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The Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation are the letters contained within Revelation addressed to specific churches. Each letter has a specific message to seven major churches of Asia Minor at: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. There is also a message to all believers or "those who can hear" appended to each message from the Holy Spirit[1]. They all share a central prologue, which includes the instruction to record the letters and a description of their author, Jesus Christ.

They are a critical component of Revelation in that they are the framework from which the entire vision revealed to John flows. All of the letters were dictated by Jesus Christ himself and written by John, who at Jesus' instruction wrote them and sent them to the churches[2]. The letters of each church are included within the entirety of Revelation, therefore all churches receive the entire book include the others' letters[3].

Prologue

Greeting

The prologue is addressed to the seven churches of Asia that receive the subsequent text. A standard greeting extends grace from "the one who is, who was and is to come" (God as the Son), the seven spirits of his throne and Jesus Christ; who is the truthful witness, firstborn from the death and ruler of the world's kings.[4]

Then there is a doxology that describes glory and ruler to Jesus forever (Amen), because he freed believers from their sins through his blood and made them a priest kingdom unto God the Father. After this, there is a proclamation of his anticipated coming on the clouds where all will see him. Even those who nailed him to the cross will see him, while all people will mourn on his account (Amen).[5]

To the end greeting, the Lord God himself identifies himself as the Almighty "Alpha and Omega" (beginning and the end), who was and is coming[6].

Introduction

After the formal greeting, a custom in Greek letters at the time, John introduces himself and explains his reasons for writing the letters and the book of Revelation as a whole. John identifies himself with several epithets: a brother, fellow in tribulation, the kingdom of God and endurance all in Jesus Christ.He goes on to explain that as a result of his testimony of Scriptures and Christ he was exiled on the Island of Patmos. One sunday Sabbath, while John was in the presence of the Holy Spirit, he heard a trumpet-like voice which instructed him to write a book and send it to the seven listed churches. [7].

As he turned to see the speaker of the voice, he noticed seven golden lampstands and Jesus stood among them. John gives a detailed description of the majestic form of Jesus that he saw. The speaker was like a son of man, wearing a long robe covered by a golden sash. His hair was as white as snow or wool. He had flame like eyes and feet that were like freshly smelted bronze. His voice sounded like the noise of rushing waters.[8]

John further describes how his face was as bright as the sun, that he held seven stars in his right hand and that a double edged sword was emerging from his mouth. Upon witnessing all of these characteristics of Jesus, John fell at his feet in a manner resembling a dead body. The speaker set his right hand on John and told him not to fear, for he was the First and last, the living one; thus identifying himself as Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus explained how he had died, he was now permanently alive and possessed the keys of death and Hades. "As a result of my identity", Jesus told John, "write the things what you have seen, the things that are and the things to take place afterwards".[9]

He went on to interpret the seven stars and the seven lampstands. The lampstands were a symbol for the the seven churches, while the stars represented the angels of the seven church.[10]

Format

The Seven letters all are based off the same pattern and have fairly consistent literary features. The letters all start with the command of Jesus to dictate the succeeding message to the respective church's angel. The angel may refer to a special angel with spiritual authority over the church or a human messenger, responsible for delivering the letter. Each letter begins with an identification of Christ, attributing the words to an epithet of Christ. Most of these epithets stem from the letters' shared prologue in John's description of Jesus.

Table

Church Jesus' identification I Know Say to You Spirit Says
Ephesus Holder of the Seven Stars in right hand, walks among the Lampstands Intense Labor, Patience, Unbearing of Evil Abandoned original love, return to original. Permission to the Tree of Life
Smyrna The First and Last, who died and came back to life Troubles, Poverty amidst spiritual wealth N/A Not be hurt by the second death
Pergamum Wielder of the sharp double-edged sword Fidelity to the Faith at Satan's throne Balaam and Nicolaitans teachings Hidden Manna, A white stone with a new name
Thyatira Son of God, with flame like eyes and bronze like feet Allowance of the woman Jezebel (fig or literal) Authority over the nations
Sardis Wielder of God's seven spirits and seven stars Clothed in white robes, irremovability from the Book of Life
Philadelphia Holy true one, holder of David's key, controller over the door
Laodicea The Amen, truthful witness, first of God's creation

Ephesus

In his letter to the Church of Ephesus, Jesus identified himself as the wielder of the seven stars that walks among the lampstands. In essence, Jesus was identifying himself, on the basis of his authority over the Church. The Ephesian church was displaying deeds of intense labor and steadfastness, while resisting those who practiced evil and falsely claimed to be Apostles. While they were commended for their endurance, Christ rebuked them for leaving their original love and fervor for the faith.[11]

A call is made to remember their original place of faith (where they fell from), repent and practice the works they did originally. A strict warning is given, that if the Church does not repent, they will be removed from their lampstand; their influence and prominence amongst the Churches would be dismantled. [12]

In contrast, a positive is given: the Ephesian church hated the deeds of Nicolaitans- an ambiguous group of heretics, which Jesus noted he also hated. Finally, a heed from the Spirit is given, that those who conquer (Believers) will be granted access to the Tree of Life, located in the paradise of God. This refers to vision towards the end of Revelation, describing the Tree of Life in the New Heaven. This serves as a metaphor to say all believers will be able to have eternal life in Heaven.[13]

