The Apostle John was directed by the Lord Jesus Christ to send the letters to all his churches explaining Jesus has judged His churches by His Spirit. Jesus wants it made known to them what the Spirit of God sees in them. We can see from the table below that John was writing to seven actual churches of which he was the apostle, but then with hindsight we may see that he was revealing seven periods in the Church Age.
Therefore we can say his writing is historical and prophetic. Over the Church Age we can find seven periods in Church history: the persecution from pagan Rome and then from Papal Rome upon the saints and anyone who stood in their way. J.A.G. Rolley, makes this list which outlines the structure of each letter. Every letter has a definite pattern which is followed.
1. Each letter commences with. “To the angel of the Church of.”
2. Each letter describes the Lord in one of His Divine roles.
3. Each letter states: “Thus says He.”
4. Each letter states: “I know your works.”
5. Each letter has: A judgment or an encouragement.
6. Each letter has a warning: “He who has an ear, let him hear.”
7. Each letter has a promise: “To him who overcomes.”
8. Each letter has the promise of life in the Kingdom of the Lord.”
Ps. David McCracken from New Zealand and now living in Australia once explained that a prophetic message may have a link to the past, present as well as to the future. Briefly below are some points of history to link in with the following chart along with Chapters 9 and 10 of our book. You will find that the prophetic thrust of John has had its outworking over history.
1. Ephesus – Around 100 A.D. We had false teaching. Legalism, Gnosticism claims that the Bible was not sufficient for teaching. Already there were people going about teaching things off the top of their heads, rather than from the Bible.
2. Smyrna – 100–313 A.D. We saw emperor worship, which was compulsory in the Roman Empire; failure to do so was punished by death. Polycarp was burned to death.
3. Pergamos – The Age of Constantine, 313 to 606 A.D., Christianity became the State religion, losing its spirituality.
4. Thyatira – Around 606 to about 1517 A.D. we saw the rise of the Papacy with its evil power. Jezebel comes into the picture as people are taught to worship Mary the “Queen of Heaven”.
5. Sardis – Around 1517–1739 AD. Known as the era of the Reformation of the Church.
6. Philadelphia – 1739–1830. In this era we saw the Evangelical and Missionary period, come out and proclaim the Great Commission to the world. Bible Societies started translation of the Bible into different languages.
7. Laodicea – starting around 1830 and will continue until Christ returns. It has to deal with Humanism, Liberalism, Futurism, and the lukewarm Christians.