The message to the believers at Ephesus
Rev. 2:1-7 The church at Ephesus was founded by Apollos (see Acts 18:24-26), but nurtured by Paul during his three year stay at Ephesus on his third missionary journey in 52-56AD (see Acts 19:1-41 and Map 25).
In the message to the church at Ephesus, Jesus tells his followers that, despite their hard work and perseverance, they have lost their initial enthusiasm and love of Jesus (see the feature on Ephesus in Section 11).
Roman houses in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1)
The message to the believers at Smyrna
Rev. 2:8-11 In the message to the church at Smyrna (see 2 on Map 29), Jesus tells the believers not to fear persecution by the Jews of the city.
Smyrna was a thriving Roman port in John’s day, with an influential minority of prosperous Jewish merchants (see Map 29). Not all Jews were receptive to the radical message of the gospel, and John warns the believers in Smyrna that they may encounter the same persecution that Jesus faced in Jerusalem.
Despite persecution in the following years, the Christian community at Smyrna survived and grew into a strong church, where Polycarp became bishop in 155AD (and was later martyred when he refused to curse Christ or sacrifice to the emperor, Marcus Aurelius).
Visitors to downtown Izmir – the second largest city in Turkey – can visit the site of the agora (market place) of Roman Smyrna. Remains in the archaeological park overlooked by Mount Pagos include an impressive row of 2nd century Corinthian columns marking the western side of the Roman agora, and a number of arches and Roman buildings.
Roman agora at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8)
Remains of the earlier Greek settlement of Ancient Smyrna can be found at the Bayrakli archaeological site to the north of the city centre. Here, the first Temple of Athena stood from 725 to 546BC, though the Ionian columns visible today belonged to the ‘new’ temple erected in the 4th century BC. The city moved to its present site at the time of Alexander the Great, around 330BC.
The message to the believers at Pergamum
Rev. 2:12-17 The believers at Pergamum (see 2 on Map 29) are praised for remaining faithful in the city where the satan (Hebrew,’ the accuser’ who accuses people on the ‘Day of Judgement’ – see Job 1:1-12 & Zechariah 3:1) “has his throne” (Revelation 2:13). They are warned not to eat food offered to idols and to avoid sexual immorality.
Pergamum – the ‘city of the satan’ – had many pagan temples, including the Temple of Athena and the Temple of Zeus (see Map 29). Emperor worship was popular at the time John’s letter was written, and the Temple of Trajan was completed on the Acropolis shortly afterwards during Hadrian II’s reign (117-138AD).
Temple of Trajan, Pergamum (Revelation 2:12)
Twenty-first century travellers can visit both the Ancient Greek Acropolis – high on the hillside to the north-east of the modern-day Turkish city of Bergama – and the Greek Asklepion on a twin slope to the south west of the city.
Visitors driving up the steep road to the Acropolis pass the fortifications of the ancient city before entering the Hellenistic Citadel, built in the 2nd century BC. Early Christians welcoming John’s messenger would have been familiar with the steeply raked Greek amphitheatre, built originally in the 3rd century BC and later extended by the Romans. They would have encountered the numerous pilgrims to the Temples of Athena and Zeus, and may have used the celebrated Library whose remains can be seen today – although many of the 200,000 scrolls were sent to Alexandria by Mark Antony as a wedding gift to Cleopatra in 41BC.
At the foot of the Acropolis lies the Red Hall, constructed originally by the Romans as a temple to Cleopatra’s Egyptian gods, but converted into a Byzantine Christian church in the 4th century AD.
Healing pool at Pergamum Asklepion (Revelation 2:13)
On the other side of the modern city, a stone-paved Sacred Way leads to the hilltop site of the Asklepion – an ancient healing complex dedicated to Asklepios, the Greek god of healing. Today, remains of plunge pools for healing and a small Greek theatre are dwarfed by rows of Corinthian columns forming the remains of a gymnasium (a training school for athletes). A small wayside altar here is dedicated to the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, ‘ruler of the Parthians, Great Britain and Germany’, who built the Antonine Wall in Scotland in 139AD.