15.1.1.1. Historical Significance

A number of these churches remained viable for many years beyond the date of John’s writing.1 We have record of early documents which were written to some of them:

The seven accepted letters of Ignatius, datable to about AD 115, are of great value to our study, for three of them were addressed to three of our seven churches, Ephesus, Smyrna and Philadelphia, and a fourth to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. It is not clear whether Ignatius knew the Revelation. . . . His impressions of the churches are independent.2

Several of the early Church Fathers, who attest to the canonicity of the book of Revelation and to its authorship at the hand of John the Apostle, lived among these churches to which John wrote. Their testimony regarding these facts is especially weighty since they were intimately familiar with the region and times of which John wrote.

Notes

1 Bullinger holds the unusual view that the church has been raptured before the book of Revelation opens. He believes the seven churches of Revelation Rev. 2:1+ and Rev. 3:1+ are seven, literal, Jewish churches or assemblies yet to come. [E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), xiii] He believes this explains the lack of historical evidence for the existence of some of the churches which some have noted. “Tertullian (about 145-220) says that leaders of certain sects, such as Cerdon and Marcion, rejected the Apocalypse on the ground that it could not have been written by John, inasmuch as (among other reasons) there was no Christian Church in existence at Thyatira in the time of John. Epiphanius (who wrote about A.D. 367) deals with the Alogi, a sect which disputed the genuineness of the Apocalypse, and on the same grounds. . . . The answer of Epiphanius acknowledged the historical fact: but his answer was that St. John wrote to the church at Thyatira, not because it was then in existence, but because it would be at some future time. . . . In A.D. 363 was held the Council of Laodicea. It was attended by thirty-two bishops of Asia, among whom was the bishop of Ephesus. This Council framed a list or canon of the sacred books, but the Apocalypse was not included in the catalogue. How can we account for this as a historical fact if these seven churches were all then existent; and if these epistles were sent to them at that time, Laodicea being one of them?”—Ibid., 70-71. Thomas counters: “The basis of the assumption [that no church existed in Thyatira] being statements by Tertullian (A.D. 145-220) and by Epiphanius (about A.D. 367). . . . Tertullian does not agree with the faithfulness of this assertion, but merely cites the claims of certain sects. Epiphanius too was answering unorthodox objections of the Alogi to the genuineness of the Apocalypse. The absurdity of this position is readily seen when one recollects the evidence of the Apocalypse itself. . . . [The author] would not have assumed as fact a thing known to be erroneous. How much more true this is with the inspired apostle as author.”—Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 506. This view seems implausible when one considers that these churches, once viable, have lain in ruins for most of two millennia. Are we to suppose they will spring back to life at the time of the end?

2 Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 19.