The full question:

Critically examine the place of the seven letters to the churches in the whole book, and what we can learn about the Church’s nature, fallibility and mission, from them?

ABSTRACT

Through a critical examination of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation, it becomes apparent that they hold a vital key to the entire door of the Apocalypse. The place of the seven letters is significant. They are to historical churches and representative of the church universal. The structure of an epistle is noteworthy for a correct interpretation. Also, the relationship between the letters and the rest of the book is evident. These letters open the curtain to a correct understanding of the church today. Aspects of the nature, fallibility and mission of the church are demonstrated in these letters. It is clear they are intended to assist in understanding the whole of the book and in applying the book to the church today.

Introduction

Revelation is an inspiration to the church in every age, ‘above all when it has known the fierce opposition of ruling authorities’.[1] This book is an apocalyptic and prophetic letter[2] carefully structured to produce ‘a magnificent and relevant message’[3]. Sadly, it has been severely neglected in some quarters while in others it has become an unhealthy obsession.[4] There are seven letters[5] within this letter (chs. 2-3) that are ‘the most frequent source of preaching and provide so much of direct significance to the life of today’s church’[6]. They have been understood as the ‘window through which the audience watches and interprets the rest of John’s visions’[7] and ‘the literary microcosm of the entire book’s macrocosmic structure’[8]. A careful understanding of this critical section within Revelation is vital to comprehend the entirety of the book. This essay will seek to critically examine both the place of the seven letters in the whole book and what the letters reveal about the church today.

The Place of the Seven Letters in the Whole Book

Scholars disagree on the thematic unity and purpose of the seven letters within the entire apocalypse.[9] It is important to not limit ‘the meaning of these letters that we fail to see how they relate both to the whole book and to ourselves as part of the church of Christ’.[10] There is exceptional significance in the historical and representative aspects of the seven churches, the structure of the letters and the clear correlating ideas with the rest of the letter. Each of these elements of the seven letters assists in the comprehension and application of the whole book.

Seven Historical and Representative Churches

There are various conclusions on the historicity and literary usage of the seven churches. Some scholars support the historicity of the seven churches yet divide the letters from the rest of the book believing they were sent independently.[11] Others deny the historicity of the seven letters and consider them to be purely literary devices with the division of seven being completely artificial.[12] Another perspective is the dispensational view which considers the seven churches to be ‘typical and prophetic’ and are placed in order to ‘anticipate universal church conditions from the time of John on to the close of church history’.[13] In regards to the historicity and literary intentions of the author it appears both are legitimate. The letters are intended for historical churches, especially taking into account how ‘each of the messages has relevance to what we know of conditions in the city named’.[14] Even though they are for ‘local assemblies in Asia during the first century’[15], it is also clear that seven is the numerical symbol for ‘completeness’[16]. This literary device symbolises the universal church of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the concluding remarks for each letter (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22) clearly indicate that ‘they were intended for all the churches’[17] both to the other six and every church ‘at all times and in all places’[18]. Each of these letters were intentionally included in the whole of the book and signify the message that precedes and follows is intended both for the original audience and ‘for the exhortation and edification of the church universal’[19] in their historical and literary significance.

Structural Significance

The very structure of Revelation in its reflection of a New Testament epistolary form signifies the visions after the seven letters address ‘problems among the seven churches by appealing to both their present and future share in Christ’s blessing’.[20] If the seven letters to the churches were placed later in the book and had not been addressed at the beginning (Rev 1:4) then the conclusion that the ‘entire sequence is a literary composition designed to impress upon the church universal the necessity of patient endurance in the period of impending persecution’[21] would have to be abandoned. Rather, there is a framework for a traditional Christian circular letter with an extended introduction (chs. 1-3), concluding admonitions (22:6ff.), and benediction (22:20-21).[22] Beale notes that the epistle writers throughout the NT ‘appeal to the readers’ present and future participation and blessings in Christ as the basis for appeals to obedience’[23] and so directly correlates this same intention within Revelation.[24] This will be made even clearer within the following section.

