For nearly thirty years I have found myself preoccupied with what we call the Book of Revelation. This hasn’t been one of those unhealthy preoccupations that you might find in someone who looks for the conspiracies in the events of everyday life. No. But, with anything I don’t fully understand from the pages of the Bible, I tend not to rest until I feel I am in a position to be able to explain it to others.
Over the years of this particular preoccupation (there have been many others too), I have read just about everything there has been written on the subject matter and interpretations of Revelation. Some of it resonated with me as being the truth of the matter, but a great deal of it appeared to be speculative because it lacked any foundation from elsewhere in scripture.
Of late, I have purposed to forget everything I know and try to get a clearer understanding of all things concerning my salvation. I have grown to realise, and eventually accept, that most of what I understood about walking with God was founded in the ideas and beliefs of other men and women, and not it what God was actually saying to me. I discovered that the only way to true wisdom and understanding is from the source Himself. To emphasise this point let me tell you of something I saw many years ago.
I was on holiday in a town which is famous for its spring water. It was first thing on a Saturday morning and, as I was walking into the town centre, I noticed a queue of people on a pavement with no apparent reason for being there. As I drew closer I saw that the person at the front of the queue was bent over and filling plastic bottles from a tap that jutted from the rocky hillside. Once he had finished, he secured the tops of the bottles now filled, and placed them in a bag and walked off. The next person in the queue proceeded to do the same. I saw that all the people had bottles and bags. Now, I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, but it didn’t take a great deal of time to figure that these people were all locals (if you live in a holiday destination like I do, it is easy to spot who is a ‘grockle’, and who is a local), and what they were filling their bottles from was, in fact, the source of the spring that had made the town famous. The shops in the town would proudly sell you a bottle of their very fine spring water, but if you were a local, you knew that you could drink for free, right from the source. My point is this, instead of reading everyone else’s opinion on the Revelation, I went to the source, the Holy Spirit, and asked Him.
Now, I would rather you do the same yourself than take my word for it. This is because seeking the Holy Spirit helps to deepen your relationship with the Father, and with Y’shua (Jesus). Reading other people’s stuff can be a little lazy. But, in the interests of showing you how the process has worked for me, and what I now understand as a result, what follows here is an introduction to the Revelation, before an in depth look at ‘The Seven’, that is the seven churches of Asia Minor, and what they each represent.
I am not claiming a definitive understanding of the Revelation – I think that the Holy Spirit reveals more and more of Y’shua and the purposes of God, the deeper you go with Him. What He is revealing today is simply more than He chose to reveal to other people who have attempted to understand the mysteries of God’s final chapter in earlier times.
My aim is to offer, firstly, an overall explanation to the background and meaning of the Revelation, before looking at the seven churches as individual studies.
INTRODUCTION TO THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST
I think it is safe to say that all current thinking on the Revelation and The Seven is founded in ancient, and often medieval, wisdom and books. Now, whilst I accept that one man’s book can easily be the next man’s firelighter, I think it is important to acknowledge that a whole theological subject, known as eschatology, has grown up out of this old wisdom. I am not saying that what has been written and what is understood is wrong. But I am saying that just in the same way that most of what happens in or around church buildings is purely out of tradition, so to is how we view both the Revelation and The Seven.
Eschatology provides us with pre-formed idea systems, most of which don’t actually address the main point: That it is the Revelation that God gave to Y’shua so that He could tell His church what must soon take place. Instead we have mountains of books all divided by complicated theories and symbolic pictures that help no one, especially people like me who don’t have a theology degree, to understand just what is going to take place soon. I have a popular study bible that provides no less than eight alternative interpretations to these things that must take place. Listen to their names, they are enough to put anyone off:
Premillennial Pretribulational View;
Premillennial Posttribulational View;
Premillennial Midtribulational View;
Premillennial Pretribulational Partial Rapture View;
Premillennial Prewrath Rapture View;
Evangelical Postmillennial View;
St Augustine’s Amillennial View; and
A Second Amillennial View!
And, that’s after two thousand years of deliberation. No wonder no one understands what is about to happen. Perhaps we have been over-thinking things?
I am of the opinion, based upon my own experience, that God reveals things to us gradually. Only on occasions will someone get the whole Road to Damascus experience. For the main part, revelation of who Y’shua truly is comes in a gentle, more gradual way – like a cool summer breeze. As we purpose to walk deeper and further with God, He softens our hearts gradually and widens our understanding. Some things I once thought that I understood fully, have been shown to me again by the Holy Spirit, and now I see that I was in the way of what God wanted me to see.
