Seven Churches of Revelation

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Seven Churches of Revelation

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Locations and Mail Route to Seven Churches photo: pinterest @CrestatiaduPreez

Book of Revelation: John's Letters

Scholars believe that the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation around 96 AD. John ‘s perspective was unique. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he had been present, he’d seen the Miracles. He had personally heard the parables and discourses from the lips of Jesus himself. He had seen the Son of God died a horrible death. Humanly speaking John was closer to Christ than anyone. In fact, they had such a  close relationship that Jesus asked John to care for his mother; Mary, after the crucifixion. 

In the years following Jesus’ resurrection, John experienced something else, something shocking and disturbing. He watched in sadness the initial enthusiasm of the church diminished. Though it grew in numbers the church faced serious challenges. 

Accusations and Persecutions

Some three decades before John’s imprisonment on Patmos, the Roman Emperor Nero had burned Rome subsequently blaming the followers of Jesus, who are viewed as a sect of the Jewish faith. This false accusation led to extreme persecution and many died horrible deaths. The spread of the church’s influence led a later emperor; Domitian to begin another round of persecution. According to the ancient Greek writer Philostratus:Islands, such as Patmos, were full of exiles during the reign of Domitian.’ and it seems that John was one of them. All of this is background to John’s detention here. By the 90s AD he was old and probably wondering how much longer he was going to live. He was not concerned by the decline of the church and left pondering its future. It was then that the stirring but turbulent apocalyptic visions were given to him. It’s often thought that the Book of Revelation is John’s message, but the introduction says, otherwise.

Revelation 1:1

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass and he sent and signified it by his Angel unto His servants, things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John.”

Roman times: Exile for the follower of Jesus

John was exiled to this Roman prison Island because he refused to compromise his belief and practice as a follower of Jesus. Exile was a common punishment for those judged guilty of promoting what was thought to be a superstition. Exile could mean being cut off from family and friends for the rest of your life.

In the first century escape from Patmos was nearly impossible. The main land was 14 hours away by boat. But in John’s case the Emperor Nerva, who succeeded Domitian, released all exiles in 96 AD. Once again a free man, John, wrote down the entire apocalypse and prefaced it with Jesus’ personal message to each of seven churches. What’s said in each of those messages is a combination of commendation, complaint and correction. The messages to people struggling to live according to Jesus’ teachings  is an example. And that’s why these messages to the seven churches are so relevant for us today.

Revelation 1:4

“John, to the seven churches in Asia… I was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet. “

But why were these seven churches singled out from all the other congregations in the Roman Empire? 

The Seven Cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation likely symbolized all of the churches at that time. 

Seven being a Biblical number for completeness.

The route to the Seven Churches

The seven individual cities named with some of the largests in the Roman Empire. They were on what was probably an ancient Mail Route, network of Roman roads. Letters were probably delivered following a circular route. Beginning with Ephesus, going north to Smyrna and Pergamon, then southeast of Thyatira and Sardis. And the longer major river valley to Philadelphia and to Laodicea. From there the route was completed back at the coast in Ephesus. 

Ephesus: Letters to Seven Chuches

Ephesus was one of the crossroad cities of the Greco-Roman world for centuries. It had been at the end of the Royal Road connecting to the Far East. It’s port facilities made it a wealthy cosmopolitan center. Because of its location travelers from Rome and Palestine often included a stop in the city. It was made capital of the Roman province of Asia by Caesar Augustus in 29 BC. An estimate of the population by John’s time, says that it’s 200,000 inhabitants, made it the third largest city in the Empire after Rome in Alexandria.

Travel Turkey Rose The Guide ephesus Theatre
24.000 people capacity theater of Ephesus /photo: pinterest @KylieArbon

Not surprisingly Ephesus was also an important place for Paul on his travels. He lived there for about three years in the 50s AD. And in the city’s rich cultural atmosphere the church took strong root and Paul’s teaching became well known. But it wasn’t without religious opposition because the city also housed the Temple of Artemis; one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 

Magnificent Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

Visitors arriving at Ephesus by sea  would catch sight of The Magnificent Temple dominating the shoreline to the north of the present city. According to the Roman author Pliny: “ It took a hundred and twenty years to build and was more than three times the size of the Parthenon in Athens”. Of its 127 columns only a few remained now in other buildings. Four of them made from green jasper provide major support inside the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul. 

