Category Archives: Revelation

Apocalyptic imagery is not strange

Visits to the great museums of the world provide many illustrations that help us understand the background of biblical images. This is especially true when we think of the apocalyptic imagery in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. The Greek name of the Book of Revelation is apocalypsis. In the opening sentence of the book we are told that it is an apocalypse.

In two previous posts we have called attention to the cherubim of the Bible. In this post I want to further this discussion and call attention to the multi-headed creatures that we encounter in apocalyptic literature. In the great throne scene of Revelation 4 we see four living creatures.

The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like an ox, the third creature had a face like a man’s, and the fourth creature looked like an eagle flying. Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying: “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come!” (Revelation 4:7-8 NET)

In Ezekiel we see figures representing four living beings with human form. Each living being had four faces and four wings. Each face was of a different creature.

Their faces had this appearance: Each of the four had the face of a man, with the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left and also the face of an eagle. (Ezekiel 1:10 NET)

One notes immediately that in early Christian art the Four Evangelists (or we might say, the four writers of the gospels) were likened to the same creatures.

Andre Parrot, in Babylon and the Old Testament, calls attention to the imagery used in Ezekiel. He provides two drawings of images uncovered by the archaeological spade in Mesopotamia. One shows a two-faced image; the other a four-faced image.

Drawings from Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament.

Drawings from Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament.

The location of the images is not given. The four-faced image seems to be an image that is now on display at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. This is a museum you must not miss if you visit the Chicago area. Here is a nice photo made by David Padfield.

Four-faced image from Mesopotamia. Photo by David Padfield.

Four-faced image from Mesopotamia. Photo by David Padfield.

One notices immediately that these two-faced and four-faced images all have human heads. We need only turn to the sculpture of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia to find many composite creatures bearing features of four or more creatures. That will have to wait for another time.

In closing I must return to the title of this post. “Apocalyptic imagery is not strange.” That is, it was not strange to those to whom the apocalyptic books of the Bible are addressed. It may be strange to us at first glance, but that can easily change by investigating the culture in which these books were written and read.

China Olympics opening is spectacular

I suspect that everyone reading this post saw either the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics or at least a few news clips about it. The Olympics originated with the Greeks centuries before Christ. The Isthmian games were conducted at Isthmia, a few miles from Corinth.

Paul used several illustrations relating to athletics in the epistles to the Corinthians.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;  but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NASB)

The Greeks had two words for crown. The diadema was the crown of the king. The stephanos was the crown of the victor in the races. This is the term used by Paul in the text above (the word wreath). Here is a photo of a nice sculpture displayed in the Athens National Archaeological Museum showing a young athlete wearing the stephanos. Incidentally, the stephanos was often made of olive branches, or other perishable items.

Young athlete wearing a crown (stephanos). Athens National Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Young athlete wearing a crown (stephanos). Athens National Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

John also speaks of the stephanos. To the saints at Smyrna (modern Izmir in Turkey) he says,

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10).

Enjoy the Olympics, but think of the more important spiritual lessons.

Philadelphia, the church with an open door

Philadelphia is located about 30 miles southeast of Sardis in the valley of the Cogamis, a tributary of the Hermus. The city is built on the slope of Mount Tmolus overlooking a fertile valley. Philadelphia was in the province of Lydia in Western Asia Minor.

Philadelphia stood at the place where the borders of Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia met. “It was characteristically a border town” (Barclay). This position made it the gateway to the East. Ramsay says,

“the Imperial Post-Road of the first century, coming from Rome by Troas, Pergamum and Sardis, passed through Philadelphia and went on to the East; and thus Philadelphia was a stage on the main line of Imperial communication” (The Letters to the Seven Churches 395).

The site of ancient Philadelphia is now covered by the Turkish agricultural town of Alashehir which has a population of about 20,000. Alashehir (Red City) is named for the volcanic earth in the area (Blaiklock 122). The plain is filled with vineyards. If Philadelphia were not a Biblical city very few tourists would put forth the effort to visit it.

