This scripture in Revelation on the churches may be more important than the prophecy. We need to know about the prophecy, but what Jesus tells the churches are very relevant for us today. Many of the evils and shortcomings which exist in the church today are a direct outgrowth of neglect of the solemn instruction given to these seven churches.
The seven churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3 were real churches when John lived. Five of the seven churches were rebuked for tolerating sin in their midst, not an uncommon occurrence in many churches. The problems in those churches ranged in severity from waning love at Ephesus to total apostasy at Laodicea. They weren’t living like real Christians should. It is important for readers to understand that any church in any age can have a mixture of the sins that plagued these five churches or it can persevere and be commended as were the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia
The geographical order of presentation is followed, beginning at Ephesus, moving north to Smyrna, then farther north to Pergamos, then east to Thyatira, south to Sardis, east to Philadelphia, and southeast to Laodicea. However, other churches in the area were ignored, such as the church at Colossae and the churches at Magnesia (Manisa) and Tralles. It is understandable that the number of churches should be limited to seven as this is the number of completeness or universality in the Scripture, but there undoubtedly were other principles which determined the selection.
First of all, each church needed a particular message, and the spiritual state of each church corresponded precisely to the exhortation which was given. The selection of the churches was also governed by the fact that each church was in some way normative and illustrated conditions common in local churches at that time as well as throughout later history. The messages to the seven churches therefore embody admonition suitable for churches in many types of spiritual need. Along with the messages to the churches were exhortations which are personal in character constituting instruction and warning to the individual Christian. Each of the messages as given to the churches therefore ends in a personal exhortation beginning with the phrase, “He that hath an ear, let him hear.”
Each message addressed to the seven churches of Asia has its own distinctive characteristics, but there are also many similarities. Each message begins with the expression, “I know thy works.” Each offers a promise, “to him that overcomes.” Although there is variation in the order, each has the same concluding sentence, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Each of the messages begins with an introduction in which the Lord Jesus is described, but in each message the description differs in keeping with the message addressed to the church. Most of the letters to the churches contain words of warning as well as promise to those who hear and respond. In general, these messages are letters of reproof, rebuke, and reassurance.