Relationship to Other Sections of Revelation

There are significant parallels between the seven letters and the rest of Revelation that serve as evidence for the relevance of the rest of the book ‘to the situation of the churches’.[25] There are clear repeated themes in the inaugural vision of Revelation chapter one and the letters to the churches.[26] There are also references within chapters two and three that correspond to the later chapters in both the visions of chapters four to twenty and the perfected creation in chapters twenty-one to twenty-two.

The Introductory Vision

The commissioning vision (Rev 1:12-20) and the introduction (1:1-11) is expanded upon in chapters two and three. The first vision is used as a basis for the following seven letters.[27] In Christ’s first words to each of the seven churches there is a clear repetition of the opening chapter as the following table demonstrates (Figure 1). Farrer makes this observation and uses it as support that the rest of Revelation also correlates as will be seen in the following two sections.

Figure 1

The Seven Letters

Introductory Chapter

Seven golden lampstands and holds seven stars in his right hand.

2:1

1:12, 16

The first and the last who died and came back to life.

2:8

1:17, 18

A sharp two-edged sword.

2:12

1:16

Eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished bronze.

2:18

1:14-15

The seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

3:1

1:4, 16

The keys.

3:7

1:18

The faithful witness.

3:14

1:5

The Visions of 4-20

There are also various thematic links between the seven messages to the content of chapters four to twenty. Beale considers these parallels assist in demonstrating the recapitulation of the multiple visions in these chapters that follow.[28] These connections (Figure 2) demonstrate that the seven letters set up the very concepts later discussed. This is because the whole letter is to each church historically and universally. The seven letters are critical to the structural unity and message of the entire book, a ‘literary microcosm’[29].

Figure 2[30]

The Seven Letters

Chapters 4-20

Conquer[31]

2:7, 11, 17, 27; 3:5, 12, 21

5:5; 12:11; 15:2; 17:14

Listen

2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22

13:9[32]

Endurance

2:13, 19

13:10; 14:12[33]

Idolatry

2:14, 20

9:20; 13:4, 14-15

Sword of Judgment

2:16

19:15, 21

White Robes

3:5, 18

4:4; 6:11; 7:9-14[34]

Preservation

3:10[35]

7:1-8; 12:6

Martyrdom

2:13[36]

6:9-11; 11:3-13; 12:11; 14:13; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 20:4

False Prophets

2:2, 6, 9, 14, 15, 20-24; 3:9

9:1-10; 13:13-14

Jezebel & Babylon

2:20-22

17:2-3; 18:3

Satan

2:9, 13; 3:9

12:9; 20:2, 7

The Finale of 21-22

This carry over of themes and parallels continues into the final section of Revelation. The particular encouragement the last section provides for the seven historical churches and the church universal is exceptional motivation ‘for the proper response to Christ’s exhortations in the present crisis’[37]. The beautiful reality is that each individual promise is an aspect of the ‘whole inheritance that awaits the people of God’[38] (Rev 21:7). There are both antithetic parallels that bring out the ‘imperfections of the church in the old creation (chs. 2-3) and its corresponding perfections in the new creation (21:9-22:5)’.[39] All the promises offered are completely fulfilled (Figure 3).[40] The seven letters begin to wet the tastebuds and motivate the hope that is expounded upon and shows its fulfillment in the last section of Revelation.

Figure 3[41]

The Seven Letters

Chapters 21-22

Antithetical Parallels

False Prophets – Twelve True Apostles

2:2

21:14

False Jews – The Names of the Tribes of True Israel

2:9; 3:9

21:12

Christians Dwell at Satan’s Throne – God’s Throne

2:13

22:1

Dead Church Members – Written in the Book of Life

3:1

21:17

The Church is Faltering – God Shines Strong

2:5

21:23-24; 22:5

Sinful People – Sinless People

2:9, 14-15, 20; 3:9

21:8, 27

Promises Offered and Fulfilled

Tree of Life

2:7

22:2

Second Death Escape

2:11

21:7-8

Reign

2:26-27; 3:21

22:5

The Morning Star

2:28

22:16

Book of Life

3:5

21:27

Clothed for the Groom

3:5

21:2, 9

Temple

3:12

21:22

New Jerusalem

3:12

21:2, 10

The Name

3:12

22:4

All three tables demonstrate the strong connection between the seven letters and the rest of the book. This would suggest that they are integrally connected and undoubtedly belong. Such repetition of themes strengthens the concept that the seven letters are a window through which one is to observe the rest of the book. Identifying with the characteristics of the seven churches and their encouragements, rebukes and exhortations is essential to applying the entire book to the church today. Without a clear understanding of the seven letters and their vital place within the whole of the book, much of the message of Revelation is doomed to misinterpretation and misapplication.

