Seven Churches of Revelation
1. Ephesus: Lost First Love, Candlestick Removed
The city of Ephesus, in the Roman province of Asia, on the coast of modern Turkey, was a prominent place for the work of the Apostle Paul, Acts 19:1, 10, 20:17-38. After his trip to Spain and Britain, Paul returned there once more, I Timothy 1:3. Yet all of Asia later turned against him, II Timothy 1:15. John, the last survivor of the original twelve apostles, and Philip, one of the first seven "deacons," both died at Ephesus.
Around A.D. 90, Roman Emperor Domitian began the second imperial persecution of Christians. John was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, where he received the Revelation and the command to write it down. Finally released, John trained Polycarp, who carried on John and Philip’s work. Polycrates was a disciple of Polycarp. These men were remnants of the true Church.
The false religion became dominant and true believers were rare. That’s why John’s epistles addressed the issue of doctrinal departure, I John 2:19, 20, 26; 4:1; III John 9, 10.
Because the Church let down and became corrupt, leaving its first love, the Savior warned that their candlestick would be removed. Even in Paul’s day, there was a problem with "spiritual lazy bones," Colossians 4:17; II Timothy 1:6; Philippians 2:19-20. It is significant that even the site of Ephesus was completely deserted. The population moved to a higher location more than a mile northeast, today called Ayassoluk, meaning "St. John, spokesman for God."
2. Smyrna: Persecution and the Quartodeciman Controversy
For half a century after John’s death, Polycarp presided over the church in nearby Smyrna. He wrote many letters of encouragement to other congregations, but only one doubtful exception has been preserved. (See "Epistle to the Philippians of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Holy Martyr," reprinted in The Apostasy of the Lost Century, by S. Gusten Olson.)
At the age of eighty-five, Polycarp journeyed to Rome, attempting unsuccessfully to convince Easter-observing Anicetus, Bishop of Rome, to observe the Passover annually on the 14th of Nisan. The following year, about A.D. 155, Polycarp was burnt to death by a mob in Smyrna. Three days before his death, Polycarp had a dream he interpreted as a sign he would be burnt alive for Christ’s sake. When his captors arrived, Polycarp leapt from his bed, ordered a meal prepared for them, then asked for an hour alone to pray. When they brought him into the stadium, many people heard a voice from Heaven say, "Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man." Before the tribunal Polycarp refused to deny Christ and be released: "Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never once wronged me. How can I blaspheme my King, who saved me?" (See Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World.)
The name Smyrna means "bitter." These were bitter times of persecution and apostasy. "The steady progress of the heretical movement in spite of all opposition was cause of deep sorrow to Polycarp, so that in the last years of his life the words were constantly on his lips, ‘Oh good God, to what times hast thou spared me, that I must suffer [endure] such things!’."
The bitter Quartodeciman Controversy continued between Polycarp’s disciple Polycrates of Ephesus, and Victor, Bishop of Rome, who excommunicated those in Asia who still kept the Passover.
Subsequent groups, called "Ebionites," meaning "paupers," continued to cling to remnants of God’s truth. It becomes an extremely difficult task to find where the scattered flock was. "In every age the Church has its unconverted ‘members.’ But there were a few faithful, who really constituted the Church," (Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, Lesson 49, page 16.)
Political and economic upheavals made havoc on the scattered Christians. Knowing that Jesus counseled flight, Matthew 10:23, 24:16, many true believers fled. The last great pre-Constantine persecution by Emperors Diocletian and Galerius, 303-313, is reported by historian Eusebius (Eccl. Hist., VIII, 15, 16), and may be the fulfillment of Revelation 2:10.
Then, sun-worshipper Constantine joined the false church and made it the state religion. His Council of Nicea, A.D. 325 began a persecution against all who would not join the universal church. The "Synagogue of Satan" now reigned supreme.
3. Pergamos: Satan’s Seat
Pergamos, or Pergamum, was forty miles northeast of Smyrna in the Caicus valley, on the imperial highway running along the coast of Asia. It was fifteen miles inland on the little Caicus River. Pergamos was built by Aeolian Greeks soon after the fall of Troy in the Twelfth Century before Christ, named for the lofty hill, or acropolis, one thousand feet above the valley, and thus an "exalted" city. Because it was considered impregnable, Lysimachus deposited his treasure, valued at $10,000,000, because he considered it the safest place in his kingdom.
