The Seven Churches of Revelation
Seven Churches in Revelation â Literal Locations in Asia Minor
The seven churches in Revelation refer to seven literal churches described in Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3. These early Christian churches were located in Asia Minor during the era of the Roman Empire. Although the actual churches ceased to thrive in the centuries of Muslim control after the Romans, the archaeological remains of all seven locations currently exist in present-day Turkey.
Seven Churches in Revelation â Then and Now
The seven churches in Revelation are located in western Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), accessible by way of the Aegean Sea and the ancient trade routes between the West and East. For various reasons, whether trade, military, or pure hedonism, these cities were major cultural hubs throughout history. During the first few centuries after Jesus Christ, these Roman-controlled cities were also important in early Christianity. Here are the seven churches of Revelation as described by the writer John in the late first century AD (click on the name to dig deeper into the archaeology):
- Ephesus â The desirable church that left its first love (Revelation 2:1-7). Ephesus was the influential capital city of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea. Ephesus is now known for its huge metropolis of ancient streets, arches and ruins.
- Smyrna â The persecuted church that suffered poverty and martyrdom (Revelation 2:8-11). Smyrna was located north of Ephesus in a powerful trading position on the Aegean Sea known for its harbors, commerce, and marketplaces. The primary ruins of Smyrna are located in the modern Turkish city of Izmir.
- Pergamum â The worldly church that mixed doctrines and needed to repent (Rev. 2:12-17). Pergamum is located on the plains and foothills along the Caicus River in Western Turkey. It was considered a major city in Asia Minor since the 3rd century BC, and became a Greek and Roman hub for temple worship.
- Thyatira â The false church that followed a seductive prophetess (Rev. 2:18-29). Thyatira is located in western Asia Minor about 42 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. The ancient city was known for its textiles and dyeing trade, and is now known as the Turkish city of Akhisar.
- Sardis â The "dead" church that fell asleep (Revelation 3:1-6). Sardis is located on the banks of the Pactolus River in western Asia Minor, 60 miles inland from Ephesus and Smyrna. Popular ruins include the decadent temples and bath house complexes.
- Philadelphia â The church of brotherly love that endures patiently (Revelation 3:7-13). Philadelphia is located on the Cogamis River in western Asia Minor, about 80 miles east of Smyrna. Philadelphia was known for its variety of temples and worship centers.
- Laodicea â The "lukewarm" church with a faith thatâs neither hot nor cold (Rev. 3:14-22). Laodicea is located in the Lycus River Valley of western Asia Minor, a primary trade route between the cultures of the West and East. Laodicea was known as a primary hub for the Roman aqueduct system.
Seven Churches in Revelation â Their Ultimate Significance
The seven churches in Revelation are literal churches from the first century AD. However, the seven churches in Revelation also have spiritual significance for churches and believers today. Indeed, the primary purpose for John writing his letters to the seven churches was to deliver Christâs "report card" for the churches of that time. However, a second purpose for Johnâs inspired writings was to describe seven types of churches (and individual believers) that would surface time and again throughout history. These short letters to the seven churches of Revelation act as quick and poignant reminders to those who call themselves "followers of Christ."
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From Nan's Corner (Khouse.org)
The Seven Churches of Revelation
Let’s take a moment then to look at who the overcomers are in each of these seven churches, and let’s pay close attention to what God promises them in return for their faithfulness, obedience and endurance. Remember, these letters are addressed not only to churches in general, but to each of us individually!
1) Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) - Ephesus represents the apostolic church, which endured great hardships, but God said He knew their “good works,” their labor and their patience. These saints were strong on doctrine, but they had forgotten and forsaken the most important thing––their first love, that special intimacy with the Father. He then exhorts them to repent.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Ephesus was that he would eat of the “tree of life” (the tree of life means being equipped with a “special wisdom and knowledge” for the future kingdom).2
This tree of Life first appears in Genesis where it says man was created to rule and reign with the King of Kings over all the earth. (Genesis 1:26-28) Then, it disappears on the earth for 6000 years because man was not in a position to rule and reign with Christ. But, here in Revelation, it shows up again in the Millennial Kingdom as man will, once again, be in a position to co-reign (Genesis 1:26-28).
