11 The seven epistles in chs. 2 and 3 are the record of the actual situation existing in the seven churches at the time these epistles were written. However, since this book is a book of signs with a prophetic nature, the situations of the seven churches also are signs, signifying prophetically the progress of the church in seven stages. The first epistle, to the church in Ephesus, provides a picture of the end of the initial church, the church in the first stage, during the latter part of the first century. The second epistle, to the church in Smyrna, prefigures the suffering church under the persecution of the Roman Empire, from the latter part of the first century to the early part of the fourth century, when Constantine the Great, the Caesar of the Roman Empire, brought the church into imperial favor. The third epistle, to the church in Pergamos, pre-symbolizes the worldly church, the church married to the world, from the day Constantine accepted Christianity to the time the papal system was established in the latter part of the sixth century. The fourth epistle, to the church in Thyatira, depicts prophetically the apostate church, from the ordaining of the papal system in the latter part of the sixth century to the end of this age, when Christ comes back. The fifth epistle, to the church in Sardis, prefigures the Protestant Church, from the Reformation in the early part of the sixteenth century to Christ's coming back. The sixth epistle, to the church in Philadelphia, predicts the church of brotherly love, the recovery of the proper church life, from the early part of the nineteenth century, when the brothers were raised up in England to practice the church outside all denominational and divisive systems, to the second appearing of the Lord. The seventh epistle, to the church in Laodicea, foreshadows the degraded church life of the brothers in the nineteenth century, from the latter part of the nineteenth century until the Lord's return.