What the Letters Reveal About the Church Today

The seven churches intentionally summarise the vast truths of the body of Christ. One can identify with different aspects of each congregation, ‘whether to view it as an encouraging or as a correcting word from God, is largely determined by the congregation to which one “belongs”’.[42] Yet each description is useful in determining the nature, fallibility and mission of the Church. These letters reveal an accurate view of the Church then, now and in time to come.

The Nature of the Church

The historical examples of churches that are designed to be delivered to the universal church are replete with wisdom that assists in ascertaining certain features of the church’s nature. Jesus’ direct address reveals he is head of the church, the church is local and universal, visible and invisible, future oriented, dependent, repentant, distinctive and rich.

Jesus is Head

The defining nature of every single church is the truth that Jesus is the head. The very first verse in Christ’s own address to the seven churches makes it clear that ‘Christ then is Lord of the whole Church’.[43] As head of the church, he is sovereign and all-knowing, ‘the Great Discerner’.[44] It is his view of the church that truly matters for he is its ‘Founder and Lord’.[45] This defining character is the essence of hope for a church battling for survival. Jesus dwells with his people, he knows his people for ‘he is right in their midst’.[46] Christ dwells among the churches and communicates to them through the Spirit (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). This shows that ‘Christ’s words are none other than the words of the Spirit’.[47] Jesus is head of the church and dwells among the church through his Spirit. This is a vital aspect of every church’s defining nature.

Local and Universal

It seems the concept of the local and universal church can be clearly gleaned from these two chapters of Scripture. There is evidently the understanding of seven specific local churches. Each of them uniquely addressed and individually assessed. The term at the end of each message refers to ‘churches’ (ἐκκλησίαις), referring to all the local churches that make up the universal church. At the same time, this address to individual local churches, as noted above, is also addressed to the universal church as Mounce explains, ‘the entire sequence is a literary composition designed to impress upon the church universal the necessity of patient endurance in the period of impending persecution’.[48] The local church is emphasised, and the universal church is also literarily addressed.

Visible and Invisible

The nature of the church in the Revelation mini-letters can be seen as visible and invisible. The visible churches are addressed. Each one is identified, rebuked and implored to keep striving yet the individuals in the church are a ‘mixed community’. The continual refrain, ‘he who has an ear, let him hear…’ indicates ‘there will be some within a church who will respond and some who will not’.[49] The rebuke against false teaching condemns some of those who are a part of the visible church (2:14, 15, 20-24) making it clear that there is a distinction between those who visibly attend and those who are part of the true invisible church.[50] This correlates with Augustine’s statement of the visible and invisible church, ‘many who seem to be without are indeed within, and many who seem to be within are without’.[51] There is a visible and invisible aspect that can be observed in the seven churches of Revelation.

Future Oriented

Another inherent quality of the church that can be observed in the Revelation letters is a future orientation that Christ seeks to implant. As seen above, each letter links to the end-time promises of the final two chapters.[52] Promises such as the fruit of the tree of life (Rev 2:7), deliverance from the second death (2:11), a new name (2:17), rule over the nations (2:26-27), surety of life (3:5), ‘end-time fellowship’[53] (3:12) and a position of authority (3:21). There is a continual reminder that the hardship of this life is not the end and a future-oriented outlook is the encouragement the church needs.[54]

