A Study of the Seven Churches of Asia
by Al Maxey


The seven congregations of the Lord's church in first century Asia Minor to which our Lord directs His comments in Revelation 2-3 are bound together by a common faith in God's only Son, although some are certainly manifesting it far more than others. In these seven local assemblies of the "called out" we find insight into the conditions of spiritual life among Christ's early disciples. We catch a glimpse of what is threatening the church and what impact these circumstances have upon believers. We discover what the Lord is pleased with, and also what displeases Him, as He carefully evaluates His Bride.

We also perceive, as represented in these seven congregations, the Lord's church throughout the entire dispensation. The threats to the ONE BODY remain remarkably the same, as do our responses -- both good and bad. The attitudes and actions which our Lord both commends and condemns remain constant. "All conditions ever to be found in a congregation of the Lord's church at any time in history may be found, at least in principle, in one or more of these seven churches. This makes the letters practical and worthy of study for all time" (Homer Hailey).

THE PATTERN --- These seven epistles from our Lord to His people reveal, with a few slight modifications, a single pattern. This pattern appears most clearly in the epistles to Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira and Sardis. The seven parts to the seven epistles to the seven churches are:

Christ's Self-designation

In each of the seven congregations, with the exception of Laodicea, Jesus finds something to commend. In five of the congregations He finds something to condemn -- the two exceptions are Philadelphia and Smyrna.

Again, these seven small epistles describe conditions which occur not only in one particular age of church history, but again and again throughout the Christian dispensation! The message is one of universal application to ALL congregations of the Lord's church regardless of time, location or culture.

It is also significant to note that these congregations, although bound together by the common thread of God's grace and their acceptance of Christ Jesus, are separate and independent of one another. There is no collective organization or ecclesiastical hierarchy evident. Each is autonomous and answerable only to their Lord.

COMMON EXPRESSIONS --- There are several expressions which are common to all seven epistles:

THE CENTRAL QUESTION --- Throughout these seven epistles -- these seven evaluations of the "called out" of God -- one key piece of information is being sought: Are these congregations genuinely living up to their calling and purpose, and are they bearing light for the Lord?

Every congregation of the Lord's church must ask itself: Is this congregation a genuine light-bearer for the Lord?! Or, is our flame diminishing and in danger of going out? Is this congregation true to its Lord? Is it a pillar and support of TRUTH?! These are answered variously in these seven epistles. It has been answered variously, and will continue to be answered variously, by congregations throughout this entire dispensation until our Lord returns to claim His bride.

THE ASSAULTS UPON THE CHURCH --- The temptation to become increasingly worldly and to deny Jesus Christ in our hearts and lives comes basically from three directions. These beset the Lord's church in every culture and in every period of time, and must always be guarded against by God's people:

THE THREATS TO THE CHURCH --- Within these seven epistles one can detect five basic and distinctive threats to the spiritual life and effective ministry of the churches in Asia Minor during the first century A.D. These are:

Succumbing to any one of these would be fatal to the spiritual life and ministry of these congregations ..... or to any congregation! It is also interesting to note that each congregation of believers took on characteristics of the city in which it was located, a tendency of religious bodies and congregations since that time. Christ refers to these various characteristics in these epistles and draws spiritual applications from them.

THE CHALLENGE --- The church is in the world (John 17:14-18). This was true in the first century, and it is true now! It will also be true until the Lord comes again to deliver us from this present age. Although the church is IN the world, the church must not be OF the world! This is our great spiritual challenge. We must let our light shine brightly in the midst of the darkness without being overcome by the darkness.

Just as the church is in the midst of the world (a power which seeks to overcome it), let us never forget that at the same time Christ is in the midst of the church, and through His power we shall overcome the world! With Christ dwelling within us, we are truly:



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