Most of us have heard the story of the foolish man who was stranded on his rooftop in the middle of a flood. Desperately, the man prays that God will rescue him; however, when given the opportunity, he repeatedly refuses to leave his roof. As the man is drowning, he asks God why he was not saved. The Lord simply replies, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?”
Similarly, Jesus has sent seven specific messages found in the book of Revelation, chapters two and three* that apply to “the state of things existing in the churches of the religious world today” and “extend to the end of time.” (1) The question is, are we willing to heed Christ’s urgent warnings and be saved?
The Ephesian Message
Today Christianity is facing many of the same challenges as the church in Ephesus and its symbolic time period during the first century.
Sadly, these Christians were rebuked for forgetting their “first works” (Rev. 2:4-5). According to Ellen White, “as they lost their first love, they increased in a knowledge of scientific theories originated by the father of lies.” (2) Likewise, in our present age, the belief of evolution has so invaded our culture that many Christians purport its philosophy in place of a literal six-day creation.
A Pew Research survey found that 66 percent of Catholic and 65 percent of mainline Protestant church members accept Darwin’s theory of evolution. (3)
Additionally, Pope Francis has embraced this philosophy by saying it goes “hand in hand with religious doctrine.” (4)
He also claims that the Big Bang, accepted today as the origin of the world, “does not contradict the creative intervention of God—on the contrary, it requires it,” and “evolution in nature is not in contrast with the notion of creation.” (5) Amazingly, most Protestant churches agree.
Even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, one survey found that only “sixty-seven percent of Seventh-day Adventists reject the idea that human beings evolved over time.” (6). Tragically, today, as it was in Ephesus, so-called scientific philosophies are attacking the plain “word of God which lives and abides forever” (I Peter 1:23).
Just as outside worldly theories battered the Ephesians, cherished sin ravaged their first love experience inwardly (Rev. 2:4). “Self, manifested in hereditary traits of character, spoiled the principles of the grand, good works that identified the members of the Ephesus church as Christians.” (7) Often selfishness raises its ugly head, especially during disputes within the church body. One author warns:
God chooses His servants to do His will and places them in positions of responsibility. But when one in such a position loses his first love, he loses his faith in his brethren and can see nothing valuable in their work. Their every act is regarded with suspicion and distrust. . . He grasps at words and acts to vindicate himself and disparage others, placing his brother as a target for others to fire at, and by his supposition striving to uproot the confidence that his brethren have placed in him. Those who continue this work, refusing to reform, must receive the punishment of heaven. (8)
With so much controversy presently dividing the church, this counsel seems particularly relevant as differing opinions often turn into heated arguments. Unfortunately, God’s modern church, like Ephesus, is in danger of losing its “first love.”
The Smyrnean Message
As he attacked the Ephesians, Satan also warred against the church of Smyrna through outside persecution and inside corruption, which continues today (Rev. 2:9-10). According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, the name “Smyrna” means “myrrh,” the incense used to anoint the dead, which is symbolic of the Christian persecution during the first through the third centuries. Like in Smyrna, persecution around the world is rampant today. According to a recent article, more people have been martyred for their faith during the twentieth century than in “all the previous centuries combined.” (9) In fact, “during this century, we have documented cases in excess of 26 million martyrs.
However, the physical assault on God’s people pales in comparison to the spiritual conflicts within both the ancient church of Smyrna and the church today. The devil often uses so-called Christians to cause confusion and disruption (Rev. 2:9). God’s servant writes:
Satan has a large confederacy, his church. Christ calls them the synagogue of Satan because the members are the children of sin. The members of Satan's church have been constantly working to cast off the divine law and confuse the distinction between good and evil. Satan is working with great power in and through the children of disobedience, to exalt treason and apostasy as truth and loyalty. (11, italic supplied)
Unfortunately, the devil’s subtle, yet devastating, attack has resulted in internal conflict within the modern church. Controversial issues such as women ordination, homosexuality, transgenderism, emergent church philosophies, etc. are damaging the church’s effectiveness in spreading the gospel to the world. Persecution, both physical and spiritual, has taken an undeniable toll upon God’s people in every age.
The Pergamon Message
Like Christians in Smyrna, the church of Pergamos also suffered affliction from pagan, and later, papal Rome during the fourth to the sixth centuries. According to tradition, the faithful martyr, “Antipas,” referenced in Revelation 2:13, was the martyred bishop of Pergamos (12). However, the name “Antipas” is derived from two Greek words: “anti” meaning “against” and “pater” meaning “father,” (13) the same meaning as the Latin word for “pope.” (14) Antipas, therefore, could possibly be a symbolic name for the countless martyrs who were killed by the papacy, both during this time period and later in the future.
However, as persecution lessoned, Satan found a more effective means of assailing God’s people through the “stumbling block” of compromise (Rev. 2:14-15). This spiritual cancer climaxed in the church of Pergamos with the infiltration of the beliefs of the Nicolaitans, who proposed a lifestyle of cheap grace (15). Unfortunately, this carnal Christianity is still prevalent within the church today, despite Jesus, Himself, stating twice that He hates this teaching (Rev. 2:6,15). Recently, at the February 2019 One Project gathering in Redlands, California, Timothy Golden, a lawyer and philosopher from Walla Walla University, alleged that “Adventist piety” tends toward ‘“narcissistic self-preoccupation,” and this type of religion is an “idol of Adventist theological imagination.” (16 ) However, Ellen White warns:
The doctrine is now largely taught that the gospel of Christ has made the law of God of no effect; that by “believing” we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. But this is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned. (17, italic supplied)
Unfortunately, when the Lord’s law of love is not manifested in the life of a believer, worldly compromise is the sure result.