According to Hemer, the location had one great disadvantage.

“It lies perilously close to the region known as the Catacecaumene (“the burnt land”) of Lydia, a hilly tract to the northeast which contained volcanic cones which had been active in recent geological time. And the whole area lies in the Anatolian fault system. Philadelphia was peculiarly liable to earthquake” (Hemer, “Unto the Angels of the Churches,” Buried History 11 (1975), 166).

Trench says, “No city of Asia Minor suffered more, or so much, from violent and often recurring earthquakes.” In A.D. 17 there was a destructive earthquake in the region which affected 12 cities. Sardis suffered worst, but Philadelphia is also mentioned. The cities were exempted from direct taxation and Tiberius provided personal funds for relief (Tacitus. Annals. 2.47).

Ramsay, who spent much time in Asia, reports that “the first great shock of earthquake is not so trying to the mind as the subsequent shocks, even though less severe, when these recur at intervals during the subsequent weeks and months….” Colin J. Hemer visited Philadelphia in 1969 just a few days after an earthquake (172-73). The people would leave the city and go out into the open fields and live in tents. When all danger was passed, and they did the necessary rebuilding, they would go back into the city. Strabo reports this in A.D. 20 (Ramsay), and Hemer provides a photograph of people living in tents outside their houses in 1969.

Our photo shows the ruins of the Byzantine church. Local tradition says this building served as a cathedral dedicated to St. John the Theologian. In Turkey the minaret is positioned to be in almost every tourist photo.

Toward the end of the first century the Lord sent a letter to the church at Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7-13). The Lord commended the church with these words:

Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Revelation 3:8

From the mountains of Ararat to the island called Patmos

Or, from Genesis to Revelation. I did not make an intentional plan to do so, but within the past twelve months I have visited areas of the Bible world, from the mountains of Ararat to the island of Patmos. What a blessing to have the opportunity to spend about four weeks in Turkey, covering most of the sites mentioned in the Bible, about 10 days in Greece, more than a week in Israel, and a week in Jordan.

This means that I have been able to visit some of the most significant portions of the Bible world. Better than visiting the area alone, I have been able to share the area with other teachers (both men and women) who will be incorporating this information into their lessons for years to come.

When I first reflected on the past year and realized that I had been to Mount Ararat, in the mountains of Ararat, and on the Island of Patmos, I realized that this covers from Genesis 6 to the book of Revelation. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I have visited every place in between, but it does give a sense of comprehensive overview.

Here are a couple of photos I trust you will find helpful. The first is of a shepherd with his sheep in the mountains of Ararat. Remember that the book of Genesis records that Noah’s ark rested “upon the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4).

This photo was made at the entry to the cave of the Apocalypse on “the island called Patmos” (Revelation 1:9). John was exiled here during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. Whether the book of Revelation was written on Patmos, or after John’s release, we can not say with certainty. The mosaic over the entry to the cave shows John dictating the revelation given to him by the Lord.

It is my conviction that Bible land travel can enhance one’s Bible study and improve one’s understanding of the text. This, in turn, needs to be converted to action in obedience to the will of the Lord, and in service to Him.

Thessalonica in Macedonia

The Capsis hotel in Thessalonica was our home for two nights. Wednesday we used our time visiting the city. Thessalonica (called Thessaloniki now) is in biblical Macedonia. The area is still known as Macedonia, but is not to be confused by the modern country by that name. It is marked on maps of Greece as FYROM (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). I know too little about the dispute to make any comments.

Paul came to Thessalonica on his second journey (A.D. 50-53; Acts 17). He wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica while he was at Corinth. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica accompanied Paul on the voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2). When Demas forsook Paul he went to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).

