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 Overview of the 7 churches of Revelation

John Hoole August 14, 2005


Today we continue our study of "The Seven Churches of Revelation". We are still in the introduction phase of our study. Early in the Book of Revelation we find 7 letters to seven Churches in existence at the time of John.

Revelation 1:10-11 (NKJV) tells us that John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day.

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,
11 saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."

In the weeks to follow, we will study what Christ had to say to each of these churches. It is always important to know what our Lord says about His church. When Christ speaks, we should by all means listen. If we didn't know that He is in charge, we might tend to be frightened at what is happening in our world. One of these days, Christ is going to fulfill His promise to return to the earth. He will set up His kingdom here on earth, and we will witness what the world would have been like, if we hadn't tried to run it on our own.

Last week, I introduced the subject of numbers in the Book of Revelation. Numbers have a prominent place in this book. For instance, numbers like:

2
3

4
5
6
7
10
12
24
42
144
666
1,000
1,260
1,600
7,000
12,000
144,000
100,000,000
200,000,000

I believe we can take these numbers literally as they are stated in the Book of Revelation. I also believe that some of the numbers have a secondary figurative nature.

WHAT IS THE NUMBER MOST OFTEN REPEATED IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION?

The number "7" is found in the Book of Revelation 54 times, far more than any other number. The number 7 is the most important number anywhere in the Bible, beginning with the first week of creation.

WHAT DOES THE NUMBER "7" REPRESENT IN THE BIBLE?

The number "7" is symbolic of "completeness" or "perfection." So, when we read of 7 churches, we take that to be literally seven existing congregations. But we also take the number to be representative of a symbolic completeness. In this case, the 7 churches are representative of all churches that have ever existed. I will say more about this in a few minutes.

Sevens in the Book of Revelation

Seven Beatitudes

1. Revelation 1:3 NKJV

3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.

2. Revelation 14:13 NKJV

13 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them."

3. Revelation 16:15 NKJV

15 …Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame."

4. Revelation 19:9 NKJV

9 Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God.

5. Revelation 20:6 NKJV

6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

6. Revelation 22:7 NKJV

7 Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."

7. Revelation 22:14 NKJV

14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.

7 things that are opened in the Book of Revelation

1. A door opened in heaven (Revelation 4:1)

2. The 7 seals of the book are opened (Revelation 6:1-8)

3. The abyss is opened (Revelation 9:2)

4. The temple is opened (Revelation 11:19)

5. The tabernacle of testimony is opened (Revelation 15:5)

6. The heaven is opened (Revelation 19:11)

7. The books are opened (Revelation 20:12)

7 types of men that hide themselves in Revelation 6:15

Revelation 6:15 NKJV

15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains,

1. Kings of the earth

2. Great men

3. Rich men

4. Chief captains

5. Mighty men

6. Every bondman

7. Every freeman

7 - fold worthiness of Christ, the Lamb, in Revelation 5:12

Revelation 5:12 NKJV

11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,
12 Saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!"

1. Power

2. Riches

3. Wisdom

4. Strength

5. Honor

6. Glory

7. Blessing

7 - fold worship unto our God in Revelation 7:12

Revelation 7:12 NKJV

12 "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen."

1. Blessing

2. Glory

3. Wisdom

4. Thanksgiving

5. Honor

6. Power

7. Might

The Bottomless Pit is mentioned 7 times in Revelation

1. Revelation 9:1 NKJV

1 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.

2. Revelation 9:2 NKJV

2 And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.

3. Revelation 9:11 NKJV

11 And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.

4. Revelation 11:7 NKJV

7 When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.

5. Revelation 17:8 NKJV

8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

6. Revelation 20:1 NKJV

1. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

7. Revelation 20:3 NKJV

3 And he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

Other things mentioned 7 times in Revelation

CAN YOU NAME SOME OTHER "7's" IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION?

John uses the literal and symbolic 7 in many other places.

Seven churches
Seven spirits
Seven lampstands
Seven stars
Seven lamps
The scroll with seven seals
Seven horns
Seven eyes
Seven angels
Seven trumpets blown by seven angels
Seven thunders
Seven heads
Seven crowns
Seven kings
Seven vials or bowls of the 7 last plagues
Seven mountains
7,000 killed in the earthquake of Revelation 12

The next number in importance in the book of Revelation is the number "12". Some of this stems from the fact that there are twelve tribes of Israel. In Revelation 7, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes are selected and sealed. That makes 144,000.

The elders of Chapter 4 are 24, twice 12. The New Jerusalem, described in Revelation 21 & 22, is declared to be 12,000 furlongs wide and long, and tall. And the city also has 12 gates with the 12 tribes written on them. And there are 12 foundations to the city, each with a name of the 12 apostles. And the walls of the city are 12 times 12, or 144 cubits in height. It should be clear that the use of numbers in the Book of Revelation is not accidental.

