Revelation chapter 2 continued (The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches): Smyrna is the second letter in chapter two. Smyrna’s name means ‘Myrrh/ Martyr” and the conditions and characteristics of this church represent Christendom from about 100 A.D. to about 313 A.D. when Emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Toleration. This was a period when Christianity grew exponentially but Christians suffered great persecution. The city of Smyrna still exists today under the Turkish name of Izmir. It is about 40 miles north of ancient Ephesus and was a beautiful city during the time this letter was written. Ephesus was a great political center and Smyrna was a great commercial center as it was on a direct trade route from India and Persia to Rome. Smyrna had many fine buildings and wide paved streets as well as schools of science and medicine. The temple of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, and many other pagan temples existed then. There was also a number of apostate Jews living there. Smyrna is the birthplace of Homer, the blind poet who wrote the famous Iliad and Odyssey epics. Unfortunately it was also a place where Christians were both ostracized and persecuted for the cause of Christ. In 155 A.D. Polycarp, a student of the apostle John, was carried to the stadium in Smyrna and burned alive.
Jesus starts off His introduction with words of reassurance. He says, “These things saith the first and the last, which was dead and is alive” (2:8). This echoes part of His introduction to John in chapter one and is meant here to comfort the believers of Smyrna, many of whom would eventually be put to death for His name’s sake. He is essentially reminding them that He has the power of death and life. His words here are similar to those He spoke to Martha at Lazarus’ tomb when He told her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The first death which cometh to all men is not the end and born again Christians who die are guaranteed a resurrection and eternal life. Christ being alive is evidence that death is not final for the saved.
After His introduction, He starts off like all the other letters with the phrase, “I know thy works”. He commends them for their faithfulness even in the face of poverty and persecution. Smyrna had many trade guilds and most of the Christians there had been members of these guilds before converting to Christianity. After being saved however many were banned from the trade guilds and many suffered bankruptcy and poverty due to the loss of work. But notice that God sees them as rich. (2Corinthians 6:10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.) The local Jewish population had in it some apostates who actively sought to persecute the church. D r. Charles Ryrie writes: “The instigators of the persecution were apostate Jews who were in reality instruments of Satan. At the martyrdom of Polycarp (disciple of John the Apostle) in 155, these Jews eagerly assisted by gathering on the Sabbath wood and fagots for the fire in which he was burned” (Revelation, p. 23). Jesus says here they are of the synagogue of Satan.
He then warns them that they will face 10 days of tribulation. This likely doesn’t refer to actual days but rather either the 10 periods of persecution (Shown Below) or the 10 years of intense persecution under Emperor Diocletian. He tells them at the beginning of verse 10 to be fearless and at the end of the verse to be faithful unto death. We’ve been very blessed to live in a country of relative freedom where we can worship our Lord freely. That may not always be the case and this message is still important to us. If you get a chance pick up a copy of John Foxes’ Book of Martyrs. The ten periods of persecution are:
(a) Nero (64-68)—killed Peter and Paul.
(b) Domitian (81-96)—thought Christianity was atheistic. Killed thousands of believers. Banished John to Patmos.
(c) Trajan (98-117)—was the first to pass laws against Christianity. Burned Ignatius at stake.
(d) Pius (137-161)—killed Polycarp, disciple of John.
(e) Marcus Aurelius (161-180)—thought Christianity an absurd superstition. Beheaded the great writer and defender of the faith, Justin Martyr.
(f) Severus (193-211)—killed Origen’s father.
(g) Thracian (235-238)—brutal barbarian. Commanded all Christian leaders to die.
(h) Decius (249-251)—determined to exterminate Christianity.
(i) Valerian (253-260)—killed Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage.
(j) Diocletian (284-305)—last and most severe persecution. For ten years believers were hunted in caves and forests. They were burned, thrown to wild beasts, and put to death by every torture cruelty could devise. But Diocletian’s own wife and daughter accepted Christ.
Christ promises the overcomer that he will not be hurt of the second death which is the Lake of Fire. Who is the overcomer? 1John 5:4-5 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? That is you and I if you are one of His.
Jesus ends the letter the same as all the others with the phrase, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” In the old testament (Ex. 29) we’re told that part of the consecration of the High Priest included having the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot dipped with the blood of the lamb. This consecrated their mind, works, and walk. The things of the Lord are spiritually discerned my friends and Christ says here at the close “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches…” If you and I are to understand the word, we must have the light of the Holy Spirit touch our ear so we may hear what He would have us know.
“THINK ON THESE THINGS…”