In the next few months, the Lord willing, I hope to preach a series of sermons on the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. This is meant to further explain what the Belgic Confession says in Article 29 about the true versus the false church.
A messenger from John in exile on the island of Patmos would have crossed over to Ephesus and then taken a circular route. The seven churches are listed in the order he would probably have visited them.
The letters form a distinct unit in the book of Revelation. Yet, these letters are tied in with the message of the whole book of Revelation. For instance, in the introduction to each letter the writer (that is, Christ) identifies Himself by means of a descriptive phrase taken from the vision of chapter 1:
|Ephesus (2:1) - lampstand, stars = 1:17,18||Sardis (3:1) - 7 spirits & stars = 1:4,16|
|Smyrna (2:8) - First, Last = 1:17,18||Philadelphia (3:7) - key of David = 1:18|
|Pergamum (2:12) - sword = 1:16||Laodicea (3:14) - Amen, faithful witness, ruler = 1:5|
|Thyatira (2:18) - fiery eyes, bronze feet = 1:14,15|
|2:7 = 22:2 Eat of tree of life||3:5 = 19:14, 20:12 Dressed in white, name not taken out of book of life|
|2:11 = 20:6 Second death powerless||3:12 = 21:22 Pillar in temple|
|2:17 = 19:9, 20:15 New name, hidden manna||3:21 = 20:4 Reign with God|
|2:26-28 = 19:15, 20:16 Power, rule, morning star|
The seven letters all follow the same pattern which may be set forth as follows:
1. A greeting: "to the angel of the church in ..."
2. A title of the risen Christ taken from chapter 1.
3. A section headed "I know," introducing praise for what is good about that church (except in the case of Laodicea).
4. A criticism of the church (not in the case of Smyrna or Philadelphia).
5. A warning.
6. An exhortation beginning with, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
7. A promise to those who "overcome" (whose fulfillment we see in chapters 19-22).
[Note: in the four last letters the order of 6 & 7 is reversed.]
A further pattern is to be discerned in the arrangement. Churches 1 & 7 (Ephesus & Laodicea) are in grave danger; churches 2 & 6 (Smyrna & Philadelphia) are in excellent shape; churches 3, 4, & 5 (Pergamum, Thyatira, & Sardis) are middling, neither very good nor very bad.
Of course the seven letters are not meant only for the seven churches they are addressed to. The seven letters are addressed to the church of all ages. The situations and struggles described in the seven letters characterize every church and every believer in the age between the two comings of Jesus Christ. We all share the marks of these churches, both the good and the bad, to a certain extent.
It is my hope that in the next few months we will take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror of the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. It is my prayer that in honestly looking at ourselves we will grow as a church and as individual believers in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Adrian Dieleman