We are now on the other side of the world, and deep into history, natural and spiritual. Our third day here finally allows us a little time to post an update. The travel day was almost 24 hours, and yesterday went from 9 in the morning to 12:30 at night, with hardly any stops. We some technical challenges, limited connectivity, and are working hard to keep our cameras and equipment charged in the field. But we are catching a lot of priceless video and photos, even if we can’t transmit it all right now.
Yesterday, we visited Sardis and Philadelphia, two very striking sites, for very different reasons. Sardis has a very compelling set of ruins, and much variety. There is a Greek/Roman Gymnasium, a Jewish Synagogue, and a Christian Church, attached to an older pagan temple, all in one place. How striking that Sardis was the age of denominationalism, with all its many flavors! Is this a coincidence? I can’t prove it, but personally, I smell a divine wink in that.
The ancient acropolis of Sardis crowned the top of a mountain, almost a surreal and dreamlike place for a city, chosen because it would be hard to attack. But it could not last, because it was built on a crumbling type of sandstone, which eventually gave way. The city walls are long gone except for one small piece, and the mountain site is never visited any more. Sardis had a “name” for a while, as an important capital, but now, it is clearly “dead.”
On to Philadelphia which is a large and bustling city about an hour’s drive South. The road goes through a broad valley lined with crops of fig trees, pomegranates, vineyards, which inch up the mountain slopes on both sides of us. This valley was an ancient Roman postal road, which is probably buried somewhere under the freeway and roads we now travel. The logic in the order the 7 Churches are mentioned in the Bible starts to make sense. This is clearly the order that a traveler would take to deliver the letters, from Ephesus to Laodicea, hitting the cities in between in a logical sequence. The valley between mountain ranges makes everything flow in that direction.
Philadelphia has very little ruins, simply because the city is still there, under the name Alasehir, as the Church Ages Book says. Instead of letting it fall into ruin, the residents continued to build new buildings, and repair old ones.
There is a small piece of ancient wall that you can still see, and the remains the enormous pillars of what was once the 6th Century Byzantine church of St. John. The testimony of Sardis is its ruins. The testimony of Philadelphia is its LACK of ruins. The city was never destroyed. Did not the Bible say, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also I keep you…” ?
The Church Age Book points out that Philadelphia lasted longer than any of the others. History testifies that it kept its Christian testimony the longest also. It was an independent Christian city for centuries, though locked deep in Muslim territory, like an island in a sea of opposition–though they certainly had their problems, and a true and false vine like all the other churches. Nothing negative was said about Philadelphia in the Book of Revelation. As I sit beneath the ruins of this church, I thank God for the testimony of these courageous believers who lived so long before me.
Speaking of courageous believers, we traveled on from from Philadelphia to Denisli, which is an energetic young city, just West of ancient Laodicea, and shared a Wednesday night service with a group of believers there. 13 were present on this weeknight, though they tell me that up to 50 come on a Sunday. This church has been here only three years! They are almost all Persian refugees, speaking and singing in Persian rather than Turkish, and working for desperately low wages because they don’t have citizenship here. Courage! But yet, full of joy for the revelation they have received. We shared a song service, the pastor preached, and then (to my surprise) he called me up and asked me to preach also. Thankfully, I had looked up a couple of scriptures during the song service, because I could not sing along in their language.
It is clear God has raised up this humble group in a land where only 2 percent of the population is Christian, and I can only foresee good things for them in the future. Their faces will remain in my memory for a long time, I am sure. We exchanged contact information, I gave away my Bible (one of the brothers badly wanted an English KJV Bible) and returned warm in heart to our hotel. No doubt about it: there is a true church in Laodicea today!
Thank you for your encouraging comments and prayers. We will continue to report as often as we can. Right now, I have to go because my laptop is almost dead and I have no way to charge it here!
Brothers Mark Aho and Mike Diaz