The city of Ephesus held the prestigious title of neokoros  or Temple Guardian, which meant it was considered the protector of the shrine of Artemis.  It was the reason so many visitors came here including Roman emperors. Artemis was known as the great Earth Mother Goddess or to the Romans as Diana.

Artemis was a goddess of fertility depicted with either multiple breasts or a collection of bulls; testicles symbolizing life and vitality.

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Mother goddess: Ephesian Artemis

Cult of Artemis

Statues of the Goddess that have been discovered also show various mystical devices thought to be linked with magical ceremonies performed at Ephesus. For the Ephesians the Cult of Artemis was the center of religious life. Popular belief said that her image had fallen down from the sky; a gift from the gods. Every year the statue was taken from the temple and paraded along the Via Sacra or sacred way that circled the city. 

 Artemis was carried along on one of the main streets, she passed many graves and mausoleums and was thought to impart renewed a life to the dead. In this kind of environment the worship of idols was bound to become an issue for anyone who responded to the teaching of Paul and John. And like many modern port cities Ephesus had other problems including sexual immorality.

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Food print on the Marble Road in Ephesus /photo:atlasobscura.com

Here, on another Main Street, is an interesting indication of the moral laxity that once prevailed. This is a sign carved on the pavement. Here we have a lady, maybe the goddess Aphrodite, a foot, a cross and a heart. The idea being that if you wanted to find love you, should point your foot in the direction of the cross; the Cross Roads at the end of the street where you’d find love in a brothel. So between immorality and idolatry this was not an easy place for followers of the way.

Roman emperors and their cult

By the end of the first century when the Apostle John was apparently living here in Ephesus another challenge to belief had come to the fore. There was increased social pressure to worship the Roman emperors and their cult.  The emperors have been made into objects of worship much earlier. But in 89 AD Ephesus was made the neokoros or guardian of the Imperial Temple in Asia.

Emperor worship is a really interesting phenomenon and the evidence that we have today suggests that it was varied tremendously according to locality in some places.

For local, political and usually the economic reasons a greater emphasis will be placed upon the rulers called the emperor worship. And in other places, it seems not to have caused much of a stir at all.

We do know that in the Book of Revelation that they are in Asia Minor and there is independent evidence to support this in Asia Minor, in certain places. Emperor worship was important. And there it appears that this cause difficulty for some members of early Jesus communities that they experienced some kind of persecution.

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Ephesus, Domitian Temple Ruins in Domitian Square

These are the ruins of the Temple of the Flavians, which the city had requested the build in honor of the Domitian and other Flavian Emperors. Commission agreed and made the city protector of the Imperial Cult. It’s elevated the city’s status with others around. But it caused problems for John and the early believers. And that the city’s fathers here question their primary allegiance: the message to the first of the seven churches then begins this way.

Revelation 2:1

“ To the angel of the church in Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.’”

In the original Greek, the word for Angels seems to signify the leader of the church here. Then is a message for the Ephesian believers from their Master. He is the one who is holding all seven lampstands in his hand and walking among the golden lampstands or congregations.

Revelation 2:2-3

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil; and that you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience for My name’s sake, and have not become weary.’”

Revelation 2:4-5

“‘Nevertheless I have this against you that you, that have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen: repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.”

This church had become affected by the character of surrounding society now 40 years or more later than Paul and his helpers had taught here. Their enthusiasm had grown noticeably less, it can happen to all followers of the way. What they needed to do was to wake up, to change, to remember their first commitment and their excitement about it. Ephesian church had demonstrated that it could hold fast.

