As stated in
Revelation 1:11 Christ sent a message to each of seven local
churches in Asia Minor. The order was geographic. A messenger
would naturally travel the route from the seaport Ephesus 35
miles north to another seaport Smyrna, proceed still farther
north and to the east, to Pergamos, and then would swing further
to the east and south to visit the other four cities (1:11).
There has been much debate as to the meaning of these messages
for today. Obviously these churches were specially selected and
providentially arranged to provide characteristic situations
which the church has faced throughout its history. Just as
Paul’s epistles were addressed to individual churches but
intended for the entire church, so these seven messages also
apply to the entire church today. There were many other churches
such as those at Colosse, Magnesia, and Tralles, some larger
than these seven churches in Asia Minor, but these were not
As we consider these letters, it is clear that they are, first,
messages to these historic local churches in the first century.
Second, they also constitute a message to similar churches today.
Third, individual exhortations to persons or groups in the
churches make it clear that the messages are intended for
individuals today. Fourth, some believe that the order of the
seven churches follows the order of various eras in church
history from the first century until now.
There are some remarkable similarities in comparing these
letters to the seven churches to the movement of church history
since the beginning of the apostolic church. For instance,
Ephesus seems to characterize the apostolic church as a whole,
and Smyrna seems to depict the church in its early persecutions.
However, the Scriptures do not expressly authorize this
interpretation, and it should be applied only where it fits
naturally. After all, these churches all existed simultaneously
in the first century.
Though each message is different, the letters have some
similarities. In each one Christ declared that He knows their
works; each one includes a promise to those who overcome; each
one gives an exhortation to those hearing; and each letter has a
particular description of Christ that related to the message
which follows. Each letter includes a commendation (except the
letter to Laodicea), a rebuke (except the letters to Smyrna and
Philadelphia), an exhortation, and an encouraging promise to
those heeding its message. In general these letters to the seven
churches address the problems inherent in churches throughout
church history and are an incisive and comprehensive revelation
of how Christ evaluates local churches.
This portion of Scripture has been strangely neglected. While
many turn to the epistles of Paul and other portions of the New
Testament for church truth, often the letters to these seven
churches, though coming from Christ Himself and being climactic
in character, are completely ignored. This neglect has
contributed to churches today not conforming to God’s perfect
V 2:1. At the time this letter was written, was a major city of
Minor, a seaport, and the location of the great temple of
Artemis (cf. Acts 19:24, 27-28, 34-35), one of the seven wonders
of the ancient world. Paul had visited Ephesus about A.D. 53,
about 43 years before this letter in Revelation was sent to them.
Paul remained in Ephesus for several years and preached the
gospel so effectively “that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in
the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).
This large city was thoroughly stirred by Paul’s message (Acts
19:11-41), with the result that the silversmiths created a riot
because their business of making shrines of Artemis was
The church accordingly had a long history and was the most
in the area. The pastor or messenger of the church was addressed
as the angel. The word’s principal use in the Bible is in
reference to heavenly
angels (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English
the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957,
pp. 7-8). But it is also used to refer to human messengers (cf.
Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24, 27; 9:52).
Christ was holding seven stars in His right hand and walking
seven golden lampstands. The “stars” were the angels or
messengers of the
churches and the “lampstands” were the seven churches (1:20).
V 2:2-3. Christ commended those in the Ephesian church for their
hard work… perseverance, their condemnation of wicked men, and
their identification of false apostles. (False teachers were
present in each of the first four churches; cf. vv. 2, 6, 9,
14-15, 20.) In addition they were commended for enduring
hardships and not growing weary in serving God. In general this
church had continued in its faithful service to God for more
than 40 years.
