The Throne of God

CHAPTER FOUR introduces four significant changes; there is: (1) a change of place; (2) a change of subject; (3) a change of time, and (4) a change of position. Idealists do not recognize a change in time but views “what will take place” as indicating “this is the vision I saw next.” Preterists look for a first century fulfillment, and the historicists see conquests of historical Rome, culminating in Constantine’s establishment of Christianity as the religion of the empire. A futurist’s view follows.

The Throne of God

See a layout of the throne of God and those surrounding it in the charts section.

CHANGE OF PLACE: HEAVEN’S DOOR OPENED (4:1). Some hold that the Revelation begins with the fourth and fifth chapters. This supposition disavows the prophetic value of the seven churches.

There are other instances in the Scriptures where heaven was opened:

1. The prophet testified that “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1)
2. After Jesus was baptized “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him” (Matthew 3:16)
3. At the brink of death and full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56)
4. Peter “saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners” (Acts 10:11)

CHANGE OF TIME: AFTER THIS (meta tauta) or “after these things” (the end of the church age) marks the opening of the next vision in the sequence of the Revelation.

Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church Symbolized

COME UP HERE (4:1) was an invitation for John to enter through the “open door.” The voice was like a trumpet. Here futurists that hold to a pre-tribulation rapture find John typifying the Church.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

AT ONCE I WAS IN THE SPIRIT—A CHANGE OF SUBJECT (4:2) signifies John was transported to heaven to the throne of God. Paul said of his similar experience:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows (2 Corinthians 12:1-2).

Door links back to 3:20 and 3:8; trumpet and Spirit to 1:10. The church of Philadelphia had an open door that no one could shut and the church of Laodicea was to open the door to Christ; now He opens the door to heaven.

Standing open is a perfect passive participle that describes an action, which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated. Whether in the body (raptured) or out the body (death), the overcomer and tribulation saint will instantaneously enter heaven’s door. With the exceptions of Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), the OT saint went to Sheol (Hades) at death.

There is no significant evidence that the Church takes a part in the Tribulation Period; the opposite is true.

First, Jesus promises the Church He loves that He will keep them from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Revelation 3:10).

Second, believers are told to wait for God’s Son from heaven, who will rescue them from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; cf. Romans 5:9). From the breaking of the first seal by the Lamb to commence wrath through His coming to earth as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, every outpouring of judgment belongs to the day of vengeance of our God and Christ’s wrath (Isaiah 61:2; Revelation 5:5; 6:16; 15:1).

Third, there are nineteen references to the Church in the first three chapters and no mention of the Church in chapters 4-18, which cover the Tribulation Period.

Fourth, the Church is missing in the saying, “He who has an ear, let him hear” (Revelation 13:9).

Fifth, the extensive use of OT symbols in chapters 4-18 apply to Israel, not the Church. Israel shall undergo the Tribulation (Jeremiah 30; Daniel 12).

Sixth, the Church is pictured symbolically as the sea of glass in heaven during the Tribulation (Revelation 4:6; 15:2).

Seventh, Christ brings His bride the Church with Him from heaven at the end of the Tribulation (19:11-21; cf. verse 14 with 18:7-8).

A THRONE IN HEAVEN—A CHANGE OF POSITION (4:2). Christ is no longer in the midst of His churches but He has changed positions; He is sitting in the place of judgment—the Throne of God.

Seven things are associated with the Throne (4:3-11):

1. Triune God
2. Twenty-four elders
3. Signs of judgment
4. Sevenfold Spirit of God
5. Sea of glass
6. Four living creatures
7. Heavenly worship of the Triune God

Who sits on the Throne (4:2)?

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3).

Clearly, Jesus sits beside His Father on God’s throne making intercession for us as High Priest (see explanation “of the appearance of jasper and carnelian” under SYMBOLISM). With the Church raptured, the Lamb now stands to execute His wrath (5:5-6; 6:16).

A RAINBOW (4:3) resembling an emerald encircles the throne. The rainbow is a sign of the earth being productive after judgment. It signifies that God will keep His covenants and that God will remember mercy in wrath (Habakkuk 3:2).

TWENTY FOUR ELDERS (4:4). There are five explanations for these elders:

1. They are exalted angels
2. They are resurrected OT saints
3. They are twenty four orders of the priesthood in the Law of Moses (1 Chronicles 24:4: 25:9-13)
4. They are twelve OT patriarchs and twelve NT apostles (cf. Revelation 21:12-14)
5. They are NT saints (1 Peter 2:9)

If the Textus Receptus is correct, the twenty-four elders cannot be angels since they sing the song of the redeemed—and fallen angels are not redeemed by God.

For thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9, KJV).

However, “us” is missing in the best manuscripts, and it is placed at various places in verse nine of Textus Receptus manuscript family in attempt to clarify the object of the redeemed. Furthermore, “elder” is never applied to angels is Scripture. This term of rank denotes the head of a family, city, tribe, nation or church in all other places.

The white garments indicate righteousness and purity and the golden crowns are victor’s crowns (stephanos = victor, not diadem = ruler) already awarded (1 Corinthians 6:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; 2 Timothy 2:8). The time of the resurrection of the OT saints is uncertain (cf. Daniel 12:13; Matthew 27:52-53).

TWENTY FOUR THRONES (4:4) represent positions of judgment. The apostles will judge Israel (Luke 22:30; Matthew 19:28) and the Church will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).

PRESENCE OF YAHWEH AND COMING STORM (4:5). “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder,” recalling the terrifying presence of God on Mt. Sinai when Israel promised they would live by God’s Laws (Exodus 19:16-19). The obvious picture is a storm; in this case, the forecasted storm of judgment has arrived.

The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice (Psalm 9:7-8).

Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing, which is the sevenfold spirit of God, is another picture of judgment; compare 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8:

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Each member of the Trinity is viewed in connection with the righteous character of wrath and vengeance at the Throne. Each is prepared to execute judgment. This picture of the Holy Spirit is entirely different from His gentle descent on Jesus like a dove (Luke 3:22) or like tongues of fire on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

SEA OF GLASS, CLEAR AS CRYSTAL (4:6). Some hold this to be the crystal pavement that serves as the floor of God’s Throne and stretches out like a great, glistening sea (cf. Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22). It simply adds to the magnificence of the scene.

The bronze basin (Exodus 30:18-21) is called “the sea” at Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 7:23-27). The basin or sea was for priestly purification with water, but in Heaven, this sea appears solid as clear crystal since there is no need for cleansing.

In apocalyptic and mythological genre, sea symbolizes the nations of the earth; for instance:

Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples—they roar like the roaring of great waters! Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumble-weed before a gale (Isaiah 17:12-13).

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages (Revelation 17:15; cf. Daniel 7:2-3).

