Seven missions

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Seven churches of asia german, svg

When the seven epistles seven letters are referred to in the Book of Revelation have been handed down in the second and third chapters. According to the style of the text, they were dictated by Jesus Christ to John , the author of Revelation , in order to encourage and exhort various early Christian communities .

All seven addressed communities were in the Roman province of Asia , in what is now Turkey .

The seven missives in detail

Letter to the church in Ephesus

Best-known statement: “But I have against you that you have left your first love. Now think of what you fell from, and repent and do the first works! ”( Rev 2 : 4-5  NCC )

The important city for business and military, located at the sea harbor, offered various temptations. The Asian Games held in the city were an important competition to the Olympic and Corinthian competitions. The church in Ephesus remained steadfast between 52 and 55 after its foundation by Paul , but over time it lost its first love for Christ and was therefore susceptible to ideologies. So the Lord called the church to consider what it had fallen away from and to repent. The phrase “this is what he says” is linguistically based on official official announcements and underlines the majesty of the Lord, to whom John in spirit presented the text of the letters.

Letter to the church in Smyrna

The best-known statement: "I know your distress and your poverty - but you are rich" ( Rev 2 :NSC ) and "Be faithful until death, so I will give you the crown of life." ( Rev 2 : 10  NSC) )

The Lord saw the persecution and external poverty of the church. In no other of the seven missive cities has the persecution of Christians been so persistent and brutal and lasted long. Polycarp of Smyrna was killed here in the middle of the second century . In Smyrna there were people who called themselves Jews but weren't and persecuted Christians. Every year the inhabitants had to pay homage to the emperor through the imperial cult. As a result, this in and of itself undisputed honorary testimony became a violation of the freedom of conscience of Christians. The persecution was so intense that there are no sources that can provide a detailed account of the circumstances of the Christian community. Today around a third of the population in the city, now called Izmir, is said to profess Christianity.

Letter to the parish in Pergamon

Most famous statement: “I know where you live: where the throne of Satan is; and you hold fast to my name and have not denied your faith in me. "( Rev 2:13  NCC )

Pergamon at that time was shaped by Roman imperialism , proud intellectualism and religious syncretism . Even so, the church has not denied its trust in Jesus Christ. It is criticized that some Christians cling to the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans . The congregation remains steadfast against the great temptation, so the adversary tries to beat them through the side entrances. The Lord threatens the false teachers and urges them to repent. Baleamism leads to such a kind of intermingling between Christians and Gentiles that leads to the downfall of the Christian community. James Allen sees in Nicolaitanism approaches to clericalism. Instead of the biblical guidelines for a small group of elders, leadership in the congregation should be replaced by a hierarchical system of office.

Letter to the church in Thyatira

Most famous statement: "But I have against you that you tolerate Jezebel, this woman who says she is a prophetess, and who teaches and seduces my servants to engage in fornication and to eat sacrifices to idols." ( Rev 2:20  NSC )

Thyatira has to contend with the most subtle and dangerous kind of temptation for the Christian community. A false prophetess gains a high social position, seduces many Christians and turns the whole church in a dangerous direction. Still, there is praise because there is also faith, service, and steadfastness in the church. At the beginning of the writing the Lord first makes clear His omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. ( Rev 2,18  NGÜ ) He calls on the church to hold on to what it has already achieved. ( Rev 2.18  NGÜ )

Letter to the community in Sardis

The best-known statement: "You have the name that you live and you are dead. Wake up and strengthen others who want to die, because I have not found your works to be perfect before my God." ( Rev 3 : 1-2  NGÜ )

The Christian community in Sardis succumbed to self-deception. Their works were considered imperfect by God. Overcoming is a prerequisite for receiving eternal life as a Christian. ( Rev 3,5  NGÜ ) The letter is a call to conversion and steadfastness. The city was known for pleasure at the time and there was debauchery in the name of religion. Together with Laodicea, Sardis is one of the only ones of the seven churches that do not receive praise in the missives. Sardis is a reminder and a reminder at the same time that there can be a purely external Christianity, but which is spiritually dead and is nothing in the eyes of God.

Letter to the Philadelphia Church

Most famous statement: "See, I have opened a door to you, and no one can lock it" ( Rev 3 :NCC )

The Christian church in Philadelphia arose between 52 and 55 AD, possibly through Paul himself. At that time the city was a center of viticulture and the most modern of the seven missive cities. The soil was very fertile due to volcanic ash. Wild orgies were celebrated in honor of the wine god Dionysus . In such an environment it was difficult for the young Christian community to survive. In addition, she was attacked from those social circles who saw themselves as Jews, but apparently were not. The Lord had words of praise for the steadfast church in the letter. The term great temptation is believed to refer to the time of great tribulation .

"Because you have obeyed my invitation to stand firm, I will also stand by you and keep you when the great temptation falls on the world, that time when all humanity will be exposed to the forces of seduction."

