Why Were These Seven Churches Chosen To Receive The Apocalyptic Message
Revelations seven churches were among a number of early Christian communities in Asia Minor. These particular seven churches may have been chosen to receive Christs apocalyptic message because, geographically, the churches were located along an established, circular trade route that brought together the most populous and influential parts of the province. Once the apocalyptic message was given to the churches in these prominent cities, the message would spread to the Christian communities in the rest of the province.
Although the seven letters in Revelation are tailored to the named churches, these churches and their stated deficiencies can symbolize all churches in one respect or another. The instruction given to Revelations congregations, therefore, is valuable to Christian congregations today.
Introduction To The Messages
Christians who read Revelation for the first time may wonder why this book, which is primarily about end times prophecy, should first include these messages to seven specific historical churches in chapters 2 and 3. Of course, the fact that these messages are in Revelation tells us that its important for them to be there. Some questions one should ask are:
- What is the purpose of these messages in Revelation?
- To whom do these messages apply?
- What do the messages say?
- How are these messages related to the end times prophecy?
In this article, we will take a broad look at these messages in the hope of answering these questions.
Assessments Of The Churches
There is a 2-3-2 symmetry regarding the assessment of the churches:
- There are two churches that received commendations without any sort of rebuke. It is significant to note that both of these churches faced persecution. This isnt just a coincidence. Persecution is like refining fire that purifies. It almost goes without saying that false Christians will not stick around when the true church comes under persecution.
- There are three churches that received a mixed review, with some commendations and some rebukes.
- There are two churches that received rebukes with no real commendation. They are the dead church and the lukewarm church, respectively.
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And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Revelation 3:1
What Are The Seven Churches Of Asia And Where Are They
The Seven Churches of Asia as stated in the Book of Revelation are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Today, all these are existing names in Turkey as they are ancient cities protected by the Culture and Tourism Ministry of the Republic of Turkey. They are located in the Izmir, Manisa, and Denizli provinces of Turkey. Smyrna is the ancient name of Izmir city which will possibly be your starting point of a tour of the Seven Churches of Asia. Smyrna is located in Izmir city and Pergamum is only 2 hours away from Izmir. Thyatira is located one hour east of Pergamum. Sardis and Philadelphia Churches are very close to each other and they are less than an hour away from Thyatira. The furthest Church of Revelation is Laodicea which is two hours away from Sardis. To complete the tour of Seven Churches, you need to drive to Ephesus which is 2,5 hours away from Laodicea. The House of the Virgin Mary and the Basilica of Saint John is within the vicinity of Ephesus. In three days and two nights in Pergamon and Pamukkale, you can easily visit the Seven Churches of Asia along with the House of the Virgin Mary and The Basilica of Saint John. If you would like to explore the surroundings of the Seven Churches, you should spare a few more nights in the west coast of Turkey.
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Historical Context Of Letters In The Ancient World
The book of Revelation would have been carried by travelers or personal messengers. This is because no public postal service existedapart from those tasked with carrying messages regarding the official business of the empire.
The letters to the seven churches are prophetic letters. We have numerous examples of this kind of writing:
These letters also bear some resemblance to ancient royal and imperial edicts. They resemble even more closely the biblical format of oracles concerning various peoples. We find instances of these in Isa. 1323 Jer. 4651 Ezek. 2532 Amos 12.
Greeting To The Seven Churches
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
8 I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
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What Is Meant By Churches
The Bible uses the word church in two different ways. While this may seem to be a problem, it isnt because the correct understanding is always made clear by the context.
Its important to note that the local church context refers to professing Christians, and it is not to be assumed that all professing Christians are true Christians. This is why there are several exhortations in scripture to keep the church pure by expelling those who are unrepentant and exhibit traits of a false Christian . In other words, such people should be expelled from local churches because they act in opposition to the one true global church.
The Miracles Of Jesus
In this series, The Miracles of Jesus, Pastor Tim Ross takes us on a journey through the Gospels to explore the miracles Jesus performed. Together well discover nothing is too hard for Jesus to revive, restore, or redeem.
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Also Known As The Seven Churches Of Asia
As the first chapter of the book of Revelation explains, the apostle John was given a vision of end-time events leading up to the return of Jesus Christ.
Part of the instruction that John received was: What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea .
The order of these cities in modern-day Turkey corresponds to the route along which a courier from Patmos would have carried the scroll .
Trying to understand what these messages mean for Christians today has been puzzling. These seven churches, named by their locations, were not the sum total of all the congregations of the Church of God in the first century. Additional congregations, among others mentioned in the New Testament, were located at:
- Antioch .
- Colosse .
- Rome .
So why did God the Father, the author of this message , select these seven congregations? What relevance do these messages have for us today? As we will see, God selected these seven congregations to give timeless instruction for His people throughout the centuries.
As we will see, God selected these seven congregations to give timeless instruction for His people throughout the centuries.Because this instruction is both historical and propheticJohn was told to write about the things which are, and the things which will take place after this this information must be understood from more than one perspective.
Nd Day: The Adulterous Church The Dead Church The Faithful Church
- Depart for the visit to Thyatira, the adulterous church that, as mentioned in the Revelations, tolerated the false prophets, Jezebel .
- Proceed to Sardes, the dead church, another of the Seven Churches of Revelation. Jesus told Sardes, I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead.
- After visiting the faithful church of Philadelphia, we will stay overnight in Pamukkale.
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Characteristics Of The Seven Churches Of Revelation
In closer examination of these messages, it is interesting to note that God clearly understood the circumstances, difficulties and influences that the members of the congregation in each city had to endure and resist. For example:
- God knew that the members at Ephesus had lost their first love and that they were resisting the negative influence of the Nicolaitans .