What is this crystal sea? None other than the purified Church, which is a holy nation coming out of the peoples of the earth (1 Peter 2:9). Later, the Tribulation saints are those surrounding the Throne and the sea takes on another look:

And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name (Revelation 15:2).

By this point the NT saints have appeared before the Judgment Seat of Christ and received what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Each Christian’s work will be revealed by fire:

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

FOUR LIVING CREATURES (4:6-9). These creatures seem to be a combination of cherubim (Ezekiel 1) and seraphs (Isaiah 6:2). The rabbis said that the lion was chief of the wild beast, the ox (calf) of domestic beasts, the eagle of birds, and man of all intellectual creatures. The lion possesses strength; the ox renders service; man possesses intelligence; and the eagle is swift. These are middle signs of the Zodiac: Leo (lion), Taurus (calf), Aquarius (man) and Scorpio (eagle in ancient times). As the heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), so do these creatures continually. In addition, these four represent the attributes of Christ’s ministry on earth in the four gospels: Matthew (lion), Mark (ox) Luke (man), and John (eagle). Their song resembles that of the seraphs in Isaiah 6.

WORSHIP (10-11). The twenty-four elders follow the lead of the four living creatures in worship of God the Creator. Five songs are sung by heavenly choirs in chapters four and five. The songs relate to the interpretation of the visions, providing a clue to the literary structure of Revelation, and reflecting the worthiness of the Lamb to receive worship because of His redeeming death.

The first song is addressed to the Trinity = “holy, holy, holy,” 4:8
The second song is addressed to God, 4:11
The third and fourth song are addressed to the Lamb, 5:9-10, 12
The fifth song is addressed to God, 5:13.

Commendations, Condemnations, Counsel and Cautions


COMMENDATION (2:2-3, 6). There are nine points of commendation: I know your deeds, (2) your hard work and (3) your perseverance. (4) I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, (5) that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. (6) You have persevered and (7) have endured hardships for my name, and (8) have not grown weary. (9) You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

NICOLAITANS. The Greek word nikolaitwn (Nicolaitans) is derived from Nike meaning “victory” and laos meaning “people.” Nicolaitans suggest a group of people who seek to elevate themselves into a special class of priesthood over other Christians; as such they are “conquerors of people” and violate the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 1:29). This practice led to the spiritual “Dark Ages” of the medieval period. Others hold that Nicolaitans are followers of Nicolaus, a heretic. They are thought to have been a sect of Gnostics who practiced and taught impure and immoral doctrines, such as the community of wives, that committing adultery and fornication was not sinful, and that eating meats offered to idols was lawful. Their doctrines and lives were equally corrupt. Adam Clarke says, “Augustine, Irenaeus, Clemens, Alexandrinus, and Tertullian, have spoken largely concerning them.”

CONDEMNATION (2:4). There is one point of condemnation: “You have forsaken your first love.” Their doctrine was uncorrupted but their passion for the Lord was growing dim. No longer was “Christ all in all.” They are cold!

COUNSEL (2:5). Christ’s advice to this church: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” It is not possible for any to recover their first love, but by taking these steps: (1) Remember; (2) Repent; and (3) Do the first works.

Looking back is an established principle. God instituted within the OT and NT economies annual feasts (Passover, etc.) and ordinances (baptism and communion) to assist the saints in “remembering” the heights of original salvation and for the recovery of the accompanying initial spiritual passion (cf. Jeremiah 2:1-3). Here the word “repent” indicates a return to doing the first works out of love instead of routine.

CAUTION (2:5). “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” From the flourishing state of the church after this until A.D. 449, there is reason to believe they did repent. After a chaotic and violent Third General Council at Ephesus in A.D. 449, the church faded away. The seat of the Church changed. What the East has lost, the West has gained. Their lampstand was removed as the prophecy warned.


COMMENDATION (2:9). There are three points of commendation: (1) I know your afflictions and (2) your poverty—yet you are rich! (3) I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN. The large assembly of Jews at Smyrna rejected Christ and opposed the Christians. In doing so, they blasphemed God and served Satan. Their opposition and unbelief showed they belonged to their father the Devil (John 8:44). Satan appears to have used the Jews of Smyrna as instruments of persecution but he is the real agent.

COUNSEL (2:10). Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

SUFFER PERSECUTION FOR TEN DAYS. The reality of faith may be subjected to a test by God to show whether it is genuine. God incited Satan’s attack on Job to prove the genuineness of Job’s faith (Job 1:6-12). God even tested His own Son with Satan:

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12-13).

In the midst of suffering and testing, the Christian is to rejoice (Luke 6:23; Romans 5:3-4; James 2:1-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9) since suffering works perseverance and precedes glory!

Ten persecutions are named by church historians and two persecutions of ten years each. It might refer to one of the latter which should bear very heavily on that church. In any case, there appears to be at least ten edicts of persecution by ten Roman rulers that tested and tried the faith of the Christians, which ended with the Edict of Toleration of Emperor Constantine in A.D. 324.

  • A.D. 54 Nero
  • A.D. 81 Domitian
  • A.D. 98 Trojan
  • A.D. 117 Antoninus
  • A.D. 195 Severus
  • A.D. 235 Maximum
  • A.D. 249 Decius
  • A.D. 254 Valerian
  • A.D. 270 Auerelian
  • A.D. 284 Diocletian

The Diocletian persecution continued ten years and three months. An earlier date for the writing of this book is required if the ten days (literally taken) end the Domitian’s persecution, which was stopped by the edict of Emperor Nerva. “Day” is not used as a metaphor for a period of time when a number is attached to it in the rest of Scripture. Hence, one cannot be certain about the fulfillment of the “ten days.”

At age eighty-six, Bishop Polycarp, the convert and pupil of John, was burned at the stake at Smyrna on February 23, A.D. 155.

CROWN OF LIFE is not a royal crown but the garland crown of victory over death. Only those who persevere to the end in faith will receive eternal life.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).


COMMENDATION (2:13). There are three points of commendation: (1) I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. (2) Yet you remain true to my name. (3) You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

SATAN’S THRONE & WHERE SATAN LIVES. Pergamum had become a center of the Babylonian mystery religion after the fall of the city of Babylon; therefore, it is identified with Satan. Askelpios was worshiped there under the image of the serpent. Satan attempted to destroy this church with a huge pagan revival led by the idolatrous temples of Pergamum.

ANTIPAS was Christ’s faithful martyr. There is an extant book called The Acts of Antipas, which makes him the bishop of Pergamum and states that he was put to death by being enclosed in a burning brass bull.