Dependent, Repentant, Distinctive and Rich

Other basic features of the church that are identified in the letters to the churches are dependence, repentance, distinctiveness and a true sense of richness. The dependence of the church upon Christ is seen in verse one of chapter two – he holds the leaders[55] of the churches in his right hand and walks among the churches. Despite the ‘might of hostile worldly powers’, Revelation makes clear ‘the course of history is not determined by political power but by God enthroned and active’.[56] The idea of repentance is repeated twelve times, four of which is the imperative command to repent (Rev 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19). They must turn their whole life around to face the other way, ‘only this repentance will keep their flame alight’.[57] There is also the quality of distinctiveness of the church that can be understood from this section of Revelation. The temptation of the Nicolaitans is one example where the concept of belonging both to the Church and the promiscuity of Pergamum life was promoted. Assimilation is against the very nature of the church and distinctiveness is commanded by Christ.[58] A final key quality that is made plain in these seven addresses is a correct realisation of where the church’s riches truly lie (2:9; 3:17-18). There is the understanding of ‘an economic reversal’[59]. Being truly rich is knowing and understanding the God whom the church worships.

The wonder of the seven speeches is that Christ makes clear the inherent nature of the church. This is pointed out not only for the churches at the time but for the church today. A thorough exploration of this nature enriches the church today with a clearer picture of Christ’s own expectations.

The Fallibility of the Church

It is clear from these letters that the church is indeed fallible. This is an important lesson today to be on one’s guard and to watch out for both external oppression and internal compromise. This double-sided sword is a danger to every church in every location and throughout history.

External Oppression

External oppression was clearly faced by multiple churches. Smyrna and Philadelphia faced Jewish slander[60] (Rev 2:9; 3:9). Both Smyrna and Philadelphia held strong ties to Rome which made it easier for Jews to incite hostility against the Christians.[61] History shows strong opposition from Jewish quarters which caused some of them to become informers for their ‘Roman overlords’.[62] Churches also faced economic poverty (2:9). This poverty may have been due to their faithfulness in not participating in guilds that would have worshipped other idols.[63] Some would even be thrown in to prison (2:10). Pergamum is noted as the place where the horror of martyrdom is seen and ‘the throne of Satan’ (2:13).[64] Pergamum was extremely prominent in ‘the official cult centre of emperor worship in Asia’.[65] A test that became prominent to decide a Christian’s loyalty to the emperor was to offer a sacrifice to his statue, the penalty of refusal to comply was death.[66] It is clear from all of these external pressures the Christians felt powerless in their cultural settings (3:8). External opposition was a great threat to the church. The fallibility of the church is made clear in the powerlessness the people seem to have in the face of such hostilities and is why hope of what is to come is offered by Christ through the Spirit.

Internal Compromise

Jesus implores his churches to repent ‘of lovelessness, of mediocrity, of false teaching and of godless behaviour’ all coming from within the ranks of the church itself.[67] There are those who hold to the teaching of Balaam (Rev 2:14) and the Nicolaitans (2:6, 15) as well as ‘that woman Jezebel’ (2:20). The teaching of the Nicolaitans is suggested to be one of indulging in practices of sexual immorality and meat offered to idols.[68] The Balaamites are indistinguishable from the Nicolaitans for ‘what Balaam was to the old Israel the Nicolaitans were to the new’.[69] It is believed they suggested that the liberty of Christ gives us a liberty to sin and so join in on the pagan festivities.[70] Jezebel[71] also seems to promote engagement in pagan feasts. Participation in these guild-feasts would have been appealing to many as ‘her way of doing things would have minimised persecution’.[72] Internal compromise is not always easy to spot from the outside and at times it is so imperceptible and incremental a church can have the appearance of being alive but in reality, they are dead, as Sardis is described (3:1). Though outwardly they routinely served God, inwardly there was no heart and ‘sin had crept into the church’ (3:4). [73] This is a fallibility that challenges the heart of nominal Christianity today and must be heard in all churches. These churches that are suffering from within its own flock is a startling and stinging reminder of the churches greatest fallibility, itself. There is such danger within an unrepentant church who sees the external threats but ignores the internal problems.[74]

On the face of the crisis for the churches in Asia Minor and the church today, it is easy to identify the problems of external oppression and internal compromise, yet Revelation helps make it obvious that ‘behind the outward situation in the Asian churches an invisible conflict raged…between the Lamb and the Dragon’[75]. It is ultimately an assault by the devil ‘upon Christ’s Church’ who attacks ‘from several directions’.[76] The church is fallible, but Christ has overcome so each church can conquer despite fallibility if they listen to the infallible one.

