Tag Archives: Revelation

Problems faced by the Seven Churches # 2

In the first of this series we discussed the worship of Artemis and other gods that were prevalent at Ephesus. None of these problems are limited to a single group of Christians but I will often use one of the churches as an illustration.

The second problem faced by the Christians of Asia Minor was Emperor worship. It is common to hear a lot of talk about the persecution of the early Christians, but the term is not used in the Apocalypse. Instead we find the terms trial (Rev. 3:16) and suffer (Rev. 2:10) and tribulation (Rev. 1:9; 2:9,10,22; 7:14). The term tribulation implies pressure brought upon the Christians. We may think of this as persecution but let us not get hung up on that particular term. In my tour notebooks for this area I have included a chart showing the Ten Major Persecutions under the Roman Empire typically listed in works on church history. Here below is that simple list. Nero’s persecution seems to have been limited to Rome. By the time we reach Diocletian we see a more widespread situation. In A.D. 305 Diocletian ordered that all church buildings be burned along with all books and Bibles of the church.

1. Nero (A.D. 64–67).
2. Domitian (A.D. 81–96).
3. Trajan (A.D. 98–117).
4. Hadrian (A.D. 117–138).
5. Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161–180).
6. Septimus Severus (A.D. 193–211).
7. Maximinus the Thracian (A.D. 235–236).
8. Decius (A.D. 249–251).
9. Valerian (A.D. 257–260).
10. Diocletian (A.D. 303–311).

Major persecutions against Christians by the Roman Empire. ferrelljenkins.blog

Ten major persecutions against Christians by Roman emperors. Photo: Ferrelljenkins.blog.

If one understands the Babylon of the book of Revelation (14:8; 16:19; 17-18) to be the Roman Empire then we see the “soon” of passages like 1:1, 3:11, et al. to include this entire period. Certainly the same or similar situations face Christians of all ages.

A bit of background of the situation in Asia Minor might be helpful to some readers. The next section comes from my Studies in the Book of Revelation which includes a chapter on Emperor Worship.

The Roman Empire was made up of many smaller nations. Rome accepted all of the “gods” and the Pantheon in Rome was erected so that all these “gods” could be worshiped. Later, the rulers were often worshiped by all citizens. The worship of kings was common in the eastern portion of the Roman empire. About three hundred years before Christ the Attalid Kingdom was set up in Asia Minor. These Attalid kings, many of them bearing the name Attalus, were worshiped as gods. At Pergamum one may see the ruins of the heroon, outside the citadel gate, which served as a sanctuary of the heroized kings.

Attalus III, who died in 133 BC, bequeathed all the movable assets of his empire to the Romans. “This was misinterpreted as meaning all his possessions, including his whole kingdom. Thus, the Romans inherited a country of 66,750 square miles with the most beautiful cities of Asia Minor” (Cosmades, Nothing Beside Remains, 36). This territory served as an excellent buffer between Rome and the Seleucid empire of Syria and later the Parthians. This explains how Rome came to have power in Asia Minor. Emperor worship was easily adopted by the people of this region.

Christians could not worship the emperor and were considered atheists by Empire standards. The Christians were not persecuted for serving Christ, but for not worshiping the emperor. The cities of Asia Minor vied for the honor of erecting a temple to the emperor. Pergamum won this honor as early as 29 B.C. (cf. Rev. 2:13). When the Christians were persecuted some of them were willing to serve the Emperor but others were willing to die. It cost something to be a Christian then. (Studies in the Book of Revelation, p. 5.)

⇒ This book is available from the Florida College Bookstore here. Search for the title of the book or the author’s name.)

One of the significant things to see during a visit to the ruins of ancient Ephesus is called Domitian Square. There we see the platform with steps leading to the top where the Temple of Domitian, or Temple of the Flavian Emperors once stood.

Domitian Square, Ephesus. Ferrelljenkins.blog.

Domitian Square at Ephesus. Some writers refer to this area where the temple stood as the temple of the Flavian Emperors. This would include Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. The temple stood on the platform above the arches. The steps to the right of center led to the temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A large statue of the emperor stood on the platform. Several scholars hold the more recent view that the head discovered here is that of Titus.

