After being in Turkey for a few months, one fact was evident: Beth and I were in the midst of Christian history. Karamursel is 30 miles away from the former Constantinople (now Istanbul), named after the Christian conqueror Constantine the Great. He marched into history defeating an opposing force five times the size of his own, using the cross with the words "Conquer By This" as his banner. He decreed in 313 A.D. that Christian worship would be tolerated throughout his empire.
Karamursel is 20 miles from Nicaea (now Iznik) where in 325 A.D. the first Ecumenical Council met. This gathering resulted in the Nicene Creed, which has been recited in Christian churches for centuries.
Incirlik AFB in Adana, an SAC [Strategic Air Command] base in southern Turkey, is 20 miles from Tarsus, the town where Saul grew up.
And, of course, on and near the beautiful Aegean Sea coastline in southwestern Turkey were the jewels: the Seven Churches spoken of in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation, the churches believed to have been planted by John himself.
It is no wonder Turkey is called "the other holy land."
How wonderful a time to travel with friends. Our commanding NCO allowed us and our neighbors to go on a chapel retreat to visit these seven church sites.
What an adventure, riding on a bus with others from the base, crisscrossing Turkey. We were literally walking in the footsteps of the early church fathers. Imagine us bouncing up and down the roads, listening to Turkish music on the radio. Strong smells of garlic, fresh fruits, and vegetables lingered in the air as we adventured.
Before a trip, people often imagine what it will be like, but the reality is usually quite different. I still remember the excitement of getting ready to travel on those journeys. We were not disappointed!
Plenty of information exists about the history of these sites in books and on the Web, so we will attempt to keep it as short as possible. We do, however, want to touch on a few points to stir your interest. This is an amazing area for history to which years of research by different scholars have been invested. What a privilege it is just to have lived and traveled here.
Looking through our souvenirs, we found an itinerary for the trip that the travel agency gave us at the time. The history provided by it will be the main source of information used here. The trip began Friday, Oct. 18, 1974, and ended Thursday, Oct. 24. In Biblical times, a messenger carrying the Letters to the Seven Churches was sent from Patmos Island to Ephesus and then took a circular clockwise route to the different churches. But our bus took a different route so that we visited the church sites in a different order.
Departing from the base at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, we went through Karamursel and then turned south. We passed by Iznik (Nicaea) and headed for our next stop of Kutahya, about halfway between Karamursel and Laodicea where we ate lunch.
Kutahya (the ancient city of Kotyaion) was where the Byzantines constructed a fortress on a dominating hilltop. In 1243 the Seljuck Turks enlarged it and added two small mosques. Fame came to the city only with the forced settlement of Persian craftsmen after Selim I’s victorious campaign. In those days, the Kutahya tiles (cobalt blue and milky white) rivaled Iznik tiles (green, turquoise, purple, and yellow).
After lunch we visited the Kutahya tile factory.
Then back on the bus to head south. So many different sights, smells, and sounds!
I want you to imagine: The Muslims have prayer calls that are played over loudspeakers in every community five times a day. Turkish music was coming over the radio from the bus. Smells of fresh fruits and strong garlic wafted through the air. I remember well one day when a rider hopped on a different bus with string bag of garlic bread and the inside of my nose began to burn.
As the bus went over the landscape, glimpses of the past were mingled with modernization of the present. There were oxcarts and also automobiles. We would move from mountains to beautiful valleys, from ruins of antiquity to elegant modern hotels.
Late in the evening we arrived at Pamukkale. I want you to think of the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone but on a much grander scale. The whole side of the mountain was a beautiful white crystal. Pamukkale is the former ancient city of Hierapolis with it fairy-like travertine deposits of cotton white and pools with natural warm waters. The richness of Roman and early Christian architectural remains make this site one of the most beautiful ruins surviving from antiquity. We spent the night at the Hotel Koru, built on the cliff top on an ancient fortress.
The next morning (Saturday) was breakfast. Breakfast in other countries is quite different. You can expect anything. I usually was still hungry afterward. The good old American breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, and pancakes is hard to beat, but then again breakfast is one of my favorite meals.
We departed that morning to visit the ancient city of Hierapolis, which was above our hotel, and then we went down the mountain to visit our first church, Laodicea (near the village of Eskihisar). Laodicea is a dead city. Now little more than a few scattered ruins, an ancient aqueduct, two theaters, a bath, and a stadium remain. As we walked around, I can remember most of the many rocks scattered all over the ground. This area has been plagued with major earthquakes, which pulverized the building materials.
