Why These Seven Churches?

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The names of the cities in Revelation 2 and 3 have become iconic and perhaps even detached from time and space over the past two millennia. As a result, they have become the subject of hyper-symbolic interpretation and perhaps even “over-spiritualization”. Now, I by no means will discount their prophetic significance. But if we could take a step back, I would like to ask a very simple question: Why these churches?

Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea

All of the cities are close to one another in proximity. Located in modern-day Turkey, then called Anatolia (Asia Minor), they were all within the Roman Empire. John was tending to the work that the Apostle Paul and his missionary team (Acts 19:1-10) began.

“Paul planted the church in Ephesus. Epaphras planted the churches in Laodicea, Colosse, and Hierapolis. Paul’s other coworkers planted churches throughout Asia Minor. Among them are Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Pergamum. Paul planted churches in Troas and Illyricum (Dalmatia).” [1]

But aside from Ephesus, these other communities don’t have the New Testament fame and popularity we are accustomed to. Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Rome; why were these communities the recipients of Jesus’ exhortation through John? Why did Jesus focus in on a cluster of cities grouped together in ancient Asia Minor (Anatolia), known today as Turkey? The short answer: Gog and Magog. No, this is not a typo.

If we do a little history review, we know from the Old Testament that Magog was one of the descendants of Japheth, son of Noah. And based on archeological evidence found in the records of the Assyrian Royal Court, we have accounts of the place names and descriptive language of events that match those found in the Book of Ezekiel in reference to Magog.[2] And when cross referenced with other historical data, the location of the region is easily found. One interesting discovery for me was learning that the region of Magog was not the ancient Scythians (modern-day Russia)[3].

“These Assyrian records give the locations of Magog, Meshech, Tubal Togarmah, and Gomer. Ezekiel 38:2-5 correctly indicates that they were ancient nations of ancient Asia Minor (Anatolia in modern-day Turkey). These nations spread in a geographic arc from west to east to the north of Israel.

“On the other hand, Gomer (Ezekiel 38:5 - Cimmerians) was an enemy of the Assyrians that invaded ancient Asia Minor by coming down from the north around the 8th century BC. The Assyrians called the barbarous invading Cimmerians (Gomer) ‘creatures of hell.’

“These nations all coexisted in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) at a time when Magog (also known as Ludu or Lydia in both the Bible and the Assyrian texts) was led by a militant leader called Gog (685-652 BC), about 100 years before the Book of Ezekiel was written. Gog is the Hebrew spelling for the name of this militant leader from western Asia Minor, who was known as Gyges of Lydia to the Greeks. This same leader was known as “Gugu, king of Ludu” and “Gugu, King of Lydia” to the Assyrians…”

“In the Assyrian language “the land of Gugu” is rendered as Ma-gugu, just as “the land of Zamua” is rendered as Ma-zamua. The Hebrew spelling of Magugu is “Magog,” and thus, “Magog” simply means “the land of Gog…”

“In Sumerian the word gug (Gog) means “darkness.” In Gog from the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal from Ezekiel 38:2, refers to the chief prince of darkness from the land of darkness…”

“Migrants from Lydia called the Etruscans took control of the struggling local population of central Italy and put them on the fast track to becoming the powerful Roman Empire.”[4]

Given the historical context for the ancient ruler Gog and the kingdom of Magog and surrounding regions, we see that they became a metaphor for evil and darkness. Moreover, the Roman Empire was deeply indebted to the peoples of Magog (Lydians, later called Etruscans) for their contribution to Rome’s rise in power[5]. “By 600 BC the Etruscans took control of Rome and became the ruling aristocracy in a new society with an economy based on trade and commerce. The Etruscans were responsible for the urbanization of Rome, as well as it's army and its economic advancement. They made Rome the leading state in Latium.”[6]

Because of this, Magog became synonymous with the term “Gentiles” (in the sense of their power and their wickedness) as well. The Gentiles (Greeks, Romans) could also be said to have derived their power from Magog (see also Rom 3:29; 10:12; Col 3:11). What is emphatic here is that Gog was a real person, and is long dead. And Magog is now modern-day Turkey, a country that is certainly not a global superpower. Thus, all references to both Gog and Magog must be seen for their symbolic and metaphorical significances.

Asia Minor, where the kingdom of Magog once was, was geographically a bridge between the West and the East. The Roman Empire, representing all things Greek and Gentile, was in the West. Jerusalem and Israel, representing all things Judaic, was to the East. The only way on land to connect from one to the other was through Asia Minor. The seven churches were situated on a physical crossroads between West and East.

