Seven churches

The book of Revelation is believed to have been written by the Apostle John near the end of his life while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. John began his book by explaining his situation. He stated, “I, John, am your Christian brother. I have shared with you in suffering because of Jesus Christ. I have also shared with you His holy nation and we have not given up. I was put on the island called Patmos because I preached the Word of God and told about Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9, NLV). John went on to say that he had received a visit from the resurrected Jesus Christ who told him, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, 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 Laodicia” (Revelation 1:11).

The seven churches identified in the book of Revelation were actual churches that existed at the end of the first century, They were all located about 50 miles apart, forming a circle in the Roman province of Asia which lies in modern western Turkey (note on Revelation 1:4). It is not known why these particular churches were singled out, but they apparently had some significance in the establishment of Jesus’ worldwide ministry of spreading the gospel. The seven churches were represented by seven candlesticks in John’s vision of the resurrected Christ. John stated:

And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. (Revelation 1:12-16)

The representation of the churches by candlesticks may have had something to do with the illustration Jesus used of Christians being salt and light. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).

The seven churches identified in the book of Revelation were both commended and rebuked by Jesus for the work they were doing to establish God’s kingdom on Earth. John was given specific instructions to write to each of these churches and to let them know what Jesus had told him about their ministries. The seven distinct messages are recorded in Revelation chapters two and three. Each of the messages began with unique identifier of the resurrected Lord and ended with a promised reward for those that overcame a specific type of opposition to their ministry. The message to the Ephesians stated:

“These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary…To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.'” (Revelation 2:1-7, NKJV)

The Greek word translated overcomes, nikao (nik-ah’-o) is derived from the word nike (nee’-kay) which figuratively refers to a means of success (G3529). Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesians was to “do the first works” (Revelation 2:5). What he most likely meant by that was to get back to the basics of preaching the gospel. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addressed the topic of spiritual warfare. Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus to, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12, NKJV).

Jesus’ promises to the believers that were able to overcome obstacles to their ministries (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21) indicated there was a spiritual battle going on, even in the early church, that could potentially keep his gospel from being spread around the world. It is likely that John’s messages to the seven churches were meant to shore up their efforts and encourage these early warriors to do as Paul had done, fight the good fight and finish their course (2 Timothy 4:7).

Jesus’ final promise to the church of Laodiceans seemed to be one that applied to all Christians and suggested that the rewards Jesus promised for overcoming applied to his millennial reign on Earth. He said, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). At the end of the Great Tribulation, John indicated all believers would reign with Christ for a thousand years. He said, “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).

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