So, the “tree of life” has something to do with our future inheritance in the Millennial Kingdom. It has to do with special wisdom and knowledge in order to co-reign with Christ. (Proverbs 3:13-18)
2) Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) - Smyrna represents the persecuted church or the suffering church, whose elders said they were Jews, but were really not. Some were Jews in name only. God tells this church that He knows their poverty and their suffering, but He promises them if they are faithful and obedient unto death, He will give them the “crown of life.” (James 1:12)
Interestingly enough, this is the only church (besides Philadelphia) that has nothing bad said about it.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Smyrna was that he would not be hurt in the “second death.” (The second death—where death and hell are cast into the lake of fire—comes at the end of the Millennium and involves unbelievers at the White Throne Judgment.)3 Because of his perseverance, even unto death, God promises the over-comer a victorious crown.
(Someone recently asked us a very good question, “If the overcomers in the church of Smyrna will not be hurt in the ‘second death,’ what about the non-overcomers in this church? What happens to them? And will they be hurt in the second death?” We wrestled with this question for awhile. But, we know that God’s Word always has an answer for everything, if we would just wait. We did. Finally, it came. Smyrna, re-member, is the only Church that has nothing “bad” said about it, so in essence, there are no non-overcomers!This letter is just assuring them that they all will be a part of the first resurrection and not be hurt in the second death).
3) Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17) - Pergamos represents the church that was married to the world.(Constantine’s era) As God puts it, these are the ones that “dwell where Satan’s throne is.” This church had allowed the evil doctrine of Balaam (which means monetary gain by compromise) and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (which means corruption of dele-gated authority) to come in.4 God exhorts them to repent.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Pergamos was that he would eat of the “hidden manna” (divine physical provision for the future) and receive a “white stone,” which is a victory stone for Christians whose works endure the fire. This stone will have a new name writ-ten on it that no one knows, except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) - Thyatira represents the orthodox church where the evil spirit of Jezebel was allowed to reign. (You might want to read about Jezebel, the patron of Baal worship, in 1 Kings 16:30-34 and 21:25 because in the end times, this spirit is said to return.) The goal of the spirit of Jezebel was to (and will be to) seduce God’s faithful servants into disobedience and fornication.
As John phrases it, Thyatira hit the “depths of Satan.” In verse 22 of Revelation 2, it says that God is going to cast Jezebel and her followers into the great Tribulation unless they repent. Therefore, God exhorts the faithful to “hold fast” till He comes. He says they shall also receive the “morning star” (which means they will have a special relationship with Jesus Himself.) (Revelation 22:16) They will shine like the Lord, reflecting His brightness and glory.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Thyatira is that they will have authority over the nations and rule them with a rod of iron (speaking of the Millennial Kingdom).
We will explore the churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea next month when we continue our study on God’s promises to the faithful and obedient overcomers of the seven churches of Revelation.
5) Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) - Sardis represents those in the denominational church who say they are alive, but who really are dead. The Spirit tells them that if they don’t wake up, He is going to come “like a thief in the night” and they won’t even know it. Their “name” tells us they are alive, but in reality they are dead. God exhorts them to be watchful and repent and strengthen the things which remain.
There is nothing good said about Sardis.
God promise to the overcomers in this church is, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis that have notdefiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Verse 4)
The word “worthy” here, is the same Greek word, axios, that we talked about a few months ago. Axiosmeans “to be worthy on grounds of being fit, prepared and qualified to reign with Christ in the coming kingdom.
The “white” raiment has to do with the “wedding garment” that Revelation 19:7 says all of us are now supposed to be “preparing” for ourselves. It speaks of the “internal preparation” we must continually do in order to produce the “fruit of righteousness” that God desires. It’s not enough to just put on “surface cosmetics,” we must allow the Lord to complete the inward beautification process (conformity to His image) that will ultimately produce the “fruit” He is looking for.
The word “defiled” in this Scripture is the Greek word moluno (Strong’s 3435) and means to blacken oneself, to pollute oneself or dirty one’s clothing. (Jeremiah 23:11) The basic meaning here is to color something by staining it. Defilement means that it needs cleaning. It’s the declaration that we have morally or spiritually transgressed. A simple definition is that we have defiled the purity of Christ and have become unfaithful.
So note that this Scripture is telling us that it is possible to defile our garments even after we become Christians.
