Reflections on the Trip of a Lifetime: Day 12 Smyrna, Thyateria, Pergamon

Smyrna (Izmir), Thyateria, Pergamon (Bergama)

IMG_7943It’s a big day when you visit three sites. On top of that, two out of these particular three were quite spectacular!

All three are among the Seven mentioned in Revelation 1:11. It was helpful to review the photos, and ensure that my memories of the sites are distinct from one another!


Smryna

Modern Izmir is a very large city, where we visited the Church of St Polycarp.


 

IMG_7929

The tradition is that when Polycarp was martyred, the fire would not burn him. This is likely explained by opportune gusts of wind, and one is at liberty to consider those to be acts of God.

In the end they stabbed him, because they couldn’t get the fire to work. One can only imagine the awful suffering of being half-burned and then stabbed…

The church is beautiful! Although it is indistinguishable from other buildings on the street. That was unexpected!

It is a Roman Catholic church, not a Greek Orthodox one, and as it happens, our Roman friends are happy for visitors to take photographs (without a flash), whereas the Greek Orthodox church does not allow photographs in their churches.

It was a very moving moment when, having asked permission, we sang “Amazing Grace” as a group in the church. The acoustics were lovely, the voices angelic, and the Spirit of God was palpable. I don’t think I was the only one shedding a tear or two. I shall not be forgetting this day.

IMG_7926One fascinating feature that I never eventually enquired about was that much of the floor was made up of marble slabs that are engraved with what seem to be gravestone inscriptions. It felt strange to be walking on them but there was no real choice.


Thyateria

About an hour away, we visited Thyateria. It was an odd sensation, because it is surrounded by somewhat hectic urban life. The church in Philadelphia had also been surrounded by modern life, which also was a little strange, but it was lower-density and didn’t have the same contrasting effect (on me, anyway).

This site had a strange feeling to it, which I can’t quite pin down. Perhaps it was the way that it made me feel: a foreign tourist lobbing in to take pictures of something that is all but completely irrelevant to the people who live there. That’s an odd feeling.

This was the home of a certain Lydia, whom Paul met in Philippi (yes… that’s in modern Greece). There are several remarkable things about the mention of Lydia in Acts 16:

A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.

When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.

– Acts 16:14-15

First of all, and most importantly, notice that Lydia is not at home, barefoot and pregnant. In the ancient world, this was the norm. As our Greek guide pointed out, the women who were not at home looking after children were at the entrance to the city with “heavy makeup and short skirts”. Lydia is clearly an exception!

The key is that she is a “dealer in purple cloth” – that’s very expensive stuff in the ancient world. Lydia is wealthy!

Nevertheless, it is still remarkable that she is travelling and dealing in commodities. This is essentially the role of men in that milieu.

To continue the oddity, the mention of “she and her household” being baptised is directly equivalent to other examples such as the jailer just a few verses later (v34), and Cornelius from Chapter 10. In those other examples it is quite logical that if the man of the house adopts a new religion, the whole household adopts it along with him. What of Lydia? She appears to be the head of her household!

One could go on: What was she doing having a religious conversation with Paul, without a male chaperone? It was a gathering of women (v13). Lydia was apparently a woman who feared no man, and was not bowing to gender-stereotyped conventions.

Kudos, Lydia.

Go girl, you rock!


 

Pergamon


Not gonna lie. This site was another “wow”.

IMG_7982When you are walking on roads built thousands of years ago, and mentally reconstructing the city that used to surround them, the result is “wow”. I can see how archaeologists get hooked on it…


 

Pergamon was a city where people came for healing. It was famed in the ancient world for its clinics and healers.


 

IMG_8010At the Odeon I spent a little while pondering how one might preach a sermon that would get one killed.


Does that seem an odd thing to do? It relates to my experience at Laodicea, and was prompted by the fact that Antipas was martyred in this city:

I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.

– Revelation 2:13

Of course, we don’t actually know the circumstances around Antipas’ death, but we do know that he was killed in some way relating to his Christian faith, and in some sense because of his “witness”.

throne of zeusThe reference to “Satan’s throne” is likely a reference to the three temples to the Roman Emperor in the city, or this massive Temple of Zeus, where Antipas is supposed to have been martyred.


Some say that Antipas caused problems for the local pagans because he drove out demons, threatening the whole basis of the local pagan healing centre. That could be true, but I was imagining what one could have preached in the Odeon, to provoke the local powers to put you to death. It went something like:

You have built three temples for your emperors, calling them gods, and also this massive altar to Zeus. But I proclaim to you the God who does not dwell in buildings, as if he needs the ministry of men, but who makes the very heavens his throne, and this world his footstool.

 

A day is coming, and now is, when the Spirit of God, the One, True God, will judge the powers of this world who claim to be gods, and the gods who require buildings of ever increasing magnificence in order to convince themselves of their own existence, and charge money for healing the sick.

… and so forth. I reckon that kind of talk would do it.

We didn’t get to the main theatre, which is part of the acropolis on a nearby hill. It looks like this. More “wow”!

 

See the map above for the relative locations of the acropolis and the site we visited.2016-04-07 10.14.44pargamum


 

Engagement with the Text

The text for the day was Acts 16. The reason is the link with Lydia, which I have mentioned above. I found the contemplation of Revelation 2 was more on my mind for the day, however.

At Smyrna, the reflection about the “synagogue of Satan” (“I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” – Rev 2:9) really is identical to what I reflected about the same phrase in Philadelphia:

It is sufficient that it is a Jewish community which is hostile to the Gospel message … the persecutors are not really “Jews”, in the sense of being part of the people of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. They are only physically circumcised, and are carnal, and are enemies of the Gospel. This is sufficient to label them, “the Synagogue of Satan”.

At Thyateria we talked about the libertine teachings that the church was tolerating, which are taught by “that woman Jezebel” (Rev 2:20).

At Pergamon, as I say above, I was reflecting on Antipas’ martyrdom.

It is Jesus’ encouragement to Thyateria that rings most often in my ears, when I am ministering to my friends who struggle and suffer in this world: “I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come” (Rev 2:24-25).


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Reflections on the Trip of a Lifetime: Day 12 Smyrna, Thyateria, Pergamon

Posted on Jan 21st, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

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