Jesus wrote letters to seven churches in Asia. One of those letters was to the church in Smyrna. Obviously, these letters are for you and me because we are the church. We know that the letters apply to the actual churches in that day to whom they are addressed, to the seven different types of churches that have existed throughout all church history, and to seven types of churches that exist today.
SEVEN CHURCH AGES
We also see that these seven letters as well refer to seven different church ages. We are going through them chronologically. This study reveals that what is written in the letters applies in a powerful way to what has unfolded in church history over the last 2000 years.
THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA
We do not know much about the actual church that was in Smyrna. We do know some things about the city of Smyrna. This city was a major commercial city. It was founded three centuries before Christ by Alexander the Great. It was a busy and prosperous city as it was the commercial center of Asia minor. This city was on the trade route from India and Persia to Rome, and so consequently when people traveled through they would trade as they stopped for a bit. They have done some archaeological excavations and they found a lot of different coins from many different areas. This indicates that the city itself was a wealthy city. There was at that time as well a Jewish segment within the city but by all indications they were very neglectful of spiritual things.
The thing that stands out about the church at Smyrna and the church age of Smyrna is that they were a faithful church under persecution. The word Smyrna is a very interesting word as well. In that word you can hear the word myrrh. The root of the word Smyrna means “bitter” as is myrrh. Myrrh is a tree resin with a bitter taste that was crushed and used in perfume, in incense, and as a preservative in burial. Because it was used so much to wrap bodies for burial, it became known as a symbol of death. It is interesting to note that it was one of the three gifts brought to Jesus by the Wise Men. (See Matthew 2:11) All three gifts pictured something about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His mission. The gold symbolized His deity and His kingship; the frankincense symbolized His priesthood and His offering of Himself for our sins, which was a sweet smelling savor to our Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:2); and the myrrh symbolized His suffering and death on the cross.
The Smyrna Period of church history is probably the greatest time of persecution the Church has ever known. This period covers a time between about 100 A.D. to 312 A.D. That is a period of about 212 years in which the church was under intense persecution. Due to the faithful preaching of the apostolic church, Satan unleashed a massive attempt to obliterate the church. Satan was obviously worried about his worldwide godless empire that he was building. However, the more persecuted the church became, the more the church overcame the tendency to leave its first love. In fact, the church grew under persecution.
SATAN LEARNS A POWERFUL LESSON
From this church age, Satan must have learned a powerful lesson. Persecution cannot stop the church in fact the church becomes purer and more attuned to God during those times. At the end of this period, Satan does the opposite of persecution. He allows the government to give the church an endorsement and he begins to indulge the church with prosperity. We will study this during the church at Pergamum.
There is one verse I want to comment on right away. Revelation 2:10 says “you will suffer persecution for ten days.” Does God always view a day as a 24 hour period? We know that the bible says that he doesn’t. 2 Peter 3:8 “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” I don’t want to upset anyone, but what about an exact 6 day creation period? Do we really think that God created the entire earth in six 24 hours periods? A lot of people say no. I am okay if he did or if he didn’t.
Further biblical evidence of how God views the word “day” is found in many verses in the Old Testament. Those verses refer to the Tribulation period as the Day of the Lord. When the prophets used the phrase “day of the Lord” they were speaking of a period of time when would God judge the world. We know for a fact that the verses that refer to the Tribulation period refer to a period of seven years. Here are some examples.
2 Peter 3:10 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
Ezekiel 30:3 “or the day is near,
the day of the Lord is near;
it will be a day of clouds,
a time of doom for[a] the nations.”
We do the same thing with the word day in common language. We say: There is coming a day when my kids will all leave home, and we will have an empty nest. In that day, we will go on romantic vacations, and our bills will go down. It will be a great day. Or maybe you say, it will be a sad day. So it very possible that the word day can refer to more than just a 24 hour period in God’s way of thinking.
