What the Spirit Says to the Churches

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

These words occur seven times throughout chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation. Seven is the spiritual and biblical number of completion, and I've not been able to stop thinking about this and wanted to compile these scriptures for a quick reference.

A great portion of the New Testament talks about the collective body of Christ as the Church and the unity of being one with our Messiah. It's allegorical in a sense, as Paul compares this mystery to marriage.

That being said, we also see in these chapters a lot of literalism: he who has an ear. I have ears. Let him hear. I can hear. While they are of course meant to apply to the Church as the body, I also believe they are to be taken literally: that the Spirit has something to say that he wants anyone with an ear to hear. This is my literal body and these churches are literal places with real issues. (If there is any doubt, look up the story of Antipas the martyr.) So this tells me that there is something about each message to the literal churches that is both universal and intimate.

I went through and compiled all of the main features, and discovered some interesting facts.

First, the background.

Who: The apostle John, the seven churches (described symbolically as lampstands) and the Lord, who introduced himself to John like this:

And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” Rev. 1:17-18

What: Jesus gave John a message and command:  ...“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” Rev. 1:11

Where: In a vision, seeing Jesus in the midst of seven golden lampstands, which represent the churches. It's important to note that this is not a message to the world or to unbelievers. Jesus is standing among the churches... he is present within these congregations that have professed to serve, worship and proclaim him. (See Rev. 1:10-20)

The churches

Each church is described by certain characteristics. I believe this is so we can examine the corporate Body of Christ, the prevalent religious spirit of our times as expressed through literal churches, and our own spirit, heart, soul, mind and flesh. The churches are as follows:

  • The fallen church Rev. 2:5
  • The persecuted church Rev. 2:10
  • The disobedient church that creates a stumbling block, or a stone of offense Rev. 2:14, 1 Peter 2:7-8
  • The corrupt church Rev. 2:20-21
  • The faithless and sleeping church Rev. 3:1-3
  • The strong and faithful church Rev. 3:8
  • The neutral and apathetic church that thinks it is not like the other sinful churches Rev. 3:15

The messages

With a couple noteworthy exceptions, each message contains the following:

  1. A description of the appearance or a quality of Christ
  2. Something praiseworthy or notable about the church
  3. Something that falls short through sin
  4. A punishment regarding that sin 
  5. Counsel, to avoid punishment
  6. A promise of a powerful and beautiful reward to the one who overcomes
  7. The command: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

So those of us who have ears on our bodies, what can we hear and learn from this?

First, Jesus provides a self-portrait by telling us many things about himself. Each quality may not be obvious at first, but they are important in prophecy and in confirming his true identity.

Descriptions of the appearance or a quality of Yeshua the Messiah—

In these passages, Jesus is:

  • He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands Rev. 2:2
  • He who is the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life Rev. 2:8
  • He who has the sharp two-edged sword Rev. 2:12
  • He who is the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like fine brass Rev 2:18
  • He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars Rev. 3:1
  • He who is holy, he who is true, he who has the key of David, he who opens and no one shuts, and who shuts and no one opens
  • He who is the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God

Next we are given something praiseworthy or notable about the particular church the message is written to

  • “I know your works” ...labor, patience, cannot bear those who are evil, discernment, perseverance, patience, labor for his name's sake and have not become weary, hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans Rev. 2:2:-3, 6
  • “I know your works” ...enduring tribulation, poverty, and persecution Rev. 2:9
  • “I know your works” ...endurance, holding fast to his name, not denying the faith despite severe persecution and martyrdom Rev. 2:13
  • “I know your works” ...love, service, faith, patience Rev. 2:19
  • “I know your works” ...there were no good works here, only dead works Rev. 3:1
  • “I know your works” ...a little strength, have kept his word, have not denied his name, perseverance Rev. 3:8, 10
  • “I know your works” ...there are no good works here, only lukewarm. Rev. 3:15

After acknowledging their works, Jesus tells them their sin and what he has against them—

  • The fallen church: I have this against you: that you have left your first love. Rev. 2:4-5
  • The persecuted church: he does not have anything against them.
  • The disobedient church that creates a stumbling block (stumbling stone) before the people: “I have a few things against you... the thing I hate...” the doctrine of Balaam & the Nicolaitans which taught the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality and join to a pagan god Rev. 2:14-15, also Num. 25:1-3 and Num. 31:16
  • The corrupt church: tolerance, sexual immorality, idolatry, false prophecy, false teaching, deceiving, unrepentant, false doctrine, knowing the depths of Satan Rev. 2:20-21, 24
  • The faithless and sleeping church: hypocrisy, dead and imperfect works, unaware Rev. 3:1-3
  • The strong and faithful church: he does not have anything against them.
  • The neutral and apathetic church: neither hot nor cold; lukewarm; deceived; wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked Rev. 3:15-17

After making known what he has against the churches, Christ describes what would happen if they did not repent—

The fallen church: I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. Rev. 2:5

The disobedient church of the stumbling block (stumbling stone): Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Rev. 2:16, see also Rev. 19:15, 21

The corrupt church: I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into the great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Rev. 2:22-23

The faithless and sleeping church: ...repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Rev. 3:3 A later verse suggests that their name could be blotted out of the Book of Life.

The neutral and apathetic church: ...I will vomit you out of my mouth... As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Rev. 3:16, 19

How to avoid punishment: after chastising the churches, he offers counsel and instruction for correction and restoration—

Please view the references provided for the exact text. I am pulling out the highlights below.

  • Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works... Rev. 2:5
  • Do not fear...be faithful unto death. Rev. 2:10
  • Repent. Rev. 2:16
  • Repent of sexual immorality; repent of their deeds. Rev. 2:21-22
  • Hold fast what you have till I come. Keep my works until the end. Rev. 2:25-26 
  • Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Watch. Rev. 3:3
  • Keep my word. Do not deny my name. Be strong. Persevere. Rev. 3:8, 10
  • I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 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 dine with him, and he with Me. Rev. 3:18-20

And finally, we have the beautiful promises of reward given by God for those who overcome—

Please view the references provided for the exact text. In some cases I am only pulling out the highlights.

  • The fallen church: To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. Rev. 2:7
  • The persecuted church: Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. ...He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. Rev. 2:10-11
  • The disobedient church that creates a stumbling block (stumbling stone) before the people: To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. Rev. 2: 17
  • The corrupt church: And he who overcomes and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—he shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels—as I have also received from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. Rev. 2:26-28
  • The faithless and sleeping church: He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Rev. 3:5
  • The strong and faithful church: He who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. Rev. 3:12
  • The neutral and apathetic church: To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Rev. 3:21

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”—Rev. 22:12-13