Laodicea received its drinking water from aqueducts, which brought the hot spring water from Hierapolis down to the city. When it arrived it was luke warm, not good for cool refreshment nor good for heat. The church at Laodicea could vividly picture the warning given to it in the scriptures.
The town of Colossae was eleven miles from Laodicea. The Gnostics had undervalued the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross and given Christ a place subordinate to the true Godhead.
Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians to set them straight:
Christ is enough. He is God, the fullness of God, the One who made the world, the reason that everything exists. All the mystery and treasure and wisdom you could ask for are found in the person of Jesus Christ; there is no need to look elsewhere.
But now God has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. Col. 1:22&23
After touring Laodicea we departed the Hotel Koru and headed for Aphrodias where we had lunch. Aphrodias was a surprise, containing a most complete ancient stadium with beautiful surrounding ruins. Those stadiums were huge -- one can almost imagine Charlton Heston in his chariot racing around the arena. Shortly after leaving Aphrodias, the guide pulled us over for camel rides.
Departing Aphrodias, we headed for the Hotel Tusan in Kusadasi. Kusadasi is a beautiful coastal town where major ocean liners dock for excursions to Ephesus, Miletus, and other sites of antiquity. What fun we had walking around town, going in and out of shops. We knew we were paying too much, but in the 70s the dollar had a great exchange rate with the Turkish lira. The Isle of Patmos where John spent the latter years of his life in exile was approximately 40 miles offshore. Our hotel faced the west. We observed some of the most beautiful sunsets from the balcony of the Hotel Tusan.
Sunday morning we left our hotel ready for another action-packed day of adventure. First, we left for the Turkish town of Selcuk (formerly Ephesus) to see the Basilica of St. John, built in the Fourth Century over the traditional site of St. John's burial. For an interesting study, look up information on basilicas sometime. In the Fourth Century, many of the traditional Christian sites of importance began to have basilicas built. To find one now means you are near or on top of one of those sites. This along with other sites showed what the layout of ancient basilicas and baptisteries looked like. Also from atop the hill at this basilica you could look up to an ancient fortress and then down upon the ruins of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the temple of Artimus. Now only one column is left standing at the temple. Unless you know what you are looking at, it seems unimpressive.
Basilica of St. John
Burial Site & Baptistry
The Basilica of St. John
The one coloumn in the center is all that is left of the Temple of Artimus (Diana).
Now on to Mt. Solmissos, the traditional site of where Mary the Mother of Jesus lived at one time. Remember at the cross when Jesus told St. John to take care of his mother? John moved and witnessed in Ephesus before he was exiled for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Tradition in that area says that John brought Mary with him.
Leaving Mary’s house, we headed for one of the best-preserved sites, the location of ancient Ephesus. Awesome! Two thousand years ago, the shoreline came right up to the city with the Arcadian Way facing the theater and jutting out into the bay. John and Mary lived in Ephesus, Paul lived here, and many church leaders passed through. Alexander the Great, Julius along with other Roman Caesars visited. Antony and Cleopatra on their honeymoon walked down the Arcadian Way, the column-lined entrance to the city from the Aegean Sea through which visiting dignitaries would enter the city. While in Ephesus, Antony and Cleopatra asked the town fathers if they could borrow money to finance their war. The fathers turned them down, and in the not too distant future they lost the war. We were stepping in the footsteps of great individuals who impacted history.
The tour bus dropped us off on the southeast side of the ancient city. We walked downhill westward past columns and statues heading toward the library. Then we turned north on a level street. As we walked past a hill, the awesome 25,000-seat theater of Ephesus came into view. Wow, what a big theater! You have to see it to appreciate its scale. Here is where the citizens shouted, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" for two hours before the riot was suppressed by the mayor. The apostle Paul wanted to address the crowd, but his friends prevented him, thinking he would be killed. From the theater one can look out over the Arcadian Way.
As we left the city we passed several souvenir booths. Then we headed to the museum in Selchuk, showing statues and artifacts of the area, which was very impressive.
In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he wants them to grasp just "how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love surpasses knowledge." (3:18 & 19)
Socrates and Artimus (Diana), shown above, are two interesting characters. Socrates was the Greek philosopher who reasoned there must be a supreme being. His student was Plato. Plato's student was Aristotle. Aristotle was recruited by Philip of Macedonia to tutor his son Alexander the Great before he rode off to conquer the world. Next picture: Remember the riot in Ephesus at the theater? The silversmiths carved statues of Diana that looked like this picture.
