and "Ebionites" (poor ones) by the larger church. As is also the case today, a wide variety of "independent" groups, mixing truth and error in a wide assortment of ideas, existed alongside the true Church of God. These groups were sometimes lumped in as fellow "heretics" with the "Nazarenes" or "Ebionites" by the Roman church.

The Church at Smyrna is the second of the seven Revelation churches to be addressed. The Apostle John died in Ephesus at the end of the first century. The next faithful leader in Asia Minor, as noted in the previous chapter, was Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. As a young man, Polycarp had been a personal disciple of John and had observed the Passover with him on several occasions. Polycarp became prominent during the first couple of decades of the second century. The churches under his leadership remained one of the few areas where God's Festivals continued to be observed throughout the remainder of the second century. In his old age, Polycarp even made a journey to Rome seeking to convince the bishop of Rome, Anicetus, of his errors in not celebrating the biblical Passover date and in observing, in its place, an annual Sunday Paschal observance (Easter) and a weekly celebration of "Eucharist."

In the closing decades of the second century, Polycrates, a faithful church leader who had been personally trained by Polycarp, arose. He remained the only Christian leader of prominence who was faithful to the example of the Apostles of the Jerusalem Church of God. Polycrates taught the true Gospel of the literal establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the unconscious state of the dead awaiting the resurrection, the importance of keeping God's law and the observance of the biblical Festivals.

Toward the end of the second century, Victor, bishop of Rome, had begun labeling Polycrates and those who followed his teachings as heretics—sources of discord and schism in the church. Polycrates remained faithful despite increasing pressure and isolation from supposed "fellow Christians," as well as persecution and hostility from the surrounding pagan society. After his death, however, we know of no other strong, prominent leader among those faithful churches in Asia Minor.

In the public's perception, true Christians lost ground to the much more popular and accommodating Roman church. Their numbers shrank and they became increasingly isolated. Despised and labeled "Ebionites" by the mainstream church, individuals and groups of families who remained faithful had to relocate into more remote areas of Asia Minor.

Even as early as the end of the first century, there were true Christians being put out of congregations headed by apostate leaders (3 John 9-10). By the second century, others, such as the faithful remnant who refused to accept "new truth" from Bishop Marcus of Jerusalem, were being forced to withdraw themselves from congregations of which they had been members. This occurred as unfaithful leaders led the visible church further and further astray.

The great test of the Smyrna Era lay in two areas. One was their ability to distinguish between the continuation of the true

Church of God and what was, in reality, the emerging Synagogue of Satan. The other lay in their willingness to endure persecution and even death in order to remain faithful to God (Revelation 2:9-10).

Physically, the Christians of this era were impoverished and persecuted. They were rejected as heretics by the rapidly growing "Orthodox" movement, labeled as apostates from the synagogue by the Jews, and looked upon with contempt and suspicion by the surrounding pagan Roman society. In God's estimation, however, those who remained faithful during this horrible time were accounted as having spiritual wealth of great value, and will ultimately receive a crown of life (Revelation 2:9-10).

After Constantine began the systematic enforcement of compliance with Roman theology in 325ad, the remnants of the true Church were in large part forced to flee the bounds of the Roman Empire into the mountains of Armenia, and later into the Balkan areas of Europe. They were few in number, utterly lacking in prestige or wealth and labeled as enemies of the state by a supposedly "Christian" Roman Empire.

In God's sight, however, they were precious. It was not God's purpose that His true Church grow into a great, powerful organization that would "Christianize" the world. His true Church was to remain a "little flock" (Luke 12:32). Its continuity would be measured, not by a succession of proud, powerful, presiding bishops in a particular city (cf. Hebrews 13:14), but by a succession of faithful, converted people who, though scattered and persecuted, continued to worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

There would be times when God would raise up faithful leaders to revitalize His people and do some sort of Work that had public visibility, at least in localized areas. There were other times when God's Church continued to exist in such scattered obscurity that it was visible only to God. Still, it never died out.

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