In advance of visiting Turkey and touring the seven churches of Revelation 2–3, some people want to read or study something. This is not essential for the trip, but could be a nice opportunity to learn and grow. Here is a list of some resources with brief explanations.
There may be “devotional” books on Revelation, but I would recommend something a bit more substantive. Revelation is a book that really benefits from some explanation. All of the books listed here are intended for more popular audiences. They are around 150-200 pages in length and easier to read.
The authors are reputable scholars who interpret the message of Revelation within its own social and historical context, then apply that original message to Christians today.
1. The Seven Churches (Rev 2–3)—Books about the opening chapters of Revelation and the 7 cities.
John Stott, What Thinks the Church: An Exposition of Revelation 1–3 (Baker, 1990). A concise exposition of the opening chapters with insights and encouragement for people today.
Jeff Weima, The Sermons to the Seven Churches of Revelation: A Commentary and Guide (Baker Academic, 2021). A commentary of Revelation 2–3 that works through the meaning of the passages, but also provides guidance for applying and preaching the seven letters. A bit lengthy at 304 pages.
2. Revelation in General—Books that explain John’s apocalypse and its message.
Mark Wilson, Victory through the Lamb: A Guide to Revelation in Plain Language (Lexham, 2019). This book introduces the book of Revelation through the theme of victory and triumph. Each chapter has an early Christian martyr account and then explains the passage in its historical context.
Mark Wilson, Revelation: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Zondervan, 2015). A concise commentary with picture and sidebars featuring the archeological and historical context of revelation.
David deSilva, Unholy Allegiances: Heeding Revelation's Warning (Tyndale, 2013). A pastoral book that explains Revelation as an exhortation to Christians living in the shadow of the oppressive Roman empire. John calls for radical obedience against social and political pressures. deSilva is attuned to ancient cultural values like honor-shame and patronage, so his reading helps connect Revelation to issues common in global cultures today.
Michael Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Cascade, 2010). A short overview of Revelation that connects the original message to Christian doctrine and practice for today.
Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, 1993). A premier NT scholar explains how Revelation reveals the fulfillment of God’s kingdom among all nations through the suffering of the Lamb and his followers. Exegetically and theologically rich.
3. Historical Fiction—If you prefer works of historical fiction, here are some engaging books. They are not focused on Revelation per se, but are about early Christians in that area.
David deSilva, A Week In the Life of Ephesus (IVP, 2020). An imaginative portrayal of a Christian in Ephesus who is pressured to honor the emperor Domitian in a religious festival.
Holly Beers, A Week In the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman (IVP, 2019). A women in first-century Ephesus faces the grind of ancient life as she struggles for her family’s survival.
Bruce Longenecker, The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World (Baker, 2003). An insightful and engaging series of fictional letters between Antipas the martyr (Rev 2:13) and Luke. Through their correspondence we see how young Christians in Pergamum learned about Jesus in their cultural context.
4. Primary Christian Texts—You can read through the text of Revelation itself. Remember that many other Christian letters were written to and from the seven cities mentioned in Revelation. Here is a list, which you may also consider reading in advance.
Ephesus: Ephesians was written to (or maybe from) Ephesus. 1 Corinthians was written while in Ephesus, and 2 Corinthians just after. Philemon and Colossians (and even Philippians) were perhaps written from Ephesus. The Gospel of John and 1–3 John were probably written from the area of Ephesus. 1 and 2 Timothy were sent to Ephesus. Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to the Ephesians, and through them to the Romans.
Smyrna: Ignatius wrote letters to Polycarp and his church in Smyrna. Later, Polycarp wrote from Smyrna to the church in Philippi. The Martyrdom of Polycarp in Smyrna is the first Christian martyrdom account. All three are interesting and worthwhile to read.
Sardis: The second-century bishop Melito of Sardis wrote an intriguing sermon about Easter (On Pascha).
Laodicea: Colossians was shared with Christians in Laodicea. The letter we call Ephesians may have the extra letter Paul sent to Laodicea (Col 4:16).
Philadelphia: Ignatius wrote a letter to Philadelphians.
Pergamum and Thyatira have no other letters associated with them, besides those in Rev 2–3.