Satan within the Seven Churches of Asia

It was almost seventy years after the ascension of Jesus and the nation of Israel was devastated by Rome. Persecution against the church had resulted in Christians being scattered all over the Middle Eastern countries and abroad. The intention of the Roman government was to obliterate Christianity, and from the human perspective, it seemed that their purpose was being accomplished.

Most of the apostles and elders were gone, some martyred, and others were in hiding. The Apostle John was among the last survivors of the original twelve disciples, and A.D. 95 found him a prisoner on the penal island of Patmos. This little island, located in the Aegean Sea, may have been a prison for many in exile for their faith, but for John, it was a sanctuary.

This was the island on which the Lord Jesus gave him the prophetic visions of the book of Revelation. His instructions were to write the visions in a book and send it to the ministers of seven churches located in Asia Minor. The tone and content of the Lord’s warnings to each assembly manifested His desire to salvage His work from satanic infiltration.

The subtlety of this scenario is that the Devil is not only seeking to close down churches, but also to undermine truth within the church. Doing this will eliminate all possibility for the sanctification of God’s people and the development of overcomers. The purpose of the church will never be realized.

A brief examination of the seven churches of Asia Minor will better enlighten us to the working of Satan within the church. Revelation chapters 2 and 3 give a brief description of the problems that existed within each church and God’s request for repentance and change.

Ephesus

This assembly was the only one of the seven churches for which we have an epistle that is included in our King James Bible.

It was started by Apollos, but received its basic instruction from the Apostle Paul, who spent at least three years in the city. The work grew rapidly and so greatly affected the pagan worship of the goddess Diana that Paul was driven out of Ephesus and forbidden to return. History states that this church became a very strong and active work, and it is traditionally believed that Timothy and the Apostle John spent their last days there.

Persecution against the church resulted in Timothy being martyred and John being extradited to Patmos. This short absence of leadership was capitalized on by the Devil. An overnight influx of false apostles swarmed the church and worked desperately to introduce an immoral and worldly lifestyle described as “the deeds of the Nicolaitanes”. It would seem that this ungodly concept of loose living was permeating the entire region of Asia Minor.

The church at Ephesus must be commended for being able to recognize this evil intrusion and exposing the false apostles spreading it. However, time and persecution had taken its toll, allowing the Devil to successfully dampen their zeal. Their love for God had grown cold and the assembly was in a backslidden mode. (Revelation 2).

Repentance and restoration were the only hope for Ephesus. It is believed that upon his release from Patmos, the Apostle John returned to Ephesus where he spent his last years. History has proven that the presence of godly men in an assembly will curtail, and sometimes completely eliminate, the working of iniquity.

Smyrna

Described as the ‘suffering church’, Smyrna was a poverty stricken assembly that appeared “rich” in the eyes of the Lord. Unlike most of the other churches, there was nothing about Smyrna that God condemned.

However, the faithfulness of the saints did not exclude them from the extensive persecution, imprisonment and martyrdom that God had ordained for them. Even more startling was the fact that the Devil operated from within the church. “The synagogue of Satan” in Smyrna comprised of a rebellious element that existed among the people.

Smyrna was a model assembly and a good example of what Jesus meant when He declared that He would build His church and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18). It is believed from church history that Polycarp, the renowned martyr, was appointed bishop of Smyrna prior to his martyrdom.

Pergamos

God rebuked this church for its accommodation of the immoral doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, its unholy involvement with pagan idolatry, and the promotion of fornication. Pergamos was almost totally backslidden and under strong satanic influence. The martyrdom of faithful Antipas transpired within this church “where Satan dwelleth.”

Thyatira

Apart from a handful of faithful saints, the Devil had moved with strong influence into this assembly. The “depths of Satan” seem to describe a so-called spiritual influence generated by a woman known as Jezebel. The end result was fornication and involvement in pagan practices and idolatry. God was prepared to execute radical judgment against Thyatira.

Sardis

This assembly did not accommodate immorality and idolatry as Pergamos and Thyatira did, but maintained a public integrity. Sardis was known and respected in the Christian world, mechanically performing all the necessary Christian formalities. The saints in Sardis ‘had church’ in principle and appearance, but God saw that in reality Sardis was spiritually dead. Similar to many assemblies in our day, the Devil had taken on a religious posture and played church. Except for a faithful few, this entire assembly was without purpose. Satan had won the battle over Sardis, and the quickening power of the Holy Ghost was missing. It is an amazing act of satanic deception to have people ‘play church’ and not even recognize that God is not there.

Philadelphia

This assembly was similar to Smyrna in that God did not condemn it for unholy conduct. As a matter of fact, Philadelphia was commended for its faithfulness in keeping God’s word and not denying His name. Unlike Smyrna, God had set before this church an open door and promised to keep the saints protected from His judgment on the world.

However, this in no way kept the Devil out. The “synagogue of Satan” was an evident force that contested against the church.

Laodicea

The materialistic accomplishments of this assembly are the dream of most of our present day preachers. We seem to associate ministerial success with wealth, property and numerical excellence. If this was true, we would be forced to see the work of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and every other man of God in recorded scripture as a failure. Laodicea would be our ‘ideal church’. Of course, in God’s eyes, this ‘ideal church’ was an ‘idol church’. The idolatry of materialism had infested this assembly in so many ways that the service of the saints was ineffective. They were neither hot nor cold. In God’s eyes, this assembly that had attained economic stability was miserable, poor, blind and naked. What they thought were the blessings of God were actually their ruin.

To rescue this assembly, God offered appropriate trials to purge out their dross, and open their eyes to produce overcomers. The Lord was standing at the door and knocking, but it was Laodicea’s decision to open the door to Him.