In 1969, NASA sent the first humans to the moon. The program was named Apollo. The spacecraft that landed humans on the moon was Apollo 11. It has been 50 years since man landed on the moon and today, NASA is planning to send the first woman and the first person of colour into the lunar surface. The name given to the program is Artemis. The plan to launch Artemis I was in the news recently. According to Greek mythology, Apollo and Artemis are the twins born to the Greek god Zeus. Apollo was the twin brother of Artemis. It is no wonder then that NASA chose Artemis, the name of a Greek goddess this time round as they plan to send the first woman into lunar surface. Artemis is also known as Diana to the Roman world.
Although such names and stories come to us from Greek mythologies, the ancient people worshipped Artemis, the Greek goddess of fertility. A major religious attraction then was the Temple of Artemis found in Ephesus. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was the size of two football fields. After the first temple was destroyed, it was rebuilt. It was 425 feet long, 220 feet wide and sixty feet high with 127 pillars of Persian marble and some overlaid with gold and jewels. Under the Greeks, worship of Artemis became an extensive religious cult.
Ephesus was the administrative centre of the province of the Roman government. It was an important city with magnificent buildings, roads leading to other cities and a melting pot of nationalities and exotic cults. During the time, it was known as one of the 3 greatest cities in the region together with Smyrna and Pergamum. It also had an important harbour which housed the cult of Artemis. The power of this cult is recorded in Acts 18:23ff when the whole city chanted the name of the goddess Artemis when Paul boldly spoke about the kingdom of God. Ephesus was also known as the guardian or keeper or the temple of Artemis. Imperial cult also flourished in Ephesus and temples were built to emperors. It also had a major stadium, marketplace and stadium. Ephesus was rich and an important city in the region.
According to scholars, the Christian church was founded by Aquila and Priscilla around 52 AD when Paul left them there (Acts 18:18-22). Paul spent some time there on his next missionary journey. Later, Timothy served there. Paul also wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. It was to this city Ephesus that John was commissioned to write the first letter.
Reading Revelation chapters 2-3, the letters written to the 7 churches in ancient cities from the comforts of our 21st century homes might seem totally out of touch for some of us. But the issues they faced may not be very different from what we face today too. The Christians in the first century during John’s time were not simple kampong people or peasants in the countryside. They lived in major cities of their time perhaps like Singapore. They also struggled with issues of how Christians can be better witnesses in the political and cultural life of city population they lived in. In fact, they faced persecution from Roman officials even to the point of death.
Each letter contains a message – instructions, warnings, and commands from the risen Christ so that as disciples of Jesus Christ, believers can remain faithful and live likewise even in trying times. Like us today, the early church believers were also a minority and lived in an environment of conflicting religious pluralism. They lived among hostile Jewish synagogues, pagan religions, imperial cult, and this would make them feel like outsiders in their own place. To be a faithful witness for Christ meant they would have to say no to pagan practices. This could lead to serious consequences as they would be seen as people against Rome. Not only that, but churches were also plagued by external and internal conflicts. Some came claiming to be apostles. Jesus warned that false teachers would come. Paul also warned Timothy about false teachers in Ephesus. Groups mentioned in the letters like Nicolaitans, Balaam and Jezebel came to gain the loyalty of the churches by encouraging them to accommodate to the culture around them. We also face challenges from the world around us to accommodate to the culture around us. How are believers to respond and continue to live as faithful witnesses to a broken world?
The challenge then and now remains the same. We need the authoritative voice of the risen Christ who rules and walks among us to speak to us afresh again. God has spoken and is speaking to us again. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7)
God Has Spoken By His Prophets
Franz Joseph Haydn | George Wallace Briggs © Words: 1953. Renewal 1981 The Hymn Society (Admin. by Hope Publishing Company) Music: Public Domain
God has spoken by His prophets
Spoken His unchanging word
Each from age to age proclaiming God
The One the righteous Lord
In the world’s despair and turmoil
One firm anchor holds us fast
God is King His throne eternal
God the first and God the last
God has spoken by Christ Jesus
Christ the everlasting Son
Brightness of the Father’s glory
With the Father ever one
Spoken by the Word incarnate
God of God ere time was born
Light of Light to earth descending
Christ as God in human form
God is speaking by His Spirit
Speaking to our hearts again
In the ageless word expounding
God’s own message now as then
Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith yet standing fast
God abides His word unchanging
God the first and God the last
(Note: All resources from various commentaries and class notes)