The seven churches are first introduced in 1:4 whereby John addresses the Book of Revelation to them (1:11). Described as the “seven lampstands” in 1:20, these real churches, namely, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, are located in the Roman province of Asia Minor (modern southwestern Turkey). In chapters 2-3 a letter is specifically written to each of them, dictated to the apostle John from Jesus Christ (e.g., Rev. 2:1). Each letter addresses their spiritual conditions. For example, the church at Ephesus is commended for its rejection of evil, its endurance, patience, and doctrinal vigilance. But this church is rebuked for serving God out of orthodoxy, not passionate agape-love (cf. Matt. 10:37; Mark 12:28-34). In fact, an examination into each letter reveals a general outline used for all: (1) self-description of Christ which is most apropos to the church’s situation (cf. drawn from Revelation 1:12-20), (2) commendation, (3) criticism, (4) correction, (5) consequence of disobedience, and (6) a promise or incentive for obedience.
Three minor exceptions to this outline are observed. Smyrna and Philadelphia are not rebuked, Sardis and Laodicea are not commended, and Smyrna and Philadelphia are not given warnings of consequences that will follow if they do not obey Jesus’ instruction. The messages given to these historical churches seem to be applicable to those who find themselves in a similar situation. The phrase, "him who overcomes" probably refers to all believers (cf. vv. 2-3, 10c, 13, 19, 25; 3:3, 8, 10; 1 John 5:4-5). While only a few contend these seven churches represent seven periods of human history, what is clear is that these seven assemblies are the kinds or types of churches that not only exist throughout church history, but also all around the world-no matter the culture in which the church is embedded.