CONDEMNATION (2:14-15). There are four points of condemnation: Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: (1) You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin (2) by eating food sacrificed to idols and (3) by committing sexual immorality. (4) Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

TEACHING OF BALAAM. Numbers 24:1-25:18 reports that Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam to come and curse Israel. Finding that God restrained him, and Balaam turned his tongue from cursing them to pronounce blessings on them. At last, the prophet instructed Balak how to lay a “stumbling block” before Israel, to cause them to fall, by sending the Moabite women to seduce them to defile their separateness, and so to feast with them in their idols’ temples, and eat of their meat first offered unto their idols. The ensuing result was that God’s wrath was poured out on His chosen people. An unequal yoke with a pagan frequently leads to compromise and destruction of the believer’s faith. Hence, the Scripture warns:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14).

COUNSEL (2:16). Repent therefore!

CAUTION (2:16). Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

FIGHT AGAINST THEM denotes those in the church who refuse to repent of teaching and practicing immorality and idolatry.

WITH THE SWORD OF MY MOUTH indicates that Christ will use sound doctrine like a sword to devour and to destroy them or His fierce anger will bring about their physical death (cf. Numbers 25:1-5).


COMMENDATION (2:19, 24). There are seven points of commendation: (1) I know your deeds, (2) your love and (3) faith, (4) your service and (5) perseverance, and (6) that you are now doing more than you did at first. (7) Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you).

SATAN’S SO-CALLED DEEP SECRETS. Gnostics, (“full of knowledge”) called their doctrine “the depths of God,” but Christ literally called it “the depths of Satan” These seducers taught deep things, great mysteries revealed to them; as there are the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). But Christ insists their teaching comes from Satan. The trade guilds were closely connected with religion at Thyatira. A modern equivalent is the Masonic Lodge.

CONDEMNATION (2:20-21). There are four points of condemnation for the church of Tyatira: Nevertheless, I have this against you: (1) You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. (2) By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and (3) the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (4) I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. THAT WOMAN JEZEBEL is a symbolical name for some prominent woman in the church in Thyatira, like the infamous wife of Ahab who was guilty of idolatry and witchcraft (1 Kings 16:31; 2 Kings 9:22) and who sought to drive out the worship of God from Israel.

The three oldest manuscripts read “and she teaches and seduces,” or “deceives.” Thyatira was just the reverse of Ephesus. There, much zeal for orthodoxy, but little love; here, activity of faith and love, but insufficient zeal for godly discipline and doctrine, a patience of error even where there was not a participation in it. Christ expects His Church to be sound in doctrine and practice.

Don’t miss God’s amazing grace—even a “Jezebel” receives time and opportunity to repent! Grace is offered but she is unwilling. Clearly, God does not invade one’s free will. There are numerous insights into soteriology (salvation) in these seven letters.

COUNSEL (2:25). Only hold on to what you have until I come.

HOLD ON TO WHAT YOU HAVE denotes sound doctrine and practice until Christ comes to execute the judgments that He has threatened.

CAUTION (2:22-23). “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

SO I WILL CAST HER ON A BED OF SUFFERING is the opposite of the kind of bed of pleasure that she has sinned in. Having not repented, she will be cast into great pains and torments of the Tribulation Period and Christ will strike her children (followers that commit adultery with her) dead. Christ makes no mistakes. They will reap what they sowed! There appears to be no chance of salvation in the Tribulation for these people unless they are converted and are among the martyred Tribulation saints. In either case, Christ’s longsuffering ends—they have crossed over the line of grace into the Lamb’s wrath!


COMMENDATION (3:4). There is one point of commendation: Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

NOT SOILED THEIR CLOTHES denote their purity, holiness, righteousness in their walk (life and practice).

DRESSED IN WHITE looks forward to their glorified state (cf. Revelation 3:18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 15:6; 19:8, 14).

His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow (Matthew 28:3).

CONDEMNATION (3:1). There is one point of condemnation: I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

YOU ARE DEAD. That is, spiritually. Sardis was famed among the churches for spiritual vitality; yet the Heart-searcher pronounces her dead.

COUNSEL (3:2-3). Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.

WAKE UP! Self-deception is a terrible thing. The heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9-10). These people face a rude awakening at the Judgment if they do not wake up and repent.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

CAUTION (3:3). But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

I WILL COME LIKE THIEF indicates that His coming will be sudden and unexpected for the spiritually dead. There are two phases to the second coming of Christ: (1) The Rapture and (2) The Return to Earth. Jesus announces His second coming to earth in Revelation 16:15:

Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.

As the thief gives no notice of his approach, Christ comes in special judgments on unbelieving and unrepentant churches. His special judgments are anticipatory earnests of His great last coming.

Christians are not to be ignorant or taken by surprise by Christ’s coming to catch up the Church. First Thessalonians is written to believers; it asserts that those in Christ should not be surprised as a thief surprises unaware persons.

comparison unbelievers


COMMENDATION (3:8-10). There are four points of commendation: (1) I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. (2) I know that you have little strength, (3) yet you have kept my word and (4) have not denied my name.

COVENANT (3:9-10). This church receives two special promises from Christ. (1) I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (2) Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE LOVED YOU. Paul proves from the OT Scriptures that not all Israel is Israel—not all Jews are Jews. Only a remnant entered the Church (Romans 11:1-24). Christ will use His beloved Church that is raptured to make all Israel envious unto salvation (Romans 10:19; 11:11).

KEEP YOU FROM THE HOUR OF TRIAL. That is the time of great tribulation of Daniel’s Seventy Seven that occurs before Christ’s second coming to earth. Preterists understand “from the hour of trial” to mean the persecution under Emperor Trajan, which was greater and more extensive than the preceding ones under Nero and Domitian.

COUNSEL (3:11). I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

YOUR CROWN is the garland crown (stefanon) given as a reward. Here the type of crown is not identified. Only the churches that received no condemnation, Smyrna and Philadelphia, are promised crowns.

Two thousand years after Christ dictated these seven letters, only Smyrna and Philadelphia, which received unqualified praise, are still thriving cities with churches.


CONDEMNATION (3:15-17). There are five points of condemnation: (1) I know your deeds, (2) that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (3) So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (4) You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” (5) But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

LAODICEA means rights or judgments of the people. This name reminds one of the conditions of Israel at the end of Judges.

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

Such is the “truth is relative” philosophy of Christendom at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Nothing leads to lukewarmness like everyone making his or her own judgments.

LUKEWARM—NEITHER HOT NOR COLD. Ephesus’ love had grown cold; Philadelphia and Smyrna were hot; and Laodicea was lukewarm, proud, self-satisfied, and ignorant of her true state. The Laodicean church embraced today’s “prosperity gospel”—”name it and claim it.” Wealth and health produced an inward cancer that ruined this church. Lukewarm signifies too comfortable to notice anything wrong; being hot or cold gets one attention. Therefore, Christ would rather have the church hot or cold.

ABOUT TO SPIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH most likely denotes that this church is unsaved and will enter into the Tribulation. Clearly, this church sickens Jesus and they shall be rejected like nauseous drink or food.

COUNSEL (3:18). I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.