Contrary to what some older Bibles state, the Revelation does not belong to John. It is the revelation of Y’shua HaMashiyach (Jesus, who is the Messiah), given to Him (Y’shua) by God for the purpose of showing His servants (the church) what must soon take place.
The word revelation is rendered from the Greek word apokalypsis, which is literally disclosure or unveiling. So, from that, we can understand that what was once a mystery, is now made plain. Of course, this doesn’t really marry up with how most people in the church view the Revelation. Generally, it is seen as a book full of mysteries and symbolism. I am inclined to believe that such a view is not of God, for with God there is no confusion. Satan, who opposes the saints, wouldn’t want us to gain a true understanding of Revelation because it is God’s final unveiling or disclosure on the End of Days. He would rather us coast along in blissful ignorance of the potential doom that lays before us.
The Revelation was given to John, whom it is highly likely was John the Apostle, because he was the only remaining of the original disciples. Written in approximately AD 95, Revelation is the final message from God of this sort. That is not to say that God doesn’t speak today through His Holy Spirit, He does. But all that is said only points to the person of Y’shua. There is no new revelation, just a deeper understanding of who God is through understanding the person of Y’shua – the Word of God made flesh.
By AD 95, all of the original disciples had been martyred. Paul, who was clearly involved in the establishment of at least two of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, had been martyred in AD 68, and we assume that at that point John had taken oversight of the seven churches, because we know that there is strong evidence to show that he lived his final days in Ephesus.
So, the Revelation is the revelation of Y’shua from God, for His saints, given to John the Apostle, by sending an angel to John. Rather than it being a scary mystery, John encouraged everyone to read it by stating the blessing for reading and hearing it read. He was telling everyone that God wants you to hear it and understand what it means. No more mystery. To take to heart what is written in it, is to understand it. But, it seems, we have missed the point and, as usual, the theologians who run the modern church have made it so complicated, that no one understands it. Instead of trying to figure it out, we ignore it. Fear not friends, for help is at hand. The Holy Spirit is the one who explains it all to us. Ask Him.
“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” [Revelation 1:3 NIV]
Right there in his covering letter John lets everyone know that this is a prophecy from God about what must take place. God’s prophecies, throughout the entire Bible, always contain what you might call His signature. Each and every prophecy has at least two (often three) applications in time. There is always a ‘right now’, as well as a ‘what is to come’. The immediate ‘what is to come’ generally foreshadows another major event in the future. You can try this rule out on pretty much any prophecy you find in scripture; there is always a message for the people of when it was first spoken; then a warning of an event to come; and that event usually points to an event in the person of Y’shua. The Revelation is written to exactly those rules as you will see.
“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” [Revelation 1:19)
This particular prophecy is to be addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor. John’s covering letter declares it so, and we see that in verses 10-11 of chapter one, when Y’shua is instructing John before He reveals the prophecy, that He tells John 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 1:10b-11 NIV]
You may well ask why Y’shua wanted to send a message to seven churches in Asia Minor. It is a good question. As you will see from what follows these seven churches were not only real churches active at the time of writing but they also are foreshadows of what is to come on several levels. The fact that John is asked to write to churches in Asia Minor and not in Isra’el or Jerusalem is fairly simple. By AD 95 very little in the way of church existed in Isra’el and Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Roman Army in AD 70. Hebrews and Christians alike were dispersed across the known world then. More than a million people died during that particular Roman purge.
The seven churches represent not only seven physical churches under the care of John, but they also represent the following:
Seven ages of consecutive church history –
Ephesus – The Apostolic Age AD 30 – AD 100
Smyrna – The Persecution Age AD 100 – AD 300
Pergamum – The State Age AD 300 – AD 600
Thyatira – The Papal Age AD 600 – AD 1500
Sardis – The Reformation Age AD 1500 – AD 1800
Philadelphia – The Missionary Age AD 1800 – AD 1900
Laodicea – The Modern Church Age AD 1900 –
Seven types of church still found today –
Ephesus – The Loveless Church
Smyrna – The Persecuted Church
Pergamum – The Compromising Church
Thyatira – The Corrupt Church
Sardis – The Dead Church
Philadelphia – The Faithful Church
Laodicea – The Lukewarm Church
Seven kinds of people found in those seven types of church –
Ephesus – The believer who has lost their first love of Y’shua
Smyrna – The believer who is faithful in the face of persecution
Pergamum – The believer who loves the world and is easily swayed
Thyatira – The believer who favours ritual as a means of attaining righteousness
Sardis – The believer stuck in the past and its doctrines
Philadelphia – The true believer, humble and loving
Laodicea – The believer who really wants to be a part of the world
I think before you start to look more closely at each church I really ought to point out a common theme that Y’shua gave us (the church) in each message. If you have read Chapters Two and Three of Revelation you will know that they all follow a similar pattern. Much has been said by great theologians about the meaning and interpretation of these letters. Generally speaking, they confuse the issue. I can’t tell you how many books promise on the cover to explain fully the Revelation only to gloss over the message to the churches without truly explaining anything. But you know what they say don’t you? One man’s book is another man’s firelighter.I am going to try to explain what I see on the page.
