The seven churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 3)

Bilderesultat for the seven churches of asia minor in the book of revelation

The seven churches mentioned in Revelation 1-3 were all located within the Roman province of Asia (in western Turkey), opposite the island of Patmos where John received his revelation. Although there were almost certainly other churches in the area at this time, it appears that these seven churches were chosen because they formed a natural route for a circuit rider, starting in Ephesus and moving in a clockwise direction through Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (all on the map above). At the same time it is hardly a coincidence that seven churches were chosen. The number seven is often symbolic in Scripture of totality or completeness (as in the seven days of the week), and the implication here is that the message was not simply intended for these seven individual churches but was relevant to the church universally.

Efforts have been made to tie items in the seven messages to the precise historical setting of each city. For the most part is John’s language too general (and too laden with Old Testament imagery ) to allow for such exact identification. But archaeology and history can shed light on some matters:

  • The reference to “the synagogue of Satan” (2:9, 3:9) was not a general attack on Judaism but a reference to Jews who had denounced Christians to the Roman government as not being “true Jews”. Since the Jews enjoyed legal exemption from participation in the imperial cult (worship of the emperor as a god), this left the Christians open to prosecution for their non-participation. John affirmed that although they were disowned by the “official” synagogue, God would acknowledge the faithful Christians as His people.
  • The “throne” of Satan in Pergamum (2:13) likely referred to the city’s status as centre of the imperial cult (some suggest that the imperial temple looked like a throne).
  • Philadelphia had suffered a massive earthquake in A.D. 17, the effects of which had been so severe that people lived in the countryside outside the city for years afterward. The promise to the Philadelphians, “I will make kim a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it” (3:12), would have had obvious significance in the light of this historical background.
  • In 3:16 the Laodicean church was denounced as “lukewarm“, neither hot nor cold. There were well.known hot springs in Hieropolis, just 9,7 km from Laodicea, and a good supply of cold running water in nearby Colosse. Laodicea itself, however, appears to have had a tepid and barely potable water supply. This would have been a symbol for this congregation of its church’s ineffectiveness.

Bilderesultat for temple to serapis at pergamum

Illustration: The temple to Serapis at Pergamum


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