Letters to 7 Churches

The book of Revelation in the New Testament is a record of end time events leading up to the return of Jesus Christ.
This is a record of a vision that Apostle John received while he was in the lonely island of Patmos.
There, Jesus Christ appeared to John and instructed him to: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
These seven churches were seven local congregations of early Christians living in each city.
The seven Churches are named for their locations.
All of them are located in the Asia Minor, present-day Turkey.
The order of these cities corresponds to the route along which a courier from Patmos would have carried the scroll.

God selected these seven congregations to give timeless instruction for His people throughout the centuries.
The messages are historical and prophetic at the same time.
John was told to write “the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (1:19).

The Study

The book of Revelation opens with seven letters to seven churches.
Each of the seven letters is a prophetic word from Jesus, through the Spirit, who is inspiring John to write.
The letters follow a common pattern. The Lord first addresses each church and identifies Himself.
Then defines things that He knows about the church in question.
After this, a challenge or reproach is given, followed by a promise.
The admonition comes sometimes before the promise and sometimes after.
Each church is promised that everyone who conquers will be rewarded by Christ.
In all seven cases the admonition is included, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches".

In Revelation 1, Apostle John experiences a vision of Jesus Christ standing amid seven golden lampstands holding seven starts in his right hand.
Jesus explains that the seven stars that John saw in the right hand of Jesus represents seven angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (
Revelation 1:20).

Most scholars agree that the seven candlesticks carry a meaning beyond those seven Asiatic churches in John’s day.
Because the number seven often represents wholeness or completion in Scripture, many conclude that the seven churches represent all churches, or the church universal.

The message of each of the seven letters is directed to the angel of the particular church that is mentioned.
Some scholars interpret the angels of Revelation 1:20 as heavenly beings.
Some others uphold the view that these "angels" are the guardian angels of the churches, who oversees and protects that congregation.
But the angel reading the letters to the congregation is improbable.
The Greek word angelos simply meant “messenger”; usually, the word was used for supernatural “messengers” from God.
However, sometimes the word was applied to human messengers of God’s Word: John the Baptist is called an “angelos” in Matthew 11:10.
So they believe that these seven angels as human messengers who will bear John’s letter to the churches.
Others identify them as those who actually read the message to the congregations, that is, church leaders such as pastors, elders, or bishops.
A pastor of a church functions as a “messenger” for God, delivering God’s Word to the congregation.

That the message is from Jesus, plainly implies Jesus’ deity.
In fact, the descriptions of Jesus’ glory formally resemble the sort of epithets with which Greeks often addressed their deities.

Historical prophecy
The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven literal churches at the time that John the apostle was writing Revelation.
Though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today.

The first purpose of the letters was to communicate with the literal churches and meet their needs at that time.
The first way to understand these letters is as instructions for the particular and all first-century churches.
All these seven churches existed with merits and demerits mentioned in the letters.

The second purpose is to reveal seven different types of individuals/churches throughout history and instruct them in God's truth.
The letters have significance as historical prophecy about seven different periods in the history of the Church from the time of Paul until the return of Jesus Christ.
While the Bible does not give us specific dates for the time periods or eras of the Church’s development and many of these periods of time overlap, there are indications of this historical progression within these messages to the churches.

Here are a few of these apparent indications of the Church’s developing history.
Ephesus, the first church mentioned in the messages to the seven churches of Revelation, served as the center for John’s ministry at the end of the first century.
The island of Patmos, where John received the vision recorded in the book of Revelation, was only 50 miles from Ephesus.
It is well-known that John is the apostle of love. The letter to the Church in Ephesus exhorts to recapture their “first love” (Revelation 2:4).
Smyrna, the second church mentioned, was told that it would “have tribulation ten days” (Revelation 2:10).
Commenting on this verse, Adam Clarke states that, the ten years of tribulation may denote ten years of persecution. This was precisely the duration of the persecution under Diocletian, during which all the Asiatic Churches were grievously afflicted.
Regardless of the exact meaning of “ten days” in Revelation 2:10, history shows that the Church of God faced great persecution in its earliest centuries.
This is implied in the third message also, to Pergamos, in which God refers to “Antipas … My faithful martyr” (Revelation 2:12-17).
Pergamos, ‘where Satan dwells’ … is suggestive of the church mixing with the world, in the Middle Ages.
Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) reveals how evil progresses in the church and idolatry is practiced.
Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) is representative of the church as dead, yet still having a minority of godly men and women, as during the Reformation.
Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) shows revival and a state of spiritual advance.
And Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-19) is illustrative of the final state of apostasy which the visible church will experience” (Revelation 1:20).
The messages to the last four churches speak of Christ’s return—an indication that at least a remnant of Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia will still exist, along with Laodicea, in the end time.
Indicating that the progression of history prior to Christ’s return has nearly run its course, Philadelphia is promised protection during “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

