The Book of RevelationRevelation is the only book in the Bible that promises a special blessing to the reader. (Revelation 1:3; 22:7, 18.)
The Seven LettersMost people who know a little about the Bible will tell you there are 21letters in the New Testament : 13 authored by Paul, plus Hebrews, which appears anonymous; and the seven "general epistles" by Peter, James, John, and Jude.
We usually overlook the seven most important letters: the seven authored by Jesus personally. For many reasons, these seven letters, comprising Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation, are probably the most important part of this book for you and me.
Why These Seven Churches?There were many other churches at that time that would seem to be more significant than the seven that Jesus addressed: the churches at Jerusalem, Rome, Galatia, Corinth, and Antioch for example. Why did Jesus select just these seven Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea?
Four Levels of MeaningThere appears to be at least four levels of application to these letters:
Seven Key ElementsA key aspect to understanding the letters is to grasp the structure of their design. A careful examination of the letters reveals seven key elements in their design:
The Meaning of Names
Parallels to Other Parts of the BibleIt is interesting to note that Jesus uses the phrase ""He that hath an ear, let him hear" at the end of His seven "Kingdom Parables" of Matthew 13.
It is interesting that Paul signed 13 epistles; but 3 of these had "duplicate" addressees: Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Timothy. That is 13 - 3 = 10 addressees. Of the remaining 10, three were addressed to individuals: Titus, Timothy, and Philemon. 10 - 3 = 7. Paul wrote to seven churches.
Let us now consider these 7 churches in detail:
1. EphesusThis is representative of the great Evangelistic Church of the first century. It was full of spiritual vitality and strength.
The word Ephesus means "The Desired One", which aptly describes the Church as Jesus sees it. However by the end of the 1st century the people had left their first love (for Christ and each other).
Jesus warns them to repent or He would remove their "candle stick" (the
witness) from its place.
2. SmyrnaThis represents the persecuted church of the second and third centuries. Satan tried everything to wipe the Church out by sheer force. During this period of history the church was persecuted under 10 different Emperors with the final 10 years being the worst (note verse 10).
Jesus says that this church, although poor in worldly terms was rich in faith.
The word Smyrna comes from the word "Myrrh; Death" which was used as a fragrant perfume of "offering" in Old Testament times. This seems to aptly describe the Church during this time in history, as its members were being "offered" as living sacrifices. However, during this time the Gospel spread faster than at any other time in history.
To those who overcome Jesus offers "immortality". They will not be affected
by the second death.
3. PergamosAfter this time of persecution, Satan changed his tactics. Instead of trying to wipe out the Church he made "Christianity" acceptable through the conversion of the Emperor Constantine around 312 AD. In gratitude for the reprieve from persecution the Church adopted many pagan rituals and feast days as its own. The Church also became centralized in Rome acting as an extension of Imperial authority.
The word Pergamos means "Mixed Marriage", which is exactly what happened to the Church during this time, being elevated out of persecution and becoming married to the political power of the State. In light of this we must remember Jesus' words that "His kingdom was not of this world" (John 18:36). The Church, which is His Body was not meant to have political power while this world remained. So the original vision of the Church was polluted from this time forward by the work and actions of men.
To those who overcome Jesus will give the true bread of heaven and a
new name, but He sternly warns the Church to repent or He would come against
it with His sword.
4. ThyatiraIn 538 AD the Bishop of Rome was declared the Pope (father) of the whole Church. (It is very interesting to note that Jesus warned His people to call no man their father, because they were the Children of God.) This seems to mark the beginning of the Thyatiran age.
This Church was commended by Jesus for its works of faith, love and patience, but the Church had allowed itself to be corrupted by false teachings and immoral acts. Jesus refers to this as the woman "Jezebel" (See 1 Kings 16:29-33) and He is ready to act against these falsehoods. The woman is to be cast into affliction, those who are allied with her are to suffer great tribulation and her children are to be put to death.
The word Thyatira means "Semiramis" or "Continual Sacrifice". This describes the state of the Roman Church which places a great emphases on "personal sacrifice" in order to "please God". This whole concept is quite foreign to the truth that Jesus has done all that is required for us to be free from sin.
In this church are those who have not accepted these false teachings. Of them Jesus requires nothing, except they cling to the truth until He comes. If we look through the history of Christianity we see many faithful Saints who clung fearlessly to the truth of Jesus. Many of these lost their lives at the hands of the "Church".
To those who overcome Jesus promises that they shall rule the nations.
He will also give Himself to them I.e.. the "Morning Star".
5. SardisThis is the Church which was resting on its original works to gain favour with the Lord, but had fallen asleep. Jesus warns them to wake up and strengthen what remains (before it also dies).
The word Sardis means "Remnant" or "Escaping Ones" and seems to refer to the Church of the reformation. But rather than continuing in the faith the Church had stopped and fallen asleep. The reformed Churches broke away from the Church of Rome, yet in many ways they modeled themselves on the Roman example, particularly in their structure and their association with the governments of this world. They had made a start, but had not finished the work.
To those who overcome Jesus offers righteousness (White robe) and that
their name shall not be blotted out of the book of Life. Jesus Himself
will defend them before God.
6. PhiladelphiaThis is the Church that Jesus loves. It was obedient to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and Jesus had set an open door before them. Their motivation was their love for the Lord and their fellow man. This was the great missionary Church of 1750 to 1870.
Philadelphia means "Brotherly Love", which describes well the Church which so loved its Lord and its fellow man as to send missionaries to nearly every nation on earth within the space of 100 years.
Jesus promised to keep them from the time of trial that was to come
on all the earth. He also said He was coming quickly. The teaching that
Jesus was coming back was revived during this time.
7. LaodiceaThis is the last Church age. It is the half hearted Church, not recognizing how poor it really is. Jesus has nothing good to say about it. In fact He is very displeased with it. This is a very worldly, proud Church, increased in wealth and influence, but spiritually bankrupt. Again it has not separated itself from the World system.
Because Jesus loves them so much He rebukes them so they will wake up to themselves.
But those who are waiting for Jesus receive a spiritual feast (Matthew 24:42-51; Revelation 3:20). Toward the end of last century there was a great outpouring of understanding of scriptural prophecy. Earlier this century there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in many parts of the world. There is also a great "expectation" about the return of Christ.
One further event which has occurred during this time is the restoration of the nation of Israel. We shall look at this later.
The word Laodicea means "People Rule" and is a time of trial for the Church. The Church has been tried by the forces at work in the world and found wanting.
To those who overcome Jesus will grant the right to sit on His throne and rule the nations.
We are living in the Laodicean age right now. Jesus is calling us to
repent of our worldly ways and return to Him.
Created: 23 - Jan - 1997.