Why seven churches? Why these seven churches? Foy Wallace, Jr. argued that there were only seven churches in Asia at this time. True, the New Testament mentions others: Colossae (Colossians 1:2) and Hieropolis (Colossians 4:13). However, Wallace points out: (1) A great earthquake in early 60`s A.D. destroyed these two cities and they were never rebuilt. (2) The residents of these two cities resettled in nearby Laodicea (Foy Wallace, Jr., The Book of Revelation, pp. 35-36).
This argument may be correct, but it leaves a question unanswered. What about Troas? (1) Paul visited Troas on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:8, 11). There is no evidence here of the church’s existence. (2) He preached there on his third missionary journey (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). He had an open door (2 Corinthians 2:12). He left “them” and departed into Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13). This seems to suggest a church. (3) He tarried seven days at Troas, and there the disciples assembled and partook of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:5-12). This seems to suggest a church at Troas. Though, it is possible that these are brethren from other places. (4) Paul left his cloak with a man named Carpus in Troas (2 Timothy 4:13). This happened sometime before his final arrest. Paul visited the place at least four times. He knew a man there by name. It seems likely that the church existed at Troas.
It may be that there were more than seven churches in Asia. If so, why specifically address these seven? “These were seven historical churches occupying prominent places in Asia Minor. It should be noted that while they are literal churches, the number seven is to be understood in a symbolic manner. These congregations represent the church as a whole” (John Kackelman, Jr., Studies in the Book of Revelation, p. 19). “They represent or typify the Lord’s church as a whole, their problems and conditions being representative of all the churches of Christ” (James Tolle, The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 19).
Let us continue our study: Today, Group Two: The loveless, lifeless, and lukewarm churches. Would we be in this list?
Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
Modern name: Selcuk
About the city: The name “Ephesus” means “desirable”. It was founded in about 1100 B.C. In Grecian times, it had been one of the three greatest seaports of the eastern Mediterranean Sea (The other two being Antioch, Syria and Alexandria, Egypt). Silt which was carried by the river Cayster into the Gulf of Ephesus had diminished the importance of this city as a seaport. The port was still operational in the 50’s A.D. (Acts 18:21; 20:16). Even then silt was becoming a problem (Miletus had similar problems. Smyrna became the key seaport of the area). There was an effort to dredge the harbor in 65 A.D. This effort was abandoned due to cost (today, the city is separated from the gulf by over 16 miles). Still, Ephesus remained the chief city of the province of Asia, and even all of Asia Minor. Its first century population was between 250,000 and 330,000. It was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was a free city, allowed to govern its own affairs. A great deal of banking was done in this city. Silver crafting was big business (Acts 19:24-ff). This city was wealthy. A large middle class existed. Homes commonly had running water, tiled flooring and marbled walls. The city had a theater which seated about 25,000 (cf. Acts 19:21-41). It had a marble road which led from the harbor to the theater, and to the “Temple of Diana” (Artemis), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Religiously: “The Temple of Diana” dominated the city. Its dimensions were 425 ft. long x 240 ft. wide x 60 ft. high. The platform stood at the top of a flight of 10 steps. The temple was supported by 127 marble columns, each weighing 150 tons, having a diameter greater than 6 feet and standing 60 feet tall. The temple was important to the local economy. Each spring a festival was held in honor of Diana. Athletic contests occurred. Religious pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire came to this city (cf. Acts 19:27). The city profited by housing and feeding these pilgrims. Merchants sold miniature bronze and silver replicas of Diana (cf. Acts 19:24-ff). Prostitution seems to have been associated with the worship of Diana. Diana was the supposed goddess of fertility. Her image was of a multi-breasted woman. Her image located in the center of the temple was supposedly an image which fell out of heaven [(cf. Acts 19:35) some suggest the image was fashioned from a meteorite. An image at Tarsus was so fashioned of Diana]. There were other temples there for other pagan gods, and emperors. Moreover, there was a Jewish synagogue (cf. Acts 19:8; also mentioned by Joseph in Antiquities XIV, 10, 23). The Jews, apparently, wanted all to know that they did not oppose Diana (cf. Acts 19:32-ff).
The church: This church had wonderful opportunities: (1) Paul made a brief stop in the city on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18-21) (2) He visited, again, on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1-20:1). He stayed for over two years (Acts 19:8-10, cf. 19:13 “then”, cf. 20:31). (3) He had a meeting in Miletus with the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38). (4) Timothy worked with this church for a period of time (1 Tim. 1:3). (5) An epistle was written to them (Ephesians 1:1). (6) An open letter was addressed to them (Revelation 2:1-7). (6) They had the company of good brethren: (a) Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-28; 1 Corinthians 16:19); (b) Apollos (Acts 18:24-28); (c) Tradition says that John lived in Ephesus, and worshipped with the brethren there the last years of his life, urging them “little children, love one another.”
