Tag Archives: Travel

Problems faced by the Seven Churches – # 5

The city of Sardis is located on the banks of the Pactolus river in the Hermus Valley remained important for many centuries. The river may not look very impressive when compared to the Euphrates, the Thames or the Mississippi but its importance lies in the fact that it was panned for gold. The Lydians lived here as early as the 13th century B.C. and were the first to mint coins of gold in the 7th century B.C. The last and most famous king of the Lydians was Croesus (560-546 B.C.). King Croesus gave his name to the Greek language to the precious metal refined at the site (chrusos).

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The Pactolus River at Sardis. The Lydians panned gold from the river.

Later the Persians traveled through Sardis. In fact, the Royal Road that ran through the city was used by the famous Persian post. It is no wonder that Alexander the Great came to Sardis.

Ruins of the famous Persian Royal Road that ran through Sardis.

In The Campaigns of Alexander, Arrian records the visit of the Macedonian warrior to Sardis. He says that when Alexander came to Sardis he agreed to exact the same tribute which they had paid to the Persian king Darius. He determined to build a temple to Zeus at the same place where the palaces of the Lydian kings had stood.

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The Temple of Artemis at Sardis. In the distance may be seen the citadel of the city.

Leaving Sardis under the control of his officers Alexander continued to Ephesus, arriving there on the fourth day.

The Problems in the Church at Sardis

There seem to be two problems mentioned in the letter to the church at Sardis. The edict to the church begins,

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” (Rev. 3:1-2 ESV)

The church had a reputation for being alive but they were dead and none of their works has been completed.

The saints at Sardis needed constantly to be watching. Wake up or else! The Lord will come like a thief and catch them unprepared. This warning would have special meaning to a city which had been caught off guard on at least two important occasions. The city was located in the Hermas Valley on the banks of the Pactolus River (a tributary to the Hermas). The acropolis of the city was built on a spur of Mount Tmolus about 1500 feet above the plain. Mount Tmolus is  5,800 feet high. The acropolis was difficult to reach and was considered unassailable by an enemy. The city spread until it soon had an upper city and a lower city.

In 546 BC the Lydian king Croesus and city of Sardis fell to Cyrus and the Persians. Remember the attitude of the Sardians that the fortress city was unassailable. Herodotus (Book I) tells the story of the fall. The Persians were in the valley below the citadel. A Lydian soldier dropped his helmet over the city wall and scurried down the rock to get it. A Persian carefully marked this in his memory and afterward scaled the city wall, with other soldiers, to capture the city for Cyrus. Croesus was taken prisoner. The confident city had fallen.

In 334 BC Sardis surrendered willingly to Alexander the Great. The city became the administrative center for the Seleucid Dynasty. In 214 BC the city fell to Antiochus Epiphanes through the use of tactics almost identical to those which caused its fall to the Persians more than three centuries earlier. The admonition to watch finds parallel in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 24:42-43; 25: 13; Luke 12:39; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2). We must be on watch at our weak point, and at our strongest point. We need to be especially careful if we say, “that’s the one thing I would never do.”

The citadel of Sardis was built on Mount Tmolus, but the rock naturally flaked off and did not provide a firm foundation for the walls. Our photo was made in the late afternoon before sunset by Dr. Mark Wilson, author of Biblical Turkey, in October, 2020. Photo used by permission.

The city that thought it was secure was actually vulnerable to the attacking enemies. The letters to the seven churches are replete with allusions to local customs and history. We see this in the letter to Sardis. Too many churches of our own time rely on their past achievements of famous meetings, well known preachers, big crowds, or numerous conversions. They started great projects, first ever, annual this or that, but they never finished them. Think about this on a personal basis also.

The problems faced by the Seven Churches of the Book of Revelation are the same or similar to those faced by churches today. Let us listen and learn.


A personal note to our readers: This short series of lessons was begun last November. A brief word of explanation about the delay in completing them might seem appropriate. My wife of 66 years has been dealing with dementia, medically diagnosed by her neurologist as Alzheimer’s Disease, since 2013. This has not been an easy road for her or the man who promised to love her in sickness and in health. Our doctors told me long ago that I would not be able to care for her on my on, but I did so as long as possible. In mid-April we moved her to a nearby assisted living memory care center. She has adapted well but my work is not complete. This task as caregiver still requires a considerable amount of time and your interest in our well being is appreciated.

A gift beyond comparison

The exact date of the birth of Jesus is unknown but whenever it was I am grateful for God’s gift of His son. Artists paint their conception of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, and artists are generally known for combining two or more ideas into one. That is certainly done in the scene pictured below, but I read the Scripture and the culture of the time as we know it and enjoy the message of the scene.

Nativity scene at Bethlehem. Photo: Ferrelljenkins.blog.

A nativity scene at Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For the two biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus I suggest you read Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 2:1-20.

