The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 is a subject of much speculation. Some believe the seven churches are only relevant to people living in the first century A.D. while others believe the churches have relevance even today. Others believe that the seven churches represent seven periods of church history or represent seven types of individuals that exist today. In this article, I provide insight on the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 and provide my view of the seven churches.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12 that the Church is one body under Christ. This is a spiritual body that unites all believers together no matter who they are.
“(12) For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. (13) For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (14) For the body is not one member, but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)
While there is one body under Christ it is impossible for every Christian to gather at one place due to geographic distance. As a consequence, people have set up churches throughout the world so that people who live in a specific geographic area can have a place to assemble. Each church is unique because each church has different leadership and has different people within its congregation.
Overview of the Seven Churches
Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 contain messages addressed to seven churches that were scattered throughout western Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Unsurprisingly, each church received a different message because each church performed differently when it came to adhering to the Christian faith. Christ gave a spiritual assessment of each church, including an overview each church’s positive and negative characteristics.
The Seven Churches of Revelation
|Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)||A former great church that deviated from the Christian faith over time.|
|Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)||Spiritually rich as they endure hardship, including financial hardship.|
|Pergamos (Rev 2:12-17)||Holds onto the faith despite living in the heart of enemy territory. Not perfect because they uphold some condemnable practices.|
|Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)||Has performed good works, service, and deeds but tolerates some detestable practices.|
|Sardis (Rev 3:1-6)||Spiritually Dead|
|Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13)||Kept Christ’s word and remained patient.|
|Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22)||So well-off they have grown spiritually complacent. They have no idea that their complacency has left them spiritually impoverished.|
The messages given to the seven churches obviously have historical significance. The issue that many Christians wonder is whether these messages have spiritual significance beyond the time when the Book of Revelation was written.
I believe the messages to the seven churches can be applied beyond the time of Revelation’s writing for a couple of reasons. First, the end of each church’s assessment contains the message: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”. This phrase appears to be a call for people who are not affiliated with these historical churches to take heed of the messages given to these churches because it appears so often. The readers of the Book of Revelation who have “ears” are called to hear the messages given to all the churches. Second, each church is promised a reward for enduring future persecution. The church of Thyatira’s promise is especially intriguing because the message is to overcome and keep Christ’s works to the end:
“And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:” (Revelation 2:26)
The call to endure to the end practically eliminates the possibility that the message is restricted to those living in the first century A.D.
I believe the seven churches reflect the spiritual conditions of seven types of churches that have existed throughout history. The main reason why I see the messages applying to churches rather than individuals is a clue from Revelation 2:24. During Christ’s assessment of the church of Thyatira He recognized that not everyone within Thyatira approved of the church’s detestable doctrine.1
“But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.” (Revelation 2:24)
We have a major issue if we argue that the seven churches reflect seven types of people when we consider that Christ recognized exceptional people within Thyatira. If we say that the church of Thyatira reflected a certain type of person how can we deal with the fact that not everyone within Thyatira is like how Christ characterized the church to be? A person who did not approve of Thyatira’s doctrine would not belong in Thyatira if the seven churches reflected seven different types of people. The person would be characterized by another church (perhaps Philadelphia). In other words, you can have exceptions when categorizing groups of people (churches), but you cannot have exceptions when categorizing individuals. If a person is an exception to how a certain type of individual is characterized they ought to belong to a different category of person rather than the category they really do not fit in.
In addition, it is hard to see how the spiritual condition of people who lived over the past 1900 + years can be limited to just seven categories. Finally, it seems more natural to say that “the messages given to churches in the first century A.D. also apply to churches throughout history” than to say that “the messages given to churches in the first century A.D. apply to individuals throughout history”.
The Call to Overcome
The most striking theme throughout Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 is Christ’s call to overcome. It does not matter if a person is from a church that is spiritually dead or from a church that is faithful…he or she will be given eternal life if he or she overcomes.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
“(10) Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (11) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Revelation 2:10-11)
“(16) Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (17) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (Revelation 2:16-17)
“(24) But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. (25) But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. (26) And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: (27) And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. (28) And I will give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:24-28)
“(3) Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (4) Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. (5) He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:3-5)
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (Revelation 3:12)
“(18) I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (19) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (20) Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (21) To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:18-21)
The fact that a person can still gain eternal life even though they come from a bad spiritual environment is an indication that there will be people who will rise from a poor spiritual background to overcome and gain eternal life. Therefore, there is little reason for Christians to give up on those who come from spiritually dead churches.
If you would like to learn more about how to determine whether we are living in the seventieth week of Daniel (the seven year period commonly known as the “tribulation”), click this link for my article on the topic.