The purpose of these letters may be to use the seven churches to foreshadow seven different periods in the history of the Church.
The messages to the seven churches imply a progressive history of things “which will take place after this” (Revelation 1:19).
They note that Ephesus seems to be characteristic of the Apostolic Period in general and that the progression of evil climaxing in Laodicea seems to indicate the final state of apostasy of the church.
The order of the messages to the churches seems to be divinely selected to give prophetically the main movement of church history

The problem with this view is that each of the seven churches describes issues that could fit the Church in any time in its history.
So, although there may be some truth to the seven churches representing seven eras, there is far too much speculation in this regard.
Our focus should be on what message God is giving us through the seven churches.

Although these messages applied to the experiences of the specific churches they were written to, they are also prophetic of the experiences of the Church through the centuries.
Each of the letters also contains admonishments appropriate to God's people in every age.

Thus we consider the third purpose as instructions to all churches in all ages where all types of congregation are found.
Each church is also summoned to overcome,” which implies endurance in the coming trial depicted in much of the book (Rev. 21:7).
The invitation probably also suggests the term’s nuance of “conquer,” especially if believers appear as God’s end-time army.
Each church shares the hope promised to the other churches.
To whatever degree our lives or churches reflect symptoms analogous to any of the churches the risen Lord addresses in these letters, we must take heed to “what the Spirit says to the churches.”

1.   Church in Ephesus (Revelation 2: 1-7)

The name Ephesus means “desirable”.
Ephesus was a prominent city, situated on the western coast of Asia Minor, near the mouth of the Cayster River.
It was the gateway to Asia Minor. The modern location of the ancient city is West Turkey.
During its history, the city actually was moved five times because of coastal changes, including the movement of the harbor which was so important to the city.
Some scholars estimate the number of people living at Ephesus to have exceeded 2,50,000 inhabitants during the third location of Ephesus.
The city was the center for the worship of Diana or Artemis, who was believed to be the Mother of the gods.
In 480 BC the great temple of Artemis was erected in this city.
The temple was counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Pilgrims came to Ephesus from all over the Mediterranean world to worship the goddess.
The temple was destroyed in 263 AD and only the foundation stones remain now.
The city was famous also for the library and medical school.
Apostles Paul and John were familiar with the third city, which was the largest in area of the five locations.

A messenger coming from Patmos, where John wrote the book, would reach Ephesus first.
So Ephesus makes sense as the first letter.
Ephesus was also a prominent city in the province, more powerful than Pergamos politically, and more favored than Smyrna for the imperial cult.
The letter to Ephesus warns against false teachers and evil in the world and admonishes for having forsaken their first love.

To the Ephesians, Jesus introduces Himself as the One “who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
The letter begins by affirming the positive actions of the church.

Revelations 2:2, 3
2    "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
3    "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. (NKJV)

The Ephesian church was a hard-working group of believers full of fortitude.
They were gate-keepers of the truth and did not compromise with evildoers.
And they showed patient endurance in bearing up under hardship.

Jesus also commends on their defense of the doctrinal purity:
"But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6).
We don’t know much about the Nicolaitans and their doctrine, except that it was heretical.
Irenaeus, an early church father in Lyons (now France), wrote that the Nicolaitans promoted fornication and compromised on eating food sacrificed to idols, leading many into an unrestrained, carnal lifestyle.

However, Jesus also notes their only one shortcoming: "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (
Revelation 2:4)
They kept all merits of the church but no longer had the same passion for Christ they had in the beginning. Their work was no longer motivated by love.
Even by the last days of Apostle John, before the end of the century, the first stages of disunity crept into the Church.
So Jesus asks the church in Ephesians to repent: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works… (Revelation 2:5).
They are exhorted to remember the heights of their former love, realize how they have fallen from it, repent, and return to their previous love for Christ.
It is a call for a spiritual revival in the church.
Jesus goes on warn them of the impending judgment, if they do not repent: "… I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5b).
In other words, their punishment would be the disbanding or destruction of the Ephesian church.
The light in Ephesus would go out.

Jesus then promises a blessing to those who heed the word:
“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." (Revelation 2:7).
The “tree of life” and the “paradise of God” refer to the new heavens and new earth, discussed in Revelation 21 & 22.
The Ephesian believers who overcomes could look forward to the future glory of eternity with the Lord.