2:4. In spite of the many areas of commendation, the church in
soundly rebuked: Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken
love. The order of words in the Greek is emphatic; the clause
could be translated, “Your first love you have left.” Christ
used the word agapeôn, speaking of the deep kind of love that
God has for people. This rebuke contrasts with what Paul wrote
the Ephesians 35 years earlier, that he never stopped giving
thanks for them because of their faith in Christ and their love
(agapeôn) for the saints (Eph. 1:15-16). Most of the Ephesian
Christians were now second-generation believers, and though they
had retained purity of doctrine and life and had maintained a
high level of service, they were lacking in deep devotion to
Christ. How the church today needs to heed this same warning,
that orthodoxy and service are not enough. Christ wants
believers’ hearts as well as their hands and heads.
2:5-6. The Ephesians were first reminded to remember the height
from which you have fallen! They were told to repent and to
return to the love they had left. Similar exhortations
concerning the need for a deep love for God are frequently found
in the New Testament (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; John
14:15, 21, 23; 21:15-16; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:8). Christ stated
that one’s love for God should be greater than his love for his
closest relatives, including his father, mother, son, and
daughter (Matt. 10:37). Paul added that love for God should even
be above one’s love for his or her mate (1 Cor. 7:32-35). In
calling the Ephesian believers to repentance Christ was asking
them to change their attitude as well as their affections. They
were to continue their service not simply because it was right
but because they loved Christ. He warned them that if they did
not respond, the light of their witness in Ephesus would be
extinguished: I will… remove your lampstand from its place. The
church continued and was later the scene of a major church
council, but after the 5th century both the church and the city
declined. The immediate area has been uninhabited since the 14th
One additional word of commendation was inserted. They were
commended because they hated the practices of the Nicolaitans.
There has been much speculation concerning the identity of the
Nicolaitans, but the Scriptures do not specify who they were.
They apparently were a sect wrong in practice and in doctrine (for
further information see Henry Alford, The Greek Testament,
4:563-65; Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation, pp. 60-1;
Walvoord, Revelation, p. 58).
2:7. As in the other letters, Christ gave the Ephesian church a
promise addressed to individuals who will hear. He stated, To
him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of
life, which is in the paradise of God. The tree of life, first
mentioned in Genesis 3:22, was in the Garden of Eden. Later it
reappears in the New Jerusalem where it bears abundant fruit (Rev.
22:2). Those who eat of it will never die (Gen. 3:22). This
promise should not be construed as reward for only a special
group of Christians but a normal expectation for all Christians.
“The paradise of God” is probably a name for heaven (cf. Luke
23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4—the only other NT references to paradise).
Apparently it will be identified with the New Jerusalem in the
This encouragement to true love reminded them again of God’s
gracious provision for salvation in time and eternity. Love for
God is not wrought by legalistically observing commands, but by
responding to one’s knowledge and appreciation of God’s love.
2:8. The second letter was addressed to Smyrna, a large and
wealthy city 35 miles north of Ephesus. Like Ephesus, it was a
seaport. In contrast to Ephesus, which today is a deserted ruin,
Smyrna is still a large seaport with a present population of
about 200,000. Christ described Himself as the First and the
Last, who died and came to life again. Christ is portrayed as
the eternal One (cf. 1:8, 17; 21:6; 22:13) who suffered death at
the hands of His persecutors and then was resurrected from the
grave (cf. 1:5). These aspects of Christ were especially
relevant to the Christians at Smyrna who, like Christ in His
death, were experiencing severe persecution.
The name of the city, Smyrna, means “myrrh,” an ordinary perfume.
It was also used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle, and in
embalming dead bodies (cf. Ex. 30:23; Ps. 45:8; Song 3:6; Matt.
2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39). While the Christians of the
church at Smyrna were experiencing the bitterness of suffering,
their faithful testimony was like myrrh or sweet perfume to God.
2:12. The third church was in or Pergamos, about 20 miles inland
from Smyrna. Like Ephesus and Smyrna it was a wealthy city, but
it was wicked. People in its pagan cults worshiped Athena,
Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus.
Pergamum was famous for its university with a library of about
volumes, and for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper
pergamena. The atmosphere of this city was adverse to any
effective Christian life and testimony.
