Introduction THE MESSENGER, THE MESSAGES, and THE ADDRESSEES
I am John your brother, and in union with Jesus I share with you in suffering and in his Kingdom, and in enduring, I was exiled on the island named Patmos because I had proclaimed God's Word and the truth that Jesus revealed.
On the Lord's day the Spirit took control of me, and I heard a loud voice, that sounded like a trumpet, speaking behind me.
It said: "Write down what you see, and send the book to these seven churches, in Ephesus, Symma, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea".
I turned around to see who was talking to me. There I saw seven golden lampstands.
Among them stood a being who looked like a man, wearing a robe that reached to his feet, and a gold band around his chest.
His hair was white as wool, or as snow, and his eyes blazed like fire.
His feet shone like brass melted in the furnace and then polished, and his voice sounded like a mighty waterfall.
He had seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came out of his mouth. His face was bright as the mid-day sun.
When I saw Him I fell down at His feet like a dead man. But He placed His right hand on me and said: "Don't be afraid! I am the first and the last.
I am the Living one! I was dead, but look I am alive for ever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead.
Write, then, the things you see, both the things that happen now, and the things that will happen afterward.
Here is the secret meaning of the seven stars that you see in my right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches!".
In the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Holy Scriptures, i.e. the Bible, a series of seven "messages" to the Seven Churches in Asia are written. These letters are addressed to the receivers through the medium of a certain "John, a brother in the oppression" by a heavenly apparition, who reveals himself to be "The First and the Last, and the Living One who had been dead and is living until all eternities, holding the keys of death and the world of the dead" John recognises in this apparition the Risen Christ, who had lived a half century before on earth as Jesus of Nazareth, his former teacher.
According to the foreword, i.e. the first eight verses of Chapter One, the author of the book, who is John the Apostle and Evangelist,
introduces himself to his readers as "a servant of Jesus Christ, who has received a revelation from God to show his servants the things that will happen soon". (Rev. 1,1). John also verifies that his statement, as written in the book that follows is a true and exact record of the Words of God, passed to him by Jesus Christ. The same applies to all the visions that are described further in the book.
The biblical book is written for the early Christians that lived in the first and second century A.D., to comfort and to encourage them in their difficult situation of living as a despised, and sometimes prosecuted minority amidst a pagan society and culture. The text proves to their tempted faiths that, though the contrary seems to be a matter of fact, nevertheless the Risen Christ is the One who rules and guides the world and all mankind conform His plan, and to a glorious and victorious future for all who believe in Him.
This type of religious literature, the so-called "Apocalyptics" is not unique in religious history; there is a type of prophesies, see-ings, etc. and secret meanings that appears in religion mostly when the faithful followers live in distress, in order to encourage them.
The book "Revelation" was written approx. 90-95 A.D., during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, of the Flavian Dynasty. This emperor was the first who, when still alive, claimed to be "Lord and God", demanding from his subjects divine worship. Coins of this period show the image of the emperor with seven stars over his head. Christians could not, in conscience, take part in this worship. During the reign of this emperor, several, though locally confined, prosecutions took place against the young Christian communities, amongst others, these in the Roman province of Asia (Minor), or Western Anatolia, now the Aegean Region of Turkey.
The figure of a "messenger", too, is not new. In all forms of religion, practised all over the world, sometimes rise "seers" or "prophets", to explain the ideas, meanings and the will of the deity (or deities) to the believers. Such persons appear also in the Bible, and "Al-Qur'an" (the Koran), too, is a record of the messages from Allah, the Almighty, given to Muhammed the Prophet, through the medium of a heavenly messenger, the Arch-Angel Gabriel.
The author John, i.e. the "seer" in this Bible book, is the same as the "most beloved disciple" of Jesus, i.e. John the Apostle and Evangelist. According to the old Christian tradition, John outlived all his other fellow-Apostles, and he is the only one who did not die the death of a martyr. He died in approx. 100 A.D John practised his missionary activities mainly in Asia-Minor; he arrived here after Paul, the "missionary-apostle", to consolidate and to extend the work of his predecessor, and to withstand some arising heresies. The center from where he did his work was Ephesus, practically the capital of the Roman province of Asia.
According to the Gospel of John, he took over the care of Mary, the mother of Jesus, after the death of the latter in Jerusalem approx. 29 A.D. So there is an old Christian tradition that Mary passed the last years of her life in the neighbourhood of Ephesus. About this matter will be dealt in one of the appendices to this book.
During the local prosecutions under Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) the Apostle John, who was then the "arch-bishop" of the Christian churches in Western Anatolia, was deported to the Island of Pat
mos, one of the, now Greek, islands of the Dodekanesos Archipelago, just off the Turkish Aegean (West) Coast. This island in the Aegean Sea some 80 kms off the coast, south-west of Samos (Sisam) Island, is a barren rock with almost no inhabitants. So it was a good place for a man like John, to contemplate about his fate and his mission. Nowadays, a Greek-Orthodox monastery is built over the cave in which, according the tradition, John lived during the period of his exile and where he saw his visions. The monastery is dedicated to "Saint John the Theologian" (Ayos Iannis Theologos); it is a very holy place of pilgrimage for members of the Greek Orthodox Church.