GOLD PURIFIED IN THE FIRE signifies true, living faith, which is purified and tested in the furnace of affliction.

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:7).

SALVE FOR YOUR EYES. This church is utterly blinded to its true spiritual condition. Spiritual blindness caused them to focus on worldly wealth, numbers, deeds, which do not make a church rich. Jesus Christ looks on the inward heart of people. Their relationship with Christ is lukewarm at best and probably does not even exist as indicated by His caution.

CAUTION (3:19-20). Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

I STAND AT THE DOOR of sinners’ hearts, as well as I am ready to come to judge the world.

IF ANYONE HEARS MY VOICE AND OPENS THE DOOR, I WILL COME IN is an invitation to individuals in the church to come to salvation. It is similar to John 14:23:

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Salvation is a two-sided transaction: First God calls and then man hears. Man of His own free will must open the door to Christ; He will not force His way into our life. Christ’s voice is heard through the preaching of the Gospel and His Spirit inwardly applying the message to man’s spirit (Romans 10:13-18). EAT WITH HIM signifies a friendly relationship in the ancient world; for example, it was said of Jesus:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matthew 11:19).

In chapter one, John saw Christ in His glory as the Judge of His church. The next two chapters contain the letters that Christ dictated to John to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Beginning with chapter four, John is taken to the Throne of God in heaven. The following chart illustrates the Throne of God and those surrounding it.

Christ’s Promises to Overcomers

OVERCOMES denotes one who gains the victory, or is a conqueror (cf. Revelation 5:5 6:2 11:7 12:11 13:7 15:2 17:14 21:7). In John’s theology, the believer in Christ overcomes the evil one and the world under his control because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:3; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4; Revelation 17:14). The believer is a conqueror in fighting the good fight of faith, against the world, the flesh, and the devil. And since the Christian life is a battle, it must be a victory for the present and eternity. Overcomes also implies a continuous steadfast faith, an uncorrupted life, a faithful testimony of Jesus, and a life build on the foundation of sound doctrine; of such is the victorious life. Paul uses a similar image (1 Corinthians 9:24-25; 2 Timothy 2:5) but not the same as John’s phrase, except for Romans 12:21.

All readers and hearers should understand the multiple promises to overcomers as different facets that combine to make up one great promise to true and faithful believers.

FIRST (2:7). “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” The tree of life is the symbol of eternal life. The tree is seen in Eden and in the New Jerusalem. It is frequently spoken of by the rabbis as the immortality of the soul and a final state of blessedness. The first man lost immortality and Paradise but the second man from heaven has regained them for the redeemed of the human race.

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24).

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. In addition, the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city (Revelation 22:14).

The tree of life and the water of life go together, both implying living with God eternally. Paradise was originally used of Eden; then the temporary abode of separate souls in bliss (Luke 23:43); and then “the Paradise of God,” the third heaven, the immediate presence of God (2 Corinthians 12:4).

SECOND (2:11). “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The punishment of Hell is often called the second death, not in the sense that the soul will cease to exist, but because death is the most fearful thing of which we have any knowledge, and because there is a striking similarity between death and future punishment. To die the second death is the eternal damnation of soul and body, which are sent from the Great White Throne Judgment throne into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:6, 14; 21:8). The second death is separation from God and His glory. It is not annihilation.

THIRD (2:17). “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

HIDDEN MANNA. Jewish tradition holds that the Ark of the Covenant, the tables of stone, Aaron’s rod, the holy anointing oil, and the pot of manna, were hidden by King Josiah when Jerusalem was taken by the Babylonians; and that these shall all be restored in the days of the Messiah. As the manna hidden in a jar in the ark was by divine power preserved from corruption (Exodus 16:33; Hebrews 9:4) so will the believer be preserved in a glorified body. Some hold that hidden manna denotes the true spiritual food; the food that nourishes the soul.

WHITE STONES were known to the ancients as victory stones. Also in ancient times, they meant pardon and the evidence of it. Judges had white and black stones. If a black one was given the criminal, he was condemned; if a white stone, he would be pardoned. Conquerors in the public games were also given white stones with their names on them, which entitled them to be supported the rest of their lives at public expense. Perhaps all three things are meant by the white stone to the overcomer. White is the color of righteousness.

A NEW NAME is promised to overcomers. Name represents one’s character and new implies something altogether renewed. To name something in the ancient world showed ownership and every born again believer is owned by God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The overcomer is the person who is taken into an intimate state of friendship with Christ. Therefore, a name engraved on a signet or seal would be a pledge to him who received it in friendship. Thus, a white stone with a new name written on it indicates a new relationship along with new hopes and triumphs.

All conjectures concerning this new name are idle (cf. Revelation 3:12). It is only given to those who had finally overcome and cannot be known to us here, but implies their new relation to God and the Lamb in their triumphant state. Jacob was the first to obtain a new name as an overcomer.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28).

FOURTH (2:26-29). “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.”

Four things promised for overcoming:

1. Authority over the nations
2. Rule over the nations with an iron scepter
3. Crushing all resistance of nations
4. The morning star

The overcomers will share in Christ’s victory over His enemies (Revelation 1:6; 12:5; 19:15). It is not said that the overcomer will have exclusive power over the nations. Some will hold offices of trust under Christ during His personal reign on the earth. Yet, every overcomer will be associated with Him in the glory of His reign (cf. Matthew 19:28; Luke 19:17; Romans 8:17; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; and 2 Timothy 2:12).

Christ promises the overcomers they will share in what is ordained for Him:

I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Psalms 2:7-9).

All nations shall be broken in pieces and come under the rule of Christ (cf. Daniel 2:34-35). The iron scepter indicates rigorous, righteous rule, which is not of a harsh and tyrannical sway, but with power that is firm and invincible.

The Morning Star is one of the titles of Christ (Revelation 22:16). This means that Christ will give the overcomers fellowship with Himself. The overcomer will share in the fulfillment of the prophecy of Balaam:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth (Numbers 24:17).

FIFTH (3:5). “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.”

“Dressed in white” denotes the clothes of the redeemed (Revelation 3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 15:6; 19:14). “Like them” refers to the unsoiled clothes of the righteous (3:4). Without the proper garments, no one enters into the kingdom of heaven.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 22:11-13).

Assurance depends upon perseverance. This is not an idle threat by Christ. The psalmist by the Holy Spirit prayed that God would blot out names from the Book of Life (Psalm 69:28). In Revelation 22:18-19, Christ again threatens to take the names of people out of the Book of Life if they take anything away from the words of the book of this prophecy.

A register was kept in ancient cities of their citizens: the names of the dead were of course erased. Those who forsake their first love, become lukewarm, and die spiritually will have their names erased. No one enters into eternal life without their name in this book (Revelation 13:8; 17:8: 20:12, 15: 21:27: 22:19). Christ promises to keep the names in this book of anyone who will obey the commands of Revelation 3:2-3.

