“You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.” (Revelations 2:13). In “The Lost Letters of Pergamum”, by Bruce Longenecker, he takes the name found in Revelations and creates a fictional character in a world based two thousand years ago. Antipas is a Roman Civic leader who learns much about Christianity through Luke’s Gospel writings. He learns in Luke’s writings that Jesus is “the answer” for both him, and for the first century Greco-Roman world. In many ways the world Longenecker created is similar to that of the 21st century and in many ways it differs. The Lost Letters bring show how even in a different culture and time that people all have their own journey of learning of who Christ is and of what church is. The idea that God was a personal and loving God was a practically inexistent notion in the first century. It shocked people like Antipas that God would want to be involved in any random person’s life. Especially in the Roman world where citizens were taught that the Roman Emperor was god. Anyone who looked to a divine god instead of that given to them from their government could be sentenced to death.
This made the gospel to the first century Greco-Roman population extremely countercultural. It was almost like a fairy tale to them, but nothing built on truth or meant to believe in, or live by. Nobleman like Antipas did not like the gospel because it undermined people of high stature like them. God put all people on the same level because He said that all men are equal. In the letters Antipas started off very boastfully. He made sure that he knew that he was a nobleman, and a very wealthy one as that. It was funny seeing the change in Antipas throughout the letters as he became more humble the more and more he got to know Luke. While Antipas was in the midst of being saved he became more and more humble. Originally he thought of Christianity and Jesus Christ to be harmful to Roman society and to his social status. As he learned more about Jesus Christ and Christianity through Luke he learned that that was not true. Luke showed that Christians were not harmful to Roman society, but just bringing truth to the Romans.
Antipas began to view Christians as friends but was still not ready to call himself a Christian. Eventually after many letters back and forth with Luke and meetings with Christians, and despite what the Roman Empire thought, Antipas accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Antipas accepting Christ may have taken a long time, but his transformation was dramatic. Antipas ended up showing in an extreme way how big his faith was by giving up his life for his friend Demetrius. Before Antipas was saved, he would have never given his life for anyone. He was noble, and he was wealthy, he was above everyone, and owed nothing to anybody. This dramatic transformation in Antipas’ life is a huge example of how Jesus was the answer needed for all of the first century Greco-Roman world. After realizing what Jesus had done for him Antipas was a changed person, he no longer thought of himself as better than anyone else but was humble. He no longer cared what the government thought but of what God thought. This kind of change can only happen through the work of Jesus. Even in the Christians back then were not as out going about their faith. They loved Jesus, but had to hide their faith because of fear of their government.
On the other hands Antipas’ conversion was dramatic and wild, and he was unashamed of Jesus and the love that He showed. The Roman world and Antipas needed Jesus, he was “the answer”. They needed someone to love and they needed to be loved. Antipas testimony is an example of a gradual salvation. He wasn’t suddenly saved, but overtime and a lot of effort he became saved. This is so relevant to our modern 21st century world. So often we want things to happen quickly. I grew up in the church but was never truly saved. I was told that Christ died on the cross and rose again, and I knew all the bible verses but I never really believed it or accepted it. All of my friends were either saved young and automatically understood and believed it, or they were quickly and dramatically converted. It never seemed like a process for any of them, but it has been a process for me just like it was for Antipas. I think it’s a good reminder that God works in His own timing and His own ways. I had my own doubts about God that led me not to believe, and then more and more happened in my life that made me think that God wasn’t real or wasn’t a God I wanted anyways. Just like for the first century Greco-Roman’s the gospel message was a nice story for me, but never anything real, or life breathing. Just like I had my own reasons for not believing Antipas and the Romans had theirs.
They didn’t believe based on blasphemy told by their government and fear of the Emperor. Why believe something that could get you killed? It honestly doesn’t make sense, unless it becomes something more than a thing that will get you killed there is no reasonable explanation to believe. Luke was able to show Antipas that Jesus was more than something that could get him killed, but that He was “the answer”. Although the world portrayed in the Lost Letters was similar to the modern 21st century world in the fact that it shows that coming to faith is a process, and often times has its struggles, it also portrayed a world different than the one we live in today; at least the world we live in America. In America we are free to worship whatever God we want unlike two thousand years ago where people had to worship in “house churches” so they wouldn’t be found out by the authorities. It makes it a lot easier to apart of a community of believers when you can actively fellowship in your day to day activities, and not have to be in secret.
The idea of “house churches” that Antipas brings up in the Lost Letters is still extremely relevant in today’s world though. Many believers all over the world like in the Middle East, and China worship in “house churches” since it is illegal to worship Jesus in their countries. In the Lost Letters, Bruce Longnecker takes his readers back two thousand years to a world where the Gospel story was thought of as merely a fairy tale. In this world one man begins writing Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke. He slowly begins to learn about Christians and then about Christ, eventually converting to Christianity. His conversion was a process but his salvation was dramatic. He went from a boastful nobleman, to an extremely humble man who died for his faith. This world that Longnecker created is an excellent example even in the modern world of the process of conversion, and how dramatically God can work in a persons’ life.