Such was the case in the church of Pergamos, God’s grace was turned into “lasciviousness,” (18) and sexual immorality prevailed (Rev. 2:14). Likewise, within Christianity today, promiscuity is largely accepted. One report found that “sixty-one percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage” and “fifty-six percent said that it's appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time.” (19) These findings are the sad result of God’s people conforming to modern cultural norms. Commenting on the lack of genuine commitment, one author states, “Those who begin their Christian life by being half and half, whatever may be their intentions, will at last be found enlisted on the enemy’s side.” (20) Weak morals are simply a symptom of a deeper spiritual malady among God’s church throughout the ages.
The Thyatiran Message
In addition to the Pergamon church, the church of Thyatira was also warned against sexual immorality, but this time John includes the harlot, Jezebel, who “calls herself a prophetess” and “seduces” God’s servants (Rev. 2:20). Because the Bible often uses a harlot to symbolize a corrupt spiritual/political power (Jer. 3:1, 6, Is. 1:21-23), this “woman” likely represents the political/religious system that gained authority during the Dark Ages. One author explains:
Jezebel is a figurative name, alluding to Ahab's wife, who slew the prophets of the Lord (and) led her husband into idolatry. . . A more striking figure could not have been used to denote the Papal abominations. (21, parentheses supplied)
Just as Jezebel mixed paganism with Judaism, the papacy has mixed paganism with Christianity, committing spiritual adultery. Like Thyatira, this “mother” church was given time during the Protestant Reformation to repent of its immorality, but it did not (Rev. 2:21).
We are still seeing both physical and spiritual corruption within the Roman Catholic Church today. Recently, “over 300 predator priests” in the United States alone have been prosecuted for multiple credible accounts of child molestation. (22)
CNN reported that more than a thousand children have been molested over the past seven decades. (23) Yet initially, the Vatican prevented Catholic priests in the Unites States from taking any action to confront this sexual abuse and only recently announced new in-house measures which rely “on the very same church structures that have been receiving and routing abuse allegations for years.” (24) Moreover, Pope Francis has repeatedly excused homosexuality without scriptural support. For example, he told Juan Cruz that it “doesn’t matter” if he is gay, and that “God made him like this.” (25) However, this statement contradicts Leviticus 20:13, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” This direct conflict with the Bible, as well as the multiple accounts of sexual abuse, are prime evidence that both spiritual and physical corruption continue to exist within the Catholic Church system.
However, the papacy is not alone in its biblically-contradicting view of homosexuality. “In 2003, all major religious groups opposed same-sex marriage, with the exception of the religiously unaffiliated.” (26) But according to a recent study, most religious groups now favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, including two-thirds of Catholics, Orthodox, and white mainline Protestants. (27) Therefore, the Bible is no longer accepted as the standard of many Christians’ lifestyle practices.
Nevertheless, both godly behavior and a firm commitment to truth are the heritage of Protestant churches today, handed down from the Reformation, the symbolic time period of Thyatira. Throughout the Dark Ages, countless reformers sealed their testimonies with blood in efforts to purify God’s church from the papacy’s unbiblical teachings; however, presently, many Protestant denominations are pushing to unite with the Catholic Church on similar beliefs. For example, in 2017, in accordance with the Lutherans, the representatives from the World Communion of Reformed Churches which include 80 million members of Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, Uniting and Waldensian churches stated, “We rejoice together that the historical doctrinal differences on the doctrine of justification no longer divide us (with the Catholic Church).” (28, parentheses supplied) Ellen White predicted this ecumenical movement over two hundred years ago when she wrote:
And this is the religion Protestants are beginning to look upon with so much favor, and which will eventually be united with Protestantism. This union will not, however, be effected by a change in Catholicism, for Rome never changes. She claims infallibility. It is Protestantism that will change. The adoption of liberal ideas on its part will bring it where it can clasp the hand of Catholicism. (29, italic supplied)
Like the church of Thyatira, many Protestant churches are no longer protesting the papacy and its corruption, but instead, are uniting under its leadership, adopting many of its liberal, socialistic ideas. However, God’s people must not be seduced by this current ecumenical deception. Rather, true Christians must determine to faithfully adhere to the teachings of the Bible and the Bible only.
All four of these messages in Revelation have pertinent and vital information for Christians right now. Jesus pleads urgently, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:29). May we not resist God’s Word, the very means of our salvation, and drown in Satan’s flood of deception.
Instead, let us heed Christ’s crucial warnings to His church today.
Melissa Sexson Hanson is an avid student of Bible prophecy and an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She has elementary education and English secondary degrees from Union College and is currently working as a freelance writer with the purpose of preparing souls for Christ’s soon return.
*All Bible texts quoted are taken from the New King James Version
1. Manuscript Releases, Vol. 1, 372.1
2. Manuscript 11, 1906.14
7. Manuscript 11, 1906.14
8. Manuscript 1, 1906.10
11. Christian Experience and Teachings, 207.1
15. Review and Herald, June 7, 1887, par. 16
17. Signs of the Times, February 25, 1897, par. 6
18. Review and Herald, June 7, 1887, par. 16
20. Review and Herald, April 19, 1898, par. 7
21. Review and Herald, vol 8, Oct 16, 1856
29. The Review and Herald, June 1, 1886, par. 13