Seven Letters to Seven Churches
By Dr. Chuck Missler
The Birth of the Church
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” — Acts 2:1–4
The Church was birthed fifty days after Jesus Christ rose from the dead. On Pentecost, the Old Testament feast of Shavuot, the Holy Spirit both alighted and lit up the disciples that were gathered together. Men who had hidden in fear only 50 days before now spoke boldly, moved by the Holy Spirit. As the disciples declared in other tongues the works of God, crowds gathered. The once foot-mouthed Peter became the primary speaker, preaching to a Jerusalem filled with Jews in town for the feast, and Acts 2:41 tells that 3,000 souls were added to their number that day.
That was the beginning. During the next 50 years, the message of the Gospel spread throughout the Holy Land, Turkey, Greece, and Italy despite all opposition. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection and His sacrifice for our sins burned westward into Europe and eastward into India and south into Africa. The original disciples of Jesus were beaten, imprisoned, and eventually killed, but the saving power of God continued to move through populations of Jews and Gentiles alike.
There is an interesting scene with Jesus, Peter, and John at the end John’s Gospel. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and three times after Peter’s affirmation, Jesus tells him to feed His flock. We see here Peter’s opportunity to contradict the three times he denied Jesus during the Lord’s trial. After Jesus asks Peter three times to feed His sheep, Jesus speaks and warns Peter that when he is old, he will be bound and martyred.
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.” — John 21:18–19
“Follow me.” Those were the words that began all this in Peter’s life. Back when Peter and his brother Andrew were just young fishermen, Jesus called to them and said, “Follow me.” He told them He would make them fishers of men, and indeed He did. I’m sure that when they dropped their nets, Peter and Andrew had no appreciation for the great work God would do through their lives because they simply agreed to follow Jesus. They certainly did not suspect that we would know their names here, on the other side of the world, 2000 years later. They probably didn’t imagine that they would help change the world for all time.
Yet, at the end of John’s Gospel, Peter is disturbed by the news that he will be martyred. He turns around and sees John standing by, and he asks, “What about him?” Jesus doesn’t tell them the answer to that question. Instead He says, “What does that matter to you, Peter? Just follow me.”
“Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” — John 21:21–22
John was still quite young when Jesus said those words. He might have been the youngest of all the disciples. It’s interesting that while John did not tarry until Christ’s return, he did see Christ’s return take place – in advance.
John the son of Zebedee lived to be an old man. In his eighties, John was exiled to the Island of Patmos for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps he gazed at the clouds every day, wondering, “Is this the day? Will my Lord return today?” Jesus did not come back during John’s lifetime, but John was given a gift that went beyond the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel: John saw the end of the world and the Kingdom of God.
God never leaves Himself without a witness in the Scripture. The Book of Acts only covers about thirty years. It seems strange that God would leave us no comment about the remaining nineteen centuries and counting.
I suggest to you that Revelation 2–3 is a continuation of the Book of Acts. In the first chapter of Revelation, John sees the ascended, glorified Jesus Christ in Heaven. In the second and third chapters, Jesus dictates seven letters to John for church bodies in seven cities. Despite the teachings of the apostles and Paul’s epistles, which had been circulated among all the Christians, trouble had already crept into the early Church.
We are aware that God has ordained a period of time to accomplish His purposes for the Church. The Church Age that we’re in has continued from the Feast of Pentecost through the better part of 2,000 years. Jesus gave John letters for seven churches in Asia Minor in the first century, but we also see in those seven churches hints of something more. They appear to represent periods that the Church has gone through during the past two millennia, and they represent things that go on in the hearts of every one of us.
“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” — Revelation 1:3
I’ve been studying Revelation for forty years, and I’ve found that I can never read it without making a new discovery. There are many things that make Revelation unique. For one, it’s the only book of the Bible that promises a blessing to the reader just for reading it. That’s not so minor. No other book in the Bible has the audacity to say, “Read me, I’m special.” The longest of the Psalms, Psalm 119, focuses on extolling the Word of God, and it describes the blessings received from the Word of God. However, John promises a blessing to the reader just for reading Revelation.
The word “revelation” is a translation of the Greek word apokalupsis, which means “unveiling.” It’s important to note that the word is not plural, but singular, and it’s not the Revelation of John. This book is the unveiling, the revealing of Jesus Christ:
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” — John 1:1
In Revelation 1:9, John tells us that he had been exiled to the Island of Patmos when he received this vision. Traditionally, Revelation has been dated to about AD 96, when John was an older man in his 80s. The church father Irenaeus (AD 130–202) tells us in Against Heresies that John wrote his apocalypse at the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian. Irenaeus was the student of John’s disciple Polycarp, and he is therefore close enough to the life of John to offer trustworthy information. Eusebius offers confirmation, writing that John returned from his exile in Patmos after Domitian died. The end of Domitian’s reign was AD 96, giving us a bookend for the date of Revelation.
The revelation of Jesus Christ is not limited to John’s book, of course. Jesus spoke through King David in Psalm 40:7, “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me.” The entire Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ. However, Revelation is a particularly special volume. Christ not only shows John end-times events and dictates to him words for the churches, but Revelation ties up the entire story for us.
When Revelation 1:1 says, “which God gave unto him…” who is the him there? Jesus Christ. God the Father gave the revelation to Jesus Christ to show unto His servants. We have a taste of the Trinity here.
Remember Mark 13:32:
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
There are things the Father knew that were hidden from the Son in His humanity. We have a study, The Trinity, that describes the many works — from the creation of the world and humankind to the atonement through the death and resurrection of Christ — that the Bible tells us were accomplished by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three members of the Godhead are described as God, with all the powers of God. Yet, we find other verses that show distinctions between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father knew when Jesus would return, and Jesus did not. The point is that the Father gave the revelation to Jesus Christ, “to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.”
It’s important to be aware that the 404 verses of Revelation allude to at least 800 verses from the Old Testament. If we’ve done our homework, and have a mastery of the Old Testament, there are many things that become clear about Revelation. It’s a book full of code, and yet the codes are explained throughout the rest of Scripture. One of the many blessings of this book — if we study it with any diligence at all — is that it takes us into every other book of the Bible. We come away from a study of Revelation with a deep respect for the integrity of the total. We have 66 books, penned by 40 different writers over thousands of years, yet we discover that the Bible is a single integrated message. I suggest that every number, every place name in the original autographs was placed there by the LORD’s design.
Chapter 1 of Revelation is an introductory and organizational chapter. It sets up certain identities that are developed throughout the rest of the book.
“Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;” — Revelation 1:19
The first section of Revelation includes the things which John “hast seen” — the past. This is John’s vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in chapter 1. When John begins writing the book, this particular chapter is in the past. The second section is John’s present, “the things which are.” This is what is found in the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2–3. The things that were going on in the churches was the present at that time and has continued to apply to the present day all throughout the Church Age. “The things which shall be hereafter” is the third section. It serves as a partitioning phrase that indicates a change; the final act of Earth will then begin.
Here is the surprise for most people. I believe that the most mysterious, the most practical, the most meaningful part of the entire book is the part that most people skim through — chapters 2 and 3. Everybody wants to get into all the weird stuff that starts in chapter 4. I’m guilty of that, too, but Revelation 4:1 is all the future for us. It’s exciting stuff, but it’s the future. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the present — the time of the Church. I don’t mean when John was writing; I’m talking about this year, next year — until the time of the Gentiles is ended as Paul foretells in Romans 11:25. We discover that the letters to the seven churches of John’s day are also the seven churches of our day.