Revelation 2:6

“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” 

Apparently the Ephesians were still able to tell the difference between right and wrong with respect to a group called the Nicolaitans. They were likely the followers of a man named Nicholas who taught that it was okay for believers to still commit acts of immorality. And this would have been convenient for those who wanted to compromise with surrounding society. The Ephesian church, then a grown a little bit weary, but did not give an incompletely to the pressure to compromise their high ideals. This first message then end with a warning and a promise to all believers.

Revelation 2:7

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.”

The person who overcomes the desire to compromise is being faithful to God’s standards. The promise that’s held out to those who do overcome is to eat of the Tree of Life or to gain eternal life

The reason that these messages are so important that they apply universally to all followers of the way.

Smyrna: Letters to Seven Chuches

The next city on the circuit; Smyrna was about 40 miles to the north. It is known today as Izmir, the most significant port on the Aegean Turkish coast. The modern port city is a manufacturing and the heart of vibrant for the surrounding area. The local bazaar gives a clue to the diversity of goods bought and sold here. In fact the city has a long history as a port in place of trade with its first settlement dated in the third millennium BC.

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Ruins of ancient Smyrrna

In Roman times Smyrna presented real problems for the early church. These are the ruins of the city. Once it had been reconstructed by the emperor Marcus Aurelius about 178 AD after an earthquake. So even though these ruins are dated about 80 years after the writing of the Book of Revelation, they do give a feeling for dominance of Rome here. 

Smyrna vied with Ephesus for Imperial favour by promoting emperor worship so this would have been a difficult place for believers to live in. Added to that was economic disadvantage and persecution by the local Jewish population. So the church here was really having its faith tested.

Revelation 2:8-9

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:’ These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life again:” I know your works, tribulation and poverty (but you are rich), and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.‘“

Smyrna was a city of 75 to 100,000, the 14th largest in the Empire. It was obviously proud of its devotion to Rome. It was the first city in Asia to build a temple for Dia Roma; the goddess of Rome. In 23 AD Smyrna had been allowed to erect another temple to Caesar Augustus, his mother Livia and the Roman Senate. Three years later it was named Temple Guardian for the cult of Tiberius. By the 90’s AD when John was in Ephesus the confrontation between church members and the supporters of the Roman authorities had become clearly focused.

As long a the church was considered a sect of Judaism by the Romans they were not required to worship the emperor and were allowed to keep the Sabbath. But once the Jews began to turn into followers of Jesus, naming them as non-Jews to the authorities, persecution soon set in.

Now it became a question of who was Lord; Caesar of Christ?

In this context the emperor Domitian had required people to call him our Lord and God. So the message to the church at Smyrna was one of holding fast despite persecution.

Revelation 2:10

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I give you the crown of life.”

It could mean that some people were thrown into jail for for being obstreperous in an environment, which is already fairly hot that the Roman administration tended to be quite strict in many places.

This was a time of intense persecution and some would even have to die for their faith. What the church needed here was encouragement to be strong despite difficulties they faced. 

There are times when we all have to stand up and be counted for what we believe but might be inconvenient and unpopular. 

The message here then concludes with a hopeful word of encouragement to all have to suffer for their faith.

Revelation 2:11

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.“

The Book of Revelation refers to this elsewhere as what happens to people in the final judgment when they’re cast into a lake of fire. The Bible says that those who are faithful to Christ will not suffer the second death. They will be a part of the first resurrection and live forever.

Pergamon: Letters to Seven Chuches

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Pergamon theater and Trajan Temple /photo: twitter @HellenisticPod

From Smyrna John’s letter would have been taken North about 68 miles to Pergamum or Pergamon; the ancient capital of the province of Asia. This 1000 foot cone of rock dominates the countryside. Here towering over the modern Turkish city of Bergama are the ruins of Pergamus, once a city of 120,000 people; the sixth largest in the Roman Empire.

The Amphitheatre was the steepest in the Greco-Roman world and seated about 10,000 spectators.

