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The 7 Churches of Revelation




Provides historical perspcetive on the 7 chruches, a chart and a discussion of who the "overcomers" might be


Scripture Basis:


Rev 2-3, 1 John, & 2 John


Reference Materials:


·        Butler, Trent C.  Holman Bible Dictionary .

·        Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Readers Companion

·        Chart as Appendix A






Apparent Themes


1. Letters of encouragement, rebuke and promise to the early churches in Asia Minor.

2.      Instruction on purification to churches

3.      Messages of responsibility to church leaders



 Each letter seems to contain  similar elements usually in the same order

·        A statement of who the letter is addressed to.

·        A statement naming an identifying  attribute or capability about the author.

·        A statement indicating the recipients are "known" by the author.

·        A statement of what the author appreciates about the recipient.

·        A statement of disappointment about some problem that exists.

·        A statement of advice on who to deal with the disappointment.

·        A threatened response should the problem not be dealt with.

·        A word of encouragement to the faithful in the particular group addressed.

·        A reward  for  those who "overcome"


The "identifying attribute" in each letter relates to the threatened response in each letter

·        Ephesus - He who walks among the lampstands, may remove the lampstand

·        Smyrna  - He who died and came to life, can give a crown of life

·        Pergamum - He who has a sharp sword, may come to fight

·        Thyatira - He who's eyes are ablaze - may cause tribulation that all may know he can search hearts

·        Sardis - He who holds the 7 spirits can come like a thief

·        Philadelphia - He who holds the keys can open doors and protect

·        Laodicea - he who is the faithful and true witness reveals the truth about people’s hearts



Other Observations


·        Reference to sins are often specific but references to deeds are more often general.

·        The phrase "I know your deeds" and the concern about them is not present for Smyrna and Pergamum and these appears to be churches under great persecution

·        There is a focus on deeds not being up to expectations for churches that are not mentioned as being under persecution

·        Omission of disappointment on the deeds of Philedelphia instead a statement of satisfaction with their perseverance.

·        OT reference in 2:27

·        Chapter 1:20 explains who the "stars" are and who the lampstands are. (stars are the angels of the churches, and the lampstands are the churches.

·        Letters are addressed to the "angels".

·        The author seems concerned about the "angels" care over the church, how they tolerate false teaching and how zealous they are for the author's name.

·        Author is referred to as the beginning of creation.

·        Author is named in 2:18 by association with descriptions in 1:14-15 as the Son of God.

·        Jezebels list of sins includes acting as a prophet, teaching and leading others astray in addition to immorality.

·        People who see themselves a wealthy and needing nothing can truly be the opposite to God.

·        Thyatira deeds are contrasted to Ephesus and Saris & Laodecia as growing and they are commended whereas the others are told there deeds are languishing and they are told to get with it. Zealousness for the authors name is encouraged.

·        In those churches where falsehood is found the author threatens to come and do something about it personally.

·        The bulk of the messages seem to be written to the churches leadership. Words like "tolerate" or "do not tolerate " seem to  indicate that the problem tolerated is by the choice of someone who can affect it. Towards the end of the messages however there seems to be an expansion to others in the church and the conditional promise to the one who overcomes seems also to be more general. This is indicated by the preceding phrase  "he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches". There seems to be a broadening of address here.

·        Repetition of the conditional promise, ""to he who overcomes" but each has a slighly different reward.

·   Ephesus - Right to eat from the tree of life

·   Smyrna  -  Not be hurt by the second death

·   Pergamum -  Hidden Manna, white stone and a new name

·   Thyatira -  Authority to rule nations and the morning star

·   Sardis -  given white garments and his name shall not be erased from the book of life

·   Philadelphia -  make him a pillar in the Temple of My God

·   Laodicea -  will grant to Him to sit down with me on my throne


·        Comments of appreciation come before those of disappointment

·        The Devil is charged with the testing of people by placing them in prison

·        Repetition of "He who has an ear let him hear"

·        People In Pergamum also know the Nicolations

·        Author hates the deeds of the Nicolations






Interpretive Questions: (Some with researched answers)


·        What was Ephesus first love?  In 2 Cor 11:3 Paul admonishes believers to keep Jesus as their first love and not be led astray by other things. Certainly the backdrop of Ephesus contained great mixing of religion and commercialism.

