Why The Seven Churches of Asia?
by Arthur M. Ogden

One question always stands out when studying the Apocalypse. "Why did the Lord choose to address the seven churches of Asia?" This question is asked regardless of the position taken on the book of Revelation. What is the answer? It is not within our ability to answer for the Lord the reasons for His actions. Whatever His reasons, they are sound. We can accept them without question.

Due to arguing the Babylon = Jerusalem view, I have been asked this question repeatedly. I suppose those who ask it feel that it shows my position untenable. Usually the question reads, "If the book of Revelation is about the destruction of Jerusalem, why was it addressed to the seven churches of Asia? Would not your position make more sense if the book had been addressed to the church in Jerusalem or to those in Judea?"

My Response

First, you will recall that God revealed a message concerning Jerusalem's previous destruction (586 B.C.) to a prophet and a people far removed from the place where the events were to occur. The people were the captive Israelites in Babylon; the prophet was Ezekiel, and the design of the message was to convince those captives that the destruction of Jerusalem was from God. A need to inform His people in exile of His judgment being carried out upon Jerusalem was as needful for them as it was for those still living in Judea. The people in exile were partly responsible for this judgment and needed to understand why it was coming upon their beloved city. The message of the Revelation served the same purpose for Christians outside Judea. Since Christianity grew out of the root and stock of Israel, it is only reasonable that they should know why this judgment was being carried out upon Jerusalem.

Second, the period of tribulation preceding the destruction of Jerusalem was expected to affect the Jews throughout the world. Jews lived in nearly every city of the world. Asia Minor was a stronghold of the Jews. Furthermore, many of the Jews of Asia were Christians. They would be affected by it and needed to prepare for it (cf.Jas.5:7-11; 1 Pet.7,12-19). The Revelation also warned of trying times coming upon the earth (Rev.3:10), prepared Christians to endure, and gave them incentives necessary for victory.

Finally, we should not overlook the fact that the seven churches represented congregations everywhere. The message, then, was not for Christians in Asia alone, but for Christians the world over. From this standpoint, the message of the Apocalypse became a general message for all the churches existing at that time.

These constitute some good reasons why the Lord addressed the seven churches of Asia in the Apocalypse. However, we need to understand that these constitute my opinions why the book of Revelation was written to the churches in Asia and not the Lord's stated reasons. His reasons may differ greatly from mine and your's.

Some Meat For The Gander

You have heard the expression, "What is meat for the goose is also meat for the gander." In other words, what applies to me also applies to you. If I must answer the question from my point of viewing the Revelation, then, you must answer the same question. The question needs an answer from the Babylon = Rome view as it does from the Babylon = Jerusalem view. Here is your question: "If the book of Revelation is about the destruction of Rome, why was it addressed to the seven churches of Asia? Would not your position make more sense if the book had been addressed to the churches in Rome or to those in Italy?"

Asia sustained as much relationship geographically to Jerusalem as it did to Rome. Distance wise, Asia was closer to Jerusalem than to Rome. Access to Jerusalem by way of land was much less complicated than access to Rome and access by way of sea was more direct to Jerusalem than to Rome. From a geographical standpoint we must ask, "If the Apocalypse is primarily about the destruction of Rome, why was it written to the churches of Asia?"

Perhaps some have reasoned that Asia sustained strong ties with Rome politically while it sustained none with Jerusalem. No doubt this is true but what does this have to do with the writing of a New Testament book? Christianity sustained no special political ties to Rome while it did sustain a special religious tie to Jerusalem. The ties of the churches were much closer to Jerusalem than to Rome because Christianity began at Jerusalem and was an outgrowth of the Jewish system as God decreed.

The main reason I have heard through the years why the Apocalypse was addressed to the seven churches of Asia has been the presence of Emperor Worship in that region. There is little doubt that Emperor Worship existed in Asia or that the churches were faced with it early on. In Revelation, Christians are warned lest they be guilty of it. Those who practiced it would suffer the consequences of it (Rev.14:9-11; 19:20). Those who did not worship the beast and his image would be blessed (Rev.16:2; 20:4). The promises of blessings and curses were designed to encourage Christians to remain loyal to the Lord and win the victory in the conflict which would follow the destruction of Babylon the Great (Rev.17:14). Yes, the Apocalypse was written to warn the Christians against worshiping the Emperor, but that conflict did not develop in the book until after Babylon was destroyed (Rev.19:11-21). History teaches that the conflict between Christianity and the Roman state disappeared before any supposed destruction of Rome. For this reason Babylon cannot symbolize Rome. This answer to our question does not fit.

