It seems that John intended his letter to be shared among seven churches in Asia Minor, which means that each church will hear the commendations and condemnations of the others. This should show us that there are important lessons for all churches here, in addition to the general overall lesson in the book. The term “angel” can mean messenger, and some speculate that the letters are addressed to the pastoral leadership of the churches. However, the term usually does mean supernatural beings, and would indicate that churches may have “guardian angels,” like we see in Daniel 10:10-21.
Each letter to each individual church is customized. There are certain details that reflect the social, political, and geographic realities that the churches find themselves in. Each church has a different test, but the churches are called to overcome — they are called to be faithful and persevere. Ephesus has lost its passion, either for God or for fellow believers. Smyra is fearful because of persecution. Pergamum is allowing false teaching, and Thyatira is enduring ungodly leadership. The lessons for us as individuals are the same as those of the churches: to overcome we must be brave, passionate, faithful to the truth, and discerning. There are rewards that will be ours if we overcome:
- We will eat from the tree of life in paradise.
- We will not be harmed by the second death.
- We will eat of the hidden manna and have a new name.
- We will have authority over the nations.
The rewards here seem synonymous with eternal life. Does that mean we can lose our salvation if we don’t obey? I think that the assumption is that true believers will hear and obey. We can lose our way for a time, but the Spirit and the Word call us back, which is the whole reason John is writing these letters. James shows us the attitude we should have when we approach the Word:
James 1:23-25 “For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.“