Asia Minor and the Seven Literal Churches
Geographically, Asia Minor, the location of the seven literal churches, appears on a map to be shaped like a horse’s head, its nose extended to the Bosporus, its mouth at Ephesus, (eph-sus in Hebrew, means “mouth of horse”), and its front hoof in a running position at the Sinai.[iv] This is an example of how the Revelator used Greek words and played on them with Hebrew meanings.
The seven literal churches may have been situated within Asia Minor in a pattern resembling the prominent stars of the constellation we now commonly call the Big Dipper, but known variously in ancient times as the Great Bear, or the Sheepfold, or Biblically, ‘Âsh, [v] from whence perhaps we can trace the etymology of the word Asia.
In the Greek text of Revelation 1:4 the term is : έν tή Άsίa, “in the Asia.” This is a dative phrase. The word Asia here could be the Hebrew word ‘âsh, (Strong’s #5906), transliterated into the Greek and given a dative case ending. It might, therefore, be used symbolically as “the former (or lesser) sheepfold,” meaning the Churches in Jerusalem. In this symbolism, the other Churches would represent the greater sheepfold.
Mount Zion, On The Sides of the North
This symbolism is also borne out by Psalm 48:2 where Mount Zion, symbolizing Jerusalem, is said to be “on the sides of the north,” the location of the seven-starred constellation called ‘âsh. [vi] Whether or not this etymology is true, the apocalyptic writer could well have used the similarity of sounds as a means of play upon words, a known literary device in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially apocalyptic writings.
The term ‘ayish is also used in Job 38:32 but Job 9:9 spells the same word ‘âsh. In both cases the RSV translates “the Bear,” but the KJV as “Arcturus,” meaning ‘a Bear’, a star of the first magnitude, (BDB, p.747, 736). [vii] However, the idea of “the Bear,” as the name of the constellation, is a Hellenistic idea and not the view held by Old Testament Israel.[viii] There it was used symbolically variously as the Menorah, the Seed Sower, the Threshing Wain, or the Greater Sheepfold.[ix] These names make it imminently appropriate as a symbol of the universal Church.
A Symbol of Christ?
Some scholars believe the vowel pointing should be iyûsh, meaning “to lend aid, come to help.” By metathesis this word in verb form then would become yeshua`, “he comes to help, or save,” (BDB 747 and 736), the Hebrew form from which we have the English Jesus. Perhaps the writer used this also as a means for a play upon words. If so, the phrase would read: “…the churches that are in Jesus.”
The Covenant Church
The term seven churches should be understood to mean “the Covenant Church,” for the Church is One Body, the Body of Christ, and therefore one Church, (Ephesians 1:23; Romans 12:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-20). In the same manner, the seven Spirits before the throne should be understood to mean “the Covenant Spirit,” for there is One Spirit, (Ephesians 4:4).
The message of the Book of Revelation is to the Churches. Since Jerusalem and the nation of the Jews, had rejected the warnings, it is the Churches that now must be warned, lest they fall into a similar error and reap a similar judgment. Just as the earthly city and nation had been images of heavenly realities, so the Church is now to be the Body of Christ in the earth. And just as Jerusalem and the nation fell, so, too, does the Church suffer destruction when she falls away from her Living God.
Eusebius describes the fall of the true Church in terms reminiscent of the Fall of Jerusalem:
“But all marvels pale before the archetypes, the metaphysical prototypes and heavenly patterns of material things – I mean the re-establishment of the divine spiritual edifice in our souls.
“But when, through the envy and jealousy of the demon that loves evil, she, [the Church], became by her own free choice a lover of sensuality and evil, the Deity withdrew from her, and bereft of a protector, she was soon captured, proving an easy prey to the inveiglements of those so long bitter against her. Overthrown by the battering-rams and engines of her unseen and spiritual foes, she came crashing to the ground, so that not even one stone of her virtue remained standing on another in her; she lay full length on the ground dead, her natural thoughts about God gone without trace. As she lay prostrate, made as she was in the image of God, she was ravaged not by that boar out of the wood visible to us, but by some destroying demon and spiritual beasts of the field, who inflamed her with sensual passions.[x]
The Roman Catholic Church fell. It did not hold fast to the warning.[xi]
[iv] See Strong’s #5906. D. S. Russell mentions that the apocalyptic writers sometimes used their own versions of the alphabet for their writings so that their enemies or the uninitiated could not read them, (Russell, 109).
The Bosporus is the strait that connects Asia Minor to Europe between the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea. Western Asia Minor is thus often referred to as the Bosporus. The name Bosporus in Greek may be the words bous, and phoros, meaning a beast of burden. The Greek name Ephesus might have been used to play upon its Hebrew meaning “horse’s mouth.”
[v] See also Joseph A. Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kregel Publications), 178. Hereafter cited in text.
[vi] The Qumran community apparently believed that Paradise was situated in the north, for the alignment of their graves shows that their heads were placed to the south, contrary to Jewish and Christian practice of placing the head to the west, so that at the resurrection they would rise facing the north. See Joseph T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea, English ed., RB volume 65, (London, SCM Press, 1959), p. 104 and RB, vol.65, 1958, p. 77.
[vii] The term arctic is from the Greek arktos, “a bear.” From this has come also the name of the star Arcturus and the north polar regions of the earth.
Ges. Lexicon defines ‘âsh as “The constellation of the Bear… Ursa Major… Gk. and Roman, the wain … a bier… perhaps nightly watcher … to go about by night; … because of its never setting,” (Lexicon pp. 625, 659).
The word Arcturus is composed of artos + ourous, a ward, guard, (watcher). The star now commonly known as Arcturus is located by following the curve of the handle of the “Big Dipper.” It is easily located because of its brilliance, a star of the first magnitude. It may at times have been considered as part of the constellation of Ursa Major.
[viii] “Epiphanius further recounts how they possessed a vocabulary of their own in Hebrew for the zodiac and other celestial beings” (Malina, 74).
[ix] See my Commentary at 1:12 “Seven Golden Lampstands”.
[x] Eusebius, History of the Church, 10.4.58.
[xi] See Santillana, and von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill. See also Thor Heyerdahl, Early Man and the Ocean, A Search for the Beginnings of Navigation and Seaborne Civilizations, (Garden City, New York, Doubleday and Co, Inc.), 1979.