What Does It Mean?

The scriptures weren’t just using generic metaphors in speaking to the churches of the day. These were images and descriptions that were genuinely connected to each city’s geography, culture, and history during that time period.

By Suzanne Behr

“But what does it mean?”

This was the recurring phrase our Muslim tour guide John (affectionately called “St. John” by us) continually repeated as we toured the Seven Revelation Churches which are all located in the modern nation of Turkey. As we moved from city to city and read the Revelation scriptures associated with each one, he would share something about the text and always ask:

“But what does it mean?”

What does the sacred writing mean when the Lord told the Laodiceans he wished they would be either hot or cold instead of lukewarm? What does it mean when he told the church in Pergamum that to him who overcomes he would receive a white stone with a new name on it (Revelation 2:17)?

John was an exceptionally trained tour guide and gave us a first-rate history lesson of each city, along with its culture, temples and socioeconomic backgrounds. I learned quite a lot—like those white stones were often used as ticket entries to special events, and lukewarm water was distributed in clay pipes throughout Laodicea by mixing the cold water coming into the city from the mountain springs and the hot water on the other side of the city from the thermal springs in Hierapolis.

The scriptures weren’t just using generic metaphors in speaking to the churches of the day. These were images and descriptions that were genuinely connected to each city’s geography, culture, and history during that time period.

It was captivating.

Let me tell you a little bit about our trip. At the beginning of our trip we ministered in Istanbul at the Church of the Resurrection Anglican. They held services in a rented, beautiful old Armenian church. The majority of Armenian churches are either in ruins or repurposed due to the systematic extermination of Armenians during, and after, WWI. This annihilation by the Ottoman Empire (called “The Great Crime”) included a million Christians and precipitated the coining of the word “genocide”.

During the first weekend at the church, we held seminars where each of us preached, shared and spent time praying for the saints in Istanbul to encourage them. It was a large church, about 50 people. It is estimated that only 15–20 evangelical churches exist in Istanbul today, a city of 15 million people. That means only 0.01% of the city—the center of the Christian world in medieval times—is evangelical. If you include Orthodox churches in that percentage, just 0.2% of the whole nation of Turkey’s population is Christian!

It’s hard to grasp really. What would daily life be like living as such a minority, and a disdained, persecuted minority at that? Turkish Christians seem very isolated from the larger Church of Jesus Christ. They have little support and feel the loneliness of detachment. There are a thousand times more Christians in China then there are in Turkey, which was the “Bible Belt” of the first 400-500 years of Christianity.

Turkey was the bedrock of Christianity, and an important part of the foundational faith you and I stand on today. If time periods of the Church were visible like stratified formations in an excavated mountainside, Turkey would be the bottom layer, the first deposit of grit, faith and endurance in Jesus Christ. You might not realize it, but we are building our modern day churches upon Turkish Christians’ faith, their sacrifice, and their blood.

The Christians we ministered to in Istanbul and Adana were loving, hospitable and warm. They graciously put us up in their houses, fed us, engaged us, and kindly smiled at my terrible pronunciation of simple Turkish phrases. Yet I always sensed a sadness, a loss and a separation. With so few fellow believers, their spiritual lives seemed sequestered in some way.

With so few Christian men, how would the single women of the church get married? With so few churches, how could their collective voices be heard in protest of religious discrimination and ostracization?

“But what does it mean?”

It means that our Turkish brothers and sisters need our encouragement.

They need our love. They need to know they’re not alone. They need to know but that we are with them, praying for them, and thanking them for not retreating, but keeping the faith as the mighty remnant in Asia Minor. This is even truer today now that ISIS is methodically driving out and killing Christians who live in neighboring Syria and the Middle East.

“But what does it mean?”

It means that we we can show love to the Turkish Christians with our cards of encouragement, with our gifts of money, with our prayers for strength, peace, health and loving relationships.

Another phrase our tour guide John would often say is: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.” We always laughed when he said this over the microphone from the bucket seat in the front of the van. Christ is our true captain, and he commanded us: “Love one another like I have loved you” (John 13:34).

So don’t be a distant relative; they are your brothers and sisters. Consider even going yourself to love on them in a real tangible way. We can be the arms of Jesus through our embrace, and the answer to their prayers through our listening ears and gifts of resources. They need our support and our affirmation that we haven’t forgotten them.

Suzanne Behr is currently the R&D Manager at Sercel-GRC in Tulsa, OK. She holds an MBA and MS Degree in Engineering, as well as a Certificate in Theology and Ministry from Princeton. She has written and led Bible studies for most of her life and founded and directed a college women’s mentoring program for five years. She is an active member at Church of the Holy Spirit Anglican. Suzanne is originally from NY, but has lived in Tulsa for many years now. She is most passionate about making God’s Word relevant to young adults and today’s culture.

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