There was once the Temple of Athena, the most celebrated shrine in the city and it led to the famous library of Pergamus which has 200,000 volumes scrolls and books. Many of those books written on thin animal skin or parchment the word that comes from the name of this city Pergamus. 

asclepion-theatre
Asclepin healing center theater

Pergamon was known for its high level of culture including early elements of what we know today is the medical Art and psychotherapy.  Here is where the Asclepion once stood.  It was a medical center named after Asclepius; the Roman God of medicine and healing. People came here from all over the known world for help with her physical ailments. The city had a long history going back as far as 800 BC

During the first century Pergamon became a primary center for emperor worship began in 29 BC with the erection of a temple to Caesar Augustus

These are the ruins of The Temple of Trajan below. 

pergamon-trajan-temple
Trajan Temple in Pergamon /photo: bergama.org.tr

Trajan was the emperor from 98 in 117 AD. So for the church members living in this city, idolatry and state pressure to conform, would have provided a great temptation to compromise.

pergamon-altar-o-zeus
Altar of Zeus /photo: ilknur Dumansiz

Pergamum was also famous for the Altar of Zeus above. In the 19th century it was removed stone by stone and sent to Berlin where today it is on display in the Pergamon Museum. It may have been what John referred to in the letter to Pergamus as Satan’s Seat.

The seat of Satan could be referring to either leadership among the synagogues themselves or possibly a government seat in the context of the Roman Empire or more locally Asia Minor. And this is one of the reasons why some interpreters think the Book of Revelation is written in the 90s during the time of Domitian persecution of the Christians movement. 

Revelation 2:12-13

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write: ‘These things says He who has the sharp, two-edged sword: I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s Throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you- where Satan dwells.’” 

It’s thought that Antipas was the first follower of Christ to be martyred here in Pergamum during Domitian’s reign. It’s said that he suffered a gruesome fate being slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle. 

The message to Pergamon continues…

Revelation 2:14-16

“But I have a few things against you, because you have their those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you have also those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

The reference to Balaam is to an Old Testament event in which your Pagan priests cunningly try to get the children of Israel to go against their God by involving them in idol worship and sexual immorality. This explains the second mention in the Book of Revelation to the Nicolaitans.

But what about those who would follow Christ today?

The message that the Church of Pergamos is rounded up with advice for those caught in similar situations.

Revelation 2:17

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden Manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it. “

So we see again they need to be faithful and to overcome with Christ’s help. So far the messages to the churches have been consistent. We’ve seen Commendation, Complaint and Correction. The lessons that the first century church was asked to learn we all have to learn. Each letter ends with “He, who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” So whether we live in the first century or the 21st century these messages are Universal. They are for all of us.

Thyateira: Letters to Seven Churches

The next letter is written to the church at Thyateira. From Pergamon it’s about 28 miles east to this fourth city along the circular mail route.

Thyateira-ancient-city-rosetheguide
Ruins of Thyateira ancient city /photo:Erkmen Senan

Here, in the center of modern-day city Akhisar, are all what’s been uncovered of ancient Thyatira. Just these few scattered ruins.

We know from inscriptions that this city had many trade guilds. Some of them were associated with the textile business.  Another guild was involved with bronze or brass making. And brass is mentioned in the opening statement to this church.

Revelation 2:18-19

“ And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet like fine brass: I know your works, love, service, faith and your patience; and as for your work,  the last are more than the first.”

Thyateira was also a center for Emperor worship. The emperor was viewed as Apollo in the flesh. Apollo was the Sun God. And Jesus Christ as the Son of God was viewed by some as competition. But in spite of the difficulties here, the church is commended for its love, it’s faith, it’s patience. But like some of the other churches in the region, it also had some things to change.

Revelation 2:20-21

“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you because you, allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality and she did not repent.”

The problem was that the Thyateiran church had become seduced by the Pagan Society random is apparently involves sex and food offered to idols. Figuratively or literally the deception is labeled Jezebel. Perhaps a reference to Old Testament wicken and idolatrous queen of İsrael.

The message to Thyateira is direct and comes from Jesus himself and he doesn’t mince his words.

Revelation 2:22-23

“Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works”.

