Thursday, August 29, 2013

W.A Criswell's Sermon: "The Symbolic Meaning of the Seven Churches of Asia"

Matthew 16:18 "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it."

For years Dr. W.A Criswell pastored the First Baptist Church at Dallas and influenced an entire generation of preachers and Christians both inside and outside the Southern Baptist Convention.  God greatly used him to mold and shape the lives of many people.  In today's post I want to feature an outline of Revelation 2-3 from Dr. Criswell's notes on a sermon he preached in 1961 entitled: "The Symbolic Mean of the Seven Churches".  The website for all of Dr. Criswell's sermons and sermon notes is found at It is from that resource that I now present to you his outline of Revelation 2-3, unaltered and unedited.  Enjoy and be blessed this day as you read material from a wonderful preacher of the word - Dr. W.A Criswell.


I.          They Represent All the Churches Through All History

They are literal, historical churches, but they stand for, represent, the entire Christian body in all periods of history.  We can see here what the churches were in the beginning, what the course of this history has been since, and will be to the end.  The significance of their message not confined to few particular congregations but to all the churches throughout the age.  How know this?

1.         The number "Seven".
Completeness, fullness.
These chosen for an elective purpose.  Other churches, congregations more powerful some not favored in the world. Antioch, Corinth, Rome,  even many in Asia omitted, Hierapolis, Colosse.  Why then not taken into account?  Did they not need reprimand, rebuke, encouragement, warning, as well as the 7? Because all are included in the 7.  They included everything found in the churches as then existed, as shall ever exist.  The entire fullness of the churches of all times.

2.         The way introduced--impressively, authenticating one or more of the attributes of the speaker--begets this idea of unusual solemnity and importance.  The letter consists of Christ’s own words exclusively, the very heart we knew from Him.

3.         They way they end–the 7 times repeated admonition ""  Such language 7 times repeated, has in it an intensity of universality, urgency, beyond anything in Scripture.  What is said to one is said to all, to all churches of all times.  

4.         1:20, "The mystery" of the 7 churches.  Something significant from the beginning, something more intended than is seen on the surface, a significance beyond these local churches.

5.         1:3; 22:18 "words of this prophecy".  A pre-eminent and vital part of a body described as a book of prophecy.

II.          The Symbolic Meaning of the Churches

1.         The promises, messages seen to have been framed in the light of the whole sweep of God's ministries from the days of Adam until Christ shall have given back to us all that Adam lost.

a.         2:7, Ephesus.  Re-admission to tree of life, paradise, from which Adam excluded.

b.         2:11, Smyrna.  Any exception from the death which pertained to the expulsion from the paradise of Eden.

c.         2:17, Pergamos.  A house, out of which Hebrews pilgrimage nourished in the wilderness, names inscribed on Aaron's breastplate.  

d.         2:26,27, Thyatira.  The authority, judicial administration over nations represented by Joshua, David, Solomon: this victorious reign heralds the exaltation of saints as the morning star.

e.         3:4,5, Sardis.  Reservation.  Opening of books. Reward, the future.

f.          3:12, Philadelphia.  The new Jerusalem, the new citizenship, the people not made with hands, eternal in heaven.

g.         Laodicea.  A session, dominion, beyond which nothing higher to be imagined--session with Christ your everlasting throne.  What good things God hath prepared for those who love Him!

2.         Represent phases, periods, in church history from time of the apostles to the coming of Christ.  A prefiguration of the entire church life in successive phases.  A panoramic outline of the whole, militant church:  paradigmatic of the whole history.

a.         An Ephesian period.  Cooling of love.  To end of apostolic age. 

b.         A Symrnian period.  Era of martyrdom.  Fox's Book of Martyr's.  The great persecution.  Our church, no fault. To 316, Constantine.

c.         A Pergamian period.  The church married to the world, under imperial favor, dwelling where Satan sits.  Under Nicolaitanes, clergy.

d.         A Thyatirian period.  Triumph of Balaamism, Nicolaitanes.  People asked for the clergy.  Darkness for truth. 2:24, the believing remnant.

e.         A Sardian period.  Reformation.  Return to Christ, age of worthy manner.

f.          A Laodicean period.  The final state of apostasy.  Luke warmness, self-sufficiency, empty profession.  Jesus outside, 3:20.

3.         A description of churches in every period.  Each period it's pre-dominant characteristic, but some churches like them all, through all history.  An Ephesian church, a Smyrnan church (now in Asia), a Laodicean church.

4.         Seven co-exist in every church, denomination, congregation. Contain specimens of each. 

Compare:  All the elements of the ocean to be found in every drop of ocean water, so every Christian church all the varied classes.  Ephesians....Laodiceans.

5.         To us.

A directness of appeal to us of the most solemn importance. The Epistle not so much messenger from an absent Lord, as sentence of a present Judge, engaged in the solemn act of inspection and decision.  Christ walking in His churches with open, flaming eyes.