The problem with the Ephesian church is a cold, mechanical observance of religion.
They maintained the doctrinal purity and worked hard work, but failed to do it in true love for Christ.
That simply means that they had religious enthusiasm for their doctrine and spiritual traditions, but no true love for Jesus Christ.
We learn from this letter that, no amount of zeal for the truth or moral rectitude can replace a heart full of love for Jesus.

Apostle Paul and Ephesians
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church of Ephesus as well.
Paul beseeches the Ephesian Christians to live worthy of their calling to serve God (Ephesians 4:1-2).
He explains to them afresh what it means to have put on Christ (Ephesians 4:17-24).
His warning to "grieve not the holy Spirit" (Ephesians 4:30) is an indication of the conflict in the church.
Paul calls the Ephesians back to unity (Ephesians 4:3-6), and admonishes them not to sin but to walk in love and the light of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:26).
These same sentiments are expressed in Revelation's letter to Ephesus.

Prophetic Application
Prophetically, the Ephesian church represents the first century after Christ.
The Church had grown into a force to be reckoned with, and Christianity was starting to challenge the religions and ideological institutions of the day.
The apostle Paul remained in Ephesus for more than two years on his third major journey.
His preaching aroused a conflict between the Gospel and the worship of Artemis.
Paul’s teachings turned many away from idol worship, upsetting silversmiths who specialized in the manufacture of idols (Acts 19:26).
Satan can’t stand when souls are taken from his sphere of influence. The inevitable consequence was persecution.
It has always been Satan's strategy to either force or deceive people to accept the counterfeit rather than the true.
Thus, Emperor Domitian persecuted the early church and is responsible for exiling the apostle John to Patmos.

2.   Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)

Smyrna means “sweet smelling,” like myrrh.  
Smyrna was situated 60 kilometers north of Ephesus at the present-day port of Izmer, which today is Turkey's second largest city with one of the most important harbors in the region.
Smyrna was a large, important city on the western coast of Asia Minor, famed for its schools of medicine and science.
For three centuries Smyrna had been one of the most important cities in Asia Minor.
Smyrna housed the shrine to the goddess Nemesis and was one of the last cities to fall to Islam.

Smyrna was a beautiful, wealthy city and was an official site of emperor worship and hence in a close association with Rome.
Emperor worship consisted of acknowledging Caesar as lord and burning a small amount of incense to him.
Worshiping the emperor was required for voting, owning property, and trading in the market.
In some instances, non-worshipers were persecuted.
Smyrna also was the home for a huge Jewish synagogue and its participants partook in persecuting believers.

Acts 19:10 suggests that the church in Smyrna may have been established by Paul on his third missionary journey.
The words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna offer insight into the life of a first-century congregation, and there are many applications for today’s believers.

The letter to Smyrna contains no admonishment.
Some of the believers would actually suffer persecution or even death.
To this church, Jesus introduced Himself as "the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive" (Revelation 2:8).
Jesus starts the message by acknowledging their trials:

Revelation 2: 9 - 11
9    "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
10 "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."'  (NKJV)

In their physical poverty, however, the church of Smyrna was “rich”; that is, they had spiritual wealth that no one could take away.
As for the identity of the “
synagogue of Satan,” there are a couple of views.
One is that this was a group of Gentiles who called themselves “Jews” in the sense that they are the chosen people of God.
Instead of following Judaism, however, these self-proclaimed “people of God” worshiped the Roman emperor and spoke out against the Christians in Smyrna.
Another view is that the “synagogue of Satan” was a group of real Jews who followed tradition and the Mosaic Law yet in reality did not know God.
They were “not” Jews in the sense that they did not have the faith of their father Abraham and they were “of Satan” in that they had rejected Jesus Christ.
Adding weight to the latter view is the fact that Polycarp was martyred in Smyrna around A.D. 155.
At Polycarp’s trial, the unbelieving Jews of Smyrna joined with the pagans in condemning him to death.

After commending the church in Smyrna for their spiritual victories, Jesus warned them of the coming persecution. Some of the church members would be imprisoned, and this wave of persecution would last for ten days.
However, Jesus gives hope to His church: “Do not be afraid,” He says.
The Smyrnan believers would have the courage to face the trial.
Jesus calls them to remain faithful in their suffering.
The crown of life is promised for those who die as a result of suffering for Christ.

Jesus makes a final promise to the believers in Smyrna:
“He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death”.
The second death is a reference to the final judgment of the wicked.
Believers will not be hurt “at all” by that judgment; their sin was judged at the cross, and, in Christ, there is no more condemnation. (Romans 8:1).

