Seven Letters 

The Book of Revelation 

Revelation is the only book in the Bible that promises a special blessing to the reader. (Revelation 1:3; 22:7, 18.) 

The Seven Letters 

Most people who know a little about the Bible will tell you there are  21letters in the New Testament : 13 authored by Paul, plus Hebrews, which appears anonymous; and the seven "general epistles" by Peter, James, John, and Jude. 

We usually overlook the seven most important letters: the seven authored by Jesus personally. For many reasons, these seven letters, comprising Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation, are probably the most important part of this book for you and me. 

Why These Seven Churches? 

There were many other churches at that time that would seem to be more  significant than the seven that Jesus addressed: the churches at Jerusalem, Rome, Galatia, Corinth, and Antioch for example. Why did Jesus select just these seven Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea? 

Four Levels of Meaning 

There appears to be at least four levels of application to these letters: 

  1. Local: These were actual, historic churches, with valid needs. Archaeological discoveries have confirmed this. 
  2. Admonitory: In each of the letters there appears the key phrase, "Hear what the Spirit says to the churches". Note the plural, churches. It turns out that each of the letters applies to all churches throughout history. As we understand the sevenfold internal structure, the uniquely tailored messages, and the specific admonitions in each of the letters, we discover that any church can be "mapped" in terms of these seven composite profiles. 
  3. Homiletic: Each of the letters also contains the phrase, "He that hath an ear let him hear..." Doesn't each of us "have an ear"? Each letter applies to each of us. There are some elements of each of these seven "churches" in each of us. Thus, this may be the most practical application of the entire Book of Revelation. 
  4. Prophetic: The most amazing discovery, however, of these seven letters is their apparent prophetic application. These letters describe, with remarkable precision, the unfolding of all subsequent church history. 
These letters describe, with remarkable precision, the unfolding of all subsequent church history. If these letters were in any other order, this would not be true! 

Seven Key Elements 

A key aspect to understanding the letters is to grasp the structure of their design. A careful examination of the letters reveals seven key elements in their design: 

  1. The meaning of the name of the church being addressed (see below); 
  2. The title of Jesus, each chosen relevant to the message to that particular church; 
  3. The commendation of things that have been done well; 
  4. The "criticism" of things that need attention; 
  5. The exhortation, specific to the condition of the particular church; 
  6. The promise to the "overcomer" included with each letter; 
  7. The key phrase, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches." 

The Meaning of Names

Ephesus: The Desired One
Smyrna: Myrrh; Death
Pergamos:  Mixed Marriage
Thyatira:  Continual Sacrifice
Sardis: Remnant
Philadelphia: Brotherly Love
Laodicea: People Rule

Parallels to Other Parts of the Bible

It is interesting to note that Jesus uses the phrase ""He that hath an ear, let him hear"  at the end of His seven "Kingdom Parables" of Matthew 13.

It is interesting that Paul signed 13 epistles; but 3 of these had "duplicate" addressees: Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Timothy. That is 13 - 3 = 10 addressees. Of the remaining 10, three were addressed to  individuals: Titus, Timothy, and Philemon. 10 - 3 = 7. Paul wrote to seven churches

Let us now consider these 7 churches in detail: 

1. Ephesus

This is representative of the great Evangelistic Church of the first century. It was full of spiritual vitality and strength. 

The word Ephesus means "The Desired One", which aptly describes the Church as Jesus sees it. However by the end of the 1st century the people had left their first love (for Christ and each other). 

Jesus warns them to repent or He would remove their "candle stick" (the witness) from its place. 
To those who overcome Jesus offers the fruit from the Tree of Life. This is the glory which the Church has been called to. That we may have true "immortality". To be "partakers of the Divine Nature". But it is only given to those who "overcome". 

2. Smyrna

This represents the persecuted church of the second and third centuries. Satan tried everything to wipe the Church out by sheer force. During this period of history the church was persecuted under 10 different Emperors with the final 10 years being the worst (note verse 10). 

Jesus says that this church, although poor in worldly terms was rich in faith. 

The word Smyrna comes from the word "Myrrh; Death" which was used as a fragrant perfume of "offering" in Old Testament times. This seems to aptly describe the Church during this time in history, as its members were being "offered" as living sacrifices. However, during this time the Gospel spread faster than at any other time in history. 

To those who overcome Jesus offers "immortality". They will not be affected by the second death. 

