Articles: The Seven Letters

"The Prophetic Nature of the Seven Letters" by Tricia Tillin

how each Church mentioned in Revelation was also a time-period in our Church history

The significance of the seven letters to the churches in Asia, written by John in the Book of Revelation, is seldom taught, yet It is more relevant to us today - in the Church of the endtimes - than it has ever been before. The Lord gave His disciple, John, a prophetic message which is startling in its detailed accuracy, and hidden in historical facts which will amaze anyone who studies them.

Although these letters do apply to the local situation of the churches of John's day, they are a prophecy of the entire course of the Church from beginning to end. Considering the conspicuous absence of any other prophetic overview of the history of the Church, these seven letters have a unique importance.

The study of these seven letters is interesting in itself, and the historical and religious details are fascinating, but it is not meant to be merely an intellectual exercise. The Lord has provided this prophetic message, and preserved it through nearly two thousand years, in order for His people to heed His warnings.

God's Perfect Coincidences

It is a sign of God's foreknowledge that these letters applied as much to the seven progressive stages of the Church, in sequence, as to the actual seven churches in Asia. Not only that, but the situation described in each letter, the location, history, circumstances and even the name of each city adds detail upon detail to the picture of the universal Church as it passes through the years. Only an all-knowing and all-powerful God could have arranged for such a wonderful 'coincidence'.

Ephesus - The Early Church

Many have tried to fit a descriptive or prophetic title to match that of Ephesus. Some use the word for "darling" to speak of the beloved nature of the Early Church. However, straying slightly away from the EXACT word itself, another Greek word that is pronounced almost in the same way is APHESIS. (See many meanings and uses on this page)

NAME: This Greek word could not be bettered as a description of the early years of the Church. It means pardon, forgiveness, release from bondage, setting free, a loosing, a remission, a deliverance, etc. It is used in the bible for a complete remission of sins, letting them go as if they had not been committed. Aphesis is also used in secular Greek for the letting loose of horses at the start of a race! How very apt and descriptive is all that, in terms of the first days of the Body of Christ.

SITUATION: Ephesus was Asia's principal city, on the west coast of what is now Turkey. It had a fine harbour, but this had begun to silt up by the time of the Early Church - a spiritual symbol of what was to come. This was a vast city, with a population calculated at a third of a million, a centre for culture and learning, with a fine theatre with a seating capacity of up 50,000.

But despite its civilisation, it was notorious for Idolatry, having a famous temple of the goddess Diana/Artemis, and several popular and powerful magic cults. The date-tree sacred to this goddess, which figured on Ephesian coins, stands in contrast to the Tree of Life promised to faithful Christians in the letter to Ephesus.

Here we see an Ephesian coin of the period with the bee of Diana (prophetess) and the date or palm tree.

LETTER CONTENTS: The Lord is introduced in this first letter as the One who holds all seven 'stars' in His hand, and walks in the midst of the seven 'lampstands' which are to give light to the world, He praises the Christians for their works, patience and hatred of the Nicolaitans, whose name means 'Conqueror of the People', and which symbolises the advance of authoritarian leadership coming to full light in the Harlot Church of later years (see the letter to Pergamos).

The Lord's only word of rebuke is that these believers, once so devoted to Him, have lost their first love. He warns that this slackness could eventually lead to the destruction of the Church, and indeed it did.

CHURCH HISTORY: We now know that the erosion which had set in soon after Pentecost with various disputes, legalism, heresies, and a diluting of the gospel message took its toll in the second century with the almost complete destruction of primitive pure Christianity. Even at this early date the Church fell back into formal patterns of worship, accepted a more rigid authority structure, and started to lose the spiritual gifts of ministry. Nevertheless, their work of evangelism during the relative quiet of the Pax Romana - the stability that Roman rule had bestowed on its Empire - spread the gospel widely.