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the churches of Revelation is threefold – stay true, reject false teaching and be a witness. These three are vital missions every Christ-focussed church must seek to uphold.

Stay True

Staying true to Christ despite the temptations and persecutions of the world is Jesus’ desire for each of the churches. It is the reason he rebukes and exhorts them. This attitude of sacrificial living and holiness is in stark contrast to ‘a modern theology that seem so often to emphasise a Christian’s prosperity, or health or wealth or simply good feelings’.[77] Smyrna is commanded to ‘be faithful unto death’ (Rev 2:10). Pergamum is praised for their stalwart commitment despite the tragedy of martyrdom (2:13). Thyatira and Philadelphia are charged to ‘hold fast’ (2:25). Some in Sardis are a great example to the church because of those ‘who have not soiled their garments’ (3:4). The churches are to remain true despite it all, they are to hold fast to the cross of Christ and the hope of eternity.[78]

Reject False Teaching

The church is also called to reject false teaching within its ranks. A church that ‘tolerates’ false teaching in their midst is one that Christ says to them, ‘I have this against you’ (Rev 2:20). Pergamum is called ‘to deal with the situation straight away’.[79] Discipline is vital to uphold the mission of the church in rejecting false teaching.[80] This vital aspect of the church’s mission must not go unattended.

A Witness

The final great mission of the church that the letters help reveal is being a witness. Gardner points this out well when he looks at Ephesus and notes that though they seem to stay true and reject false teaching their heart is not in it (Rev 2:4). If they do not remember, repent and return to the works they did at first then their lampstand will be removed (2:5). Christ is calling them ‘to be the witness it should be to the world around’.[81] Thyatira is commended for the light they are ‘in the midst of a dark, pagan world’ for their ‘love and faith and service’ (2:19) at which they are excelling.[82] It is also suggested that Philadelphia, the ‘last bastion of Greek civilisation’, on the edge of the rest of the world is given a ‘missionary’ role. ‘An open door’ (3:8) through which they can proclaim Christ.[83] The references to the ‘lamp stands’ (1:12, 20; 2:1) holds Old Testament allusions to the Temple (Zech 4:2-9).[84] The churches are to be ‘the light of God shining in pagan darkness’.[85] They are to be uncompromising in their holiness and this in turn is a light and a witness to all around. This is most certainly part of the church’s mission.

Conclusion

It is clear from a brief overview of the seven letters and all of Revelation that not only do these two chapters have a vital place in the structure of the entire book, but they also have much to teach the church today. These historical and representative churches are structurally significant, and they hold a magnifying lens to the rest of the book. The nature, fallibility and mission of the church throughout the ages is seen with greater clarity because of the wonder of Christ’s words to the church as he ‘walks among’ them, strengthening them and spurring them on to the time when the bright morning star comes bringing his recompense with him, to repay each one for what he has done. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Footnotes

  1. G. R. Beasley-Murray, ‘Book of Revelaion’, in Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments (eds. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids; Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1997), 1035.

  2. Each of these descriptors is given by the author: book (βιβλίον) (Rev 22:18), apocalypse (ἀποκάλυψις) (1:1), prophecy (προφητεία) (1:3) and the idea of a letter is seen through the typical introduction (1:4) of an epistle.

  3. Paul Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then: Reading Revelation Today (Reading the Bible Today; Sydney: Aquila Press, 1997), 6.

  4. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 5.

  5. Wall chooses the word ‘messages’. Robert W. Wall, Revelation (New International Biblical Commentary 18; Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 66–67.

  6. Craig S. Keener, Revelation (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2000), 104.

  7. Wall, Revelation, 67.

  8. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1999), 224.

  9. Wall, Revelation, 66.

  10. Paul Gardner, Revelation: The Compassion and Protection of Christ (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2008), 29.

