Smyrna

OVERVIEW - The church at Smyrna was promised even more “tribulation” because of its past faithfulness in persecution – Revelation 2:8-11.

Greek Temple - Photo by Antonio Sessa on Unsplash
The city of 
Smyrna was a seaport some fifty-five kilometers northwest of Ephesus. It marked the start of a major road and trade route into the interior of the province. As a leading commercial center, the city prospered from its location and the importation of goods by sea. The Roman imperial cult was well-established and widespread in Smyrna. - [Greek Temple - Photo by Antonio Sessa on Unsplash].

The city was renowned for its beauty. On coins minted in the city, it claimed to be the “first city of Asia in size and beauty.” The origin of the Christian church in this town is unknown, and this is the only place in the New Testament where the city of Smyrna is named.
  • (Revelation 2:8-11) - And to the angel of the assembly in Smyrna write: These things declares the first and the last, who became dead and lived: I know your tribulation and destitution, neverthelessyou are rich, and the profane speech from among them who affirm that they themselves are Jews, and they are not, but a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear the things which you are going to suffer. Lo! the adversary is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried and may have tribulation ten days. Become faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what |the Spiritis saying to the churches. He that overcomes shall in nowise be injured by the second death.
Jesus opened this letter to the “angel” of Smyrna by stressing his position – He is “The First and the Last.” He has absolute authority over everything that transpires in the city and province, therefore the church has no reason to fear, regardless of appearances and circumstances. He has the “last” word on all things.

The Risen Christ “became dead and lived,” a reference to the opening vision of the book about the glorious “Son of Man” who stood among the “seven golden lampstands.” Although the church faced persecution and martyrdom, Jesus possessed the “keys of death and of Hades.”

Possibly, the name “Smyrna” is derived from the Greek word for “myrrh,” an ointment used in burial preparations. If so, and in this context, it possibly suggests martyrdom.

Jesus “knows” the condition of the congregation. From his perspective, it is “rich,” although its members live in poverty. Their impoverishment is due to the “slander from among them who affirm they are Jews and are not.” He knows their works - Not their good deeds, but their faithful testimony despite local opposition.

The church had endured “tribulation” because of its testimony. The Greek term for “tribulation” or thlipsis is the same noun in the clause, “You will have tribulation ten days”. The poverty of the congregation anticipated the economic program of the “beast from the earth” described in chapter 13 – the use of economic control to compel submission to its political and religious agendas - (Revelation 13:15-18).

The “slander” or “blasphemy” by local Jews suggests that members of the local synagogue had denounced Christians to local magistrates for alleged offenses to the political and civil order, accusations that resulted in legal prosecution - (blasphémia – Strong’s #G988).

Likewise, the “beast from the sea” had the “name of slander” or blasphémia upon its several heads, a mouth speaking “slanders” against God, and “they who tabernacle in heaven.” Later, the “Great Whore” sat on a “scarlet beast full of slanders” - (Revelation 13:1-6, 17:3).

Church Ruins - Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash
Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

False accusations against saints demonstrated how Satan “
slandered” believers, God, and the “Lamb.” These local accusers constituted a “synagogue of Satan” because Satan, the “Adversary,” was the force behind the legal harassment of the church. Although Roman authorities threw believers “into prison,” the source behind the action was the Devil.

Of the seven churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia received no rebuke or correction. Jesus admonished Smyrna to face boldly any tribulation that might come - (“Do not fear what you are going to suffer”). Already, the congregation had endured trials without wavering, but rather than reward the church for her past victories, Jesus announced an intensification in her trials - (“The Devil is about to cast some of you into prison that you may be tried and may have tribulation ten days”).
Some members would be cast into prison. In the Roman world, prison cells served as holding pens for accused criminals until their trial or execution. This reality is implied in the exhortation to “become faithful until death.”
The church would be tried and endure tribulation for “ten days.” Numbers in Revelation are figurative. The “ten days” alludes to the time when Daniel and his compatriots refused to eat food provided by the Babylonian king, food previously offered to idols. Like Smyrna, Daniel was “tried ten days.” The allusion is fitting. Several of the churches were struggling with false teachings that promoted “fornication” and “eating food offered to idols,” deceptions rejected by the church at Smyrna:
  • (Daniel 1:12-14) – “I pray you prove your servants ten days and let them give us vegetable food that we may eat, and water that we may drink: then let our countenances be looked upon before you, and the countenances of the youths who have been eating the delicacies of the king, and, as you will see, deal with thy servants. So then, he hearkened to them, according to this word, and proved them ten-days.”
Faithfulness in tribulation would result in “a wreath of life”. The Greek noun refers to a victor’s wreath, not to a royal crown or diadem. It represents victory, not royal authority, and a victory achieved through faithful endurance - (Revelation 3:11, 4:4, 12:1, 14:14).

The one who overcomes will not partake of the “second death,” a place identified with the “lake of fire.” Followers of Jesus “overcome,” but paradoxically, by enduring persecution and martyrdom as the result of their faithful witness - (Revelation 20:14).

In this letter, Jesus identified Satan as the driving force behind the persecution of the church, although he uses human agents and institutions to execute his plans. The battles waged on a cosmic level in the later visions of the book unfold in the daily struggles of the fledgling churches of Asia.




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