Prophetic Application
Smyrna may be pointing to the historical period during which the most vicious persecutions occurred against the Christians.
In 107 AD, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in Syria and a friend of John the apostle, was thrown to the lions and eaten alive in the amphitheater of Rome.
In 155 AD, Polycarp, the disciple of apostle John,  the bishop of Smyrna and a close friend of Ignatius, was killed by the sword, his body burned at the stake in Smyrna, at the age of 86.
It was through the witness of Christian martyrs that Tertullian of Carthage, in Africa, was converted to Christianity at the age of 30.
This period of persecution came to its climax under Diocletian, who, in 303 AD, launched a vicious, empire-wide effort for the complete annihilation of Christianity.
Although he died in 305 AD, the persecution continued until it was finally brought to an end in 313 AD by the decree of toleration issued by Emperor Constantine.

The Diocletian persecution lasted ten years.
The ten-day tribulation predicted for this church coincides with this ten-year period of persecution.
Persecution cleansed the Church by forcing Christians to consider whether they were truly willing to follow Christ in all circumstances.
It was temporary but that it was also intense.

Jesus encouraged the church to be faithful through this period of testing or tribulation.
Persecution is often directly connected to the times when the church was at its best and strongest. Comfort often has led to apostasy and indifference.

Christians who resisted the imperial cult was persecuted across the entire region.
Some scholars think this persecution was often economic, like the loss of a job or financial wealth.
Probably for this reason, Jesus reminded them they are spiritually rich even though materially poor.
The church was praised for enduring tribulation and poverty as well as the synagogue of Satan.

3.   Church in Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17)

The third letter from Jesus is to the city of Pergamos.
The name means "elevation" or "exalted."
Pergamos was situated 60 kilometers past Smyrna along the ancient Roman postal road.
It was a famous, beautiful and art-filled city in the province of Asia, that had long prospered.
It included between 1,20,000 and 2, 00,000 inhabitants.
Pergamos was a principal city of the Roman empire in the first century.
The citizens of Pergamos secured special favor with Rome by joining them to defeat other kings of the eastern Mediterranean.
It was a center of ancient sun worship and there stood the famous altar of Zeus on a terrace on the slopes of the mount.

Jesus presents Himself in the letter as “who has the sharp, double-edged sword’” (Revelation 2:12).
This refers to the Lord’s readiness to bring judgment.

First, Jesus affirms the church’s positive actions.

Revelation 2:13 "I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  (NKJV)

The Pergamos believers lived in a difficult place, surrounded by pagan influences, yet they held fast to Christ’s name and did not deny Him during difficult times.
One Christian in Pergamos named Antipas is mentioned as a “faithful witness.”
Church tradition says that Antipas was a physician suspected of secretly propagating Christianity.
His fellow physicians betrayed him accusing disloyalty to Caesar.
Upon being condemned to death, Antipas was placed inside a copper bull, which was then heated over a fire until it was red-hot.

However, the church was not perfect.

Revelations 2: 14, 15
14  "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
15 "Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. (NKJV)

Both Smyrna and Pergamos were experiencing tribulation, but unlike the former city, the latter is condemned by Jesus for a few things.
First, some in their midst held the teaching of Balaam, who led Israel to eat food sacrificed to idols and commit acts of immorality.
Thus they compromised their separateness and holiness.
The church also had some who were holding to the teachings of the Nicolaitans.
We have already said few words about them somewhere above.
Jesus is rebuking the church for being impure. He doesn’t just condemn those who were holding to these heresies, the entire church was also being held accountable for not confronting them and leading them to repentance.

So Jesus calls them to repentance.
“Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
 (Revelation 2:16 - NKJV).
The Nicolaitans and those who were teaching Balaam’s error would be destroyed, along with their followers, from the congregation at Pergamos.
Jesus desires purity among His people, and we have a responsibility to remove false teachers from the church.
If they failed to repent, Christ would come and would make war with them with the sword of His mouth.

Jesus promises rewards to the believers in Pergamum:
“To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." (Revelation 2:17 -  NKJV).
The three blessings are hidden mannaa white stone, and a new name.
The precise explanation of these three items is disputed.
The “hidden manna” is likely an allusion to the manna hidden in the Ark of the Covenant, representative of God’s faithful presence and sustenance.
The exact meaning of the stone is uncertain.
However, all three blessings must concern the believer’s victorious reign with Christ.

Prophetic Application
The Pergamos period began in 313 AD and continued until 538 AD.
This was a period of deteriorating moral standards and doctrinal corruption.
Satan failed to destroy the Church through persecution so he endeavored to destroy the church through compromise.
Christian standards were lowered, and a union was formed between Christianity and paganism.
It was during the Pergamos period that the Church adopted many pagan practices.

