The Seven Churches of Revelation Full Explanation with Lessons
The book of Revelation is written by The Apostle John, Son of Zebedee around 95 A.D. (Mark 3:17). However, all the words are spoken by Jesus Christ (Revelation 1: 1-2). Though the Seven Churches of Revelation were written in the first century, it is still useful and very important today.
In the first century, Jesus’ followers faced tribulation and persecution almost every day. John was one of them, he was exiled to an island called Patmos because he was following Jesus and practicing the way. During his time of exile, Jesus Christ showed him a vision and told him to “write on a scroll what you see and send it to the Seven Churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 1:11).
We will study the seven churches one by one and try to learn lessons from their significant messages for our lives.
The Seven Churches of Revelation existed in Asia Minor (Modern Day Turkey) during the first century A.D. They were named for their geographical locations, which existed along a Roman mail route
1. Ephesus – The Loveless Church (Revelation 2:17)
Ephesus church was one of the richest and largest cities in the Eastern Mediterranean area. It is the closest of the seven churches of Revelation to the island of Patmos. The church Ephesus was founded by the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey (52 A.D.). Though his first visit to Ephesus was very short, he spent two to three years in Ephesus addressing false doctrines and pagan practices on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:8-10).
The Ephesus church had many praiseworthy qualities and one negative error. In the letter, Christ praised the church’s deeds, hard work, perseverance, refusal of false apostles and the practices of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:2-3, 6).
Verse 4 tells where they were wrong, yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. ‘Forsaken first love’ means they might not be that passionate and dedicated to the Lord and to the community they used to be at first. But the letter does tell they can get back; by repenting and doing the things they did at first (Revelation 2:3-7).
• Lesson :
As children of God, Christ’s love must flow through our lives and examples until our last breath. His will should be done by remaining zealous and devoted to Him and despise false apostles and false doctrines as the Ephesus church despised them by staying attentive. Never let your love for God and for people die because without love we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
2.Smyrna – The Suffering Church (Revelation 2:8-11)
Smyrna was a city on the Aegean Sea coast of the Roman province of Asia (Modern Day Turkey) north of Ephesus and was famous for its school of medicine and science. Smyrna is now called Izmir.
In the letter, Jesus makes them known that He knows their trials “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). The church was physically poor but they were rich in spiritual and in their faith. As Jesus dealt with some of the religious leaders, this church was also dealing with some Jews who don’t know about God and about Judaism. Instead of following Judaism, they would persecute Christians. Christ calls them “a synagogue of Satan”.
Verse 10 talks about the future persecution of the church, some of its members would be in prison and this persecution would last for ten days. However, Christ encourages them to be faithful even to the last breath and He would give them the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
• Lesson :
Our God is Omniscient, He knows our past, present, future, what we are, what we are going through, our situations, bank balance, married life, friends, physical life, spiritual life, just like He knew The Smyrna church very well. There is nothing hidden from His eyes. Be strong and be faithful even in your trials till death. We may face some problems but it’s for a short time, then we will be with our Heavenly Father.
3. Pergamum –The Compromising Church (Revelation 2:12-17)
Pergamum is also known as Pergamon or Pergamos, the city is located 49 miles from Smyrna in western Asia Minor (Modern Day Turkey). For some period of time, it was the capital of the Roman province of Asia.
At the beginning of the letter, Jesus praises the church “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives” (Revelation 2:13). Despite living in a difficult place and surrounded by pagan influences, they remained true and never denied their faith in God.
The Bible mentions the name Antipas as “a faithful witness” who was put to death for Christ’s sake. Tradition says – Antipas was accused of secretly propagating the gospel. Therefore, he was placed in the brass bull which was then heated over a fire until it was red-hot.
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Jesus also talks about their sin“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:14-15). Balaam was a prophet from Mesopotamia, who didn’t curse against Israel (Numbers 22), but eventually advised the enemy of God, King Balak of Moab to entice the Israelites to commit sexual sin and eat sacrificed food to idols (Numbers 31:16). Some members of this church were compromising religiously and morally by holding to the teaching of Balaam. We don’t know more about the teaching of the Nicolaitans, they were likely a group who was following the teaching of Balaam.
Jesus asks them to repent of their sins: “Repent, therefore!” (Revelation 2:16). He called us to live a different and holy life not a compromised life with the world and sin. Jesus also talks about the judgment that would take place if they don’t repent “I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16). Those who are following and teaching the Nicolaitans and Balaam’s error would be destroyed, if they don’t repent.
Verse 17 talks about Jesus’ final promise to the church of Pergamum in the letter “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).To those who overcome sin, hate sin and live a committed life to Him will get rewards from God.
• Lesson :
God hates religious and moral compromise; He wants His children to live righteous lives. In this sinful world, it’s very easy to become one of them and compromise our spirituality and lose our values (1 Corinthians 15:33). The Bible says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” but be transformed by the renewal of our mind in accordance with God’s Word (Romans 12:2).
4.Thyatira – The Adulterous Church (Revelation 2:18-29)
Thyatira was a city located on the Lycus River in Asia Minor (Modern Day Turkey). Today it is known as Akhisar.