Here is the account of the physician Luke as recorded in Luke 2.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20 ESV)

Bryan Windle posted a good article on his Bible Archaeology Report about the Archaeology of Christmas here.

John was “on the island called Patmos”

Posted on November 10, 2020

Map, made in BibleMapper, to show Patmos in relation to cities of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) such as Miletus and Ephesus.

John, the writer of the book of Revelation, was “on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). I am convinced that this was the apostle John. He was there because of (Greek dia, on account of) the word of God. Filson says this could mean either banishment, or banishment to hard labor. He points out that the word of God and witness or testimony are used in Revelation 6:9 and 20:4 “in reference to a persecution situation” (Interpreter’s Dictionary Bible III:677).

The Romans used the island as a penal settlement to which they sent political agitators and others who threatened the peace of the empire (Tacitus Annals 3.68; 4.30; 15.71). According to the church historian Eusebius, John was banished to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian, A. D. 95, and released 18 months later under Nerva (HE III.18.1; 20.8-9).

Two coins bearing the likeness of the Emperor Domitian. They are displayed in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Patmos is a rocky island off the west coast of Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea, about 37 miles southwest of Miletus. The island is one of the Dodecanese (twelve) or of the Southern Sporades. It is about 10 miles long (N–S) and 6 miles wide at the north end, and consists of about 22 square miles of land area. The island is mountainous and of irregular outline. Some visitors to the island have suggested that the natural scenery “determined some features of the imagery of the Apocalypse” (HDB III:693-94).

Patmos. The port of Scala from Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Patmos has been a part of Greece since 1947, and may be reached by boat from Piraeus, Samos, Kos, or Rhodes. The ferry from Samos takes about 2 1/2 hours, arriving at the port of Skala. Some cruise ships sail from Kusadasi, Turkey, to Patmos.

On the way from Skala to Chora, the only other town on the island, one passes the Monastery and Cave of the Apocalypse. This Greek Orthodox site is marked as the traditional place where John received the Revelation.

Interior of the traditional Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At Chora, the monastery of St. John the Theologian dominates the island. It was built by a monk called Christodulos (slave of Christ) in A. D. 1088. The monastery library is noted for its manuscripts, but especially for its collection of more than 200 icons. The oldest book in the library is part of a 6th century codex of Mark (Codex Purpureus). The second oldest manuscript is an 8th century A. D. copy of Job.

The modern port of Scala at Patmos. The island receives many visitors during the summer vacation season and many workers come to take advantage of the summer jobs.

The view we have of the harbor of Scala today is a far cry from the Patmos where John lived, but it was here that he saw the vision of the glorified Christ as recorded in Revelation 1:9ff.

Note: Friends at the church we attend in non-pandemic times are currently studying the book of Revelation. I thought a few photos that I have made over the years might be helpful to them and to others.

Acts 14 — Photo Illustrations

G. Walter Hansen comments on the religious life of Galatia and the importance of Zeus and Hermes to the people who lived there.

Zeus was the most widely worshipped god in Galatia; temples to Zeus were ubiquitous. Zeus was often linked with other gods. In the territory of Lystra there are carvings and inscriptions which show Zeus accompanied by Hermes. An inscription found near Lake Sugla is a dedication to Zeus of a sundial and a statue of Hermes. The names of the dedicators are Lycaonian. A stone altar near Lystra is dedicated to “the Hearer of Prayer [presumably Zeus] and Hermes.” A relief near Lystra depicts Hermes with the eagle of Zeus. In Lystra a stone carving shows Hermes with two other gods, G and Zeus. (Gill and Gempf, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, Vol. 2: Graeco-Roman Setting, 393)

This evidence, says Hansen, provides the setting for the events of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra. Luke describes the reaction of the Lystrans when they saw Paul heal a lame man.

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.”  And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.  (Acts 14:11-13 NAU)

Bruce reminds us that “Zeus was the chief god in the Greek pantheon; Hermes, the son of Zeus by Maia, was the herald of the gods” (The Book of the Acts, NICNT, 292).

Our photo of Zeus is of a bust displayed in the archaeological museum at Ephesus.
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Paul was called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. Hermes was the messenger of the gods. How appropriate that our word hermeneutics, coming from the name Hermes, is used to describe the important work of interpreting the Scriptures. I have heard some speakers make fun of the word and then proceed to say that a certain phrase in the Scripture means … ! The photo below shows Hermes tying on his sandal in preparation for delivering a message. Some may recognize Hermes as the Latin Mercury, who is used as the symbol for the floral industry.

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The King James Version used the Latin terms Jupiter and Mercurius in Acts 14:12. Bruce says this is “due to an old and foolish fashion of replacing Greek proper names by their Latin equivalents in English translations from the Greek.”

This post is reprinted from December 1, 2011, with improved photos.