Revelation 2 & 3 - The Seven Churches

Updated: Jan 3

Seven Special Messages


Christ knew what would happen to His church past, present and future. In love He counsels the church commending all which is good, rebuking that which is bad and providing the remedy for wrong.



REVELATION CHAPTER 2

1 Unto the angel of the church of EPHESUS write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my nameʼs sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

4 Nevertheless I have [somewhat] against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

8 And unto the angel of the church in SMYRNA write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and [I know] the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but [are] the synagogue of Satan.

10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overco- meth shall not be hurt of the second death.

12 And to the angel of the church in PERGAMOS write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;

13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, [even] where Satanʼs seat [is]: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas [was] my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth [it].

18 And unto the angel of the church in THYATIRA write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet [are] like fine brass;

19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last [to be] more than the first.

20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.

22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.

25 But that which ye have [already] hold fast till I come.

26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

28 And I will give him the morning star.

29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.


REVELATION CHAPTER 3

And unto the angel of the church in SARDIS write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.

5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

7 And to the angel of the church in PHILADELPHIA write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;

8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, [which is] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and [I will write upon him] my new name.

13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

14 And unto the angel of the church of the LAODICEANS write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and [that] the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.



OVERVIEW

These messages apply in several ways: 1. To seven literal churches in Johnʼs day. The seven churches occurred in the order given on a road through Asia Minor. 2. To any individual at any time whose condition is described. 3. To the general condition of the church as a whole through seven successive periods of the Christian Era as the following shows.


  • (a) Understanding these seven churches as symbolic of the condition of the church as a whole throughout seven successive periods explains why only these seven were chosen from among all the congregations and given in this specific order.

  • (b) The meaning of the names of the seven churches well describe the successive phases the church has been through. See chart & comments.

  • (c) The number 7 indicates completeness, and is symbolic of the fact that the message extends to the end of time.

  • (d) The symbolic details within the messages (Balaam, Balac, Jezebel etc.) perfectly symbolize sequential historical experiences of the church. See comments.

  • (e) It is unlikely that ten literal days of persecution on literal Smyrna would be worthy of mentioning in prophecy (Rev 2:10). However its inclusion would be justified if it also symbolized 10 terrible years of persecution on the church as a whole under the Smyrna period. In prophecy "days" symbolise "years" (Eze 4:6; Num 14:34).


To the angel of...

Each message is addressed to “the angel” of the seven churches. “Angel” means messenger and each faithful member is Godʼs messenger.


The Introduction

To each of the churches Christ introduces Himself in a way which shows He understands their experience.


Commendations & Rebuke

Christ commends any good before rebuking any evil in love. Good news first.


Rewards

“To him that hath an ear,” i.e. willingness to do, Christ offers a reward.


He that hath an ear

Each message ends with the words, “He that hath an ear...” This shows the universal application of the messages.


1. EPHESUS. verses 1-7 Era of the Apostles ~ AD31 - 100


Meaning

Ephesus means “desireable.” It was the largest of the seven cities, a focal point of trade and home of Diana, the goddess of fertility. (Act 19:28, 35). Verse 5 was very appropriate as the city had been forced to move to keep up with the receding shore- line of its harbour, which eventually filled with silt.


Prophetic period

Ephesus represents the entire Christian church in the apostolic age, from Christ to perhaps the death of the last apostle.


Christʼs Introduction

To those among whom Christ literaly walked Christ introduces Himself as One Who still walks amid the seven candelsticks (churches) holding the seven stars (ministers).


Commendation

They laboured for Christ. The church grew from ~ 120 to ~ 6,000,000 in 100 years.

Rebuke

Their zeal began to fade. (v 4).

Nicolaitans

The Nicolaitans taught that the deeds of the flesh do not affect spiritual purity. Many hold this deadly doctrine today!

Reward

To those whom Christ had literally fed He promised the fruit of the tree of life in paradise, which is in heaven (cf. 2Cor 12:2, 4). Evidently the tree of life was taken to heaven before the Flood. Obviously all the faithful of Ephesus will ascend to heaven.


2. SMYRNA. verses 8-11 Era of the Persecution ~ AD100 - 313


Meaning

Smyrna is from “muron,” a sweet smelling gum that was CRUSHED and burnt.

The city had has been repeatedly destroyed but has always been rebuilt.


Prophetic period

Smyrna represents the entire church during the time Pagan Rome was trying to CRUSH out Christianity. The last and most terrible persecution begun by the Roman Emperor Diocletian lasted 10 prophetic days (10 literal years. cf. Eze 4:6; Num 14:34) from AD303 to AD313 when Emperor Constantine granted Christians toleration. See Encʼ Britannica, Vol. 4, 1989, p106 & Vol. 3, p563.


Christʼs Introduction

To this persecuted church Christ introduced Himself as One Who understood. He had been martyred and risen from the dead.


Commendation

They were poor in goods but rich in faith.


Rebuke

None. Persecution keeps the church pure.


Them which say they are Jews

“Jew” is used here to refer to true Christians as it is in Rom 2:28-29 (cf. Rom 9:6-7; Gal 3:28-29). Some were professing to be Christians while not living as Christians. This is blasphemy.

