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8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things says the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive;

9 I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

10 Fear none of those things which you will suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.

11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death.

 

PART 2

 

*** Recipient -> “To the Angel of the Church in Smyrna” ***: Once again, the letter is addressed to the leader of the church, but applicable to all the members. Please see the comments in study #9#12, and #14.

*** Sender -> “The first and the last, who was dead, and is alive” ***: Jesus comes to the Church in Smyrna as one they can identify themselves with. All the things the Smyrneans are suffering, Jesus suffered as well. He was persecuted by pagan Romans, as well as Jews. He was persecuted to the point of death. His body was even prepared for burial with a mixture of myrrh, as per Jewish custom (John 19:39-40). But, the reason Smyrneans do not need to be afraid is because He resurrected, and is alive. This description of Jesus as the sender is exactly what John heard when he fell at Jesus’ feet in Revelation 1:17-18: “[…] Then he placed his right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, am alive for ever and ever! […]”. Please see study #10 for more details on this passage.

*** Assessment -> “I know…” ***: Jesus knows first hand what the church is going through:
Affliction: The sufferings the church in Smyrna was going through were monumental. The Greek word for affliction is thlipsis, which means “restricting, compressing, rubbing, confining, inescapable and crushing pressure”. Paul and Timothy experienced this affliction while in Asia (2 Corinthians 1:8-9): “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."

Poverty: Jesus is here recognizing that the church is lacking in material goods. Even though the church was located in one of the richest cities in Asia, the members were destitute, very likely due to the extreme state of persecution they were under. And yet He says “but you are rich”. They were rich in the grace of God. They were rich through the trust in His word. They were faithful to God “to the point of death”. Knowing Jesus in such a personal and close way, as evidenced by their willingness to die for Him, was their comfort. Once again they can relate to Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9): "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

Slander: Jesus understands that the church is being severely opposed by those "who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan”. Here we see the contrast between the the two groups who at some point had been chosen to be God’s people. On one side, we have the ones who “say they are Jews”. On the other hand, we have the Christian church. Just because you say you are something, doesn’t mean you actually are. You can trick other people, but you cannot trick God. As it was with the church in Ephesus, it is very likely that the church in Smyrna was also formed by Greeks and Jews. And yet, non-Christian Jews accused and persecuted the church, including its Jewish members. Paul lived this same situation more than once, where Jews would instigate persecution and stir up the crowds against those preaching the gospel (Acts 13:50; 17:13). Revelation 2:9 states it very clearly that those who oppose the ones belonging to the body of Christ, actually belong to the body of Satan.

*** Appeal -> “Stop fearing; tribulation is coming; but remain faithful” ***: We would imagine if news of extremely dangerous events were coming our way, fear would increase. Even though Jesus is saying there is more tribulation to come, He is NOT telling the people to have less fear. He tells them “stop being afraid”. There is no need for fear because they are on the winning side. It makes us think of Psalm 23:4: ”Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The church in Smyrna was already under an unbearable 'restricting and confining pressure', and they were being told they were about to suffer even more. Satan would cast some of them into prison, and they were going to have tribulation for 10 days. There are a few Bible passages that can help us understand the meaning of “10 days”. In Genesis 24:55 and 1 Samuel 25:38, we read the mention of 10 days as being a short time. But two passages seem to be very relevant in terms of “being tested” and “keeping the faith”. Daniel and his friends went through a 10-day test period while making a bold statement in favor of their God, that they would not defile themselves with unclean food (Daniel 1:8-20). Another significant 10-day period is the period between Jesus’ ascension and the Pentecost. The disciples along with "the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” spent that time in constant prayer (Acts 1:14). The 10 days for Daniel, and also for the disciples must have felt like an eternity. Daniel’s unfailing trust in God carried him through the testing period. He was sure about God’s deliverance. The disciples, through much prayer, and being together in one accord, strengthened their faith, received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and started their ministry. Jesus did deliver unpleasant news about Smyrna's impending tribulation. But He also gave them a promise: to remain faithful even if they had to lay down their lives, and He would give them the crown of life. The Greek word for this crown is stephanos, which is a crown of victory. This was the type of crown given to the athletes winning the Olympic games held in Smyrna. The other Greek word for crown is diadēma, which is the royal crown. The crown promised here is the stephanos, not the diadēma. The stephanos is mentioned in other texts of the New Testament (2 Timothy 4:8;  1 Peter 5:4), and James 1:12: "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Smyrneans would no longer be known by their Crown of Smyrna, which was made of death. They would be given a Crown of Victory made of Life. And that was reason enough to stop fearing.

