What Do the 7 Churches of Revelation Signify?

Seven Churches of Revelation Represent Report Cards for Christians

Laodicea, 7 churches of revelation
Laodicea, home of one of the 7 churches of Revelation, Ancient City in Denizli, Turkey. Izzet Keribar / Getty Images

The seven churches of Revelation were real, physical congregations when the Apostle John wrote this bewildering last book of the Bible around 95 A.D., but many scholars believe the passages have a second, hidden meaning.

The short letters are addressed to these specific seven churches of Revelation:

  • Ephesus
  • Smyrna
  • Pergamum
  • Thyatira
  • Sardis
  • Philadelphia
  • Laodicea

While these were not the only Christian churches existing at the time, they were the closest to John, scattered across Asia Minor in what is now modern Turkey.

Different Letters, Same Format

Each of the letters is addressed to the church's "angel." That may have been a spiritual angel, the bishop or pastor, or the church itself. The first part includes a description of Jesus Christ, highly symbolic and different for each church.

The second part of each letter begins with "I know," emphasizing God's omniscience. Jesus proceeds to praise the church for its merits or criticizes it for its faults. The third part contains exhortation, a spiritual instruction on how the church should mend its ways, or a commendation for its faithfulness.

The fourth part concludes the message with the words, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." The Holy Spirit is Christ's presence on Earth, forever guiding and convicting to keep his followers on the right path.

Specific Messages to 7 Churches of Revelation

Some of these seven churches kept closer to the gospel than others.

Jesus gave each one a short "report card."

Ephesus had "abandoned the love it had at first," (Revelation 2:4, ESV). They lost their love for Christ, which in turn affected the love they had for others.

Smyrna was warned it was about to face persecution. Jesus encouraged them to be faithful unto death and he would give them the crown of life—eternal life.

Pergamum was told to repent. It had fallen prey to a cult called the Nicolaitans, heretics who taught that since their bodies were evil, only what they did with their spirit counted. This led to sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols. Jesus said those who conquered such temptations would receive "hidden manna" and a "white stone," symbols of special blessings.

Thyatira had a false prophetess who was leading people astray. Jesus promised to give himself (the morning star) to those who resisted her evil ways.

Sardis had the reputation of being dead, or asleep. Jesus told them to wake up and repent. Those who did would receive white garments, have their name listed in the book of life, and would be proclaimed before God the Father.

Philadelphia endured patiently. Jesus pledged to stand with them in future trials, granting special honors in heaven, the New Jerusalem.

Laodicea had lukewarm faith. Its members had grown complacent because of the riches of the city. To those who returned to their former zeal, Jesus vowed to share his ruling authority.

Application to Modern Churches

Even though John wrote these warnings nearly 2,000 years ago, they still apply to Christian churches today.

Christ remains the head of the worldwide Church, lovingly overseeing it.

Many modern Christian churches have wandered from biblical truth, such as those that teach the prosperity gospel or do not believe in the Trinity. Others have grown lukewarm, their members just going through the motions with no passion for God. Many churches in Asia and the Middle East face persecution. Increasingly popular are "progressive" churches which base their theology more on current culture than doctrine found in the Bible.

The huge number of denominations proves thousands of churches have been founded on little more than the stubbornness of their leaders. While these Revelation letters are not as strongly prophetic as other parts of that book, they warn today's drifting churches that discipline will come to those who do not repent.

 

Warnings to Individual Believers

Just as the Old Testament trials of the nation of Israel are a metaphor for the individual's relationship with God, the warnings in the book of Revelation speak to every Christ follower today. These letters act as a gauge to reveal each believer's faithfulness.

The Nicolaitans are gone, but millions of Christians are being tempted by pornography on the Internet. The false prophetess of Thyatira has been replaced by TV preachers who avoid talking about Christ's atoning death for sin. Countless believers have turned from their love for Jesus to idolizing material possessions.

As in ancient times, backsliding continues to be a danger for people who believe in Jesus Christ, but reading these short letters to the seven churches serves as a stern reminder. In a society flooded with temptation, they bring the Christian back to the First Commandment. Only the True God is worthy of our worship.

Sources

  • Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, general editor
  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, general editor
  • gotquestions.org
  • davidjeremiah.org
  • The Bible Almanac, J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, William White Jr., editors