·        What were the deeds of the Nicolations? ISBE points out that while little is known of this group, they apparently practiced violations of the Apostles commands to avoid food scarified to idols and immorality. These 2 items are thought be  the earmarks of the Nicolations and are consistent with what happened at the feasts of the trade guilds that existed at this time. It may be therefore that they encouraged involvement with these pagan feasts.

·        What is the "tree of life"? This is thought to be the same tree that existed in the garden of Eden and is referred to as present in heaven in Rev 22. It is consistent with and somehow representative of eternal life.

·        What is the Paradise of God? The word paradise is used in Luke 23:43 to describe where the believing thief on the cross would be with Jesus that very day. Paul says he was caught up there in 2 Cor 12:4. These descriptions are consistent with Heaven. The place where Jesus currently is.

·        What is the second death? This is explicitly stated in Rev 20:14 as being cast into hell.

·        What is hidden manna? Is it a reference to hidden nourishment that comes from God like it did in Genesis? Not sure …

·        What is the meaning of the white stone with new name given. Possibly a culturally understood keep sake given between friends binding them. In this city there was a custom to bind friends who might be leaving each other by writing a special name known only to them on a small piece of white tile and then breaking it. Each would take a piece. The tile then was a form of special bond of each person to the other. Perhaps this is cultural reason the white stone is offered. In this context is is a statement of binding to Christ.

·        What is the morning star?  Rev 22:16 identifies this as Christ Himself

·        What is the meaning of Pillar in the Temple of My God ?

·        What does crown of life refer to? Why is it attached to remaining faithful.

·        What does sitting down on the throne with Christ give us?

·        What are the nations that will be ruled over and in what time frame?

·        Who are the "angels" of the churches? Are these real angels, the church leader(s), the chruch people or someone else?

·        Does  "beginning of creation" mean the fist created thing or the one who created?

·        From where did the Angel of Ephesus fall from? What was the prior state that was considered good.



Cultural/Historical Background



             The city of Ephesus was a seaport on the western coat of Asia Minor. It was the site of the temple to Artemis or  Diana as the Romans called her,  the mother goddess of the earth, a goddess of fertility. At the time of the early church the city's culture was a mix between Greek and Asiatic. It is noteworthy that the temple of Diana became more than a religious entity but a commercial one as well. It owned property, did banking and acted as a museum for the ancient world. The temple was also was a place of refuge for criminals where none could be arrested within a bowshot of its walls. With all the mixing of commercialism and law in this city it is no wonder that the church at Ephesus had difficulty maintaining their focus on their first love.



          Located in Asia Minor, this city was a brilliant commercial trading center. It was known for its handsome buildings and beautiful streets. Ultimately it became the capital of the province. It was a place of strong persecution for early Christians as well as latter well into the middle ages.  This was more from the Jewish people living there than from the Romans.  The city was celebrated for its schools of science and medicine. The city was also a center of Emperor worship.



             Also located in Asia Minor was Pergamum, a rival city to Smyrna. While Smyrna was a commercial and political center, Pergamum was the religious center of the Roman province of Asia. It  featured three temples in which Roman emperors were worshiped as gods. There was also a great deal of medical related activities done there in which physicians healed by way of having dreams about their patients maladies while sleeping in the temples. The city stood on a hill between two rivers and was called the most wonderful  city of east during the reign Attalus (241-197 BC). Many Jews lived there as well. It is no wonder Rev 2 tells us that this is the city where Satan had his throne. In this city there was a custom to bind friends who might be leaving each other by writing a special name known only to them on a small piece of white tile and then breaking it. Each would take a piece. The tile then was a form of special bond of each person to the other. Perhaps this is cultural reason the white stone is offered. A statement of binding to Christ.



         Meaning the Castle of Thya, Thyatira was a small city in the northern part of Lydia in the Roman province of Asia. It was known for its organized trade guilds. The guilds were involved in pagan feasts an other immoral practices. The city also had a temple to the god Tyrimnos who is depicted as a horseman bearing a double edged ax. A lesser female god named Boreatne was assocaited with Tyrimnos. Another temple there was dedicated to the god Sambethe who had a prophetess who uttered Sambethe's words.  It would appear this city had the atmosphere against which a Jezebel could thrive.




