SEVEN CHURCHES OF REVELATION
THREE INTERPRETATIONS - ALL CORRECT
The General Council of the Churches of God(7th Day)
Meridian, ID, USA
From the January/February 2004 Acts Magazine
There are essentially three traditional views regarding
interpretation of the letters to the Seven Churches.
1. These were seven "actual" churches that John wrote to. His
letters were actually delivered to these churches in western Asia
Minor, and they read them; around 90 A.D. This often called
2. The Seven Churches represent epochs of time over the past two
millennia. These seven periods of time traversed in chronological
order, beginning with Ephesus and ending, in our times, with
Laodicea. Each "church" represents the prevailing
religious/spiritual climate during their respective epoch. This
is often called progressive interpretation and comes from the
historicism prophetic model.
3. The Seven Churches represent the various elements that can be
found during any period of time; from the time it was written,
through, and including our time. The Seven Churches represent the
composite of the Christian Church as it enters the last days
before the second coming of Jesus.
Scholarship by those who know history., indicate the
possibility of some merit in number two. It would be preposterous
for anyone to say that number one was not the case because these
seven churches actual existed in western Asia Minor at the time
of the writing of the Book of Revelation. However, in looking at
the church today, it is obvious that number three has merit. All
three views are valid and will be examined in greater detail.
Even though all three views have merit, we will concentrate
on view number three because it relates to the days we are living
In typical prophetic fashion, you will note that the good
and bad are intermingled with each other, proving that Jesus'
teaching about the kingdom of heaven was to be like the "wheat
and tares." When the servants asked if the tares should be pulled
out, the master said, "No, lest while you gather up the tares you
also uproot the wheat with them." (Matthew 13:29). If you are a
Christian, or make any claim at all to Christendom, you will find
yourself somewhere in at least one of the seven churches. As the
churches contain the good and the bad, you will find yourself
falling into one and maybe some of both of those two categories,
also. Jesus says to each church, "I know your works" and exhorts,
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the
churches." Judgment is assured for the wicked, unless there is
repentance: and blessed promises for "him who overcomes."
We will now examine all three traditional views of the
interpretation of the letters to the Seven Churches.
THE SEVEN "ACTUAL" CHURCHES
The geographic positions of the seven cities in which the
seven churches were situated are in roughly the shape of a
horseshoe or a half circle. The position of Patmos Island is just
off the coast from Ephesus. Looking across the water. John could
visualize the churches, of which he was the senior pastor, and
write to them in the order, or sequence, in which he would visit
them before he was imprisoned and again when he finally gained
freedom from his imprisonment. John's first stop would be
Ephesus. Then taking the Roman road north, he would come to
Smyrna, then on to Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia,
Laodicea, and then back west across to the coast to Ephesus.
The messages to the churches match the church's struggle
with apostasy today. To have these seven messages apply only to
seven literal local congregations would be inconsistent with the
theme of the book of Revelation. These "actual" churches with
both good and bad characteristics will be like the composite
church when Jesus comes back. Not until that time was the wheat
to be separated from the tares. "And I looked, and behold a white
cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man,
having on his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle.
And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth:
and earth was reaped. And another angel came out of the temple
which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And the angel
thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the
earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God."
(Revelation 14: 18.104.22.168).
The weight of evidence puts the writing of Revelation during
the reign of Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) The early church
fathers left a few statements to confirm this fact. Irenaeus
wrote concerning the date of writing, "For that was seen no very
long time since but almost in our day, towards the end of
Domitian's reign." Victorious, who died in 303, wrote, "When John
said these things he was in the island of Patmos condemned to
labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian." Following Domitian.
Emperor Nerve released all those banished by his predecessor, and
in this way John returned to Ephesus shortly before his death.
EPHESUS - FIRST LOVE
Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos were all great cities with
individual claims to fame. All had world-famous buildings. All
were important centers of Roman worship. All were involved with
area trade. Two boasted beautiful harbors. But of the three, the
most famous was Ephesus. Smyrna had a better harbor. Pergamos had
a better medical center and was the capital of the province. But
still Ephesus outshone them all!
The most beautiful building in Ephesus was the Temple of
Diana. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Four
hundred twenty-five feet long, 220 feet wide, and 65 feet high,
the Temple was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. It
had 127 Parian pillars to support the roof, 36 of which were
overlaid with gold and precious stones. After the Temple was
destroyed by fire in 262 A.D., 12 of the original green marble
pillars were taken to Istanbul to use in constructing the church
of St.Sophia. They can be seen there even today. Other impressive
attractions in Ephesus included the library of Celsus, with its
extensive collection of ancient works; a stadium; an enormous
marketplace: and a theater accommodating 25,000 people, built on
the slopes of Mt.Pion with the stand overlooking the harbor.