The message: (1) Jesus was not distant. He was among them (Revelation 2:2 cf. 1:20). He knew their works (Revelation 2:2). This was pointed out to all seven churches (Rev. 2:2; 2:9; 2:13; 2:19; 3:1; 3:8; 3:15). (2) They had done, and were doing many good things: (a) They were laborers. Jesus said, “I know… your labor… you… have labored for My name’s sake” (Revelation 2:2, 3). The word “labor” (NKJV) or “toil” (ESV) is more intense than the term “work”. The word has to do with painstakingly, difficult work; work done at great effort; “Arduous, sweat-producing labor: (Coffman, Commentary on Revelation, p. 43). (b) They were patient. Jesus said, “I know… your patience… you have persevered and have patience” (Revelation 2:2, 3). The ESV renders this “patient endurance.” They did not run hot and cold. They were not hit and miss. Christianity for them was a consistent way of life. They had not “become weary” (Revelation 2:3). (c) They were serious about doctrine. They were not gullible, but tested those who claimed to be apostles (Revelation 2:2 cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1). They, like the Lord, hated “the deeds of the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:6 cf. 2:15). Ray Summers, “From the relationship to those who held the doctrine of Balaam (2:14-15), their evil appears to have been the promotion of some form of antinomianism” (Worthy is the Lamb, p. 110). The Nicolaitans seems to have been Gnostic (Zondervan’s Pictorial Dictionary). (d) They were not tolerant of evil. Jesus said, “You cannot bear those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2). (3) They also had a problem. Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Does this refer to the love which they first had for Christ? (Note: The word “first” in the original has to do with time, not comparative degree). Were they ritualistically doing things correctly, but without the genuine love that they should’ve had? Service without love does not impress Him (Matthew 15:8; 22:36-37). Does this refer to their love one for another, which they once had? Service without such love profits nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-ff). (4) If they didn’t repent, they would cease to be His church (Revelation 2:5 cf. 1:20). (5) If they overcame, they’d have access to the tree of Life (Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24; Revelation 2:7 cf. 22:2; 22:14).
Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)
Modern name: Sart near Salihi.
About the city: The city was very ancient. It had served as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. It’s referred to by the name “Hyde” (an ancient name of the city) in the Iliad. The city was located about 45 miles inland, to the east of Smyrna, and 30 miles southeast of Thyatira. The name Sardis is plural. There was an upper city, and a lower city. Upper Sardis was renowned for its natural defensive position. The upper city, sat on a spur which came out of the northern slope of Mount Tmolus. It was flanked on three sides by high cliff walls (which rose 1,500 feet above the valley). The River Pactolus flowed near the base of the cliff walls like a moat. Triple walls protected the side without natural defense. Lower Sardis was positioned in the valley below. The city’s wealth originally came from gold. This gold came from the River Pactolus. Its sands were said to be golden. Such was ancient history by John’s day. Historians believe that it was in this city the first modern coins were minted [Monetary exchange had existed for a long time before (Genesis 33:19; Exodus 38:26; Joshua 24:32; Job 42:11)].
They manufactured electrum (a metal alloy of gold, silver, and trace amounts of copper and other metals). They also produced a purple dye. In 17 A.D., the city was destroyed by an earthquake. Tiberius remitted their taxes, and helped rebuild. The city never returned to its former importance. Nothing but a small village remains.
Religiously: They took part in the usual pagan worship. The worshipped Cybele, Artemus, and Zeus. The temple of Artemis was 300 feet x 160 feet. It stood on 78 columns each 58 feet high. The largest synagogue ever excavated was found there [Josephus mentions a large Jewish community (Antiq. XIV. 259-261; XVI. 171)]. The synagogue measured 197 feet x 59 feet with a porch extended 131 feet. Emperor worship was practiced. Local hot springs were valued for their therapeutic properties. This prompted the worship of Hades and Persephoneia, the god and goddess of the underworld.
