Day 10: Hierapolis to Philadelphia to Sardis to Smyrna

Whew! Today was a full day: A hot one with a lot of walking. But a great one too! Let me try to cover the highlights.

Today marked the start of our road for visiting the sites of the seven churches mentioned in the first three chapters of Revelation. First on the list: Laodicea.

We had our Sunday morning church service on the ruins of the Laodicean theater. A couple songs and a time of group prayer got things started, after which we read Revelation’s letter to Laodicea. It’s most famous for its image of lukewarm water, which Jesus said said was fit for nothing but spitting out. With the surrounding region clearly visible from our stone seats, we dug into Laodicea’s specific context to unearth some of what was being said in that brief letter. One key thought centered around the danger of self-sufficiency. Laodicea was rich. An important city of important people, they took great pride in their way of life. In fact, so wealthy was Laodicea that when a powerful earthquake rocked the entire region, they declined the emperor’s offer of money for reconstruction. So eager were they to display their independence and self-sufficiency. How does such an attitude affect God’s work in our lives? My guess: It doesn’t help it to happen. As Charles put it, Laodicea is the only church about which Jesus has nothing good to say. The irony of that is that they were the one church who claimed to be rich. Yet in reality, they were the poorest of all.

The rest of Laodicea provided us with a bit of walk, seeing the ruins of their baths, church, stadium, and water tower along the way.

Our next stop was a study in contrasts. Philadelphia has nearly no site at all compared to Laodicea’s major excavation. Biblically speaking, the contrast continues as Philadelphia’s congregation has next to nothing yet is one of only two churches that receives nothing but praise from their Lord. This stop was only about 10 minutes long, as the site here contains at present only some ruins of a 6th century Byzantine church. Impressive for what it is, but nothing compared to the other sites of the day.

Hierapolis, on the other hand, is an enormous site! We spent nearly 4 hours walking this area. Colossians 4:13 is the only NT reference to this grand city, but it sat mere miles away from both Laodicea and Colossae, which factor into the NT text more significantly. After the Biblical text’s pages though, history suggests that Philip (yes, the Philip from Acts) lived in Hierapolis evangelizing and was eventually martyred here for his efforts. The ruins of a martyrium bearing his name were among our stops today. Other highlights of Hierapolis include the largest necropolis (graveyard for rich people with major tombs) in the Middle Eastern world, a large bath, very impressive triple arched city gates, a Roman road through town, low aqueducts all over the place, and a baptistery dating back to the 500’s. As well, it was here that we saw one of the most amazing theaters I’ve ever seen. Really quite breath-taking to behold it in such amazing condition. We also quickly observed the ruins of a temple to Apollo. Our time here concluded with a barefoot walk through the wates of Pamukkale, a series of white stony pools that have formed over centuries as the minerals from the waters flowing from the earth have left their deposits behind. That place brings floods of tourists to the area: Speedos and bikinis were the fashion of choice, and no, not everyone wearing them should have been allowed to! Ah well, I guess they were on vacation too. ; )

A couple hours on the bus led us to Sardis, one more major site to behold. We walked yet another Roman road through the remains of the market place. We even came upon a shop that belonged to a Jewish merchant back in the day. How do we know that? A menorah was faintly carved into the stone walls of his shop. Other details pointed out included the drainage systems beneath typical Roman roads and the terracotta piping that they used to plumb water through their cities.

The highlight of Sardis was a stop in the Jewish synagogue that would have been the Jewish place of worship here. It was surprisingly large, suggesting a significant Jewish community within Sardis back in the first century and later. Sitting in the shady end of the structure, we listened as Charles taught from the letter that Jesus dictated to the congregation in Sardis. From our seats, we could see the agora (the high place) of the city. It was thought to be unconquerable. That thought gave Sardis a reputation of strength and power. Yet, twice in Sardis’ history, their so-easy-to-defend fortress was taken. Why? Because in times of over-confidence, they simply neglected to guard the one way in. For the city of Sardis, overconfidence and pride in past reputation blinded them to the simple facts that they weren’t all they were supposed to be. It’s no stretch to bring that message in some shape or form to most churches, and Charles was sure to do so with his usual blend of insight, wisdom, humility, and cheekiness. A treat, as usual.

An exploration of the gymnasium (amazing ruins!) and a nearby temple of Artemis and Diana concluded our Sardis time. Another hour on the bus brought us to our hotel in Izmir, in time for a 9:30 PM supper—yes, the days here are long. “Vacation” isn’t quite the right label. Fun? For sure. Educational? No doubt. Relaxing? Hmm, not sure. “Vacation”? Not in the traditional sense of the word. But you’ll never hear me complain.

Tomorrow is dedicated from morning to night to the site at Ephesus. In the first century, Ephesus was the third most important city in the entire Roman empire! In the twenty-first century, it is considered to be one the greatest archeological sites in the whole of Asia. This is a big one, and it will be our spot for all of tomorrow before sleeping the night in Kusadasi and enjoying the following day as a breather before heading to the island of Patmos.

I continue to keep well and to thoroughly enjoy my traveling companions. I am a touch red today from the scorching sun, and my sandal tan is full-blown. Tomorrow will definitely be a sunscreen day for me! Much love to those back home. Ephesus will mark the halfway point of our trip, so after tomorrow’s marathon, we’ll be counting down until Regina once again.

Good night from Izmir (ancient Smyrna). More to come…

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