Reward

To a church suffering death Christ promised a crown of life bestowed at the Second Coming (2Tim 4:8; 1Cor 15:51-54; 1Thess 4:16-17)

To those who would died the first death Christ promises that they would not be hurt of the Second death.


3. PERGAMOS. verses 12-17 Era of the Compromise ~ AD313 - 538

Meaning

Pergamos means “ELEVATION,” the city was located high on a mountain spur. It was a centre of Greco-Mesopotamian religion and emperor worship.


Prophetic period

Pergamos represents the entire church when Christianity was ELEVATED to popularity in the Roman Empire. Satan had failed to destroy the church through persecution from without so he sought to corrupt it from within.


Christʼs Introduction

To a church seeking the power wielded by the State Christ presents Himself as One with a sharp sword with two edges. (Rom 13:4; Heb 4:12).


Commendation

They held fast Christʼs name and did not deny the faith.


Rebuke

The church had some who held the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.

The church entered this period a pure church, but united with the Roman State for honour, power and reward, and ended up persecuting the faithful. Remember the course of Balaam (doing wrong for reward) as a woe is pronounced upon all who follow his errors. (Micah 6:5; Jude 11).


Balaam was a false prophet who formed a plan to lure Israel into sinful practices. Num 31:16.

The doctrines of Balaam leads to fornication: 2Pet 2:14-15 “Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam [the son] of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.”], who taught Balac [a pagan king who worked with Balaam to ruin Israel Num 22-24] to cast a stumblingblock [temptation] before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication [cf. Num 25:1-2. The prophets use adultery and fornication to describe spiritual & political alliances with non christian powers. See Eze 16 and 23

The Roman Emperor Constantine was the first Emperor to call himself a Christian though many believe his ʻconversionʼ was for political reasons. He sought to induce people to become ʻChristiansʼ with edicts, rewards and promotions to government positions. This brought a flood of worldliness, heathen rites and customs into the church including compulsory Sunday rest in AD321. (Note: The Bible nowhere commands Sunday rest).

Nicolaitans

The doctrine of the Nicolaitans was that the deeds of the flesh do not affect spiritual purity. Many hold this deadly doctrine today! You can go on sinning and be saved.

Where Satanʼs seat is

In this period the corrupt church won religious and to some extent political power in Western Europe and in this way Satan established his seat within the church!


Reward

To those being induced to eat things sacrificed to idols Christ offers hidden manna (bread from heaven - truth) and a new name on a white stone. New names are given to overcomers (cf. Gen 32:28).


4. THYATIRA. v 18-29 Era of the Apostasy ~ AD538 - mid 1500s


Meaning

Thyatira means “contrition” or “odour of affliction.” Thyatira was known for producing purple dyed cloth. (Acts 16:11-15).


Prophetic period

Church corruption under the previous period resulted in the development of the “man of sin,” who sat in the temple (church) of God ruling over the faithful. (2Thess 2).


Christʼs Introduction

To a church where men judged their fellows with the eyes of men (cf. Dan 7:8) Christ presents Himself as One with eyes like a flame of fire; the true judge who sees all.


Commendation

In the latter part of this period individuals arose to protest the abuses of the church and call for reform (The Protestant Reformation). Upon them God put no other burden than to suffer oppression for preaching that righteousness is by faith not works, and that all doctrines must be based on the Bible and the Bible alone, not on the unbiblical church tradition. (cf. Acts 15:28).


Rebuke - Jezebel

They tollerated Jezebel. A woman symbolises a church (Jer. 6:2). A corrupt woman represents a corrupt church. Jezebel is a symbol of the corrupt mother church, clothed in purple and scarlet, which united with the State and ruled during the Dark Ages (cf. Rev 17:1-4). God gave this corrupt church space to repent (v 22-23) but she would not. She and the nations that commit adultery with her will suffer great tribulation and her children, the apostate Christian churches will also be destroyed. All will know that God searches the heart when the second death occurs.


Reward

To those ruled by a corrupt heirarchy Christ promises that they would rule over nations. This ruling refers to judgment leading to the nations destruction (See v 27-28; 1Cor 6:2; Dan 7:22). Christ is the morning star.


WHAT CAN WE LEARN?

  • (a) God cares for us.

  • (b) The messages to the seven churches were applicable to the original hearers; Applicable individually; and applicable to the church throughout seven successive periods in the Christian Era.

  • (c) To know the future look to the past. This principle will be seen throughout the book of Revelation.

  • (d) Christ has counsel for whatever we are experiencing.


5. SARDIS. verses 1-6 Era of the Reformation ~ mid 1500s - mid 1700s


Meaning

Sardis means “that which remains.”


Prophetic Period

The faithful, that had arisen toward the end of the previous Thyatira period, had founded the Protestant Reformation. Sadly however most had become Reformers in name only. Theological debate rather than real Christianity set in. Formalism and Creeds stopped real spiritual progress. Erroneous doctrines were adopted and spiritual growth was stunted. There were however some living up to the truth they had.


Christʼs Introduction

To a church lacking the Spirit of God Christ introduces Himself as He that hath the seven spirits of God.