  11. R. H Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/29371709.html, (accessed August 16, 2018).

  12. Martin Kiddle, The Revelation of St. John (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1947).

  13. J. B Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (ed. J. Otis Yoder; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 61. Welton believes the Bible provides ‘no proof or reason for arriving at the conclusions of dispensationalism’. Jonathan Welton, Understanding the Seven Churches (Rochester, NY: Welton Academy, 2015), 3. Hendriksen also points out the lack of relevancy to the periods of history they are meant to represent. He specifically points to Sardis supposedly representing the age of the Reformation and being referred to as dead. Hendriksen says, ‘It should be clear to every student of the Bible that there is no one scintilla of evidence in all the sacred writings which in any way corroborates this thoroughly arbitrary method of cutting up the history of the church and assigning the resulting pieces to the respective epistles of Rev. 2 and 3.’ William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1990), 75. Richardson also believes that such an idea is based on pure fancy. Donald W. Richardson, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Atlanta: Knox, 1976).

  14. Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (2nd ed.; Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 20; Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987), 62.

  15. Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (4th ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 517.

  16. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 9. Not only is the number of the entirety a symbol but there is symbolism ‘throughout the seven messages of Revelation chapters 2 and 3’. Timothy L. Decker, ‘“Live Long in the Land”: The Covenantal Character of the Old Testament Allusions in the Message to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)’, Neotestamentica 48/2 (2014): 417.

  17. Gardner, Revelation, 29. Keener draws attention specifically to the plural, ἐκκλησίαις (churches). Keener, Revelation, 108.

  18. Morris, The Book of Revelation, 63.

  19. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998), 65.

  20. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 134. Most scholars accept the epistle resemblance which is why it is ‘universally accepted’ to consider it being a letter. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002), 12. Osborne also includes it being apocalyptic and prophetic.

  21. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 65.

  22. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, ‘Eschatology and Composition of the Apocalypse’, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30/4 (October 1968), 537–569.

  23. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 133.

  24. They are a sequel to the first vision and they ‘also anticipate the content’ in the rest of the book. Gardner, Revelation, 29.

  25. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 133. Though they are distinct in some ways, it is clear ‘on analysis’ that they are ‘intimately linked’ with the rest of the book. Colin J. Hemer, Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia In Their Local Setting (n.p.: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1987), 14.

  26. Austin Farrer, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964).

  27. Farrer, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine.

  28. Though they ‘do not independently demonstrate’ this reality. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 133.

  29. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 224.

  30. Some of the helpful commentators that point this out are: Beale, The Book of Revelation; Farrer, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine. Gardner, Revelation; Mounce, The Book of Revelation. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then. These references are an observational selection used to demonstrate the similarities with the seven letters and chapters four to twenty.

  31. Each church is called to conquer (νικάω) and this theme runs throughout the book. Gardner points out that Christ is ultimately the one who conquers for us to ‘enjoy eternal life in the paradise of God’ (Rev 5:5). Gardner, Revelation, 35.

  32. Other references outside of chapters four to twenty also link this theme (cf. 1:3; 22:17, 18).

  33. Also, 1:9.

  34. Here the later context assists in understanding the reference in the seven letters. It becomes clear that the white robes are in no way achieved or earned but they can be ‘dressed in white because Christ has died for them’. Gardner, Revelation, 54.

  35. Beasley-Murray also points out how the phrase ‘those who dwell on earth’ (τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς) is made clear to be signifying the unbelievers of the world throughout Revelation (ie. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8). George R. Beasley-Murray, ‘Revelation’, in New Bible Commentary (eds. D. A Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, et al.; 4th ed.; Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009), 1432.

  36. Beale considers Antipas to be ‘adumbrating the martyrs’. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 133.

  37. Wall, Revelation, 67.

  38. Gardner, Revelation, 35.

  39. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 134.

  40. Paul Sevier Minear, I saw a new earth (Washington: Corpus Books, 1968).

  41. Beale, The Book of Revelation; Meredith G. Kline, ‘A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John’, in The Book of Revelation (Westminster Theological Seminary: Unpublished, 1945), 134; Minear, I Saw a New Earth.