This is a very powerful passage that speaks to individual responsibility: what we do privately and publicly really matters.

We’re all going to be judged according to what we do. There were some in Thyateira  who’d  not succumb to the deception.

Revelation 2:24-25

“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyateira, as many as the do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come.”

The phrase; the depths of Satan is probably reference to a gnostic idea that in order to overcome Satan one had to experience the evil deeply. The gnostics believed that the body was made of matter and therefore evil. And thus the breaking of spiritual laws is of no consequence. This led to an attitude of licentiousness. And then anything-goes approach to life much like we see in the world today.

The letter to the Thyateira  Church end this way:

Revelation 2:26-29

“ And he who overcomes, and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel – I also have received from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The message to Thyateira was powerful, corrective and then couraging. It’s a message we’d all do well to heed.

Sardes: Letters to Seven Churches

The next city on the ancient Mail Route was about 25 southeast of Thyatira. It was the ancient Lydian capital known as Sardes.

Sardis was a city of wealth and commerce and because it was home a large Jewish Community it would have been a natural place for the early church to take root. The Apostle Paul’s custom was to try to reach those in the synagogue first since they were spiritually literate.

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Sardis ancient city, synagogue /photo: okuryazarim.com

This is a big synagogue from third century indicating the strength of the Jewish Community. Also here in the first century was a temple dedicated to Artemis, the same cult that challenged the early Church in Ephesus.

John was asked to write these words to the church here:

Revelation 3:1

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the Seven Spirits of God and the Seven Stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’”

This congregation was thought to be alive and active. They’re as good as dead. So the message again is very clear. The true follower of Christ must have a dynamic and active faith, must be more than just a show of righteousness. And that’s what the message here to this church is: got to learn to be active and dynamic and what Christ says for this church is very strong.

Revelation 3: 2-3

“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”

But there isn’t any congregation. There were a few who’d remain faithful. They were not forgotten. The one with eyes like flame of fire. Let’s see who is true servants.

Revelation 3:4

“ You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.“

Then follows the familiar promise for the active and committed follower of Christ.

Revelation 3:5-6

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from The Book of Life;, but I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He Who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

Once again a plain and direct letter of Correction, but also one of encouragement for the Sardes Church. They were reminded of the incredible future that lay ahead of them but they had to play their part.

Philadelphia: Letters to Seven Churches

From Sardis the mail route turns south and east to Philadelphia. It was a commercial center at the foot of Asia Minor Central High Plateau.

The name Philadelphia means brotherly love. So-called because the city was dedicated to King Eumenes by his brother Attalis some 250 years before John’s time.

Philadelphia and Smyrna are the only two churches of the seven, another corrective for some major flaw. The Church of Philadelphia’s message begins with the speaker identifying himself as Jesus Christ.

Revelation 3:7-8

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the Key of David. He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept my word and have not denied my name. ”’

This signifies that when Jesus Christ makes the decision, it has finality and has power and no human being can interfere with that decision. The church here in Philadelphia had no outward show of spiritual power. Yet they were humble. They were faithful to God’s way of life. But there were problems here, too. It seems that in the city there were those who said they were religious but who persecuted followers of the way.

Revelation 3:9-10

“Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie –  indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the Earth.”

The Philadelphians then would ultimately triumph over their persecutors. This is a promise that held out and has application to believe it is in all ages. It assures us of God’s involvement and our security. Physical or spiritual no matter the circumstances, but he’s always ready to help us. But we have to be faithful and we have to continue to overcome. The believer must live as if every day is the last. This is part of the concluding message to the Philadelphians. 

The promise is that they will have eternal life.

Revelation 3:11-13

“ Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from my God. And I will write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The followers of Christ in Philadelphia pleased god with their patience, their humility and their willingness to obey. As a result they are promised even closer relationship with God in his new world. 

