Seven churches of Asia

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Map of western Anatolia showing the island Patmos and the locations of the cities housing the seven churches

The Seven Churches of Revelation, also known as the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse and the Seven Churches of Asia, are seven major churches of Early Christianity, as mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation. All of them are located in the Asia Minor, present-day Turkey.


According to Revelation 1:11, on the Greek island of Patmos, Jesus Christ instructs John of Patmos to: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."[1] The churches in this context refers to the community or local congregations of Christians living in each city.[2][3]

The seven churches[edit]

The seven churches of Asia in stained glass in York Minster by John Thornton

The seven churches are named for their locations. The Book of Revelation provides descriptions of each Church.

  • Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7): known for having labored hard and not fainted, and separating themselves from the wicked; admonished for having forsaken its first love (2:4)
  • Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11): admired for its tribulation and poverty; forecast to suffer persecution (2:10)
  • Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17): located where 'Satan's seat' is; needs to repent of allowing false teachers (2:16)
  • Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29): known for its charity, whose "latter works are greater than the former"; tolerates the teachings of a false prophetess (2:20)
  • Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6): admonished for - in contrast to its good reputation - being dead; cautioned to fortify itself and return to God through repentance (3:2-3)
  • Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13): known as steadfast in faith, keeping God's word and enduring patiently (3:10)
  • Laodicea, near Denizli (see Laodicean Church) (Revelation 3:14-22): called lukewarm and insipid (3:16)

Seven messages[edit]

The letters follow a common pattern. For example: the Lord first addresses each church and identifies Himself,[4] then defines things that He knows about the church in question.[5] After this, a challenge or reproach is given,[6] followed by a promise.[7] In all seven cases the admonition is included, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches",[8] although sometimes this comes before the promise and sometimes after.

Although the letters differ in length in accord with the needs of each community, all conclude with an appeal to hold fast and to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Each church is promised that everyone who conquers will be rewarded by Christ.

Some historicists typically interpret the seven churches as representing seven different periods in the history of the Western Church from the time of Paul until the return of Jesus Christ.[9] Scofield states that "these messages by their very terms go beyond the local assemblies mentioned."[10] He is of the opinion that the letters have a prophetic purpose disclosing the seven phases of the spiritual history of the Church. Other writers, such as Clarence Larkin,[11] Henry Hampton Halley,[12] Merrill Unger,[13] and William M. Branham[14] also have posited the view that the seven churches preview the history of the global Church.

Mosaic in St Mark's Basilica of the seven angels

Historicism has been criticized by the Eastern Orthodox Fr. Dimitri Cozby, who writes that historicists take a greatly oversimplified view of church history: "Since dispensationalism is Protestant in origin its 'Church history' is strictly Western. The dispensations take into account almost nothing of Orthodox history after the period of the early councils which we share with the West."[15]

Angels of the churches[edit]

Chapters 2-3 of the Revelation have specific messages for each of the seven angels of the seven churches. The message of each of the seven letters is directed to the angel of the particular church that is mentioned.

Origen[16] explains that these "angels" are the guardian angels of the churches, a view upheld by Henry Alford. But Epiphanius[17] explicitly rejects this view, and, in accordance with the imagery of the passage, explains it as the bishops. James L. Resseguie sees the angels of the churches as the heavenly reality, the spiritual condition of the church, the counterpart to the earthly reality.[18] Similarly, Isbon T. Beckwith contends that the angels represent the invisible spiritual life of the church, its “ideal conception of its immanent spirit,”[19] and Henry Barclay Swete refers to the angels as the “prevailing spirit” of the church.[20] “The angels are not human messengers or bishops of the church; rather, they are the heavenly counterparts to the empirical reality of the earthly church.”[21]

John sees a vision of the Son of man, who walks among seven lampstands and has seven stars in his right hand. Revelation 1:20 states that "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." The comparison of a teacher to a star is scriptural.[22]

Augustine of Hippo's reason for interpreting angels of the churches as the prelates of the church is that St. John speaks of them as falling from their first charity, which is not true of the angels.[23][24] Others would say that the falling away relates to the churches, not to the messengers, as each of the seven letters conclude with the words "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

The Amplified Bible states that Revelation 2:2 through to 3:18, “your” and “you” are in the singular, referring to the angel of each church. Much of what is said is rebuke and admonishment, so if the angels are heavenly beings, they may serve in some way as representatives of the sinful people in their churches. Jewish tradition maintained that every nation and individual has a guardian angel, and that when God is about to punish a nation, He first punishes its angel. There is even a story of Michael, the guardian angel of Israel, being rebuked by God for the sins committed in the time of Ezekiel. So the original readers of Revelation might have assumed that the angels here are the guardian angels of the individual churches, sharing responsibility for the actions of the members.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for angels (άγγελος) is not only used for heavenly angels, but also used for human messengers, such as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10,Mark 1:2,Luke 7:27) and God's prophets (Revelation 22:8-9)[25] C.I. Scofield has noted that "The natural explanation of the 'messengers' is that they were men sent by the seven churches to ascertain the state of the aged apostle ... but they figure any who bear God's messages to a church."[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Revelation 1:11
  2. ^ John (1994). Barbara Aland; Kurt Aland; Johannes Karavidopoulos; Carlo M. Martini; Bruce M. Metzger (eds.). The Greek New Testament. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
  3. ^ Walter Bauer (1979). William F. Arndt; F. Wilbur Gingrich; Frederick W. Danker (eds.). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. University of Chicago Press.
  4. ^ 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14
  5. ^ 2:2-3, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15-17
  6. ^ 2:4-5, 10, 14-16, 20-25; 3:2-3, 9-11, 18-20
  7. ^ 2:7, 10-11, 17, 26-28; 3:4-5, 12, 20-21.
  8. ^ 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22
  9. ^ Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), p924
  10. ^ Scofield, W. I., The Scofield Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) p1331
  11. ^ "Chapter XXII". Archived from the original on 2018-01-04. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  12. ^ Halley, H. H., Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978), p688
  13. ^ Unger, M. F., Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), p924
  14. ^ Branham, W. M., An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages (Jeffersonville, Indiana: Voice of God Recordings) 2005[dead link]
  15. ^ "WHAT IS 'THE RAPTURE'? (PART 1 OF 2)".
  16. ^ Hom., xiii in Luc., and Hom., xx in Num.
  17. ^ Hær., xxv.
  18. ^ James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 81.
  19. ^ Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (NY: MacMillan Company, 1919; reprinted Wipf and Stock), 446, emphasis Beckwith’s.
  20. ^ Henry Barclay Swete, Commentary on Revelation: The Greek Text (1906, reprint Grand Rapids : Kregel Publications, 1977), 22.
  21. ^ Resseguie, Revelation of John, 81; John P. Sweet, Revelation (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990), 73.
  22. ^ Dan., xii, 3.
  23. ^ Ep., xliii (al. clxii), n. 22.
  24. ^ Angels of the Churches, Catholic Encyclopedia
  25. ^ Merrill Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975) p52
  26. ^ Scofield, W. I., The Scofield Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) p1331

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.