Another Question Is In Order

The book of Revelation is not the only book of the New Testament directed to this region and in particular the province of Asia. Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Philemon, first and second Peter address churches and individuals living in the province of Asia. Add to these, Galatians, James, Jude, first, second, and third John, written to the Christians residing in this region, and you have more than half of the New Testament books addressed to churches and individuals in Asia Minor. So, perhaps our question should be broader than first asked. Maybe we should ask, "Why are more than half the New Testament books addressed to the Christians living in Asia Minor?" Any answer given in response to our first question should take into account this second question.

Asia And Christianity

Perhaps it would be helpful to discuss Asia in relationship to Christianity. From the beginning, the people of Asia were involved in Christianity. Jews from Asia heard Peter preach on Pentecost (Acts 2:9). Possibly some of them were converted. The people of Asia were well represented in Jerusalem. A synagogue existed to which a contingency of Asia Jews belonged (Acts 6:9). They had a part in the charges which resulted in the stoning of Stephen. Later, Paul was forbidden to preach in Asia by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6) but went to Ephesus, the capital of Asia, for three years on his third Missionary Journey (Acts 20:31). Luke said, "All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). How many churches existed in Asia is not known but there were a number (1 Cor.16:19; Revelation 1:4, 11). Besides the seven churches listed in the Apocalypse, there were churches at Colosse and Hierapolis. There are more churches listed by name in Asia than any other Roman province. Nearly one-third of the churches listed by name in the New Testament are from the province of Asia. This Roman province was a strong hold for New Testament Christianity.

The Dispersion

The thing that contributed heavily to the evangelization of Asia Minor was the Dispersion of the Jews into this region. The Assyrian and Babylonian captivities separated the Israelites from their homeland and most of them never returned. This opened the door for them to scatter throughout the world. The successors of Alexander the Great encouraged immigration into their territories. They also encouraged the mingling of the nationalities. Many of the Jews no doubt took their liberty and went into different regions of the world. During the reign of Antiochus the Great of Syria (223-187 BC), 2000 Jewish families were moved from Mesopotamia and Babylon and settled in Phrygia and Lydia (Jos, Ant, 12, 3, 4). Over the next 200 plus years, the Jewish population of Asia Minor grew into the millions.

Devout Jews in these regions held on to their faith and were loyal to their religion. Philo, an intellectual Jew from Alexandria, Egypt who lived during the time of Christ, told of the ties of the Jews to Jerusalem. He said, "In this way Jerusalem became the capital not only of Judea, but of many other lands, on account of the colonies which it sent out from time to time into the bordering districts of Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, Coele-Syria, and into the more distant regions of Pamphylia, Cilicia, the greater part of Asia Minor as far as Bithynia and the remotest corners of Pontus" (Philo, Leg ad Caium, 36; cf. ISBE, Vol. 2, p. 855). By the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Sibylline Oracles spoke concerning the Jewish people, "Every land and every sea is full of thee" (3, 271; cf. ISBE, Vol. 2, p. 855). Of the fifteen nationalities listed as represented on Pentecost (Acts 2:9-11), five were from Asia Minor. Asia and Asia Minor were full of devout Jews.

The loyal Jews in Asia Minor became a target of Christianity. The attention given to this region by the New Testament writers suggests the degree of success attained there. While there is no way of knowing, it is possible more Christians resided in Asia Minor by the time our New Testament Scriptures were completed than any other region in the world. If this is true, and the evidence seems to support this conclusion, it would explain why so many of our NT scriptures were directed toward this region. In particular it explains why the book of Revelation addressed them.

Conclusion

Our original question does not seem to be so difficult when we have taken into consideration all of these things. If the largest concentration of Christians shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch and then to Asia, it would provide ample reason for the Apocalypse to address the churches of Asia. These churches were filled with Jews who needed to know that God's promised judgment against Jerusalem and the Jewish nation was about to find fulfillment. Needless to say, other NT writers also warn of this coming judgment.


This page is Copyright 1998 by Alex Ogden, All Rights Reserved.
This page was last updated on Monday, August 03, 1998.


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