Laodicea: Letters to Seven Churches

The seventh Church on the mail route, Laodicea, was about 30 miles to the south. It was well-known for its textile industry, for banking and the practice of medical arts. This city became famous for the beautiful black wool produced in the region. Laodicea was the richest city in the area. It was also in an area of volcanic and seismic activity. For that reason there’s evidence of warm water springs nearby and  water supplies heavy with mineral deposits.

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Laodicea /photo: iz.ru

About nine miles away, at higher appleís, is the world famous natural wonder known as Cotton Castle or Pamukkale. Water springs with a high concentration of calcium have produced these dazzling white cliffs. Similar thermal activity probably occurred at Laodicea.

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Water springs with a high concentration of calcium have produced these dazzling white cliffs/Pamukkale /photo: unsplash @danielacuevas

Laodicean are the ones for whom the most powerful correction is reserved. This last letter then ends with a message to the compromising follower who has lost the sight of the right way.

Revelation 3:14-16

“To the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.’”

As we’ve seen this is a place where underground springs produced lukewarm water. Lukewarmness, in the letter to the Laodicean, is a symbol for Spiritual lethargy. And that’s clearly not a characteristic of true followers. Laodicea was also a wealthy city. It’s  the junction of several roads, carrying a great deal of trade, but wealth also brought problems for this place. 

Revelation 3:17

“Because you say,’ I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of  nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked… ‘“

Laodicea’s  self-sufficiency masked an underlying spiritual poverty. But there is an antidote.

Revelation 3:18

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not revealed; and anoint your eyes with eyesalve, that you may see.”

These commodities would have been well-known to anyone in Laodicea. Gold was a familiar item, but spiritual treasure and uncompromising commitment to God, tested under difficult circumstances, would have been difficult to find among the lacks followers in Laodicea. They were also told to put on white clothing, the symbol of righteousness, and replace their old black woolen clothing for which the city was famous. This would have covered this spiritual nakedness. Finally they were told to buy eye salve. The city apparently made an eye salve. But what the church needed here more than a physical remedy, it was the healing of its spiritual vision.

The letter continues…

Revelation 3:19

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”

The message is clear; spiritual lethargy needs correction. And the faithful are going to respond to such advice and change because God is always willing to help. The letter ends with a remarkable promise from Christ.

Revelation 3:21

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my father on his throne. “

Summary

Now it’s time to summarize the messages to the seven churches that John first heard on the island of Patmos. 

The seven letters give very clear indication that the author knows the cities and those things about the cities. And we know he does know about these cities because of archaeological work, the discovery of him subscriptions, geographical aspects, topography. And so again, this is not allegory and fable at work, it’s somebody writing to real places with real issues. And he writes with accurate knowledge.

All of these messages are urgent pastoral instruction for believers in all ages. Five of the churches are corrected for compromise. And that compromise can come in various forms. It might be negligence, might be idolatry or sexual immorality. It could be self-indulgence or self-sufficiency. The message is clear though. Whatever the form of compromise, it’s unacceptable. The remaining two churches are told to hold fast to their convictions. All seven churches are told to look to Jesus Christ for direction and guidance.

And so for John it is literally a life or death issue. That those, followers of Jesus, who are eating meat sacrificed to idols, who are turning their back on commandments, are in mortal danger of losing their life when judgment is carried out in the very near future. And so the fundamental message, of the gospel, of the Book of Revelation, is; keep the Commandments, keep yourself pure, keep yourself holy. Because only the holy and the pure will be redeemed at the End of Time.

The seven churches are addressed with the message to be faithful witnesses. And they’re to be faithful witnesses to a whole way of living which is being in faithful discipleship or followers of the Lamb. And they are now being faced with a choice between inhabiting if you will follow the Empire of the Lamb or inhabiting the Empire of Caesar. And the Empire of Caesar is seen as an economically exploitative, ecologically destructive and oppressive regime. And the followers of the Lamb are those who come to the Tree of Life to receive water without price, who lay down their lives for witness to the gospel. 

These messages have something for all of us. There are times when we all have to avoid going along with the wrong practices of the world. God’s way is certainly a tough way, a difficult way, but when we follow it, the rewards are unparalleled.

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