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Historical and Timeline information for the Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3
Historical information about each city
Much of this information is drawn from a commentary by Wilfrid J. Harrington. Revelation. Sacra Pagina Series, volume 16, ed. Daniel J. Harrington. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993.
Ephesus was the greatest city of the province of Asia. In Roman times it was populous, privileged, and wealthy. It was the chief port and market city of Asia. However, because of extensive silting, the port was becoming more swampy and difficult to navigate. The temple of Artemis was one of the great wonders in Ephesus. The town was also associated with the imperial cult. Paul confronted many false apostles in Ephesus, such as the Judiazers. The Church in Ephesus had a reputation for resisting false teaching and was hailed in this regard by St. Ignatius. St. Irenaeus claimed that the Nicolaitans were the followers of Nicolas, who was one of the seven men ordained deacons (Acts 6:5). They lead lives of indulgence and tolerated adultery and eating meat sacrificed to idols.
Smyrna was one of the most prosperous cities of Asia. It contained a temple to Tiberius. Smyrna was also a center of the emperor cult. There was a considerable Jewish population, such that Judiasm had special privileges as an officially recognized religion by the state. There was significant antagonism between the Jews and the Christians. Though the city was rich, the Jews dominated the city and the Christians were often very poor. The city was one of the first to be founded in 600 BC, although it was destroyed and re-founded around 300 BC.
Pergamum had a temple dedicated to Zeus. It was the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the imperial cult. It was known as a religious center in the Greek world. A great throne-like altar to Zeus overlooked the city.
Thyatira was in a broad valley and was a trading-center with many trade guilds, including those for metalworkers and dyers of wool. Livelihood was associated with membership in the pagan trade-guilds and therefore the acceptance of pagan practices. Some wanted to make compromises in this situation.
Sardis was a former capital of the Lydian kingdom of Croesus. It had a citadel that was considered impregnable, but had been taken twice by stealth, because of the lack of watchfulness of the people. It suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 17 BC. Although it was a vibrant city, it had become secularized.
Philadelphia was a center of Greek culture. It suffered a great earthquake in 17 BC. Due to hostility, the Jewish Christians were probably expelled from the synagogue during the first century. The Christians suffered in a deeply divided town.
Laodicea developed as a commercial city and was known for banking, manufacturing clothing and carpets of a native glossy-black wool. It was the seat of a medical school noted for Phrygian powder which was used in the making of eye salve. Laodicea was an opulent city and rebuilt after an earthquake in 60 AD. It was close to Hierapolis and water from the hot springs flowed over a cliff near the city and ran near the town. These waters flowed together with the cold spring waters from Colossae. The hot mineral springs were good for healing. The cold spring water was good for drinking and refreshment. In Laodicea, the combination produced a lukewarm, putrid, and nauseating mixture.
Seven eras of Old Testament History that can be compared to the Seven Churches
Much of this information is drawn from a commentary by David Chilton. The Days of Vengeance. Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987.
Language of Paradise: The creator holds the stars in his hand. Sin enters when love fails. Eat of the tree of life in paradise.
Patriarchs: Isaac was as good as dead and came back to life when Abraham was put to the test. Joseph was thought to be dead and was found alive in Egypt after he was sold into slavery but rose to become a price in Egypt. Ten plagues had to pass before their liberation from Egypt.
Wandering in the Desert: The Ark of the Covenant was fashioned during this period. Manna descended on the people in the desert. Balak, the king of Moab, sent the Moabite prophet Balaam to prophesy against the Israelites. However, Balaam could only prophesy what the Lord commanded, and so he blessed the people rather than cursing them. The righteous sword of Phineas pierced the unfaithful Israelite who was about to take a Moabite wife contrary to the command of Moses (Num 25:7).
Monarchy: Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab, one of the most corrupt kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The son of David will break the kings of the earth with the rod of iron and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps 2).
Prophets: The prophets spoke by the Spirit. Their message was consistently one of trying awaken the people from spiritual death that they might live a holy and righteous life. Even so, the remnant would remain.
Return from Exile: The temple was rebuilt in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. There were conflicts between those returning from exile (Jews) and those who had remained in Israel (Samaritans), who were still considered “second-class” even at the time of Christ.
Time of the coming Messiah: The blindness of the people to their condition. The danger of being thrown out from their inherited promised land by the Romans. Yet, the offer of a new relationship with God.