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The Seven Churches

(with thanks to Easton's Bible Dictionary for the main comments)


1. When Antiochus the Great was defeated by the Romans in 190BC Ephesus was given to the kingdom of Pergamum. When that kingdom was bequeathed to Rome by Attulus III in 133BC it became the most important city in the Roman province of Asia, modern-day Turkey. The Bible book "Ephesians" is a letter sent by Paul to that church .

Ephesus

The capital of proconsular Asia, which was the western part of Asia Minor. It was colonized principally from Athens. In the time of the Romans it bore the title of "the first and greatest metropolis of Asia." It was distinguished for the Temple of Diana (q.v.), who there had her chief shrine; and for its theatre, which was the largest in the world, capable of containing 50,000 spectators. It was, like all ancient/ theatres, open to the sky. Here were exhibited the fights of wild beasts and of men with beasts. (Compare 1 Cor. 4:9; 9:24, 25; 15:32.)

Many Jews took up their residence in this city, and here the seeds of the gospel were sown immediately after Pentecost (Acts 2:9; 6:9). At the close of his second missionary journey (about A.D. 51), when Paul was returning from Greece to Syria (Acts 18:18-21), he first visited this city. He remained, however, for only a short time, as he was hastening to keep the feast, probably of Pentecost, at Jerusalem; but he left Aquila and Priscilla behind him to carry on the work of spreading the gospel.

During his third missionary journey Paul reached Ephesus from the "upper coasts" (Acts 19:1), i.e., from the inland parts of Asia Minor, and tarried here for about three years; and so successful and abundant were his labours that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). Probably during this period the seven churches of the Apocalypse were founded, not by Paul’s personal labours, but by missionaries whom he may have sent out from Ephesus, and by the influence of converts returning to their homes.

On his return from his journey, Paul touched at Miletus, some 30 miles south of Ephesus (Acts 20:15), and sending for the presbyters of Ephesus to meet him there, he delivered to them that touching farewell charge which is recorded in Acts 20:18-35. Ephesus is not again mentioned till near the close of Paul’s life, when he writes to Timothy exhorting him to "abide still at Ephesus" (1 Tim. 1:3).

Two of Paul’s companions, Trophimus and Tychicus, were probably natives of Ephesus (Acts 20:4; 21:29; 2 Tim. 4:12). In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul speaks of Onesiphorus as having served him in many things at Ephesus (2 Tim. 1:18). He also "sent Tychicus to Ephesus" (2 Tim. 4:12), probably to attend to the interests of the church there. Ephesus is twice mentioned in the Apocalypse (Rev. 1:11; 2:1).

The apostle John, according to tradition, spent many years in Ephesus, where he died and was buried.

A part of the site of this once famous city is now occupied by a small Turkish village, Ayasaluk, which is regarded as a corruption of the two Greek words, hagios theologos; i.e., "the holy divine."

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2. Smyrna was a place of little importance until Alexander ordered its rebuilding. It grew quickly becoming one of the richest coastal cities in the area and has remained a place of consequence ever since.

Smyrna

Myrrh, an ancient/ city of Ionia, on the western coast of Asia Minor, about 40 miles to the north of Ephesus. It is now the chief city of Anatolia, having a mixed population of about 200,000, of whom about one-third are professed Christians. The church founded here was one of the seven addressed by our Lord (Rev. 2:8-11). The celebrated Polycarp, a pupil of the apostle John, was in the second century a prominent leader in the church of Smyrna. Here he suffered martyrdom, A.D. 155.

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3. Pergamos (Pergamum) has a very high hill rising above its plain (300m) and on this site was built the acropolis which contained the public buildings. Among these were the palace, a theatre as big as the one at Ephesus, and an altar dedicated to Zeus which is still considered a marvel, and which is now housed in a museum in Berlin.

The city is notable for being the site of the compound of Asclepius, the god of healing, in which was located a large school of medicine, and a hospital with treatment rooms. Because of the reference made to Satan's seat being there, it is doubtful that the type of medicine taught was in line with God's plan for healthy living.

Pergamos

The chief city of Mysia, in Asia Minor. One of the "seven churches" was planted here (Rev. 1:11; 2:12-17). It was noted for its wickedness, inasmuch that our Lord says "Satan’s seat" was there. The church of Pergamos was rebuked for swerving from the truth and embracing the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitanes. Antipas, Christ’s "faithful martyr," here sealed his testimony with his blood.

This city stood on the banks of the river Caicus, about 20 miles from the sea. It is now called Bergama, and has a population of some twenty thousand, of whom about two thousand profess to be Christians. Parchment (q.v.) was first made here, and was called by the Greeks pergamene, from the name of the city.

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4. It was founded by Seleucus I as a Macedonian (Greek) colony about 301BC, but eventually became a trade and industry centre.

Thyatira

A city of Asia Minor, on the borders of Lydia and Mysia. Its modern name is Ak-hissar, i.e., "white castle." Here was one of the seven churches (Rev. 1:11; 2:18-28). Lydia, the seller of purple, or rather of cloth dyed with this colour, was from this city (Acts 16:14). It was and still is famous for its dyeing. Among the ruins, inscriptions have been found relating to the guild of dyers in that city in ancient/ times.

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5. Sardis first appeared in history in the 7th century BC as the capital of the Lydian kingdom, the country which invented coin money. One of its most famous kings was Croesus, the fabulously rich one, who was conquered by Cyrus the Persian. It eventually became part of the kingdom of Pergamum and passed into Roman hands in 133BC.

It was destroyed by the Tartars (Mongolians) in 1402AD (Ghengis Khan, Tamerlane etc.) in their great wars against professed Christianity and has never been rebuilt.

Sardis

The metropolis [capital] of Lydia in Asia Minor. It stood on the river Pactolus, at the foot of mount Tmolus. Here was one of the seven Asiatic churches (Rev. 3:1-6). It is now a ruin called Sert-Kalessi.

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6. This town received its name (brotherly love) from Attalus II of Pergamum because of his attachment to his elder brother Eumenes II who had been king before him. The city was destroyed in the earthquake of AD17 and was rebuilt by Tiberius Caesar. Because of its beauty it was sometimes called "The Little Athens."

Philadelphia

Brotherly love, a city of Lydia in Asia Minor, about 25 miles south-east of Sardis. It was the seat of one of the "seven churches" (Rev. 3:7-12). It came into the possession of the Turks in A.D. 1392. It has several times been nearly destroyed by earthquakes. It is still a town of considerable size, called Allahshehr, "the city of God."

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7. This city was situated on the edge of a valley between mountains that rise to heights of 2-3,000 metres. Nearby was the town of Colossae to which the letter to the Colossians was sent. Laodicea became famous as a trade centre for glossy black wool and the black garments manufactured there. Like the other cities of Asia it changed hands several times during its lifetime, but was eventually destroyed by the Turks in the 13th century and has since lain in ruins.

Laodicea

The city of this name mentioned in Scripture lay on the confines of Phrygia and Lydia, about 40 miles east of Ephesus (Rev. 3:14), on the banks of the Lycus. It was originally called Diospolis and then Rhoas, but afterwards Laodicea, from Laodice, the wife of Antiochus II, king of Syria, who rebuilt it. It was one of the most important and flourishing cities of Asia Minor. At a very early period it became one of the chief seats of Christianity (Col. 2:1; 4:15; Rev. 1:11, etc.). It is now a deserted place, called by the Turks Eski-hissar or "old castle."

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