In 322 Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.
He blended the interests of pagans and Christians in order to unite his empire.
His object was to gradually transfer his nation from heathenism to Christianity.
Thus the church of the time transformed or renamed and accepted many symbols and traditions of the pagan sun worship.
Unfortunately this move ended in a blending of pagan sun worship and Christian faith.
Symbols of sun worship is found still in some denominations of Christianity.
The church in Pergamos represents this historical period of compromise.
By the end of the period, in 538 AD, Emperor Justinian decreed Christianity the official religion of the empire, joining church and state.

In spite of this drift from the true faith of the early apostles, there were a remnant who sought to maintain the true faith.
Jesus did, however, commend the few in Pergamos who stood strong and didn’t renounce their faith even when their friend Antipas was killed (Rev. 2:13).
We don’t know who Antipas was, but surely this was a significant event resulting in its mention.
Surely others had been martyred as well, not just Antipas. Still a few faithful hold fast to the faith.

4.   Church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)

If Ephesian Christians were tempted by rigidity and lovelessness, Smyrnean Christians by persecution, and Pergamos’ Christians by persecution and prophets of compromise, the Thyatrian Christians were facing economic pressures to compromise their faith.

Thyatira was a wealthy town on the Lycus River in the Roman province of Asia, in the modern-day Turkey.
Thyatira means “sacrifice of contrition” or “sweet savor of labor”.
Apollo, the sun god, was the chief deity of the city.
The city was also noted for its industries, the most notable being the dying of cloth - particularly in the colors purple and crimson.

Jesus introduces Himself to them as: “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”
Then He goes on to affirm the church’s positive actions.

Revelation 2:19 "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.  (NKJV)

After listing the above mentioned five good qualities, Jesus continues his message mentioning the demerits of the church.

Revelation 2:20 "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. (NKJV)

Apparently, a false prophetess was leading believers into compromise.
The church was engaging in sexual immorality and idolatry.
It is possible that “Jezebel” was her real name, but it is more likely the name was a metaphorical reference to the Jezebel of the Old Testament.
Ahab, king of Israel, had married Jezebel, a Phonecian Baal worshiper, although God had expressly forbidden intermarriage with heathens.
This marriage led to Baal worship being introduced into Israel, even though it was supposedly done in the name of Jehovah.
Rather than to rebuke this false teacher and send her out of the church, the believers in Thyatira were allowing her to continue her deception.

Jesus pronounces judgment on this “Jezebel” and calls the church of Thyatira to repent of their sin.
"Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2: 22, 23)

There also we find a remnant who remained faithful:
And Jesus promises rewards to the overcomers.
“… I will give power over the nations- He shall rule them with a rod of iron…. and I will give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2: 26, 27, 28 - NKJV)
This morning star is Jesus Himself. Jesus will give Himself to His church, and they will fellowship together forever.

Prophetic Application
The church of Thyatira represents the Church of the Middle Ages.
Thyatira received the longest of the letters, containing grave information about the conditions that would prevail.
The Church would be inundated with false doctrines and persecuted for faithfulness to God and His Word.
The spirit of compromise that started with Pergamos would reach its zenith in the time of Thyatira.
 As the name “sweet savour of labor” implies, works as a means to obtaining grace would become a prominent feature of the time.

In this time of spiritual darkness, the truth was abandoned and Christianity was replaced by the old pagan form of sun worship dressed in a garb of Christianity.
Forms, rituals, objects, and works replaced the elevating truths of the Gospel.
Pagan deities masquerading under Gospel titles replaced Jesus, and the ancient Babylonian mysteries were reintroduced.
Even the pagan vestments with their prominent purple and crimson colors were introduced as the vestments of the priesthood.
The symbols of Dagon, the fish god, became symbols of the so-called “shepherds of the flock.”
Pagan temples, symbols, and festivals were converted into Christian temples, symbols, and religious festivals. All this was done in the name of true worship of the divine God.

The promise of the ultimate victory of Christ stands as a rebuke to the Church of the Middle Ages.

After the conversion of Constantine, new converts were incorporated into the ranks of the church.
And the long association between pagans and Christians exercised a profound influence upon Christian beliefs and practices.
Pagan belief in magic contributed largely to the Christian belief in miracles; and the development of the cult of the saints was stimulated by pagan concepts of inferior divinities, demigods and demons.

5.   Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)

The fifth letter is to the church in Sardis. This letter addresses Sardis as a “dead” church.
Jesus’ word to Sardis summons a sleeping church to wake up.