Portions of the larger-than-life statue of Domitian (or Titus) from the temple in Ephesus. Ephesus Museum. Photo:  ferrelljenkins.blog.

Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey) became a great center for Emperor worship. Out of the Pax Romana (the Roman peace) grew the worship of Dea Roma (the goddess Rome). Smyrna was the first city of Asia to erect a temple to the cult of the city of Rome in 195 B.C. In 26 B.C., during the early imperial period, eleven cities of Asia were competing for the right to build a temple of Tiberias and thus become the neokoros (temple warden) for the Roman Imperial cult. Rome decided in favor of Smyrna in recognition of her long loyalty (Tacitus Annals Iv. 55.56). Smyrna won the title of “First of Asia” (found on coins) and was thrice named “Temple Warden” (Cosmades, Thomas. Nothing Beside Remains, 1964. 26).

During the reign of the emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117), Ignatius of Antioch passed through Smyrna on his way to execution in Rome. While at Troas he wrote letters to several churches including The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smymaeans, and an epistle to Polycarp (The Ante-Nicene Fathers).

Polycarp, a leader in the church at Smyrna, was martyred by the Romans in about A.D. 156. He was arrested and ordered to say Lord Caesar” and to offer incense to the image of the Emperor Antonius Pius (A.D. 138–161). Upon refusing to do so, Polycarp was then asked to swear by the fortune of the emperor, to
deny Christ and to denounce the atheists (Christians). He was sentenced to death by burning because he would not comply with the wishes of the authorities. He is remembered for his offer to teach the
Roman soldiers, and for saying “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” Yamauchi says about 10 other Christians were martyred in the city’s stadium at the same time (The Archaeology of New Testament Cities in Western Asia Minor, p. 61).

Persecution of Christians at Smyrna. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Polycarp of Smyrna was put to death during the reign of Antonius Pius in about A.D. 156. Powerpoint slide: ferrelljenkins.blog.

In Izmir, Turkey, the modern counterpart of ancient Smyrna, we find the Polycarp church. There a large piece of art illustrates what we know about his death.

Artist rendition of the martyrdom of Polycarp displayed in the Polycarp church in Izmir. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Artist rendition of the martyrdom of Polycarp in the city stadium displayed in the Polycarp church in Izmir. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The letter to the church at Pergamum names a Christian by the name of Antipas who was killed (Rev. 2:13). After the close of the New Testament we find other references to followers of Christ who were martyred at the hands of the Romans.

From the writings of Pliny, governor of Pontus, to the emperor Trajan we learn that the same procedure was practiced by the authorities before they killed Christians. See our article with more photos here.

Numerous illustrations could be used from other cities, but I will leave the subject here. The situation described in the book of Revelation fits perfectly with what we learn when we read the history of the area and visit the ruins of the ancient cities named in the book.

The term autokrator (= English, autokrat) is used of the Roman emperors on coins and inscriptions. Domitian styled himself Master and God. Two inscriptions found at Jerash, Jordan, in 1974 describe Domitian as son of the divine (theou) Vespasian. Domitian’s name is erased from both inscriptions as it is on many other inscriptions indicating that he  is of damnable memory. After the death of Domitian the Roman Senate issued a damnatio memoriae (of damnable memory) and his name was erased from many monuments throughout the Empire. I have examples of this from Ephesus, Smynra, Thyatira, and other places. (See Franz, Gordon. “The King and I: The Apostle John and Emperor Domitian.” Bible and Spade 12.2 (1999): 44. Print.

Above I mentions my Studies in the Book of Revelation. There I list several believers who were martyred during the reign of various Roman emperors (pp. 79-81).

Our lesson from all of this is to be loyal to Christ no matter what the threat may be.

John was “on the island called Patmos”

Posted on November 10, 2020

Map, made in BibleMapper, to show Patmos in relation to cities of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) such as Miletus and Ephesus.