Smyrna - The Martyr Church

NAME: There is no difficulty in identifying this Church name, for it is the Greek word for Myrrh, the substance used in the preparation of corpses for burial. It is one of the gifts given to the Lord in babyhood, as an indication of His sacrificial death.

SITUATION: Smyrna was also a prosperous city and important port, lying in a fertile valley - but its early history was one of disaster, for the Greek colony there had been destroyed in the 7th century BC, and it lay waste for four centuries. After its rebuilding, it became faithful to Rome long before the Romans rose to supreme power in the area, and during the time of the Roman Empire Smyrna became famous for its architecture and the magnificence of its public buildings.

LETTER CONTENTS: The Lord names Himself as "He who was dead, and came to life", a description meaningful both to the resurrected city and the Christians of this time period, who were to suffer martyrdom. He warns of a severe trial of persecution to come, and calls upon His people to be faithful until death, just as their city was faithful to its Roman Masters, The 'Synagogue of Satan' first appears in this letter, apostate believers whose false faith is a blasphemy to God, The Lord's promise is one especially applicable to martyrs - that they would not be hurt by the second death, the death of the soul in Hell.

CHURCH HISTORY: In 250AD the Emperor Decius commanded sacrifices to be made to the pagan gods on pain of death, and from that date Christians suffered terrible persecution. It wasn't until 311 that the Edict of Toleration by Galerius came to save the remaining persecuted brethren. It may be that the 'ten days' of the letter to Smyrna refers to the ten Emperors in succession who brutally murdered, imprisoned and harassed the believers during this time.

Along with the persecutions came something perhaps even more dangerous to the Church - heresy and ritualism. Just like the city of Smyrna itself, the Church turned to the Roman religious system long before the Church of Rome became the supreme religious power. An organised hierarchy of Ministers, purpose-built churches, and traditionalised services gradually replaced informal worship in homes, and formal creeds and prayers were used. Those who had personally known Jesus were now long dead, and their teachings questioned, but they and the other martyrs came to be worshipped as Saints.

Pergamos - The State Church

NAME: The city name comes from Pergama, a fortified tower, and the word came to mean any fortress or citadel. Domination, power and authority is indicated. But the hidden meaning is the hellfire marriage of Church and State - from the Greek words for fire and marriage: 'pur-gamos'.

SITUATION:True to its role as model of the State Church, Purgamos was the Capital City of this Asian province, the seat of imperial power and the official administrative centre. It was also the centre of the official religion of Emperor worship, the deification of the Head of State. Pergamos was the first and, for some time, the only place to build a temple to this imperial cult. It also supported four major pagan cults: the worship of Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Aesclepius, so was no stranger to idolatry.

LETTER CONTENTS: Now the Lord is seen holding and threatening to wield His sharp two-edged Sword of the Word against the corrupting influence of Balaam and Nicolais, whose names in Hebrew and Greek both mean 'Lord of the People' and symbolise authoritarian leadership. Pergamos is "satan's throne" - where the Head of Rome is worshipped and obeyed as a god - and the believers there are praised for their faithfulness in the face of this apostasy and oppression.

Some were faithful to martyrdom, like Antipas, a name which in this shortened form means 'Dissenter' and stands for any Christian who refused to worship the Emperor as a god, Yet, the believers are compromising their faith, tolerating the teachings of heretics, and allowing pagan sacrifices (the Mass) and fornication (worship of idols) to pollute the Church of God. In place of the occult practises of the mystery cults which promised hidden truths, the Lord offers hidden manna and a new unknown name for the faithful believer which could not be utilised against him in curses and spells.

CHURCH HISTORY: In 312AD, the Emperor Constantine pronounced himself a Christian, and from that time the State tolerated Christianity as a bona fide religion. However, this meant an influx of pagan practises into the Church, as nominal believers and idol-worshipping Priests made their presence felt. The first 'Pope' was elected in 366AD, and the formation of the Papal States began; the Roman Church was accepted as Head, heresies were tolerated, liturgies replaced free worship and the hierarchy, hungry for riches and political power, bowed down to the State. Although conferences were held to discuss doctrine, true teachings were increasingly lost to superstition and heresy.

