The conventional views of interpretation.
The time-oriented or preterist view.
The historical view.
The view oriented toward the last days or
A new view of the things surmounting time.
There are several views of interpretation for the seven Letters adressed to the
- The time-oriented or preterist view thinks that these Letters refer to
the state of the seven churches in Asia Minor of that time.
- The historical view postulates that the seven churches represent seven
successive phases of ecclesiastical history (with one part of it being still in the future).
- The eschatological view or the interpretation oriented toward the last
days believes that the state described in the Letters reflects the situation of various Christian
beliefs in the last days.
In principle it must be kept in mind that according to Rev 1,11 there is no doubt
that "the book" was addressed to the churches, but not those seven Letters which were
addressed to the "angels of the churches".
Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches.
Rev 1,10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me
a loud voice like a trumpet 1,11 saying, "Write what you see in a book 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." Rev 1,10-11;
(See also Discourse 35: "The preterist approach:
have the Last Days already occurred?")
The mystery of the seven stars.
Rev 1,17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid
his right hand upon me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, 1,18 and the living
one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 1,19 Now
write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter. 1,20 As for the mystery of the
seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars
are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Rev
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write.
Rev 2,1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The words
of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. Rev
The identity of these angels of the churches is now interpreted in various ways. On
the grounds that the original meaning of "angel" (Greek "angelos") actually
stood for the (human) "messenger", many people – among them also the preterists - see
here a human being and think a prayer leader is meant by it, as he was also called the
"messenger of the congregation" in the Jewish synagogue.
There are, however, two very powerful arguments speaking against it. On the one hand the use of the term "angel" in the Revelation. This term is used 66 times altogether in the Revelation and not a single time in the sense of the above view as a "human messenger". Also the mention of "angel of the church" in the Epistle to Sardis, in Rev 3,1 and immediately afterward, in Rev 3,5, with the same expression (plural) of the "angels of the Father", shows that the same expression "angelos" within the same passage cannot have a different meaning, namely one time for human beings and the next time for angels. The only difference which might be seen here is the difference in the category "angel", namely one time the angels "of the church" and the next time the angels "of the Father".
The second argument against the above view of the "angelos" as a human messenger, results from the contents of the Letters themselves. So it says in the same Epistle to the angel of the church in Sardis, "If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you". This is a hint we know very well also from the Gospels, and it means the return of the Lord in the last days. So, this presupposes that this angel exists from the time of the receipt of this Epistle up to the return of the Lord – that is to say – thousands of years later. And this just is not possible for a human being.
The same thing applies to Rev 2,16, in the Epistle to Pergamum, where it says, "Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth". This, too, is a hint at parousia and implies the existence of this angel from the time of the receipt of this Epistle in the past up to the return of the Lord in the future.
The view that it cannot concern real angels here, for "in that case the heavenly Lord would send a message to heavenly beings, but dictate it to a human being on the earth, on the understanding that it is sent to the seven cities", points – as proof to the contrary - to a complexity of the correlations, which, however, on closer examination of the relevant passages from the Scriptures, is even more complex than one thinks to realize it here.
For according to Rev 1,1 this Revelation was actually revealed by God, the Father, first to his Son, our Lord, who afterward passed it on to John by an angel. According to tradition John then dictated the visions to his Disciple in the cave on Patmos, who wrote them into a book. This book was sent to the churches – together with the individual Epistles. And it seems as if only then, when this book was read out in the church and when the faithful had grasped its contents mentally, also the angel of this church received information about it by way of the Spirit.
If you now proceed from the assumption that the addressees are actually angels, and that these angels are the ones who are responsible in heaven for these churches, this difference may be marginal if it is seen separately, but for the synopsis in the interpretation a completely different approach emerges from that.
If one does not take this circumstance into account and sees the churches as the addressees, one easily reaches the view that these Letters were actually addressed to the churches of that time in the province of Asia and contained only a message for this circle of recipients. We herewith have the basic understanding of the first view of interpretation mentioned above, the time-oriented or preterist view.
If, however, one takes into consideration that the recipients are angels, namely angels who are as stars in the right hand of the Lord Jesus and that also the seven churches stand as lampstands before the Lord and he strolls in the midst of them (Rev 1,13; 2,1), one realizes immediately that angels and churches cannot be any transient phenomena of contemporary history and that not only a particular epoch of history can be concerned here. For these angels still live today and continue to live up to the return of the Lord and even beyond that.