After another packed day of adventure, it was wonderful to sit on the balcony with friends, look at another beautiful sunset across the Aegean, and ponder what we had taken in that day.
Breakfast at the hotel. Afterward we hopped on the bus to visit our third church in Smyrna, which is now the city of Izmir. The poet Homer of the Greek Dark Ages is said to have been born in Smyrna. From him come the tales of the Iliad (Troy) and the Odyssey . They both concern great moments of Greek culture, the Trojan War, Achilles, Hector, Patroclus, and Odysseus. It is interesting to compare the conclusions of afterlife between Homer's characters and the eternity that Jesus Christ speaks of.
Achilles dragging Hector Jesus Christ sharing the Good News
The ancient city lies in the curving bay with Mt. Pagos at its back. On the way the bus broke down, something to do with the transmission. The driver fixed the problem, but it took about three hours, throwing us off schedule. These drivers were good mechanics. On other trips whenever buses broke, the drivers would go into remote villages nearby and come back with enough materials to get us on the road again.
Here is Smyrna, where we bought a 20mm wide-angle lens for our SLR camera. Today we use a digital camera most of the time for its convenience. When using the 35mm SLR, a lot of wonderful memories flood back in. What wonderful landscapes and sites we have looked at through it to capture a picture.
Here in Smyrna lived Polycarp, who was one of St. John's deciples.
Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian -- a member of a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be stopped. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord." If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar's statue he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake.
The name of the city, Smyrna, means "myrrh," an ordinary perfume. It was also used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle and in embalming dead bodies. While the Christians of the church at Smyrna were experiencing the bitterness of suffering, their faithful testimony was like myrrh or sweet perfume to God.
7 a.m. - Breakfast at the hotel. Onto the bus and off we go to our fourth church in Sardis (present-day Salihli). Sardis is the oldest of the seven churches addressed by St. John. It was the Sydian capital that became the most important kingdom of western Asia Minor. Sardis ruled the Aeolian and Ionian colonies along the Aegean Sea. This is where King Croesus reigned and where money was used for the first time as a means of exchange.
This was an important commercial city on an important trade route that ran east and west through the kingdom of Lydia. Important industries included jewelry, dye, and textiles, which had made the city wealthy. From a religious standpoint it was a center of pagan worship and the site of a temple of Artemis, where ruins still remain. Archaeologists have located the ruins of a Christian church building next to the temple.
The letter also concludes with the exhortation to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The letter to Sardis is a searching message to churches today that are full of activity and housed in beautiful buildings but are so often lacking in evidences of eternal life. Christ's word today is to "remember," repent," and "obey," just as it was to the church in Sardis.
This place was beautiful!
After touring Sardis we jumped back aboard the bus to head to the next church in Philadelphia (Alasehir). Philadelphia was the newest of the seven cities.
The area on which the city was built came into the possession of Pergamum by a treaty in 189 B.C. Eumenes, the King of Pergamum, named the city after his brother Attalus, whose truth and loyalty to the king won him the epithet Philadelphius (loving brother).
Not much remains! The one picture in the middle above is of the basilica there.
This church was commended in that "you have kept My word and have not denied My name." Also, they were willing to endure patiently. Christ had no words of rebuke for this church.
That evening we headed back to our hotel at Smyrna (Izmir).
We departed the next morning for the sixth church in Thyatira (Akhisar). Thyatira then and now is no more than a place to pause between great cities. Very little ruins here.
Ruins at Thyatira
We stoped here for a while, took pictures, and headed for Pergamum (Bergama), our last church. The ruins here are second only to those of Ephesus in extent and interest, and areas of interest are the Acropolis and the Red Basilica.
Red Basilica Acropolis with Theater
Temple of Zeus Tablets
The last day of the trip was just traveling as we headed back to Karamursel. While on the way some of the gang wanted to take a side trip to Troy about 30 miles away, but the bus headed straight for home. We were all tired.
Great trip, probably the most history-intensive and thought-provoking trip we have ever been on. We were all happy to hop off the bus when we finally arrived back at the base.