Pergamos was the educational center of western Asia, where the poet Homer, and Herodotus, "the father of history," studied and wrote. Its great library, according to Plutarch, held 200,000 volumes, making it second to its rival Alexandria. The jealous Egyptians withheld shipments of papyrus, so the Pergamenians dressed animal skins, calling their new writing material Pergamus, and later parchment. Mark Antony removed the Pergamum library to Alexandria as a gift to his girlfriend, Cleopatra.
A king of Pergamos, Attalus III, bequeathed his royal capital and kingdom to the Romans in 133 B.C., and they formed it into the Province of Asia, making Pergamos the official capital of the province for 250 years. The governor wielded the broad double-bladed Roman sword, issuing the decrees of Caesar throughout the province. This gives meaning to Christ’s introduction to Pergamos: "These are the words of Him who wields the sharp sword with the double edge." Pliny says Pergamos was the seat of a Roman supreme court, where prisoners were brought and sentenced. Hence, Christ who wields all power and authority, Hebrews 4:12, spoke to a Church where official power and authority dwelled.
Pergamos was the seat, or throne, of Satan, official center of the pagan religion of the province, with Church and State united. Jupiter was said to have had his origin here. There were temples to Jupiter, Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine, also called "the god of Pergamum." It was also center of emperor worship. In A.D. 29, a great temple was erected to the worship of Augustus Caesar, who was to be prayed to as "Lord Caesar." Domitian decreed that all peoples should address him as "Our Lord and our God."
The Temple of Zeus was the most celebrated of all Pergamos temples, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was dedicated to Aesculapius, "the serpent god," or "god of healing," also known as "the Great Physician," and "the Savior." A living serpent was kept in the temple and worshiped. Many coins in Pergamos had a picture of a serpent entwined around a pole, the modern symbol of the medical profession. In connection with the temple, was a famous school of medicine.
When Cyrus the Persian captured Babylon, the ancient seat of Satan’s counterfeit system of religion, the supreme pontiff of the Chaldean mysteries and his priests fled to Pergamos, where they reestablished their Babylonian worship and made the king of Pergamum chief pontiff of their religion. When Attalus III, last of their priest-kings, died in 133 B.C., he bequeathed both his royal and priestly offices to the Romans. A century later, Caesar became both emperor of Rome and Pontifex Maximus of the religion of the empire, which he handed down to his successors. The popes later assumed the honor of supreme pontiffs of ecclesiastical Rome.
As Taylor Bunch states (pp. 149-150), "Thus Pergamos became the connecting link between the two Babylons, the ancient and the modern. The papal system is patterned after that of Babylon and Rome. This is another reason for the statement of Jesus that Pergamos was the place ‘where Satan dwelleth’."
During the Pergamos era, the false Church was exalted to royal power and kingly authority through a union, or marriage, with the State. Bunch says the Pergamos period lasted about 250 years, from Constantine to Justinian, whose decrees made the popes the successors of the Caesars. It was Constantine who was the human agent used by Satan to bring about a union of Church and State. Gibbon declares that Greek Orthodox seldom mention the name of Constantine without adding the title, equal to the apostles. Pagan practices and beliefs were brought into the church and officially sanctioned, so much so that the new religion could be termed, "baptized paganism." The Bishop of Rome assumed the title of pope and became the supreme pontiff, or Pontifex Maximus.
Who was "Antipas," the faithful martyr of Pergamos? According to tradition, he was bishop of Pergamos, and was martyred during persecutions of Domitian by being shut up in a brazen bull which was heated till it was red hot. He ended his life with praises and thanksgiving to God. Some believe Antipas means "against all," indicating that he stood out against all the paganized rites infiltrating the Church.
Pergamos seems to be most relevant for us today, as many in the Church of God are giving up their former beliefs, returning to baptized paganism. If you live with Satan, it is easy to become like him. Will we be a faithful Antipas, or instead will we succumb to doctrines of the Nicolaitanes and Balaam?
Seven Churches Beginning.