December 29, 2008 on 9:18 pm | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on SEVEN CHURCHES–1:11

Seven seems to be a popular number in Revelation. In chapter 1:11 7 congregations are listed by name. Why these 7? Does it make any difference what order they are in? Who cares? Are they even real congregations or just fictional symbols? Why does Revelation even bother with this whole section (chapters 2 and 3) since they don’t appear on the surface to be prophetic? But that’s precisely why we need to look beneath the surface–in order to discover their real purpose for showing up here.
At least two of the named churches are listed elsewhere in the Bible in non-prophetic settings so we can safely assume they are all real. Paul writes his letter to the Ephesians in the church at Ephesus, (tradition says John was the pastor there just before writing the book of Revelation) and in his letter to the Colossians, Paul asks them to forward it to the church in Laodicea.
But why these seven? And, since this is a symbolic book, what are they supposed to symbolize? Geographically, these churches can be visited sequentially, starting with Ephesus on the coast and proceeding inland, ending with Laodicea. They are in close proximity to each other in what is today the country of Turkey. I would like to suggest three ways of looking at the seven messages to come.

First, since these were real congregations, they no doubt could see themselves reflected in the respective 7 messages. Each message would have immediate analysis and counsel for specific situations they faced. But while these messages had real meaning for the churches in John’s day, a second interpretation also comes into play here. We have seen in the paradigm of Daniel 2 that a long-term prophecy begins in the prophet’s day and continues to develop down to the time of the end (our day). The same principle happens here: Each congregation becomes a symbol for a successive era in the history of the Christian church from John’s day to our own day. In other words, the church in Ephesus represented the state of the church in John’s day, with the others following in different historical eras till we arrive at the Laodicean church, representing the state of the church in our day. We will see this in more detail when we come to chapters 2 and 3.

Thirdly, there are spiritual lessons from these churches we can all learn even today. The church today, while primarily described in general terms by the church at Laodicea, can also in a sense be seen as a composite of all the churches—there are some who have lost their first love, some who are on fire, some are being persecuted, some are lukewarm, etc. So prophetically, these churches describe the Christian church’s development over the 2000 years after John, yet they all have lessons for all of us to learn even today as well. And yes, the order of their listing is important, because they must reflect the state of the church in successive eras, and it was different in each era, reflecting a particular one of the 7 churches.

When we come to chapters 2 and 3 we will also see how important Jesus was/is to all these congregations. Meanwhile, John has been commissioned to write down these messages in a book or scroll and send it to the seven churches. It doesn’t say whether he wrote seven different copies or, more likely, wrote one copy to be passed along to the successive congregations. It is probable they then made their own copy of his scroll. But let us continue to see what else Revelation has to say about its main character.

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