Seven Literal, Historic, Personal and Prophetic Churches

The Seven Churches In Revelation
Revelation 1:4-20
Tim McKeown

What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.  Revelation 1:11

The primary recipients of the book of Revelation were seven actual literal churches, located on the western end of Asia, now modern-day Turkey. They were near the isle of Patmos. There were likely dozens if not hundreds of churches in existence by that time to whom Jesus could have written. He strategically chose these churches  and gave them commendations, condemnations, commands, and consequences of their conduct (see chart). Over the next few sessions, we will see these churches historically and prophetically, and how they apply to us today.

v. 4 - Why seven churches? Seven is a number for God’s holy completion. We must remember that these were literal, existing churches at the time of John’s writing, and they were the primary recipients of the letters. However, we can also see these seven churches are representatives of churches over the past 2,000 years. Even the very names of the locations where the churches were have significance.
Seven Spirits-Not literally seven different personages of the Holy Spirit, but even in the Old Testament we see that God’s Spirit has seven distinct attributes (Isa. 11:2 – Spirit of the Lord1, wisdom2, understanding3, counsel4, might5, knowledge6, and of fear of the Lord7).

v. 5, 6 - The Prince who makes us kings. The word is “archon” arcwn  which is also translated ruler. Jesus is described as the Prince of life (Acts 3:15), a Prince and Savior (Acts 5:31), and Daniel calls Christ the Prince of Princes (8:25) and the Prince of Hosts (8:11). Peter says that we are a royal, holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:5, 9). Some versions have “freed” us from our sins, rather than “washed”. The differences in words in Greek is one letter (lusanti=freed; lousanti=washed). Both have the same effect—His blood cleanses (1 John 1:9) and Christ frees us (Gal. 5:1). The original word was likely washed since it was used in several instances in reference to our sins (Eph. 5:26, Titus 3:5, Heb. 10:22, John 13:10). Being “freed” using this word is never used in relation to our sins or to the power of Christ’s blood.

v. 7 - He comes with clouds is a reference to numerous Old Testament passages of God’s judgment. Ezek. 30:3, Joel 2:2, and Zeph. 1:15 say the Day of the Lord will be a day of clouds. Dan. 7:13, “One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days…” Jesus said in Matthew 24:30 and Mark 14:62 that the Son of Man will come in the clouds of heaven, clouds with “great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). The importance of Rev. 1:7 cannot be overstated, as John is telling his readers early on that this book is about the terrible and great day of God’s wrath, even though it is not fulfilled until Rev. 19. All will see Christ, living and dead and the unsaved will wail and mourn. The saved, like John, say, even so, amen (so be it)!

v. 8 - The first two of the seven “I AM”s of the Revelation with “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,” Alpha and Omega O are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and designate Jesus Christ (Rev. 22:13-16). Jesus affirms He is all-powerful, “Almighty,” linked everywhere else in the New Testament to God, the Lord, or the Lord God Almighty, thus being yet another proof that Jesus is God Almighty.

We have seen the I AM statements (see links here and here) in the gospel of John. The Greek form is ego eimi, but in Hebrew, "I AM" sounds like "Yahweh," the holiest name of God which stems from Moses asking God, “Who shall I say sent me?” at the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3.

13 And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? 14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

v. 9 - John is a companion in tribulation, but obviously not the “great tribulation” which is yet to be. Yet, Jesus said, “In this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Certainly the days of John were filled with trouble, but even those were not as severe as what will be in the “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matt. 24:21). The reason for John’s exile to Patmos was two-fold: the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

v. 10 - The Lord’s Day can mean “Sunday” or, if John still esteemed the Sabbath, Saturday, or it could be “the Day of the Lord.” However, at this point of his vision, John is not yet transported to heaven or the future to see events unfold. So this is not yet “the Day of the Lord” in the sense of Christ’s coming in judgment. Nowhere else does John use “the Lord’s Day” to refer to that “Great Day” (see Rev. 6:17 and 16:14).

v. 11 - The third “I AM” is “the first and the last.” John is told to write the things in a book, a “biblion,” the word from which we get Bible. The seven churches are the “called out ones.” There are four applications to the seven churches:

1) Particularly. To the local churches actually addressed in the day John wrote.
2) Pervasively, to all churches in all times
3) Personally, Jesus applied his letters to all who “has an ear, let him hear.”
4) Prophetically, disclosing seven phases of the spiritual history of the church

Strong parallels can be seen in the seven churches and eras of the church. Tim LaHaye gives the seven periods as:

1.      Ephesus—Apostolic church (30-100)
2.      Smyrna—Persecuted church (100-313)
3.      Pergamos—State church (313-590)
4.      Thyatira—Papal church (590-____)
5.      Sardis—Reformed church (1517-____)
6.      PhiladelphiaMissionary church (1730-____)
7.      LaodiceaApostate church (1900-____)

This does not mean those "types" of churches only existed in those time periods or years, (think about it...all of the churches literally existed in John’s day). But there are clear similarities in the eras given.

v. 12-17 - John hears the Lord’s voice like a trumpet and turns to see Jesus. Remember in the Old Testament when God spoke from Mount Sinai, it sounded as a loud trumpet (Exodus 19:19, Heb. 12:19) Portions John’s description of Jesus will be repeated to each church and we will discuss those descriptions then. That John would fall down as dead is not surprising, especially after so many years of Christ’s absence and upon seeing Him in such grandeur. Jesus places his right hand upon John and tells him to not fear.

v. 18 The fourth through seventh “I AM” statements differ from the previous three. The first three refer to Jesus’ eternality and deity. The final four “I AM” declarations refer to Jesus’ relation to humanity.

I AM … 
“He who lives, and was dead, and …alive forevermore” Rev. 2:23, 
“He who searches the minds and hearts”; Rev. 22:16, 
“the Root and the Offspring of David” Rev. 22:16, 
“the Bright and Morning Star.”

v. 19-20 - John explains some of the imagery in the vision. The implication is that there are other symbolism in Revelation which are not necessarily spelled out or explained. However, caution should be used to avoid making the Revelation too allegorical. The stars and lampstands represented literal objects.

The next seven sessions will cover the seven churches and the letters.


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