And it is not conceivable either that the "lampstands", that is to say the churches in the middle of which is the Lord, gradually disappear from history, one after the after, as the historical view postulates it. Moreover, the Lord himself warns for instance the angel of the church in Sardis in Rev 3,3, "If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you". We know these "comings like a thief" from the Gospels, where it always stands for the return of the Lord. According to this these seven angels and their churches also have to be existent up to the second coming of the Lord.
Therefore, the "churches" meant here must be churches the duration of which goes considerably beyond any existence of an earthly community which is limited in time. Nevertheless, its origin may well go back to the seven churches in Asia Minor designated by name. Today, however, after almost two thousand years, these seven churches cannot be any more restricted to a particular place or to a particular country. These churches are all Christian faithful of this world, scattered all over the earth and in the multifariousness of the character of their faith. They form in their sum the Church of Jesus Christ.
The second view of interpretation mentioned above, the historical view, comes at
least a little bit more to the point. Although also in this view the churches are by mistake
regarded as the addressees, these churches stand here for different epochs of time. Whereas in the
time-oriented, the preterist view the occurrence of the churches was related to a particular time -
namely the time of the sending of the Letters - "in parallel to each other", here the
churches occur "in series to each other", that is to say chronologically one after the
Taking into account the true addressees one has to ask oneself, however, in both cases, what happens to the respective angels whose churches disappear from history? If the entire book of Revelation refers to the last days, why should just here, where the Lord gives us "advice" in order to realize the weak points in our faith and to strengthen it, also all judgments become obsolete and perish in the course of time together with the respective churches?
This seems to be now - also for other questions (Rapture) - the salient point: When interpreting the Scriptures, one is easily tempted, to be "above the matter". That is to say one deals with a subject, into which one does not at all see oneself and one's epoch involved. There is practically no outward necessity which forces us to relate this reproach in the Letters perhaps also to us. Instead of that we rather make demands on the praise! And, anyway, the easiest way is to impute these unpleasant things either entirely to the past - as it is done in the time-oriented view - or to let them gradually perish in the course of time - as it is done in the historical view - so that there is nearly nothing left of it at our time that could weigh upon our conscience.
Much the same happens with the Rapture. In that case - against all statements of the Lord in this connection in the Gospels - we rather are of the opinion that we, the congregation, do not have to go through the terrible time of tribulation (just think of the moral aspect of this strange view), before we even only envisage that this distress could also be meant for us and could also challenge us. And even if also here there is no outward compulsion, we just have to listen to our inner voice in order to understand that we as the congregation cannot just separate ourselves from these subjects!
There is also a second weighty argument against the historicizing view of interpretation. In the Epistle to the angel of the church in Sardis it says in Rev 3,1-3:
I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.
Rev 3,1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: The words
of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. "I know your deeds; that you have
the name that you are alive, but you are dead. 3,2 Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the
point of death, for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God. 3,3 Remember what
you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief,
and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. Rev 3, 1- 3;
Rev16,15 "Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!" Rev 16,15;
This hint in the Epistle at the church in Sardis "I will come like a
thief" can be found correspondingly in several other books of the New Testament:
If he had known when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken.
Mt 24,43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what
part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be
broken into. 24,44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you
do not expect. Mt 24,43-44;
The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1The 5,1 But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no
need to have anything written to you. 5,2 For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord
will come like a thief in the night. 5,3 When people say, "There is peace and
security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with
child, and there will be no escape. 5,4 But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to
surprise you like a thief. 1The 5, 1- 4;
2Ptr 3,10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. 2Pet 3,10;
And whenever this expression is used, it is about the return of the Lord.
(See also Chapter 06: "The return of the Lord.")
This is now a powerful argument against the first view of interpretation described
above, namely the time-oriented view because it does not make any sense to threaten the church in
Sardis of that time with the second coming of the Lord, although at the time of his coming in the
future this church will not have been in existence any more for already thousands of years.
But even if one - like the historical view - proceeds from the assumption that the individual Letters are to represent various chronological phases of church history, that is to say phases which are lined up in time - from the Resurrection of the Lord up to his return - , the Epistle to Sardis would consistently have to deal with the time of Christianity before the Millennium because of the hint at the second coming of the Lord in that Epistle. However, the Epistle to Sardis is not the last one of the seven Letters - the last one would be the Epistle to Laodicea - but the Epistle to Sardis is in the fifth place.