Aquila and Priscilla were left in Ephesus by Paul in 52 A.D.
during his second missionary journey.
Nearing the completion of his last missionary journey where
he had been establishing these churches in Asia Minor, at his
final reunion with the leaders and elders, Paul warned, "Take
heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the
which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church
of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For 1 know
this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in
among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall
men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after
them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three
years 1 ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
Timothy had a close association with this church. Tradition
adds that John took Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Ephesus ...
"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how
thou canst not bear them which are evil; and thou hast tried them
which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them
liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake
hast laboured, and hast not fainted." (Revelation 2:2,3). Nothing
is wrong with these people as far as keeping up the standards is
concerned. Nothing is wrong with their care for the church. When
any false teachings came in to try and make changes, they tested
their credentials. They were persistent in their actions and
their deeds, yet that was not enough.
"Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou
hast left thy first love." (Revelation 2:4). What does the
cryptic phrase "first love" mean? Does it have to do with
first-in-time or first-in-priority? Which love comes first;
money, family, spouse, or God? It is not wrong to love our family
or spouse, but what is wrong is when we love them more than God.
This was what had happened to the Church of Ephesus; they
still loved God and the sacrifice that Jesus had made on the
cross., but it became second nature. That heart stopping,
pounding all absorbing desire had dissipated, and that had to be
corrected. Now their priority was enforcing the rules. Their
excitement, enthusiasm, and joy for sharing the gospel
diminished. First love is the spark of real love. Lose that spark
and real, enjoyable, exciting love goes with it. It's the same
way with our relationship with the Lord. There's too much
settling down. Too much business about the things of life and too
little concern about the person of the Lord was what happened to
the Church in Ephesus.
GOD'S SOLUTION AND PROMISE
Whenever God gives condemnation, He always gives the
solution. The solution to Ephesus' condemnation is found in
Revelation 2:5. "Remember therefore from whence thou an fallen,
and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee
quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except
thou repent." Reflect ... Repent ... Return. This seems to be the
essence of the solution. Reflection over Ephesus' relationship
before losing its first love and reflection over the results of
sin's consequences from that loss is the starting point of
renewing the relationship. Then comes the asking for forgiveness
and starting over afresh. This prescription is as old as Ephesus,
as old as sin. God's promise is that the overcomer will eat of
the Tree of Life. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of
the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
(Revelation 2:7). The access denied in Eden through sin is
restored through the sacrifice of Jesus.
SMYRNA - Suffering and Persecution
Ephesus and its northern neighbor Smyrna (now modern Izmyr),
just 35 miles away, carried on the kind of friendly rivalry
common among cities today. Paris and London, or New York and Los
Angeles, for example, keep up a continual barrage of subtle barbs
that keep their rivalry alive. Ephesus had much to support her
claim to be the first city of Asia, but Smyrna had competing
claims. Its larger harbor was never plagued by silt, like the
Ephesian harbor. Trade gravitated to Smyrna's naturally deep and
placid waters. Smyrna had the largest public theater in Asia,
plus a large library and a massive stadium. The "Street of Gold"
ascended as it wound around the slopes of Mt.Pagus where at its
pinnacle stood the immense Temple of Zeus.
Ephesus might claim to be a "friend" of the empire of Rome,
but Smyrna could claim to be an "older" friend. Even before Rome
had attained the status of a world empire, Smyrna had lent her
support: as early as 195 B.C. she had built a temple to the
goddess of Rome. About 25 B.C., competing against all the main
cities of Asia, Smyrna received the privilege of building a
temple to Emperor Tiberius. The coins of Smyrna proudly claimed,
"First of Asia in beauty and size." Most of the other six cities
mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 are in ruins, but Smyrna
continues today as the third largest city in Turkey, after
Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. Its New Testament population of
some 200,000 has more than tripled today, and the magnificent
harbor is still crowded with shipping traffic.
Only one of the churches, Philadelphia, had more
commendation than Smyrna. "I know thy works, and tribulation, and
poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them
which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of
Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold,
the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be
tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days." (Revelation
2:9,10). The key characteristics of Smyrna are the impending
persecution and suffering.
