The Central Message to the Seven Churches of Revelation | biblicalculture.com (2024)

The Central Message to the Seven Churches of Revelation | biblicalculture.com (1)

Jesus’ seven messages to the seven churches of the book of Revelation in chapters 2–3 is probably the most well-known section of Revelation and have been both a comfort and a challenge to many modern churches. The messages both commend the churches for what they do well, but also offer stark warnings to those churches that err. What many churches and Christians may not realize is that the central message to each church is the same, providing unity to chapters 2–3 of Revelation as well as the entire book of Revelation.

The central message to the seven churches of the book of Revelation is to remain faithful to Jesus. Each church that receives a commendation receives a commendation for faithfulness. Each church that receives a condemnation receives a condemnation for unfaithfulness.

In this article, I will go through Jesus’ messages to each of the seven churches, showing how everything is related to faithfulness to Jesus. I will put a very helpful table summarizing the content in the summary section of this article. Feel free to click HERE to jump to that table.

Before I get into each message, it should be noted that Jesus’ messages to the seven churches follow a similar pattern. First, Jesuscommendsthe church for what they are doing well. Second, Jesuscondemnsthe church for their sin or what they are doing poorly. Third, Jesuscommissionsthe church to do something as it relates to the commendation or condemnation.

1. Jesus’ Message to the Church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1–7)

Commendation.Jesus commends the Ephesian church for six things. First, they do not bear with people who are evil (Rev 2:2). Second, theytest those who call themselves apostles and reveal the false ones (2:2). Third, they have perseverance (2:3). Fourth, they endure much for the sake of Jesus’ name. Fifth, they have not grown weary (2:3). Finally, they hate the works of the Nicolaitans (2:6).

Each of the six commendations above centre around faithfulness. Shunning evil people and their practices, such as the Nicolaitans, is a faithfulness issue. To remain faithful to Jesus, a person and church must adhere to what is good and right. Testing those who claim to be apostles for the purpose of not being led astray by false leaders is again a faithfulness issue. A person and church must follow leaders installed by Jesus in order to remain faithful to Jesus. Persevering, enduring, and not growing weary for Jesus is again a faithfulness issue. No type of hardship should ever lead Jesus’ people astray. To remain faithful, they must persevere and endure any and every hardship and challenge.

Condemnation.Jesus gives a single condemnation to the church:“you have abandoned (ἀφίημι) the love you had at first” (Rev 2:4). There has been a fair amount of controversy over what Jesus meant by abandoning the love you had at first. I’ll cover that controversy in a future article. For now, I want to draw your attention to the faithfulness language that is used by Jesus.The language of abandonment(ἀφίημι) shows that the church has been unfaithful, specifically unfaithful to “your first love.” My current belief regarding the “first love” is that it refers to Jesus. The Ephesian church is doing a lot right, but they have abandoned Jesus; they have lost their love for Jesus. As a result, they are not living fully faithful lives.

Commission.Jesus then issues a threefold commission to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:5: (a) remember from where you have fallen, (b) repent, and (c) do the works you did at first. The language to “repent” and “do the works you did at first” is again faithfulness language. The Ephesian church has not been faithful. Thus, they need to repent and do their first works in order to become a faithful church once again.

Summary.The Ephesian church’s faithfulness is being challenged in three ways. First, false apostles and false teachers (such as the Nicolaitans) are tempting the Ephesian church to be unfaithful to Jesus and his commands. Second, the church is being persecuted by “evil people,” testing their faithfulness to Jesus. Third, the church has abandoned its first love, Jesus, resulting in a life that is lived contrary to Jesus’ commands and standards. In some of these areas, the church has been faithful; in others the church has been unfaithful.

2. Jesus’ Message to the Church at Smyrna (Rev 2:8–11)

Commendation.Jesus acknowledges that the Smyrna church is undergoing tribulation, poverty, and slander from “Jews” (Rev 2:9). The fact that Jesus never condemns the Smyrna church for anything reveals that the Christians at Smyrna have remained faithful to Jesus during theirafflictions (tribulations), poverty, and slander. In other words, no amount of affliction has caused them to be unfaithful to Jesus; no amount of poverty has caused them to be unfaithful to Jesus; and no amount of slander has caused them to be unfaithful to Jesus.