*** Call to hear the Spirit -> The Spirit says to the churches ***: The message of “don’t fear, I will be with you from tribulation to victory” was to be heard by all churches. There are no excuses not to hear this call. Please see the notes on study #14.

*** Promise -> To the one who overcomes ***: The one who overcomes will not go through the second death. Revelation 20:14 and 21:8 say that “the lake of fire is the second death”. The lake of fire is where Satan, the beasts, and those whose names are not in the book of life will be thrown to receive their final sentence for their rebellion against God (Revelation 20:10). It means eternal death. The church should not be concerned or fear the first death, because it is temporary. It is like being asleep.The Bible says that the dead in Christ (the ones who had fallen asleep) will rise again on the Day of Christ’s coming (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). On the account of Stephen’s death, the Bible tells us that he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60). No one really wants to suffer and die, as we were created for life. But, we live in an imperfect, sinful world, where death is a reality. But death stops being a reason for fear because through the faith in Jesus, Christians have the knowledge of falling asleep in the Lord and waking up with perfect bodies in the twinkling of an eye, for the Glory of Christ when He comes again (1 Corinthians 15:50-54). Eternal life is in fact at hand. And the second death cannot touch those who have chosen to receive the crown of life.

*** Church history view and prophetic application ***: The prophetic view of this church fits the time of severe persecution of the Christians under the Roman Empire during the second and third centuries. This period of persecution intensified in 303 AD, when Emperor Diocletian launched an empire-wide strike to eliminate the Christians. Diocletian died in 305, but his plan of total annihilation of Christianity proceeded until 313, when Emperor Constantine issued a decree of toleration ending Christian persecution. This extreme time of persecution lasted for exactly 10 years. Taking the 1 day = 1 year Biblical principle of prophecy (Ezekiel 4:6-7; Numbers 14:34; Luke 13:32), we here have the 10 days of tribulation that Jesus mentioned in the letter to the church in Smyrna.

*** Overview ***: The church in Smyrna was also a good church. But it was very poor, persecuted, and being crushed under the pressures of the pagan society the members were in. Just as it was with the extraction of the myrrh resin, the church was being marked to the core with the sharp knife of persecution. The more cuts, the better would be the collection of the essence that gives origin to a fragrant and pleasant mixture. The intense grinding of the resin would result in the finest myrrh powder. This church did not receive any rebuke from Jesus. Nothing bad is said about them. He encouraged the church to stand firm on the faith they already had, even if that cost their life. Those who were not afraid of dying for their beliefs in Christ received two promises: they would be crowned with a victory crown made of life, and would not be among those receiving the eternal death sentence. The message to this church talks about persecution, tribulation, imprisonment, and death. It seems to be very grim, but in reality it is a message of hope, strengthening, and reassurance. When we truly become followers of Christ, we can expect persecution and pressures from those outside the church, and even from those who are self-appointed holy people but that do not actually follow the Testimony of Jesus. Through the letter to the church in Smyrna, we can know that Jesus also suffered persecution and rejection. He was even betrayed by a so called close friend (Matthew 26:50). But Jesus remained connected to God all the way to death, and He conquered death. Under the worst of the worst conditions, it is still possible to remain faithful and not lose sight of what is important. Prison, tribulation and dying in Christ are a small price to pay when the prize at the end of the testing period is Eternal Life.

8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things says the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive;

9 I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

10 Fear none of those things which you will suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.

11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death.

 

PART 1

 

*** Historical setting ***: Smyrna was a very beautiful and rich city, about 35 miles from Ephesus. Today it is known as Izmir, Turkey. The first settlements of that region date back to 3000 BC, and throughout ancient times, Smyrna was a highly influential city-state of Ionia. Homer, the ancient Greek author of the Iliad and Odyssey, was one of its most famous residents. Smyrna was destroyed around 600 BC by king Alyattes. Alexander the Great envisioned the restoration of the city around 340 BC, and king Lysimachus carried the restoration to completion. The city was famous for their “Crown of Smyrna”, which referred to the hill Pagus. The top of the hill was the acropolis, and around that hill there were many pagan temples, rich homes, and prominent buildings. All those buildings around it gave the hill the appearance of a crown. Smyrna had a port, an acropolis, a gymnasium, a large theater, and at some point held an Olympic Festival. The restored city had large paved roads, and rectangular city blocks. The population is calculated to be up to 200,000 by the time John was writing to the churches. Smyrna competed with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “First of Asia”, which was inscribed in their coins.