  42. Wall, Revelation, 68.

  43. Austin Fennell, ‘The Seven Letters of Revelation as Important for Church Renewal’, Touchstone 23/1 (January 2005): 23.

  44. Fennell, “The Seven Letters of Revelation as Important for Church Renewal,” 23.

  45. John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958), 9.

  46. Gardner, Revelation, 30.

  47. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 234.

  48. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 65.

  49. Gardner, Revelation, 35.

  50. Whether Jezebel is personified or an actual woman, it is clear she ‘apparently holds a respected position within the church’. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 261.

  51. As cited in ‘On the Visibility of the Church’, The Catholic Layman 2/23 (1853): 130.

  52. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 64–65.

  53. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 293.

  54. Gardner, Revelation, 41.

  55. This is a debated point. Are they angels or church leaders? Gardner appeals to the concept of them being angels before God’s throne. Gardner, Revelation, 30. Beale agrees. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 217–219. At the same time, Barnett and the concept of the leaders of the churches who read out the messages of Christ seem to be the more logical position for accountability and inclusion suggests they are the leaders of the churches. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 50.

  56. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 116.

  57. Gardner, Revelation, 33.

  58. Keener, Revelation, 127.

  59. Wall, Revelation, 74.

  60. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 240.

  61. Hemer, Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia In Their Local Setting, 71, 157.

  62. This opposition seems to have been two-fold: ‘their conviction that to worship a Galilean peasant who had died a criminal’s death would be blasphemy’; and ‘the apparent success of the Christians in evangelizing God-fearers and even some from within Judaism’. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 75.

  63. It also could have being due to their distinctive way of living some may have created bans against the practice of trading with Christians. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 241.

  64. Antipas, given Christ’s own title – ‘faithful witness’, has suffered for Christ and followed his Saviour to death. Some suggest that ‘he was slowly roasted to death in a brazen bowl during the reign of Domitian’. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 80.

  65. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 79.

  66. Donald L Jones, ‘Christianity and Emperor Worship from Hadrian to Constantine’, Perspectives in Religious Studies 6/1 (1979): 35.

  67. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 64. Smyrna and Philadelphia are the only two churches who escape the condemnation of internal compromise. Gardner, Revelation, 56. Every other church is infested from within.

  68. Gardner, Revelation, 43.

  69. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, 59. This can be seen in Balaam’s advice to Balak the Moabite (Num 25; 31:16).

  70. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 81.

  71. Possibly a prominent woman within the church promoting Nicolaitan ideas claiming to be a prophetess. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 86–87.

  72. Gardner, Revelation, 47.

  73. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, 86.

  74. Colin Hansen and Ross Douthat, ‘Greater Threat to the Church: From the Outside or Inside?’, The Gospel Coalition, n.d., https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/greater-threat-to-the-church-from-the-outside-or-inside/, (accessed August 19, 2018). They must repent for ‘Christians can never dally with wrong’. Morris, The Book of Revelation, 61.

  75. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, 14.

  76. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, 14.

  77. Gardner, Revelation, 49.

  78. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 56.

  79. Gardner, Revelation, 44.

  80. Berkhof cites the two churches of Pergamum and Thyatira when he talks of discipline within the church saying, ‘Churches that are lax in discipline are bound to discover sooner or later within their circle an eclipse of the light of the truth and an abuse of that which is holy. Hence a Church that would remain true to her ideal in the measure in which this is possible on earth, must be diligent and conscientious in the exercise of Christian discipline’. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1938), 578.

  81. Gardner, Revelation, 32.

  82. Gardner, Revelation, 46.

  83. Barnett offers this as an explanation but also cites the possibility of it referring to ‘the believers’ access into heaven’. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 60. While this could be a distinct possibility, Gardner points out other references in the NT that refers to an open door and a missionary purpose (2 Cor 2:12). Gardner, Revelation, 57. This is difficult to ascertain completely but considering the placement of Philadelphia and its known location it seems plausible that in a historical sense it could refer to the great mission field beyond, the interior of Asia Minor.

  84. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (eds.), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Nottingham, England: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 1091.

  85. Barnett, Apocalypse Now and Then, 65.

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