Jesus will acknowledge those believers because they acknowledge Him:

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32).

I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God (Luke 12:18).

SIXTH (3:12). Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

A pillar is used figuratively of stability and authority, as in Galatians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:15. Temple of my God refers to the eternal household of the redeemed (Ephesians 2:19-22) since there shall be “no temple” in the heavenly city (Revelation 21:22). Now eternal security vests to the overcomer: “Never again will he leave it.” He shall be permanent as a part of the eternal, spiritual temple.

When one enters the Church, the spiritual temple below, three names are declared in his baptismal formula. When one enters the kingdom above, three names are again written upon him; the name of God, the name of the heavenly city, and Christ’s heavenly name.

As the name of Yahweh (“Holiness to the LORD”) was on the golden plate on the high priest’s forehead (Exodus 28:36-38); so the saints in their heavenly royal priesthood shall bear His name openly, as consecrated to Him.

SEVENTH (3:21). “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Two thrones are here mentioned.

First, His Father’s throne, upon which He now sits, and has sat since His ascension, after His victory over death, sin, the world; upon this none can sit save God, and the God-man Christ Jesus, for it is the incommunicable prerogative of God alone (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44; 13:36; Luke 10:42; Acts 2:34; Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1).

Second, the throne, which shall be peculiarly His as the Son of Man and Son of David to be set up over the whole earth at His coming again; in this the victorious saints, shall share (cf. Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; 1 Corinthians 6:2). James and John took this hope and promise literally, not metaphorically (Mark 10:40).

Seventeen Promises to the Overcomer

1. The tree of life (2:7)
2. The crown of life (2:10; 3:11)
3. Escape the second death, that is the Lake of Fire (2:11; 20:14)
4. The hidden manna (2:17)
5. A white stone and a new name (2:17)
6. Authority over the nations (2:26-27)
7. Crushing of nations (2:27)
8. The Morning Star (2:28)
9. Walk with Christ in white (3:4-5)
10. Name eternally in the book of life (3:5; 22:18-19)
11. Confession of name before God (3:5)
12. A pillar in God’s temple (3:12)
13. Eternal abiding with God (3:12)
14. God’s name upon him (3:12)
15. Name of the New Jerusalem upon him (3:12)
16. New name of Christ upon him (3:12)
17. Eternal throne and kingdom (3:21; 1:6; 5:10; 11:15; 22:4-5)

The Seven Historical Churches

Note that many significant churches, such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Corinth, Rome, Colosse and Hierapolis were passed over by Christ. The churches were not chosen for prominence but typical worth.


EPHESUS was the most important and strategically located church of the first century. Ephesus was the most easily accessible city in Asia, both by land and sea. Most of the trade came to the Aegean via the port of Ephesus. The great road from the Euphrates terminated there, as did roads from Cayster valley and Maeander valley to the south. Its location, therefore, favored its religious, political and commercial development, and presented a most advantageous field for the missionary labors of Paul. The apostle taught at Ephesus for two years (Acts 19:10), and the apostle John and Timothy pastored its church.

Here the great temple of the goddess Artemis (Diana), one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, was adorned by the wealth of all Asia. This city was the stronghold of Satan’s ungodly power. From Ephesus, idolatry as well as Christianity spread all over the known world of that day. Here was waged the fierce warfare between the powers of righteousness and the powers of unrighteousness—between the God of Light and the Devil of Darkness. Ironically, this capital of idolatry was known as “the light of Asia. For its brief Christian history, fewer places are better proof of the conquering power of the Christian faith.

SMYRNA was the loveliest of the seven cities and the rival of Ephesus, with its excellent harbor and well protected gulf. It was one of few planned cities of the ancient world. It received its name from myrrh, one of it its principal commercial products. The name Smyrna comes from myrrh, which was used in the embalming of the dead in ancient times. Myrrh was widely used as a sacrificial gift in religious ceremonies. This was due to its connection with death and resurrection. Significantly, it was one of the gifts the Magi presented to Jesus (Matthew 2:11).

Smyrna’s natural and commercial location brought commerce, and through commerce came much wealth and splendor. The Jews were numerous and influential in this city.

In A.D. 23, a temple was built in honor of Tiberius and his mother Julia, and the Golden Street, connecting the temples of Zeus and Cybele, is said to have been the best in any ancient city. It was one of the first cites to engage in worship of the Roman emperor and was a faithful ally of Rome in the region. The imperial laws against Christianity were enforced severely in Smyrna. Modern Smyrna, known as Ismir, is still the largest city in Asia Minor.

PERGAMUM was a city of Mysia in the ancient Roman province of Asia, in the Caicus valley, three miles from the river, and about fifteen miles from the sea. It was not linked by any of the great roads. Our word parchment is derived from pergamum. Unlike Ephesus, Smyrna, it was not a commercial city. Of the structures, which adorned the city, the most renowned was the altar of Zeus, which was 40 feet in height. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world. There were beautiful temples to the four great gods: Zeus, Dionysus, Athena and Asklepios. Pergamum was chiefly a religious center of the province. The temples of Askelpios (with the emblem of a serpent) were the closest thing to a hospital in the ancient world. It was known as “the city of temples.” The city was the principal center of the imperial cult and Christ identified it as “the throne of Satan” and “the place where Satan lives.”

Today, Pergamum is known as Bergama, the Turkish corruption of the ancient name. It possesses around fifteen mosques and one of its mosques is the early Byzantine church of Sophia.

THYATIRA was about half way between Pergamum and Sardis. It was smaller and least significant of the seven cities. Ironically, the longest letter is written to it. It was a wealthy town in the northern part of Lydia in the Roman province of Asia, on the river Lycus. The city had no significant religious importance. There was no outside threat of persecution; the threats came from within the church. It became a source of error and immorality under the leadership of a woman, called Jezebel.

Thyatira was specially noted for the trade guilds which were probably more completely organized there than in any other ancient city. Every artisan belonged to a guild, and every guild, which was an incorporated organization, possessed property in its own name, made contracts for great constructions, and wielded a wide influence. The guilds were closely connected with the Asiatic religion of the place. Today, Thyatira is represented by the modern town of Ak-Hissar; it has a population that is largely Greek and Armenian, yet a few Jews live among them.

SARDIS was about twenty-eight miles south of Thyatira, situated in the fertile valley on the junction of five roads at the foot of Mount Timolus. It was one of the oldest and most important cities of Asia Minor, and until 549 B.C., the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. It had a history of degeneration. Already devastated by war in the first century, it was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 17, and it never recovered its former importance. The ancient city was noted for its fruits and wool, and for its temple of the goddess Cybele, whose worship resembled that of Diana of Ephesus.

