Summary: The seven churches are representative of the church as a whole; the number seven symbolizing completion or perfection.
Most students are eager to get into the action of Revelation as soon as possible. Therefore they tend to skip over chapters two and three in the Book of Revelation without realizing their importance. But the churches give us an almost inexhaustible storehouse of wisdom and knowledge. The seven churches are representative of the church as a whole; the number seven symbolizing completion or perfection.
The primary role of these letters concerns what was actually happening in each of the seven local churches that existed during the time of John’s writing. Secondly, their representative character reflect the conditions of the congregation, as well as the individuals within each assembly, found throughout its history. The third emphasis explains their prophetical nature. Many scholars see in the churches seven periods or ages existing from Pentecost until the Rapture.
Ephesus, meaning "desirable," was the backslidden church. The key phrase in this letter is thou art fallen. Although they were commended for their zeal and devotion, their many good works, and the testing of the spirits of those who claimed to to apostles, there was still something lacking in their spiritual perfection. It’s easy for us to forget what’s truly important in the Christian life, until like the Ephesian assembly, we’ve fallen from our first love.
As victors we are promised access to the tree of life symbolizing the eternal and abundant reality found in Jesus Christ. Ephesus represents the apostolic church of the first century.
Smyrna, suggesting "bitter," is associated with the word myrrh and pictures the persecuted church of the second and third centuries under the pagan empire of Rome. According to church history, as many as five million Christians may have been martyred for their faith during this period. Rather than place a pinch incense on the altar and claim allegiance to Rome, they were willing to face losing their earthly possessions as well as their lives.
If we are faithful unto death, we are assured a crown of life. We can be confident as overcomers that the second death will not have any power over us.
Pergamos, denoting "elevated," or "thoroughly married," prefigures the worldly church that began with Constantine and extended to the seventh century. Many view Satan’s seat or throne (Rev. 2:13) as a reference to Pergamos being the center of Caesar worship. Yet there were many in this assembly who remained faithful to the Lord and hadn’t denied the faith.
The doctrine of Balaam has to do with the danger of compromise. Some in this church were tolerating sin in their very midst! Whenever the believer is involved with the world, he is in danger of spiritual adultery.
As triumphant believers, we are promised a threefold encouragement: (1) we will be given to eat of the hidden manna; (2) we will be furnished a white stone; and, (3) we will be granted a new name written in that stone.
Thyatira, signifying "continual sacrifice," foreshadows the Papal Church of the Middle Ages. In the letter to Pergamos we note the rise of the papacy, while in the Thyatiran assembly we recognize the height of popedom.