"the pillar and ground of truth." That is the mystery and the mission of the church. God intends the church to exert tremendous influence over the affairs of the world.

These seven letters set forth His eternal "game plan." So it's a grievous mistake to slight the crucial importance and timely relevance of these letters. They are filled with both warning and encouragement to churches that are struggling with sin and complacency within, and persecution without. In these letters, our Lord teaches the church how to live as light in a darkening world while also confronting the sin and error that threatens the health and life of the church.

As we approach these letters, two questions occur to us: (1) Why are only seven churches addressed? (2) Why these particular seven?
The only satisfactory answer is that these are seven representative churches. They were carefully selected to represent not only the spectrum of churches that existed in the first century A.D., but the spectrum of churches that exist now, at the close of the twentieth century.

There were many churches in the province of Asia at the time John wrote this letter. Other churches could have been chosen. In fact, many other churches were better known churches such as Colossae, Tralles, and Manisa. But the Lord chose these seven churches because they represent conditions that have prevailed throughout church history, from the beginning to the end.

In other words, there are seven basic types of churches that exist in any period of church history. Every church that truly knows Jesus as Lord can be recognized as fitting one of these seven models at some particular moment in its history. By either repentance or disobedience, a church may change from one classification to another of these seven basic types but it can always be found somewhere within this sevenfold pattern.

Moreover, as many Bible scholars have pointed out, these letters also serve as a preview of the entire history of the church, from its beginning to its consummation. They represent seven stages or key periods in church history. This view is suggested by verse 1:3, which calls the entire book of Revelation a "prophecy." This prophecy includes chapters two and three as well as the rest of the book.

Revelation 1:3

3 Blessed (happy, to be envied) is the man who reads aloud [in the assemblies] the word of this prophecy; and blessed (happy, to be envied) are those who hear [it read] and who keep themselves true to the things which are written in it [heeding them and laying them to heart], for the time [for them to be fulfilled] is near. AMP

As we've previously noted, seven is the number of completeness. These seven letters, then, constitute our Lord's complete overview of the church, stage by stage, from beginning to end.

We must never forget that all of Revelation was written for these seven churches. Each church not just one particular church from chapter 2 or 3 is expected to know and understand the entire book. As we explore these seven letters we will briefly trace the different historical periods of the Christian church, while also carefully examining what the Lord says to each of these seven historical churches.

Somewhere in this sevenfold list we will find your church and mine.

Light has a special significance throughout the Bible. The first words of God ever recorded in Scripture are the words He spoke at Creation: "Let there be light!" And the findings of science confirm the significance of light in the created order. Astronomer Carl Sagan says that in the first moments after Creation "space was brilliantly illuminated" and did not become dark as we now see it until much later. A science book published by Encyclopaedia Britannica reports that the early universe "was flooded with a light that was denser than matter."

In Scripture, light appears as a symbol of God's Word, of God's truth, of God's righteousness and justice, of God Himself and His Son Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:14 and 16, Jesus used the symbol of light to describe us, His followers, and the impact we are to have upon the world. "You are the light of the world," He said. "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Matthew 5:14-16

14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a peck measure, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence and your praiseworthy, noble, and good deeds and recognize and honor and praise and glorify your Father Who is in heaven. AMP

In Revelation 1, light again is used as a powerful symbol. Jesus is described in this passage as holding seven bright stars in His right hand, and He is surrounded by seven golden lampstands. In verse 19 the Lord commands John,

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Note that a lampstand is not the light. It is the bearer of the light. A light-bearer holds the light so that the light itself can shine forth, illuminating its environment. The light, of course, is the truth God reveals to the world in Jesus Christ.

The world is full of learned men, of prestigious universities, of libraries that are great repositories of knowledge. Yet, despite the great accumulation of knowledge our race has amassed over the centuries, there are many truths which are unknown to man in his natural state. One place where these truths may be found is in the church, the light-bearer, the lampstand. Only in the church can mankind find the moral and redemptive light which alone can illuminate this darkening world. As members of the church, you and I are called to uphold that light and reflect it into every corner of our society.

The church is not just a holy huddle where we gather to escape the pressures of a hostile world until the Lord returns. The church is called to move out, to penetrate the world with the white-hot rays of God's truth. We have a powerful influence to exert and exercise in the world, and that's what these seven dynamic letters are all about.

In his bestselling novel This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti describes a praying, faithful community of believers called Ashton Community Church. Unseen by human eyes, this church is guarded from satanic evil by shining beings in white with swords at their sides, bearing such names as Scion, Krioni, Signa, and Triskal. These beings are angels, guarding and ministering to the church.

And while Peretti's depiction of angels as something out of an Italian Renaissance fresco winged, clad in flowing white robes, bearing swords may seem at times a little quaint and melodramatic, the seven letters of Revelation clearly suggest that churches do in fact have angels. Each of these letters is addressed to the angel of that particular church.

Many Bible scholars struggle over this statement. What is meant by "the angel of the church"?

It is true, as some Bible commentators note, that the word in the original text for "angel" could also be translated "messenger," which some would suggest means the pastor of the church.

In other parts of the New Testament this word in the original language does mean "messenger" rather than "angel" but it does not have that meaning anywhere else in Revelation. Everywhere this word appears outside of chapters 2 and 3, it definitely refers to an angel a heavenly being.

Moreover, as you carefully examine the structure of the church in the New Testament you never find a church governed by just one human leader. Leadership in the first-century church appears to have been plural elders and pastors and it is only in later centuries that men placed churches under the authority of a single leader. So it seems highly unlikely that these letters in Revelation are directed to a single human "messenger" or pastor.

Remember that in Hebrews angels are called "ministering spirits, sent forth to serve the heirs of salvation" that is, Christians like you and me. It seems likely, therefore, that in those invisible but utterly real dimensions of spirit, there are angels assigned to each church to help the leaders and the congregation know what is on God's heart.

I am convinced that the "angel" or "messenger" addressed in Revelation 2 and 3 is not a human leader or pastor. I believe these seven letters are addressed to the angels of the seven churches heavenly beings responsible for guiding the human leaders of each church.

It was Christmastime in 1945 at the White House. President Harry Truman strolled into one of the rooms of the family quarters only to find his wife feeding old letters, one by one, to a merry fire in the fireplace. "Bess, dear!" Harry exclaimed.