“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:19-20, NIV).
In Revelation 1:4 John identifies who he is writing his Revelation to–the seven (primary) churches in the province of Asia (often called Asia Minor). Today, this region comprises much of modern Turkey.
What’s significant about this region is that it would be key to the expansion of Christianity in the Roman empire.
Again, in Revelation 1:11 John identifies his target audience and this time names the the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
After identifying Jesus as/with Daniel’s “Ancient of Days” in Chapter 1 John is then commanded to write down “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Some interpret this command to mean: (1) what has taken place in the historical past; (2) what is taking place in the present; and (3) what will take place in the future.
Another interpretation is that John is commanded to write down what he has seen in his vision as the current situation and what will take place in the future. Since Jesus has been identified as/with the God of the Old Testament, our understanding is that the vision starts with John’s present circumstances near the end of the first century and going forward into an unspecified time in the future.
Although the seven churches addressed in Chapters 2 and 3 were actual churches that existed in the region of Asia Minor near the end of the first century, some associate each church with a particular period in church history. For example, the principled Ephesus church represents the apostolic church of the first century, the fearless Smyrna church represents the persecuted church of the second and third centuries and the lukewarm Laodicea church represents the modern church.
Certainly, the symbolism in addressing the seven Asia Minor churches was indicative of churches throughout history or the “Church Age.” Yet, sometimes we may try to read too much into the prophetic presentation. This series of admonitions to the seven churches seems simply to reveal spiritual matters that can/will confront any or all churches throughout the Church Age and to instruct churches in addressing those matters.
The counsel given to the seven churches provides a timeless mandate for all churches and Christians: beware of false teaching, be faithful to the apostolic teaching and persevere until Jesus returns!
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15, NIV)