Most Scholars believe that the reference to “ten days” in Revelation 2:10 refers to the suffering of Christians under 10 different Roman Emperors. During the second and third Centuries there was great persecution. Many Christians suffered, died, and were persecuted! Christians were fed to lions in the amphitheaters in Rome. This was a horrible thing. They were tortured by wild dogs. Some were covered with tar and then set on fire as torches to light up the Appian Way. Others were boiled in oil. One church historian estimates that 5 million Christians were martyred. That is amazing to me that even the name Smyrna is associated with death! And so many died.
The following chart shows 10 emperors that persecuted the church. Now remember these church ages are not exact! They overlap each other. Let me just list them here.
||Paul beheaded and Peter Crucified
||Ignatius burned at the stake
||Justin Martyr killed
By the way you should know that Diocletian was the worst emperor in Rome’s history and the greatest antagonist of Christianity. He tried to destroy all the bibles. In many cities, they went from house to house collecting manuscripts and then burned them in the streets. These were public burnings of the scriptures.
THE CHURCH WAS VERY MUCH ALIVE
This is the only letter where Christ doesn’t have even a single condemnation showing that persecution did not stamp out the vital life of the church. The church was a powerful force that just kept spreading. You cannot destroy the church of which Jesus Christ is the head.
What is interesting is that it is from this period we have our bibles. A great deal of translation going on and copying of manuscripts. I am talking about hand copied manuscripts. One of the beautiful things about this time is that those in the Smyrna Church Age copied and translated the bible many times. And it was all done by hand. And today we have many pieces of those manuscripts that were I believe supernaturally preserved. And very few errors in those manuscripts. Maybe a letter is missing or a word, but they are essentially all the same.
Many of those manuscripts were translated into Syriac. We call those the Peshito manuscripts. And from there they were translated into Arabic, Persian, and Armenian. I don’t know how much you know about church history but the church split into two parts. What we call the Eastern Byzantine church, and the Western Catholic church. The Peshito manuscripts are the bases for the scriptures to the Eastern church. The New Testament was also translated into Latin. This is called the Old Latin Version. This became part of the documents that have become the bible for the Western church. (Western Catholic) History proves that the church was very much alive. People coming to Christ, willing to die for him.
THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST TO SMYRNA
The message that Christ wrote to Smyrna is the shortest of all Christ messages to the church: Revelation 2:8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:” I want you to remember there is a supernatural being the guards these words to the church. These are the words of Jesus and we need to heed them. I want you to remember that in every letter there is always a reference back to the vision that John had of Jesus. I think this reference back is one of the most impactful. Revelation 2:8 “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”
Remember who these people are, they are persecuted. Some had lost family members that had died because they had been martyred. Now, imagine having lost a loved one to persecution and reading those words. I am the One who died and came back to life. This was highlighting the great hope of the resurrection and life after death. The resurrection sets Christianity apart from any other religion. Mohammed is dead. Buddha is dead. One day the Dali Lama will be dead. And the hope we have is that even if we die, we live again. Think what these words mean to the people today that are suffering persecution.
The commendation of Jesus to the church in Smyrna highlights three things: tribulation, poverty and affliction. Revelation 2:9 “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” Obviously, the word afflictions has to do with the persecutions they were facing.
Persecuted people often become poor economically. Smyrna was a city of trade guilds that regulated the craftsmen who lived in the city. This is kind of like the modern day union. If someone became a Christian, they would boycott their shop. They often had to give up a trade in order to find some other means of support. Many people have suffered economic loss for Christ even in today’s world in places such as India or Iraq because of the gospel. (Try preaching just prosperity to them, they will tell you straight away that it costs them everything to serve Jesus.) It was not just the city of Smyrna but that entire church age was economically poor.
The 1st three centuries of the church were marked by material poverty and spiritual power. How incredible that even though they were poor by the measurement of the world. They had God and his power.
The churches of our day especially in America are marked by material wealth and spiritual weakness. I believe that God can economically bless his people. But if you are going to be a mature believer in your understanding, you need to understand what true riches are. Wealth is not always a sign that someone is blessed by God. In fact, wealth can lead a person away from God.