Smyrna

To Smyrna, Jesus referred to himself as the first and last, who died and returned to life. This places an emphasis on his ability to overcome death, which is important for the content of the letter. Jesus knew Smyrna's trouble and material poverty, despite being spiritually rich. People claiming to be Jews were blaspheming the Church, which earns them the title of "synagogue of Satan". This title was an absolute shaming by Jesus, saying that these false Jews were following the work of Satan, rather than the work of God. [14]

Jesus warns the Church of Smyrna that Satan (the devil) will assault some of the believers and they will experience trials as a test for ten days. This is likely the persecution of the aforementioned apostates. Jesus tells the church not to fear their upcoming suffering, but rather to be faithful to the point of bloodshed. If they are faithful, they will receive the crown of life, or eternal life- the ultimate prize. Finally, the Spirit gives his message- the conquerors (believers) will suffer harm from the second death. Essentially the message of the letter is for the Church to preserve to the point of death, knowing that earthly persecution cannot harm them.[15]

Pergamum

The epithet for Christ in Pergamum's letter was the wielder of the double-edged sword. The Son made it known he was fully aware of the circumstances of the Church of Pergamum. They lived in what Jesus referred to as "Satan's throne" and a believer by the name of Antipas had been martyred there. Despite the persecution that led to Antipas' death, the Church still remained faithful to the name of God and did not renounce him.[16]

Pergamum received rebuke on the lines of adherence to the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Some of the believers tolerated Balaam's teaching, meaning they were willing to falsely represent God and turn their brothers to sin, in exchange for money.The exact teachings of the Nicolaitans are unknown. [17]

So in this letter, a clear call was made to repent; or else face war against the Son using his two-edged sword. In other words, the church would face God's wrath just as He had declared in His Word. The Spirit told the conquerors that they will receive the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name.[18] The hidden Manna reminds the readers of the Manna God gave to Israel in the desert. It was a special gift of nourishment, representing sanctification. The white stone with a new name represents a new identity for the receiver and perhaps innocence or radiance in this new identity.

Thyatira

The message to the Thyatiran church was from the Son of God, with fire like eyes and feet like smelted bronze. This description of Christ, portrayed him as one with power and authority. They were commended for their progressively better works of faith, love, service and steadfastness. Through John, Jesus offered rebuke concerning the Church's immorality. The Church at Thyatira was accepting a woman named Jezebel, who claimed to be a prophetess and was responsible for the teaching and seduction of believers into sexual immorality and idolatry. Calling this woman "Jezebel" was a reference to the evil queen of Israel who led Ahab astray and persecuted the prophets of God. This may have been a literal person (probably a woman) or even a symbolic representation of a group, ideology or practice that was leading the believers astray. [19]

God had given Jezebel time to repent from her sexual perversion, however, she refused to repent. Therefore, Jezebel would be confined to bed and unrepentant adulterers would suffer severe affliction, unless they repented. The "children" or followers of Jezebel would killed. Whether literally or figuratively. Jezebel would be "confined to bed" or ironically punished by the means of her wickedness. The followers of God who accepted the practices of Jezebel would receive earthly punishment, according to the malicious deeds they committed.[20]

By doing these things, God would make it known to all of the churches that he searches their hearts and minds (the innermost being) and that retribution (punishment according to deeds) will be brought. At this point in the letter, Jesus turns the message to those who were not following Jezebel or the "deep things of Satan". He promises them that he will not give them any burden, other than to cling to their faith until his return.[21]

Finally, the spirit gives his message to the listening believers. This letter tells the conquerors of faith, that are obedient until the end will receive supreme authority over the nations. The believers would have supreme authority to "shepherd" or lead people with an "iron staff". The authority would extend to the power to shatter the world's purposes, like a clay pot that shatters. Lastly, believers would receive "the morning star" or some sort of recognition and honor. [22]

Sardis

The Church in Sardis received their message from the one who possesses the seven spirits of God and seven stars. In other words, Jesus has power over the "angels" of the churches receiving letters and these spirits of God. The Church of Sardis is struggling with general disobedience towards God. While many viewed the Church as being spiritually lively, Jesus knew that their true nature was one of dead disobedience.


Philadelphia

Laodicea

Verses

  1. Rev 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22, (Link)
  2. Rev 1:10 (Link)
  3. Rev 1:11 (Link)
  4. Rev 1:4-5 (Link)
  5. Rev 1:5-6 (Link)
  6. Rev 1:8 (Link)
  7. Rev 1:9-11 (Link)
  8. Rev 1:12-15 (Link)
  9. Rev 1:17-19 (Link)
  10. Rev 1:20 (Link)
  11. Rev 2:1-3 (Link)
  12. Rev 2:4-5 (Link)
  13. Rev 2:7 (Link)
  14. Rev 2:8-9 (Link)
  15. Rev 2:10-11 (Link)
  16. Rev 2:12-13 (Link)
  17. Rev 2:14-15 (Link)
  18. Rev 2:16-17 (Link)
  19. Rev 2:18-20 (Link)
  20. Rev 2:19-23 (Link)
  21. Rev 2:23-25 (Link)
  22. Rev 2:26-29 (Link)
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