Condemnation.As mentioned above, Jesus does not condemn the Smyrna church of anything. They have remained perfectly faithful. May this be said of our churches!

Commission.Jesus issues a twofold commission to the Smyrna church that is centred on faithfulness. First, Jesus tells the churchnot to fear what they are about to suffer, which is being thrown in jail by the devil (Rev 2:10). This purpose of allowing Satan to directly attack the church is to “test” the church (2:10). Second, Jesus tells the church to “be faithful” unto death, presumably because the persecution against the church is about to increase (2:10). The language of testing and faithfulness in Revelation 2:10 focuses the trials that the Smyrna church is about to experience around faithfulness. The Smyrna church is about to enter into an extremely difficult period. However, Jesus exhorts them to remain faithful to him.

Summary.The church at Smyrna is experiencingpersecution (both physical and verbal) and poverty (lack of necessary resources, such as money and food). They have done well to remain faithful to Jesus throughout these trials. However, Jesus warns the church that the persecution is about to get much worse because Satan is getting directly involved. The explicit commission from Jesus for this time is that the church remain faithful to him:“Be faithful unto death” (Rev 2:10).

3. Jesus’ Message to the Church at Pergamum (Rev 2:12–17)

Commendation.Jesus commends the church at Pergamum for two related things. First, they hold fast to Jesus’ name, which means they do not deny Jesus’ name (Rev 2:13). Second, they did not deny their faith in Jesuseven though they dwell where Satan’s throne is and where Antipas was murdered (2:13). It should be noted that the ESV says,“you did not deny my faith” (οὐκ ἠρνήσω τὴν πίστιν μου; 2:13). However, the clause οὐκ ἠρνήσω τὴν πίστιν μου can be translated “you did not deny your faith in me,” which makes more sense and is how I understand the clause. The Pergamum church has remained faithful to Jesus and is remaining faithful to Jesus even though they are in the midst of persecution. The faithfulness language of “holding fast” and “not denying” is the core of Revelation 2:13, demonstrating that Jesus’ commendation is centred around faithfulness to him.

Condemnation.In spite of their faithfulness, Jesus condemns somein the church for holding to the teaching of Balaam and the teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:14–15). The teaching of Balaam refers to Balaam from Numbers 25:1–3; 31:16. Balaam’s advice to Balak was to seduce the Israelites into committing idolatry through eating food sacrificed to idols and through engaging in sexual immorality. The advice was successful and God’s wrath broke out against Israel for their idolatry. Thus, Jesus’ condemnation of those holding to Balaam’s teaching is serious because it means there are some in the church who are committing idolatry. It is unclear to what the teaching of the Nicolaitans refers.

Once again, Jesus uses language related to faithfulness (or a lack of it) in his condemnation of certain people at Pergamum. In Revelation 2:13, Jesus praises the Pergamum church for “holding fast” (κρατέω) to Jesus’ name. However, in 2:14 Jesus condemns certain people at Pergamum for “holding fast” (κρατέω) to the teaching of Balaam, and in 2:15 Jesus condemns certain people at Pergamum for “holding fast” (κρατέω) to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. This language of “holding fast” (κρατέω) is faithfulness language. The Pergamum church has been faithful in some things, but false teaching has crept into the church and has caused some to become unfaithful by “holding fast” (κρατέω) to the wrong teaching.

Commission.Jesus commissions the Pergamum church to a single action: repent (Rev 2:16)! What does it mean to repent in this context? It means the Pergamum church must reject the false teaching, disavow it, stop committing idolatry, and shun the false teachers. In short, the Pergamum church must stop being unfaithful to Jesus through idolatry and be faithful to Jesus by worshipping only him. Whenever the language of repentance is found, there is a faithfulness issue. One cannot repent if one has been perfectly faithful. Thus, we see that even Jesus’ commission is centred around faithfulness.

Summary.The Christians at Pergamum have been faithful to Jesus in the face of persecution and death. However, false teaching has crept into the church and it has resulted in the ultimate act of unfaithfulness—idolatry. Some people in the Pergamum church are committing idolatry and Jesus tells them to “repent”—cease the idolatry and worship Jesus only. Jesus’ message to the Pergamum church is centred around faithfulness.

