Summary: When John in verse 4 addresses the 7 churches in Asia, he is addressing the total church, or all churches for all time. These 7 actual churches of his day are representative of all the local churches that will exist through all of history.
THE SEVEN CHURCHES Based on Rev. 1:4
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A math teacher asked one of her less enthusiastic students, "If I take 23 away from 30, what is the difference?" He responded, "That's what I say, what's the difference?" In other words, it made no difference to him. Not everybody enjoys math and working with numbers, and you certainly do not need much knowledge in this area to understand the Bible. John was no great mathematician, but there is one number he used over and over again, and that was the number 7. The whole book of Revelation is built around the number 7. It is used 54 times in this book, and is the key number that forms the structure of the book.
John was not the first to use 7 this way, for 7 has been the number of perfection and completion all through history. The Greeks and Romans considered it a sacred number, but long before them the Chinese divided their empire into 7 provinces. In India the earth was divided into 7 divisions, and they had the 7 rivers of Hindustan, and 7 celestial mountains. The Babylonians made much of the number 7, and they referred to all gods as the 7 gods, and their 7 story tower was symbolic of the whole universe.
The idea of 7 being symbolic of perfection and completion is almost universal, and, therefore, it is the easiest of all symbolic numbers to understand. It usually means all of the category being dwelt with in the context. God has built this right into creation.
7 days make a complete week.
7 colors make a complete rainbow.
7 whole tones make a complete scale with the 8th a repetion of the first.
7 seas, 7 wonders of the world, 7 years and the body is renewed.
7 days of rest.
7 day feast.
7th day for circumcision.
7 fold sprinkling of blood on the day of atonement.
7 branch candlestick.
7 times dipping of Naaman.
7 years labor for Rachel.
7 years of famine and 7 years of plenty.
7 last words from the cross.
7 baskets of fragments.
7 husbands of one wife.
7 demons cast out of Mary Magdalene.
7 parables of Matt. 13.
7 woes on the Pharisees.
7 times 70 for forgiveness.
We could go on and on for there are 600 references to the number 7 in the Bible. There is no point in trying to prove what is obvious to everyone. 7 is a symbolic number which stands for totality. It gets this meaning because it is a combination of three and four. Three represents the trinity, or heaven, and four represents the earth because of the four directions and four seasons. 7 is the combination of heaven and earth, or the total reality.
This means that when John in verse 4 addresses the 7 churches in Asia, he is addressing the total church, or all churches for all time. These 7 actual churches of his day are representative of all the local churches that will exist through all of history. Just as the 7 spirits before the throne represent the Holy Spirit in the fullness of all his functions. One of the popular systems of interpreting the book of Revelation is the system that sees the whole book as 7 great visions, each of which starts at the first coming of Christ and ends with the second coming. Whether this theory is correct or not I cannot say, but it definitely has some truth to it which we will observe as we go through the book.
Another popular method of interpretation based on the number 7 is that each of the 7 churches represents a period of history. Again, there is some truth to this theory, but to press it only leads to a lot of contradiction, for no two who follow this theory seem to be able to agree on what period of history each church represents. It is wise just to recognize that in every period of history the church falls into one of the 7 categories represented by the 7 churches. In fact, the church today world wide has local churches that fall into everyone of the 7 kinds. The idea that all churches of any age fall into the same category is based on ignorance of church history. The church may be dead in one part of the world, and in great revival in another part.
Some people get so excited about numerology that they go to extremes. I have several books in my library devoted to finding 7's in the Bible. This is an old hobby and goes back into ancient Judaism. They actually get down to the very letters of the Hebrew and Greek. For example, Gen. 1:1 has 7 Hebrew words made up of 28 letters, or 4 times 7. The first three words have 14 letters or 2 times 7, and the last 4 words have 14 letters or 2 times 7, and on and on it goes with dozens of combination of 7 right in the first verse of the Bible. They go on through the whole Bible finding 7 absolutely everywhere. Some men have spent their whole life finding the 7's in the Bible in every conceivable combination; all of which is much adeu about nothing. J. B. Segal writes, "Statistics of the Bible, like the calculations of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, have a fatal attraction for cranks and crackpots, and even for wise men in their less guarded moments."