The third view of interpretation mentioned above is the view oriented toward the
last days. Out of the three views represented it is the one which most likely can do justice to the
prophetic background of the book - if any view can do that at all. However, also here the question
arises if the messages are really applicable exclusively to the time immediately before the return
of the Lord. In this case they would be mere prophecies and would not have anything to do at all
with the time of their origin - that is to say with the time of the first century A.D.
So, if - what is very likely - one can proceed from the assumption that these Letters were actually sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor, these churches would have got and also "processed" information, which - according to the eschatological view - would have had nothing whatsoever to do with them and their epoch.
As already insinuated above, the question arises therefore, whether it might be that
each of the views described above contains a partial truth and that only all three together make a
logical sense. Especially, when one proceeds from the assumption that the prophecies of this book of
the Revelation to John have a general validity and that their reference has to be seen as being
extended to all mankind.
So, if we consequently assume that - similar to the preterist view - the Letters were actually sent to the (angels of the) seven churches in Asia of that time, the members of which presented this quite specific characteristic of faith - with which also the strong and the weak points of each church found their expression – but the respective views of which then, in the course of the centuries, scattered and spread all over the world, we get to a continuous existence of these – then virtual - churches - similar to the historical view - from the first century up to the last days. In contrast to the historical view these churches would have, however, no "serial" existence, that is to say that they are successive in time, but they would be – similar to the actual addressees, the angels of these seven churches – continuous and all parallel to each other over the centuries, that is to say simultaneously and existing worldwide.
Consequently, they would be not so much physical, but rather spiritual "churches" and the "members" would not be bound to them by any physical barriers like religious communions, languages, countries, or continents, but all Christians beyond all times and all countries of the world would be attributable to one of the seven churches solely on account of their specific, personal faith, although everyone at his time and at his place. And depending on the fact which "church" the individual himself believes to belong to after a thorough and honest examination, this is the church whose reproach but also whose praise he should call upon.
And this would also and in particular apply to the faithful of the last days. In this critical phase they could realize more easily where they are running the risk to deviate from the right faith and so they could protect themselves from temptations. And this is an essential argument of the third, the eschatological view.
Thus, these seven churches, which stand round the Son of Man as seven golden
lampstands, can be regarded as the origin, but also as the "home" of Christianity of all
The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches.
Rev 1,12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on
turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 1,13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of
man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; Rev 1,12-13;
The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.
Rev 1,20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my
right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven
churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Rev 1,20;
And the seven stars in the right hand of the Lord Jesus, the angels of the seven
churches, consequently represent Christianity, just as the twelve stars in the crown of the woman
from Rev 12 stand for the twelve tribes of Israel and thus for Judaism.
A woman on her head a crown of twelve stars.
Rev 12,1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed
with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
12,2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. 12,3 And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. 12,4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; 12,5 she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, Rev 12, 1- 5;
(See also Excursus 10: "The woman in heaven.")
But it is just in the light of the passage from the Scriptures in Rev 1,20, that
deals with the seven stars which the Lord Jesus revealed to John as a secret that we also realize
that the secrets in this book of the Revelation are secrets and that they are incomprehensible for
us human beings without a "translation" because they represent given facts from another
If we were told, for instance, that those seven spirits of God are immanent in the spirit of the Son of God and are held by him in spirit, it would - although even this is already a "translation" - hardly sound as visual as it sounds when it is said that seven stars are held in the right hand of the Lord Jesus and when the seven churches appear round him as lampstands.
But there is also a second point which becomes apparent here. The symbolism in the Scriptures has to be analyzed carefully - just because it is a translation of connections which are otherwise incomprehensible to us - and no detail must be left unnoticed in that connection. It can be only ascribed to such a superficial way of looking at things when for instance the text above from Rev 12,1-2 that deals with the woman with the twelve stars is again and again interpreted wrongly as "Mary, the queen of heaven" or also as "the true Church of Christ".
We would now like to analyze the individual Letters in detail in order to check the
opinion supported above of an interpretation surmounting time.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus.
Rev 2,1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The
words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden
2,2 "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; 2,3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
2,4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 2,5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 2,6 Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
2,7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ Rev 2, 1- 7;
As already explained above, the conventional interpretation does not pay the
necessary attention to the circumstance that here the angels are the addressees of the Letters and
not the churches. This also finds a very clear expression in the individual Epistles, in which again
and again the angels – and not the churches - are confronted with praise and reproach. Also the
consequences for the misbehavior of the churches is in most cases not attributed to them, but also
to the angels of the churches.
