Welcome to Turkey! Those are words that I’m not sure I ever expected to hear, nevertheless I have heard them now several times. While Turkey has experienced a good amount of political and religious upheaval in recent years, the opportunity to see and experience many of the locations talked about in the New Testament has been drawing on me. So…two days ago I arrived in Turkey and was promptly greeted by those words I never expected to hear. The apostle Paul spend much time in modern-day Turkey and so you will find many of the locations here listed in the book of Acts. However, for this trip we are primarily focusing on the churches listed in Revelation 2 and 3 that Jesus specifically sent messages to. I plan to share with you where we have been and a few thoughts on each location, however we will be starting a series later this year that we are filming here on location called The Seven.
In visiting the Biblical city of Pergamum you have to start with the modern-day city of Bergama. Bergama is a good-sized city of about 100,000 today and just outside of the city and up the hill you will find the acropolis or “upper city”. It is the acropolis that houses much of the ruins of Pergamum today. Jesus’ letter to the church at Pergamum is filled with contrasts. He states that he knows them and their faith and that they are staying true, however they have bought into the idea that immorality and compromise with their morals is okay. Because of that, Jesus’ message to Pergamum is incredibly applicable to us today. Pergamum was a city filled with worship. Worship of Zeus took place at the Temple to Zeus where he was described as God and Savior. Worship of Dionysus took place at her temple close to the theater where people reveled in partying, drunkenness and relaxation. Worship of the emperors started at the Temple of Trajan and eventually Domitian and others made it largely official. So you see in this city, people who loved Jesus would have a very hard time remaining true to Christ if they wanted any involvement in community life. It’s very likely that the Christians in this city had stuck to their beliefs but had moved their morals.
It is very likely that the Christians in this city had stuck
to their beliefs but had moved their morals.
Imagine living every day where you would look up to the skyline and see the fires of sacrifices at the great altar to Zeus and the amazing temple to Trajan (Emperor Worship – above). The pressure to conform or lose all city privileges would be very strong. It is in this culture and city that Jesus says – Repent! Otherwise, he will come against them with the sword that comes out of his mouth. He has the authority! He is in control, so we can trust Him even in a difficult culture.
The fourth letter of the seven letters is written to the church in the city of Thyatira. In this city Jesus calls the Christians to turn away from being more tolerant than God. Here is what was likely happening. Thyatira was a very blue-collar town with several trade guilds. There was a trade guild for the bronze workers. There was a trade guild for the cloth dyers. So, if you were a Christian who worked in a trade that had a guild, you would be invited to all of the guild parties. While this might not seem bad to us, these guild parties were tied to the worship of the patron god Apollo. The guild would gather, have a meal consisting of food offered to the patron god, and then the real party would begin. Drunkenness, immorality and partying would all be the end of the event, and if a Christian wanted to skip out of these guild parties, they would definitely be noticed. So, here at Thyatira, the Christians began to more tolerant of things that were clearly immoral. Rather than calling out sin in their own lives and helping others confront their sin they were turning a blind eye. In others words, they were continuing to believe in Jesus but they were okay with living like everyone else so they didn’t lose their friends and their jobs. At this point Jesus says, watch out, turn away from what you doing or death and judgment are coming your way.
In Thyatira the believers were continuing in their belief but living like everyone else.
Tomorrow we will show you the cities of Smyrna, Sardis and Philadelphia.