Anticipating Christ’s rebuke for their being tolerant of evil
John described Him as the One who has the sharp, double-edged
mentioned in 1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21). The sword is a symbolic
the Word of God’s twofold ability to separate believers from the
world and to condemn the world for its sin. It was the sword of
salvation as well as the sword of death.
2:18. Thyatira, 40 miles southeast of Pergamum, was a much
Thyatira was situated in an area noted for its abundant crops
and the manufacture of purple dye. The church was small, but it
was singled out for this penetrating letter of rebuke. In
keeping with what follows, Christ is introduced as the Son of
God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like
burnished bronze. This description of Christ is similar to that
in 1:13-15, but here He is called the Son of God rather than the
Son of Man. The situation required reaffirmation of His deity
and His righteous indignation at their sins. The words
“burnished bronze,” which describe His feet, translate a rare
Greek word chalkolibanoô, also used in 1:15. It seems to have
been an alloy of a number of metals characterized by brilliance
when polished. The reference to His eyes being “like blazing
fire” and the brilliant reflections of His feet emphasize the
indignation and righteous judgment of Christ.
3:1a. The important commercial city of Sardis was located about
30 miles southeast of Thyatira, on an important trade route that
ran east and west through the kingdom of Lydia. Important
industries included jewelry, dye, and textiles, which had made
the city wealthy. From a religious standpoint it was a center of
pagan worship and site of a temple of Artemis, which ruins still
remain (cf. comments on 2:1 regarding another temple of
Artemis). Only a small village called Sart remains on the site
of this once-important city. Archeologists have located the
ruins of a Christian church building next to the temple. In
addressing the message to the church Christ described Himself as
the One who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars,
similar to the description in 1:4. Here Christ said He holds
them, speaking of the Holy Spirit in relation to Himself (Isa.
11:2-5; cf. Rev. 5:6). As in 1:20 the seven stars, representing
the pastors of the churches, were also in His hands (cf. 2:1).
3:7. The city of Philadelphia was 28 miles southeast of Sardis.
It was located in an area noted for its agricultural products
but afflicted with earthquakes which destroyed the city several
times, most recently about A.D. 37. The city was named for a
king of Pergamum, Attalus Philadelphus, who had built it.
“Philadelphus” is similar to the Greek word philadelphia,
meaning “brotherly love,” which occurs seven times in the Bible
(Rom. 12:10; 1 Thes. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7 [twice];
Rev. 3:7). Only here is it used of the city itself. Christian
testimony continues in the city in this present century.
Christ described Himself as the One who is holy and true, who
key of David, and who is able to open or shut a door which no
one else could
open or shut. The holiness of Christ is a frequent truth in
Scripture (1 Peter 1:15), and being holy He is worthy to judge
the spiritual life of the Philadelphia church. “The key of David”
seems to refer to Isaiah 22:22, where the key of the house of
David was given to Eliakim who then had access to all the wealth
of the king. Christ earlier had been described as the One who
holds “the keys of death and hades” (Rev. 1:18). The reference
here, however, seems to be to spiritual treasures.
3:14. The wealthy city of Laodicea was located on the road to
Colosse about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia. About 35 years
before this letter was written, Laodicea was destroyed by an
earthquake, but it had the wealth and ability to rebuild. Its
main industry was wool cloth. There is no record that Paul ever
visited this city, but he was concerned about it (Col. 2:1-2;
In addressing the church Christ introduced Himself as the Amen,
the faithful and true Witness, the Ruler of God’s creation. The
word “Amen,” meaning “so be it,” refers to the sovereignty of
God which is behind human events (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20; Rev. 1:6). In
speaking of Himself as “the faithful and true Witness” Christ
was repeating what He had said earlier (1:5; 3:7). As “the Ruler
of God’s creation” Christ existed before God’s Creation and is
sovereign over it (cf. Col 1:15, 18; Rev. 21:6). This
description was in preparation for the stern word of rebuke
which Christ would give the church in Laodicea.