And we find the proof that this is not a metaphorical expression, where "one blames one person and means another", in the above First Epistle to the angel of the church of Ephesus. The threat of punishment: "if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent", puts the church completely in a position, where its weal and woe seem to depend exclusively on the behavior of the angel of this church.
But we also realize that the Lord presents himself at the beginning of this Epistle – just as in the next two ones – with those characteristics of him, with which he then expresses his promise or his threat at the end. He presents himself here as the one "who walks among the seven golden lampstands" and warns at the end, "I will come upon you and remove your lampstand from its place".
If we now look at the judgment of this angel of the church in Ephesus by the Lord, we can find out that his works were exemplary. His toil and patience are known to the Lord, likewise the fact that he cannot bear the wicked and that he exposed the false apostles as liars. He is patient and he bore the burden for the sake of the name of Christ and has not become tired.
Nevertheless the Lord threatens him to "remove his lampstand from its place", which probably means that the church – the lampstand - in Ephesus would be excluded from its privileged position in the community of the other six churches before the Lord. And as reason for that the Lord puts forward that the angel had left his first love. This can undoubtedly be interpreted only in that way that the works mentioned above are the works of the first love, which the Lord tells him to do again and that the angel digressed from these works.
We will discuss the statement about the Nicolaitans in the Epistle to the church in Pergamum, where this sect is also mentioned.
Finally it is striking that this Epistle to the angel of the church in Ephesus and the Epistle to the church in Laodicea (Col 2,1) are the only two Letters to Pauline churches. Neither Corinth, Thessaloniki, Philippi, Colossea nor one of the churches in Galatia appear by name in the Epistles. And if one can believe tradition, John was bishop in Ephesus – before he was banished to Patmos by the Romans – , and therefore, he must have been very concerned about the church of this city.
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna.
Rev 2,8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
2,9 "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the blasphemy by those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 2,10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
2,11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.’ Rev 2, 8-11;
Also here, in the Epistle to the angel of the church in Smyrna, the connection
between introduction and concluding promise can be seen. In verse 2,8 it says, "The words of
the first and the last, who dies and came to life", with which the Son of God presents himself
as the master over life and death. In the promise of verse 2,10: "Be faithful unto death, and I
will give you the crown of life." also the will of the Lord finds its expression to use this
power of his also for his folks.
The "crown of life" seems to be a very important hint. It is also mentioned in the Epistle to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. In this case this angel already possesses the crown of life and shall hold on to it and preserve it, whereas it is promised to the angel of the church of Smyrna here only, if he remains faithful unto death. Thus, this crown of life distinguishes these two angels of the churches – in Smyrna and in Philadelphia – in quite a particular way from the other five addressees of the Epistles. But what is now this "crown of life"? In this connection Paul left us quite unambiguous words in his Epistles.
So run that you may obtain the imperishable wreath.
1Cor 9,24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but
only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 9,25 Every athlete exercises
self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
9,26 Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; 9,27 but I pommel my body
and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1Cor 9,24-27;
My joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord.
Phil 3,20 But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we
await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 3,21 who will change our lowly body to be like his
glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. 4,1
Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord,
my beloved. Phil 3,20-21; Phil 4, 1;
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.
2Tim 4,7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have
kept the faith. 4,8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the
Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have
loved his appearing. 2Tim 4, 7- 8;
For when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.
Jam 1,12 Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood
the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. Jam
Hence this imperishable wreath is the reward after the trial, the right of being
admitted to heaven, the right to the glorious body, remodeled by the effective power of the Lord
In the First Epistle of Peter we also learn then at what time this victory ceremony takes place and when this crown of glory and the glorious body are granted.
And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.
1Pet 5,2 Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint
but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, 5,3 not as domineering over those in your charge
but being examples to the flock.
5,4 And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. 5,5 Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 1Pet 5, 2- 5;
When the chief Shepherd is manifested, that is to say at the return of the Lord,
this unfading crown of glory and this imperishable body of glory will be granted. And the return of
the Lord will take place at the sound of the last trumpet, when the "dead in Christ" from the raising and the
Rapture will be judged in the judgment of reward and when all those servants of God, the prophets,
and the saints will be given their reward (Rev 11,15-18).
The Lord will descend with the sound of the trumpet and the dead in Christ will rise first.
