In the book of Revelation, St. John addresses the seven churches of Asia Minor. In this highly symbolic, poetic book, St. John is writing during a time of persecution when he has been exiled to the island of Patmos on account of his missionary work. In his Revelation he describes a cosmic conflict between the forces of Satan and God’s angels, a battle that mirrors the earthly trials suffered by Christians at the hands of the Romans.
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, 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, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Revelation 1:9-11
Unfortunately nothing remains today from these seven churches. Most were probably not churches at all, for the small Christian communities in these cities likely met in private homes, caves, or out of doors. But the Seven Churches of the Revelation still form the basis of an increasingly popular tour route in Turkey. All are located on or near the Aegean coast in western Turkey.
Smyrna is now known as Izmir. Along with Ephesus, Smyrna was an important coastal city during the first century AD. St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was martyred here around 156. Today Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and its second largest port city after Istanbul.
Thyatira was the fourth of the seven churches of Asia Minor to receive an epistle from the St. John (Rev. 2:18-29). An important trade center particularly for the textile industry of Hellenistic and Roman times, the city lay along a low lying corridor that followed a north south river bed connecting the Caicus and Hermes River beds (Pergamum - Smyrna, Laodicea Road). Though the city existed earlier, it reached notoriety when reconstructed by Seleucus Nicator about 300 BC.
Philadelphia ( meaning: "brotherly love") is the sixth city mentioned in the Book of Revelation to receive a message from Jesus Christ. Philadelphia was established in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamon. Eumenes II named the city for the love he had for his brother, Attalus II, who was loyal to Eumenes II and would follow as his successor.
Laodicea (Meaning "justice of the people" or "people's rights"), was earlier called Diospolis and Rhoas. Laodicea was a wealthy and powerful metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana, built on the river Lycus in Anatolia, near the modern village of Eskihisar (Eski Hissar), Denizli Province, Turkey
Ephesus was one of the largest cities of the ancient world and a center for worship of the goddess Artemis, as well as the site of one of the largest Christian communities of the first and second centuries AD.
Ephesus grew rich both because of its favorable location and as the site of the Temple to Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. During the first century it was one of the most important centers for the early Christian Church and was one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. The city is known for its connections to figures that include St. Paul, St. John, and the Virgin Mary, and was also the site of the Third Ecumenical Council in 431.
Pergamum is the site of a magnificent acropolis situated a top a high hill overlooking the modern town of Bergama.
Pergamum played a role in early Christian history as well. It was the third of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 1-3, and some scholars believe that the altar to Zeus served as the inspiration for Satan’s throne mentioned in Revelation 2:13. It makes sense, does it not? If you are a persecuted minority, hounded and beleaguered, and you want to choose a symbol of all that is oppressing you, that altar to Zeus is a pretty good choice, standing as it did in the center of the powerful acropolis of Pergamum. Naming it after Satan is an appropriate touch, too, a final thumbing of your nose at imperial Rome.
Sardis is the fifth city mentioned in the Book of Revelation to receive a message from Jesus Christ. Sardis rose to power because of its location on an important highway from the Aegean Sea, its command over the fertile plain of Hermus, and its military strength. Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, the seat of a proconsul under the Roman Empire, and the metropolis of the province Lydia in later Roman and Byzantine times.
Where Does the Bible Mention These Seven Churches ?
The seven churches are the primary focus of the first three chapters of Revelation. They are represented by seven golden lampstands, and the seven angels – or messengers – of the churches, represented by seven stars in the right hand of Jesus. Only one of the churches is in another part of the Bible. The Church at Ephesus received a letter, the Book of Ephesians, from the Apostle Paul.
The three approaches to understanding these churches all agree they were existing churches that received copies of the Revelation at that time. They differ on how these churches may or may not apply to church history, including the modern body of believers.
There is one perspective that these messages only applied to those seven specific churches and the messages have no lasting significance. One of the criticisms of this theory is that it dismisses the prophetic nature of the messages, and reduces the significance of the prophecies coming from the glorified Christ.
There is also the chronological perspective. According to this view, each church mentioned in these chapters represents a period in church history. Each of these periods can be traced and assigned to a specific phase of the growth and change of the body of Christ over time, from its inception, to its decline before Christ’s return.