Christ addressed letters to seven churches located in Asia Minor, which is the western portion of modern Turkey. He arranged the letters in the order a person delivering them might travel. He wrote first to the coastal city of Ephesus, then to Smyrna to the North, then to Pergamum even further north. Next, he looked in a southeastern direction addressing letters to Thyatira, then Sardis, then Philadelphia, then Laodicea. These letters record the words Jesus spoke in his heavenly courtroom, and were designed to help the churches understand and respond to the visions that followed.
Beginning with the letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, John introduced Jesus as the one who holds seven stars in his right hand as he walks among the seven golden lampstands. This description emphasized the light of Christ’s glory and power.
As their king, Jesus gave a mixed evaluation of the church in Ephesus. They had commendable zeal for sound doctrine, and didn’t tolerate wicked behavior. They were specifically said to have hated the practices of the Nicolaitans, a very early heretical group that may have mixed Christian faith with pagan eroticism. But the Ephesian church also received a strong criticism. In Revelation 2:4 Jesus told them that they had forsaken their first love; they had lost their enthusiasm and zeal for Christ and his kingdom. So, Christ warned them that if they didn’t repent and return to their earlier enthusiasm, he would remove their lampstand — their symbol of honor in heaven. In other words, they would be disciplined and perhaps even disbanded.
The letter to the church at Smyrna appears in Revelation 2:8-11. It opens with a description of Jesus as “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” This description identified Christ as the one who created all things, and as the focal point of creation’s final destiny.
This is one of only two letters that doesn’t include a rebuke for wrongdoing. It focuses entirely on sympathy and understanding for the church in Smyrna, which faced serious persecution, probably because of unbelieving Jews.
Despite the problems the Jews in Smyrna created for the church, Jesus exhorted his followers to faithfulness, and encouraged them to trust him because he had overcome death.
Next, Christ addressed the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:12 -17. In this letter, John introduced Christ as the one who “has the sharp, double-edged sword.” Jesus’ words are razor-sharp, able to judge between right and wrong. And this was directly relevant because his evaluation of the church was both positive and negative.
Consider what Jesus said in Revelation 2:13 and 14:
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. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you.
Jesus followed his commendation with a rebuke: the church had failed to reject the Nicolaitans, as well as teachings that were associated with Balaam. These false teachers led many into pagan revelry and immorality. And Christ warned that he would discipline the church if they didn’t repent.
The letter to the church in Thyatira appears in Revelation 2:18-29. Here, John described Jesus as a purifying fire, with eyes like blazing fire and feet like burnished bronze. This description relates directly to the letter’s content, because the church at Thyatira needed to be refined and purified.
In Revelation 2:19-20, Jesus had this to say:
I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants.
Unlike the church in Ephesus, the Thyatirans hadn’t lost their first love for Christ. Instead, their love had actually increased. But they tolerated the false teaching of a particular woman, whom Jesus pejoratively called “Jezebel.” Just like the infamous Queen Jezebel who appears in 1 and 2 Kings, this woman seduced people into sexual immorality and idolatry — two closely related practices among pagans in Asia Minor. Jesus warned this church to reject these false teachings and to remain faithful to him.
1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
28 And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.