There are riches that are not of this world. Paul describes himself as being poor economically, yet not lacking anything. 2 Corinthians 6:10 “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” It is said that the apostle Paul literally had nothing of this worlds goods. Yet here he says “yet possessing everything.” If you have Christ, you have all you need.
The following information is from this website: It shows the persecution of the church today.
A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.
A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again.
A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.
A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. It’s Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
In just the last year*, there have been:
- Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
- 4,761 Christians killed for their faith
- 4,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked
- 4,277 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
While many of these suffer loss of life and economic loss. They have true wealth. It is not how much money you have that determines your true wealth. It is how close you are to Jesus.
THE SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN
Revelation 2:9 “I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” You may be thinking what is a synagogue of Satan? Satan has his own religious faith. He also has churches. Jesus called them a “synagogue of Satan.” Any church that preaches a gospel other than the gospel of Jesus Christ is a synagogue of Satan.
Now the scripture defines for us what a real Jew is. Romans 2:29 “No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”
Many churches of today would be considered by God to be “synagogues of Satan” if they preach a message that other than the one laid down in the Word of God. The word synagogue comes from a Greek word meaning “assembly of men” or “congregation,” and it was used much like the English word “church.” The “synagogue of Satan,” then, is an assembly or congregation—a church—made up of the individuals who “say they are Jews, and are not.” The term “Jew” is used here in a spiritual sense. Any church that does not preach the Gospel is a synagogue of Satan.
Any Church Today That Does Not Preach the Gospel is a Synagogue of Satan!
Two Basic Heresies that come from what we would describe as a synagogue of Satan. And both were present during the Smyrna church age!
The first is a false doctrine that denies who Jesus is. If they deny that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, rose bodily from the grave, ascended physically into heaven, and promised to return some day, then we must say that they are a false church.
Secondly, if they add to salvation that one must do certain works. In other words, in addition to believing in Jesus, you must keep the Sabbath, observe certain rites and ceremonies, eat or not eat certain foods, etc. This also shows that such a church is a synagogue of Satan.
Revelation 2:10 “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” There are many people who believe that if you give your life to Christ, you will have a pain free life. Sometimes because you are a Christian you will actually be persecuted more! I don’t know if the churches in the US are ready to suffer actual persecution. I think it is coming. I hope not but if it does, we are not to be afraid.
Revelation 2:10 “I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” What would happen if you were meeting in your church and w someone were to burst through the door with weapons and tell you, deny Christ or I will kill you. How many of us are ready to be faithful to the point of death? I want to think that I am that committed, but it would be a test. Unfortunately, this test has happened to millions. But what Christ promised was a crown. He promised a victors crown. Wouldn’t it be grand to be able to cast that crown at Jesus feet as he is the one who gives the faith, strength and courage to be martyred for Christ.
We think this world is the most important thing. It is not! Christ is the most important. Eternity and its values need to shape our lives.
Revelation 2:11 “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
We have to understand what the bible means by the term death. We think of physical death. Obviously, the first death is physical death. Everyone experiences that eventually. But God sees things in light of spiritual realities. There is a death that is worse than physical death and that the second death. This is the Bible’s term for the complete ruin of a person’s life so they can never fulfill God’s plan for their life, which is eternal. Death occurs when a person is forever separated from God instead of being forever united with Him as was Gods’ intention. To be cast away from God forever is Spiritual death. The second death is that state when people who have died in unbelief are resurrected and cast alive into an eternal state of separation from God in the place called the “lake of fire”.
If you are a child of God, we don’t need to be afraid, because it has no power over us and we cannot be hurt by it. We have already seen that Christ holds the keys to death, hell, and the grave. We have the promise that we will not be hurt by the second death. In a persecuted age, you can experience a physical death.
Revelation 20:11-14 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God,[c]and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.[d] 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, your forgiver and the director of your life. Please find a bible believing church and accept the work he has done for you. Your name is written in the Book of Life the moment you accept what Christ has done for you on the cross. Only the shed blood of Jesus has the power to cleanse from sin. Trust Him today and become a believer.