3. Pergamos

After this time of persecution, Satan changed his tactics. Instead of trying to wipe out the Church he made "Christianity" acceptable through the conversion of the Emperor Constantine around 312 AD. In gratitude for the reprieve from persecution the Church adopted many pagan rituals and feast days as its own. The Church also became centralized in Rome acting as an extension of Imperial authority. 

The word Pergamos means "Mixed Marriage", which is exactly what happened to the Church during this time, being elevated out of persecution and becoming married to the political power of the State. In light of this we must remember Jesus' words that "His kingdom was not of this world" (John 18:36). The Church, which is His Body was not meant to have political power while this world remained. So the original vision of the Church was polluted from this time forward by the work and actions of men. 

To those who overcome Jesus will give the true bread of heaven and a new name, but He sternly warns the Church to repent or He would come against it with His sword. 

4. Thyatira

In 538 AD the Bishop of Rome was declared the Pope (father) of the whole Church. (It is very interesting to note that Jesus warned His people to call no man their father, because they were the Children of God.) This seems to mark the beginning of the Thyatiran age. 

This Church was commended by Jesus for its works of faith, love and patience, but the Church had allowed itself to be corrupted by false teachings and immoral acts. Jesus refers to this as the woman "Jezebel" (See 1 Kings 16:29-33) and He is ready to act against these falsehoods. The woman is to be cast into affliction, those who are allied with her are to suffer great tribulation and her children are to be put to death. 

The word Thyatira means "Semiramis" or "Continual Sacrifice". This describes the state of the Roman Church which places a great emphases on "personal sacrifice" in order to "please God". This whole concept is quite foreign to the truth that Jesus has done all that is required for us to be free from sin. 

In this church are those who have not accepted these false teachings. Of them Jesus requires nothing, except they cling to the truth until He comes. If we look through the history of Christianity we see many faithful Saints who clung fearlessly to the truth of Jesus. Many of these lost their lives at the hands of the "Church". 

To those who overcome Jesus promises that they shall rule the nations. He will also give Himself to them I.e.. the "Morning Star". 

5. Sardis

This is the Church which was resting on its original works to gain favour with the Lord, but had fallen asleep. Jesus warns them to wake up and strengthen what remains (before it also dies). 

The word Sardis means "Remnant" or "Escaping Ones" and seems to refer to the Church of the reformation. But rather than continuing in the faith the Church had stopped and fallen asleep. The reformed Churches broke away from the Church of Rome, yet in many ways they modeled themselves on the Roman example, particularly in their structure and their association with the governments of this world. They had made a start, but had not finished the work. 

To those who overcome Jesus offers righteousness (White robe) and that their name shall not be blotted out of the book of Life. Jesus Himself will defend them before God. 

6. Philadelphia

This is the Church that Jesus loves. It was obedient to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and Jesus had set an open door before them. Their motivation was their love for the Lord and their fellow man. This was the great missionary Church of 1750 to 1870. 

Philadelphia means "Brotherly Love", which describes well the Church which so loved its Lord and its fellow man as to send missionaries to nearly every nation on earth within the space of 100 years. 

Jesus promised to keep them from the time of trial that was to come on all the earth. He also said He was coming quickly. The teaching that Jesus was coming back was revived during this time. 
Those who overcome would be pillars of God's new Temple, never to leave it again. 

7. Laodicea

This is the last Church age. It is the half hearted Church, not recognizing how poor it really is. Jesus has nothing good to say about it. In fact He is very displeased with it. This is a very worldly, proud Church, increased in wealth and influence, but spiritually bankrupt. Again it has not separated itself from the World system. 

Because Jesus loves them so much He rebukes them so they will wake up to themselves. 

But those who are waiting for Jesus receive a spiritual feast (Matthew 24:42-51; Revelation 3:20). Toward the end of last century there was a great outpouring of understanding of scriptural prophecy. Earlier this century there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in many parts of the world. There is also a great "expectation" about the return of Christ. 

One further event which has occurred during this time is the restoration of the nation of Israel. We shall look at this later. 

The word Laodicea means "People Rule" and is a time of trial for the Church. The Church has been tried by the forces at work in the world and found wanting. 

To those who overcome Jesus will grant the right to sit on His throne and rule the nations. 

We are living in the Laodicean age right now. Jesus is calling us to repent of our worldly ways and return to Him. 

Created: 23 - Jan - 1997.
Last modified: 18 - Sept - 1998.
Copyright © 1998, Graham Brodie.

Maintainer: Graham Brodie, Email