The name Smyrna has its origins on the word myrrh, which is the resin, or essential oil, of a Commiphora tree. This resin is a waxy natural gum extracted by making several cuts in the bark of the tree, all the way to the sapwood. The tree then “bleeds” the resin. This resin hardens, and by grinding it, it is made into a powder. Myrrh is a very fragrant substance, and can be used to make perfume and medicine, and more importantly, a mixture for preparing the body for burial. Myrrh was the main export of Smyrna in ancient times.

Smyrna developed a very close relationship with Rome, and was the first to build a temple for the goddess Dea Roma, in honor of Rome, in 195 BC. In 23 BC, Smyrna won the right to build a temple of the Emperor Nero. Another Smyrnean goddess was Cybele. Her statue shows her sitting on a throne, with her feet on the sea, and a crown on her head. Her image was one of the most common pictures on some of the Smyrnean coins.

Emperor worship was something that was wide-spread throughout Asia, starting with Julius Cesar, including Caligula, and all the way to Domitian (time of the Revelation letters), who titled himself “lord and god”. Every year, Roman citizens had to participate in some pagan rituals in order to receive a certificate that stated their allegiance and worship to the Emperor. The issue Rome had was not with worshiping the true God. Romans were a polytheist society. One more God would not make that much difference. The issue arrived when a person refused to acknowledge the emperor as god. This refusal was considered an insult to the Empire, and resulted in punishment. Usually those people were placed in the arena with some wild beasts for entertainment of the masses, or were burned to death. Judaism was an officially recognized religion. That's why the Jewish people were exempt of such oaths of allegiance. The Romans knew the Jews lived in conformity with the roman rules, and were not disturbing the Roman order. Christianity, on the other hand, was not an acceptable religion in the first three centuries, and so the Christians at that time suffered severe persecution by both pagans and Jews.

*** Biblical view ***: The church in Smyrna is only mentioned in the book of Revelation, and receives the shortest of the seven messages. Much of what is known today about the people in the church there, is through writings of early Christians, such as Polycarp and Irinaeus. Polycarp (AD 69 – 155), was the bishop of Smyrna. It is believed that he was ordained and trained under John himself. History says that Polycarp was one of the first martyrs. According to tradition, he was tied to a pole when he was 86, to be burned. But he was stabbed instead since the flames never really touched him. Either way, burned or stabbed, he died because he would not blaspheme the name of Jesus.

The persecution of the Christians by the Jews is mentioned in the Bible. It started on the day of Stephen’s stoning. Acts 8:1 says: "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." Stephen was the first martyr, at a pivotal moment in the history of the Christian church. Saul, who later converted and became the apostle Paul, was there at Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7:58). Saul was one of the fiercest persecutors of Christians, and was destroying the church by dragging people out of their homes and putting them in prison (Acts 8:3). Interestingly enough, it was this persecution, which started with the stoning of Stephen, that helped the spread of the gospel throughout the world very quickly. A great number of Jews and Greeks became believers this way (Acts 11:19-21).

Throughout the New Testament, the theme of persecution is frequently mentioned in Paul’s letters. He suffered persecution himself, so he knew that he would not be the only one to go through hard times. He said: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

Jesus ended the Beatitudes with this saying: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12). What Jesus says in this passage reminds us of what He is saying to the church in Smyrna. He is saying that suffering persecution for His name is not only a blessing, but also a reason to "rejoice and be glad". This attitude that Jesus calls the believers to have, is the exact opposite of fear. The reason we are able to not fear is not something that comes from ourselves. Based on our own nature, we will have fear. But when we are deeply connected to God, like the "prophets were before [us]", we receive a supernatural ability to endure anything: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).

*** Overview ***: The church in Smyrna lived in a contrasting reality. The church was located in a free city, and yet it was persecuted. The city was rich, and yet the church was extremely poor. Their society was lacking respect for the true God, and yet the church was spiritually rich. This contradicting situation doesn't end there. The church received a letter from Jesus saying there would soon come harsh persecution, and yet He is saying "do not be afraid". Jesus is saying to the overcomer: you may die in your trials, but you will be crowned with eternal life. The key to understand this apparently conflicting situation, embrace it, and overcome it is stated in verse 10: "be faithful unto death". In the words of Jesus Himself: "[...] Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? [...]" (Matthew 16:24-26).

   
   
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