The Seven Letters

The wise man said, “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” Ecclesiastes 3:15. There are libraries full of history books that record those things that have been to enable us to learn from the past.

Many people are afraid to study the book of Revelation. It is not a book that should be avoided or just lightly skimmed through, but one that should be understood. In fact, the book begins and ends with an encouraging promise. John said, “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.” Revelation 1:3. And again at the end, “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:7.

It is impossible to keep something that you do not have. The word keep, according to Webster’s dictionary means to take notice of by appropriate conduct. This means more than a mere mental assent. “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10).

Revelation is to be understood by the people of God, especially in the final hours of earth’s history. Ellen White wrote, “When we as a people understand what this book means to us, there will be seen among us a great revival. We do not understand fully the lessons that it teaches, notwithstanding the injunction given us to search and study it.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 113.

“When the churches are revived, it is because some individual seeks earnestly for the blessing of God. He hungers and thirsts after God, and asks in faith, and receives accordingly. He goes to work in earnest, feeling his great dependence on the Lord, and souls are aroused to seek for a like blessing, and a season of refreshing falls on the hearts of men.” The Review and Herald, March 13, 1888.

A revival begins with one individual catching a view of the glory of Jesus that moves him to be earnest in searching his own heart and in diligent work for the salvation of souls. With this spirit, others are infused.

Christ commissioned John to write letters to the seven churches of Asia. He said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. … And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun in his strength. … Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:10, 16, 19, 20.

A reference is made in the book, The Acts of the Apostles, 585, that these seven churches are symbolic. “The names of the seven churches are symbolic of the church in different periods of the Christian Era. The number seven indicates completeness, and is symbolic of the fact that the messages extend to the end of time, while the symbols used reveal the condition of the church at different periods in the history of the world.”

At the time in which John received the vision there were more than these seven churches in Asia, but in His infinite wisdom Christ saw that in these were represented exactly the trials that His people would go through at specific times and would also apply individually to those living in the last days.

The Loveless Church

The first letter was to the church of Ephesus. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, Who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” Revelation 2:1–3.

Ephesus means to let go, relax, permit something. The church of Ephesus existed from the years A.D. 31 to A.D. 100. Ephesus was the capital and the most important city in the Roman province of Asia. It was wealthy and within the city could be found theaters, public bathhouses, the public square, paved streets, and many other modern conveniences. It was the major center for commerce, politics and religious importance and as such, it was a promising field for missionary effort. Ephesus was the center for the worship of Artemus, believed to be the Greek goddess of fertility. Many Jews also congregated there. In the book, The Acts of the Apostles, 578, 579, we are told: “At the first the experience of the church at Ephesus was marked with childlike simplicity and fervor. The believers sought earnestly to obey every word of God, and their lives revealed an earnest, sincere love for Christ. They rejoiced to do the will of God because the Saviour was in their hearts as an abiding presence. Filled with love for their Redeemer, their highest aim was to win souls to Him.”

Ephesus was a missionary-minded church. They had found this new love and had a burden that those around them could also experience it. It is well documented that from that center missionaries were sent forth, even as far as Rome, to share the gospel of Jesus and to proclaim His Second Coming to the inhabitants there. But after a while things began to change. The zeal of the believers began to wane and their love for God and for one another grew less. Coldness crept into the church and they no longer made missionary efforts; they no longer engaged in the work and as a result they lost their burden for souls.

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.” Revelation 2:4, 5.

The Ephesians left their first love, their missionary spirit with a burden to win souls to Christ, and as a result, darkness and coldness crept into the church, its spiritual condition becoming worse until the whole church went through a change.