I went to the Archaeological Museum of Thessalonica thinking I would jump in, make a few shots of some items I had need of and then move along. In fact, I found a new (since my last visit in 2001) museum with wonderful educational exhibits, nice displays, and great lighting.

There is an impressive full-length statue of the Emperor Augustus (30 B.C. to A.D. 14). Augustus was emperor at the time of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1). Here is a photo of the top portion of the statue. This gives some indication of the wonderful lighting in the museum. This photo was made without flash.

On the display around the statue of the emperor there is a statement about the cult of the emperor. In our travels in Asia Minor (western Turkey) we saw many evidences that the admiration of the emperor grew into worship of the emperor as a divine being. This placed a real burden on the Christians of the time. It is this type of tribulation that the book of Revelation addresses.

The cult of the emperor was both an instrument of imperial policy progaganda and a means for the transmission of Roman culture. The image of the emperor gives a concrete form to the abstract idea of the Empire. Whether a full-lenth statue [as this one] of a bust, it makes his presence felt everywhere; in outoor and indoor spaces, in fora, in villas, and in libraries.

Elizabeth and I walked down by the harbor to see the colossal statue of Alexander the Great on his horse, ready to go into battle with sword drawn. We must put Alexander of Macedon among the most influential people of world history. His conquest of the areas we know as the Bible world continue to influence us till this day. He left his mark with the introduction of the oikumene concept of one world and the introduction of Greek culture and language. The Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek in Alexandria beginning about 280 B.C. The New Testament was written in Greek. Even Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), could speak Greek (Acts 21:37).

We visited the Arch of Galerius on the modern Via Egnatia, one of the main streets of Thessalonca. I made a few photos in the Roman agora before we rushed to get our bags packed to fly back to Athens.

By the time we arrived at our hotel, near the airport we had both decided that we were too tired to try to go to Delphi today. From our hotel room we are enjoying the beautiful view of a small town surrounded by mountains draped by blue sky with white clouds.

We begin a cruise on the Aegean

After breakfast this morning we will be boarding M/V Aquamarine, a ship of the Louis Cruise Lines, for a four day/three night cruise of the Greek Islands. Our first stop this afternoon will be Patmos, a small island in the Dodecanes group (12 islands), where John was exiled prior to writing the book of Revelation.

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9).

During the cruise portion of our tour my posts may be limited and/or brief. I understand that the ship has Internet service, but I am not sure of the arrangements.

Several others members of our tour group are blogging. If you would like to read a good blog of much more human interest, please take a look at journeyswithjane.

Norm teaches Bible at Athens Bible School. He is writing for this students, and is including some good photos of the places we are visiting. N.O.R.M. is the name of his blog. He says its means Not Out Roaming Mindlessly. I like that! Click here to visit his blog.

Our hotel at Kusadasi (near Ephesus), Turkey, is built on a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea. Here is a sunset view if caught last evening from the hotel pool deck.

Sunset on the Aegean. Made a Kusadasi, Turkey, by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hierapolis and Aphrodisias

This morning we visited Hierapolis, a city famous for its hot mineral springs and terraced travertine formations. Tradition associates this city with Philip. It is not clear whether Philip the apostle, or Philip the evangelist is intended. A colonnaded street and the Arch of Domitian (emperor A.D. 81-96) was erected by Julius Frontinus, proconsul of Asia about A.D. 82-83. The book of Revelation was written about the time of Domitian’s death.

Elizabeth and I have been traveling some of these roads together since 1967.

Papias (about A.D. 60 to A.D. 130) was a disciple of the apostle John and a companion of Polycarp. Fragments of his writings about the apostles survive in Irenaeus and Eusebius. He is said to have been Bishop of Hierapolis. Eusebius (active about A.D. 185), tells us that Papias wrote as follows:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.

Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Euseius, Against Heresies III.1.1)

Paul commended Epaphras for his labor on behalf of all of the churches of the Lycus River valley.

For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:13).