John, the writer of the book of Revelation, was “on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). I am convinced that this was the apostle John. He was there because of (Greek dia, on account of) the word of God. Filson says this could mean either banishment, or banishment to hard labor. He points out that the word of God and witness or testimony are used in Revelation 6:9 and 20:4 “in reference to a persecution situation” (Interpreter’s Dictionary Bible III:677).

The Romans used the island as a penal settlement to which they sent political agitators and others who threatened the peace of the empire (Tacitus Annals 3.68; 4.30; 15.71). According to the church historian Eusebius, John was banished to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian, A. D. 95, and released 18 months later under Nerva (HE III.18.1; 20.8-9).

Two coins bearing the likeness of the Emperor Domitian. They are displayed in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Patmos is a rocky island off the west coast of Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea, about 37 miles southwest of Miletus. The island is one of the Dodecanese (twelve) or of the Southern Sporades. It is about 10 miles long (N–S) and 6 miles wide at the north end, and consists of about 22 square miles of land area. The island is mountainous and of irregular outline. Some visitors to the island have suggested that the natural scenery “determined some features of the imagery of the Apocalypse” (HDB III:693-94).

Patmos. The port of Scala from Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Patmos has been a part of Greece since 1947, and may be reached by boat from Piraeus, Samos, Kos, or Rhodes. The ferry from Samos takes about 2 1/2 hours, arriving at the port of Skala. Some cruise ships sail from Kusadasi, Turkey, to Patmos.

On the way from Skala to Chora, the only other town on the island, one passes the Monastery and Cave of the Apocalypse. This Greek Orthodox site is marked as the traditional place where John received the Revelation.

Interior of the traditional Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At Chora, the monastery of St. John the Theologian dominates the island. It was built by a monk called Christodulos (slave of Christ) in A. D. 1088. The monastery library is noted for its manuscripts, but especially for its collection of more than 200 icons. The oldest book in the library is part of a 6th century codex of Mark (Codex Purpureus). The second oldest manuscript is an 8th century A. D. copy of Job.

The modern port of Scala at Patmos. The island receives many visitors during the summer vacation season and many workers come to take advantage of the summer jobs.

The view we have of the harbor of Scala today is a far cry from the Patmos where John lived, but it was here that he saw the vision of the glorified Christ as recorded in Revelation 1:9ff.

Note: Friends at the church we attend in non-pandemic times are currently studying the book of Revelation. I thought a few photos that I have made over the years might be helpful to them and to others.

Jezreel Valley panorama

The header I am currently using is a panorama composed of three photos I made from the tell of Megiddo. The Jezreel Valley lies before us to the north (and slightly east). Nazareth is located in the mountains of lower Galilee. The valley continues east between the Hill of Moreh and Mount Gilboa to Beth-Shean, the Jordan Valley, and the mountains of Gilead. The valley was known by the Greek name Esdraelon in New Testament times.

Panorama of Jezreel Valley from Megiddo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Panorama of Jezreel Valley from Megiddo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Click on the photo for a hi-res image of this great plain for use in teaching. If you prefer a photo without labels, click here.

The vicinity of the Valley of Megiddo (Jezreel/Esdraelon) was the scene of many significant historical battles.

  • Thutmose III of Egypt fought Syrian forces – 1468 B.C.
  • Joshua defeated the King of Megiddo – Joshua 12:21.
  • Deborah and Barak defeated the Kings of Canaan – Judges 5:19.
  • Gideon defeated the Midianites – Judges 7.
  • Saul was defeated by the Philistines – 1 Samuel 28-31.
  • Ahaziah, king of Judah, died there – 2 Kings 9:27.
  • King Josiah was slain in a battle against Pharaoh Neco of Egypt – 2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-27.

Megiddo, the tell overlooking the valley, became typical of national grief and a symbol of decisive battles, similar to modern Waterloo, the Alamo, or Pearl Harbor. No wonder it provides the symbolism for the decisive battle in Revelation 16.  John’s Greek Har-Magedon becomes the English Armageddon.

The NAU transliterates harmagedon as Har-Magedon. Other English versions use something similar to the ESV.

