The Book of Revelation: The Letters to the Churches

Chapter two of Revelation begins Jesus’ messages to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. With the exception of messages to two of the churches, the Lord offers a mix of praise and rebuke to His addressees.

The Church at Ephesus

Ephesus was an epicenter of Greek culture. Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, it was a city of great prestige, boasting wealth and prosperity as it functioned as a center for trade. The church was earlier established by Paul (see the epistle to the Ephesians, cf. Acts 19). However, over time it seems that the believers in Ephesus had left their “first love” (Rev. 2:4). They lost their passion for the Lord, forgetting their original dedication.

The Church at Smyrna

The charge to the church at Smyrna is to persevere. It was a church of suffering familiar with tribulation and trials. Jesus gives them encouraging words to withstand the periods of trial and promises them the crown of life.

The Church at Pergamum

The Lord acknowledges the perseverance of the church at Pergamum, how its members did not deny the name of the Lord. However, He charges the church to turn away from the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

The Church at Thyatira

Although the church at Thyatira had increased in faith and service, it had become ensnared by teachings in the pattern of Jezebel, committing acts of immorality and idolatry. The Lord promises that those who hold fast to His deeds will be given “authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26; cf. Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12).

The Church at Sardis

The church at Sardis was considered a glorious city under King Croesus in the sixth century BC. By the time John wrote to the church in Sardis, its greatness, like the city, had long waned. Though the church “had a name” being in Sardis, they were dead. The Lord gives the church instructions on how to become alive again, “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain…” (Rev. 3:2).

The Church at Philadelphia

Unlike the others, the message to the church at Philadelphia is one of praise and encouragement. No rebuke is found in this message. Instead the Lord commends them for their obedience in keeping His word and not denying His name even amidst persecution.

The Church at Laodicea

In striking contrast to the church at Philadelphia, which deserved only praise, the church at Laodicea had nothing to be praised for and deserved only rebuke. Like the water of Laodicea, bitter, lukewarm, and good for nothing (due to long aqueducts), so was the church. They did not bring spiritual healing (hot water), nor spiritual refreshment (cold water). They were lukewarm and bitter, only good for vomiting out of one’s mouth. 

These messages from Jesus to the seven churches are instructive. They tell us that Jesus cares about His church, and desires it to prosper and flourish in its mission to represent Him until He comes again. While these letters were not specifically written to us, we can learn from the mix of rebuke and praise that Jesus offers. Let us continue in the things that we do well, and let us reflect on and return to the good things we may have forgotten.


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The Book of Revelation: The Letters to the Churches

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