Revelation’s seven messages to the churches show spiritual decline in the seven churches and have three main applications:
- Historical application. Those messages originally were sent to seven churches located in prosperous cities of first-century Asia. The Christians there faced serious challenges. Several cities set up emperor worship in their temples as a token of their loyalty to Rome. Emperor worship became compulsory. Citizens also were expected to participate in public events and pagan religious ceremonies. Because many Christians refused to participate in these practices, they faced trials and, at times, even martyrdom. Commissioned by Christ, John wrote the seven messages to help believers deal with these challenges.
- Prophetic application. Revelation is a prophetic book, but only seven churches were chosen to receive its messages. This fact points to the prophetic character of the messages, as well. The spiritual conditions in the seven churches coincide with the spiritual conditions of God’s church in different historical periods. The seven messages are intended to provide, from Heaven’s perspective, a panoramic survey of the spiritual state of Christianity from the first century to the end of the world.
- Universal application. Just as the entire book of Revelation was sent as one letter that was to be read in every church (Rev. 1:11, Rev. 22:16), so the seven messages also contain lessons that can apply to Christians in every age. In such a way, the messages represent different types of Christians in different places and times. For instance, while the general characteristic of Christianity today is Laodicean, some Christians may identify with the characteristics of some of the other churches. The good news is that whatever our spiritual condition, God “meets fallen human beings where they are.”
- The church in Ephesus was still faithful, although it had lost its first love.
- The churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia were largely faithful.
- Pergamum and Thyatira compromised more and more until the vast majority of believers in those churches had completely apostatized from the pure faith of the apostles.
- The church in Sardis was in a very serious condition. The majority of Christians in this church were out of harmony with the gospel, while Philadelphia represented the faithful few.
- The church in Laodicea was in a condition of such spiritual lethargy and complacency that there was nothing good to be said about that church. This is the age of the church we are living in today!
In concluding each message, Jesus makes promises to those in the churches who accept His counsel. One might observe, however, that along with the evident spiritual decline in the churches, there is a proportionate increase in promises given.
- Ephesus, to whom Jesus gives the first message, receives only one promise.
- As each church follows the downward spiritual trend, each one receives more promises than the previous church.
- Finally, the church in Laodicea, while given only one promise, receives the greatest promise of all: to share Jesus’ throne (Rev. 3:21).
Source reference: SDA 1Q19 Quarterly