The seven letters to the seven churches found in the Book of Revelation were written to encourage the churches for their faithfulness and to rebuke them for the compromises they seemed to be making due to inside and outside forces of false teachers, false prophets, and idols which were making their way into the Christian assembly. The Life in the Spirit Study Bible tells us that “Revelation was given to the churches to strengthen their faith, resolve and loyalty to Jesus Christ, and to inspire them to be overcomers and remain faithful even unto death” (p. 2036). Jesus Himself had a lot to say to these churches, which are considered the churches not only in Asia at the time, but the churches as they went down through the ages passed and into the present age, as well.
Jesus praises each church for the good things they were doing, such as: in Ephesus – perseverance in enduring false wicked and false men; Smyrna – enduring afflictions and poverty; Pergamum – their enduring faith though living where Satan’s throne resides; Thyatira – their love, faith, service, and perseverance; Sardis – to the few followers in the church who still walk in faith with Jesus; Philadelphia – for keeping Jesus’ words and for not denying Him; and Laodicea – no praises were given to this lukewarm church.
Then there were the admonitions given by Christ to show His displeasure of their unrighteous ways in certain areas of ministry or life. The church in Ephesus was admonished for forsaking their first love – Jesus. Oliver B. Greene (1963), in The Revelation: Verse by Verse Study, says that “Ephesus was the capitol of Asia in the time when John wrote Revelation, was known as ‘the light of Asia.’ Ephesus was the capital of heathen idolatry. The city was the stronghold of Satan’s ungodly power, and from Ephesus idolatry spread all over the known world of that day” (p.59). Discoverrevelation.com tells us that the timeline for this period ranges from 30 to 100AD, and was called the Apostolic Church (p.2).
The church in Smyrna was admonished for the testing of certain people in the church with prison and persecution for ten days to prove their faith. Greene says that “In many respects, Smyrna was a rival of Ephesus. Its natural and commercial location brought commerce, and through commerce came much wealth and splendor. Its buildings, even in that day, won for the city the name of The Beautiful. Smyrna was not far behind Ephesus in the practice of idolatry” (p. 71). Discoverrevelation.com tells us that the timeline for this period ranges from 100 to 313AD, and was called the Persecuted Church (p.2).
The church in Pergamum was admonished for certain members following the teachings of Balaam by eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality, and the teachings of the Nicolatians who taught that sexual immorality was a freedom that Christians had that did not affect their salvation. Greene says that “Ephesus and Smyrna were evil and wicked cities of idolatry, but Pergamos was worse. It was known as ‘Satan’s throne,’ and also as the place ‘where Satan dwelleth.’ In the outstanding and celebrated temple of Aesculapius was the wreathed serpent, and behind this serpent was Satan (‘the old serpent’)” (p. 80). Discoverrevelation.com tells us that the timeline for this period ranges from 313 to 590AD, and was called the State Church (p.2).
The church in Thyatira was admonished for listening to the prophetess Jezebel. “Thyatira covers the period known as the Dark Ages, and in the message to that church we see in brief the picture of the Roma system of worship and religion… the worst system ever to disgrace the earth God created for His people. Thyatira represents the age when Rome took over the reins of religion on earth” (p. 94, 95). Discoverrevelation.com tells us that the timeline for this period ranges from 590 to 1517AD, and was called the Papal Church (p.2).
The church in Sardis was admonished for being a dead church. Greene says that “The city was very wealthy. It was the capitol of the Kingdom of Lydia. Sardis was conquered by Cyrus, and with its fall the Lydian monarchy came to an end. The once proud city of Sardis decayed entirely. History tells us that in 1850 not one human being was found living in Sardis. The present name of the city is Sart” (p. 109). Discoverrevelation.com tells us that the timeline for this period ranges from 1517 to 1790AD, and was called the Reformed Church (p.3).
To the church at Philadelphia no admonitions given, only praise. Greene says that “It was named for its founder, Attalus Philadephus, who was King of Pergamos. The remains of early Christian influences are more clearly seen today in this city than in any other cities in Asia where the seven churches were located. The ruins of twenty-five churches can be found there, and marble pillars – the remains of great churches – can be plainly seen. The city of Philadelphia continued longer than any of the other cities named by John, and was the last Christian city to surrender to the Turks. The name ‘Philadelphia’ means brotherly love” (p. 118). Discoverrevelation.com tells us that the timeline for this period ranges from 1790 to 1900AD, and was called the Missionary Church (p.3).
The church in Laodicea was admonished for being a lukewarm church, neither hot nor cold. Greene says that “Laodicea was a wealthy city…. The assembly as Laodicea was ‘rich and increased with goods.’ Luxury, self-satisfaction, pride and plenty were the ruin of this assembly there. Today the pride of that Laodicea has been brought down to the ground. Its wealth has been scattered. Its splendor lies in the dust of the earth. The site where that great city once flourished is now the scene of ruin and desolation” (p. 132). Discoverrevelation.com tells us that the timeline for this period ranges from 1900 to current day, and was called the Apostate Church (p.3).
The lessons we could learn today are monumental for today’s church has slowly begun to let the world have its way within it. Jesus could just as easily admonish the church of today without question. Still, we could learn a lot from these admonitions and praises. In the Life in the Spirit Study Bible, in an article entitled “Christ’s Messages to the Seven Churches” it tells us that “the value of these messages for churches today includes: 1) a revelation of what Jesus Christ Himself loves and values in His churches, as well as what He hates and condemns; 2) a clear statement from Christ regarding (a) the consequences of disobedience and spiritual neglect, and (b) the rewards for spiritual vigilance and faithfulness to Christ; 3) a standard by which any church or individual may judge their true spiritual state before God; 4) an example of Satan’s methods for attacking the church or the individual Christian”(p. 2042).
Life in the spirit study bible, new international version. (1992, 2003). Life Publishers International.
Greene, O. B. (1963). The revelation: verse by verse study. Greenville, SC: The Gospel Hour, Inc.