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Modern Lessons from Ancient Pompeii

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This summer, tens of thousands of Britons have marveled at the British Museum’s “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum” exhibit, which powerfully depicts the conditions in 79ad just before those ancient Italian cities were destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius.


The exhibit will close on September 29, but its lessons should remain with us. What parallels exist between Pompeii and modern-day Britain? Does Britain’s future in any way resemble Pompeii’s past?

A Day of Terror

For some time prior to the eruption, tectonic plates rumbled underfoot, yet the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum were indifferent to the dangers lurking within Mount Vesuvius, just a stone’s throw away.

Finally, after about 16 years of rumbling, Mount Vesuvius could no longer contain the mounting pressure caused by superheated gases, pumice and other rocks. On August 24, 79ad, the volcano bellowed and belched forth an eruption column of scorching material that rose and hovered 19 miles aloft—visible for hundreds of miles around.

When the column collapsed, 2,000 lives were reduced to ashes within a day. The once-thriving cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under a mountain of incinerated residue and rock. Millions of tons of debris encased the cities in a time capsule waiting to be uncovered 17 centuries later.

What was life like for the citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum before those dark hours? What can the destruction of these cities teach us about today’s Britain, and the rest of the world? How is it relevant today? The answers to these questions are vital.

Frozen in Time

In 1748, a surveying engineer began to unearth the area around the destroyed cities. What was found has since astonished the world. Beneath thick layers of ash and sediment, 13 to 20 feet deep, slept these ancient cities—frozen in time—appearing just as they did nearly 1,700 years before.

This summer, the British Museum in London partnered with the Archaeological Superintendency of Naples and Pompeii to display more than 250 objects unearthed from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Record crowds came to learn from this detailed unveiling of first-century Roman life.

The museum displayed artifacts such as pitchers, baking pans, elegant vases, well-crafted furniture and ornate paintings. The exhibit showcased the sharp contrast between the lives of opulence and leisure some in these cities enjoyed, and the abject poverty and trampled dignity in which others lived. The cities were host to Roman baths, bars and brothels—where slavery, sexual licentiousness and pleasure-seeking were the order of the day. Visibly, this environment of unbridled desires and fulfilments was much like ours today.

Drunkards of Ephraim

Is it fair to draw a parallel between ancient Pompeii and modern Britain? Consider what the prophet Isaiah wrote about the nation of Ephraim. As regular readers of Tomorrow’s World know, modern Britain can trace its heritage to the ancient Israelite tribe of Ephraim, named after a son of Joseph (Genesis 35:22–26; 41:51–52). Isaiah wrote: “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valleys, to those who are overcome with wine!” (Isaiah 28:1). This is an apt description of Britain today, where, according to the British National Health Service, 24 percent of adults in 2007 were classified as hazardous drinkers. More than one million alcohol-related hospital visits were recorded in 2011 alone.

One of Pompeii’s primary gods was Bacchus (known alternatively as Dionysus or Dionysos), a Greek god of wine and of drunkenness. Historian Mary Beard writes that “the god Dionysus (or Bacchus), [is] a well-known symbol in the ancient world of wildness, intoxication and lack of restraint” (Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town, p. 134).

Pompeii’s culture of intemperance is legendary, yet it seems modern-day Ephraim is stumbling down much the same path. God said Ephraim was drunk with wine and, as the latter part of Isaiah 28:7 explains, “they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.” Britain has lost its way and its purpose. The once great and mighty colonizing empire has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory. Indeed, Britain’s birthright blessings are diminishing!

Trembling Under Our Feet

The root of Britain’s national decline is a condition that mirrors key aspects found in the ancient city of Pompeii—a condition noted even by outside observers. A Russia Today article recently asserted, “UK men are in the grip of a ‘crisis of masculinity’ fuelled by boozing and consumerism amid the financial crisis... Pornography and ‘hyper-masculinity’ are propagating a ‘Viagra and Jack Daniels’ culture” (“Economic crisis sparks ‘heartless’ culture in British males,” May 15, 2013). The British are turning away from the God of the Bible and—by going after other gods of materialism, lust, greed and drunkenness—hastening a day of reckoning.

In Matthew 24, Jesus Christ on the Mount of Olives delivered what is known as the “Olivet Prophecy,” describing the signs that would precede His return to the earth. He said, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (v. 37).

So, how were the days of Noah? “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (vv. 38–39).

In the days of Noah, the people were doing ordinary things until, out of nowhere, everything changed. Water swallowed the ungodly. Something similar happened to the inhabitants of Pompeii, when a fiery flood rained down from Vesuvius’ sky and destroyed their famed city.

Will You Heed the Warning?

Bible prophecy reveals a similar destruction awaiting Ephraim, modern-day Britain. Unless modern Ephraim repents of its personal and national sins—of transgressing God’s law, the Ten Commandments—its destiny is bleak.

Thousands in Pompeii and Herculaneum felt trembling under their feet years in advance of Vesuvius’ fury. They had warning, but did not heed. You, as a reader of this magazine, are reading a warning message of a time of trouble set to unfold at the end of this age. Will you heed that warning? Will you repent and change?

Or will you turn a blind eye and ignore the warning, like those who perished in Pompeii? The choice is yours. May God help us remember—and learn from—the destruction of Pompeii.

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