American Christian University

Revelation 3:22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

This is the last admonition to the last church in the series of seven churches to whom Jesus wrote concerning their state of faith and conduct.

To summarize, the seven churches were greeted and admonished with different doxologies and benedictions.

The addresses of the letters were clearly made, such as to the church of Ephesus, the church of Smyrna, and so on. There is no ambiguity in that respect.  Jesus also identifies himself in seven different ways, namely,

  1. Ephesus: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands;
  2. Smyrna: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again;
  3. Pergamum: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword;
  4. Thyatira: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze;
  5. Sardis: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars;
  6. Philadelphia: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David;
  7. Laodicea: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation.

In each of these greetings, Jesus identifies himself with the attributes of the Godhead, thereby confirming his deity and being equal and consubstantial with the Father.

Two principles of organization dictate the order in which the seven churches are addressed. On the one hand, the order is simply geographical: the letters come in the order of the route to be followed by a courier bearing this precious message from Ephesus, the closest major city to Patmos, northward along the coast through Smyrna to Pergamum, and then turning inland to Thyatira and proceeding southward on the interior road network through Sardis and Philadelphia to Loadicea. On the other hand, the order also reflects a thematic arrangement.  This thematic organization is signaled by the reversal of the order of the summons to hear and the promise to the victor beginning with the middle letter in the seven, the letter addressed to Thyatira.  The letters are grouped in two triads, with the longest of the seven, Thyatira, serving as the hinge between the triads.  In the first triad (Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum) the summons to hear precedes the promise to the victor; in the central letter (Thyatira) and the second triad (Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea) the order of these two elements is reversed. 

Within each triad the central letter (Smyrna, Philadelphia) contains commendation without rebuke, reference to opposition from those who falsely claim to be Jews, and the promise of a crown. The opening and closing letters of the second triad (Sardis, Laodicea) are those in which the dominant tone is rebuke.

The variation of content from one letter to the next shows that Jesus knows the diverse situations of his congregations, but the call to hear what the Spirit says to the churches shows the unity of the church throughout the world.[1]

  1. Ephesus: First the summons to hear: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; followed by the promise: To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
  2. Smyrna: First the summons to hear: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; followed by the promise: He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
  3. Pergamum: First the summons to hear: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; followed by the promise: To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
  4. Thyatira: Now the order is reversed. First the promise: To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'--just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star; followed by the summons to hear: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
  5. Sardis: The promise: He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels; followed by the summons to hear: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
  6. Philadelphia: The promise: Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name; followed by the summons to hear: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
  7. Laodicea: The promise: To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne; followed by the summons to hear: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

It is interesting to note that all the churches are summoned to hear what the Spirit says.  It is not by accident that Jesus emphasizes the 'hearing' function because it is by hearing that we acquire faith.

Let's briefly look at the different promises that Jesus promised to those who overcome and we, too, should consider these promises as timeless and applicable to all those who overcome.

  1. Ephesus: They will eat from the tree of life.
  2. Smyrna: They will not be hurt by the second death.
  3. Pergamum: They will receive the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it.
  4. Thyatira: They will receive authority over nations and rule them with an iron scepter and receive the morning star.
  5. Sardis: Their names are in the book of life forever and they will acknowledge Jesus' name before the Father.
  6. Philadelphia: They will become pillars in God's temple forever. Jesus will write God's name, God's city's name, and His name on those who overcome.
  7. Laodicea: They will receive the right to sit with Jesus on his throne.

There is a specific order to the promises that match Salvation History and they are also arranged in two distinct phases, namely, those blessings and privileges that were lost by sin and those blessings and privileges that are to come.

The first three promises deal with the restoration of that which had been lost:

  1. Eating of the tree of life in God's garden, which was protected in Eden by a flaming sword going back and forth denying Adam and Eve access to eternal life. Those who overcome will now be able to eat from this tree.
  2. The promise that the second death will not hurt them also pertains to the first, bodily death because if one cannot overcome the first, the second would be irrelevant, as we see in the following:

Hosea 13:14 "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? "I will have no compassion.