John the Apostle was a Jew. The way he writes and in which he addresses his readers in the books in the Bible that are ascribed to him, reveals his Jewish background and way of thinking. Part of the early Christians, specially those of the first and second generations, and amongst them members of the Seven Churches, were, converts from the Jewish faith. To them, the Old Testament was familiar and they were fully aware of its history and symbolic language. So it is not strange that the Letters to the Seven Churches mention names and historical events from the Old Testament to symbolise the evil powers the Christians had to with stand. So, already from the beginning, the Christians had a thorough knowledge of the meaning of the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, to them also a Holy Book. This was the result of the missionary activities of men like Paul and John who, when visiting a town, first addressed themselves to the members of the Jewish synagogues that existed in almost every important town in Anatolia, Macedonia and Greece. So these nuclea of converted Jews and proselytes, together with the converted Gentiles, formed the first Christian Churches.
Contrary to a man like Paul, who was more active and practical in mind, John, was a man with a more philosophical and contemplative mind. This exlains the way in which he writes about the secret meanings of the symbols he sees and describes. In Hebrew, the characters of the alphabet have also a numerical value; therefore, John works with symbolic numbers throughout the whole book.
In Rev. 1,9 and following verses the Apostle describes, when, on a Sunday, he was contemplating and thinking in the place of his exile on Patmos Island, he came into a visionary mood. In this vision, he heard behind him the voice of a human being, but penetrating like the sound of a trumpet. That voice ordered him to describe the visions to be shown to him after this message, and to write about them in a book, and to send this book to the seven churches mentioned by name: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
When the seer turned aronud, he saw, in a vision, seven gold lampstands, and amidst them a human being, but in his appearance showing the signs of an almighty ruler, with the symbols of sovereignity over all mankind and creature. As a Jew who knew his Bible, i.e. the Old Testament, John recognised in this appearance the Son of Man, as described in the book of the Prophet Daniel, who, there, is the executor of the Will of God the Almighty. In what the appearance further says, John recognises him as the Risen Christ, "who was dead and now lives in all eternities, bearing the
keys (i.e. full power) over death and hell". Christ, who is Jesus of Nazareth, orders his servant John to write up everything he will see afterwards. This is to be explained as a record, in symbolic pictures of everything what happens now (in the prosecution) and what will happen after that. The Risen Christ then explains the symbols of the seven stars in his hands and the seven lampstands amidst which he is standing. They represent the "Angels of the seven churches" and the "seven churches itself, respectively.
Subsequently the heavenly appearance dictates to John the "Messages to the Seven Churches" as described in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation. About the secret meaning of the seven stars and the seven gold lampstands the following: "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches standing for them".
The Churches are mentioned as the bearers of the light. They are not the light itself, but the lampstands upon which the light is placed. Because it is not the Church itself that produces the light. The Giver of the light is Jesus Christ, and the church is only the vessel in which the lights shines.
The "letters" are messages from Christ that are addressed to the "angels of the churches". The word "Angelos (in Greek characters: has two different, but related, meanings. First it means "angel" or "messenger", in this case to the church. The word "angel" is a translation of the Hebrew word "Male' ach", that indeed means "messenger". In this case: a messenger from God toward man, either in person or in its totality. The second meaning of "angelos" is: "bishop", a supervisor of a congregation of church parish, who, in his function, is also a messenger of the words of God.
It is suggested that the bishops of all the churches of the region were assembled to receive a message from John in his exile and to forward this message through in their respective parishes. So each letter begins with the words: "Write to the Angel (bishop) of the Church of…". So we can assume that John directed these letters to the bishops who had assembled to meet their arch-bishop or that he directs the letter to them in person. These letters were written in about 96 A.D.. It is also possible that the letters circulated throughout the whole region and were read aloud to the members of all the churches in turn.
Today, the ruins of these seven churches are found in the Aegean Region of Anatolia. First they were small buildings, because Christianity was forbidden for the people in these early days. Christians held their religious meetings in secret, to avoid a cause for prosecution by the local Roman authorities and the rage of the furious mobs of otherwise-thinking people. Later-on, when the new faith became more popular and in esteem, big Basilicas were built, mostly in the later Roman and Byzantine times; the ruins of these buildings still exist in modern Turkey.
Now we proceed to the explanation about the meaning of the letters to the Seven Churches, and the cities and towns which exist in our times at these places mentioned in the Bible. The Churches that were known as the Seven Basilicas were built in the ancient cities as they are mentioned below with their antique and present names, both in English a-d in Turkish transcription.