The Where and the Why
There are some details that come from Bible study that don’t always appear to have a real bearing or application for our spiritual lives. As we study the life of Paul in particular, some of the places he visits are no longer there. Do you really need to know where Bithynia is? How about Lystra? Does it really matter if Paul wrote to the North Galatians or the Southern Galatians (Seriously, for some, this is a really big deal!)
But sometimes we can experience a more complete glimpse into the zeal and strategy of Paul when we look into the places he visits. This week I was surprised by a new possibility looking into what was most likely the final year of the apostle’s life—68 AD. We can be fairly certain that Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus in 67 AD.
The letter to Titus was probably written by Paul from Ephesus. Titus was leading the believers on the Island of Crete at that time.
In Titus 3:12, Paul gives his co-worker instructions regarding his plans for the upcoming winter, where he will launch another mission to send the gospel throughout the Roman Empire:
“I am planning to send either Artemas or Tychicus to you. As soon as one of them arrives, do your best to meet me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to stay there for the winter.”
Personally, I had no idea where Nicopolis was, or even if it still existed. Certainly it bore no historical significance. I could not have been more wrong!
Return with me to the year 31 BC. Before the first Roman Emperor, Augustus (formerly known as Octavion), led Rome's transformation from a Republic to an Empire after the assassination of his great uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar. In the previous decade, Octavion, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed what was called “The Triumvirate,” each ruling portions of the Roman Republic while warring with any challengers.
During that time, Mark Antony, known for his affair with the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, after impressive military victories, bestowed upon their children lands that did not belong to them–but to the Roman Republic and Parthia. In a twist that rivals an American soap opera, this action infuriated other Romans because the majority of those lands had already been given to Caesarion, a child Cleopatra claimed to have conceived with Julius Caesar. Antony declared Caesarion the rightful son of Caesar, giving him the title “King of kings.” Octavian took obvious offense because he was the legally adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar. You can’t make this stuff up!
This pronouncement by Antony upon Caesarion started a significant conflict. On September 2, 31 B.C., the battleships of Octavian clashed with Mark Antony’s fleet off the coast of Italy. Using smaller, more maneuverable ships, Octavian dealt a decisive blow to Antony and Cleopatra’s armada by sea. On land, Octavian’s general Titus Statilius Taurus forced Antony’s troops into total surrender. Known as the “Battle of Actium,” it was the turning point in Roman history. After Octavion’s victory, the senate bestowed upon him the title we all know him by: Caesar Augustus. Rome was no longer a republic but an empire ruled by a king.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Three years later, after the Battle of Actium, Caesar returned to the shores of Italy opposite Actium and founded a city to memorialize his momentous victory. He named it Nicopolis–“Victory City.” If Nicopolis is not familiar to you, the word it derives from probably is. You, in fact, probably own a pair of shoes associated with it—Nike, the Greek word for “victory.”
The Roman historian Suetonius informs us:
“To extend the fame of his victory at Actium and perpetuate his memory, he founded a city called Nicopolis near Actium, and provided for the celebration of games there every five years; enlarged the ancient temple of [his patron god] Apollo…”
It is in this Nicopolis–the monument city to Caesar Augustus’ strategic victory and newly minted dynasty–that Paul planned to winter (Titus 3:12). And herein lies the irony: from Caesar’s “Victory City,” Paul was strategically organizing the spread of the gospel about the true “King of Kings.” He called for Titus–who shares his name with Caesar’s famous general at the Battle of Actium–to meet him in Nicopolis.
Talk about zeal! Talk about boldness! He writes to Timothy during this same time:
1 Timothy 1:17
“All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.”
Taking that message into such hostile territory was certain to attract attention, which it probably did. Paul set in motion the evangelization of the entire Roman Empire, but doing so brought him to his final arrest that would lead to his ultimate “departure” point. He never let up. Filled with such a hope, may we always seek to know and serve the true King of Kings.