4. Jesus’ Message to the Church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18–29)

Commendation.Jesus gives one commendation to the church at Thyatira: that theirlatter works—love, faith, service, and perseverance—exceed their former works (Rev 2:19). This is a strong commendation and is again related to faithfulness. The Thyatira church has been faithful to Jesus and his commands in four key areas: love, faith, service, and perseverance.

Condemnation.Jesus’ condemnation of the Thyatira church is much lengthier than his commendation. He condemns the church for four interrelated reasons. First, thechurch tolerates the false prophet Jezebel (Rev 2:20). Second, many in the church practice idolatry (2:20). Just like in the Pergamum church, the reference to eating idol food and sexual immorality is a metonym for committing idolatry. Third, some in the church commit adultery with Jezebel, which is a reference to committing idolatry alongside her (2:22). Fourth, some in the church are considered Jezebel’s children, which is most likely a reference to being her disciples (2:23).

Clearly, Jezebel is a false prophet who has led many in the Thyatira church into idolatry. As mentioned above, idolatry is the most blatant form of unfaithfulness. Thus, Jesus’ condemnation of the Thyatira church is their unfaithfulness in the form of idolatry; they are worshipping other gods in addition to Jesus and this is unacceptable.

Commission.Jesus gives two commissions to two different groups within the Thyatira church. To thosecommitting adultery with Jezebel, Jesus commands that they “repent from her works” (Rev 2:22). The reference to repentance means that there is some form of unfaithfulness. Within the context of Jesus’ message to the Thyatira church, the command to repent means to cease committing idolatry and to completely disassociate from Jezebel. In short, be faithful to Jesus by serving and worshipping him only, and expel any false prophets from the church.

Jesus’ second commission is for those who do not hold to Jezebel’s teaching. To this group Jesus says, “hold fast [κρατέω] what you have until I come” (Rev 2:24–25). As we saw in our assessment of the Pergamum church, the verb “hold fast” (κρατέω) is faithfulness language. Jesus is commissioning those who have not adopted Jezebel’s teachings and not committed idolatry to hold fast their current faithfulness, to stay the course, to continue their works of love, faith, service, and perseverance.

Summary.The Thyatira church is certainly faithful to Jesus in the areas oflove, faith, service, and perseverance. However, they have added other gods into the faith and are committing idolatry, resulting in being unfaithful to Jesus and, according to the book of Revelation, will result in being barred from entrance into the New Jerusalem. Like all the previous churches, the commendation, condemnation, and commission centre around faithfulness to Jesus.

5. Jesus’ Message to the Church at Sardis (Rev 3:1–6)

Commendation.Sardis is one of the two saddest churches in Revelation 2–3 (the other being Laodicea). Jesus offers no commendation to this church. They have done nothing right. There is no area of faithfulness that Jesus can commend. At most, Jesus acknowledges that afew people at Sardis have not soiled their clothes, who have remained faithful (3:4). To these few people, Jesus promises they will walk with him (3:4).

Condemnation.Jesus condemns the Sardis church for two related reasons. First, the church is dead: “you are dead” (Rev 3:1). This church can hardly be called a church. Second, the Sardis church’sworks are not complete in the sight of God (3:2). Whatever is meant by “I have not found your works complete” in 3:2, we can confidently conclude that the Sardis church has not done or accomplished what it was supposed to do. Thus, the Sardis church has been unfaithful to Jesus.

Commission.Jesus gives the Sardis church a fivefold commission that can reverse its deadness: (1) “wake up,” (2) “strengthen what remains that is about to die,” (3) “remember, then, what you received and heard,” (4) adhere to what you received and heard, and (5) “repent” (Rev 3:2–3). The final command to “repent” is faithfulness language and sums up everything that the Sardis needs to do: stop doing what you are doing, return to the faith that you originally received, and be faithful to that faith.

Summary.The church at Sardis does not seem to be facing persecution or false teachers like the other churches. Rather, the challenge to their faithfulness is apathy and abandoning the Christian faith, both in doctrine and ethics. This apathy has led the church to be unfaithful to Jesus and the cure is to repent by recalling the faith and living faithfully.

