Why Turkey is the most important country in the world.
Since the New Testament first came to us in the Greek language, it’s natural to associate the books that follow the Gospels with Greece. I was reminded of their actual origin by a comment from our guide as we visited St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Istanbul, Turkey. “Much of the New Testament,” she said, “was written in Turkey or to Turkish people.” Remembering that the Roman province of Asia mentioned in the Bible is now called Turkey I realized she’s right.
Who Were They Writing To?
After the Gospels, we find the Book of Acts, 21 letters written by Paul, Peter, John, James and Jude, and the Book of Revelation. Following chapter 9, much of Acts took place in what is now Turkey. Of the letters, 11 were specifically addressed to churches there, and 2 others (1&2 Corinthians) were written there. Another 2, James and Jude, included Turkish addressees among their general distribution. And of course all 7 of the churches of Revelation are in Turkey. By contrast, one letter was written to Rome, then capital of the world, 5 to churches in Greece, and one each to Crete (Titus) and the widespread Messianic community (Hebrews).
What’s It Like Now?
Today Turkey is 95% Moslem, but its government is based on a western secular model and is controlled by pro-west military rather than Islamic religious interests. What is sure to become a flourishing tourist industry is in its infancy, but those who allocate funds for public works are beginning to realize the tremendous potential for revenue. Historical and religious sites are slowly receiving the attention necessary to attract tourist dollars.
What has to be one of the strangest political alliances in the world has brought Turkey and Israel together in a series of military and economic treaties. (Watch Turkey to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham; “I will bless those who bless you” Gen. 12:2-3). This alliance helps insure Israel’s security in the north, while increasing Turkey’s protection from attack by not so friendly Moslem neighbors who would like to see the military government replaced by one more sympathetic to the Islamic agenda.
For example, lacking the military resources to defend the 400-mile long boundary they share and attack Israel at the same time, Syria can not risk invading the Golan without first neutralizing Turkey. But attacking Turkey would bring Israel’s nuclear arsenal to bear, so it’s a stand-off.
Many political experts feel that as long as its government remains secular and pro-west, Turkey provides a balance of power in the Middle East that will prevent all-out war regardless of the outcome of the “peace talks.” For students of prophecy this means that Turkey is single handedly delaying the battle described in Ezekiel 38-39. Scholars equate Turkey with Beth Togarmah, listed in Ezekiel 38:8 as a participant in the Moslem coalition that attacks Israel in the latter days. If so, Turkey has to switch sides and renounce a dozen or so treaties. From a strategic point of view, Turkey is one of the most important countries in the world right now and really bears watching.
Why Visit Turkey?
These factors all combined to create in me a special interest in visiting Turkey. The proximity of the Greek island of Patmos (about 40 miles off the coast) made for an irresistible combination, prompting the notion of a “Revelation Tour.” The idea was to visit the sites of the 7 churches and then go to Patmos for a few days to get a feel for the place where Revelation was written. Since we were in the area, we threw in Istanbul, Miletus, Corinth, and Athens for good measure.
In my 6 tours of Israel, hosting nearly 300 participants, the best comment I heard on the value of visiting the Holy Land is that it “transforms the Bible from black and white to living color.” I was anxious to see if the same would hold true for Biblical sites outside Israel, and was not disappointed.
A Serendipitous Example
I wasn’t expecting much from Athens. But as I stood on Mars Hill and faced the Acropolis, that huge and intimidating symbol of pagan Greek wealth and power, I read again Paul’s address to the Areopagus, the “Supreme Court” of philosophical and religious thinking (Acts 16:22-34). I felt again the power of the gospel, a power that enabled one man, a Jew, to challenge a 400 year old religious system so entrenched that by some accounts there were over 30,000 statues of pagan gods in Athens. It was said that in Athens “a god is easier to find than a man.” And yet from that address a few men believed, a small congregation began, and a prominent member of the Areopagus, a man named Dionysius became its Bishop. This little congregation grew to become the denomination we now know as the Greek Orthodox Church.
This is just one example among many that impacted me as the Lord guided us across western Turkey and into Greece. I’ll touch on others as I chronicle our visit to the Seven Churches of Revelation next time. Selah 07-16-03