What reader of the Apostle John’s Revelation has not been stirred by the comments of the Lord concerning seven branches of the church in the ancient province of Asia, located today in Turkey? Perhaps few chapters in scripture afford such insightful glimpses into the spirit of the Lord’s judgment as do the first three chapters of Revelation. The Lord’s appraisal of the members’ faithfulness, endurance, patience, charity, and service—and their inactivity, cooling of love, tolerance of wickedness and false doctrines, lukewarmness, self-satisfaction, worldliness, and lack of zeal in his cause—have served for generations to motivate thoughtful readers to evaluate thoroughly their life-style.
Ephesus today: Made well known by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Ephesus is located 40 miles south of Izmir on the west coast of central Turkey and was a famous commercial center in Paul’s time. The branch, in which Paul spent several years, was later directed by Timothy, and later still was the home branch of the apostle John. Following Roman rule its harbor filled with silt, and with it went the city’s commerce and population. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil,” said the Lord, “and hast not fainted.
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. “Remember, therefore … and repent, and do the first works. …” (See Rev. 2:1–7.)
Smyrna today: The site of ancient Smyrna is today’s metropolitan Izmir, major port and industrial center in western Turkey. The branch’s bishop, Polycarp, was martyred in
A.D. 155. (See following article.) “I know thy … tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich),” said the Lord. “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer … be thou faithful unto death. …” (See Rev. 2:8–11.)
Pergamos today: About fifty miles north of Smyrna is the locale of ancient Pergamos (Pergamum); in the photograph, theatre and acropolis are to the left. In about 29
B.C. a temple for emperor worship was built here. Thus the Lord called it “Satan’s seat.” Thou “holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith,” said the Lord. But the branch had members who it is believed felt that they were above moral law and felt that if one had sufficient faith, sin was not sin—“the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate,” said the Lord. (See Rev. 2:12–16.)
Philadelphia today: Located about twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis, Philadelphia was a rich and powerful city in its time. It is still inhabited today. “I know thy works … [thou] hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name,” said the Lord. “Because thou hast kept the word … I also will keep thee.”
“Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (See Rev. 3:8–11.)
Thyatira today: Ruins of this busy commercial city are about 50 miles northeast of Smyrna. “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience,” said the Lord. But amongst the members was a woman “prophetess” who was leading many astray, “I gave her space to repent,” but “she repented not. … I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” (See
Sardis today: Now a ruin, in the days of John this was an important city, located about 30 miles south of Thyatira. “I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.” However, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.” (See
Laodicea today: About 100 miles east of Ephesus, this ancient city was a banking center before being destroyed by an earthquake. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. … So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth,” said the Lord. “Thou sayest, I am rich, … and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire. … “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. … “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne.” (See Rev. 3:14–22.)
Photography by Don Marshall