Explanation of the 7 Letters to the 7 Churches
John writes a book, Revelation, and the letters to these seven churches are found in chapters two and three. As John addresses each church there are several things to keep in mind. These letters...
- were addressed to seven actual churches in John’s day
These churches are located in what in the modern day country of Turkey. We refer to these churches by the name of the city in which they were located…Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.
Map of seven churches: http://bibleatlas.org/ephesus.htm
- identified specific needs or problems in the life of each individual church that had to be dealt with in order for that church to be faithful to God
- these needs are common to all churches
- churches are made up of individuals…so these need are also found in the lives of people
- these needs and the corrections given are applicable to churches and people, today.
In essence...each of these letters addresses a need that is necessary for a church, or an individual believer, to experience the kind of relationship with God that He intends for us to have. But something has happened and that church...that person is no longer experiencing...
- the “joy of salvation”
- the intimacy once experienced with God
- the power of answered prayer
- the satisfaction of personal witnessing
- the happy fellowship with other believers
- the understanding of God’s Word
- the freedom of sin and guilt
- the peace of the Holy Spirit.
Something has happened that must be corrected. So Jesus points out the problem and its answer...the Problem They Faced and the Principle for Action...in each instance.
The Outline of the Letters
The letters to each of the seven churches follow the same general outline, or format.
The Picture of Jesus
Each letter begins with a part of the picture of Jesus that is found in chapter 1.
The Positive Evaluation
Jesus has something positive to say about 5 of the churches.
The Problem They Faced
Jesus has something negative to say about 5 of the churches.
The Principle for Action
What changes Jesus says need to be made. They are directly connected to His own character…as found in the picture in chapter 1.
The Promise to Overcomers
The results and blessings of being obedient to His Word.
Jesus is Sovereign over the Present (Revelation 2-3)
Revelation 2-3 The 7 Churches
It is significant that to each of the churches Jesus says, "I know...".
He is intimately and totally aware of everything that is going on in these churches and has the perfect answer for their needs, problems, and opportunities (cf. Psalm 139:7-16; Matthew 10:29-31).
Revelation 2:1-7 The Church at Ephesus
For helpful background information on Ephesus see:
Revelation 2:1-The Picture of Jesus
John refers back to the picture of Jesus in 1:13,16,20. He directs our attention to the fact that Jesus holds the stars, which symbolize the Pastors of the churches, in His hand. The term “angels” is the Greek word “angelos”. While it can be simply translated as “angel”, as in the NASV and other Bible translations…it can also be translated as “messenger”. It is actually translated this way in numerous places in the New Testament. For instance…
"a messenger, an angel, one sent," is translated "messenger," of John the Baptist, Mat 11:10; Mar 1:2; Luk 7:27; in the plural, of John's "messengers," Luk 7:24; of those whom Christ sent before Him when on His journey to Jerusalem, Luk 9:52; of Paul's "thorn in the flesh," "a messenger of Satan," 2Cr 12:7; of the spies as received by Rahab, Jam 2:25.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary,
And that is its meaning here. These are not “angels”…meaning those beings that are residents of Heaven. These “angels” are messengers. And in particular, they are the messengers to the churches…the pastors of the churches.
The word “holds” doesn’t mean that His palm is open and they are lying there. Or even that he is gently holding them in a closed hand. The word “holds” means…
Hold (Down, Fast, Forth, On, To, Up), Held, Holden, (Take) Hold:
"to be strong, mighty, to prevail,"
(1) is most frequently rendered "to lay or take hold on"
(a) literally, e.g., Mat 12:11; 14:3; 18:28; 21:46, RV (AV, "laid hands on"); Mat 22:6, RV (AV, "took"); Mat 26:55, AV (RV, "took"); RV, "took hold of" (AV, "held by"); Mar 3:21; 6:17; 12:12; 14:51; Act 24:6, RV (AV, "took"); Rev 20:2;
(b) metaphorically, of "laying hold of the hope of the Lord's return," Hbr 6:18;
(2) also signifies "to hold" or "hold fast," i.e., firmly,
(b) metaphorically, of "holding fast a tradition or teaching," in an evil sense, Mar 7:3, 4, 8; Rev 2:14, 15; in a good sense, 2Th 2:15; Rev 2:25; 3:11; of "holding" Christ, i.e., practically apprehending Him, as the head of His church, Col 2:19; a confession, Hbr 4:14; the name of Christ, i.e., abiding by all that His name implies, Rev 2:13; of restraint, Luk 24:16, "(their eyes) were holden;" of the winds, Rev 7:1; of the impossibility of Christ's being "holden" of death, Act 2:24.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
It means that He has hold and nothing is going to make Him let go.
