Chapter 1 of the Book of Revelation provides the following vital aspect concerning Christ and his churches:
(Revelation 1:12-18 RSV)
(12) Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,
(13) and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast;
(14) his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire,
(15) his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters;
(16) in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
(17) When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last,
(18) and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
The seven lampstands represent the seven churches of Christ. Seven is a symbolic number that represents spiritual and heavenly completeness. The glorious person standing in their midst is Jesus Christ. This is an eternal condition. Jesus Christ will always be in the midst of his churches. This is a great source of hope and comfort for Christians of all ages.
There is also prophetic significance to the fact that Christ is shown standing among his churches. Christ and the Holy Spirit both presently carry the progress of salvation history forward through the Christian saints.
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (RSV)
1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (RSV)
This means that Christ and the Holy Spirit will be acting through the Christian saints until the end of the church age. Thus, we can anticipate that the people of God will play major roles in the prophetic panorama of the Book of Revelation. Since the Jewish people have presently been set aside as enemies of the gospel, we can expect that the panorama of church history will be presented first.
Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation present seven letters addressed to seven literal churches that existed in
John's day. The format of each letter is similar:
(1) Each letter is addressed to a specific church.
(2) A description of Christ is presented at the start of each letter. These descriptions serve to glorify Christ. They also express Christ's relation to each church.
3. Christ commends the churches that produce good works. He also rebukes any evils within each church. When applicable, he exhorts each church concerning things they can do to be closer to him.
4. Christ promises blessings to the people in each church who hear his word and apply it in their lives.
Each letter is addressed to the angel of the specified church. The Greek word translated as angel has the following meaning (NT:32):
aggelos (ang'-el-os); from aggello [probably derived from NT:71; compare NT:34] (to bring tidings); a messenger; especially an "angel"; by implication, a pastor. KJV - angel, messenger.
In the seven letters, this term applies to the pastor of the church who delivers the message of God's Word to the people of his church.
Each letter may have contained a literal message for the church of that day. However, if so, that meaning has been lost to us. The letters also contain many spiritual aspects and exhortations that Christians of all ages can universally use. However, this is a prophetic Book. Thus, we can anticipate that the seven letters also have a prophetic meaning.
Christians that hold to the futuristic view of God's prophetic Word accept the idea that the seven letters present seven successive prophetic visions, providing a panorama of the church age. I want to emphasize that the letters do not generally provide specific details that we can discern within human history. Instead, the seven letters broadly outline seven conditions of spiritual development that we can discern across the church age.
I will briefly consider the seven letters as seven prophetic periods. I will be concentrating on the prophetic outline of history. Accordingly, I will not attempt to present all the spiritual aspects of the seven letters.
EPHESUS - APOSTOLIC CHURCH - A.D. 33-63: (Revelation 2:1-7 RSV)
(1) "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: `The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
(2) "`I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false;
(3) I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.
(4) But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
(5) Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
(6) Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicola'itans, which I also hate.
(7) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'
There was much for Christ to commend in the early church. The Christians of this period were zealous in serving their Lord. They did many good works, and they were faithful to the Word of God. The church took a militant stand against apostasy. They cast out the Nicolaitans (false teachers) and the antichrists who went out of the church but were not a part of it (1 John 2:18-21). Yet, Christ had one thing against the Christians of this period. They had lost their first love. A Christian's first love is Jesus Christ. However, love of Christ translates into love for one another.
Matthew 22:39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (RSV)
At first, Christian love was so strong that they did not use the terms "my" and "mine". Instead, they thought in terms of "ours" and "yours." They loved their fellow Christians more than self (community of goods ) (Acts 4:32-37). This love was the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in people who were truly dedicated to their risen Lord. However, the world is carnal. Ultimately, many Christians are hardened by the desire to put their own needs and lusts above the good of others. Paul admonished the Corinthian church for this failure (1 Corinthians 11:21-22). Of course, this problem has persisted across the church age.
SMYRNA - PERSECUTED CHURCH - A.D. 64-312: (Revelation 2:8-11 RSV)
(8) "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: `The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
(9) "`I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
(10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
(11) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.'
During this period, many Christians were poor and subjected to cruel persecutions. However, they were spiritually rich in the things of God. Reference to the synagogue of Satan reflects the fact that the Jewish people were no longer the spiritual Israel of God. In their spiritual blindness, they had become enemies of the gospel. In verse 10, Scripture declares that the Christians of this period would suffer tribulation for ten days. Ten is used to symbolically represent a completed earthly period. Persecution began at the hands of the Jews (Acts 4, 5 and 7). This persecution served to drive the Christians out of Jerusalem toward their destiny in the West. However, in Rome, Christianity conflicted with the Roman religious practice of honoring the Emperor as a god. As a result, the church suffered persecution at the hands of Nero and several subsequent Roman Emperors. This period of tribulation ended when Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Christ had no critical words for his suffering church.