Thyatira - The Corrupt Church

We now come to the church which held sway for the longest time during our church history, and which received the strongest condemnation from Jesus.

NAME: From the root word 'to sacrifice', THYO, comes Thyas, a frenzied devil-worshipper or cult prophetess; and TERA means 'an omen or sign'. So the interpretation of this Church age in which Jezebel, the Harlot Church, dominates history is fittingly 'the sign of the prophetess', (Compare the heavenly sign of the True Bride in Revelation 12;1).

SITUATION: Thyatira, formerly a military garrison, passed into Roman hands in 133BC. It was an important manufacturing centre, producing prized purple garments, pottery and brass, rather like the industrial cities of the North of our country. Again, like these, it was a stronghold of trade societies or 'guilds', membership of which was almost obligatory for tradesmen, but these guilds - like Freemasonry, which began in the same way - were occult societies given to pagan worship and immorality.

LETTER CONTENTS: The Lord's eyes like flame and feet like fine brass hint at the brass foundries at work in the city, but also at a fiery judgement to come, because the harlotry of Jezebel - a worshipper of the pagan Madonna, Astarte - has been permitted to pollute the Church. Because of persecution against true believers at this time, the Lord simply calls on them to 'hold fast'. But for those who have fallen away the Lord warns of sickness, tribulation and ultimately a terrible death, unless they repent of their foul deeds. To those who remain faithful to Him, the Lord promises rulership over the nations, (in contrast to Roman domination), and 'the morning star'. which will rise in promise of a new and better day.

CHURCH HISTORY: This very long time period, from the fall of the Roman Empire to Luther's Theses demonstrates the Lord's patience. However, the Church was now riddled with greed, corruption, immorality, idolatry and heresy. Secret societies, such as Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, the Templars and Jesuits wielded power from within, and purple-robed prelates openly attacked any manifestation of the true Christian faith, So, just after the formation of the Inquisition, the Black Plague struck the world, killing almost a third of western civilization. Shortly afterwards there appeared that 'Morning Star of the Reformation', Wycliffe, and the deliverance of the Church was in sight.

Sardis - The Worldly Church

Unfortunately for the Church, the early promise of the Reformation did not result in a complete deliverance from corruption and false doctrine. The long centuries of domination by the church priesthood was too slowly dismantled, and the desires of man and his mental perceptions held sway over biblical doctrine.

NAME: Sardis/Sardius/Sardine is the name of a red jewel mentioned in both Old and New Testaments, also called the Carnelian. It was the first jewel placed in the priestly breastplate of Aaron, and is one of the jewels adorning the Holy City, New Jerusalem. It seems to take its name from the Hebrew, Latin and Greek words for 'flesh' Odem, Carno and Sarx respectively, so the predominant feature of this city and Church period despite the precious nature of its name is - fleshiness.

SITUATION: The ancient city of Sardis was a natural fortress, set atop rocky cliffs which rose steeply from the Northern plain, it was fabulously wealthy in the early days of its overlord, Croesus, partly because of the gold-rich stream which flowed through the city. (You have no doubt used the term "as rich as Croesus"). But because of its early prosperity and seeming invulnerability to attack, the citizens failed to keep adequate watch, and were caught unawares at least twice by stealthy invaders. After these attacks Sardis never fully recovered, and by the time John wrote Revelation the city was great only in name, and living on its past reputation. The industry of the city was the making and dyeing of woolen garments. Practically all that now remains of the once-great city of Sardis are the extensive cemeteries of rock-cut tombs and earth mounds, a silent testimony to a city which has died.

LETTER CONTENTS: Both Sardis, and the Church of this time seem to be alive but are dead, clinging to a reputation for greatness which has been eroded by years of laxity and fleshly pride. The Lord commands watchfulness, lest His arrival take them by surprise like their invaders of old. He calls upon them earnestly to strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die, and for those who do survive the deadly apathy of Sardis, the Lord promises garments of white.

