The message to the believers at Thyatira
Rev. 2:18-29 At Thyatira (see 3 on Map 29), some of the believers are criticised for practising pagan rituals involving sexual immorality, and eating food which has been offered as a sacrifice to idols.
Thyatira was founded by the Lydians, and conquered by Alexander the Great’s general Seleucus Nicanor in the 3rd century BC (see Map 29). By the 1st century AD, it was well known for its cloth making and dyeing industries, using an expensive purple dye extracted from the bodies of thousands of murex shellfish. In Philippi, Paul had met and converted Lydia, a Jewish woman who may have been the overseas agent for a Thyatiran cloth manufacturer (see Acts 16:14).
Roman remains at Thyatira (Revelation 2:18)
Little remains of Roman Thyatira, though a small archaeological garden in the heart of the modern Turkish city of Akhisar contains fragments of ceremonial arches and Corinthian capitals. The ancient Ulu Cami (the ‘Old Mosque’) to the west of the city centre originally dates back to Roman times, and remains of the apse of a 4th or 5th century Byzantine church can be found in the eastern walls.
The message to the believers at Sardis
Rev. 3:1-6 The church at Sardis (see 3 on Map 29) is living on its past reputation and is in danger of dying. The believers are told to wake up! In a city famed for the making and dyeing of woollen cloth, Jesus tells the believers that some of them, however, have remained faithful and have not ‘soiled their clothes’.
Sardis was an extensive and prosperous city in John’s day (see Map 29). It was founded by the Hittites in c.1200BC, captured by the Persians in 550BC, and later became a centre of goldmining and the capital of Lydia. It was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC.
2nd century Jewish synagogue at Sardis (Revelation 3:1)
Modern-day visitors to the archaeological site at Sart (Sardis) can see extensive remains of Roman streets lined with shops, the magnificently inscribed colonnades at the entrance to the Roman gymnasium (a training school for athletes), and a beautifully preserved Jewish synagogue dating from around 150 to 250BC. All bear testimony to the wealth and importance of Sardis in Roman times. One of the shops has a huge stone storage basin carved with two large crosses – believed to have been used as a baptistry by early Christians.
Visitors who travel a mile / two kilometres along the dusty track to the south of the main archaeological site can explore the remains of two Byzantine Christian churches, the larger and earlier church dating from the 4th century AD. A smaller church was subsequently built inside the remains of the older church, and the fallen dome of this later church can clearly be seen.
4th century Byzantine chapel inside the Temple of Artemis, Sardis (Rev: 3:4)
Further along the track is the site of the impressive Temple of Artemis, lying below the ancient Acropolis. Just inside the extensive ruins, visitors can explore the remains of a small Byzantine chapel built before 400AD in order to ‘consecrate’ the site of the pagan temple (which was erected in 334BC on the orders of Alexander the Great).
The message to the believers at Philadelphia
Rev. 3:7-13 The believers at Philadelphia (see 4 on Map 29) have maintained their faith despite persecution from local Jews, and they are encouraged to keep going until they receive the ‘crown of victory’ at the end of the race of life.
Philadelphia (meaning ‘brotherly love’) was founded by King Attalus II of Pergamum in c.150BC on the site of an earlier Lydian settlement (see Map 29). It became an important centre of Christianity during later Roman (Byzantine) times.
6th century cathedral church of St John, Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7)
Today, little remains of the 6th century Cathedral church of St John the Divine as most of it lies underneath the surrounding buildings of the modern Turkish town of AlaÅŸehir. Visitors to the small archaeological garden can, however, still see two of the huge masonry columns that supported the immense roof of the cathedral, and can identify stone crosses carved on the remains of the capitals lying alongside the footpath.
The message to the believers at Laodicea
Rev. 3:14-22 The church in Laodicea (and the church at nearby Hierapolis) (see 4 on Map 29) were established by Epaphras (see Colossians 4:12-13) during Paul’s three year stay at Ephesus in 53-56AD (see Acts 19:10).
John says the believers at Laodicea are ‘lukewarm’ in their enthusiasm for the gospel. They need ‘ointment for their eyes’, as their wealth and materialism has blinded them to the need for a living faith.
Laodicea and Hierapolis
In John’s day, the Roman baths at Laodicea received geothermally heated water from the hotsprings at nearby Hierapolis (see Map 29). The water travelled about 3 miles / 5 km across the valley floor separating the two cities and crossed a stone aqueduct before reaching the city, by which time it was only lukewarm. John says the believers at Laodicea are also ‘lukewarm’, having lost their initial enthusiasm for the gospel.
Aqueduct bringing hot water from Hierapolis to Laodicea (Revelation 3:15)
They also need ‘ointment’ to help them see the truth – a subtle reference to the eye salve prepared in Laodicea from local stone and called ‘Phrygian powder’ by Aristotle.
Modern-day visitors to the archaeological site at Laodicea can walk through the remains of the eastern Byzantine Gate and can explore ruined temples and public buildings along Syria Street – the main east-west stone-paved road running through the centre of Laodicea. Carved stone crosses can be found alongside pagan symbols in the ruins of the buildings.
Syria Street, Laodicea (Revelation 3:18)
Beside the remains of the Southern Baths complex can be found ancient red clay pipes encrusted with white calcium deposits left behind by the mineral-rich spring waters as they cooled.
Across the Lycos Valley at Hierapolis, coachloads of modern-day tourists arrive to see the magnificent white travertine terraces at Pamukkale (‘cotton wool castle’) and to swim in the warm waters of the Roman hotsprings. Few, however, explore the extensive remains of the Roman city of Hierapolis, with its well-preserved Roman amphitheatre that seated twenty thousand spectators, its colonnaded main shopping street – the Via Plateia – and its 1st century Temple of Apollo.
Hierapolis was founded by Eumenes II, King of Pergamum, in the 2nd century BC, and was ceded to Rome in 133BC. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 60AD – only thirty years before John’s messenger arrived at nearby Laodicea in c.90AD – but was immediately re-built, reaching its peak at the end of the 1st century AD.
More adventurous visitors who explore the hillside beyond the Roman amphitheatre can climb an ancient paved footpath leading to the extensive ruins of the Martyrium of St Philip. Built in the 5th century AD, this Byzantine church marks the site where it is believed that the evangelist Philip – having escaped from Caesarea at the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66AD (see Acts 21:8) – was crucified by the Romans in 80AD.
A notable feature of these ruins is the Chi-rho symbol (the monogram ‘Χρ’ consisting of the first two Greek letters spelling ‘Christ’) carved into the keystone of each remaining arch.
St Philip's Martyrion, Hierapolis