In Revelation 1:4 we read, “John, to the seven churches which are in Asia” (NKJV). Asia, or Asia Minor, was a Roman province within the Roman Empire in the First Century. If we looked at a map today it would be located in “western Turkey,” which borders the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, and thus it should not be confused with Asia today. The cities where the seven churches existed are mentioned in Revelation 1:11: “…the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” If one traveled to these cities starting at Ephesus, you would proceed north to Smyrna, northeast to Pergamos, and then east and south to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Thus it was a “circular route.”

The real question that must be asked is: Why did the apostle John pick these certain seven churches? There were other churches in Asia Minor, such as Miletus and Colosse, so why weren’t they included? We believe these seven were chosen because of the spiritual conditions that existed in them. These conditions can be applied in four ways:

  1. They describe the conditions that existed in those seven churches when John wrote to them.
  2. They describe the conditions that existed in other churches “of that day” and at “any other time” in the history of the church.
  3. They describe conditions that also characterize “individual believers” and because of this John ends each letter with this exhortation: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
  4. They describe seven successive stages in church history from the first century until now.

Regarding this last application, here is a list that has been suggested, giving those seven stages of prophetic church history:

  1. Ephesus—the Apostolic period of the First Century.
  2. Smyrna—the persecutions of the church by the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
  3. Pergamos—the church’s alliance with Rome in the 4th and 5th centuries.
  4. Thyatira—the Papacy rules in Christendom for the next 10 centuries.
  5. Sardis—the Reformation period in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  6. Philadelphia—a great Revival, especially in missionary work, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  7. Laodicea—the church of the “last days,” marked by a lukewarm condition.

It should also be mentioned that since the Lord’s coming is referred to in the last 4 church letters, we believe that certain conditions of each church continue concurrently right up to the Rapture of the church (the Rapture will officially end the church age). (238.3) (DO)