Many years have passed since Beth and I traveled on this journey. There is no way we could grasp the vastness of what we were seeing at the time. We were just young and full of energy with the opportunity to travel and take pictures. As the years have raced by, the experiences of life alongside the experiences of this trip have yielded even more insight into the rich culture that we were immersed in. The opportunities and adventures we encountered encourage us to share what we have experienced and learned.
Many people tend to give little thought to death, the afterlife, and heaven. This is especially true when they are young. But at some point most adults become aware of their mortality. At that time some adults begin to give some thought to what comes after death. Some begin to think about heaven, but there are many false and immature opinions about heaven. A common misconception is that all people will go to heaven. Closely related is the view that people will become angels with wings and be given harps to play. Perhaps the most common mistake is the idea that people can earn their way into heaven. God's Word is the source for the truth about heaven.
Members of the early Christian Church launched out into Turkey following Jesus Christ’s resurrection with their first missionary journeys. Jesus’ disciples began traveling through the then-known world sharing a message, even though they were persecuted and killed. Because of what these converts had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears, they just could not remain silent; they had to share what they had witnessed. What was this message for which they risked their lives? Let’s take a look.(Begin)
Christians focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the very heart of this Gospel is the foundation of the Christian faith. With an understanding of its strength comes a confidence in building one’s faith upon it.
A key element to the Gospel is absolute truth. In this age of toleration, people minimize truth if it conflicts with their own beliefs, but truth is eternal and will stand. For example, look at Artimus (Diana). The culture of that day accepted Artimus as a god because of tradition and familiarity. Today, the passage of time shows its absurdity. Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus have stood the test of 3,500 years. One of America's Supreme Court judges put it this way: "Truth is tough; it will not break like a bubble at a touch. Nay, you may kick at it all day long like a football, and it will still be round and full in the evening." We each choose what to trust and believe. However, Paul gave strong warning to those who undermine and change the Gospel(1), and Jesus warned of rejecting the witness of Moses and the Old Testament prophets.(2)
Jesus told His disciples how to understand the scriptures. He said, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."(3) He said of himself that He is the Christ -- the one of whom Moses and the prophets spoke.(4) The Christ is the one who left heaven and was sent from the Father. This anointed one would accomplish the redemption of mankind.
You see, God did not create us as robots. He gave us the power to choose. He knew sometimes we would choose the low road and go against His will. When we do that, we hurt ourselves and others. As the Creator, God knows what we need most of all -- forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance. God offers us forgiveness to cover our guilt, and His acceptance to cover our shame. With His mercy he showers us with his love and provision. This restoration is accomplished through the suffering of His son, Jesus Christ. Only through Jesus Christ can we have a relationship with the Holy Righteous Judge that has the power to speak the Universe into existence.
Paul said in 2 Tim 2:8-10, "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory."
When talking with other believers, Paul said, "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures."(5) Paul wanted to convey that of first importance was Jesus Christ dying on the cross to pay for the penalty of our sins plus the fact that He rose from the dead on the third day.
Two very important bedrock actions of our faith are confirmed here. First, sin deserves punishment. God offered His Son to take on this punishment. Rather than casting us away from His presence, He offered a way of reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Jesus bore our punishment on the cross. If we trust Him by faith, we receive His mercy. In the book of John, we find the following passage: "The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but, whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on Him."(6) The book of Acts tells us, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."(7)
Second, the resurrection of Jesus Christ shows us Jesus has power over death to resurrect those who trust Him. We need no longer be terrified of death. An extension of this second point is that this power also gives us the strength to overcome living the sinful way of life. We no longer place our confidence in our works (have we done enough good or been too bad?). We instead move our confidence to what Jesus did for us on the cross. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.(8)
Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. He has power over death to bring those who choose Him to life. Let me ask you: What have you done with Jesus Christ? When asked about how many times we should forgive others, Jesus said 70 times 7.(9) No matter what a person has done, He will accept those who repent and turn to Him.(10)
Will you come to Him today? Jesus says whosoever will, may come.
Jesus pleads, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."(11)
(Begin) Acts 26:15-23)
(1) Galatians 1:6-9
(2) Luke 16:27-31
(3) Luke 24:45-47
(4) Isaiah 53
(5) 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
(6) John 3:35-36
(7) Acts 4:12
(8) Romans 8:1
(9) Matthew 18:21 & 22
(10) 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:23, 32
Link to Erwin W. Lutzer, a very knowledgeable Bible teacher who is pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago.
True Life Stories of changed lives and a new hope and peace.
True Life Stories of changed lives and a new hope and peace.