The Seven Churches in Revelation
Each letter follows this format:
- “To the angel of the church, write these words of Jesus”
- “I know” and also sometimes, “But I have this against you”
- “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
- A promise of future gain
If you go through each of the seven letters and look for these points, you’ll not only notice the similarities between the letters, but also the differences! For example: we know that each letter addresses the specific behaviors of its church audience. However, not all church are addressed in the same way! Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira receive both praise and rebuke, but Smyrna and Philadelphia receive only praise and encouragement, and Sardis and Laodicea are only rebuked. Jesus comments on each church’s behaviour and situation, but the comments differ.
Speaking of Jesus, don’t be confused by the first bullet point and try to look for the literal word “Jesus” in these letters. At the beginning of each letter, and at the end of the phrase “To the angel of the church [insert specific church name] write: ‘The words of . . .’” you will find a description. These phrases will probably seem weird to you, but they are actually descriptions of Jesus!
Here’s a list of all seven descriptions:
- The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
- The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
- The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
- The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
- The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
- The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
- The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
Unless you’ve spent some time in Revelation before, I’ll bet you haven’t heard many of those phrases. They’re worth studying!
Another interesting aspect of these letters to study is the current state of each city. Yes, they still exist, although most of them have different names.
Follow this link to access an article by Madeline Arthington and Karrie Sparrow of the International Mission Board. They traveled to Turkey for a three-day trip and visited the location of all seven churches. Their article is full of detailed information and captivating pictures of each city: https://www.imb.org/2018/06/01/what-happened-to-the-seven-churches-of-revelation/
What am I supposed to learn from these letters?
The repeated phrase: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” clues us in to the fact that we all have something to learn from these letters.
One approach to this text would be to take a look at the behaviors that are praised and rebuked in each letter, and use them to take stock of yourself, your church, and your community.
Another approach, as I mentioned above, would be to look at the seven descriptions of Jesus and see how they inform your understanding of Him. One great way to begin studying these descriptions is to see where else their imagery appears in Revelation.
You could also apply the same practice to the promises given at the end of each letter!
One of the best things to do with confusing passages in Scripture is to just start connecting dots. Instead of aiming to “figure it out” or understand it, I suggest you start small: try to make sense of one aspect of the passage, or try to make a connection to another part of Scripture.
Truly, the place to begin in studying Revelation is to be familiar with the Old Testament and Revelation's use of the Old Testament (The Jewish Scriptures--the Bible of the earliest Christians). Equally important is to understand the first century context of these seven churches located in Asia Minor in the Roman Empire. I attempt to do this in my book: Worthy is the Lamb.