6. Jesus’ Message to the Church at Philadelphia (Rev 3:7–13)

Commendation.Jesus gives a weighty twofold commendation to the Philadelphia church. They keep Jesus’ “word” (λόγος), which most likely refers to Jesus’ teaching, and they do not deny Jesus’ name even though they have little power (Rev 3:8),presumably in the face of Jewish persecution (3:9). The idea of “keeping” Jesus’ teaching is adhering to Jesus’ teaching. In other words, the Philadelphia church has been faithful to adhere to Jesus’ teachings and commands. Not only that, but they have been intentional about identifying themselves as Jesus’ disciples in the midst of persecution.

Condemnation.Jesus does not condemn the Philadelphia church of anything. They have remained perfectly faithful in doctrine and ethics.

Commission.Jesus issues a single commission to the Philadelphia church using familiar language:“Hold fast [καρτέω] what you have” (Rev 3:11). Again, the language of “holding fast” (καρτέω) is faithfulness language. Jesus is commissioning the church to continue being faithful.

Summary.The Philadelphia church is being persecuted by the Jews. Although they are being persecuted, they are remaining faithful to Jesus by not denying his name and by adhering to his teaching. The Jews’ threats and attacks have not caused the Philadelphia church to be unfaithful in any way. Thus, Jesus exhorts the church to continue in its faithfulness.

7. Jesus’ Message to the Church at Laodicea (Rev 3:14–22)

Commendation.Like the church at Sardis, Jesus has no commendation for the church at Laodicea. Unlike the church at Sardis, there isn’t a single person at Laodicea for Jesus to commend. This is trulythesaddest church out of the seven and the most in danger of Jesus taking away its lampstand.

Condemnation.First, Jesus condemns the Laodicean church for being neither cold nor hot in relation to their works (Rev 3:15). They are apathetic. The church is not doing the opposite of Jesus’ teachings; they are simply not adhering to Jesus’ teachings. In short, they have been unfaithful to Jesus by not faithfully adhering to Jesus’ ways and instructions.

Second, Jesus condemns the Laodicean church for foolingthemselves into believing they are rich and in need of nothing when in actuality they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17). This second condemnation ties into the first. The Laodicean church believes they need nothing and that they are fine with Jesus, living out his will. This couldn’t be further from the truth and has resulted in their apathy and, ultimately, in their unfaithfulness to Jesus and his teachings.

The book of Revelation dispenses with the notion of neutrality. There is no neutrality. One is either faithful or unfaithful. The Laodicean church tries to tow that line. Although they haven’t been faithful, they certainly haven’t been unfaithful (so they think). However, the book of Revelation is clear that there is no neutral ground. A person is either faithful to Jesus or unfaithful. Not adhering to Jesus’ instructions and commands is unfaithfulness.

Commission.Jesus issues a twofold commission. First, the Laodicean church must trade with Jesus (Rev 3:18), rather than with Babylon the prostitute. Clearly the church is wealthy. By telling the church to go to him (Jesus) for trade, Jesus is accusing them of going to Babylon to trade. Revelation 18 is clear that those who trade with Babylon will perish with Babylon and not enter the New Jerusalem. Why is going to Babylon so terrible? Babylon is the city of the Sea Beast, the antichrist. Those who trade with Babylon are committing idolatry and, thus, have been unfaithful to Jesus.

Second, the Laodicean must be “zealous” (or “earnest,”ζηλεύω) and “repent.” The Laodicean church’s wealth has caused them to be apathetic in their life regarding the Christian faith and adherence to Jesus’ commands. As such, Jesus commands them to be zealous once again and, so, repent. That is, the Laodicean church must once again be faithful in living life how Jesus demands.

Summary.The Laodicean church is wealthy. They obtained their wealth by trading with the antichrist’s city, Babylon, rather than trading with Jesus to enter his city, the New Jerusalem. Thus, the Laodicean’s were engaged in idolatry without knowing it! The Laodicean’s wealth also resulted in apathy toward Jesus’ instructions and commands; they were not faithful disciples. Jesus commands them to repent, which is confirmation that the primary issue in the Laodicean church, like all the churches, is faithfulness or the lack thereof.