- ( Rev 3:10  NC )

Letter to the Church in Laodicea

Most famous statement: “And write to the angel of the church in Laodicea: He who is faithful, the trustworthy and reliable witness, the origin of everything that God has created - he lets 'the church' say: I know how you live and what you do; I know that you are neither cold nor warm If only you were one or the other! But because you are neither warm nor cold, but lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. ( Rev 3.14-16  NIV ) "and" Behold, I stand at the door and knock. "( Rev. 3,20  NIV ).

In the community of Laodicea spiritual death had occurred, although outwardly everything was blown well regulated. The richest city in Phrygia was strategically located: banks, medicine (e.g. ophthalmology ) and textile industries (black wool from the Lykos valley) were in full bloom. This resulted in a full self-satisfaction that did not stop at Christians either. The Lord strongly advised the Laodici to buy pure gold, gold in the spiritual sense. The Laodicean community of the first century bore the hallmarks of the Christian communities of all centuries. Benedikt Peters sees syncretism at work here. The letter mentions the Lord's call to expose what is wrong with these people.

Laodicea was so rich that after an earthquake in AD 60, the citizens were able to rebuild the city on their own without the help of the central Roman state, especially the miles of water pipes. The Christian community was implicitly accused in the letter of being as tepid as the drinking water brought in from afar. The church was founded between 52 and 55 AD, probably by Epaphras . The writing of the letter of the Revelation of John and thus also the letter to the community to Laodicea is estimated to have taken place in the 90s of the first century AD. The Christians are accused in the letter of being poor, pitiful, poor, blind (and that in the world capital of eye ointments) and naked.

The literary character

Within the Revelation of John , the letters (Rev 2 and 3) have a special literary position. They are not visions , but (fictitious) letters to historically specific communities. The churches receive praise (especially the church of Philadelphia) and blame (especially the church of Laodicea). Their situation is characterized by repression by the state , deviant doctrine and the threat of division . The number of seven churches indicates that, for the author of Revelation, the specific churches are also representative of all Christian churches. Language and language rhythm suggest for some researchers that the missives - like the beginning and end of the entire book - go back to a final editor of the Revelation.

Interpretation history

Epochs of Church History

Since the High Middle Ages, the letters have been interpreted primarily by theologians who are critical of the church as referring to seven ages of world and church history. Before that, world history was divided into three and four. What all these interpretations have in common is a strong expectation of the judgment and the New Jerusalem . Hence, the presence of most interpreters usually corresponds to the sixth or seventh ward of the epistles.

In the history of the impact of Joachim von Fiores (around 1130 / 1135-1202) Fra Dolcino († 1307), the leader of the radical and from the Roman point of view heretical Brothers in the Apostles , uses the seven missives or the seven angels of the communities to structure his theology of history receive. The angels each represent an initiator of a dispensation. Dolcino saw himself as the angel of Thyatira; the seventh angel (Philadelphia) will be the future angelic pope to be expected after Dolcino.

For Reformed theologians of the 16th century, church history was divided into seven ages. The u. a. The theologian Johannes Coccejus (1603–1659) , who was active in Bremen and Leiden , divided church history into seven periods (aetates ecclesiae), under the influence of Johann Lampadius (1569–1621). Starting with the Church of the First Apostles, followed by the Church of the Martyrs, the next four periods are strongly shaped by the opposition to the papacy and the Roman church. The last age that is currently dawning for Coccejus is the heyday of the church, including the turning of Jews and Muslims to Christianity. After this age, according to Coccejus, Christ will come again for judgment. In the 17th century, Campegius Vitringa the Elder , the Calvinist Thomas Brightman (1557-1607), in the 18th century Elias Eller and at the beginning of the 20th century the dispensationalist Cyrus I Scofield (1843-1921) interpret the missives on epochs of church history . Johann Albrecht Bengel , who consistently relates the letters to the seven communities historically, opposed this interpretation .

local community Dolcino (around 1300) Lampadius (around 1600) Coccejus (around 1665) Scofield (20th century) Brightman (17th century)
Ephesus Benedict from 70 to Constantine apostolic time (up to 70) apostolic time pre-Constantinian period
Smyrna Dominic until the destruction of the Eastern Empire Persecution of Christians Persecution of Christians 313–81 Constantine to Gratian, struggle with Arianism
Pergamon Segarelli up to Charlemagne Constantine to Ludwig IV , 14th century Constantine State Church 382–1300 Ascending Papacy
Thyatira Dolcino himself up to Gregory VII. Antichrist papacy Time of the papacy 1300–1520 struggle with Catholicism
Sardis up to Adolf von Nassau reformation Protestant Reformation Luther's Reformation
Philadelphia Angel Pope until the Reformation Thirty Years' War Church that professes the word of God Geneva Reformation
Laodicea since 1519 The Church's heyday self-satisfied naming christianity 17th century Church of England

Historical-critical interpretations

In his highly effective paper from 1904 on the missives, William M. Ramsay shows many historical references between the missions and the local circumstances of the addressee communities. This approach shaped research on the Revelation of John and was continued positively. In the opinion of today's researchers, Ramsay neglected obvious Old Testament references (e.g. in the Christ attributes at the beginning of the respective missives).