The church in Smyrna suffered severe economic deprivation as
is evidenced by the choice of the words 'tribulation' and
'poverty'. Extreme poverty is indicated by the choice of Greek
words that is attributed to its suffering or tribulation. The
words mean 'to have nothing at all', 'to be without support'.
They were destitute. The Christians here were destitute because
of their allegiance to Jesus. Emperor worship was made compulsory
for every Roman citizen. Failure to comply meant death. Each year
every citizen had to burn incense on Caesar's altar, after which
was issued a certificate. To be without a certificate, as must
have been the case for Christians obedient to Christ, was to risk
discovery and death by penalty. A similar experience will be
imposed upon believers who do not receive the mark of the beast
"And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free
and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their
foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had
the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name."
Smyrna had a large Jewish population, many of which became
Christian-Jews, but many who were Jews only in name. "I know the
blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are
the synagogue of Satan." (Revelation 2:96). These Jews in name
only were hostile to the Christian community and joined hands
with the Romans in persecution. The Romans did all that was
humanly and satanically possible to root out the truth of the
Lord Jesus. But the more devilish the methods used and the more
savage the attack, the greater grew the determination of the
followers of the Lord to be faithful - even unto death. The Lord
is careful to distinguish between the genuine Jew and the ones
who could claim only the lineage but not the faith.
There is no condemnation of the Church in Smyrna. The Lord
gives a message of encouragement to "hold fast" the faith. "Be
thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of fife."
GOD'S SOLUTION AND PROMISE
The church is cautioned that it should listen; that is,
understand what is being said; and it is challenged to
faithfulness even at the cost of this present life, and promised
that the overcomers will receive the crown of life. The message
assures the people of Smyrna that they will be treated like
victors-winners, that small but honored band who through patient
preparation and intense effort would win the victor's crown.
(Here is also proof that these seven churches are indeed
PROPHETIC PERIODS OF TIME down through the centuries, unto the
coming of Jesus in power and glory, for the 10 DAYS in prophetic
time is 10 years - a day for a year - as most Bible scholars are
aware of. And those very GREAT tribulation years were from 303 to
310 A.D. Most historians say that those TEN years were the
greatest persecution upon the Christian church in all of the last
2,000 years - Keith Hunt).
PERGAMOS - Satan's Dwelling
About 40 miles north of Smyrna, the road leaves the coast of
the Aegean Sea, turns northeasterly and about 20 miles inland
comes to the vastly impressive ruins of Pergamos. The very name
means exalted or lifted up, and this accurately describes the old
city. The entire Caicus Valley looks up to the ruins of the once
proud city of Pergamos. The road curves around the steep hill
until it reaches a flat plateau at the top. The view from the
ruins, over a thousand feet above the valley floor, is
spectacular. The modern city of Bergama nestles close to the
towering hill. Pergamos claimed pre-eminence in Asia as the
capital of the province, the official center of the imperial cult
in Asia. and the first city in Asia to receive permission to
build a temple to a living Caesar. Other claims to fame were a
library of 200,000 volumes, the most famous altar of Zeus; and
the hospital built at the shrine of Asklopios (also called
Aesculapias), the god of healing, symbolized by a snake.
Pergamos was a city that was widely known for its temples
and worship of pagan idols. Pergamos was the centre of the
mystery religions that originated in Babylon and had three large
temples dedicated the worship of the Roman Emperor, whom was
considered to be a God. The city also had struck into many of
its coins the image of a serpent. It is no wonder that Pergamos
was considered as Satan's dwelling. The many public festivals and
ceremonies were rather immoral, and temple prostitution abounded.
In this message to Pergamos, Jesus commends them on their
steadfast faith in him, their good works, and their strong faith
even during spiritual assaults by Satan and the lure of idolatry.
"I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's
seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and host not denied my
faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr,
who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth." (Revelation
2:13). It is a paradox that when life is easy, there is usually
slackness. Opposition seems to bring out the best in our
character. These believers were surrounded with invitations to
compromise. Spiritual, medical, and political forces all combined
to press the believers into the world's mold, but they stoutly
resisted. Antipas remained true against all opposition and
Pergamos ultimately succumbed to the same spirit of
compromise that characterized Israel in the days of the
"compromising prophet" Balaam. "But I have a few things against
thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of
Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the
children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to
commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine
of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate." (Revelation 2: 14,15).
Balaam is remembered for two acts of treachery. When King
Balak attempted to bribe Balaam into cursing Israel, Balaam
attempted to do so, but instead - to Balak's utter consternation
spoke blessings! When he knew he could utter no curse, he
instructed Balak how to demoralize Israel through immorality and
idolatry. (see Numbers 22.24, 31:16).
