The 7 Churches of Revelation: Report Card for the Modern Church (Plus FREE Sermon Series Graphics)
Pastor, you should preach a sermon series from the book of Revelation.
I know what you’re thinking, Isn’t that the book that has the beasts with multiple heads? Isn’t that the book with strange visions and symbols? Isn’t that a little too obscure and confusing to help people?
If this is how you feel about the book of revelation, you’re not alone.
G.K. Chesterton said of the Book of Revelation: “John saw many strange monsters in his vision, [but] he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”
Revelation is one of the most controversial books in the entire Bible, and it’s true that there are some difficult passages to interpret.
But just like the rest of Scripture, the Book of Revelation was given by inspiration of God. So we need the book of Revelation.
The good news is that you don’t need to start out preaching through the entire book to get that help.
In the first few chapters of the book of Revelation, there are 7 letters written by Jesus (Revelation 1:4) and addressed to 7 different churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).
These seven cities were located roughly thirty to fifty miles apart along a circular road that went north to Pergamum, turned southeast to Laodicea, and returned full circle to Ephesus.
This is explains the order that the churches are listed. If you were dropping off these letters, you would reach these cities in this order.
Now, it’s interesting. There were actually other churches in this area, some of them more prominent. So why did God choose these cities and these churches?
That brings up an interesting question. There were many other churches in these areas, some of them more prominent than the ones listed in Revelation. Why did God choose these cities and these churches?
We know that these cities served as the headquarters for the postal districts in these areas. So it might just be a strategic decision. Maybe John (and ultimately Jesus) wanted these letters to get to as many believers as possible. So he sent them to the cities that could most easily make copies and get them out.
But there’s another possibility that is probably even more likely. All of these cities had temples, priests, or altars dedicated to emperor worship. So perhaps, these letters were written to these cities, because they were meant to be attacks on the front lines of the enemy.
Every letter follows the same basic structure and form:
- Description of Christ – At the beginning, there is a description of Christ that is specifically selected for each church from the vision in chapter one.
- Encouragement – Then, there is encouragement – what is the church doing well? What is Christ pleased with in that church?
- Rebuke – Next, for 5 out of the 7 churches, there is rebuke.
- Invitation – At the end of each letter, the message is individualized. Each letter ends with “To the one who overcomes…” So even though the letter is addressed to the church as a whole, the message requires a response from individuals in the church.
- Reward – And finally, there is a reward mentioned for those who overcome. All of the rewards are pulled from the vision of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21 and 22.
Notice that the beginning of the letters pull from chapter one and the end of the letters pull from chapters 21-22. So in some ways, these letters to the seven churches are the center of the book in that sense. They hold everything together.
The main thing to see from this structure is that the letters are very personal. Jesus is not sending generic letters to these seven churches. He knows these churches.
He knows the people in them. And He knows the culture around that church, and you can see that very clearly in the letters.
You’ll see that each church has been influenced by the surrounding culture of their city. Sometimes, the culture causes them to fight back. Other times, it causes them to give in. But in both cases, the culture of their church is in some way shaped by the culture of their city.
You’ll find that these mini-letters are just as relevant for us today as they were for these 1st century churches. There are lessons for every church. This is God’s Word for us, not just for them.
Each of these churches presents us with a searching question about our own churches and our own lives:
- Ephesus: Is your love for Christ alive and growing?
- Smyrna: Do you live like Jesus is enough?
- Pergamos: Are you tolerating partial obedience to God?
- Thyatira: Are you compromising to gain the acceptance of culture?
- Sardis: Have you made an idol of reputation?
- Philadelphia: Are you willing to suffer for the cause of Christ?
- Laodicea: Have you forgotten how desperately you need the Lord?
So think of these letters as tools for examining our own church. For examining yourself.
But just as there are specific lessons that each church really needed to hear based on where we are, it is probably true that there are specific lessons that we need to hear based on where we are.
Our tendency is always to listen to the lessons that are easiest to digest. It’s always easier to listen for the encouragement than it is to listen for the rebuke.
So as you go through these letters, it would be worth asking, "What would Jesus write to us if we were getting a letter?” And as you read these letters, you should also be asking, “Is this true of us? Is this true of me?”
In Revelation 1:5, Jesus is given three titles or descriptions. All of these titles will resurface at multiple points in these letters, and all of them help us set the stage for how we should read and apply them.
This book has a great deal to say about enduring persecution. In fact, until the final chapters, the believers in Revelation all triumph through death and suffering. God does not save them out of trouble; He sustains them in the midst of trouble.
This book is largely about how to face opposition. So John starts with Jesus.
Jesus is the most faithful witness to what God is like. The Gospel of John makes this point again and again. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. He is the express image of the Father.
And if you want to know where this witness is most clear, look to the cross. Jesus bears witness by His death. In this sense, He is the first martyr.
This is not talking about the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. This is actually a reference to His resurrection. He is the first one to get a resurrection body.
Do you remember after the resurrection? He appears to the disciples and what does Thomas do? He feels the wounds in His hands and side.
Jesus did not resurrect as a mystical spirit, floating around from place to place. His was a bodily resurrection. And this is the hope for all those who put their faith in Christ.
Domitian may take your life. He may kill the body. But if you are a believer, you have a new one waiting for you. And Jesus is the proof that this is true.
Notice this is present tense. This is not just a future reality. This is true now. After His resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples that all power is given unto Him.
However powerful earthly rulers might be, they all answer to Jesus. He will call them to account.
The question is not whether He is King. The question is whether He has any opposition. Of course, He does. But one day, this will not be the case.
He will reign until He puts everything under His feet. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Above thrones, there is other thrones until you get to the highest throne. And on that throne is Jesus. This is the truth we must remember when we are facing persecution and opposition.
In Revelation, there is a consistent focus on the end. True believers do not live for this present world. They long for a future one.
Pastor, you should preach a sermon series from the book of Revelation. Your people need a hope that is rooted firmly in Christ.
He is the faithful witness to God’s redemptive work.
He is the ultimate evidence of God’s resurrecting power.
And He is true King who came to die for us and who is coming again to reign over us.
If you’re considering a sermon series in your church on the seven churches of Revelation, we’ve created free sermon series graphics.
We hope these resources will be a blessing to you and your church.