The Seven Churches of Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation
by Robert Randle 6/18/2009 / Bible Studies
If there was ever a book in the entire Christian Bible which has been the most complex, symbolically confusing, disturbing, and interpretatively challenging, this last written communication from Heaven is number one. A good starting place to begin this journey is to identify the author. Church tradition has it on the word of none other than Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons that the Apostle John is the one who received this inspired vision. There are of course, a couple of problems with this endorsement from the highly respected Ecclesiastical authority; firstly, there is no proof to this assertion and secondly, there is no evidence that 'John' ever ventured outside the environs of Judea or Samaria, and even when he did, he was never alone (Cp. Acts 3: 1; 4: 13; 8: 1b, 14; 12: 17b, 19b). And perhaps more importantly, this particular John is not an apostle.
Revelation 1: 9a, 22: 6, 9
I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation, kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. . . Then he said to me, "These words are faithful and true. And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must take place shortly." Then he said to me, "I am your fellow servant, and of your brother the prophets."
Now let's take a closer look at the Seven Churches of Asia Minor to see what a 'revelation' it is to those of the Christian Faith ['Gentiles'].
The Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2: 1-7)
Ephesus was a Greek city located on the west coast of Anatolia, Turkey. The Apostle Paul entered a Jewish synagogue there and reasoned with the Jews (Cp. Acts 18: 9). Apollos came there and taught in the synagogue but Aquila and Priscilla took him aside to explain the word of God more perfectly to him. (Cp. Acts 18: 24-26). Paul came back to Ephesus and reasoned and persuaded in the synagogue for three months the things concerning the kingdom of God. He later withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus; which he continued for a period of two years (Cp. Acts 19: 1b, 8-10).
(1) Seven golden lamp stands (Cp. Exodus 25: 31:Zechariah 4: 2b; Hebrews 9: 1-2).
(2) Tested those who say they are Apostles and are not.
(3) The deeds of the 'Nicolaitans.'
(4) The Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise ['Persian' word for "garden"] of God (Cp. Genesis 2: 8a, 9b).
The Church at Smyrna (Revelation 2: 8-11)
This was the ancient city of 'Izmir' on the Aegean seacoast of Anatolia, Turkey.
(5) The blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but the synagogue of Satan.
(6) The First and the Last (Cp. Isaiah 44: 6b; 48: 12b), who was dead and came to life.
The Church in Pergamos (Revelation 2: 12-17)
This was an ancient Greek city in 'Mysia' [NW Anatolia, Turkey] near the Aegean Sea.
(7) I know where Satan's throne is.
(8) Antipas My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
(9) The doctrine of Balaam (Cp. Numbers 25: 1-2; 31: 16), (10) eat things sacrificed to idols, (11) sexual immorality.
(3) The doctrine of the 'Nicolaitans.'
(12) The hidden manna to eat, (13) a white stone with a new name written on it
(Cp. Isaiah 62: 2b).
The Church in Thyatira (Revelation 2: 18-29)
This is the modern Turkish city of 'Akhisar' on the border between 'Lydia & Mysia' [NW Anatolia, Turkey].
(14) The Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and feet like fine brass
(Cp. 1: 13a, 14b-15a; Daniel 10: 6).
The woman (9a) Jezebel who seduce My servants ['prophets'??] to (10a) commit sexual immorality and (11a) eat things sacrificed to idols.
(15) I will give power over the nations.
(16) I will give him the Morning Star (Cp. 22: 16b).
The Church in Sardis (Revelation 3: 1-6)
It was located in the Manisa province of Turkey, and capitol of the ancient city of 'Lydia' [east of 'Ionia' and inland 'Izmir']. The population spoke an 'Anatolian' language known as "Lydian."
(17) I will come as a thief in the night (Cp. Matthew 24: 43-44).
(18) He who overcomes will be clothed in white garments (Cp. Ecclesiastes 9: 8a??).
(19) I will not blot out his name from the Book of life (Cp. Exodus 32: 32).
(20) I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels
(Cp. Matthew 10: 32; Mark 8: 38??).
The Church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3: 7-13)
This was a town and district of Manisa province in the Aegean region of Turkey.
(21) He who has the key of David.
(22) He who opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens (Cp. Isaiah 22: 22b).
(5a) Those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not.
(23) I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.
(24) The name of the city of My God, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from My God. I will write on him My new name (Cp. 19: 12).
The Church of the Laodiceans (Revelation 3: 14-22)
This was an ancient metropolis built on the river Lyons in Anatolia, near the modern village of 'Eskihisar,' Denizli province, Turkey.
(25) These things say the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God (Cp. Colossians 1: 15).
(26) I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (Cp. Matthew 19: 28; 25: 31).
Another point needs to be made, and that is, not only is the imagery and symbolism of the seven churches almost entirely Jewish in content, theme, as well as in other literary expressions, and it should not be co-opted just to fit neatly into eschatological Christian theological interpretations. When John says he was in the Spirit on the 'Lord's Day'
(Cp. 1: 1), it is not so obvious that he has in mind the First Day of the week; which is celebrated by Christians as the day when the Lord Jesus rose from the dead (Cp. Matthew 28: 1a; Mark 16: 1-2a; Luke 23: 56b;
John 20: 1) and as a day of worship (Cp. Acts 20: 7??; I Corinthians 16: 1-2).
If, the audience to whom John penned his message were perhaps "Messianic Jews" [Jews who believe in Jesus as the 'Messiah'], who although are Greek in language and custom, nevertheless they were still religiously devout and faithful to Jewish traditions and aspirations; then identifying to the words, "The Lord's Day," would seem to have the meaning as spoken by the Lord Jesus:
Matthew 12: 8
For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath ['Day'].
Mark 2: 28
Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath ['Day'].
This letter might have also be written to the "Netzari" Jews or 'Nazarenes' who were the first followers of Yeshua Mashiyach (Jesus the Messiah) and identfied with belonging to the "Way" (haDerekh). The book of ACTS details how they were mistreated and persecuted in this very region and so this book of REVELATION to them makes even more sense. Not only that, but in almost every introduction and commentary to this last book in Holy Writ, comparisons have been made to the Gospel of Matthew, the Pauline letter to the Thessalonians, the Old Testament Prophets, Daniel (esp.) and Ezekiel, but Zechariah is left out; which in many of its passages such as chapters 1-6, there is more literary and symbolic cohesion between it and Revelation than almost anywhere else. Zechariah chapter 14 is very similar to parts of chapters 21-22 in the book of Revelation.
According to 'Wikipedia' all of these Churches of Asia Minor are near the vicinity of 'Anatolia' in modern-day Turkey, and coincidentally the Apostle Paul's birthplace in Tarsus ['Cilicia'] is south of the Anatolian peninsula. This is even more intriguing from a later secular historical perspective because of the genocide of one million Armenian Jews living in Anatolia by the Turks in the year 1915. So is it possible that one of the most influential contributors to Christianity as it is known and practiced throughout the world may have been one of the ancestors of the "Armenian Jews"?