CHURCH HISTORY: After the Reformation took hold, a stream of pure gold ran through the Church and offered limitless wealth of rediscovered faith in God, Yet, the Christians were content to rest on their laurels. They became apathetic in their devotion to God, and followers of dead tradition in their worship. Much effective missionary work took place, yet it lacked the power of the Spirit. Preaching and prayer, and private reading of the Word came back into Christian life, yet it was an unfinished work, falling short of God's ideal. Eventually, so dead to God did this Church become, that a further work of reawakening was needed to strengthen that which remained.

Philadelphia - The Faithful Church

NAME: The name of this Church presents no difficulty. The word Philadelphia means 'brotherly love or 'loyalty', from philos and adelphos - 'beloved' and 'brother/sister'.

SITUATION: The city was founded by Eumenes in the 2nd century BC and named after his loyal brother, Attalus, who had gained the nickname Phildelphus. However, later in its history the city adopted new names from the Caesars who supported it. Philadelphia stood on the edge of a tract of very fertile ground, which gave them an 'open door' to prosperity, but the area was subject to earthquakes, and from time to time the citizens lived outside the city in tents. There was an abundance of religious activity going on in Philadelphia, with numerous temples and festivals a feature of the town.

LETTER CONTENTS: This letter is full of praise, for with a little strength and with much opposition, the believers have remained faithful to God, and refused to deny the Name of Jesus under threat. Because of this, the 'Synagogue of Satan' - that apostate church which first surfaced in Smyrna, the Martyr Church - will be forced to recognise the love which Jesus has for His faithful servants. There is now an urgency to stand fast, for the Lord is on His way. The promise to this faithful Remnant is "I will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world", that divine earthquake which is about to strike the 'city'.

CHURCH HISTORY: From 1742, what we now call the Great Awakening took place - a time of great revival, but in the midst of a social upheaval reminiscent of the instability of Philadelphia. Many differing churches and sects broke away from the carcase of the Church, each contributing some rediscovered aspect of scriptural truth - like the many temples and festivals of Philadelphia. Though under continual threat and persecution, the revivalists held true to the Name, and preached a gospel of urgency in the light of the soon coming Lord. The door of evangelism opened, and social work blossomed. The outdoor preaching and tent crusades of this time remind us of the unsettled life of the Philadelphians, for the Church of this era lived through many political, scientific and religious 'earthquakes'. The revivals in America and Wales were the culmination of this great wave of renewal, a work of God designed to prepare His Church for its final phase.

Loadicea - The Lukewarm Church

Despite have little knowledge of the book in which it is found, many people know about the "lukewarm" church. Its description and fate has become a byword for today's era!

NAME: From the words Laos 'people' and Dike 'law', manner or custom' we can see that Laodicea means 'the will of the people', or self-rule. What better description could there be of the Church which has turned the Church into a pleasure garden, and the Almighty God into a source of entertainment and self-gratification! All because of human desires. This picture is strengthened when we realise that the city in its past had the name 'Diospolis' which means 'City of God'! Once a Church where God's will prevailed, now Laodicea is self-willed, disobedient and apostate.

SITUATION: Laodicea was a very prosperous commercial meeting place, and so self-sufficient did it become that after a disastrous earthquake it declined financial aid from Rome and rebuilt by its own hand. It lay on a crossroads, and so became a centre for banking and trade, manufacturing black woolen goods. It also boasted an important medical school, which produced medicinal tablets and powders, and a special healing ointment for the eyes. The one great disadvantage of Laodicea was its water, which had to be piped from nearby hot springs, thus arriving unpleasantly lukewarm.

LETTER CONTENTS: This letter is full of rebuke, for the proud, sufficient and lukewarm Laodiceans were an offense to the Lord - their emetic qualities produced the inevitable result; they were spewed out of the Body of Christ. Although these Christians believe themselves to be in need of nothing, they are in fact miserably lacking in every way, blind to God's true righteousness, riches and healing. The command of the Lord is "Repent". Although He now stands outside this Church, still the Lord offers forgiveness and a renewal of fellowship, leading to the final great blessing of the Millennium - to share the Throne of Jesus in rulership of the nations.