The Christian church in Sardis was a degenerate church in a degenerate city. The apostate members of the church were in the minority at Pergamum and Thyatira but they were predominated Sardis. Sardis means “escaping ones” or “the ones who come out,” possibly pointing to those who broke with Rome during the Reformation of A.D. 1517 to 1750.

PHILADELPHIA was twenty-five miles south of Sardis on the junction of the approaches to Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia. It was called “the gateway of the East.” It was the center of missionary effort for the Hellenistic way of life. Philadelphia means “brotherly love.”

It is not so ancient as many of the other cities of Asia Minor, for it was founded after 189 B.C. on one of the highways that led to the interior. It became an important and wealthy trade center, for as the coast cities declined; it grew in power, and retained its importance even until late Byzantine times. Grape growing flourished in the vicinity. Today, it is known as Ala-shehir (“City of God”) and is still a Christian town.

LAODICEA was the chief city of Phrygia, strategically located in the Lycus valley on the intersection of three important roads, about forty miles southeast of Ephesus. It was a great and wealthy center of industry, famous especially for the fine black wool of its sheep and for the Phrygian powder for the eyes, which was manufactured there. In the vicinity were the temple of Men Karou and a renowned school of medicine. In the year A.D. 60, the city almost was destroyed by an earthquake, but so wealthy were its citizens that they rejected the proffered aid of Rome, and quickly rebuilt it at their own expense.

It was a city of great wealth, with extensive banking operations. The church of this great center of clothing manufacture was naked in God’s sight and did not realize it. In addition, its city was famous for ear and eye salves but the church did not realize its spiritual blindness.

In A.D. 1071, this affluent city was taken by the Seljuks; in 1119, it was recovered to the Christians by John Comnenus, and in the 13th century, it fell into the hands of the Turks. Today, its ruins are called Eski Hissar, or old castle.

Christ’s Message to the Seven Churches

BACKSLIDING, FIDELITY, APOSTASY AND DEADNESS. These seven letters are more in the nature of messages than letters. They trace the dawn, the development and the decline of Christendom, showing clearly that in the last days preceding Christ’s return, the religious trends will be moving away from the truth of Biblical Christian faith.

In addition, the seven letters show that Satan actively sows tares among the wheat in the churches. Ephesus, the first church, has left her first love and Christ is outside the last church, Laodicea. Yeast of false doctrine permeates Thyatira. Pergamum succumbs to worldly compromise and Sardis is dead. Only Smyrna the persecuted church and Philadelphia the missionary church remain true and faithful to Christ. Within each church, there is the opportunity for individual believers to be overcomers.

Clearly, Christ intended for all seven churches to hear all seven letters and take them to heart. Each congregation is responsible for its individual members and for its leaders; each leader and each individual believer is at the same time fully responsible for himself and for the congregation. To understand Christ’s complete message to the Church, it is necessary to compare the letters as well as the backgrounds of the historical churches.

Historic and Prophetic Overview of the Church Age

A literal and grammatical reading of the text indicates that the seven churches of Asia are historical churches of John’s day. John is commanded by Christ to write on a scroll what He sees and send it to the seven churches (1:11). In the Greek text, aorist active imperatives are used for write (graqon) and send (pemqon), indicating that John was expected to complete this command. John clearly fulfilled this command as seen in the greeting in 1:4. Contained within this scroll is a unique letter to each of the seven churches. However, the warning and exhortations of each of these letters may be applied by individuals within any church as manifested by Christ’s sevenfold exhortation: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches [ekklhsiaiv]” (2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22).

Therefore, the Book of Revelation is one general epistle, with seven letters contained therein, and sent to seven unique churches of Asia. Each unique letter is not only to be understood and applied by the addressee, but also by the other six churches. Thus, the contents of the scroll are for the whole Church. Clearly, the description of each church is unique, each having its own characteristics.

Obviously, Christ selected these seven churches out of the many local churches of John’s day to be representative of the composition of the Church as a whole. Since a letter to one church may be applied by individuals in another church, the composition of a local church must be comprised of persons having the characteristics of any particular letter. However, the addressed church would be mainly comprised of individuals fitting its own characteristics.

This view is further enhanced by Christ using the term “mystery” in regards to the seven churches (1:20). He also called the seven parables of Matthew 13 “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.”

Like the seven letters, these parables may also be interpreted as characteristic of individuals as well as the Church as a whole. A parallelism exists between the seven parables and the seven letters. This parallel can be seen by one’s interpreting the details of the parables based upon Christ’s interpretation of the details in the parable of the soils. See the chart Kingdom Parable of Matthew 13 and Churches of Revelation 2-3.

The Book of Revelation is a prophecy as stated within the book 1:3; 22:7, 10, 12, 19). Since the book is declared a prophecy at the beginning and at the end, it would be poor hermeneutics to pull chapters two and three from the book and say that they do not have a prophetic aspect to them. John recorded the key to understanding the prophecy in “what you have seen” (past); “what is now” (present); and “what will take place later” (future). The immediate context of the seven letters is sandwiched between this key statement and the statement “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (4:1). This latter statement marks what follows in chapters 4-22 as future to what has preceded it in chapters 1-3. There is no direct reference to the Church after chapter three, indicating it has been removed from the prophetic picture presented by the book. This would indicate that the Church has been raptured prior to the Tribulation judgments, which are revealed after chapter three.

Therefore, the Church must be placed in the period covered by the phrase: “what is now.” Hence, the seven letters give the characteristics of the Church as a whole until she is raptured.

The major question that remains is whether each letter is representative of a given age within Church history. In six out of the seven letters there is a reference to Christ’s coming; the Smyrna letter is the only one that does not contain such a statement. It is significant that the church suffering the most persecution is not given a word of hope concerning the second coming of Christ.

The reference in the letter to Ephesus does not have any hope attached, but it is a warning that Christ will come and remove their lampstand if she does not repent (2:5). Likewise, in the letter to Pergamum Christ calls for her repentance (2:16). Both of these references are first class conditional clauses with the present indicative (ei de
mh ercomai, “but if not I will come”) in the Greek.

Sardis, the dead church, also receives a third class aorist subjunctive conditional warning (3:3), which indicates uncertainty. If she does not wake up Christ will come like a thief.

The exhortation to the believers in Thyatira and the Philadelphia church are “only hold on to what you have until I come” (2:25); “Behold I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have” (3:11). Both of these passages convey a future coming in the Greek.

Finally, Christ announces His arrival to the Laodicean church: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” Both verbs in the Greek reflect Christ’s arrival, “I stand” being in the perfect active indicative. This action is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated. “I knock” is in the present active indicative. This action is a simple statement of fact or reality viewed as occurring in actual time.

Thus, there is no immanency of Christ’s coming promised to the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira or Sardis. However, He informs the true believers in Thyatira and the Philadelphia churches that they can expect His coming and He announces His arrival to the Laodicean church. Since Christ did not come during the existence of the historical Laodicean church, the letters must have a prophetic meaning.