The second thing we need to be aware of is that these stars, these messengers, these pastors…are representative of us, the church. It’s not just the pastors that Jesus has in His hand…it is every single member of the church. He has you in His hand.
So what does this speak of? It is telling us that Jesus is present with us. He is so close, so near, so imminent…that He is holding us in His hand. He is constantly, continuously keeping us and protecting us by His very presence with us.
Notice also, that He is walking among the lampstands, which symbolize the churches, themselves. In doing so he is identifying two qualities of the character and nature of Jesus. First, His imminence...meaning His immediate presence. He is so close to each of the churches that He holds their Pastor in His very hand…keeping and protecting them. How wonderful to know that God is always near to us and never leaves our side. He is personally aware of everything that happens in our lives...nothing escapes His attention. But Jesus is not limited to one particular locale...He is consecutively walking among all of the churches. This speaks of His omnipresence...meaning that He is everywhere at the same time. There is nowhere that we will ever go that He is not there and there is nothing that we will ever encounter when we will be alone. His omnipresence makes us aware of His endless, absolute power.
Revelation 2:2-3-The Positive Evaluation
Jesus identifies five positive qualities about the church in Ephesus…
- It is a working church
- 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance,
- It is a separated church
- 'I know…that you cannot endure evil men
- It is an orthodox church
- 'I know…you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;
- It is an enduring church
- and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.
- It is an autonomous church
- 'Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Revelation 2:4-The Problem They Faced
But then, Jesus makes a strong condemnation: "you have left your first love". He is their first love...the One that guides, and determines all other loves and values in their life. The word "left" means "to desert, to abandon, to forsake". While they have indeed been persistent and have endured much hardship...after a while, they began to do so out of routine, as a matter of habit. They were no longer doing so out of their love for Christ.
Revelation 2:5-The Principle for Action
Jesus tells them that they must do three things:
- Remember...what it was like when He was their first love
- Repent...agree with God that they have sinned by allowing other things to become the priority in their lives over Him
- Re-do...God gives them a second chance...He tells them to start over with Him, again.
If they refuse to do this...then God will remove their lampstand...He will remove their effectiveness in ministry.
Revelation 2:6-7-The Promise to Overcomers
The root word of “overcomers” in Greek is “nike”…like the athletic shoe brand…and it means “overcomer, victor, winner”. The word is a participle and is speaking of those who are continuously overcoming, being victorious.
What will be the promise to these Overcomers? They will “eat of the tree of life.” The tree of life in the Garden of Eden symbolized eternal life with God. The Overcomer…the Christian who lives life in the presence and power of Christ here on earth…has already begun to experience the kind of relationship he will experience with God in Heaven (paradise of God) throughout all of eternity. This is God’s desire…for you to live forever in His presence.
Revelation 2:8-11 The Church at Smyrna
For helpful background information on Smyrna see:
Revelation 2:8-The Picture of Jesus
John makes reference to the picture of Jesus in 1:17-18...calling attention to His eternal nature and to the fact that He has destroyed the power of death by actually dying and then rising from the dead.
Revelation 2:9-The Positive Evaluation
Jesus commends these believers by mentioning "your tribulation and your poverty"...these are actual difficulties that they are encountering. But, He then says, "you are rich"...they have discovered a wealth, a resource that comes from God. In the midst of what is happening they have learned to depend totally on Him. There are also some Jews that have been saying terrible things about them, falsely accusing them...but the members of this church have not let it have a negative effect on them.
Revelation 2:10-The Problem They Faced
Jesus warns them that they are about to go through a significant time of intense suffering.
Revelation 2:10-The Principle for Action
He gives them advice, and counsel on how to deal with it:
- "Do not fear"...How do they do this? By remembering what He had told them in v. 1...that He is eternal and that He has overcome death. Seeing that He can do this, there is nothing that will happen to them that He cannot handle.
- "Be faithful until death..."...How do they do this? By continuing to trust in His provision, even as they have been. God will give them whatever they need...trust in Him.