           The city of Sadis was located on the Northern slope of Mt Tmolus. The city had a moat made by the river Pactolus and was easy to defend so it became a military stronghold. Despite this, a probably because of it,  many invading armies took the city and made it into the headquarters for their rulers and their wealthy.  The city was therefore noted for its cultural diversity over time. The city was destroyed by earthquake in 17AD and rebuilt by the Roman Tiberius but it did not recover its former importance. At the time of the early church, it could be said that the city was dying.  Of further interest was that while the city was a stronghold, it was susceptible to the quiet attack of thieves that lived in the surrounding mountains. This backdrop gives a good picture of why Jesus says he will come like a thief if his advice is not heeded.



         The City of Philadelphia was on on the Cogamus river near volcanic peaks that made the surrounding land very fertile and known for its wine. It was a younger city than the others mentioned founded in 189 BC.  It's culture was one of an important inland trade center on a major highway. It too was destroyed by earthquake in 17AD but quickly rebuilt. Many Jews lived there as well and had their own synagogue.





   The city of Laodicea came to importance as a center of industry when the Roman province of Asia was formed in 190 AD. It was noted for its black wool and Phrygian powder for the eyes. The city had great wealth and extensive banking operations. So rich was its people that they turned down the aid of Rome when the city was destroyed by earthquake in 60AD and rebuilt it themselves. It is no wonder they saw themselves as being rich and needed nothing. The city's ruins have an aqueduct that transported water across the valley to the city through a series of inverted siphons made of stone pipes. Perhaps the water there was truly "lukewarm".



Who are the "Overcomers" ?


               It would seem that there are a few different options for who are the overcomers spoken of in the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3.  Certainly one option is that they are 1) simply the believers, those who overcome by believing in Jesus. Another option is that they are 2) the believers who persevere in their belief and deeds until death. A third option might be that 3)  the overcomers are the church leaders who persevere and a fourth might be that they are 4) the angels of the churches that persevere. Let's look at them individually.


1)      Those who overcome are simply believers.

            While each letter appears to be addressed to the leader or angel of the church, at the end of each  messages there seems to be an expansion to others in the church. The conditional promise of rewards to the "one who overcomes" seems also to be more general as  is indicated by the preceding phrase;  "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches". Here we see that the following promise to the overcomer is directed at the entire church.   

             Secondly the list of rewards offered for "overcoming" can give us some information about who the "overcomers"  are in light of other scriptures.  One of the rewards, the right to eat from the tree of life is spoken of again in Revelation in 22:14. Here the reward is associated with those who wash  their robes. Dirty robes are associated with sin in the bible. We see this particluarly in Zech 3:1-4. Since cleansing from sin is soley attributed in the NT to belief in Christ, then it can be seen that the reward is available to all believers. The other rewards spoken of  such as presence in the Paradise of God, not being hurt by the 2nd death, to be clothed in white garments and not have his name blotted out from the book of life are also clearly available to more than just a church leader.

              And lastly the word used in the Greek text for the term "overcome"  is "nikao". It is defined as;  to conquer, to overcome, to prevail or to get the victory.  This word is used quite a bit in the book of 1st John as well. 1 John 2:14 and 15 use the term to describe the victory people who have "known Him who is from the beginning" have over the evil one. I John 5:4-5 says plainly that the one who overcomes the world is he who believes Jesus is the Son of God.  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes Jesus is the Son of God. (I John 5:4-5 NASB)  Certainly overcoming Satan and the world through faith in Christ is a common theme of the New Testament and this overcoming is available to all believers. So is knowing Christ , He who is from the beginning. 


2)      The overcomes are believers who persevere in belief and deeds until death.


        The messages to the seven churches do contain a lot of strong language encouraging the church's leaders and their churches to continue in faith and deeds. This context could be applied to the promise for the overcomers. If the promise were taken in this context, then a case might be created that overcomers must preserver in order to overcome. Rev 2:10's "be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life" certainly paints that picture.   In addition the “overcomers promise” in the message to Thyatira also contains the phrase 'and keeps my deeds until the end'. This appears to add a conditional the reward, however a point could be made here that this additional condition is prescribed because the reward offered involves receiving authority to rule over nations. Authority to rule may be considered a reward rather than the basis for justification. 1 Cor 3:11-15 further indicates that some will be saved but will lose their rewards.


             1 John also paints a similar picture when John writes in 2 John 1:9 that anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Such a statement seems to infer that one must continue in the faith in order to receive the rewards of knowing God.




3)      The church leaders who endure are the overcomers.