The logical conclusion is that each letter is representative of a period in Church history. It would seem that each letter shows the dominant characteristic of the Church as a whole in a certain period. However, all seven churches would continue to exist, to some extent, side by side during any period.

This logically parallels the seven parables in Matthew 13, where the first parable begins with the sowing of the seed and the last ends with the harvest, indicating that they span the Church age. Both the seven parables and the seven letters show the “mystery of the kingdom of heaven.” This mystery reveals the “visible church” as either being obedient to her Lord or being defeated by forces of evil during the Church age.

Hence, we should conclude that the seven letters are not only addressed to historical churches in Asia, but they also are representative of the entire Church age. Each letter pictures the dominant characteristics of both the individuals and local churches during all periods of the Church age.

Additionally, each letter, in the order written, pictures the dominant characteristics of the Church as a whole in seven periods of Church history. These characteristics appear to overlap each other at the end of one period and the beginning of another in a telescoping effect.

descriptions of Christ

Christ in the Seven Churches

CHAPTERS TWO AND THREE portray present and future conditions of the Church. Christ dictates seven letters to John that are addressed corporately and individually to the messengers of the seven churches in Asia.

THE PRETERIST VIEW holds that the letters to the seven churches were for John’s day and nothing beyond. Therefore, the messages have only didactic value for succeeding centuries.

THE IDEALIST VIEW holds that the letters present principles on which God acts throughout human history, with no particular concern for the early church, nor with a historic church of any age. The language is seen as symbolic of the struggle between good and evil and Church and the world, with the Kingdom of God. The Church and good are victorious in the end. This view fails to recognize the interpretive key to the book (1:19) and it ignores the claim of its prophetic nature (1:2; 10:11; 22:7, 10, 18-19).

THE HISTORISTIC VIEW holds that these letters forecast the whole of human history, especially of the Western Church from apostolic days to the second coming of Christ. This view is because there is no clear break in the book between John’s day and Christ’s second coming. The weak points in this view are:

1. The interpretation is based only on the Western Church
2. The evolution of many theories
3. The earlier readers, who would have understood this meaning, would not have been able to maintain a living hope of the return of Christ

THE FUTURIST VIEW holds that the seven letters are descriptive of the seven historical churches in Asia as well as local churches of all ages up to the end times. Prophetically, they view the seven churches as periods in history:

1. Ephesus represents the first century
2. Smyrna represents the period of persecution
3. Pergamum represents the age of Constantine
4. Thyatira represents the Middle Ages
5. Sardis represents the Reformation
6. Philadelphia represents the time of the modern missionary movement
7. Laodicea represents the apostasy of the last days

The key verse 1:19 and its central and unifying theme is the Second Advent. Futurists interpret literally where possible, not resorting to wholesale allegorizing.

Explanation and Transition

EXPLANATION AND TRANSITION (1:18-20). The first verse emphasized that the Revelation is written in symbolic language with the expression “He made it known [eshmanen, that is signified or showed by signs] by sending His angel” and again, in the last verse of the first chapter, with the explanation of two signs.

“Mystery” is something formerly secret but now revealed or identified. The fact that the Church is not named in the OT does not mean that it is not there. Paul demonstrates that the Church was always part of God’s plan in Romans 9:22-29 and Jesus predicted that the kingdom of God would be taken from Israel and be given to a people (the Church) who would produce fruit (Matthew 21:42-45).

Both Israel and the Church are typified by the Lampstand. A lampstand with seven bowls supplied with oil from two nearby olive trees were seen by the OT prophet (Zechariah 4). John connects the Lampstand to the ministry of the Holy Spirit (3:1; 4:5; 5:6).

The Lampstand is one of the key furnishings of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40). The Lampstand combines the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from the Garden of Eden. LIGHT is associated with both LIFE and KNOWLEDGE.

In detail, the Lampstand consisted of three parts, a straight central shaft, three pairs of semicircular branches on either side, with seven burners. Seven signifies completeness or perfection in the Scriptures.

The SHAFT represents Christ, the SEVEN LAMPS OF FIRE BURNING speak of the sevenfold Spirit of God, and the SIX BRANCHES (the number of man) picture believers possessing the Holy Spirit and united to Christ. Thus, the Lampstand is directly related to the Lord and His people. Each church is a light bearer in this dark world (Ephesians 5:8; Philippians 2:15). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); thus, it is Christ whom the Church is to reflect to the world.

Both Israel and the Church have been warned to keep their light burning! Because of neglect and unbelief, Israel left the LORD and their light burned out. So the LORD literally removed the Lampstand from the nation and He threatens to remove it from the church (cf. Matthew 5:14; Revelation 2:5).

There are two scenes of particular interest where the Lampstand is involved outside the Pentateuch. First, when Yahweh reveals Himself to young Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:3-4:

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

The second scene is Daniel 5:5-6, when King Belshazzar of Babylon mocks God by drinking from the golden vessels brought from the Temple at Jerusalem:

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.

The first scene is a picture of being at perfect rest with the LORD. The second scene is of sheer terror! At the final judgment, every human will stand before Christ in perfect rest or sheer terror!

Christ cannot judge the world until He has first judged the Church.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).

The purpose of the letters to the seven churches is to commend and condemn, to encourage and correct, to strengthen and expose, to warn and counsel so that the church will be purged and made ready for Him.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27; cf. Revelation 1:5).

What perplexes us presented fewer difficulties to the original readers. The original readers would have been acquainted with the imagery of verses 19-20. A gold coin minted in A.D. 83 by Domitian, pictures the emperor’s dead child sitting on a globe of heaven, playing with seven stars, which are the seven planets, a symbol of heavenly dominion over the world. The symbolism of the seven planets originated in Crete where the mythical god Zeus was born, and then exalted to be lord of the stars.

Therefore, this vision of Christ stands as a polemic against emperor worship as well as worship of Zeus/Jupiter, the supreme god of Hellenic theology, “king of gods and of men.” Once a year everyone in the Empire had to appear before the magistrates in order to burn a pinch of incense to the godhead of Caesar, and to say, “Caesar is Lord.” The Church had to separate itself from the pagan, imperial cult. Separation spelled persecution and compromise spelled defeat. It was a no win situation!

The churches needed to be confronted and comforted by the One who sits on the Throne in heaven. The seven stars (angels, messengers or pastors) held in Christ’s hand in heaven show that the seven lampstands link the vision of Christ in heaven with His authority to judge His churches on earth.

Since the conditions or seasons of the Church are diverse, the seven letters illustrate precisely Paul’s admonition to pastors.

The apostle exhorted his son in the faith:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

Certainly, these seven churches are representative of “in season and out of season” for those who pastor them historically, or presently.