Using the first letter, to the church at Ephesus as an example – all seven letters follow the same basic pattern, I want you to open your bibles and turn to Revelation chapter two.
1.” To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:”
Time to be clear. Whether you believe in angels or not is up to you. The truth of the matter is that they exist. How do we know? Because God tells us throughout the entire Bible that they do and God cannot lie. The letters to The Seven are all addressed to their respective angels. Many people will say that it means ‘pastor’. This is not true. It says angel, so it means angel. This raises a couple of questions:
Firstly, why does Y’shua need John to write to angels? And, secondly, how do you sent a letter to somethibng or someone you cannot see?
OK. We can find the answer to these questions (and every other question you might have) in the Bible. We start by asking what is an angel. The word angel literally means messenger. Early on in the Bible we see that Jacob saw angels ascending and descending a stairway between earth and heaven. From what he describes in Genesis 28, it seems to me that angels are not omnipotent (meaning that can’t be in more than one place at a time); that their role as messengers is to carry messages between God in heaven and His servants on earth.
We also know from the book of Daniel (chapter ten) that when Daniel prayed to God for an answer to something that was perplexing him, God gave His answer through an angel. We could conclude from both examples that perhaps the process of carrying messages works something like this:
I pray and angel, whom I can’t see, leaves my presence and goes to heaven and shares my prayer with God. God then decides how to answer my prayer and sends another angel with that message back to me.
In the example of Daniel, the angel who came back to Daniel with God’s answer was delayed by a bad angel (demon) for 21 days, until the chief angel Michael showed up and set him on his way. Sometimes it does seem that God takes ages to answer doesn’t it?
The fact that Y’shua tells John to address the letter to the angel of the church tells me something else; that each church has an angel to protect them and guide them. Perhaps the angels of the seven churches were beseiged like the angel in Daniel chapter 10 and messages weren’t getting passed back and forth? Whatever the reason, the letter was Y’shua talking firstly to the angel.
How are we sure that it was to an actual angel and not a metaphor for the church’s pastor? Because what John is told to write qualifies who is speaking in such a way that only an angel could accept as true. The qualification is entirely spiritual. We can read the words and believe them, but an angel who lives in the invisible realm of heaven could see it was true.
“These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:”
Only a being in the spiritual realm would truly understand what Y’shua was saying. We can only hope it to be true, for we cannot see the invisible as of yet.
Each of the seven letters begin in a similar way – they are all addressed to angels and all have an identifying remark that only an angel would understand.
2 & 3. “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. You have persevered and have endured hardship for My name, and have not grown weary.”
I want you to imagine for a moment that Y’shua is speaking in response to prayers that have got through to heaven from the people of the church. Y’shua is now longer talking to the angel but is now address the congregation. He is saying to them that He hears their pleadings and knows their willingness to serve Him. Now imagine that all these good things are placed on one side of an old fashioned scale. You see it weighed down on that side.
4 & 5. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Now imagine putting all these things on to the other side of the scales and watched the balance tip. It is right to imagine it like this because God is true and just. He simply can’t answer people’s prayers unless it is totally fair to do so.
6. “But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolatians, which I also hate.”
Now you see the scales tip back in your favour. Your prayers will be answered! Now imagine if you were like Smyrna or Philadelphia who didn’t have anything on the negative side of the scale. How much more will your prayers be answered?
7. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
Look now, Y’shua is no longer addressing an angel or a particular congregation. He is talking to all believers and telling them that there are rewards if you push through your troubles and keep faithful.
I’m not going to go into all the explanations for each church here. You will be able to read those when you click on the links below (when I finish writing them up!). For now, this is to show you how simple the Revelation truly is.