The physical crossroad then could be seen a representing a ‘spiritual’ one as well. These seven churches in Asia Minor were situated in a place of convergence, tension, and meshing. Twice in Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus makes reference to a “synagogue of Satan”, along with three one-offs: “Satan’s throne”, “Satan’s dwelling”, and the “depths of Satan”. This cannot be taken lightly.

Further, Magog is the only major metaphorical reference in Revelation that does not represent apostate Israel. It represents apostate humanity, fully consumed by the influence and power of darkness. It is not the same thing as the Roman Empire, although it includes it. The reference to a synagogue of Satan in Revelation 2 and 3 means that Jew and Gentile can be seduced and consumed by Magog. The convergence represented in Asia Minor then is one that illustrates the demonic kingdom at work in both Jew and Greek, through seduction and deception, leading them away from God and into war against the Saints of Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus spoke a word of encouragement to these communities to strengthen and renew their hope. Although they faced a certain degree of physical affliction and persecution, their greater battle was not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12). Notice that Paul wrote this to the Ephesians, one of the seven churches in Asia Minor! Both the East (Israel) and West (Rome) rose up against the Saints of the Most High. And from the West (Rome) would come the fulfilment of Ezekiel 38, Magog descending upon Israel and Jerusalem and laying waste to all in its path.

As I mentioned in Book I, Emperor Nero was in Greece (likely in Olympia) when he dispatched general Vespasian to crush the Jewish rebellion in 67 AD. Nero in many ways personified some of the descriptions of the Beast of the Sea in Revelation 13. Now if you pull up a map and look at the location of ancient Olympia and the Isle of Patmos, you’ll see they are less than 600 km apart. And from Olympia it isn’t much farther to ancient Asia Minor, and the regions of the seven churches. My point is that at the time John received his visitation and revelation from Jesus, Nero was a stone’s throw away from John and from the churches he wrote to! Just to the West of figurative Magog was one of the key players in Satan’s hand, Nero, being used to dispatch legions of Romans against Israel, Jerusalem and the ancient regions of the Holy Land. Things could not have been more intense for a Jewish Christian at that time.

The seven churches in Revelation were physically located on symbolically, spiritually and prophetically charged land. And in keeping with every other major reference to places in the vision, Jesus uses Magog just like He used Babylon, Sodom and Egypt: They did not represent a physical location, but instead represented themes, stories and symbols to communicate a broader narrative and prophetic fulfilment. This is why Jesus came to these seven churches, and not the other more “famous” ones within the Empire.

Abaddon Rides Through Their Midst

One of my most exciting personal discoveries in this journey of seeking to understand the book of Revelation was when I traced the voyage of general Vespasian as he rode from Greece to Syria. As mentioned above, Emperor Nero, Vespasian and Titus were not in Rome, but rather in Southern Greece entertaining the Emperor as he participated in the Olympic games. In the far East, Judaeans defeated Cestius Gallus, a Roman general, and became puffed with conceit and rebellious ambitions against the Empire. Word of this reached Nero, and the Emperor became enraged.

“When Nero was informed of the Romans ill success in Judea, a concealed consternation and terror, as is usual in such cases, fell upon him; although he openly looked very big, and was very angry… And as he was deliberating to whom he should commit the care of the east, now it was in so great a commotion, and who might be best able to punish the Jews for their rebellion, and might prevent the same distemper from seizing upon the neighbouring nations also; he found no one but Vespasian equal to the task, and able to undergo the great burden of so mighty a war, seeing he was growing an old man already in the camp, and from his youth had been exercised in warlike exploits...”[7]

As I have already argued, I believe John’s visitation took place in the year 67 AD. We know that Nero was in Greece from approximately 66-67 AD, for about 15 months.[8] And because part of the purpose of John’s vision was out of God’s mercy to warn the Christians within the Holy Land and to call to repentance and deliverance the Jews, I believe John was warned (visited) by Jesus prior to Nero’s dispatching of Vespasian. Now, was it days prior, weeks prior or months prior? Perhaps we will never know. However, John was tasked with the mission of warning Jews and Christians of the devastation that was about to come upon Jerusalem, the Temple, and the ancient regions of Israel.

“Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.’” Rev 10:10-11

Thus, John is warned of the great calamity of the Jews, and sees that the words of Jesus in Matthew 23, 24 and 25 are about to be fulfilled. And a short while later, across the Aegean Sea, Vespasian and his son Titus leave Greece in order to muster the Roman legions and wage war against the Jews.