The Persecuted Church

Smyrna signifies “myrrh,” which being of bitter taste is expressive of the bitter afflictions and persecutions which was the experience of this church. This church represents the time period from around A.D. 100 until A.D. 313 when Christianity was legalized by the Roman Empire. “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; ‘These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.’ ” Verse 8. Smyrna was built by Alexander’s general Lysimachus around the third century B.C. It was one of the most prosperous cities of Asia minor. Under the Roman Empire it was famous for its beauty and the magnificence of its public buildings. Verses 9, 10 state: “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

The church of Smyrna encountered much opposition from the Jews and also suffered heavy persecution from the Roman government. Under the emperor Marcus Aurelius, the famous bishop Polycarp was martyred in A.D. 155, his fate being sealed by the flames and sword. Polycarp’s words are insightful into the character of God’s faithful who were persecuted at that time. When asked by the power of Rome to repent and deny Christ, Polycarp replied, “Our minds are not to be changed from the better to the worse, but it is a good thing to be changed from evil to good.” When he was nailed to the stake to be burned Polycarp said, “Let me remain as I am; for He who giveth me strength to sustain the fire, will enable me also, without your securing me with nails, to remain unmoved in the fire.” Pioneer Authors, Cornell, Merritt E, Miraculous Powers, 62.

The Compromising Church

Pergamos was a compromising church. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is; and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” Revelation 2:12, 13. Due to its strategic position along the land and the sea, Pergamus enjoyed many centuries of wealth and prosperity. In 133 B.C., Pergamos came under Roman control and it held a religious primacy in the whole province of Asia.

It was a well-known center of religious activities, and it was here that the first temple for emperor worship was built, Satan’s seat. “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” Verses 14–16.

Religious pressure by the pagans was very intense against the church of Pergamos. There was also much religious pressure from within. Many of the pagan believers compromised the faith as did Balaam, God’s prophet who apostatized and tried to curse Israel. This took place with the pagan believers because their hearts were not truly converted. These compromises were made with the Roman state, represented as Balak. It was compromise that allowed many false teachings and practices to enter the Christian church. It was at this time that there were many changes in doctrines and practices. The doctrine of eternal burning of the wicked was introduced and the teaching of the Nicolaitans that God’s grace blotted out the law. Serious compromises were made during this time in which the groundwork for the union of church and state was established. This period was approximately from A.D. 313 until 538.

The Corrupt Church

Thyatira means a sweet savor of affliction and this was the church in darkness. “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, Who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass.” Verse 18.

Thyatira was about twenty-five miles southeast of Pergamum. Thyatira was well-known for its industries. It was famous for garment making, baking, and many other industries. Its citizens were mostly poor humble laborers. “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess to teach and seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” Verses 19, 20.

This was a period of darkness for the church. Jezebel, a woman in Bible prophecy, representing a church, here refers to the apostate church at this time—the Roman system, the Papacy. There was an improvement in Thyatira’s condition, the last being better than the first. The church of Thyatira represents the church of darkness, the church during the Dark Ages, A.D. 538 till around 1517, which is when the council of Trent came to the final decision of separation between the Catholics and Protestants. It was at this time that the Reformers came upon the scene, thus the last of Thyatira’s works were greater than the first.

The Dead Church

“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” Revelation 3:1. Sardis represents the church of the Reformers—the Reformation church. Sardis was around 35 miles southeast of Thyatira, and due to its early prosperity, the city became known for its wealth. The fortress of the city was almost impregnable. They had a name that they lived and they were wealthy, very prosperous.

“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” Verses 2, 3. In 549 B.C., Cyrus the Mede set out to take Sardis from King Crusos. To reach Sardis meant a climb up a steep and narrow hill, which was heavily fortified. The king of Sardis had no concern when Cyrus came against him believing his fortress was impregnable. However, Cyrus took a route that the king thought to be impassable so was not heavily guarded and entered at an unguarded point and conquered the city.

Almost 330 years later in 214 B.C., Antiochus used the same strategy to conquer Sardis. In other words, they did not learn their lesson the first time and as a result, they fell again. They were not diligent in watching for danger. They did not strengthen the things that remained, so they fell. This, of course, is a perfect symbol of the Protestant Reformation. At its beginning, the Reformers stood boldly for righteousness by faith and understood the principles of the gospel, although there was still more light to shine upon them that they had not yet received.

