In this section of Revelation, Christ addressed each of the seven churches of Asia about their situation. There are a few things that stand out in these letters that will help us as we examine the churches of today, including the one of which we are a member.
The seven churches of Asia are really representative of all churches of all time. A church today may not be the exact duplicate of one of these churches, but the principles and or facts found among them are found today. For instance, there are churches today that feel they are rich and faithful, but are actually lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-17). Another church stands on its past reputation while it is spiritually dead (Rev. 3:1, 2). We might find a church, though, that is spiritually active in trying to do what is right, but is tolerating a false doctrine or the teachers of it (Rev. 2:14, 15). Any combination may exist.
There is no collective organization among the churches of Asia. They had no headquarters and no entity that tied them to one another. Each church acted independently and was addressed individually by the Lord. In other words, there were no denominations in the first century. There were no collective works, projects, or ministries joined in by multiple churches like we find today.
The churches were addressed publicly. Inasmuch as the Revelation would circulate not only among the seven churches, but also to all other churches, the Lord did not hesitate to openly address their situation. Some of what the Lord said was “positive.” But, He also had “negative” things to say as well. He both commended and condemned. Such action was right and needed; it is still right and needed.
A basic pattern is followed by Jesus as He speaks to each church. It is:
Identity of Christ (i.e. He who holds the seven stars)
The good, if any.
The bad, if any.
Warning and/or exhortation.
Though each letter describes Jesus differently, He is still the only One addressing each church. Too, though the promises are worded in various ways, they all mean the same thing – heaven. That is, eating from the “tree of life” (2:7) is the same as the “crown of life” (2:10) is the same as the “hidden manna” (2:17) is the same as “power over the nations” and the “morning star” (2:26, 28) and so on.
Letters To The Churches
The following is just a brief look at each letter.
The good at Ephesus is what many religious people find as bad today. They were commended for work, labor, and patience AND for testing and trying preachers (cf. 1 Jn. 4:1-6). Jesus saw this as good.
The problem they had was doing things out of rote, not love of the Lord, His cause, and the souls of men. They had left their “first love.” This is a danger for any who fight the good fight of faith. We cannot allow our struggle to become a battle for the sake of a battle. Rather, we need to continually grow in our faith and love of Jesus.
His message to them is “repent.” Otherwise, they would be removed as one of His.
Jesus comes back to a compliment when He says, “This you also have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (cf. Psa. 119:104).
The promise is made that if a Christian overcomes, he will eat of the tree of life. This signifies an eternal home in heaven (Rev. 22:14). If we depend on the Lord, do His will, reject false doctrine, and maintain our love for Him, we will receive eternal life.
This church went through difficult times spiritually and materially, yet the Lord said they were “rich.” They were rich in faith (Jas. 2:5). As such, they were not to fear the suffering they were to face. The Lord would carry them through and the faithful were promised a crown of life.
Pergamos had some good, namely holding fast to the name of Christ, not denying Him as the Savior. However, they also had evil among them. They tolerated a doctrine of idolatry and sexual immorality, the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The Lord told them to repent of allowing members to hold such false doctrines. If they did not repent, the Lord would fight against them with the sword of His mouth, the Word.
The faithful would receive the “hidden manna,” heaven.
The Christians as Thyatira were commended for their works, love, service, faith, and patience. They were condemned for tolerating “Jezebel” who led saints into sexual immorality and idolatry. She was to repent or be severely judged, so were those led astray by her.
Those who held fast would be rewarded for their faith.
The Lord has nothing good to say about Sardis except that a few had not defiled their garments.
This church was rebuked for a good reputation of life, while actually being dead. Many churches fit this description. Outwardly they are energetic, growing in number, having an impact on a community, but inwardly they are without faith and fidelity to the Lord. They are not truly dedicated to following the Lord’s will.
Jesus tells them to repent. The ones who overcame the sin would be given a white garment—a home in heaven.
This church is opposite of Sardis. The Lord has only good comments, no condemnation.
They evidently struggled with a “little strength,” but remained faithful. The Lord would give them victory and spare them from “the hour of trial.” They would be given a place in God’s temple if they overcame.
Jesus wanted to vomit this church out. They were lukewarm, as it were, not having fire for the Lord and not completely cold. This church was riding the fence. They were caught up in materialism and equated this with faithfulness to God. In fact, the Laodiceans were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Note: how would this description of a church go over in today’s “politically correct” society?
Jesus said He chastens those whom He loves. A hard, but needed lesson.
The victorious would rule with the Lord, in a sense.
Steven F. Deaton