Sardis means “renewal”. It was one of the oldest and best defended cities in the region and the wealthy capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. Sardis is called today, Sart.  
It was the capital of the province of Lydia, situated some 40 kilometers southwest of Thyatira.
The city stood on a hill, and at the foot of that hill were the temples of Artemis and Zeus.
Because of its location and natural protections, the people of Sardis considered the city impregnable.
They felt so secure that their guard was not always up in time of crisis.
History reveals that the city was conquered without resistance by both Cyrus and Antiochus.
The city was destroyed by a great earthquake in A.D. 17

The literal meaning of the message is a reference to the mindset of the people.
Jesus introduces Himself to Sardis as: “He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars”. (Revelation 3:1 A)
And He condemns the lifeless state of the Sardian church:

Revelation 3: 1 "…. I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (NKJV)

This church may have had a good reputation, but they were spiritually lifeless.
In other words, the church was filled with unsaved people going through the motions of religion.
There were many tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30).
Jesus then calls them to 
repent of their sin:

Revelation 3:2, 3
2    Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
3    Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.  (NKJV)

To “wake up” means to start paying attention to their need of salvation.
Jesus also notes the judgment that would take place if they did not repent: “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:3b).

After the warning, Jesus encourages those in Sardis who had remained faithful:

Revelation 3:4 "You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”  (NKJV)

The faithful remnant had not soiled their garments. They are “worthy.”
To be “worthy” is to “match up” with something - the profession of faith in the mouth matches the reality of faith in the heart.
The faithful ones are promised to walk with Jesus in white.
"He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (
Revelation 3:5 - NKJV).
The white garment is a token of righteousness. The name in the book of life is a promise of eternal security. And the overcomers will be confessed by Jesus in heaven.

Prophetic Application
The mention of death takes us into the post-Reformation period, from the close of the Council of Trent in 1563, to the beginning of the great religious awakening in the 18th century.
This period has been fittingly described as "the age of dead orthodoxy."
Instead of the reformers continuing their work of restoration, they submitted to the protection and support of the civil authorities.
While separating from Rome, the Protestant Church became subject to the state.
Though the Reformation was rooted in Christ, sadly, this early fervor was gradually replaced by formalities as the community and the state accepted the new churches.
The inability of the various reform factions to find unity based on the Word also led to the formation of numerous denominations, each adopting the creed of its founders.
The great work of reform faltered and even resulted in bitter infighting.

Added to this, the Counter Reformation launched by the Roman Catholic Church gradually eroded faith in the Scriptures and even set the tone for tolerance and acceptance of the teachings of Rome.
The Church of Sardis was given this warning: "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
"Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. (Revelation 3:2-3 - NKJV)

The Reformation had failed to fortify itself against complacency and became the easy prey of those who wished to destroy it.
In the midst of persecution, many courageous reformers were willing to lay down their lives rather than to deny Christ. It is to these that Christ says: "You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. (Revelation 3: 4)
The message to Sardis is a message calling believers back to the truth and to steadfastness in faith.

6.   Church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)

Philadelphia was a city in Asia Minor, on the Imperial Post Road which was an important trade route.
Philadelphia means “brotherly love”.     
Philadelphia lies 45 kilometers east of Sardis and today the city of Alashehir stands where the ancient city stood.
Philadelphia was situated at the foot of the mountains leading to Annatolia and, as such, was the doorway to this region.
Although closer in location to Sardis, the Philadelphian Christians’ situation resembles that of their fellow believers in Smyrna, roughly sixty miles to the west.
The Philadelphian church had only a “little strength,” but has proved successful in standing in that strength.

Jesus identifies Himself as: “He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens" (Revelation 3:7 - NKJV).
This description of Jesus emphasizes His holiness, His sovereignty, and His authority.
The reference to the key of David is an allusion to the Messianic prophecy.
Jesus is the one who opens and shuts, and no one can say Him nay.
The letter to Philadelphia contains no reproof.

Jesus affirms the church’s positive actions:

Revelation 3:8 "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  (NKJV)

Jesus praises the church because even though they had limited strength, they kept God’s Word and did not deny His name.
The church probably was smaller and lacked any political, social, or financial influence in Philadelphia, yet that did not cause them to compromise to the culture around them.
Because of this, the Lord promises them an “open door” of blessing.

