7 Churches of Revelation — The History of Christianity in Asia Minor

7 Churches of Revelation — The History of Christianity in Asia Minor


Here is another great museum in Istanbul — the
Hagia Sophia, formerly a Church, then a Mosque, and today a Museum. A museum from which we
can learn an interesting lesson from history that gives us a view of Christianity that
stretches from the Roman world to the world in which we live today…
As we enter the Hagia Sophia, these doors, like many of the other artifacts here, are
rich in ancient history. But the thing I find interesting is that, immediately, you are
welcomed with the sign of the cross and the name of Jesus Christ. Now, that takes on particular
meaning when you remember that these doors are from two centuries before the birth of
Christ from the town where the apostle Paul, the writer of many of the letters of the New
Testament, where he was born; the town Tarshish. These doors were originally on the temple
to Apollos, the pagan god who represented the power of the Roman Empire. Then they were
taken down and brought here and put as the entry doors, and interestingly enough, ascribed
with the cross and the person of Jesus Christ to mark this as a cathedral or a temple to
the living, resurrected Son of God. This beautiful array of lighting reminds me
of the bold claim that Jesus Christ made when He came into a very dark world. He said, “I
am the light of the world.” And He spoke that into a world in the dark grip of gods and
goddesses and massive temples, images of wood and stone that could not help, could not hear,
could not heal, could not see. But more than that, this massive cathedral stands today
as a monument to the rise and the fall of Christianity here in Asia Minor in the nation
that we now know as Turkey. On this very site, soon after Constantine,
the emperor of the Roman Empire, declared Christianity legal…then it’s a few years
after that, in 360 A.D., they built a Christian church here to the Logos, to Jesus Christ.
Rioters burned it and looted it, but you couldn’t hold these Christians back. They built another
one, and that one was burned and looted by rioters as well. Then, in 532, plans were
made to build this massive statement to Christianity, and this Hagia Sophia…Jesus Christ, the
Holy Wisdom of God Cathedral…stood here as the center of Christian influence throughout
all of the East, all of the Byzantine Empire, until 1453. Then all things changed.
By the year 1453 A.D., all of Asia Minor…all of Turkey had been conquered by the Ottoman
Turks, and Islam had become the religion of the region. But Constantinople, what we now
call Istanbul, was the only holdout. In 1453, Mehemet II, the sultan…victorious sultan,
marched into Constantinople and took it captive and changed this monument to Jesus Christ,
the Holy Wisdom of God, into a mosque to celebrate the religion of Islam. As you can see behind
me, the calligraphy signatures that date way back to the 15th century were placed throughout
the building. And in a sense, then, this represents, as well, the fall of Christianity in Asia
Minor. Although, for political advantage, since the Pope was trying to take over the
Eastern church, Mehemet II decided to protect the patriarch and to protect Eastern Orthodoxy,
and so he built a small church for him on the Bosphorous, and even today, there remains
the presence of the Eastern Orthodox church and the headquarters of the patriarch here
in Istanbul. But that was the change that turned the tide…that basically took the
influence of Christianity out of Asia Minor. This ancient pulpit that, interestingly enough,
decorates the patio of a coffee shop just outside the Hagia Sophia, is probably from
the second church that was built on this site in about 390 A.D. But it’s a reminder to me,
as a follower of Jesus Christ, that the thing that has been central to believers throughout
all of the centuries has been the proclamation of the Word of God; that the healing, transforming
power of God speaking to us through His Word is what we hold on to and cling to. Now, I’m
sure that many who don’t follow Jesus Christ wonder why it is that we’re so steady and
so determined. Well, it’s because God’s truth has gotten a grip on our hearts. Quite frankly,
it’s encouraging for me to know that I don’t just float through my generation alone, that
I have deep roots in the history of the church represented by the proclamation of the Word
of God from a pulpit just like this so long ago.

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