John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come. Revelation 1:4 NIV
Early this year, my wife Susan and I had the privilege of spending a month in the beautiful and historically enigmatic country of Turkey. In addition to visiting family members who live there and teaching at an international church on prayer, we journeyed to each of the original locations of the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. Our express purpose was to experience firsthand what it must have been like to be a Christian at that time in those cities, gain insights into the issues addressed in their respective letters, and share those findings in a brief five to six minute travelogue video of at each site.
The inaugural video in the series is published above. It was recorded at Ephesus, the first city and church to which John wrote the seven letters. The subsequent video for each city will follow in order, over the course of the next few weeks accompanying a blog post for each, giving some additional background information and key insights. It is my prayer that they will help deepen your understanding of these prophetically significant letters and their importance for us still today.
People are often surprised to learn that the seven churches to which the Apostle John wrote the seven letters dictated by Jesus, were all located in Western Turkey. It also is not commonly understood that the cradle of Christianity was in fact located in Turkey during the first century after the death of Jesus and the center of the Christian world continued there for more than 700 years. Paul was born in Turkey and the majority of his ministry was focused there. Half of his Epistles, as well as all of John’s and Peter’s, were either written from or to churches in Turkey. All seven of the first ecumenical councils from 325-787 AD, which issued the creeds and critical church doctrinal rulings, were held in Western Turkey (e.g. Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon). In addition two of the oldest surviving church buildings in the world, both built in 532 AD, the Hagia Sophia and Hagia Eirene, are located in Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey.
It is both ironic and grievous, that the Christian population in Turkey today is less than a quarter of one percent. During the ascendancy and rule of the Ottoman Empire from the 1300s to the early 1900s Turkey became the world’s most influential Moslem nation. With the advent of the First World War and founding of modern day Turkey, the last vestige of a visible and vital Christian influence was snuffed out with the Armenian Christian genocide (1914-1923).
Anti-Christian governments cannot however silence the proclamation of the Gospel or stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to salvation and raising up His church. While in Turkey, we were privileged to visit two small but thriving churches, one Turkish and the other an English-speaking congregation for Internationals. There we heard first-hand stories of Moslems coming to faith in Jesus, and we met some recent converts to Christianity. God has indeed preserved a bridal remnant in Turkey unto Himself. As with many other Muslim majority countries, intercession is being made that these conversions and fledgling churches become the first fruits of an even more glorious church yet to be revealed. Turkey however remains an enigma, with its historic roots in Christianity, strategic geographic location in the midst of ongoing Middle East conflict, and alarming political swing toward becoming a dictatorial Islamic caliphate. These facts, coupled with many prophetic Scriptural references to Turkey, all seem to confirm that it will play a key role in the unfolding of God’s end-time purposes for the church and for Israel.
It is with this perspective that the letters to the seven churches in Revelation take on added significance and meaning for us today. With that in mind let me give you a brief overview of the letters recorded in Revelation chapters two and three. All the letters follow a basic pattern and order in which Jesus conveys His unique message to each church. This pattern consists of five different types of messages that are repeated in the exact same order in each letter, albeit with different content. Here they are.
- Revelation of Jesus – Jesus begins each letter by reiterating a specific aspect of the revelation of Himself given to John in chapter one. In this way, each church receives a unique revelation of Jesus, which is pertinent to their situation. That revelation is the key to overcoming whatever trial or shortcoming they must conquer. The sentence unveiling the revelation always begins with “to the angel of the church in [city]” – the “angel” typically is considered to be the pastor or presiding elder of the church.
- Commendation – Jesus then singles out such things as commendable deeds, perseverance, and qualities of faith, while affirming the church for what they are doing right. This portion usually begins with “I know your . . .”
- Corrective Rebuke – Here Jesus exposes aspects of the church’s life and ministry that are in doctrinal error, tolerating things they shouldn’t, and/or waning in spiritual fervor. It is followed by a corrective challenge to repent and make things right. The transition to this portion of the letter usually begins with words like “nevertheless,” “but,” or “yet.”
- Predictive Warning or Counsel – He then proceeds to issue a sober warning of the consequences of a failure to repent and/or a prediction of trials that are coming to test the church. In some cases He gives counsel as to how a church should respond to the testing.
- Overcomer’s Promise – Finally, Jesus gives each church a unique promise of blessing for those who remain faithful and become overcomers in the face the things buffeting them. He then closes each letter with this appeal – “Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Having given you an introduction to the seven churches of Revelation and provided an outline for each of the seven letters, I now invite you to read the first three chapters of the book. You’ll notice right at the outset a guarantee that you will be blessed for doing so. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Revelation 1:3 NIV).
Stay tuned for more videos and blogs on this topic yet to come!
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