1The 4,15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we
who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen
asleep. 4,16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the
archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first;
4,17 then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to
meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. 1The 4,15-17;
At the last trumpet we shall be changed.
1Cor 15,50 I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit
the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 15,51 Lo! I tell you a
mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 15,52 in a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be
raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 15,53 For this perishable nature must put on the
imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. 1Cor 15,50-53;
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
2Tim 2,1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ
Jesus, 2,2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be
able to teach others also. 2,3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2,4 No soldier
on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted
him. 2,5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 2,6 It is
the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 2,7 Think over what I
say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. 2Tim 2, 1- 7;
Here, in 2Tim 2,5-7, Paul is still speaking with some restraint of those things
which he expresses then in 1Cor 15,51 and 1The 4,15-16 quite clearly: namely of the Rapture. Paul writes here to Timothy, his favorite disciple, whom he loved like a son. And he says
in 2Tim 2,6, "It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the
crops". The direction which follows in the next verse: "Think over what I say, for the
Lord will grant you understanding in everything" even corroborates the impression that the
hard-working farmer "who has the first share of the crops" means those who are in the raising out of the dead
caught up together with the living ones and enter into heaven.
While the text of the First Epistle was exclusively addressed to the angel of the church, here, in the Second Epistle, also the church is appealed to for the first time. In verse 10 it says, "Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison" and "for ten days you will have tribulation". Then, however, this sentence is once again concluded with the promise: "I will give you the crown of life", and this "you" can once again only mean the angel of the church in Smyrna.
To the angel of the church in Pergamum.
Rev 2,12 "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The
words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
2,13 "‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
2,14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality.2,15 So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 2,16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.
2,17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.’ Rev 2,12-17;
In the Epistle to the angel of the church in Pergamon we realize again the proof of
identity of the Lord: "The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword" and in verse
2,15 we get the corroboration that he will also use this sword in the case of impenitence.
Here, too, apart from the angel also the church is appealed to in the verses 2,13.14.15 and 16.
The statement in verse 2,13 that "Satan's throne" is in Pergamum and that Satan dwells there is interesting in so far as we have the statement in the Revelation that Satan – the dragon – will give his throne to the beast – the Antichrist – and that this throne is then darkened together with the kingdom of the beast when the fifth bowl of wrath is poured out.
And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.
Rev 13,2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were
like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power
and his throne and great authority. Rev 13, 2;
The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast.
Rev 16,10 The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast,
and its kingdom was in darkness; men gnawed their tongues in anguish 16,11 and cursed the God of
heaven for their pain and sores, and did not repent of their deeds. Rev 16,10-11;
If there is really a connection between these statements, we would have to proceed
from the assumption that Pergamum – or the region of Pergamum – will be the future capital of
the antichristian kingdom.
The "teaching of the Nicolaitans" mentioned here in verse 2,15 and also above, in Rev 2,6 (Ephesus) is compared to the "teaching of Balaam" (verse 2,14), who taught Balak to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. We find this teaching also in Rev 2,20 (Thyatira), when Jezebel is mentioned, who called herself a prophetess and beguiled the servants of God.
This teaching which was apparently widespread at that time, probably can be attributed to influences of gnosis, which understood redemption solely as a matter of spiritual knowledge and for which the outward deeds and behavior of man were insignificant. So, according to this teaching one could be faithful and "redeemed" without having to draw consequences from that in practice (fornication, sacrifices to idols).
In the disputes with the doctrines of salvation of that time which have been partially still in use up to now (Gnostics, Stoics, Epicureans etc.) the issue is basically the person of Christ. Similar to the Jews, here, too, Jesus Christ is rejected as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He is not acknowledged as the Messiah (=Christ) who was promised in the Old Testament and the possibility that God has become man in flesh is contested as being absurd.
This opinion is, however, quite definitely in contrast to the Christian doctrine, which confirms both assertions.
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?
1Jn 2,22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?
This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 2,23 No one who denies the Son has
the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also. 1Jn 2,22-24;
For many deceivers will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.
2Jn 1,7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who
will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the
antichrist. 1,8 Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win
a full reward. 1,9 Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have
God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. 2Jn 1, 7- 9;
Thus also the opinion is confirmed that the antichristian spirit will not be a new
and special heresy of the last days, but that it has accompanied Christianity since its beginning
and has gained acceptance for it.
To the angel of the church in Thyatira.
Rev 2,18 "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished
2,19 "I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 2,20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
2,21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. 2,22 Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; 2,2 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
2,24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; 2,25 only hold fast what you have, until I come.