          The letters to the 7 churchs are addressed to the angels of the church and if this refers to the church leadership then it could be considered that the leaders who endure are the overcomers. Certainly the promises relating to reigning with Christ and ruling over nations would be consistent with the gifts of leadership and the testing these leaders are undergoing consistent with selection them for eternal leadership. However, the expansion of the addressing of the message near the end of the passages opens the door to make it clear that the “overcomers” promise is available to the entire chruch.


4)      There are Angels for each church and they are the overcomers.


         Certainly there are guardian Angels and most certainly they are involved in the protection of believers and the church but regardless of that the overcomers promise is address to the churches themselves which can be none other than the body of Christ, the believers.




   For the reasons explained above I think  the overcomers are simply those who believe in Jesus as Gods son, (Option 1 above). I do believe some of the overcomers will gain more rewards than others depending on their deeds (Cor 3:11-15) and perhaps the additional requirement to do his will until then end is required to rule nations but that is not particularly relavent to the question, “Who are the overcomers?” for all who believe shall overcome.

*          *            *








Orr, James.  International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE).

       Cedar Rapids: Parsons Technology, 1998.


Butler, Trent C.  Holman Bible Dictionary .

       Kingston: Parsons Technology, 1998.


Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Readers Companion

      Wheaton: Victor Books 1991.























Appendix A: The 7 Churches of Revelation

To Church @











Historical Setting


A city where religion was mixed with commerce and law.

 A brilliant commercial city with  very hostile Jews

The religious center of the Roman Empire

where emperors were worshiped

A city of immoral pagan feasts and female priests.

A stronghold in decline. Appears strong yet open to thieves.

An inland trade center known for its wine

A wealthy city of industry with lukewarm water.

The problems the churches faced were rooted in their  cultural setting.

Authors Identifying Attribute

2:1 He who holds  stars & walks among the lampstands

2:8 He who died yet now lives

2:12 He who has shard 2 edged sword


3:1 He who has the 7 Spirits of God and 7 Stars

3:7 He who opens and closes doors

3:14 The faithful and true Witness

Note Relevance to Response or Advice


What He knows



Their Deeds

2:9 Tribulation and Poverty

2:13 That they live where Satan's throne is.



Their Deeds



Their Deeds



Their Deeds



Their Deeds

Deeds are not in focus for Churchs under persecution


What He Appreciates

2:2 Their Toil Perseverance,

Disdain for Evil   Testing of Apos

2:9 How rich they truly are

2:13 Holding Fast to His name despite persecution

2:19 Growing deeds,  love faith service perseverence


Keeping his Word (obedience) and no denial of name


His interest in the growth of the disciple in faith, deeds, love, etc


What He is Disappointed in

2:4 Loss of first love - fallen away from early deeds


2:14 Tolerance for those  embracing immoral


2:20 Tolerance of Jezebel

Deeds are not complete – false reputation as Christians


-Deeds are lukewarm

 -Focus on earthly riches

His concern over tolerance of evil and loss of focus on Him


His Advice

2:5 Return to the deeds you did at first

2:10 Do not fear suffering

Repent of the tolerance

2:22 Repent of her ways

Stengthen what is about to die – obey / repent

Hold on to what you have – I am coming soon

Buy the right kind of Gold

- Repent


Response if ignored

2:5 He will remove the lampstand


2:16 He will fight against them with the sword of his mouth

Given illness suffering and death of children

I will come like a thief

Not needed

I will discipline you

& am about to spit you out. 

He will solve the problem and yet we should fear Him doing  it

Additional Word of Encouragement


2:6 I too hate the deeds of the Nicolations

2:10 A crown of life awaits!


No more burdens – Hold to what you have

Recognition that some on you are true believers

I will protect you from trial since you have endured well

I am knocking and will come in if you want

Seems to identify with the faithful

Reward for Overcoming

2:7 To eat of the tree of life

2:11 Not hurt by  2nd death

2:17 Given hidden manna, white stone and new name.

Authority to rule nations & given the morning star

Will not blot out name from book of life – Acknowledge to the Father

I will make him a pillar in the temple of God

Right to sit down with me on my throne

Additonal Criteria "keeping My Deeds "


Summary Msg

Get back on track - You're drifting!

Keep Going!

I did it 1st

Its time to clean out the church

You’re doing good, I will handle the problem.

Get with it ! your church is nearly dead

Well Done. Hold on I am coming soon.

Your on the wrong track. Earthly wealth is irrelevant


What you are doing is Important!