by Elmer Towns and Ben Gutierrez
Before Revelation pronounces a message of judgment on the unbelieving world, it first calls the churches to repentance. In these letters the Lord of the church speaks lovingly but firmly to the churches in words of both commendation and condemnation.
The message to each church follows the same sevenfold pattern:
1. Commission: “To the angel of the church ”
2. Character: “The One who . . . says this”
3. Commendation: “I know your works ”
4. Condemnation: “But I have this against you ”
5. Correction: “Repent . . . turn . . . change”
6. Call: “He who has an ear, let him hear”
7. Challenge: “To him who overcomes”
A. Ephesus: Preoccupied Church (Revelation 2:1–7)
Ephesus, to whom Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written, was one of the out- standing churches of the first century. Paul, Timothy, John, Apollos, and Aquila and Priscilla were all there in the apostolic era. This was a privileged church indeed! Yet, as time wore on, they had begun to lose their first priority and became preoccupied with other things. Commended for their good works, they were challenged to regain their “first love” and serve the Lord with renewed passion.
B. Smyrna: Persecuted Church (Revelation 2:8–11)
There were no words of condemnation or correction for the persecuted believers at Smyrna, a city that prided itself on its emperor worship. The name of the city came from the aroma of a perfume made there by crushing the resin of a small thorn bush. It was an apt description of the fragrance of the many martyrs who gave their lives there for the cause of Christ, including John’s own disciple Polycarp who was burned at the stake in the year 156.
C. Pergamum: Political Church (Revelation 2:12–17)
The massive Roman fortress sat on the acropolis at Pergamum on the Mediterranean coast. It also became the site of the first temple in the area dedicated to the Caesar cult, erected in honor of Augustus in 29 BC. The citizens of Pergamum worshipped power. The Roman army was headquartered there, and the temple of Zeus, the god of power, dominated the city “where Satan’s throne is” (2:13). There was no distinction in Pergamum between religion and politics, and the believers were often caught in the temptation of political correctness that often led to spiritual compromise.
D. Tyatira: Prosperous Church (Revelation 2:18–29)
The longest letter was written to the church in the smallest town. Thyatira was known for its clothing industry: weaving, dyeing, and sewing were major sources of income, especially for women. The town was dominated by trade guilds, which required religious participation and were dominated by powerful and prosperous women. It is no surprise then that a prosperous woman, symbolically called “Jezebel,” functioned as a false teacher in the church and tolerated false doctrine.
E. Sardis: Powerless Church (Revelation 3:1–6)
Sardis was an old city. It had formerly been the capital of the region under the Persians, was destroyed by the Greeks, and rebuilt by the Romans. The church, like the city, was dying, and only a few believers were left (3:14). The Lord challenged them with five staccato imperatives: Wake up! Strengthen! Remember! Obey! Repent!
F. Philadelphia: Persevering Church (Revelation 3:7–13)
Known as the “gateway to the East,” Philadelphia sat in a lush valley in the heart of Asia Minor, near the pass into the Timolous Mountains. It was literally the “open door” between East and West. The church persevered with “limited strength” (3:8) and was commended for their endurance and promised to be kept “from” (Gk. ek) the “hour of testing” (tribulation) that would eventually come on the whole world (3:10).
G. Laodicea: Putrid Church (Revelation 3:14–22)
In contrast to the open door at Philadelphia, Laodicea was the church of the closed door at which the Lord of the church is pictured knocking (3:20). It is also described as putrid and lukewarm, despite its material prosperity.
In these letters to the seven churches, we have our Lord’s personal encouragement to keep the faith, endure persecution, remain zealous, and seize the opportunity to spread the gospel.
Since each letter urges the reader to heed what the Spirit says to all the “churches,” we today must also take these admonitions to heart.
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