Summary and Concluding Thoughts

The central message to the seven churches of the book of Revelation is to remain faithful to Jesus.Each of the seven churches were challenged in the area of faithfulness, either through persecution, false teaching, apathy, or wealth. Each of the just mentioned areas can lead a person to be unfaithful to Jesus either by not adhering to his instructions and commands or by outright denial of Jesus. Jesus’ overarching message to all the churches is “remain faithful to me regardless of your circ*mstances.” For those that are faithful, Jesus commends. For those that are unfaithful Jesus condemns and calls them to faithfulness through repentance. The following table summarizes each church’s struggle with faithfulness.

ChurchFaithfulness/Unfaithfulness
EphesusCommendation: They donot bear with evil people. They test those who call themselves apostles and reveal the false ones. They have perseverance. They endure much for the sake of Jesus’ name. They have not grown weary. They hate the works of the Nicolaitans (2:2–3, 6).

Condemnation: They haveabandoned (ἀφίημι) their first love (2:4). The language of abandonment(ἀφίημι) shows that the church has been unfaithful.

Commission: (a) remember from where you have fallen, (b) repent, and (c) do the works you did at first (2:5)

Challenges to Faithfulness: Persecution from “evil people,” false apostles and false teaching (Nicolaitans), lack of love for Jesus.

SmyrnaCommendation: They have remained faithful to Jesus during afflictions (tribulations), poverty, and slander from “Jews” (2:9). More trials and afflictions are to come (2:10).

Condemnation: None.

Commission: (a) do not fear what you are about to suffer (being thrown in jail by the devil) and (b) be faithful unto death (2:10)

Challenges to Faithfulness: Persecution (both physical and verbal), death, poverty (lack of necessary resources, such as money and food), and Satan.

PergamumCommendation: They hold fast to Jesus’ name and do not deny their faith in Jesus even though they dwell where Satan’s throne is and where Antipas was murdered (2:13).

Condemnation: Some in the church hold to the teaching of Balaam, which is idolatry, and the teaching of the Nicolaitans (2:14–15).

Commission: Repent (2:16).

Challenges to Faithfulness: Persecution, death, false teaching, and idolatry.

ThyatiraCommendation:Their latter works, which are love, faith, service, and perseverance, exceed their former works (2:19).

Condemnation: The church tolerates Jezebel. Many in the church practice idolatry. Some in the church commit adultery with Jezebel and some are considered Jezebel’s children (2:20–23).

Commission: For those committing adultery with Jezebel, repent from her works (2:22). For those who do not hold to Jezebel’s teaching, “hold fast what you have until I come” (2:24–25).

Challenges to Faithfulness: False teaching and idolatry.

SardisCommendation: None for the church. A modest few people at Sardis have not soiled their clothes (3:4).

Condemnation: The church isdead (3:1). Their works are not complete (3:2).

Commission: Wake up and strengthen what remains that is about to die (3:2). Remember what you received and heard; obey it and repent (3:3).

Challenges to Faithfulness: Apathy and abandoning the Christian faith (both in doctrine and ethics).

PhiladelphiaCommendation: They keep Jesus’ word and do not deny Jesus’ nameeven though they have little power (3:8), presumably in the face of Jewish persecution (3:9).

Condemnation: None.

Commission: Hold fast to what you have (3:11).

Challenges to Faithfulness: Persecution from Jews (3:8–9).

LaodiceaCommendation: None.

Condemnation: The church is neither cold nor hot (3:15). The church has fooled themselves into believing they are rich and in need of nothing when in actuality they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (3:17).

Commission: Trade with Jesus (3:18). Be earnest/zealous and repent (3:19).

Challenges to Faithfulness: Going to Babylon the Prostitute to obtain wealth. The church has gone somewhere other than Jesus to acquire their wealth. In Revelation, that means they have gone to Babylon the Prostitute (Rev 17–18).

Every church of every age will have its faithfulness to Jesus challenged. Many Western churches of the last 200 years have been very wealthy and so apathy has been a challenge to faithfulness. Today, however, Western churches are challenged with false teachers, false prophets, and false teachings that are leading many astray. It seems to me that in the near future, most Western churches will have their faithfulness challenged through outright persecution. Whatever the challenge to faithfulness, Jesus in the book of Revelation exhorts the church to remain faithful to Jesus.

The Central Message to the Seven Churches of Revelation | biblicalculture.com (2024)
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