The book of Revelation was addressed to seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1:4, 11). “Asia” referred to the Roman province of Asia, located in western Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Seven open letters were included in this book. These letters evaluated, and exhorted the seven churches. The letters appear to have been written in a geographical sequence. Ephesus was the nearest to the isle of Patmos from where John received the revelation (Revelation 1:9). Ephesus was addressed first, followed by the rest in a geographically clock-wise order [(1) The church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7); (2) The church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11); (3) The church in Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17); (4) The church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29); (5) The church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6); (6) The church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13); (7) The church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)].
This series will follow a different order. We’ll divide the seven churches into three groups. Group One: The faithful churches. This group includes Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), and Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13). Group Two: The loveless, lifeless and lukewarm churches. This group includes Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7), Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6), and Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). Group Three: The liberal and worldly churches. This group includes Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17), and Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29). As we consider each of these groups, ask yourself, “into which group would the spirit place this church, the South Anchorage church of Christ?”
Group One: The faithful churches. There are only two churches that received no rebuke.
Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)
Modern name: Izmir
About the city: This city was Asia’s greatest seaport. It had surpassed Ephesus, which was located 50 miles south, when Ephesus’ harbor had become silted. The soil was fertile and grew grapes. The city had a medical school, public library, a theater which seated 20,000. The city was the birthplace of Homer, and had built the Homerium, a structure in honor of the famed writer. The streets were wide and paved. The population in John’s day was between 180,000 and 200,000 (today, 2,000,000).
Religiously, there were numerous pagan temples dedicated to various gods including: Cybele, Zeus, Apollo, and Aphrodite. The temples of Cybele and Zeus were connected by a street of gold (cf Revelation 21:21). This was the place where the worship of Rome started (29 B.C.). There was a temple erected in 26 A.D. to Tiberius Caesar and his mother Julia.
The message: (1) Jesus knew what they were enduring (Revelation 2:9). They were enduring tribulation (crushing pressure), poverty (commercially boycotted), blasphemy of Jews (opposed, spoke against). (2) Jesus also had experienced suffering (Revelation 2:8 cf Hebrews 12-1-4). (3) They were going to experience more persecution (Revelation 2:10). Note: In 155 A.D. Polycarp, a bishop of the church in Smyrna, refused to renounce Christ and bow to Caesar saying, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior… You threaten me with fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in judgment to come… come do what you will,” and with these words he was burned. It is said that the Jews zealously gathered the wood for the fire, even though it was the Sabbath. (4) In Jesus’ estimation, they were rich in what truly mattered (Revelation 2:9; cf. Revelation 3:17; Matthew 6:19-ff; Matthew 16:21; Luke 12:13-ff; Luke 16:19-ff). (5) Remain faithful regardless of physical cost. A crown of life awaits the faithful (Revelation 2:10). A lake of fire, a second death awaits the unfaithful (Revelation 2:11 cf. 20:13-14).
Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)
Modern name: Alah – Shehir
About the city: The city name means “brotherly love.” The city received its name from the great love that existed between two brothers. Eumenes II was the King of Lydia in the second century B.C. (Pre-Roman Empire). A false report circulated that he had been assassinated. Younger brother, Attalus II accepted the crown. However, Eumenes II returned from Greece alive and well. Some wanted Attalus II to remain king. However, he relinquished the crown to his brother. This is how the city got its name. The city was located 105 miles east of Smyrna. The land was known for its grape production (said to have vineyards covering an area 58 miles long by 46 miles wide). The Cogamus, the local river, was known for its fresh water turtles. The city was built-in a hilly area (elevation 952 feet) and on a fault line. The city was completely destroyed by earthquake in 17 A.D., but was rebuilt. Population figures are unknown. The city seems to have been relatively small. It did not have any courts of its own; but was under the courts of Sardis, which was located about 28 miles to the northwest.
Religiously: Bacchus (aka Dionysus), the god of wine, was worshipped in this city. This god’s image was inscribed on their coins.
The message: (1) Jesus knew what they were doing (Revelation 3:8). (2) They’re reminded that Jesus has ultimate authority (Revelation 3:7). (3) They had little strength (Revelation 3:8). Perhaps, they were few in number. Perhaps, they were financially weak. (4) They had kept the word faithfully (Revelation 3:8, 14). (5) An open door had been set before them (Rev. 3:8). The reference is to evangelistic opportunity (Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:2-3). Watch the fact that this door was open due to their faithfulness (Revelation 3:8). (6) They had difficulty with the Jews (Revelation 3:9 cf. 2:9). The Jews would be humbled (Genesis 37:1-11; Isaiah 45:14; 49:23; 60:14). (7) They would be spared the great trials others would face (Revelation 3:10). (8) They still needed to be careful not to let others take their crown (Revelation 3:11 cf. 2:10). (9) If they overcame the trials and temptations of life(Revelation 3:12 cf John 16:33; 1 John 2:13; 2:14; 4:4; 5:4; 5:5; Revelation 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 3:5; 3:12; 3:21; 12:11; 21:7), they would be greatly blessed. They would have a new name written upon them [(Revelation 3:12), many think this is an allusion to history. When Philadelphia was destroyed in 17 A.D., Tiberius rebuilt it. There was a proposal to rename the city Neocaesarea (New Caesarea) in his honor. However, what awaits is New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12 cf. 21:2, 10; Hebrews 11:10; 12:22)]. Moreover, they would be pillars in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12).
These two churches received a good review and no rebuke. Would we?