Luke 16:23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

I Corinthians 15:54 - 57 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. They will receive the hidden manna, the eternal sustenance that God provides, and a white stone with a new name. Imputed righteousness gives us the new name by which we will be known in heaven.

The following four promises deal mainly with that which is to come:

  1. Receipt of authority and power to rule over other nations, and receipt of the morning star.
  2. The promise of their names being in the book of life relates to the time when those whose names have not been written in the book of life will follow the beast into the abyss (Rev 13:8, 17:8 and 20:15) and those whose names were found in the book of life will enter God's city. (Rev. 21:27).
  3. Those who overcome will become pillars in God's temple forever, so this is the ultimate function of all the elect.
  4. And they will have reached their final destination, sitting on the throne with Christ.

The seven churches of Asia belong to their first-century setting, but they are also case studies in the conflict that conforms all churches in all the world at all times. Their specific struggles in their time and place - institutionalized worship of the state through the cult of the emperor, pluralistic relativism of pagan polytheism, economic pressures to religious compromise in trade guilds, social ostracism and random harassment from pagan and Jewish quarters, love lost amid theological conflict and external adversity, complacency amid accommodation and affluence - are symptomatic of the strategies by which the enemy continues to assault the church.  These forces will be pictured in horrifying vividness in the visions to come: a many-headed dragon summoning from the sea a many-headed monster; a second monster emerging from the land to deceive and coerce earth's inhabitants; and a harlot decked out in luxury and drunk on the blood of Jesus' martyrs.

The church under attack needs not only to see the splendor of our King but also to hear his imperial edicts, assuring us that he knows our situation, probing and exposing our subtle alliances with the enemy, and lifting our sights to the city that is the destination of our pilgrimage. Not only does Jesus walk among the churches, but also he is coming to the churches - in two senses.  To some he threatens a coming that will intrude into their present life in history with severe mercy and loving discipline.  If they will not repent, he will come to remove a church's candlestick or to wage war against the Nicolaitans.

These comings, which occur through Christ's providential rule and the Spirit's work, are real visitations by the risen Lord with real effects in the church's life and witness in the world, even though they are not that final coming in which 'every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.' (Rev. 1:7).

To other churches Jesus' promised coming is that bodily, glorious appearance from heaven that will bring the church's life and witness in the world to a climax.  That will be an arrival so public that none can ignore it.  The promise of this coming must motivate the faithful to hold fast what they have 'until I come.'

Though distinct in timing and visibility from each other, Jesus' providential comings in history and his final coming at the end of history are related. His comings to purify his church foreshadow his coming to purge his creation of all who defile it.

Jesus' final promise to the victor reminds us that he is the Victor par excellence of the dragon, when he promises those who overcome to sit with him on his throne at the right hand of the Father. The conflict in which these churches are engaged is so severe that our only hope of victory is the presence of Jesus the Victor.

Revelation 4:1  After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

In chapter 1:19, Jesus commanded the apostle John to write what he sees. Now, again he is about to embark upon a journey, which will take him to the throne of God, the centerpiece of all of history.  The door standing open in heaving is a very limited opening through which John must go to enter the kingdom of God and to start this journey.

John saw and heard Jesus' admonitions, promises and rebukes to the seven churches, giving him a first-hand account of the "things that are."  Now the focus shifts to the future of the church and the forces that assault her.

The opened door and heavenly call initiate John's summons as prophet to enter the council chamber of the King of Kings, to hear his plans and purposes and then to bring his message to his people.

God only reveals his will to his prophets to relate to his people.

Amos 3:7 Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.

Isaiah 6:6 - 8 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Ezekiel 2:1 - 3 He said to me, "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you." 2As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites…"

Hebrews 1:1, 2  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

Numbers 12:6 He said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams."

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

II Peter 1:20, 21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation, 21for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit

The purpose of quoting these passages from Scripture here is to illustrate that what the apostle John is about to see would be visions of the past and future and what's happening in the spiritual realm. When we read the accounts of the book of Revelation, we must remember that John was taken up in the spirit to witness what he saw. Revealing to John the future through visions is consistent with Scripture.  John's vision blends features from those ancient prophet's visions. Subsequent openings of heaven (Rev. 19:11) and of God's sanctuary in heaven (Rev. 11:19; 15:55) open new visionary 'scenes.'