2,26 He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, 2,27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; 2,28 and I will give him the morning star.
2,29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Rev 2,18-29;
We have already dealt with the teachings of Jezebel when we discussed the preceding
Epistle to Pergamum. In this connection the remark has to be made that the Lord still gives time to
repent even to those misguided men, as verse 2,21 tells us. Those who say of themselves that they
have learned "the deep things of Satan" are now - as it seems - not only
"crackbrains" any more. They are unmistakably on the wrong side. And nevertheless the Lord
hopes that they "repent of their doings".
The Lord does not want to lay upon the other ones in Thyatira any additional burden. He only tells them to hold fast what they have. In fact, they shall hold it fast "until I come". Here, the Lord is speaking of his return in the last days. And that in an Epistle to the angel of the church of Thyatira nearly two thousand years ago.
Here, once again it becomes quite obvious that the addressees of these Epistles, angels as well as churches, cannot be any phenomena of the first century A.D which are limited in time. The Lord could not exhort them, "Only hold fast what you have, until I come".
So, both angels and churches must be in existence up to the coming of the Lord. While this can be absolutely assumed in the case of immortal angels, this precondition means for the churches that they do not form a secluded unity, but that they are formed, preserved and continued throughout thousands of years from generation to generation by continuously new faithful.
To the angel of the church in Sardis.
Rev 3,1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:
The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. "I know your works; you
have the name of being alive, and you are dead. 3,2 Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the
point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3,3 Remember then
what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief,
and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.
3,4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
3,5 He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
3,6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Rev 3, 1- 6;
After Laodicea the recipient of the Epistle to Sardis is the angel who is judged
most badly by the Lord out of all angels of a church. And significantly enough, the Lord presents
himself here as the one "who has the seven spirits of God". As we can learn from Rev 5,6,
these seven spirits are the seven eyes of the Lamb. And they are sent out into all the earth.
The seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
Rev 5,6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among
the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven
eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; Rev 5, 6;
Even in the introduction John greets the seven churches that are in Asia with the
grace and the peace "from him who is and who was and who is to come" - that is to say God,
the Father -, "and from the seven spirits who are before his throne" – the Holy Spirit -
"and from Jesus Christ".
The seven spirits who are before his throne.
Rev 1,4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and
peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before
his throne, 1,5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the
ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. Rev 1, 4-
The fact that here the Holy Spirit is mentioned after God, the Father, and before
his Son, our Lord, testifies that these three entities belong directly together. If the statement
from Rev 5,6 that the Holy Spirit represents in the form of the seven spirits of God also the seven
eyes of the Lamb – that is to say of the Lord Jesus – is to express Trinity as well, is
imaginable, but remains open.
The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.
Jn 14,24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word
which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 14,25 "These things I have spoken to
you, while I am still with you. 14,26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will
send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to
you. Jn 14,24-26;
So, these seven spirits of God represent the Holy Spirit. The statement "they
are sent out into all the earth" confirms us that this Counselor the Lord promised us has been
with us here on the earth since his ascension to the Father. He will continue to stay with us also
in the future until he will be put away. For it is the one, of whom Paulus writes that the
Antichrist will not be able to reveal himself before "what is restraining him now" has
been put away.
And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.
2The 2,4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or
object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
2,5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? 2,6 And you know what is
restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 2The 2, 4- 6;
In this Epistle to the angel of Sardis it says then by way of introduction,
"The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars". Since the seven
stars are the seven churches of the Lord, this statement means, no doubt, that the Lord is informed
about all deeds and acts of his churches by the Holy Spirit and that therefore even the most secret
things cannot be concealed from him. Therefore, he also knows the works of those of Sardis and knows
that they have the name of being alive, but that they are dead.
On closer examination this judgment allows to draw some concrete conclusions on the identity of the church of Sardis. According to this judgment it must concern a sham church here, for it has the name of being alive, and this "being alive" can only refer to the spiritual and of course not to the physical state of this church. That means consequently that this church is spiritually dead, it has lost the right faith. But as it seems, it does not want to admit this fact to itself and to the world and does its utmost to be seen as "being alive".
So, we are confronted here with a persuasion, which originally was on the right way – this is also confirmed by verse 3,3, "Remember what you received and heard; keep that, and repent". In the course of hundreds – or even thousands – of years this church renounced its faith, however, and tries now hard to cover its spiritual nakedness with great verbal efforts. It does have the name of being alive in the world, but it is dead.