- God also knew the tribulation, and poverty those in Smyrna were facing .
- God was aware of the martyrdom of Antipas in Pergamos and the severe persecution the members in that city were enduring .
- God knew that some in Thyatira had been deceived by a woman called Jezebel to commit sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols .
- The fact that many in Sardis were dead in the sense that they had lost their zeal was known by God .
- God knew that the Church members in Philadelphia had a little strength and that they had not denied His name .
- God saw the lukewarm spiritual attitude of the Laodiceans .
An important overall lesson from Revelation 2 and 3 is that God knew the issues facing the churches and members of the first century.
Similar to Pauls letters to various congregations in other cities, these short messages to the seven congregations were intended to encourage the members in these cities to overcome their shortcomings and to hold fast to Gods way of life so they could be rewarded in the future.
Warnings And Promises: How The 7 Churches In Revelation Reflect Todays Church
Hold fast what you have that no one may take your crown. Revelation 3:11
Life at the end of the first century was in no way easy, especially for the early Christian church. Most of the apostles were dead, the churches were in decline, and Roman persecution of believers was rampant, with many martyred. But one apostle still endured John.
Despite the oppression, John continued to minister to the churches in Asia Minor until his arrest in Ephesus by Roman authorities. Instead of the more common sentence of execution, he was exiled to the island of Patmos instead.
It was on Patmos where God gave John a series of visions that prophesied the worlds future history. One of those visions was of the churches where John had ministered. They were beginning to feel the effects of persecution, and their faith was beginning to weaken significantly. Their struggles are why John addressed the first three chapters of the book of Revelation to them. He sought to strengthen them, renew their hope in Gods sovereign control, and warn them against falling away from Him.
Of the seven churches John addressed, six struggled, and only one held fast to following Christ. Their experiences were not much different from churches today. They reflect who we are as believers and how we endure difficult times.
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How Were The Letters Received
Now that we know how the letters were written and structured, lets take a look at how the churches would have read and received them.
Some commentators have noted that the churches are each invited to read the others mail. This interpretive principle is implied clearly enough in the text: Each church is called to hear what the Spirit says to the churches .
This would have been somewhat embarrassing to members of the churches addressed most harshly.
To what degree are the messages to the particular churches distinctive, and to what degree should they be read as samples of what is addressed to all the churches? There is surely a sense in which each church receives the letter appropriate to it. In the early twentieth century William Ramsay emphasized how the message to each church resembles what we know of the cities in which the churches existed.
Yet each church also receives the entire book of Revelation.
The basic principle for applying these letters to ourselves and others today thus seems to be: If the shoe fits, wear it.
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.
The Seven Ages Theory
Many interpretersespecially dispensationalistsbelieve the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 represent seven church ages, beginning with the time of the apostles and concluding with the time of the end. Through innovation and inference, one can make the descriptions of the seven churches roughly match various movements and events in the 2,000-year history of Christianity, thus presenting what appears to be a plausible sequence of prophetic fulfillments.
Popular evangelical author Hal Lindsey, famous for his best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, follows other dispensationalists in his interpretation of the seven churches. He believes that the seven churches were literal assemblies that existed in Asia Minor at the time John wrote, and that they prophetically describe seven ages extending from the apostolic church to the church of the last days. He presented the following associations in Theres A New World Coming, his commentary on the book of Revelation:
Jesus Christ answers:
The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches .
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The Seven Churches Of Revelation
The idea there is a prophetic message hidden in the letters to the seven churches is not new. Some Bible scholars noticed it as early as the seventeenth century. The general idea is that each church and the order of the letter written to it are indicative of a period in future church history.
Thomas Brightman was an English clergyman, and biblical commentator was one of the first to write about the seven churches being seven periods of time.
The Order of the Letters with Church Period
The order of the letters is compelling. If the letters were in any other order the theory of them being future periods of what is now church history would fall apart. See below the order of the letters and the assigned periods.
Ephesus The Apostolic Church
Smyrna The Suffering Church
Pergamum The Church that Marries the State
Thyatira The Church of the Dark Ages
Sardis The Church of the Reformation
Philadelphia The Missionary Church
Laodicea The Lukewarm Church
You might notice that in some form these churches are still in existence today. Further, in the article, we will look at the meanings of the Church names and how each fit their period.
Jesus and the Literary Device
This idea of the Lord using allegory or one thing to represent events in the future is consistent. One example is the life of Joseph who was both a real character and a prophetic representation of Jesus. See the article on the life of Joseph.
What the Names Mean
What these Seven Churches Were Known For
Where Does The Bible Mention These Seven Churches
The seven churches are the primary focus of the first three chapters of Revelation. They are represented by seven golden lampstands, and the seven angels or messengers of the churches, represented by seven stars in the right hand of Jesus. Only one of the churches is in another part of the Bible. The Church at Ephesus received a letter, the Book of Ephesians, from the Apostle Paul.
The three approaches to understanding these churches all agree they were existing churches that received copies of the Revelation at that time. They differ on how these churches may or may not apply to church history, including the modern body of believers.
There is one perspective that these messages only applied to those seven specific churches and the messages have no lasting significance. One of the criticisms of this theory is that it dismisses the prophetic nature of the messages, and reduces the significance of the prophecies coming from the glorified Christ.
There is also the chronological perspective. According to this view, each church mentioned in these chapters represents a period in church history. Each of these periods can be traced and assigned to a specific phase of the growth and change of the body of Christ over time, from its inception, to its decline before Christs return.
These seven church periods are:
1. The Apostolic Church 30 – 300 A.D.
2. The Martyr Church 100 – 313 A.D.
3. The Compromising Church 314 – 590 A.D.
4. The Roman Catholic Church 590 – 1517 A.D.
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