1. Scientific literature

  • Francis VJ Arundell : A visit to the seven churches of Asia; with an excursion into Pisidia; containing remarks on the geography and antiquities of those countries. John Rodwell, London 1828, ( digitized version ).
  • Ferdinand Hahn : The missives of the Johannes apocalypse. In: Gert Jeremias , Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn , Hartmut Stegemann (eds.): Tradition and Faith. Early Christianity in its environment. Festival ceremony for Karl Georg Kuhn on his 65th birthday. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1971, ISBN 3-525-53548-1 , pp. 357-394.
  • Colin J. Hemer: The letters to the seven churches of Asia in their local setting (= Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Supplement Series 11). JSOT Press, Sheffield 1986, ISBN 0-905774-95-7 (also: Eerdmans et al., Grand Rapids MI et al. 2001, ISBN 0-8028-4714-5 ).
  • Gerhard Maier : The Revelation of John and the Church (= scientific research on the New Testament. 25). Mohr, Tübingen 1981, ISBN 978-3-16-144132-5 .
  • Otto FA Meinardus : St. John of Patmos and the seven churches of the Apocalypse. Lycettus Press, Athens 1974 = ders .: John of Patmos and the seven churches of Revelation. Publishing house "Der Christliche Osten", Würzburg 1994, ISBN 3-927894-17-6 .
  • William M. Ramsay : The letters of the seven churches of Asia and their place in the plan of the Apocalypse. Hodder & Stoughton, London 1904, ( digitized version ).
  • Charles HH Scobie: Local References in the Letters to the Seven Churches. In: New Testament Studies. Vol. 39, No. 4, 1993, ISSN  0028-6885 , pp. 606-624, doi : 10.1017 / S002868850001198X .

2. Generally understandable literature

  • William Marrion Branham : An Exposition of the seven church ages. Translated into German with the title: A presentation of the seven church ages. (GZB) .
  • Jacques Ellul : Apocalypse. The Revelation of John. Revealing Reality. Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1981, ISBN 3-7887-0628-7 .
  • Frank Hinkelmann : The seven letters of Revelation. A practically based interpretation. Publishing house for theology and religious studies, Nuremberg 2004, ISBN 3-933372-99-2 .
  • Walter Schäble : There is still faith. Heard the missive new. A prophetic church and denomination study. Bergische Buchberatung, Wermelskirchen 1970.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. James Allen: What the Bible Teaches. Volume 17: Revelation. Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 1999, ISBN 3-89436-194-7 , pp. 68f.
  2. James Allen: What the Bible Teaches. Volume 17: Revelation. Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 1999, ISBN 3-89436-194-7 , pp. 83f.
  3. James Allen: What the Bible Teaches. Volume 17: Revelation. Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 1999, ISBN 3-89436-194-7 , p. 92f.
  4. James Allen: What the Bible Teaches. Volume 17: Revelation. Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 1999, ISBN 3-89436-194-7 , pp. 103-105.
  5. James Allen: What the Bible Teaches. Volume 17: Revelation. Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 1999, ISBN 3-89436-194-7 , pp. 117-118.
  6. James Allen: What the Bible Teaches. Volume 17: Revelation. Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 1999, ISBN 3-89436-194-7 , pp. 125–126.
  7. Kurt Heimbucher : The seven letters (= TELOS books. No. 1331). Verlag der Liebenzeller Mission, Bad Liebenzell 1990, ISBN 3-88002-429-4 , p. 77f.
  8. Benedikt Peters: Opened seal. Guidelines for the future in the Book of Revelation (= TELOS books. No. 1330). 2nd Edition. Schwengeler, Berneck 1991, ISBN 3-85666-135-2 , p. 43f.
  9. Frank Hinkelmann : The seven letters of the Revelation. A practically based interpretation. 2004, p. 88f.
  10. James Allen: What the Bible Teaches. Volume 17: Revelation. Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 1999, ISBN 3-89436-194-7 , pp. 135f.
  11. The latter had Johann Gottfried Herder reproduce the letters in the form of iambi. See Herder, Johannes-Revelation. A holy face.
  12. Maier: The Revelation of John and the Church. 1981, 184f.
  13. Maier: The Revelation of John and the Church. 1981, p. 317.
  14. Maier: The Revelation of John and the Church. 1981, p. 327.
  15. Maier: The Revelation of John and the Church. 1981, p. 333.
  16. Maier: The Revelation of John and the Church. 1981, p. 374f.
  17. Declared Revelation of John, or rather Jesus Christ, pp. 78f. ; see. Maier: The Revelation of John and the Church. 1981, pp. 402f.