Commendation

A few had not defiled their garments, a symbol of the righteousness of Christ (Rev 19:8). Various individual still lived outstanding Christian lives.


Rebuke

A name that thou livest - “Reformers” and art dead - cold formalism and creeds.


Reward

To a church which had defiled their garments (v 4) white raiment was promised.


6. PHILADELPHIA. verses 7-13 Era of the Revival ~ mid 1700s - mid 1800s


Meaning

Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” This small city was damaged in an earthquake in AD17 and rebuilt which makes v 12 very appropriate to the literal church in Johnʼs day.


Prophetic Period

This message well describes the period of the Evangelical Revival of the 18th and 19th centuries. This period saw opportunities “open” for missionary activity. Bible societies were established and great revival preachers appeared such as Wesley & Whitefield. Love for others saw the church of this time initiate many of the best aspects of todayʼs society - free education, free medical care, etc.. The rich were made aware of their social responsibility to the poor and many of the evils which destroy society were spoken against such as gambling, the liquor trade, and slavery. Wesleyʼs message has been credited with saving England from Revolution such as occurred in France! It was a time of brothery love. It led up to the Great Second Advent Movement of the mid 1840s. The faithful of this period are great supporters, “pillars,” in the building of Godʼs church. This period lead up to the beginning of the judgment. As on the Day of Atonement (judgment day) the earthly priest ended his work in the holy place and entered into the most holy place, so the “shut door” and “open door” may be thought of as the “doors” into the holy and most holy places.


Christʼs Introduction

To a church that went forth with missionary zeal when the way was opened, Christ introduces Himself as the One with the key of David.


Commendation

Kept Christʼs word, and did not deny His name. (v 8).


Rebuke

No rebuke.


Reward

The faithful of this period are great supporters, “pillars,” in the building of Godʼs church.


verse 9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

Shortly before the Lord returns there will be a special resurrection (See on Dan 12:1-3) in which many, not all, will come forth from their graves, some wicked, some righteous. At that time those who have especially ridiculed the truth will fall before the faithful Philadelphians, like Haman fell before Esther (Est 7:8).


verse 10 Kept from the hour

“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep [Gr. tereo] thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”

This says nothing of the church being taken out of the world before the tribulation as some claim. It simply shows that those of those of the Philadelphian period will not live through the coming time of trouble that will occur under the Laodicean period which follows.

One can be kept from something without being taken away from it. John 17:15 “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep [Gr. tereo] them from the evil.


As Noah went through the Flood so will the end-time church. As the three Hebrews went through the fire (Dan 3). As Daniel went into the lionʼs Den (Dan 6). So the faithful will go through the tribulation. Thousands will perish either side of the faithful but they will be preserved (Ps 91:7).


7. LAODICEA. verses 14-22 Era of the JUDGMENT ~ 1844 - to the Lordʼs Return


Meaning

Laodicea means “a people judged.” Luke-warm spring water flowed via aqueduct, into this wealthy city making verses 15-16 very appropriate. Laodicea was known for its medical school, eye ointment and the production of black wool.


Prophetic Period

The Laodicean period began when the judgment began (See on Dan 8). It well describes the self satisfied condition of the churches today. The truth is that today Christianity in general is lukewarm, spiritual poor and blind and in need of the pure white garments of Christʼs righteousness. Christ cannot offer up the prayers of those in this condition (v 16). However there is still hope for those who will open their hearts to Christ and put forth efforts to obtain Christʼs merchandise (v 20).


Christʼs Introduction

To a church unaware of its true spiritual condition Christ introduces Himself as the true Witness.


Commendation

No commendation!


Rebuke

Spiritually poor, blind and lacking Christʼs garment of righteousness.

Reward

To a church sit lacking everything Christ promises a place on His throne!


WHAT CAN WE LEARN?

  • (a) God cares for us.

  • (b) The messages to the seven churches were applicable to the original hearers; Applicable individually; and applicable to the church throughout seven successive periods in the Christian Era.

  • (c) To know the future look to the past. This principle will be seen throughout the book of Revelation.

  • (d) Christ has counsel for whatever we are experiencing.


QUESTIONS Should / can Laodiceans become Philadelphians?

(a) The seven churches symbolize sequential periods of time. Therefore one cannot change ʻchurches.ʼ (b) Christʼs counsel to Laodicea does not include a call to come out of Laodicea or move to another church but to let Him in.

(c) There will be overcomers in Laodicea; those who heed Christʼs counsel and at last sit with Him on His throne.


The first four promises echo the history of Israel. The last three point to heaven

  • 1. Rev 2:7 Tree of life (Tree lost in Genesis 3).

  • 2. Rev 2:11 Not hurt of the second death (When sin entered death followed).

  • 3. Rev 2:17. Hidden Manna (Heavenly Mana given in the Exodus).

  • 4. Rev 2:26. Power over the nations (Triumphant reign of David?).

  • 5. Rev 3:5 Book of life (Heavenly register).

  • 6. Rev 3:12 New Jerusalem (Heavenʼs city).

  • 7. Rev 3:21 Sit on Christʼs throne (Heavenly promise).