God then continues His promise to the overcomer in Sardis (Revelation 3:5) by saying He will not blot his name out of the “book of life” (which will be opened at the Judgment Seat of Christ),1 but He will confess it before the Father and His an-gels.2
6) Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) - Philadelphia represents the raptured church (the caught up to heaven church) and the church, of course, we all want to be associated with. (1 Thessalonians 4:17) Like Smyrna, there is nothing bad said about this church. Verse 7 even says that Philadelphia is the church that has the “key of David” which Scripture says, “he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.”
The Spirit tells this church that He knows they have little strength of their own, but He also knows that they have not denied His Name (to deny His Name would disqualify them for the prize of the high calling of God) (Philippians 3:14). In other words, they have faithfully and obediently rested on God’s Spirit even through the hard times. (2 Corinthians 13:4) And, because of their faithfulness to keep the “word of His patience,” He will keep them from the very hour of temptation that is to come upon the earth. He will also make those who say they are Jews, but are not, bow at their feet. God exhorts them to “hold fast to that which you have, so no one will take your crown.” (Does this mean we can lose our crown?)
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Philadelphia is that He will make them a pillar in His temple. A pillar is symbolic of a steadfast figure of strength and durability.3 Thus, these faithful saints will re-main secure and firm in their positions of strength at the Lord’s side and enjoy tremendous intimacy with Him. And because of this intimacy, they will not go out of the sanctuary any more. (Interestingly enough, this verse ties the Millennial Temple to being a major part of the coming kingdom.) The Lord also says He will also write upon them the Name of God, the name of the city of God (Jerusalem) and also His own name.
7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) - (This is the church we are all a part of now, so we need to pay special attention here.) Laodicea represents the last days church, which is neither “hot nor cold.” This includes the “seeker friendly” church that we see springing up everywhere. The music and worship pro-grams create excitement, but the message is so watered down that it does not stimulate a renewed personal commitment of obedience and faithfulness to the Lord. As this Scripture notes, it is “neither hot nor cold.” It is lukewarm! Today’s deadness in church comes from following the truth only with our minds, not with our hearts or our lives. These saints say they are rich and in need of nothing, but in truth and from God’s perspective, they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. These are the nominal and unfaithful Christians that He is speaking about here that are found to be “naked” because they do not have on the appropriate garments. Revelation 16:15 tells us, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”
Unfortunately, there is nothing good said about this church.
God then exhorts the saints in Laodicea (in verse 18) to “buy of Him gold tried in the fire” (in other words, begin to produce “works of gold” that will withstand the fire of God’s coming judgment). He says,if they do, they will be clothed in that white raiment (that wedding garment) and “the shame of their nakedness will not appear.”
Notice something else interesting here: The Scripture we always hear quoted referring to unbelievers is verse 20 which says: “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” The question is: Who is God really speaking to here? These are supposedly believers, right? They are not unbelievers! Yet, Christ is on the “outside” knocking on these believer’s hearts (those who are “naked”) asking them to let Him in! He is pleading with them to repent, turn around and be clothed––i.e., let Him live His Life out through them. In other words, be partakers of His Life, which will allow them to become real overcomers.
The Church of Laodicea corresponds to the Epistle of Jude where it says “a form of godliness” remained in the church, but they had “denied the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3:5) Material-ism had so permeated this church that they were spiritually destitute. (Jude 17-19) Again, Christ stood on the outside, not within. At the end of this present dispensation, apostasy is again predicted to prevail. This is referred to in the four parables of Matthew 13, these seven churches in Revelation and the books of 2 Peter and Jude. (1 Timothy 4:1)
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the Laodicean church is that Christ will let them sit with Him on His Throne. In other words, the overcomers in this church will have a “joint participation” in the throne room of the King. (Revelation 3:21)
It seems like the “rewards of inheritance” escalate from wonderful blessings for the overcomers in the Church of Ephesus to incredible blessings for the overcomers in the Church of Laodicea. These phenomenal promises should be an incentive for all of us to strive (press on, struggle, contend, fight, labor) to become faithful overcomers. Justification is a free gift, with no works needed. Sanctification, however, is different. It en-tails a fight and a battle to continue to stay sanctified, obedient and faithful so we can earn “an inheritance from the Lord.”
These promises to the overcomer are some of the greatest incentives that God has placed in His Word for us to live godly lives. Such glorious promises should stir the heart of every believer and cause us to diligently strive to stay faithful.
The bottom line is: We will either overcome the world, the flesh and the devil or be overcome by the same. (1 Peter 2:21-23; 4:12-13)