Revelation – A Study on the Seven Churches
Before we get into the Study on the seven churches, I’ll share a little background on the book of Revelation. The Revelation is the last installment of God’s love letter to man. It therefore concludes and crowns the canon of Scripture. Revelation is also the summary of the entire Bible. Almost everything in the Apocalypse can be traced to some other part of the Bible.
Genesis is the prologue of the Bible and the Revelation is the epilogue. It is the epilogue of divine revelation, in which the principal topics are recapitulated in order to emphasize their importance. The first two chapters of Genesis describe the Paradise that was lost through sin, and the last two chapters of the Revelation picture the Paradise that will be restored when sin and sinners are no more. Between these two perfect states is the long dark night of sin. What was begun in the prologue is finished in the epilogue. Here they come to a glorious climax.
The purpose of the Revelation
The purpose of the Revelation, written especially for the last generation, is to prepare God’s remnant people for the closing crisis of human history and the Second Advent of Christ. The book therefore demands our careful study at this time as it foretells the events and condition of the last days.
There is a promised blessing. “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.” “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” Revelation 1:3; 22:7. Of the sixty-six books of the Bible, no other begins and ends with such a promise to the reader, hearers, and doers. This constitutes a divine endorsement as a whole as well as an incentive to study and a promise that it can be understood.
“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear” indicates public reading by the minister and an attentive attitude on the part of the audience. (The James Moffatt translation says “Blessed is he who reads aloud.”) The Author intended that His book should be read publicly to the churches to which it was sent, which was the custom of the time as only a few copies of the Scriptures were available. In John’s day, there only was one copy of the Revelation and it had to be passed from church to church and read to the congregations by the elders. The promised blessing must also include private reading and study in these days when the art of printing has placed the book within reach of every individual.
Today, ministers rarely preach the Revelation
Today, ministers rarely preach the Revelation, which can be largely responsible for the small amount of reading and study devoted to it by the laity. Suppose the book is difficult to understand and is filled with seeming mysteries. The promised blessing is unconditional to all who read and hear and are willing to obey the instruction as fast as it is revealed and understood. Neither readers nor hearers can claim the promised blessing unless they are “willing to ‘keep’ or ‘lay to heart’ what is written.” Strict obedience to the light revealed is an important condition to receiving the blessing. This is true of all the Scriptures. Matthew 7:24-29; Romans 2:13; James 1:22; 2:12.
The Pulpit Commentary tells us what is meant by “keeping the things” revealed: Seize the principles of the book, and abide in them. Study its prophecies, and wait for them. Learn its promises, and lean on them. Ponder its precepts, and obey them. “Those things which are written therein,” must include the entire contents of the book, and not merely a few of the exhortations scattered through it. The statement “for the time is at hand” emphasizes the importance of immediate action and the danger of delay.
There is a threatened curse
There is a threatened curse. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelation 22:18,19.
No other book of the Bible contains such a malediction on those who treat it unfairly. This indicates that the book contains no nonessentials that need to be eliminated, and that it is too complete and perfect to be improved by the process of addition or subtraction. In divine revelation there is no room for improvement. To attempt to read into the Revelation anything that was not written/authorized by the Author, adds to it; and to lightly esteem or neglect as unimportant any part of its revelations places the guilty party under the threatened curse. The malediction also includes those who exalt their own opinions above divine truth, or who change the meaning to suit their own interpretation or convenience. When we attempt to add to what God has said, He adds to us the curse. If we attempt to subtract from His Word, He subtracts from us the blessing. (See Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32.)
John was banished in A.D. 94 to the isle of Patmos for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. At that time, Christianity was outlawed as a form of treason against the Roman gods. Paul declared that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” It has always been the fate of Christians, and especially of the prophets of God, to suffer persecution and sometimes martyrdom.
Satan never persecutes his own citizens
Satan never persecutes his own citizens, nor does he afflict cold or lukewarm church members. It was the godliness of the early Christians that brought on them the wrath of the great adversary. This explains why persecution is largely unknown to the modern church. Sister White, in The Great Controversy, p. 48 says: “Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber? The only reason is that the church has conformed to the world’s standard and therefore awakens no opposition. Let there be a revival of the faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled.
Patmos, a Small Island
Patmos is a small island in the Aegean Sea about fifty miles southwest of Ephesus, the home of John in Asia. The island is about thirty miles in circumference. In the side of its highest hill is a cave, or grotto, where tradition says John lived, and received and wrote his visions. There were two degrees of punishment determined on the basis of social and political rank. Prisoners of wealth, social standing and high political rank were permitted the freedom of the island. The lot of the common prisoners was very severe. They were to sleep on the hard floor or ground and were permitted few privileges. They soon died under the severe strain. It was a condition of hopeless despair.
Christians shared the fate of the common prisoners, and John was their “companion in tribulation.” According to tradition, John was condemned to work in the mines. With no apparent hope of ever again seeing his home in Ephesus or visiting the churches of his love and care, he made the book of Revelation his last will and testament, as it were. Out of a Roman penitentiary came the Apocalypse to bless Christendom; the book that completes and crowns the canon of Scripture.
Lonely Patmos became to the prophet “the house of God” and “the gate of heaven.”