Satan has two principal methods of attack. There is always
the frontal, physical attack, slaughter, execution, persecution -
which is very effective with some. But the second is often more
effective. It is slow and subtle; it wears a smiling face; it
offers kindness and peace. But it is just as devilish. When God's
people could not be overcome with the threat of annihilation,
Satan invited them to compromise. This is what happened to the
church in Pergamos.
GOD'S SOLUTION AND PROMISE
The Lord solemnly warns the church that it must repent,
otherwise He would be forced to use the sword of His mouth
against it. "Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and
will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." (Revelation
2:16). He would much rather use the sword against the enemies of
His church than against the church. By either means,
uncompromising purity had to be maintained. The promise is
twofold; the overcomer is promised hidden manna and a white
stone. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden
manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new
name written, which no man knoweth, saying he that receiveth it."
(Revelation 2:17). The Lord promises Pergamos that He will make
angel's food available to all who put their trust in Him. The
reference to the white stone probably comes from the ancient
practice of declaring verdicts in trials by the use of stones:
white for acquittal, black for guilt. In the final tribunal God
will stand for His people. On the basis of His perfect death
their sins have been cancelled, and on the basis of His perfect
life they are reckoned to have lived a perfect life. Therefore,
they are given the verdict of acquittal from Satan's charges and
are awarded the gift of eternal life.
THYATIRA - Jezebel - the depths of Satan
The longest of the seven letters is addressed to the church
about which least is known and which appears to be the least
important of the seven. Thyatira is situated in the fertile
valley of the Lychus River. It is still a very busy, but small
city called Aknisar (Ak-hissar). Thyatira was on the borders of
Lydia and Mysia and was the original home of Lydia the dyer of
cloth. Thyatira was known for its manufacture of purple dyes,
which were used to dye fabrics used by the Romans as an official
toga for heads of provinces and the Emperor. Thyatira had no
natural fortifications, and had to make up for that lack through
personal gallantry. Nothing of Bible times remains.
The Lord has kind words for the virtues of Thyatira. "I know
thy works. and charity and service, and faith, and thy works: and
the last to be more that the first." (Revelation 2:19). Ephesus
lost its zeal: Thyatira grows in zeal, its later works exceeding
the former. Christ here commends the Thyatiran church on its
charity and love in works for the community and fervor for proper
doctrine and Christian discipline, but like most of the churches,
there is a mixture of good and evil.
As the problem of Pergamos could well be summarized by a
reference to the compromise prophet Balaam, the problems of
Thyatira can well be summarized by reference to the apostasy of
Queen Jezebel. "Notwithstanding, I have a few things against
thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth
herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to
commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols."
(Revelation 2:20). It appeared for some time, at least to Elijah,
as if the whole nation had abandoned God. A remnant of 7,000
remained faithful. In Thyatira, there were those who refused to
become involved in apostasy. There was no compromise for them.
The reference to the death of Jezebel's children reminds one
of the occasion on which 70 of Ahab's sons were slaughtered by
the rulers of Samaria and their heads returned to Jezreel in
baskets. "And I will kill her children with death; and all the
churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and
hearts." (Revelation 2:23). What a powerful reminder of the fate
of those who are the sons (or daughters) of Satan, who follow in
his course of rebellion against the purposes of God. There are
similarities between Jezebel and the woman on the beast whose
name is; Mystery Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and
the Abominations of the Earth. (see Revelation 17,18).
GOD'S SOLUTION AND PROMISE
God offers little hope of a solution to those involved with
the Jezebel faction. There is hope for those who have, to that
point, kept themselves at a distance from her spiritual
immorality. They are told there is nothing new for them to learn,
and no additional burdens of responsibility. "But unto you I say,
and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine,
and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I
will put upon you none other burden: But that which ye have
already, hold fast till I come." (Revelation 2:24,25).
Like Pergamos, the promise is twofold. First, the overcomer
will have power over the nations and second, he will receive the
inspiration of the morning star. "And he that overcometh, and
keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the
nations. And I will give him the morning-star" (Revelation
2:26,28). Those who overcome will rule with Christ on this earth
for a thousand years. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them,
and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them
that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of
God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image,
neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their
hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
(Revelation 20:4). The "morning star" presents Christ as our
shining light and will rule with a rod of iron. "And he shall
rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of potter shall
they be broken to shivers; even as I received of my Father,"
TO BE CONTINUED