And now the Lord advises this church urgently to awake and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death. Otherwise – as it says in verse 3,3 - , "If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you".
Whoever this church may be now – and some comparisons suggest themselves – one thing is certain after all: the Lord has not yet given up these people. He scolds them and he reprimands them, but he also confirms in the next verse 3,4 that there are still a few people in Sardis who have not spoiled their garments and who shall walk with the Lord in white, for they are worthy. So, consequently, a salvation is possible even for this "dead" church, too. And it remains to be hoped that these few people who have not spoiled their garments, will supply the "sourdough" that can also produce the salvation of the remaining brothers and sisters of this church.
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia.
Rev 3,7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall
shut, who shuts and no one opens.
3,8 "I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 3,9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie – behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you.
3,10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. 3,11 I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
3,12 He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
3,13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Rev 3, 7-13;
Here we have several hints that the church of Philadelphia is a church of
Judeo-Christians. On the one hand, the Lord mentions right at the beginning of this Epistle that he
has the key of David. This "key of David" is known to us from Isa 22,22:
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David.
Isa 22,20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,
22,21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your
authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of
22,22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. Isa 22,20-22;
This was in those days a pronouncement of Yahweh, in which he has Shebna, the
corrupt and deceitful administrator and deputy of Hilkiah, the king of Judah, replaced by Eliakim,
the son of the king. In Rev 3,7 this statement is the legitimation of the Lord that he is the new
king of the people of Israel who is just and anointed and who was chosen by God.
In Rev 3,9 it says then, "Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan come who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie". This means for one thing that people from the "synagogue of Satan" will claim to be Jews, although they are not Jews. To what extent these people are now really Jews like many of today's "Jews" in Israel – who are in fact unfaithful - or if they are people from other peoples, who pretend to belong to the Jews, too, for the sake of an advantage, cannot be said for sure.
But it is just these false "Jews" whom the Lord wants then to make bow down before the feet of this church of Philadelphia, these true Jews, this new and true people of God, and to acknowledge that it is this Jewish Christian church of Philadelphia - and no other one -, whom the Lord has loved.
And we have here also the statement from Rev 3,12 which this time refers quite explicitly to the Jews: "And I will write on him the name of my God –, and my own new name". For we find this promise again in Rev 14,1:
A hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name.
Rev 14,1 Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and
with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on
their foreheads. 14,2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the
sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps, 14,3
and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the
elders. No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been
redeemed from the earth. 14,4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are
chaste; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind
as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 14,5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are
spotless. Rev 14, 1- 5;
And we see below in Rev 7,2-4 that also here it were Jews "out of every tribe
of the sons of Israel" who were sealed as God's elect and "firstlings" – that is to
say irreproachable and without a blemish -, who "have been redeemed for God and the Lamb",
when the 144,000 were sealed with precisely these two names – the name of the Father and the name
of the Son – upon their foreheads.
A hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.
Rev 7,2 Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun,
with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been
given power to harm earth and sea, 7,3 saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees,
till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads." 7,4 And I heard the number
of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel,
Rev 7, 2- 4;
(See also Discourse 15: "Who is the Bride of the
But the church of Philadelphia is given even a third name by the Lord in Rev 3,12,
namely the name of the "new Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven". And in Rev 21,2.9
this name is also revealed to us: "The Bride, the wife of the Lamb".
The holy city, new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Rev 21,1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven
and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 21,2 And I saw the holy city, new
Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; Rev
21, 1- 2;
The holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.
Rev 21,9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full
of the seven last plagues, and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the
wife of the Lamb." 21,10 And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain,
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, Rev 21, 9-10;
In connection with the statement from Rev 3,9, where it says, the Lord wants to
"make them learn that I have loved you", we can now assert with a high degree of certainty
that here the church of Philadelphia is "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb". So, this bride
is of Jewish origin and it becomes apparent that the opinion of many exegetes, the bride of the Lamb
would be the "entire church of Christ" does not hold good.
But with that also an essential argument of these exegetes for the Rapture before the Tribulation is not sound any more. For they want to infer from the text from Rev 3,10: "Because you have kept my word from patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial, which is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell upon the earth" that the Lord will take the congregation off to heaven even before the Great Tribulation. As we see now, the facts of the keeping from the hour of trial may be right, however, the group of persons who shall be kept from the hour of trial here, is a completely different one.