God was calling His people out of the apostate system of worship and we know many of these Reformers such as Martin Luther who established the church of the Lutherans. There were other Reformers as well: John Huss, Jerome, Zwingli and Wycliffe, who was called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” The problem with the Protestant churches was that they only went to a certain point and then ceased to protest. They ceased to progress in the light and as a result, the Protestant churches became similar to that which they came out of, the mother church, Babylon.

This is what took place with Sardis in A.D. 1517, which was when the Council of Trent finally settled the fact that Protestants would go one way and Catholics would go another. The Protestant churches flourished until around the middle of the eighteenth century.

The Faithful Church

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith He that is holy, and that is true, He that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth.” Revelation 3:7. Athalas Philadelpus named his brother Philadelpus because his brother was very loyal to him. He also named this city Philadelphia after his brother, meaning brotherly love. Philadelphia is a symbol of the missionary church. It was well-known for its temples and religious festivals. “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.” Verse 8.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a great religious awakening took place worldwide and prominently in America. Missionaries coming out of the Reformation movement went to various places proclaiming the Second Advent message. Here in America, William Miller was the one who led out in the great religious awakening. God used him to preach the near Advent. But, as we know, the believers thought that in 1844 Jesus would return. When Jesus did not return, there was a great disappointment. Their timing was correct, but the event was wrong. It was not the return of Jesus to this earth. Rather it was that Jesus had placed before them an open door, which no man could shut.

In the heavenly courts there is a sanctuary. You can read this specifically in Hebrews chapter 8. The believers came to recognize that in 1844, instead of Jesus’ coming to this earth as they expected, He moved from the Holy Place into the Most Holy Place of that sanctuary. The door therein was opened and the door to the Holy Place was shut.

This was the early Advent movement and the believers were fervent. They had a zeal to preach the great Second Advent. These individuals prayed constantly, confessing their sins, searching their hearts, expecting Jesus to come immediately. And after the disappointment, the majority lost faith; they lost their zeal and love and only a few remained faithful. This was the period of the Philadelphia church, from around the 1750s up to approximately the 1850s.

The Lukewarm Church

And as time went on, the church lost its fervor and zeal and again began to come into another saddened condition. The seventh church, the church of Laodicea, represents this period. “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.” Revelation 3:14, 15.

Laodicea was about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia and its strategic position made it a prosperous commercial center. However, Laodicea lacked a supply of good water. “So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Verses 16, 17. Laodicea is a reference to the lukewarm church of God from the days of the 1850s until the end. This Laodicean condition is taking place today, not just in the Protestant world, but within those who profess to be Seventh-day Adventists.

Laodicea means judgment of the people. It is interesting here because in context, Laodicea had a judgment of themselves. And their judgment of themselves was wrong because it says, “You say that you are rich, you say that you are increased with goods, not knowing your true condition.” Their righteousness was self-righteousness, not knowing they were blind, and poor and naked. This era of the Laodicean period is the time in which we are living today.

We take courage that there were some faithful Christians there in the church in the wilderness. In Revelation 2:24 we are told: “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.”

Remember, the church at Thyatira represented the church of the Dark Ages, the time in which the papacy was reigning at its utmost. The darkness for which the period was known had its beginning in the church. But here we see that there were some in Thyatira who had not these doctrines being promoted to the church by the Nicolaitans. This is the period of time spoken of in the prophecy in Revelation 12:6 and 14: “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. … And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” Here the woman represented the true church of God that went into the wilderness during this dark period of one thousand two hundred sixty days, which represents, according to Bible prophecy, one thousand two hundred and sixty years: the church in the wilderness.

Many of God’s people still resisted the darkness. The Albigenses of France and the Waldenses, who originated in the valley of Piedmont in north Italy, the very land where the darkness was thickest, were among the groups that resisted the darkness. This group of people had to flee out into the mountains and caves because of persecution by the apostate church. Although they were in mountains and caves, yet they maintained the true faith. The few copies of the Bible they had were so precious to them that they copied them by hand to have more. They would go out as missionaries in the marketplaces and carefully share their faith with others at the risk of their lives.