And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. (Revelation 16:16 NAU)

And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. (Revelation 16:16 ESV)

This valley has been significant even in modern times.

  • Napoleon advanced against the Turks in 1799.
  • General Allenby and the British defeated the German-Turkish coalition in 1918.
  • British officer Orde Wingate trained Jewish defense forces in this valley in the 1930s. Later leaders of the War of Independence (1948-1949), including Moshe Dayan and Yigal Alon, were trained by Wingate.

General Allenby read the historical survey about the importance of the valley in G. A. Smith’s Historical Geography prior to his battle against the German-Turkish coalition in 1918. Smith included that battle in later editions of his book.

On the road in the Steps of Paul and John

Tuesday afternoon, May 6, our group should land in Istanbul, Turkey, to begin a tour that I have called Steps of Paul and John. This area of travel has been one of my favorites for many years. My first visit here was in 1968. We will visit Istanbul, a city rich in church history. It has been called Constantinople and Byzantium.

From Istanbul we plan to fly to Izmir, the site of biblical Smyrna. There we begin a visit to the sites of the seven churches of the book of Revelation (chapters 2-3), and a few other sites (Hierapolis, Colossae, Miletus, and Aphrodisias). We will be discussing important themes from the book of Revelation during this portion of the tour.

Our group will then spend 3 days cruising the Aegean Sea in order to visit some of the islands associated with the travels of Paul and John. Our first stop will be at Patmos (Revelation 1:9). Then Rhodes (Acts 21:1) and Crete (Acts 27; Titus 1:5). There is also a stop at Santorini.

Upon arrival in Athens, Greece, we will visit the city of Athens (Acts 17). We have planned a visit to ancient Corinth also (Acts 18).

We hope you will join us for these visits. I will do my best to write a post each day of the tour.

Resources on the Book of Revelation

Yesterday I received an Email from Dr. Georg S. Adamsen in Denmark, asking that I change the link to his Revelation Resources page on my Biblical Studies Info Page. First, let me say I appreciate his notifying me of the change. Many individuals ask to include a link but never notify us when they close down the page.

Revelation Resources is now presented in blog format. Adamsen describes the blog this way:

Revelation Resources – about 250 hand-picked references on valuable resources for the study of the Book of Revelation. Many topics have separate introductions…

My Old Testament in the Book of Revelation has been included at Revelation Resources for several years. I was pleasantly surprised this evening when I was checking the URL to see that the book is featured on this page (January 7).

Because the current publisher of the book does not have a marketing strategy many people think the book is out of print. You may secure a copy from the Florida College Bookstore. I wasn’t able to locate the book on the website, but you can send an Email to bookstore@floridacollege.edu for information. I think the book now sells for $4.95. I saw a used copy on Amazon recently for $59.96!

Jenkins, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation

Florida College also recently reprinted my Studies in the Book of Revelation. It sells for $5.99. In my judgment this is an excellent source for a class study of the Revelation.

Jenkins, Studies in the Book of Revelation

Studies in the Book of Revelation (90 page paperback) is composed of these sections.

Introducing the Book at the End of the Bible
Worthy Is the Lamb
Saints Victorious
Does Revelation Teach Premillennialism?
Letters to the Seven Churches
Emperor Worship in the Book of Revelation

If you prefer to call Florida College Bookstore and speak to one of the friendly staff, use their toll free number (1-800-423-1648).

What does this have to do with travel, you wonder. The Revelation was written to the seven churches of Asia, the Roman province of Asia Minor, in the late first century A.D. The seven cities were Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Several of them have significant ruins that can be visited. We have included them on several study tours we call Steps of Paul and John, including Turkey, Greece, and the Aegean Islands. During the course of this tour we spend some time lecturing on the setting of the Book of Revelation. We plan to do that in May when we again visit these and other cities associated with Paul and John.

Temple of Roman Emperor Trajan at Pergamum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the reconstruction of the Temple of (Roman Emperor) Trajan ( A.D. 98-117). This was the second temple in Pergamum dedicated to the Emperor. The first temple in all of Asia was erected to Augustus in 29 B.C. Altogether Pergamum had three imperial temples.