Let's now return to Revelation, chapter 1.

Last week, we took note that when John turned to see the voice speaking to him, the location of Christ is given.

WHERE WAS JESUS

Verse 13 says that Christ was located "in the midst of the seven lamp stands."

I said at that time I would come back to this verse. We ran out of time last week before I could. I want to complete that thought now.

The observation I want to make is the phrase stating that Jesus was "in the midst of the seven golden lampstands." I love those three words "in the midst" when it is speaking of Christ. Those are important words. The Lord Jesus was always in the midst.

Remember the days of his youth, where Mary and Joseph find him in the temple. Luke 2:46 (NKJV) tells us they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. He was in their midst.

When they nailed our Lord to the Cross,John 19:18, says, "...they crucified Him, and two others with Him, on either side, and Jesus in the midst."

After the crucifixion, Luke 24 tells us the 11 disciples were in a room discussing the news of Christ's resurrection. Verse 36 (NKJV) says,

36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you."

And, in this regard, Christ has given us a powerful promise applicable for us today.

Matthew 18:20 NKJV

20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."

Aren't you glad that He has promised to be in our midst when we gather in His name?

The Key Verse

Most of last week's lesson was connected to the "Key Phrase" of the Book. I also mentioned that there is a "Key Verse" for this Book as well.

The "Key Verse" of this book is Revelation 1:19 NKJV

19 Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.

Though many have put forth outlines of the Book of Revelation to help us understand it, none seems to be more practical or illuminating than the 3-fold outline given here. We find an abbreviated chronological outline of the entire book given here. It organizes the book into three parts.

1. Things which you have seen

2. Things which are

3. Things with will take place after this

How does this relate to the chapters in the book of Revelation?

Chapter One - "Thing which you have seen." This speaks of the past. And Christ is portrayed as the "Glorified One."

Chapters 2 & 3 - "The things which are." This speaks of the messages to the seven churches, and speaks of the present. Here, Christ is shown to be the "Head of the Churches."

Chapters 4 - 22 - "The things which will take place after this." This speaks of the future. Here, Christ is shown to be the "Triumphant One."

Revelation 4:1 (NKJV) helps us understand the dividing place between the last two eras.

1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this."

The phrase "things which must take place after this" uses the same wording as that used in Revelation 1:19 to depict the 3rd era.

So the beginning of chapter four is where the third section of Revelation begins. This brief outlines help us understand the timing of the events depicted in the book. The bulk of the book addresses people and events which follow the church age in which we live.

The Seven Churches

Now let's narrow our focus to the 7 churches and what is said about them in Chapters 2 & 3. Next week we will begin studying each individual church. The first on our quest is the Church at Ephesus. At this time, I want to address the churches as a group.

To begin, let me give you some raw statistics concerning what is written in Chapters 2 & 3.

There are 23 descriptions of Jesus in these two chapters.

4 items of what God has done or will do are given in these two chapters.

32 good things

14 items of general information

23 bad things

6 prophecies of what will happen

21 items of advice on what to do

6 reasons to follow God's advice

11 warnings

2 "ifs"

2 items of what Jesus is doing

22 rewards are mentioned

I want to now address a couple of issues that relate directly to the 7 churches receiving the message. Let me give them in the form of questions.

IS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE ON WHY THESE CHURCHES WERE TO RECEIVE THE BOOK WRITTEN BY JOHN?

IS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THESE CHURCHES ARE GIVEN?

The fact that Jesus chose these 7 churches to be the recipient of what John was asked to write, is probably significant in that there were other strong churches functioning in the area. There were churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Derbe, Iconium, Lystra, Miletus, Heirapolis, Colossae and Troas. These are all located in Asia Minor. And there were many other churches in Greece, Macedonia, Cappadocia, Galatia and Pontus. These churches were also maintaining a positive spiritual witness of the gospel. The fact that Jesus chose the seven churches He did and not others would seem to be significant.

Also, as we have noted before, the use of the number "7" in the Bible and specifically in Revelation also seems to indicate something. When one considers the order in which these churches are listed, there are a number of proposed reasons given over the centuries for the sequence.

They are given in the order in which a courier would travel to take the letters.

Although the city and church of Miletus is closer to the island of Patmos, if one went there first, they would then travel 50 miles overland to Ephesus, the closest of the 7 cities to Miletus. If one wanted to use the most expeditious route, one would probably sail to the closest of the seven cities.

Ephesus is the first and is the closest seaport of the 7 churches when coming from Patmos. The courier would then head due north to the city of Smyrna. Although Smyrna was also a good seaport in that day, traveling by foot might be the most time-saving route, because to go by sea requires to navigate around a point of land jutting out some 60 miles.