A papal bull of Pope Innocent the 8th in 1487 really began a fierce persecution against God’s faithful people at that time. The bull said in part: “… absolved from all ecclesiastical pains and penalties general and particular those who join it along. …” It released, “all who joined the crusade from any oaths they may have taken.” It “… legitimized their title to any property they may have illegally acquired and promised remission of all their sins to such as should kill any heretic.” It “… annulled all contracts made in favor of Waldenses.” It “… ordered their domestics to abandon them, forbade all persons to give them any aid whatever, and empowered all persons to take possession of their property.” The Great Controversy, 77.

As the church in the wilderness, God’s people endured suffering, affliction and were hunted as wild beasts. Many of them were martyred for their faith, thrown to wild beasts to devour them, burned at the stake, hung up-side-down and tortured beyond our imagination. This was the experience of God’s people.

These lessons are instructive for us today. We know, according to prophecy, that the time will come in the last days for the people of God to endure troublesome times beyond that which we have ever imagined. In II Timothy 3:12, the apostle Paul says concerning all those who believe, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

I have asked myself, “Where then is that persecution?” Sure, we may have experienced a little persecution here and there, but it has been a drop in the bucket in comparison to the great ocean with which God’s people have been drenched in the past.

A well-known quotation from The Great Controversy, 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. The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian faith in the days of Christ and His apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. 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.”

Are you prepared to endure hardship and persecution? Can you endure the trials you may face right now? Often times we talk about the time of trouble that is to come, but we weep, and complain, and murmur over little hardships that we may have today. Many do not want to sacrifice for the cause of Christ but are comfortable just attending church every Sabbath to listen to the messages preached from the pulpit. We should be searching our own hearts, pleading for God to infuse us with His word, that we too may have a word to give in due season to those that are weary (Proverbs 15:23). Many have lost that missionary spirit, and have become as patients who come to church sick, perhaps receiving a bandaid, and maybe even being healed, but in turn, not wanting to aid in the healing of someone else.

There are many opportunities available to serve in the cause of Christ. Many offices need to be filled, but where are the workers? Where are those who are consecrated? Too many people are more concerned about our own business and their own houses, rather than the things that are of Jesus Christ.

James 1:3, 4 says, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Here is the patience of the saints. We are told to let patience have her perfect work (James 1:4). Let God work it out. Bear the responsibilities that He has granted. In fact, we are even called to choose the hard instead of the easy, but how often we choose the easy way.

The Waldensians endured far more persecution than we have thus far, and they recognized the blessings that this persecution brought. Yet in our Laodicean condition, thinking that we are rich, increased with goods, and have need of nothing, we know not our true condition, that we are wretched, poor, blind, miserable and naked (Revelation 3:17). Perhaps not until we experience the degree of persecution that the Waldensians did will we recognize our true state and the blessings that persecution brings.

When we undertake the work that has been so clearly laid out before us by our Saviour, there are likely to be two consequences, perhaps occurring concurrently, as they often go hand in hand. One, we may well suffer persecution, just as the Waldensians did, though initially not as severe as they ultimately did. That comes very near the meeting of time and eternity. But second, once we begin that heart-work in the vineyard, we will begin to develop the character of Christ.

“When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 69. If we are going to have the character of Christ reproduced in us, something is essential. “God could have reached His object in saving sinners without our aid; but in order for us to develop a character like Christ’s, we must share in His work. In order to enter into His joy—the joy of seeing souls redeemed by His sacrifice—we must participate in His labors for their redemption.” The Desire of Ages, 142.

It is well time to recognize the gifts and talents that God has given you, or you will be like that wicked, unprofitable servant who shall be cast into the lake of fire.

In Jude 3 we are given this exhortation: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend [fight] for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

Fredrick Faber was a nineteenth century priest for the Church of England who later sadly joined the Roman church. But among Faber’s interests were the lives of the saints and he wrote a hymn that acknowledges the legacy of the martyrs in England. In this famous hymn published in 1849, occur the following words:

“Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy,
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to Thee till death.”

May that also be our prayer.

Demario Carter is currently a Bible worker for Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: