The Asclepion at Pergamum
The Asclepion at Pergamum was where emperors, officials and high society went for healing. Here they were entertained only through comedy to make them feel better, bathed in hot spring pools and even were taken to treatment rooms where you were drugged in hopes that the gods would visit you in a dream. Once lulled into a hallucinogenic sleep, servants of the Asclepion spoke into hidden tunnels that amplified into the treatment rooms, giving worshippers the assurance they were seeking. The sick were simply told that they were okay, but there must have been testimony of this actually working… otherwise it wouldn’t have continued to exist.
This site really haunted me. The image of people walking into a place, hoping to feel better, only to be lulled asleep and be told exactly what they want to hear. While primitive in many respects, its a shadow of our own culture. Just being told that you are “okay” and “normal” is comfort enough when we battle insecurity or unease. How do we stay fully “awake” and with an accurate perception of reality? We can’t be lulled into believing that we are okay, just because our culture says so.
How in the world do you thrive in a world like this, where everything points to idol worship? How do you begin to evangelize in a world where superstition works? While the world and Satan appeals for us to trust only what we can see and get immediate results, God calls us to walk backwards into the future, able to see clearly what has been and trust that faith will be sight for what we can’t see.
The persecution at Smyrna
Smyrna and Philadelphia were the only two churches of Revelation that don’t receive criticism, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t without suffering. Smyrna was known for its martyrs and aggressive, violent persecution of Christians. Believers here had much to fear, not just a loss of their livelihood, but their life itself.
Revelation 2:10, “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.”
The instructions “do not fear” only means something if the one speaking has power. Otherwise, it’s a weak attempt at comfort. Fear is the emotional response to something outside my control that I think will do me harm. When I fear, I’m faced with a trial and test of my obedience. A trial isn’t a way for God to see if we “do good enough,” but instead a way for us to reveal our faith. If we truly believe that God is in control of all things, then what do we have to be afraid of? Be faithful unto death- this is only possible if we know who the First and Last truly is. Only God is worthy of my fear.
Adopting the unwanted in Ephesus
The lifestyle of Roman culture wasn’t without its side effects. A city with dozens of brothels and a hospitality culture that often included sexual favors naturally created an abundance of unwanted children. The result is horrific and disgusting. Unwanted infants were either cast into the agora to be made slaves, if deemed fit, or left to die of infant exposure.
Ephesians 1:5-6, “In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
In a culture that cast off children to become slaves and prostitutes, how powerful could have the adoption ministry of the church been? They weren’t just loving the least of these, they were saving them from certain death. This is the gospel. We are called sons and daughters, given an inheritance that was never ours. God doesn’t just forgive us and say “it’s okay,” he calls us his precious children and heirs of his kingdom.