The Letter starts with Jesus, identifying Himself as an author “The words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”(Revelation 2:18).
This church was strong in faith and love and committed to God’s work, therefore, Jesus was praising their deeds. However, Jesus had something against them “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching, she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20). This church was tolerating a false prophetess called Jezebel, there might have a woman who was prophetess by that name in Thyatira church and because of her wrong teachings, people were sinning. In the Old Testament, there is another idolatrous woman Jezebel who didn’t walk in the ways of God but opposed him. (1 Kings 18:13-46,1 Kings 21:1-16, 2 Kings 9).
Jesus warns about judgment on Jezebel and the rest of those who will sin with her “21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead…” (Revelation 2:21-23).
Jesus also encourages this church “24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.” (Revelation 2:24-25). There were also some obedient believers to Jesus, who didn’t follow her teaching and Jesus wants them to remain faithful and committed until He comes back.
In the end, Jesus promises three blessings: 1) Authority over the nations 2) Victory over the enemies 3) the morning star (which is Jesus Himself) to those who overcome sin and be victorious and walk in the will of God till the last second of their lives (Revelation 2:26-28).
• Lesson :
Let’s be wise and not be deceived by false teachings that can lead us to walk on evil paths and destroy our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
5. Sardis – The Dead Church (Revelation 3:1-6)
Sardis was a town in the west of Asia Minor (Modern Day Turkey) and 32 miles from Pergamum. It was a capitol of Lydia.
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:2). Some members of this church were spiritually dead, though they were known as spiritually alive and filled with power.
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God” (Revelation 3:2). Jesus wants them to “wake up” meaning be active or be hungry and thirsty for Him in real not just to show people and He is also telling them to strengthen the Godly behavior, calling, God-given ability, etc., which can disappear if we start to walk away from God.
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:3). This church was not alive and not careful of their walk with God, so Jesus tells them to repent and hold fast to what they have heard and received, it basically means live a Holy life and do God’s will or else, judgment will come upon them.
“4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels”(Revelation 3:4-5). There are also some members who have not soiled their clothes, in other words, those who have not walked away from God or got engaged in the world.
Jesus Himself will give them these rewards: 1. White dress (Revelation 19:8), 2. Irremovable name in the Book of Life.
• Lesson :
God loves when His children walk in the truth (3 John 1:4), but He hates hypocrites and people pleasers. Hold on to God until the day of death.
6. Philadelphia – The Faithful Church (Revelation 3:7-13)
Philadelphia was a city 30 miles southeast of Sardis in Asia Minor which sits near the Cogamus River. Now it is called as “Alasehir”.
This is the second church after Smyrna which didn’t get a rebuke from Jesus Christ in this letter instead He praised and blessed this congregation.
“These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Revelation 3:7). This verse talks about the author who is Jesus Christ who is so powerful that nobody can oppose Him.
“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8). Jesus opens a door of blessings and opportunities to this church. This church had little strength, (They might have been financially weak or had less support or had few members in the church), yet they remained faithful and didn’t deny His name.
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“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:7). False Jews who didn’t know God nor Judaism were persecuting Christians. Jesus calls them “the Synagogue of Satan” and He will bring them down at the feet of these members and make them known that God loves His children.
“Since you have kept My command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:9). Jesus promises this church that He will keep them from “the hour of trial” (coming tribulation) because they were patiently serving God’s command.
“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name” (Revelation 3:11-12). Jesus again promises them that if they remain faithful till the end, He will make them pillars in God’s temple.
• Lesson :
This church had little strength but they didn’t deny His name, they relied on God. When we are weak, He is Strong; His grace is enough for us (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).
7. Laodicea – The Lukewarm church (Revelation 3:14-22)
“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” (Revelation 3:14). Each letter begins with the author, who He is and talks about His superiority.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). Jesus knows them and their works, this church was “lukewarm”, compromising their spirituality with the world, not fully surrendered to God and to His will and they were neither cold nor hot to God’s love. This is why God warns them that He is about to spit them out of His mouth.
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”(Revelation 3:17).This church had material prosperity that led them to be spiritually blind and think that they have everything but they were miserable poor, naked in their spirit.
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“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich, and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelation 3:18).God asks them to get His true riches that will make them rich from inside out and clothes of righteousness that will cover their nakedness and put salve on their eyes to be able to see the truth.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (Revelation 3:19). “The LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father does to the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:12). “The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son.” (Hebrews 12:6).
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20).God wants to have fellowship with this church, even though they are lukewarm. Instead of burning His anger against them, He was knocking the door, this tells how much God loves His children.
“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”(Revelation 3:21). Jesus will share His kingdom with those who are victorious.
• Lesson :
God wants us to be fully committed and surrendered to Him and He doesn’t want us to be lukewarm. We can have material possession and be called rich but only Jesus can give us true riches of heaven and real peace.
In every letter Jesus says “I know your deeds “or“I know”, Jesus knew everything about The Seven Churches, whether it was their positive action or negative, nothing was hidden from His eyes. Likewise, God knows us and our situation very well even though we may not feel it. If we have something that is condemnable or similar to these churches’ negative actions then God wants us to repent and be a part of His kingdom. God loves us so much, He will never leave us. God bless you.