April 27, 2010
In Rev. 2 we have the letter to the church at Smyrna (modern Izmir). This church received the shortest of the seven letters (Rev. 2:8-11), and it consists only of commendations. Smyrna was one of the wealthiest cities of the Roman province of Asia, but the Christians there were poor; Jesus wrote, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)” (Rev. 2:9). Their poverty may have been in large measure due to their unwillingness to compromise their convictions. Christians who were exclusively loyal to Jesus Christ could not worship other gods, nor could they take part in emperor worship. It may be difficult for us to imagine how pervasive idolatry was in the first century. When the New Testament church came into existence, the residents of Smyrna had for centuries been worshiping the goddess Athena. The ruins of her temple are pictured here:
Athena Temple in Smyrna. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
The goddess Athena was in fact widely worshiped. Her image below is in the Izmir Museum:
Image of goddess Athena. Izmir Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Imperial worship was deeply entrenched at Smyrna, the practice of burning incense to Caesar and saying that “Caesar is Lord.” Here is an image of one of the priests of the Imperial Cult, representative of the men who served in such temples and expedited emperor worship.
Priest of Imperial Cult. Izmir Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Those who made up the church at Smyrna were told, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). We learn that the faith that pleases God is based not on convenience, but on deep and abiding conviction. What Jesus required in the 1st century He requires in the 21st century.
March 11, 2010
This morning we flew from Istanbul to Izmir to begin our visitation of the cities of the Seven Churches of Rev. 2-3. Modern Izmir is biblical Smyrna. We saw the harbor from Mt. Pagos, the acropolis of the city. Unlike the harbors of Ephesus and Miletus, which have long since silted up, the harbor at Smyrna continues to be operational; it is in fact Turkey’s 2nd largest port city after Istanbul.
We also saw the ancient agora (market place) which dates back to the 2nd century A.D.
A highlight of our day today was a visit to the temple of Athena. Actually the site is closed but we obtained permission to enter and take photos. This temple’s history dates back to the 7th century B.C. The site was quite overgrown, but we were very glad to be able to see it, from the standpoint of historical and biblical interest.
Temple of Athena in Smyrna. Photo by Leon Mauldin
New Testament Christians at Smyrna were surrounded by idolatry, and yet were expected by the Lord to have nothing to do with it. Not only was there the worship of various gods and goddesses, but also Smyrna was the center for Imperial worship. (Today we planned to see a statue of a priest of the Imperial cult in the Izmir Museum, but we learned it was temporarily on loan to Moscow!) There was also persecution brought on by unbelieving Jews. It was the church at Smyrna that received instructions in the midst of such trying circumstances to “remain faithful even to the point of death” (NET, Rev. 2:10).
Tomorrow we are to travel to Pergamum (Bergama), where there is much to see of biblical interest. From there we will travel to Thyatira (former home of Lydia of Philippi) . All in our group continue to be well, and for that we are thankful.