Pompeii's ruins tell a tragic story of sudden death and destruction. The people living there didn’t realize they were situated on top of a plateau formed by an ancient lava flow from Mount Vesuvius, less than ten kilometres away.
The citizens of Pompeii lived a prosperous life for centuries with the expanding settlement coming under Rome’s influence in the fourth century B.C. The area grew to become not only a commercial and agricultural hub, but a popular resort with Cicero and Julius Caesar’s father-in-law owning villas in the area.
Attractions included an amphitheatre large enough to seat 20,000 spectators for gladiatorial contests, two large theatres for plays and concerts, shops of all kinds, elaborate vineyards and gardens, an enormous forum and many multistoried buildings.
Its people could worship at its many temples dedicated to the Roman pantheon and graffiti on the walls indicated successful gladiators were among the major celebrities of the day: “Celadus is the heartthrob of all the girls.” “The unbeaten Hermiscus was here.” Other graffiti urged citizens to vote for this or that candidate.
When aftershocks began to shake the city off and on for several years, Pompeians didn’t connect them with Mt. Vesuvius which, to their knowledge, had always been a peaceful mountain.
But in August of A.D. 79 the earthquake activity intensified and around noon on August 24 thousands of Pompeians were startled by a deafening roar. The top of towering Mt. Vesuvius suddenly vanished in a nuclear-scale explosion with red-hot pumice, ash and flames blasting kilometres high into the sky. The bright midday sun turned suddenly black, illuminated only by flashes of lightning and fiery trails of burning rocks as they crashed to the ground among the teeming, terrified people.
Within a short time, several feet of ash covered everything and throughout the night the ash continued to fall. By dawn the next day seven feet of pumice and ash covered much of Pompeii. Then early that morning Vesuvius delivered its final blows when three more superheated avalanches killed everyone that remained. A few Pompeians comforted each other as they died, frozen in embraces that would last for centuries. One person couldn’t escape the parallel with the biblical story and scribbled “Sodom and Gomorrah” on a wall.
As the centuries passed, Vesuvius erupted time and time again, covering the buried city with more layers of ash, further sealing Pompeii within its cold, gray tomb until its discovery and identification nearly 17 centuries later. As archaeologists excavated the ancient ruins, they found ample evidence of the moral climate of the city. Several dozen buildings have been identified as likely houses of prostitution, due to the explicit wall paintings and graffiti, and mosaics and decorations depicting all kinds of sexual activity were also found in many private homes.
Many of our cities today are no different from Pompeii. The Apostle Paul warned that just before Christ returns we would be living in a world awash with sin: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4).
Will we, like the doomed citizens of Pompeii, ignore the rumblings and tremors until it’s too late? Or will we heed the words of the Apostle Paul, as well as Jesus Christ’s warning in Luke 21:36: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The Good News magazine