On the way to the Aegean coast we visited the fabulous new excavations at Aphrodisias. The National Geographic Society sponsored the excavations here for about 30 years. Many of the items from the Roman time are well preserved. These include the Roman stadium, the temple of Aphrodite, the odeon, the baths, and some marvelous sculp­tures in the Museum.

Tonight we are at Kusadasi, the Turkish resort town on the Aegean. Our hotel is about 12 miles from the ancient site of Ephesus which we hope to see tomorrow.

Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea

Our first stop today was Sardis, capital of ancient Lydia, where surrounding hills have been carved into curious shapes by wind and rain. We could see the significant ruins of the Acropolis from the plain below. We visited the temple of Cybele (the mother goddess of Anatolia) and Diana (Artemis). In later centuries a church was built at the same site.

The river Pactolus flows past Sardis. In ancient time gold was panned from the river. The first coins were minted by the Lydians. We visited the reconstructed synagogue and the gymnasium.

The letter to this church is in Revelation. 3:1-6.

We traveled southeasterly through beautiful table lands to the site of Philadelphia (Alashehir). The city is built on the slope of Mount Tmolus overlooking a fertile valley near where the ancient borders of Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia meet. The letter to this church is found in Revelation 3:7-13.

When we reached the Lycus valley we made a stop at Colossae. Colossae is nothing but a tell (mound) at this time. It sits at the foot of Mount Cadmus, near the city of Honaz. Paul wrote a letter to the saints at Colossae about A.D. 62. This was the home of Philemon, an individual who received a letter from Paul about his runaway slave, Onesimus.

At Laodicea we saw the ruins of the theater, the stadium, the aqueduct, and the water distribution system. This was a vivid reminder of the letter of the Lord to the church (Revelation 3:14-22). New excavations at Laodicea are bringing to light exciting Roman period ruins. Here is a view of the Emperor worship square. This is the danger addressed in the book of Revelation.

We are staying overnight at Pamukkale (biblical Hierapolis; Colossians 4:13). Hierapolis is famous for hot mineral springs and terraced travertine formations. It is now a World Heritage site.

Pergamum and Thyatira

Today we drove north of Izmir to visit the Pergamum (modern Bergama), another of the cities of the seven churches of the book of Revelation. This visit included the acropolis temple of Athena, the famous library, the royal palace, the temple of Trajan, the steepest theater of the world, and site of the altar of Zeus. The weather was perfect for photography most of the day. This photo shows the acropolis of Pergamum.

We made a short visit at the Archaeological Museum to see the inscription that states that Pergamum had twice been named NEOKOROS. This term means that two temples dedicated to the Roman emperors had been erected in the city. In fact, later there was a third temple. Emperor worship presented a serious problem for the Christians of Asia Minor in the last part of the first century, and the following centuries.

We visited the ruins of the Asclepieum, the medical center of the ancient world.

After lunch we drove to Thyatira (modern Akhisar) to see the few archaeological remains of the city. Lydia, the seller of purple who was converted to Christ at Philippi, was from Thyatira (Acts 16:14).

For the letter to the church at Pergamum read Revelation 2:12-17. For the letter to Thyatire read Revelation 2:18-29.

Izmir (Smyrna of the Book of Revelation)

This morning we flew from Istanbul to Imzir, Turkey’s second largest city. Our sightseeing included Mount Pagos with its magnificent view of the city and harbor. Most of the ancient city of Smyrna is buried underneath the modern buildings. A portion of the Agora (marketplace) of Smyrna has been unearthed in the past. Houses have been demolished the a large area adjoining the agora, and preparations are being made for additional excavations. This will be exciting to watch.

There are two important archaeological museums in Izmir. We made short visits to each of them. In the older museum we saw the likeness of Flavius Damianus, an imperial priest under Emperor Septimius Severus, wearing a diadem. This provides an impressive image of the place of emperor worship in Asia Minor in the days following the writing of the book of Revelation.

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:8-11).