The next city - Pergamum - is north and slightly east. Then to go to the fourth city - Thyatira - the message carrier would head southeast. Heading further southeast, one would reach the city of Sardis. East-southeast from Sardis is the city of Philadelphia. The 7th city - Laodicea - is still further southeast, and is due east of Ephesus, the first city. At that time there was a natural trade route between Laodicea and Ephesus. John R. W., Stott calls the trade routes linking all 7 of these cities an "irregular circle."

But, since the natural trade routes between these cities do form an irregular circle, once the courier arrives at Ephesus, could he not go due east, up the Meander Valley to Laodicea? Nothing is given us in the Biblical text to indicate why the order of the cities is clockwise and not counterclockwise. So, maybe there is more to the order of the 7 churches than the route taken to reach them.

Maybe there is a significance to the fact that there are 7 churches, not 5 or 12. As we noted earlier, the number "7" is symbolic of "completeness" or "perfection." Maybe, in the totality of all the messages to each of the 7 churches, there is a complete message for the entire church.

Let's look at several possible meanings of why these churches were chosen, and why the order given was chosen by God. But, what I am about to delineate is not several options, only one of which is true. The list I will give you may all be true. I think I can say without hesitation that two of them are true.

HOW DO WE INTERPRET THE MEANING OF THIS GROUP OF SEVEN CHURCHES?

1. The Contemporary View

First, we cannot overlook the fact that there were actual congregation at each of these locations. And the message Jesus gave the apostle John were specifically written and delivered to a pastor and people who worshiped there. He has a message and warnings and promises to the people that were living then. Let's keep that in mind.

2. The Composite View

This view accepts the "Contemporary" view, but asserts that its message also applies to all church since that time. The seven churches are representative of the complete body of Christ everywhere.

In an earlier lesson, I asked you, "How many church locations did Paul writer letters to?" And we learned that Paul also wrote to 7 locations, just like John. Let me take one in particular - the first letter written the church in Corinth.

Just like John's letters, these churches actually existed in the first century, and Paul's message containing admonitions, warnings and promises were for the people then living. But I don't think any of us would say those letter were written only to those people and not to us as well. No, we treasure the words in each of Paul's letters, as if they were spoken directly and personally to us. And, in fact, they were. The message in the letters sent by the apostle Paul to these 7 churches has a message for the complete church as a whole. This is also true of the letters written by John to the churches of Asia Minor. Various elements of the message to the first century churches can be found present in almost all congregation in all ages since the first century. And the messages to the church will continue to be pertinent until the coming of Christ.

I don't think there are many who do not accept the first two ways to take the message to the churches of Revelation. The next proposal is more controversial.

The first proposal was the contemporary view which looked at the immediate local congregations. The second was the composite view that the message was for the entire church.

3. The Chronological View

WHO CAN STATE WHAT THIS VIEW IS?

This view holds that the messages to the 7 churches in Asia Minor represent the entire chronological history of the church from the time of the apostles to the coming of Christ. And, to this view, the order in which the churches are mentioned is very important. Adherents of this view hold that the order of the churches represent a panorama of church history through 7 eras. This view holds that the condition of the church of Christ during successive eras in its history have shown the same characteristics described by Christ about the 7 churches in Asia. The periods of time are not of equal length.

BEFORE ADDRESSING THIS VIEW, LET ME ASK YOU WHAT YOU THINK OF IT?

As I said earlier, this view is somewhat controversial. And I will say at the start that I have some questions about it. But I can't rule it out either.

One thing is that the Bible nowhere indicates that Jesus meant these messages to be applied to eras of time during the history of the Church. That is, except for the fact that there are 7 churches, which figuratively, represent the whole church. One might argue that the whole church is summed up in its total history.

Another thing which I believe argues against this view is that there is no agreed-to setting of the dates for the 7 periods of church history. Let me give some proposals.

First Proposal

Ephesus -- The Apostolic Church -- 30 - 100 A.D.

Smyrna -- The Persecuted Church -- 100 - 313 A.D. (Edict of toleration)

Pergamum -- The Exalted Church -- 313 - 500 A.D.

Thyatira -- The Political Church -- 500 - 1500 A.D.

Sardis -- The Reformation Church -- 1500 - 1730 A.D.

Philadelphia -- The Evangelistic Church -- 1730 - 1900 A.D.

Laodicea -- The Lukewarm Church -- 1900 A.D. - Christ's Return

Clarence Larkin

Ephesus -- The Backslidden Church -- 70 - 170 A.D.

Smyrna -- The Persecuted Church -- 170 - 300 A.D.

Pergamum -- The Licentious Church -- 300 - 600 A.D.