Revelation 4:1  After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

The trumpetlike voice that calls John is the one he had heard at first, commanding him to write to the seven churches as we have studied before.  It is the voice of the Son of Man whose invincible call catches John up into prophetic vision, making visible to him God's throne room in heaven.

Revelation 4:1  After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

Jesus invites John to "come up here," which is to ascend into heaven to witness what must take place after this.  What John was about to witness was clearly not on earth or outside of the spiritual realm, but was in heaven and hidden in God's counsel.

Revelation 4:2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

The apostle could not resist Jesus' call to "come up here" and he was instantly taken up into heaven in the Spirit.  As in the first vision John first saw lampstands and then, walking among them, "one like a son of man," so now John first sees a throne set in heaven, and then One sitting on it.  This order - the description of the throne, then the disclosure of its occupant - echoes Daniel's vision of the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9) and will be repeated in the vision of the martyrs' thousand-year reign, which we will study later.  This first glimpse of the royal throne shows that the prophet stands before the Sovereign who has the right and the power to achieve his purposes.

Revelation 4:3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

The visions that John is witnessing are not a full disclosure of what the heavenly throne is or what the surrounding features in heaven are like, to prevent John from seeing forbidden images.  Even God's appearance is shown to John by simile so that he might not see the real form and substance of the heavenly realm. This is to prevent man from making idols of the images and thus committing a grievous sin by not worshipping God but the things that surround him.

Deuteronomy 4:15 - 20 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars--all the heavenly array--do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. 20But as for you, the LORD took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.

Ezekiel 1:26 - 28 Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

Through the eyes of the prophets, and through John's eyes, we see no features but only color and texture, similes of the spiritual realm so that we may focus our eyes on the object of the message and not on things that may endanger us and lead us astray.

That is why John saw that the One sitting on the throne had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.  John saw a rainbow encircling the throne but this, too, he had to qualify, as if he were not sure what exactly it is that he saw and to the best of his ability he said that it resembles an emerald.  The purpose is to relate to us the awesome, the majesty, the radiance and the power of God and not the furniture and fixtures, lest we cling to those things that cannot bring us anything.

Carnelian is also called Sardius, which is pale to deep red or reddish-brown variety of clear chalcedony, a quartz stone with distinctive microscopic crystals arranged in slender fibers in parallel bands. The Sardius stone also appears among the twelve foundation stones of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 22:20.

The emerald-green rainbow surrounding the throne replicates a feature of Ezekiel's opening vision of the Lord on his throne, borne by four living beings (Ezekiel 1:28). Emanating from the throne, as when the Lord's cloud-veiled court descended to ancient Sinai, were flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders. (Rev 4:4; Exodus 19:16).

The rainbow symbolizes God's covenant with the earth (Genesis 9:13) and is here represented in a green color.  The colors have a symbolic significance: Jasper indicates the glory of God, carnelian indicates life, and emerald the mercy and faithfulness of God.

Before the throne burned seven lamps, the seven Spirits of God, symbolizing the fullness of the Spirit's presence with the Father and, spreading from its foot, a sea of glass-like crystal (Rev. 4:5-6).

This sea, which shows the peaceful purity of God's sanctuary, appeared in various forms to earlier prophets. To Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons, and Israel's elders, called up to Sinai to dine with God, it appeared as "a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself." (Exodus 24:10). Ezekiel saw "an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal" beneath the Lord's throne (Ezekiel 1:22, 26).  This sea will reappear as the transparent pavement on which the martyrs stand to celebrate God's victory (Rev. 15:2). This heavenly sea, so tranquil it seems to be glass, contrasts sharply with the earthly sea, a region of chaos and rebellion identified with the abyss from which the beast emerges to wage war against the saints (11:7; 13:1). That earthly sea, source and symbol of satanic chaos, is destined for destruction with the passing of the first heaven and earth (21:1), but the clarity and purity of the crystalline pavement beneath God's feet will permeate the New Jerusalem (21:11, 18).  John's vision of the enthroned One leaves the impression of radiant light and vibrant color, without definition of details.