CHURCH HISTORY: This is an Apostate Church, which has enjoyed so many years of peace, prosperity, favour and influence that it has actually sold out to satan, adopting humanistic and semi-pagan ideologies. It has been seduced by theories about the dominion of the Church and the authority of leadership. The time period began with an outpouring of the Spirit designed to lead to a recovery of scriptural truths (Spirit-baptism, healing, deliverance, etc) but also with an upsurge of occult activity. Instead of encouraging a pure spiritual revival, the Laodicean part of the Body of Christ grasped only the power and pleasure of the spiritual gifts and perverted them to their own use. From then onwards, demonic forces set out to woo and deceive the Church, and to turn her into an antichristian apostasy, and the Church of Laodicea is the result. False prosperity, apathy towards God and pride in the spiritual gifts the Lord Himself provided have led to a spurious 'faith' not based on holiness, humility or spiritual discernment.

The Timeline of Church History

Each Church era prophesied in the seven letters of Revelation can be dated fairly accurately by the events of history. Not only that, but the time period for each letter is reflected, as if in a mirror, on the opposite side of the 1000AD dividing line. (That is, it would have been exactly 1000AD if Jesus had been born in the year Zero.)

I have recognised the teaching - widely held in both Jewish and Christian circles - of the "thousand-year days of history" and given a time-period of exactly two thousand years for the ministry of Jesus through his Body. The dates used in the timeline therefore would have been 0 to 2000AD had Jesus been born in the year Nought. This would have produced a nicely symmetrical and perfectly-timed chart that satisfies the mind. But it is not historical.

As most scholars agree, Jesus was NOT born in year zero. He was born at least 3-4 years before that, or even as far back as 6-7BC. Opinions are divided. To complete this chart I decided on a midway compromise and began at 3-4BC.

But the ministry of the Church did not start until the death and ascension of Jesus Christ, so the historical part of the seven letters actually begins in AD30, an estimate of that event. (This isn't the place for involved discussions on exact dates for the birth and death of Jesus.) This, significantly, gives a thirty-three year 'overhang' each end of the timeline. At the beginning it is of course the life of Jesus Christ which for the sake of argument we will call 33 years. At the other end, what does it signify?

Well, since the Laodicean part of Church history began around 1960 with the first signs of the New Age and also the charismatic revival, it appears to take us to the year 1993 when the first seal of Revelation was opened (according to my studies which you can read here.) This conclusion is startling. It confirms we are even closer to the End than we thought.

When Jesus was baptised with the Holy Spirit it was for the benefit of Israel and ultimately all mankind, shown forth in healing, deliverance, sound teaching and above all redemption. When the Holy Spirit reached out to the Church of today He was gladly received but then used for the benefit of SELF and falsehood of every kind. This is the contrast at the begninng and end of the Church timechart.

No wonder Jesus has no good word for the Church of Laodicea and warns that they are close to being "spewed out" of his Body. Yet, as at the time of Christ, a few faithful but despised disciples walked closely with Jesus and preached the true word.

A Mirror of History

Thus, when the letters are spread out along a timeline of 2,000 years, we can see a mirror lmage of history on either side of the central dividing line! That dividing line of the two thousand year timeline is the Cluny Monastic Movement. During its height (c. 950–c.1130), the Cluniac movement was one of the largest religious forces in Europe. The monks demanded political and religious reform and greater and more sincere religious devotion. The Cluniacs also promoted pilgrimages to the Holy Lands.

While not being a true "reformation" it marked the end of the ever-expanding Papal dominion. After the pivotal point of the 1000-year marker, the Holy Roman Empire slowly declined.



