While there is nothing especially difficult to understand in this first section of The Revelation of Jesus Christ, there are a few key points essential for rendering meaning from the later chapters. To start, it begins with a promise:
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (v. 3)He is blessed who reads, hears (understands), and keeps (adheres to) the words written in it. Then, as a way of understanding the later prophecy, we are given a set of sevens, beginning with the seven churches in Asia:
“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," (v. 11)The number 7 here, and throughout Revelation, represents indefinite completion, as in the seven days of creation or forgiveness 70 times 7 times. What this means is the Book of Revelation is written for all the churches of all times during the Gospel Age. Jesus himself tells John the context of the book is relevant to the past, present, and future:
Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. (v. 19)We then find that each of the seven churches has seven distinct characteristics:
1) Ephesus: backslidden
2) Smyrna: tribulation
3) Pergamos: false doctrine
4) Thyatira: idolatry
5) Sardis: spiritual deadness
6) Philadelphia: perseverance
7) Laodicea: lukewarmness
Note: it is often said that these seven churches represent the seven successive stages of the church, and that we are now in the Laodicean age. However, there is simply nothing here to indicate anything like ages or stages of the church or any kind of progression from one to another. Any church or Christian could find themselves in one or more of these conditions at any time now, in the past, or in the future. There is really no sensible or plausible way to think that anything written here does not apply to all Christians at all times--it just could not be that way.
There are also seven rewards for those who overcome:
1) Will eat from the tree of life.
2) Shall not be hurt by the second death.
3) Will eat hidden manna.
4) Will have power over nations.
5) Will be clothed in white garments and confessed before Father.
6) Be a pillar in the Temple of God.
7) Will sit with Jesus on His throne.
The all-inclusive pattern of sevens introduced in the first three chapters of the Book not only applies to Christians throughout the Gospel Age, but gives us a structural map for reading/understanding the the seven visions that follow.