Jesus’ Message to the Seven Churches of Revelation

The churches that Jesus chose to write letters to were real churches located in Asia Minor, now western Turkey. There are two explanations for why Jesus chose these specific 7 churches. The first is that these churches represent the varying spiritual conditions of churches throughout the church age. The second is that each of these churches represents the seven stages of church history, with Laodicea, the apostate church representing the current stage of church history. Regardless of which approach we take, we can learn much about the present from these seven letters.

In each letter, Jesus would begin by identifying Himself with a title related to John’s earlier vision in the first chapter of Revelation. This title pertained to the spiritual condition of the church that He was addressing. Jesus would then inform each church that He knows all about them and their deeds. He would then assess the church’s spiritual condition and appeal to each church to listen to his assessment and take action.

 Although each letter addressed a specific church’s spiritual condition, the letter was for all the churches to heed as indicated by Jesus saying at the end of each letter, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Additionally, He would end each letter with a promise to those who overcome. John tells us in 1 John 5:4 who the overcomers are. He says, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Another version puts it this way, “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.” As children of God, we are overcomers! Jesus’ promise to the churches is a promise to us today.

Ephesus: the Church Whose Love Had Grown Cold

Jesus identified Himself to the church at Ephesus as the “One who holds the seven stars…and walks among the seven golden lampstands,” reminding the Ephesus church that He is the head of the church. The church in Ephesus had retained its doctrinal purity, but it had also left its first love. It had become rigid and legalistic, forgetting the very reason they were maintaining the doctrine in the first place. Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians 13 that without love, we are nothing. Jesus tells the church to repent and do what they did at first. Then He promises that those who overcome will “eat of the tree of life.”

Smyrna: the Suffering Church

By Benh LIEU SONG – Library in Ephesus

Jesus identified Himself to the church at Smyrna as the “first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life.” This title would have reassured the church at Smyrna as they were a persecuted church, sometimes to the point of death. Jesus had no harsh words for this church; His letter was a letter of encouragement and not rebuke. He told them that although they were lacking in financial resources, they were rich. Their richness was not in the physical but in the spiritual. Jesus promised this suffering church that those who were faithful until death would receive the crown of life. And He promised to those who overcome that they would not be hurt by the second death.

Pergamum: the Church that Tolerates Wrong Teaching

Jesus identified Himself to the church at Pergamum as the “One who has the sharp two-edged sword,” which would have brought to their mind judgment. He described the city of Pergamum as the place of Satan’s throne. Pergamum was the home of the altar of Zeus and the seat of Satan’s power in that region.

Jesus commended the church for holding fast to His name and not denying Him in the face of satanic opposition. He also expressed concerns with the church, namely that they allowed the Nicolaitans’ teaching in the church. The Nicolaitans taught worldly compromise and moral surrender. They taught that it was okay to live in two worlds. However, as Christians, God has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). We are not to accommodate the world through compromise. Jesus then admonished them to repent and said if they don’t, he will make war against the Nicolaitans with the sword of His mouth. His letter ended with a promise to those who overcome: “I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”

Thyatira: the Church that Tolerates Sin

Jesus describes Himself to the church at Thyatira as the one who has eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished brass. The eyes of Jesus penetrated deep into the heart of the church, and his feet of brass could swiftly execute judgment.  Jesus commended the church at Thyatira on their love, faith, and perseverance. He said that their more recent deeds were more outstanding than their first deeds (contrast this with Ephesus). But He held one thing against them: they tolerated sin.

 The city of Thyatira was the home of a military outpost and a commercial center. To work in the city, one had to be a member of a trade guild. However, the trade guilds were corrupt and required their members to engage in perverse acts. The threat of no work put pressure on the Christians to compromise.

Jesus specifically mentioned a woman who not only taught immorality but led the church into the very acts of depravity themselves. This influential woman in the church most likely encouraged its members to engage in the immoral activity required by the trade guilds. Jesus demanded repentance of this woman and her followers and promised harsh judgment if repentance was not made.

 Jesus encouraged those who remained steadfast and had not succumbed to this teaching to hold on until He comes. He ended the letter with a promise to the overcomers that they would rule with Him over the nations and receive the morning star.

Sardis: the Dead Church

Christ identified Himself to the church at Sardis as He who has “the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” This description brings to mind Holy Spirit, who is the oil in the churches’ lampstands, keeping their flame burning so that their light would not be extinguished. The Sardis church had a reputation for being alive, but they were not alive; they were a dead church just going through the motions, without any real spiritual power. Jesus admonishes the church to wake up and strengthen the things that remain. He then tells them to remember what they hear, keep it, and repent. Finally, He promises the overcomers that they will be clothed in white garments and that He won’t erase their name from the book of life.

Philadelphia: the Faithful Church

Christ identifies Himself to the church of Philadelphia as the One “who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” This title reminds the church that He alone holds the keys to spiritual blessings and eternal life.

Jesus then commends the church, saying because they have a little power and have kept His word and not denied His name, He will put before them an open door. Although they don’t have great power, Jesus’ power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). The open door refers to door to His blessings and also to opportunities for service. Jesus also says that He will keep them from the hour of testing (the tribulation) and then encourages them that He is coming quickly and to hold fast so that no one takes their crown. He ends the letter with the promise of eternal security in God.

Laodicea: the Lukewarm Church

By A.Savin – Colonnaded Street Laodicea

Jesus introduces Himself to the Church at Laodicea as “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God. This introduction would remind them that He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega and that He was a faithful witness to the Truth of God.

This church was a wealthy church that considered itself self-sufficient and in need of nothing. Jesus offers them no commendations. Instead, he says that they are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm, and because of that, He will spit them out of His mouth. The Laodiceans knew exactly what Jesus meant. Their city had an underground water system that brought cold water from one location and hot water from another. Unfortunately, a defect in the system caused the water to be putrid and lukewarm upon its arrival. The water wasn’t cold enough to satisfy their thirst nor hot enough to provide healing and comfort. The church was the same way. They were useless.

Although Jesus reproves and disciplines them, He reminds them why: He says that He loves them. Because of this love, He calls on them to repent and to open the door of their church to Him. They are so self-sufficient, thinking they require nothing, that they have shut Jesus out of their church. What they don’t understand is that Jesus is the One, the only One who can make them rich! Jesus ends His letter with a promise to those who overcome that they will sit with Him on His throne.

Jesus’ messages to these seven churches identify common struggles not only within the Church today but in an individual Christian’s walk with Jesus. From a love that grows cold to tolerating wrong teaching and sin, to being spiritually dead or lukewarm, these traits are indicative of problems that must be taken seriously and addressed without delay. In a culture that screams compromise, we must maintain doctrinal purity without becoming legalistic, accept suffering without becoming discouraged, and refuse to deny Jesus in the face of persecution. Within these letters, Jesus not only points out the issues but instructs the church on how to take action to fix the problem. Jesus’ words are never-changing, so “whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches!”



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