Revelation 4:4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

The 24 elders, distinct from the angels sit on 24 thrones around the throne of God, from where they receive their glory and authority. They actively represent the whole congregation of the elect of Christ of all time.  They are dressed in white and are crowned with gold. The number twenty-four seems to have been symbolically significant to John and the Asian churches, although scholars today disagree as to the importance thereof.  It could reflect the 24 orders of priests and 24 orders of singers in the Old Testament temple, since they worship in God's heavenly sanctuary. (1 Chronicles 24:7 - 19; 25:6-31)/ Or they may foreshadow the two sets of twelve in the New Jerusalem: twelve gates of pearl, bearing the name of Israel's tribes (21:12, 21) and twelve foundation stones, bearing the names of the Lamb's apostles (21:14, 19-20).  Thus the elders are sometimes understood as a portrait of the whole church, under old the covenant and the new. This identification is problematic, however, since the elders function, as do the angels, elsewhere, as agents of revelation and explanation to John (5:5; 7:13-14). They speak as third-party observers of the church's redemption, singing together with the four living creatures.

Revelation 4:9 - 11 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever. 10The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say, 11"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."

Revelation 5:5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

Revelation 5:8 - 10 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

Revelation 7:13 - 15 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" 14I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them."

Revelation 11:16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.

Revelation 14:3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

The elders are, therefore, the council of the Lord's heavenly servants with active duties rather than a mere symbolic representation of the church, militant or triumphant.

Their white robes indicate their righteousness and holiness, as their crowns signify their victory, which are reserved for those who overcome.

Revelation 4:5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

These flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, which should strike fear into anyone approaching the Lord's throne, illustrate the awesome glory and power of God.

Exodus 19:16 - 19  On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 18When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."

Job 37:4, 5 After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. 5God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.

Revelation 4:5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

The seven lamps are more like lamps of fire representing God's holiness that consumes the ungodliness of the wicked, but also shine upon the saints.  The seven spirits of God represents the complete and efficient presence of the Holy Spirit before the throne of God, cleansing everything with fire that should approach the throne.

Revelation 4:6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

This image reminds us of the huge laver used in the temple as described in I Kings 7:23.

I Kings 7:23  He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.

In the tabernacle was no such vessel; the laver served the double purpose of washing the hands and feet of the priests as well as the parts of the sacrifices. But in the temple there were separate vessels provided for these offices. The molten sea was an immense semicircular vase, measuring seventeen and a half feet in diameter, and being eight and three-fourths feet in depth. This, at three and a half inches in thickness, could not weigh less than from twenty-five to thirty tons in one solid casting--and held from sixteen thousand to twenty thousand gallons of water. Lily work or flowers and oxen were carved or cut on the outside all round, to the number of three hundred; and it stood on a pedestal of twelve oxen. These oxen must have been of considerable size, like the Assyrian bulls, so that their corresponding legs would give thickness or strength to support so great a weight for, when the vessel was filled with water, the whole weight would be about one hundred tons.

This laver is referred to as the Sea and represents the cleansing blood of the Lamb as well as the wrath of God and his just justice, which in heaven is as transparent as glass. 

Revelation 15:2 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name…

Revelation 4:6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

The four living creatures seen by John share characteristics of the four living creatures that Ezekiel saw bearing the throne of God, but they also resemble the seraphim in Isaiah's temple vision of the Lord on his throne.

Isaiah 6:2, 3 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."

There essence is life; they are alert to praise and glorify God and to execute his judgments.

Revelation 15:7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever.

Their eyes indicate that they are alert and able to see in all directions to protect the holiness of God in heaven and on earth.

Revelation 4:7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.

Each of the four living creatures in Ezekiel's vision had four faces, that of a man, a lion, a young bull, and an eagle, whereas in John's vision the living creatures have one face each, a lion, a young bull, a man, and an eagle.


[1] Triumph of the Lamb; Dennis E. Johnson; p. 69.