Part 1 - Letters to the Seven Churches [1-3]

note: this are very brief notes


  • Author: It is written by “John” and every indication is that this was the same John as wrote the Gospel and the 3 letters.
    • He is the “beloved disciple” —it is interesting that Daniel, his Old-Testament prophetic counterpart, was also beloved of God. [Dan 9:22-23]
      1. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.
      2. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
  • [1:4] is the formal introduction to the letter
  • These seven churches were very close together geographically in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)
  • Why did John write to them? Maybe he had a close relationship, or apostolic oversight.
  • They were planted by Paul on his 1st and 2nd missionary journeys, so were some of the very earliest churches
  • This is written to specific churches, but has general application. They are like 7 sample churches which the church through the ages can relate to.
  • “the one who was, and is, and is to come” = the Father
  • Seven spirits = sevenFOLD Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Seven means perfection and omnipresence—he is present in each of the churches.
  • “Firstborn from the dead” refers to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is the first of the new creation—he received a new body. We get the new birth in two stages: first our spirit is made new, then later our bodies, when we see him we will be like him (1 John). Psalm 2—begotten, Colossians—firstborn.
  • Lots of OT terminology in Revelation, e.g. [1:6]—Israel. We are now all priests, we can all enter God’s presence.

Vision of Jesus

  • [1:7] is an aside—lots of asides in Revelation. OT quote.
  • Alpha & Omega—first and last.
  • [1:9]—-John had been exiled to Patmos and later died there.
  • “in the Spirit” = special presence of God.
  • Lord’s Day = Sunday
  • Lampstands = the churches. A temple scene. In the OT temple, there was one lampstand with seven branches. Now all the churches have the presence of God, not just one place like the temple. We worship in Spirit and in truth, not in a place.
  • Seven stars/angels. Are they angels or people?
    • The word “angel” is used 60 times in Revelation, always to mean a heavenly being. This is not the senior pastor of the church.
    • Literally means “messenger” —they are usually pictured as God’s military and people who see them are frightened
    • God has appointed an angel to every church to represent it and care for it. Later in Revelation an angel puts believers’ prayers in a censer and pours them out before God. Angels represent us before God.
    • This is saying that the churches are in his hand, represented by the angels.
  • Sword from Jesus’ mouth = his word. He speaks and the sword does his bidding. As in creation, his words actually accomplish what they say. John 1—Jesus created and he is the Word of God. His words have the power to do what he says. In [Ephesians 6], part of the armour is the sword. This is prophetic words—under God we have this power for words to come to pass. (His word will not return void.)
  • Falling down: a common reaction to the presence of God in Scripture, e.g. Daniel.

The Messages to the Churches

  • Very structured—each follows the same pattern.
  • John is going to send it to the actual churches—not to the angels. The churches are in the presence of God.
  • If we look at the parallels between each letter we see many things in common:
    • A different name for Jesus is used in each one—chosen to be appropriate to the church it is being sent to.
    • “I know”—he sees everything.
    • In each there is encouragement
    • rebuke: what to do about it.
    • In 3 of them there is an encouragement to hold on.
    • “ears to hear” occurs in each one.
      • First three, it is at the beginning, last four, at the end.
      • In Revelation the sevens are usually broken into groups of three and four. It could be that John is introducing that pattern here.
      • It is important that we have ears to hear
    • Last is a promise to the one who overcomes
  • Show images of some of these places today

1. Ephesus

  • Jesus walks among the lampstands. He is present with them—the church is his passion, he is involved and he cares.
  • This church is theologically correct and has a passion for the truth, but has neglected their relationship with Jesus.
  • deeds = loving others. [1 John 3:16,17].
  • remove lampstand = his presence will be taken away and their testimony will be gone. This is the most severe condemnation given to any of the churches.
  • who are the Nicolaitans? we don’t know. Lots of theories through church history, but no evidence for any of them.
  • every letter ends with a promise taken from the last four chapters of the book. Links the beginning with the end.

2. Smyrna

  • churches tend to alternate between strong and weak—this is a strong one. (The fourth, the middle church is mixed)
  • most early persecution was from the Jews, not the Romans. Why does he call them “not Jews”?
    • because they are proving themselves to be not real children of Abraham, not part of the people of God.
  • 10 days = symbolic time. Time in Revelation is relative. 10 days is a fairly short time, sustainable.
  • second death = eternal death, hell. He is encouraging them by saying you can only die once, even if you are killed in persecution!

3. Pergamum

  • Satan’s throne = temple of Diana. Main pagan deity in that region. Harks back to OT, Babylonian worship of the “Queen of Heaven”.
  • Balaam seduced Israel with prostitutes. This is referring to sexual immorality and worship of idols.
  • Jesus will deal with the problem people in the church if we don’t deal with them. E.g. [1 Cor], man committing incest. We can’t have fellowship with such people. Jesus may kill them or send them sickness. We must have a balance—we are a church which welcomes sinners, but at some point we have to make a stand for the laws of the kingdom and make God’s demands clear, what it means to follow Jesus. Matthew 18. What matters is not where people are, but their attitude. Are they willing to deal with sin, do they want to obey God. Discipline is for unrepentant sin.
  • White stone and new name—this is for all of us. Hidden manna = Jesus (Bread of Life). White stone symbolizes purity, the new name a new person.

4. Thyatira

  • eyes = he sees everything. Feet = action, strength.
  • is this woman really called Jezebel? no. The reference is back to Jezebel of 1 & 2 Kings.
    • She corrupted God’s people with a heavily sexualized pagan religion
    • [2 Kings 9:30]: When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window.
    • The Jezebel spirit is sexual immorality and worship of idols. Most pagan religions at that time were sex-based—sex with prostitutes was “worship”. These people were bringing pagan practices into Christianity.
  • punishment was disease. other places in Bible connect sin with sickness—e.g. James “confess your sins and be healed”; Corinth—Lord’s Supper, some were sick and dying. But we must be careful not to always equate sickness and sin. E.g. blind man, Jesus said no one had sinned. Not all sickness is a result of sin, but we must accept that it is a possibility.
  • “deep secrets of Satan”—this is the beginning of Gnosticism. Initiation and inner secrets. Reminds us of Freemasons.
  • rod of iron = you will rule with Jesus.
  • “morning star” is Jesus. Symbolizes hope, the dawning of a new day.

5. Sardis

  • can you imagine reading this letter aloud on a Sunday morning in church!
  • looked good on the outside—doing a lot of “stuff”, programs etc—but really dead. If it were a church today it would have a huge building program, TV programs, lots of activities, a great reputation.

6. Philadelphia

  • enemies bowing means to acknowledge their wrong, maybe even to be saved, bow the knee to Jesus.
  • in contrast to Sardis, this church doesn’t look good on the outside, looks weak, but is strong.
  • New Jerusalem = the bride. they are secure in their place.

7. Laodicea

  • a rich church
  • how do we buy these things? without money and without price. Just come to Jesus and he will give
    • allusion to Isaiah 55:1-3 [“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price...]
  • he loves them, therefore he is disciplining them. Cf. [Hebrews 12].
  • v. 20—this is addressed to Christians. Jesus is saying—I have so much more for you, just open the door. It is his presence he wants to give us.
  • It is extraordinary how much grace he offers, even to the worst church!

Updated on 2011-05-27 by Andrew Fountain -