Synagogues were places representing the kernel of Jewish life. It was here that young Jewish children were ushered through their lives under various Jewish traditions: circumcision, bar mitzvah, marriage and death etc. It was here that the law and the prophets were read every Shabbat, but after reading the law for all of their Jewish consciousness, there were some that fulfilled the law by killing their messiah Acts 13:27; 15:21. This was a custom not only within the land of Israel, but within the synagogues of the diaspora, and a fine example of the synagogue found here at Sardis, in fact the largest synagogue ever excavated.
The exhortation for Sardis was to strengthen things that remain. There was from this statement forces at work that were diminishing the endurance of the brethren and sisters at Sardis. Primary amongst these was the spirit of the circumcision party Acts 10:45 RSV that was following Paul throughout the world, attempting to diminish his work. It was a demand to keep the law of Moses, and be circumcised or else you cannot be saved Acts 15:5. This call to measure up to commandments was a tradition first started by Simeon and Levi in Gen 34, who by deceit prevented gentiles from obtaining a place in the house of Jacob. But God was not willing to be frustrated, little ones were found within the house immediately 35:1 with the well-being given by Jacob for this purpose: John 4:4; 42. This spirit of the circumcision party was so aggressive in their activities that they were present in the Roman ecclesia even before Paul arrived to consolidate their faith, see Rom 2. In contrast to this spirit is grace. God giveth more grace would say James the champion of the Jerusalem ecclesia, and forefront in the battle with this spirit. James would speak of synagogue traditions, with the seating arrangements in James 2:1-5 reflecting this very spirit. Christ was not to finds their “works” perfect. What a challenge to those who felt justified by their application to the deeds of the law, Rev 3:2; Rom 4.
Sardis was noted to be the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. An important city in the Persian empire, the royal road commencing here ended in Susa and Persepolis. Remnants of the road can be seen outside the remaining ruins of Sardis today. This was the roads on which the posts were to be sent out. Esther 3:13,15; 8:10,14 and astonishing speeds were covered by changing horses and provision of victuals along the way. The reliability of the postal service under the Persians became the foundation for the motto found outside the James Farley postal office in New York and considered by some as the motto of the US postal service: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” The quotation is from Herodotus Histories 8.98 concerning the Persian posts.
The city was found of the banks of the river Pactolus, around 100km inland from Ephesus. Around 1km to the south from the synagogue complex in the lower city is the temple of Artemis at the foot of the acropolis on which the citadel of the city was once found. [see previous post]