(lacking moral discipline - No regards for accepted rules)

Thyatira -- The Lax Church -- 600 - 1500 A.D.

(Negligent, lacking sufficient strictness)

Sardis -- The Dead Church -- 1500 - 1750 A.D.

Philadelphia -- The Favored Church -- 1730 - 1900 A.D.

Laodicea -- The Lukewarm Church -- 1900 A.D. - Christ's Return

Chuck Smith

Ephesus -- The Early Church -- 30 - 100 A.D.

Smyrna -- The Persecuted Church -- 100 - 400 A.D.

Pergamum -- The Imperial Church -- 316 - 800 A.D.

Thyatira -- The Unrepentant Church -- 700 - Christ's Return

Sardis -- The Dead Church -- 1500 - Christ's Return

Philadelphia -- The Faithful Church -- 1730 - Christ's Return

Laodicea -- The Apostate Church -- 1900 - Christ's Return

As you can see, there are a number of proposals which do not agree as to what each church signifies. The oldest historical records which indicate an adherence to the idea that the 7 churches represented 7 eras of church history is the 13th century. Some would say that, in itself, would indicate this is not a valid proposal. But, even though I am not a strong advocate for the panoramic historic view, it seems likely one would have to go through 3 or 4 of the periods before they could begin to see a pattern at work.

I will not spend much more time on this issue. I will, however, end by saying that one church can be used as both an advocate for and against the 7 churches indicating 7 eras of church history.

1. If these churches do represent the panorama of church history, then the message to only one church applies specifically to us - Laodicea.

2. On the other hand, Laodicea does, in my mind, represent a very good picture of the church today. I see the church today as being very lukewarm. We do not have the fire of God upon our lives that was there 100 years ago.

The Pattern of Christ's message to each church

Christ uses a consistent pattern or design structure to compose His message to each church.

1. He begins each letter with a greeting.

2. He gives a different description of Himself to each church.

3. He makes an observation - the character traits of the specific church.

4. A Commendation is given - if applicable (No commendation to Laodicea)

5. A condemnation or rebuke is given - if applicable (No rebuke to Smyrna or Philadelphia).

6. Christ presents each church with a warning

7. The warning is followed by a call to hear - an exhortation

8. He gives each church a promise if His words are heeded

7 Attributes of Christ in Revelation 2 & 3

In the time remaining, let's look at one part of this structure. Let's look at the different description Christ gives of Himself.

1. He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (Revelation 2:1)

2. The First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: (Revelation 2:8)

3. He who has the sharp two-edged sword (Revelation 2:12)

4. The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass (Revelation 2:18)

5. He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars (Revelation 3:1)

6. 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)

7. The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God (Revelation 3:14)

I will address each of these as we go through the messages to each church. But I would like to make a correlation between the description Christ gives of Himself in chapters 2 & 3 with Revelation, Chapter 1. I will start by saying this - every description Christ gives of Himself in chapters 2 & 3 are also found in chapter 1.

Let's look at the first church - Ephesus

Revelation 2:1 NKJV

1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:

Two weeks ago, I addressed the statements made concerning the 7 stars and 7 lampstands found in chapter 1. Let's read those verses again.

Revelation 1:12, 13, 16 NKJV

12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.

16 He had in His right hand seven stars,...

2. Smyrna

Revelation 2:8 NKJV

8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:

This description of Christ also shows up in chapter 1.

Revelation 1:17-18 NKJV

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.

3. Pergamum

Revelation 2:12 NKJV

12 "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write, 'These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:

Compare with Revelation 1:16 NKJV.

16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.

4. Thyatira

Revelation 2:18 NKJV

18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, 'These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:

Compare with Revelation 1:14-15 NKJV

14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;

5. Sardis

Revelation 3:1 NKJV

1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

Here we find the seven stars mentioned once again. It was mentioned earlier in the message to the church at Ephesus. We already read Revelation 1:16, which speaks of the 7 stars. The 7 spirits of God were also mentioned previously in Revelation.

Compare with Revelation 1:4 NKJV

4 John, to the seven churches which 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,

6. Philadelphia

Revelation 3:7 NKJV

7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'These things says 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":

Compare with Revelation 1:18 NKJV

18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

At first, there might appear to be a disconnect. Chapter 3 refers to "He who has the key of David." But Chapter one speaks of Christ having "the keys of Hades and of Death." I will try to make the linkage when we discuss the church at Philadelphia.

7. Laodicea

Revelation 3:14 NKJV

14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness,...

Compare with Revelation 1:5-6 NKJV

5 And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,
6 And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

As I said before, we will address each of the descriptions Christ gives of Himself, and why that which is given to each church would be of special interest to that church.

   
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