A number of expositors down through history have held that the seven churches represent seven sequential stages of church history.1 While we do not favor this view, it is instructive to understand the arguments for and against such a view since it will frequently be encountered by students of the book of Revelation. The view is known as the historical-prophetical view:
5 [Ibid., 50-90] A fatal weakness of this view, in our opinion, is the variation in the results of different expositors. For example, see LaHaye. Chart of Church Age ViewTim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 24. Even Fruchtenbaum admits a reduction in his emphasis on the interpretation of the letters to the seven churches as historical periods: [Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, xxxi].
9 800 to 1517.Ibid.
10 There is no . . . accurate correspondence . . . the interpreters of the historico-prophetical school, besides their controversy with those who deny in toto what they affirm, have also an intestine strife among themselves. Each one has his own solution of the enigma, his own distribution of the several epochs; or, if this is too much to affirm, there is, at any rate, nothing approaching to a general consensus among them.Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 234. Schaff, in speaking of the periods of church history, notes, In regard to the number and length of periods there is, indeed, no unanimity. He then goes on to observe that if any general agreement exists, it is in respect to a threefold division into ancient (A.D. 1-590), medieval (A.D. 590-1517) and modern (A.D. 1517-1880) periods. If a further breakdown is desired, Schaff proposes a division of each of the three into three subdivisions, resulting in nine, not seven periods of church history.Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 510.
11 One has to force the specific problems of each congregation into a certain period of church history. And those issues do not fit as easily as one may wish. Church history is far more complex.Mal Couch, Ecclesiology in the Book of Revelation, in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 127.
12 If the churches were genuinely prophetic of the course of church history rather than representative in every age, those who hold to the imminent return of Christ would have been quickly disillusioned once they realized this.Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 24.
13 We ask, what slightest hint or intimation does the Spirit of God give that we have here to do with the great successive acts and epochs of the kingdom of God in the course of its gradual evolution here upon earth? Where are the finger-posts pointing the way? What is there, for instance, of chronological succession? Does not every thing, on the contrary, mark simultaneity, not succession? The seven candlesticks are seen at the same instant; the seven Churches named in the same breath.Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 233. It will be good always to remember, that there is a temptation to make Scripture mean more than in the intention of the holy Ghost it does mean, as well as a temptation to make it mean less; and that we are bound by equally solemn obligations not to thrust on it something of ours, as not to subtract from it any thing of its own (Rev. Rev. 22:18-19+); the interpretation in excess proving often nearly, or quite, as mischievous as that in defect.Ibid., 221.
14 Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 237.