Epilogue to the Early Apostolic Period:
The Revelation of John
The life and ministry of the apostle John continued after the destruction of Jerusalem and is worthy of special mention. Irenaeus wrote that John resided at Ephesus, where he served as bishop and wrote his Gospel, probably somewhere around A.D. 85.
Then John wrote his three Epistles from Ephesus around A.D. 90. Just a few short years later, in the fifteenth year of Domitian, he was exiled to the island of Patmos. This is where he wrote Revelation about A.D. 96. Victorinus records in his third century commentary on Revelation 10:11, that John wrote Revelation on Patmos and was liberated when Domitian was assassinated in A.D. 96.
After his Patmos exile, John again resided in Ephesus and spent the closing years of his life visiting the Asian churches, ordaining elders, and ministering. Irenaeus recorded that John lived in Ephesus until the time of Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98 – 117). Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, wrote that John was buried in Ephesus.
John’s Revelation contains letters to seven churches of Asia Minor. Below is a short summary of the historical and geographical background of these churches. There is also a map at the end of the text.
Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and was a thriving commercial and religious center. Paul had viewed his mission at Ephesus as crucial to the evangelization of Asia Minor. Indeed, the city’s central location and influence earned it an important place in biblical and ecclesiastical history. At the time of John’s writing, the church of Ephesus was troubled by false teachers and lacked its former high level of devotion.
The city declined after the 5th Century A.D., and is now uninhabited ruins. For further information on this city, go back to Paul’s Third Missionary Journey in the Archives.
This city was located about 35 miles north of Ephesus at the head of a gulf that provided a fine port and made the city an important trade center. One of the main inland trade routes went from Smyrna through the Hermus Valley to the interior of Asia Minor.
The city was also an educational center and boasted fine schools of science and medicine. From A.D. 23 on, it was the center of the imperial cult of emperor worship, that was symbolized by its temple to Tiberius. The city was also noted for its temples to Zeus and Sybele. The gospel probably reached Smyrna at an early date, maybe as a result of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus.
Polycarp served as bishop of Smyrna and was martyred there around A.D. 156 when he refused to recant his faith. Today the city has been renamed to Izmir, and continues to be one of the most important cities in today’s Turkey.
This city is now modern Bergama and is located about 50 miles north of Smyrna and 15 miles from the sea. To reach the city from the Aegean coast, one could have to travel up the Caicus River by small craft in Bible times. Pergamum had a fine library and was the place where parchment was first used. The city was chiefly known as the religious center of the province of Asia.
There were four beautiful temples there that were erected for their gods of Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asclerius. The first temple was dedicated to the imperial cult in honor of Augustus, and was built at Pergamum in 29 B.C. The city’s many pagan temples and idolatry prompted John to refer to the it as the place “where Satan’s throne is” in Revelation 2:13.
Under Roman rule, Pergamum ranked with Ephesus and Smyrna as one of the three great cities in the Roman province of Asia. It, also, was an early seat of Christianity.
This city is modern Akhisar, and was an important manufacturing center that was approximately 40 miles SE of Pergamum. It lay in a valley on the road from Pergamum to Laodicea. Thyatira was especially noted for its trade guilds, which were more completely organized than in any other ancient city of the time. The meetings, though, were generally bound up with acts of pagan worship and immorality.
Dye manufacturing was an important industry in Thyatira. Its brilliant pigments are still highly prized today. Also garment making, pottery, and brass working have been important to the city’s economy for centuries. In the early days, Thyatira had a temple dedicated to Tyrimnos, an ancient sun god.
The gospel may have been brought to the city by Lydia, who was converted under Paul’s ministry in Philippi. The city is commended in Revelation for its deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance, but rebuked for tolerating the false prophetess Jezebel.
This city lay about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira in the western part of the province. The ancient city stood on the northern slope of a mountain with a river flowing at its base. This setting rendered it almost impregnable to the enemy forces. It was once the capital of the kingdom of Lydia, but was destroyed by a great earthquake in A.D. 17.
It was rebuilt by Tiberias, but its former glory and importance were never completely recovered. It was noted for its fruits and wool. The making and dyeing of woolen garments was the chief industry of the city.
Pagan worship at Sardis had a sexual emphasis focused on Sybele, a goddess similar to Diana in Ephesus. Its Christian church was probably founded during Paul’s ministry at Ephesus. John’s message to the church in Revelation implies that its members were very soft and fainthearted.
It lay 28 miles southeast of Sardis, and was a wealthy trade center in Asia Minor. Philadelphia was situated on a 650 foot terrace above the banks of the Cogamus River, and was at the threshold of a fertile plateau from which its agricultural prosperity was derived.
It was called “Little Athens” because of its magnificent temples and public buildings. Dionysus, the god of wine, was the chief deity of the city. The Christian believers at Philadelphia were commended by John for their deeds and their obedience and loyalty to Christ. This is the only city that was exempted from John’s condemnation or criticism.
This city was located in the Lycus Valley on an important crossroads 45 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and about 90 miles east of Ephesus. It was a very prosperous banking and commercial center. Besides that, it was also the manufacturing center for clothing made from the glossy black wool of the sheep raised in the area. Also, it was a center for medical studies and was noted for its production of a salve used to cure eye diseases.
Because it had no local water supply, water was brought by conduit from a hot springs some distance away. The water must have arrived lukewarm, just like John described their spiritual condition.
Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colossae, were all probably established during Paul’s ministry at Ephesus, perhaps through the work of Epaphras.