Jesus’ letter then condemns the enemies of the Philadelphian believers:

Revelation 3: 9 "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie - indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.  (NKJV)

Their persecutors were religious hypocrites. They would one day realize Christ loves His church.
The church of Philadelphia would be victorious over its enemies.
The word “Jews” used here is a reference to Jewish Christians.
Jesus encourages the Philadelphian believers regarding His future coming:
"Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” (Revelation 3:10, 11 - NKJV)
The church’s faithful endurance would serve as a blessing. Jesus would take them to be with Him before the coming tribulation. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Based on this and other passages, many Bible interpreters conclude that the rapture is an event distinct from the second coming of Christ.
The fact that the Philadelphians are promised to be preserved from the time of the tribulation corresponds with the pretribulational view of the rapture.

Jesus provides a final promise to the believers in Philadelphia and to all believers:
"He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

There was a custom in Philadelphia to erect pillars in the name of those are honored.
But Jesus promised to make them pillars in the spiritual temple of God, the New Jerusalem.
Jesus’ words of comfort certainly would have been a blessing to the Philadelphians who had faithfully stood for Christ in their pagan culture.
His words continue to serve as an encouragement to faithful believers today.

Prophetic Application
The time period it represents was to open the door to the Gospel so that it could be spread to the ends of the world.
The Word of God was to be restored and truth would triumph.
The Philadelphia period is the period of the Great Awakening of the 18th century.
During the Philadelphian era, the great conflict between truth and error reached its pinnacle and the era of world mission began.

William Carey became the messenger to India in 1793, and Robert Morrison to China in 1807.
In 1817, Robert Moffat carried the message to Africa and John Wesley challenged the doctrines of Calvin.
Between 1804 and 1834, numerous Bible societies were established, and the door for the Gospel was opened.

As always in an age of spiritual enlightenment, Satan endeavored to destroy the work by counterfeit movements.
Out of the French Revolution of 1789-1799 came the concepts of humanism and atheism that were to form the foundation stones for communism.
The period also saw the rise of many false prophets who would claim special revelations contrary to the Word of God.

The Great Awakening of this time was met with suspicion and even hostility by the established churches of the day as they refused to accept new light on the Scriptures.
The age of Philadelphia was an age of brotherly love among those who embraced the truths of the Second Coming of Christ, but they were derided and mocked for their stance.
"Not I, but Christ" was the watchword of the Philadelphian Christians.

Jesus promises several rewards to those who persevered in this church.
First, He would position an open door of opportunity before them.
Second, the synagogue of Satan would bow to them, proving God’s love for the church.
Third, the church would be spared from the worldwide hour of testing that some believe refers to the Great Tribulation.
Fourth, they would be made a pillar in the temple of God and would remain there.
Fifth, the church would receive the name of the heavenly city and Jesus Himself on them.

7.   Church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)

The seventh and final letter to the churches of ancient Asia Minor is to the church in the city of Laodicea.
Laodicea was a wealthy, industrious city in the province of Phrygia in the Lycos Valley.
It lay ten miles west of Colosse and six miles south of Hierapolis and 60 kilometers southeast of Philadelphia
Laodicea means “judgment” or “judging the people”.
It was a famous health resort, for its hot baths, the eye salve that was produced there and black wool.
Pagan worship of Zeus and manys other deities flourished there.
A significant Jewish community lived in and around Laodicea.
However, they seem to have blended into Greek culture in many respects.
By the third century, illustrations on some coins had mixed together Jewish and pagan versions of the Flood stories.
The church in Laodicea was likely established by Paul's companion Epaphras.

In Revelation 3, Jesus used a language and imagery familiar to them: riches, eye medicine, white clothing, and tepid water.
Laodicea boasted great resources, but had a poor water supply.
The water available was heavily contaminated.
The Lycus River nearby was not good for drinking water so water was piped in from two nearby cities.
Hieropolis was known for its soothing hot springs, but again, by the time the water reached Laodicea, it was room temperature with sulfur in it.
Colossae had good, cold water, but by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it was warm with junk in it.
Laodicea brought water from faraway places through terracotta pipes. By the time water reached the city from the sources, it grew lukewarm.

Since the water is lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, it tastes disgusting.
The hot water for the baths was ingeniously piped to the resorts in insulated pipes, but because of the distances involved, the water was often only lukewarm by the time it arrived at its destination.
The symbol of lukewarm applied to the Laodicean Church is thus very appropriate.

Jesus identifies Himself as: “the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: (Revelation 3:14 - NKJV).
These titles emphasize the Lord’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and power to bring all things to their proper completion.
The word "beginning" is translated from the Greek arche, which, when taken in the active sense, means the initiator of the action, in the Creation.
This introduction contains all the majesty of Christ, His character, and His law.

In contrast to the other six churches, the Laodicean church has nothing to commend it.
Jesus begins the message with condemnation:

Revelation 3: 15 - 17
15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
17 Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' --and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”.  (NKJV).