Missionary Church



Ended by Decree of Decius 250



Persecuted Church


Ended by Edict of Galerius 311-312


312 -475


Conformist Church

Papal Supremacy established 400

Ended by Fall of Rome circa 475










Corrupted Church


480 forty-day earthquake at Constantinople

800 Charlemagne Crowned

1330 Wycliffe – 1509 Calvin -

Ended by Luther's challenge 1517





Conformist Church


1558 Elizabeth I crowned, final break with Rome

Ended by Great Awakening 1738




Persecuted Church


Missionary Church

1738 Wesley Converted/ Whitfield preached

"Philadelphia Confession" 1742

1782 "Edict of Toleration"

Ended by Denis Bennet/renewal 1960



1960 >>


Ended by His Coming


Each letter has its reflected partner, and each major religious and historical event also has its mirror image in the timeline.

For example:

  • The Edict of Religious Toleration relieving Christian persecution in the Roman Empire mirrors the similar Edict issued by Henry IV of France, which was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685, leading to terrible persecution for European Protestants.
  • The fall of the political Roman Empire has its counterpart in the fall of the religious Roman Empire culminating in Luther challenging Rome's theology and practises in 1517 - although dissent had begun long before that date.
  • The State Church organised and promoted by Constantine, which allowed pagan traditions and practises to enter the Church, corresponds to the State Church of Post Reformation days - the Church supported and promoted by Henry VIII for his own ends.
  • The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, is mirrored in the Charismatic renewal of the 1960's
  • And so on

Church eras do not end

It is important to remember here that, once a particular Church comes into being, it does not cease with the onset of the next type of Church. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church did not cease to exist after the Reformation, nor did the Establishment Church of the Reformation disappear with Wesley's revival. Today we have a Church composed of all seven elements described in these seven letters - Evangelistic, Persecuted, Worldly, Perverted, Legalistic, Faithful and Apostate.

Thus, the Faithful Church pictured in Philadelphia continues to exist through the Apostate era (though increasingly under pressure) alongside the Lukewarm Church of Laodicea, providing us with the prophesied 'falling away' from the faith which we know is to take place before Jesus returns.


If we learn nothing else from this study of the Revelation Letters, we ought to grasp the prophetic word of God at this point: that the days of the end, just like those that began the Church Era, will be days of persecution, reviling and apostasy, when religious giants set themselves against the Lord's work, and only a Remnant holds to the Truth.

Jesus in His day came offering a Kingdom which is 'not of this world', a Kingdom of spiritual rulership which was abhorrent to those who had set their sights on earthly power and influence. The Pharisees and Jewish rulers who believed so absolutely in a present-day earthly Kingdom rejected the salvation Jesus offered, and in the years to come suffered a terrible judgement from God.

So today, the cry goes out to establish the Kingdom on earth, to cherish, conserve and transform this world, a world which is destined for nothing more than complete destruction in God's just plan of judgement. Now, religious leaders are missing God's best by focusing on the creation, and employing humanistic (and even satanic) methods of restoration which are totally out of line with scriptural principles and prophecies.

The message of Revelation is plain: if we do not learn from history, and more especially from the Lord's prophetic Word, we are doomed to repeat it, and to suffer the same fate as the apostate Jews.

Most of ail, we need to pay attention to the fate of Laodicea, whose lukewarm attitude to God led right into the clutches of satan, and eventually to a 'spewing out' from Christ. Right belief has been rediscovered, but right living has taken second place; power has re-entered the Church, but satanic deception offers an enticing alternative to those who are willing to step outside the will or God.

To study the letter to Laodicea is to hear the Word of the Lord for today's Church: His recommendations are - repentance from apathy and worldliness, renewed faith in Him, spiritual discernment, and righteousness. Without any of these Godly gifts, we open ourselves to the antichrist deception which is stalking the world, and stand in danger of falling away from the truth.

If you are interested, intrigued, confused, or just want to give me some feedback, please e-mail me direct: Contact Page

© 2014 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website:  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information.   One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.