The message: (1) Jesus knew their works (Revelation 3:1). (2) They had a name that they were alive, but they were dead (Revelation 3:1). What does this mean? Evidently, they had a great reputation. Perhaps, they had, in times past, done many good works. Were they relying on past accomplishments? Perhaps, they had a nice meeting place, and good numbers that brought much respect in the brotherhood. However, Jesus’ diagnosis was that they were dead, or nearly so (Revelation 3:1-2). (3) They were admonished to “watch” (Revelation 3:2). This, they should have understood from their city’s history. The location of the city led to over-confidence, and a lack of alertness. Twice in history, the cliff walls had been scaled at night, and the city had been taken. Cyrus (of Persia) captured the city in 546 B.C. Antiochus III (of Syria) captured the city in 214 B.C. They needed to strengthen that which was about to die (Revelation 3:2). Their works were not perfect, or complete (Revelation 3:2). Perhaps, they had started many good projects, but they had not followed through to complete the task. Their works were hit and miss. (5) They needed to remember back to when they obeyed the Gospel (Revelation 3:3 cf. 2:5). It is good for all to remember the reason they obeyed, and the joy of their salvation. They needed to “hold fast” to what they had and “repent” of their current situation. (6) If they did not repent, he would come upon them unexpectedly in judgment (Revelation 3:3). (7) If they did what they should: (a) White garments awaited (Revelation 3:5 cf. 4:4; 7:9; 13-14); (b) Their name would be in the book of life (Revelation 3:5 cf. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; Philippians 4:3). Ancient cities kept a list of the names of the citizens. Death, relocation, and banishment would remove one’s name. A Christian’s name is written in heaven (cf. Luke 10:20). We need to make sure that it is not removed from His Book of Life. (c) Jesus would confess their name before the Father and angels (cf. Matthew 10:32). (8) There were still some among them who were undefiled (Revelaion 3:4 cf. 2:24-25).
Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22)
Modern name: Denizli
About the city: The city was founded in the mid-third century B.C. by Antiochus II (of Syria). It was built as a military base. It was named after Antiochus’ wife Laodike (who as a side note later poisoned him). The Syrians populated this city with Syrians and with Jews from Babylon. The city was located about 40 miles east of Ephesus, 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia, 11 miles west of Colossae, and 6 miles south of Hieropolis. The city sat in the Lycus river valley with mountains to the north, and mountains to the south. The city was extremely wealthy. It was renowned for three things. First, it was a great financial and banking center. Second, there was a medical center located there which was especially known for its optical treatments. A medical school existed there. Drugs were manufactured there, and especially eye salve (called collyrium or Phrygian eye salve). Aristotle mentions this salve. Third, it was known for its high-grade black wool, and the production of garments. An earthquake devastated the city in the early 60’s A.D. Rome offered to help rebuild. The city refused. They were wealthy, and believed that they needed no help. They rebuilt with their own resources. The city’s water supply came from the hot springs of nearby Hieropolis. It was lukewarm on arrival.
Religiously: There was a temple to Zeus. The worshipped Asklepios, the god of healing, and Men Karov, the god of the valley. Emperor worship occurred here. A large Jewish presence suggest that a synagogue existed. The church is mentioned a few times by Paul [(Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:13, 15, 16). Note: on the epistle from Laodicea see article: “Missing Books of the New Testament” by Bryan Hodge].
The message: (1) Jesus declared Himself the “Amen, the Faithful and True witness” (Revelation 3:15). The term “Amen” has to do with trustworthiness, reliability. His witness is not incorrect. (2) Jesus declared that He’s “the beginning of the creation of God” (Revelation 3:15). The meaning is that He is the source of God’s creation (cf. John 1:1-3, 10; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1-2, 10). He’s their maker. (3) Jesus affirmed his knowledge of their works (Revelation 3:15). (4) They were neither cold nor hot, but a disgusting lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16). Such made Him ready to vomit. Hot water is useful. Cold water is useful. Lukewarm water is not so beneficial. He wished they were either hot or cold. Perhaps, nothing harms the cause more than “half way Christians”. Get on fire, or don’t even pretend to be a Christian. (5) They were self-deceived (Revelation 3:17-18). They thought they were something spiritually. In truth, they were, “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Some believe the reference is not to their spiritual deception, so much, as to their trust in material things (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17). Make no mistake about it, materialism harms the church (cf. Luke 8:14). (6) The source for all that they truly needed was Christ (Revelation 3:18). All their needs could be supplied by Him. They could purchase such from Him by his grace (cf. Isaiah 55:1-4). (7) His correction was due to His love for them (Revelation 3:19). He wanted them to be zealous. He wanted them to repent. (8) He had given them free will (Revelation 3:20). He knocked for them, He called out for them, but He did not force Himself on them. (9) If they would respond: (a) He’d fellowship with them (Revelation 3:19); (b) He’d allow them to sit one day, with Him, on His throne (Revelation 3:21; 22:1 cf. John 17:24; 2 Tim. 2:10-12).
Notice – Two messages appear to all seven churches: (1) Jesus said, “I know…” (Revelation 2:2; 2:9; 2:13; 2:19; 3:1; 3:8; 3:15). He knew their trials. He knew their conduct. He knows us, as well. (2) He urged them to “overcome” (Revelation 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 3:5; 3:12; 3:21). The scriptures urge us to “overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13-14), and “overcome the world” (John 16:33 cf. 1 John 5:4-5). The keys to victory are: (a) Faith (1 John 5:4-5); (b) the blood of the lamb (Rev. 12:11); (c) courage, “the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11); (d) self-sacrifice, “they did not love their lives to the death (Revelation 12:11).