Revelation 2:11-The Promise to Overcomers
Jesus promises them that if they do what He has told them, then they will not be hurt by the "second death". The first death is physical...there is a good chance that some of them would be put to death for standing up for their faith, they would be martyrs. The second death is spiritual...Jesus tells them that if they are faithful they will never die spiritually, but live forever. In v. 10 He told them that He would give them the "crown of life"...eternal life. Someone has said: Some people are born once (physically) and die twice (physically and spiritually). Other people are born twice (physically and spiritually) and die once (physically). This is what Jesus was speaking of in His conversation with Nicodemus when He said, "You must be born, again."
Revelation 2:12-17 The Church at Pergamum
For helpful background information on Pergamum see:
Revelation 2:12-The Picture of Jesus
The referral back to the picture in chapter 1 speaks of "the sharp two-edged sword"...the Word of God...the final, objective authority that God has given us for all of life.
Revelation 2:13-The Positive Evaluation
In this word of commendation, Jesus says that He is aware that this church is located in a place where Satan is extremely powerful...it is the center of pagan worship and idolatry. They have been faithful, despite much persecution. Jesus mentions one member of the church who remained faithful even in the face of death.
Revelation 2:14-15-The Problem They Faced
But there is a problem here...they have allowed some people to infiltrate the membership who hold to false teachings. These teachings lead to immorality.
Revelation 2:16-The Principle for Action
Jesus tells them to repent of this behavior. He is not speaking to those false members who have perpetrated this false teaching and immorality. But, to the true members of the church who have allowed it to happen.
Revelation 2:17-The Promise to Overcomers
For those who do what He says...He will give them "hidden manna"...meaning that He will provide them with whatever they need spiritually in order to live moral, obedient lives and not fall into the trap of being falsely satisfied with the lustful pleasures of the flesh. These false teachers were telling them that indulging in fleshly, worldly passions and cravings was actually a part of spiritual growth, and even worship. He also tells them that He will give them a "white stone, and a new name written on the stone". A white stone may refer to the custom of voting for the acquittal of an accused person by casting a white stone (as opposed to a black stone)...their name would be written on it. Jesus is telling them that the way to spiritual maturity was not through these indecent acts of immorality and licentiousness, but through Him. He would give them a stone (representing Him and showing His forgiveness of their sin) and He would write their name on it (He would grant them His righteousness). Righteousness comes not from anything that we do on our own, but it is given to us by Jesus...and then we live in obedience to it.
Revelation 2:18-29 The Church at Thyatira
For helpful background information on Thyatira see:
Revelation 2:18-The Picture of Jesus
The truths about the nature of Jesus which they need to remember is that there is nothing that escapes His knowledge, He is aware of every detail of their lives ("eyes like a flame of fire", 1:14)...and, He understands their struggles because He faced them Himself as a man ("feet are like burnished bronze", 1:15). He has been through the fiery trials of life, Himself.
Revelation 2:19-The Positive Evaluation
Jesus says that He is aware of their admirable past, and that they are presently serving Him more faithfully than ever before.
Revelation 2:20-23-The Problem They Faced
However, they are allowing a woman (either named Jezebel, or the character of the Jezebel of the O.T.) to lead some of them be so all-inclusive and receptive of religious differences that they are accepting the worship of other gods and the practices of other religions into their own. Jesus says that He is not fooled...she claims that she is worshipping Him when she includes worship of other religions...but He "searches the minds" and knows the truth. We should take careful note of the intensity of the response of Jesus. His judgment is decisive and strong. He calls this the "deep things of Satan" (:24)...and says that He will cast her and those who participate with her "upon a bed of sickness"…meaning punishment.
Revelation 2:24-25-The Principle for Action
Jesus says that He will not hold those accountable who have participated in these things, or allowed them to happen. However, He tells them..."what you have, hold fast until I come"...stay with what is true, don't be deceived into accepting other religious teachings and practices. There is one true God...don't participate in universalism.
Revelation 2:26-28-The Promise to Overcomers
His promise to them is that He will give them "authority over the nations" and the "morning star". This Jezebel was trying to convince them to allow the world into the church and Jesus says that the church will rule over the world. He also reminds them that He is the only true God...the "morning star" is a reference to the beginning of eternal life that originates from Him, and Him alone. No other religion can provide that.
Prayer: Lord, as I read about these churches I have a deeper desire to grow closer to You than ever before. I am aware of the challenges and the temptations that are all around. They can be so subtle, so deceptive. They come from outside of the church, and they come from within the church...through false teachers and teachings. Please, Lord...draw me close to You. Keep me from accepting anything that does not come directly from You.