Christ the Communicator


1. His pronouncement of trust, 5a; cf. Isaiah 55:4
2. His plan of redemption, 5b; cf. Colossians 1:18
3. His place of authority, 5c; cf. Psalm 24:1, 7; Matthew 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:17
4. His purpose for the believer, 6a; cf. Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9
5. His praise for eternity, 6b; cf. Revelation 5:12-13
6. His personification as Judge, Revelation 10, 12-15

a. Voice like a trumpet and like the sound of rushing waters = Authority or Glory and Majesty (Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2; Psalm 29:3-4)
b. Dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest = priest and King after the order of Melchizedek (Exodus 28:4; Hebrews 6:20; 7:1; cf. Daniel 10:5-6; Josephus Antiquities 3.7.2)
c. Head and hair white like wool = Wisdom (Daniel 7:9; Colossians 2:3) and Purity (Isaiah 1:18)
d. Eyes like blazing fire = Insight (2:18) and Conquest (19:12)
e. Feet like bronze glowing in a furnace = Judgment (19:15)
f. Right hand holds seven stars = Power over the Messengers of the Seven Churches (1:20)
g. Mouth with a sharp double-edged sword = Execution of God’s Word (19:13, 15; cf. Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).
h. Face like the sun shining in all its brilliance = Righteousness (Malachi 4:2; cf. Matthew 17:2).

7. His power and authority as the glorified Christ, 17-18 (Daniel 7:14; Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 2:10; Jude 1:25; Revelation 12:10).

This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).

Compare Christ’s declarations of His deity with Yahweh’s:

1. I am the First and the Last = The Eternal King
2. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever = The Redeemer
3. I hold the keys of death and Hades = The Judge

The keys are emblems of power and authority over life, death, and the grave as well as opening and shutting at will “the gates of Hades” (Psalm 9:13-14; Isaiah 38:10; Matthew 16:18; cf. Luke 16:19-31). The Greek “Hades” (‘adhv) and Hebrew “Sheol” (lwav) are not equivalent with “Hell,” which answers to a different Greek word, namely, “Gehenna” (geenna). Jesus is saying, “I can release from the unseen world of spirits and from death whomever I will.”

Christ secured His authority and power over death and Hades when He conquered death as the firstborn from the dead.

For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him (John 5:21-23).

Christ will exercise His authority and power over death and Hades at the Rapture of the Church (1 Corinthians 15:51-56; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), over those raised in the first resurrection, and over those raised to second death (Revelation 20:4-15).

John’s description of Christ with symbolic terms reveals His glory, greatness, authority, power, eternal humanity, purity, wisdom, and the countenance of His majesty. His description of Christ resembles Ezekiel’s (1:26-28) and parallels Daniel’s (10:5-6). These descriptions unveil a different side of Christ than we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the Gospels, Jesus is primarily tender, humble, loving, kind, compassionate, and longsuffering. In Revelation, His holiness blazes with wrath and judgment.

THE REACTION (1:17). Little wonder, fear (fobew phobeo, terrifying fright) that zaps all breath and strength is John’s response to seeing the glorified Christ, who he knew so well. Notice that the touch of the right hand of Christ and His words “fear not” revives and strengthens John. Prior to receiving revelation of the future, the prophet Daniel had a similar experience with Christ (Daniel 10:14-19). Wisdom, knowledge and understanding always originate with hary (yir’ah, an awesome or terrifying reverence) of the LORD.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

Theme of Revelation

THEME (1:7). Four things are stated in verse 7:

1. Look, he is coming with the clouds
2. Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him
3. All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him
4. So shall it be! Amen.

The first usage of “the clouds” is attached to God’s rainbow as the sign of the Noahic covenant:

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Genesis 9:13-16).

The clouds symbolize God’s acts of judgment upon the earth. They denote the glory and terrors of Christ’s coming. All Jews expected that someday the Messiah would come as Yahweh’s judge.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14.

Eighty-one times Jesus referred to Himself as “the Son of Man” in the Gospels. This title speaks of His eternal humanity. This vision of the future is the only place this title is used of a divine personage in the OT.

“Even those who pierced him” refers to the Jews. This idiom comes from the prophet Zechariah.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit {Or the Spirit} of grace and supplication. They will look on {Or to} me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo (Zechariah 12:10-11).

“Mourn” might have a double application, pointing to consternation because Christ is coming to judge the world and pointing to contriteness as Christ is recognized as the Lamb of God coming to redeem the earth.

There will be a fourfold fulfillment of this vision:

1. The investiture of the Son of Man with the kingdom (Revelation 4-5)
2. The wrath of Psalm 2:5 described in Matthew 24:21-22
3. The return of the Son of Man in glory to deliver the smiting blow of Daniel 2:45; 7:9-11; Rev 19:11-12
4. The judgment of the Son of Man upon the nations and individuals and the setting up of His kingdom (Daniel 7:10, 26-27; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:1-6).

It is clear that Jesus regarded Daniel 7:13-14 as predictive of Himself and that the religious leaders of Israel understood His claim.

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death (Mark 14:61-64; cf. 13:26; Matthew 24:30; 26:64).

When the Rapture takes place, no person will see the Lord Jesus; however, when Christ comes in the air, every eye shall see Him. He will stand on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). Christ ascended to heaven in a cloud and He will be seen coming to the earth with the clouds of heaven (Acts 1:9-11; Revelation 1:7).

“Coming with the clouds of heaven” may indicate two things: (1) Christ coming with the armies of heaven (Revelation 19:14) or (2) His deity as manifested in the Shekinah Glory (Exodus 13:21-22; 19:9, 16).

Certainly, the Son of Man will execute all judgment prescribed by the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9-10). Jesus confirmed Daniel’s vision when He said, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). Above all else, the Apocalypse unveils the Lamb’s wrath.

Futurists hold the clouds describe the second coming of Christ to earth to judge, redeem, and reign based on the unfulfilled predictions of Daniel and Matthew 24.

Preterists hold that the clouds relate to Christ’s coming to execute judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), as He was to be particularly manifested to the Jews that pierced Him. However, the Lamb’s wrath cannot be detached from a spirit of grace and supplication that the LORD will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:10) and the earth (Matthew 24:30). The prophet Habakkuk’s prayer is an essential key to unlocking the events of Revelation:

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy (Habakkuk 3:2).

Another essential key to unlocking the events of Revelation is the prophecy of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:4-11). This will be a time of travail (4-6), terror 7a), and triumph (7b). The times of the Gentiles will come to an end (8) and Christ’s kingdom will commence (9). At the end of this time, Israel will be restored to the land (10a) and will rest (10b) in salvation (11a). All nations will cease (11b) and the LORD will discipline Israel with justice, but the nation will not go entirely unpunished (11c). In wrath, the LORD will remember mercy!