Proceeding from the assumption that the 144,000 sealed have, in terms of an interpretation which is surmounting time, their spiritual origin in the church of Philadelphia, also this "keeping from the hour of trial" finds an explanation. For these 144,000 out of every tribe of the sons of Israel are sealed with the seal of God and are implicitly excluded from the first two plagues of the trumpets according to Rev 7,2-3 and explicitly excluded from the plagues of the fifth trumpet in Rev 9,4, that is to say they are kept from them.
They are told to harm only those of mankind who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads.
Rev 9,3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were
given power like the power of scorpions of the earth; 9,4 they were told not to harm the
grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those of mankind who have not the
seal of God upon their foreheads; Rev 9, 3- 4;
The fact that in Rev 14,1 the 144,000 are standing on Mount Zion together with the
Lord shows here a similar close relationship as we discovered it above with the church of
Philadelphia. However, a physical identity of the two groups of persons, as it is often supported by
the eschatological view, has to be excluded. The 144,000 sealed are according to Rev 7,3 and in
particular according to Rev 9,4 - in contrast to the church of Philadelphia - unambiguously
Israelites of the last days, that is to say the time immediately before the Millennium.
However, we can agree to the statement that the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven, is the bride of the Lamb and that the church of Philadelphia, which bears this name, too, obviously represents the symbolic personification of this bride. Irrespective of whether one wants to see now the provenance of the bride from the church of Philadelphia or from the 144,000 sealed, it is at any rate quite certain that this bride is quite unambiguously of Jewish origin and that therefore all speculations to reinterpret this promise to the entire church of all times, are inadmissible.
To the angel of the church in Laodicea.
Rev 3,14 "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
3,15 "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! 3,16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. 3,17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 3,18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
3,19 Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. 3,20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
3,21 He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
3,22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’" Rev 3,14-22;
The Epistle to the angel of the church of Laodicea brings up the rear of the seven
Letters as far as both the arrangement and the contents are concerned. Yet Laodicea is not
spiritually dead as Sardis, but, what is even worse, this angel – and also the church – says to
itself, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing". So, they do not know at all
that they are spiritually poor, bare, and naked.
Here, too, we recognize a good many fellow-Christians – especially in the official churches – who think that they are "rich". Not only in the material, but also in the spiritual sense. They confuse the community – that is to say the church – with an association or an enterprise and piousness with position and aspiration to be successful in their career.
And this is just what the Lord reproaches them for: they are lukewarm. If they were atheists and worldly shrewd businessmen – that is to say "cold" – or the other way round faithful and pious shepherds of their church – that is to say "hot", things would be different. But they are neither the one, nor the other thing. They are "lukewarm".
Also Paul can tell about such people in his Epistle to the Colossians and the Second Epistle to Timothy.
These have an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement.
Col 2,20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the
universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations,
2,21 "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" 2,22 (referring to things which all
perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? 2,23 These have indeed an
appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body,
but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. Col 2,20-23;
They hold the form of religion but deny the power of it.
2Tim 3,1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come
times of stress. 3,2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive,
disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3,3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates,
fierce, haters of good, 3,4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather
than lovers of God, 3,5 holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such
people. 2Tim 3, 1- 5;
And the Lord counsels them to buy a salve from him in order to anoint their eyes,
that they may see. So that they realize that they are not "rich". Neither in the worldly
nor in the spiritual sense! They are "completely wrong" as the saying goes.
But the Lord does not even dash the hopes of these people. He tells them, "Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him".
And this last promise is not only an invitation to the church of Laodicea, but to all people. Irrespective of what they have done or thought, how they have lived or acted. Starting from the moment when they open the door of their hearts and when they face up to the question of God's will openly and honestly, without any reservation and prejudice, the Lord Jesus will come in to them and show them the further way.
My Father and I, we will come to him and make our home with him.
Jn 14,23 Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep
my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 14,24
He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the
Father’s who sent me. 14,25 "These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you.
14,26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all
things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Jn 14,23-26;
These seven Letters provide quite a concrete guideline assistance for each faithful Christian, where he can recognize the character of his faith and the strong and weak points connected to it. The result of every individual examination should be the starting point for reducing our weak points if possible and for increasing our strong points, or at least for keeping them at the same level. Thus, each faithful Christian is a member of one of these seven virtual churches, which in their entirety - since their formation and up to the return of the Lord - make up the Church of Christ on the earth.