“So Vespasian sent his son Titus from Achaia [in Southern Greece], where he had been with Nero, to Alexandria [of Egypt], to bring back with him from thence the fifth and the tenth legions, while he himself, when he had passed over the Hellespont [modern-day Dardanelles in Turkey], came by land into Syria, where he gathered together the Roman forces, with a considerable number of auxiliaries from the kings in that neighbourhood…

“But as to Titus... he took with him those forces he was sent for, and marching with great expedition, he came suddenly to Ptolemais, and there finding his father, together with the two legions, the fifth and the tenth, which were the most eminent legions of all, he joined them to that fifteenth legion which was with his father... when all were united together, amounted to sixty thousand, besides the servants, who, as they followed in vast numbers, so because they had been trained up in war with the rest...””[9]

Titus set sail across the Mediterranean to great city of Alexandria in Egypt. Meanwhile, Vespasian takes a short-cut from Greece to Asia Minor (Turkey) by crossing the Hellespont, a narrow straight less than a mile wide. It is interesting that he chose this route, and not the northern crossing through Constantinople/Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul). Why? Because it actually further explains why Jesus addressed the seven churches in Asia Minor.

The Roman Empire was a legendary road builder. Many of the caput viae, Roman Republic Highways and Designated Imperial Roads lasted for hundreds of years. One of these major highways passed through Asia Minor, and was a major trading route. Since Vespasian crossed the Hellespont, we know that his crossing point was Crossing point was Callipolis (in Greece) over to Lampsacus (in Asia Minor/Turkey). Lampsacus was the starting point of this major highway that went through Asia Minor toward Syria.[10] Several towns and cities were connected to this highway, since this was the only way for them to have regular trade activity.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Vespasian and his entourage are on horse and chariot racing from Greece to Syria in preparation to engage the Jews. As he rides on the Roman road, he crosses from Greece into Asia Minor, where the seven churches of Revelation are. After starting this leg of the journey in Lampsacus, here are the towns he would have ridden by as he followed this highway from West to East, in this order: Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. If you check Revelation 3 in your Bible, you’ll see that these churches are addressed in the exact same order.

Jumping ahead a little, in Revelation 9 we will discover that Abaddon is personified through Vespasian and later Titus, as they each take turns leading the Roman campaign. These are the “destroyers” of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Holy Land. Now consider the fact that the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 had a strong Jewish presence. Unbeknownst to them, Abaddon (a Hebrew word) was riding right past them on his way to ravage their beloved homeland and forever change the Jewish religion. The five churches of Revelation 3 were on the main route from Greece to Syria. The authority that was granted to the dragon “to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Rev 13:6) rested upon the shoulders of Vespasian and Titus, for they would lead the campaign.

The vision of a beast of pray ascending from the sea (Rev 13) coincided with the time and place of John’s vision remarkably well. Representing the Hellenistic (Greek) culture and the Roman Empire, the “sea” played a major role in the military power of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. This is remarkably illustrated by the Delian League of Greece in 477 BC. If you do an internet search of a map of the Delian League, you’ll see that it was comprised of all of the coastal regions surrounding the Aegean Sea, including Athens to the West, and Ephesus to the East.

Now imagine this: John is right in the middle of the Sea on Patmos island when he sees this beast rising from the Aegean Sea. Nero, Emperor of Rome, happens to be in Greece in with Vespasian and Titus the same year of John’s vision. Vespasian heads to Antioch in Syria, and Titus heads to Alexandria in Egypt. These three cities are considered to be the greatest cities in terms of Hellenistic (Greek) culture, and are the pride of the Roman Empire.[11] Each one of them forming a triangle across the larger Mediterranean Sea. The beast of prey is emphatically a representation of the Greco-Roman world rising up against the Holy Land.

Just amazing!

Grace and peace,

Leo De Siqueira

[1] Frank Viola, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., pg. 111.

[2] Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48, New International Commentary on the Old Testament series, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), 434.

[3] Priit J. Veslind, “In Search of Vikings,” National Geographic, Vol. 197, No. 5, May 2000, 18.

[4] Goodman, Jeffrey. THE COMETS OF GOD- New Scientific Evidence for God: Recent archeological, geological and astronomical discoveries that shine new light on the Bible and its prophecies (pp. 338-340, 342).

[5] Grahame Clark, World Prehistory, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 167.

[6] Goodman, Jeffrey. THE COMETS OF GOD- New Scientific Evidence for God: Recent archeological, geological and astronomical discoveries that shine new light on the Bible and its prophecies (p. 343).

[7] Josephus, Jewish Wars, 3:1-2.

[8] K. R. BRADLEY, Nero's Retinue in Greece, A.D. 66/67, Illinois Classical Studies, Vol. 4 (1979), pg. 152-157.

[9] Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book III, 1:1,2; 4:2.

[10] See, David H French, Roman Roads and Milestones of Asia Minor, pg. 10, 45, and, ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, http://orbis.stanford.edu.

[11] Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book III, 2:4.

Leo De Siqueira