Seven Letters Extra

Table of Contents

The Seven Letters have a number of different layers of application.1

Each Letter has Seven Design Elements

1Name of the ChurchThe underlying meaning of the town’s name is also significant
2Attribute of JesusTies back to Revelation 1
3CommendationThis is omitted for Sardis and Laodicea
4ConcernThis is omitted for Smyrna and Philadelphia
5ExhortationUsually, what the believers are to do in response to the concern
6Promise to the OvercomerCJB: “wins the victory”
7“Those who have ears, let them hear…”

Elements six and seven are inverted starting with Thyatira.

We will include a summary in the main commentary sections as we discuss each city’s ecclesia.

Each Letter has a Pauline Epistle Counterpart

Did you know Paul also wrote seven letters to seven messianic communities? He wrote 13 letters, three of which were written to pastors and three of them have two letters. If we exclude those written to pastors and combine those who received two letters, we are left with (wait for it…) seven! According to Missler, thematically, Paul’s seven letters roughly (though not always perfectly) correspond with Jesus' seven letters.

1EphesusEphesiansFirst love/devotion not just doctrine
2SmyrnaPhilipiansJoy through suffering/endure persecution
3PergamosCorinthiansThe carnal church / married to the world / need to be pure
4ThyatriaGalatiansA call out of religiousity/paganism
5SardisRomansDevotion to Orthodoxy but must be with love
6PhiladelphiaThessaloniansHope in second coming/missionary outreach
7LaodiceaColossiansOnly a few miles apart, instructed to trade with each other, and there are Greek phrases that only occur in the New Testament in these two letters/ prosperous compromise

Each Letter has a Matthew 13 Counterpart

According to Missler, thematically, Jesus' seven parables of the Kingdom roughly (though not always perfectly) correspond with Jesus' seven letters.

#RevelationMatthew 13Notes
1EphesusSower/Four SoilsTested those could be similar to the first three soils
2SmyrnaTares/WheatAdversary/enemy has infiltrated
3PergamosMustard SeedWe assume the mustard “tree” is bad (though this is debated). Generally, mustard plants only grow to a few feet tall - one in which the birds of the air (also typically evil) could lodge would mean it’s become a monstrosity. Pergamos became married to the world and followed the way of Balaam. They followed their flesh instead of God.
4ThyatriaWoman & LeavenAssuming the leaven is also used negatively in Matthew 13 (as leaven usually represents sin in the Old Testament), Jezebel contaminates the community just like the woman with leaven introduces sin into the batch
5SardisTreasure in FieldThe treasure is hidden. Most don’t see it. A few found worthy will be clothed in white
6PhiladelphiaPearl of Great PricePersevere through trials (a pearl grows in response to an introduce irritation;); sold out for Jesus
7LaodiceaDragnetThe judgment. Separation of Good and Bad (good are kept, bad are cast away/vomitted out)

Layers of Interpretation

Scholars have pointed out at least five different layers of interpretation/application of the Seven Letters.

1Immediate, first century context, real fellowships with real struggles
2Admonitory to all fellowshipsThe things the seven fellowships struggled with are the same things all fellowships struggle with (but not to say that these are the ONLY things fellowships struggle with)
3Personal - he who as an earThe things the seven fellowships struggled with are the same things you and I struggle with (though not exclusively)
4Reflexive - did the fellowships see themselves the way Jesus saw them? Do we see ourselves the way He sees us?
5History of the Gentile Church in order, from the Apostolic Church (Ephesus) in the first century, to the Apostate Church (Laodicea) todaySee discussion below.

Seven letters as prophecy of the Gentile church

Seeing the Seven Letters as a prophetic history of the gentile church is an interesting theory, though proponents must admit they are entirely speculating.

We can’t prove it from Scripture nor can we believe this interpretation would have remotely entered the minds of the original recipients. Also, it is potentially myopic as it entirely ignores the history of the Eastern church, including Russian/Greek/Armenian Orthodox, Arab Christian, Coptic, African and so forth.

We’ll present it here since the theory is very widely accepted, especially among Protestant commentators (all of whom naturally see themselves as being in “Philadelphia” not “Laodicea”").

Those who hold the belief that the seven letters spell out the history of the Gentile church would see the following:

1EphesusApostolicFrom Resurrection through late 1st century or the time of the Jewish/Gentile split in the 2nd century
2SmyrnaPersecutedJewish and Roman persecutions - late 1st/early 2nd through early 4th century
3PergamosConstantine/ByzantineThe church became the state religion (“married to the world”) in a way that Jesus never intended for it to be
4ThyatriaCatholicMedieval period, at the lastest, dated to “great schism” of 1054 or earliest, to St. Benedict in 530, who is considered the father of the European monasticism. The church became mixed with extra-biblical traditions, “queen of heaven” etc.
5SardisReformation16th century. You have a “name” (denomination) that you are alive, but are dead
6PhiladelphiaMissionary/evangelical18th century
7LaodiceaComfortable/apostatelate 20th century

  1. Chuck Missler, The Book of Revelation Handbook (Koinonia House, 2020), 97–104. ↩︎