Jesus emphasizes their “lukewarm,” apathetic nature more than once.
As a result He would “spit them out,” as the people of Laodicea would spit out the tepid water that flowed from the underground aqueducts to their city.
With their apathy came a spiritual blindness; they claimed to be rich, blessed and self-sufficient. Perhaps they were rich in material things. But, spiritually, the Laodiceans were in a wretched, pitiful condition.
The worst is that they could not realize their spiritual poverty and their spiritual need.
This was a church filled with self-deceived hypocrites.

Jesus calls the Laodicean church to repent of its sin:

Revelation 3:18 "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (NKJV).

The church had adopted the pride of the city and believed it had no use of God, but in reality, they were pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.
Jesus includes all major industries of the city in this letter.
They are advised to buy gold (banking), white garments (clothing), and eye salve (eye medicine) from Christ.
In essence, Jesus is calling them to turn from the worldly things they trust in, and turn to Him instead. They are to be zealous and repent.
Their material wealth had no eternal benefit, so Jesus commands them to come to Him for true, spiritual riches.
Only Christ can supply an everlasting inheritance, clothe us in righteousness, and heal our spiritual blindness.

Jesus then notes His concern for His church in Laodicea:
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”  (Revelation 3: 19, 20 - NKJV)
His rebuke is not born of animosity but of love.
The desired response to God’s reproof was zealous change and true repentance.

Verse 20 is often used as an evangelistic appeal, yet its original context communicates Christ’s desire for fellowship with His lukewarm church in Laodicea.
The church is nominally Christian, but Christ Himself has been locked out.
Rather than turn His back on them, He knocks, seeking someone to acknowledge the church’s need and open the door.
If they would repent, Jesus would come in and take His rightful place in the church.
He would share supper with them. It is a Middle Eastern word picture speaking of closeness of relationship.

Jesus then makes a promise to the believers in Laodicea:
"To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21 - NKJV).
The “overcomer” refers to any believer, and the promise is that he will share Christ’s future kingdom.

In summary, the church at Laodicea had become apathetic in their love for Christ.
They were allowing “the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things to choke the word, making it unfruitful”.
Christ called them to repent and live zealously for Him, to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
The Lord Jesus issues the same call to those who say they follow Him today.

Prophetic Application
Laodicea is the "nation of judgment."
It is the last Church, the last light bearer on Earth before the coming of Christ.
This letter is to God's people in our time.
In all the letters, except the letter to Laodicea, there is a commendation.
It is vital for God's people at the end of time to take heed of the Laodicean counsel because, sadly, we have done nothing to commend.

The message to Laodicea is not a message of hopelessness. It is a message of hope.
The message is not designed to discourage but to encourage.
If the message is heeded, then the malady of the Church can be corrected.
The message stems from One who can read the heart.
It stems from the Faithful and True Witness—to deny the message is to deny the omnipotence of God.


What do the letters tell us about the seven churches in Revelation?
The letters to the seven churches often betray characteristics of the cities in which these churches flourished.
Thus they remind us how easily churches can reflect the values of their culture if we do not remain vigilant against those values.

The two cities that are now completely uninhabited belong to two of the churches most severely rebuked - Sardis and Laodicea.
The two cities that held out longest before the Turkish conquest are the only two churches fully praised - Smyrna and Philadelphia.
The city of Ephesus was later literally moved to a site about three kilometers from where it was in John’s day, just as the church was threatened with removal from its place (2:5).
Such parallels may be coincidence, but they might also illustrate a pattern in history: The church, no matter how powerless in a given society, is a guardian of its culture.

The messages to the seven churches may also be understood as advice and warnings to Christians throughout all ages.
The relevance of these messages to Christians throughout history becomes obvious with the closing to each of the seven churches: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
The timeless instruction for us today is to hear and apply all of the messages given to the churches.
The wise course of action is to heed all of the messages and let Christ do the judging.

The messages show us that the Church of God and its members were destined to face many trials throughout the centuries before Jesus Christ would return.
Yet God promised to reward His Church and individual members if they would remain faithful to Him.
This encouragement from God reminds us that serving Him is well worth the effort.

The believers of the first century felt the constant social pressure to compromise their faith by worshiping the emperor in cult worship, tolerating false teachers, and leading lifestyles that mirrored the pagan world around them.
Christians today feel pressures to compromise in similar ways.
Discipleship of Christ is serious stuff that requires an unrelenting commitment to our only Lord.
We must always choose the way of the cross.
Those who endure to the end are called victors and will share in Christ’s glory.

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