To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. 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.
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.-Revelation 2:8-11
Smyrna, Izmir is located in modern city from acropolis (Turkey) It sounded exactly like Singapore. The name “Smyrna” is a Greek word for Myrrh=bitterness. It was used to make perfume and medication. It is used for anointing oil in Exodus 30 and brought by the 3 wise men to baby Jesus. Myrrh symbolizes “savior”. Crown of thorns (Jesus’s crown) was made from the Myrrh tree.
Has it occurred to you why Jesus addresses the church “The First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life” in Rev 8:1? The Aeolian Greek settlers established the old smyrrna around 1000BC, later it was taken by Ionians in the Archaic period. According to a Greek Poet active in 600 BC, Theognis of Megara, Smyrna fell to the Lydians due to their pride. The city has gone through many battles. It was during the Roman empire period, God’s letter was given to the church of Smyrna. Did it recover all the battles? The city was in ruins in many years and later rebuilt by Alexander the Great. The Roman imperial cult Emperor worship was kind of started by the people of Smyrna. They wanted to please the Romans and created a cult called the “Goddess of Roma”. There was an earthquake many years ago and the city became ruined. It was re-built again. Many times the city was dead and become alive. Jesus declared to the church of Smyrna that He is the first and the last, He who was dead and came to life just like Smyrna. It is no wonder that Jesus told the church of Smyrna that the reward for the faithful is the “Crown of life”.
The religious activities: It is well known for pagan worship and immorality. In the city, there is a golden street with many temples for Greek and roman gods. Worship for idols were not as fervent as the Emperor worship. They were very dedicated and took pride in their worship for the Emperor. There were temple prostitutes as well offering their service.
As the city was near the sea, it has a thriving sea port and it is also a gateway to Europe. It has many beautiful sightings like nature, castle and library. It is called a “Ornament of Asia”. As they were festivals and cultural events. During these events, their “acts” were cruel and even persecuted Christians with the acts/events. One of them persecuted is “Polycarp”- Bishop of Smyrna. How does the Christianity started in the city. It was probably started by Paul or his companions recorded in “Thoughts and Prayers for the Faithful” by Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was later killed in Rome. In Jesus’s letter for Smyrna, there wasn’t a single rebuke. There were encouragements and reminders from Jesus for the church. I wonder what was life like for the Christians in Smyrna: They suffered greatly for their faith and yet they remained faithful. There were a large population of Jews in Smyrna and even persecuted them.
- God is faithful-Keep trusting in Him
Smyrna and Philadelphia are the only churches that do not have a single rebuke from the Lord. It is really remarkable. Jesus refers Himself as the First and the Last (the verses were found in Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, 48:12 and Rev 1:17, 22:13) From these passages, we are reminded that Jesus is there in the beginning and till the end. Whatever we are going through, Jesus is with us. In Isaiah 41 and 44 “Fear not or don’t be afraid.” God is telling us not to be afraid as well, to face our trials with courage.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
- Be Faithful to God-Take time to seek Him.
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.”
This speaks of His resurrection power and also an encouragement to remember that what we have is temporal. And Jesus is the only God who can give eternal life.
In Revelation 2:9
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are synagogue of Satan.
Know: Eido (Greek). It meant to be aware, he understand..
Jesus knows the works of the church of Smryna. Jesus also knows the sufferings the church is going through. Perhaps some of us are apprehensive about what is ahead of us, but God knows. Take it to the Lord in Prayer.
Tribulation: Thlipsis-carries the idea of oppression, affliction pressing together. This brings me to share that in the past, there was such type of affliction which one person lies down and weights were be placed upon the body of the person until the person’s lungs collapse and couldn’t breathe anymore. The church of Smryna were facing such persecution from the city. Jesus also warn the church that they will be facing even more severe persecution and thrown into prison. The prison is like a dungeon-cold, dark and dirty. The prisoners were also used for entertainment during festival.
When I first read about this church, I wondered why aren’t there comfort for this church? It is beyond our comprehension why there isn’t any comfort offered to the church but lets remember that God is faithful. In the same passage,
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. 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.-Revelation 2:10
God never test us beyond what we can endure. 10 days =10 years or 10 roman emperors or Gladiators which will be 10 days too. If you are going through any sufferings, let me encourage you.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces [a]perseverance; 4 and perseverance, [b]character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. -Romans 5:3-5
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [a]patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be [b]perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
The Perspective of Rich and Poor
9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
Poverty: Rev 2:9 “Ptokeya” refers to extreme poverty. No clothing, no shelter, no food.
John MacArthur “Many of the believers at Smyrna were slaves; most were destitute. Those who had possession had lost them during persecution. However, the church remained faithful or has anything for the Lord to rebuke….for that reason, Jesus said to them “you are rich.” They had what it mattered “salvation, joy, holiness, peace, grace and fellowship…”
2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
Christ has done all the things for us to be rich in Christ. Lets ask ourselves “Are we poor in Spirit?” what does that mean? It means we humbly depend on God for everything. Obedience to His will. Do I choose to be poor in Spirit?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is in the kingdom in heaven.”
Revelation 2:10 “Do not be afraid…be faithful until death…I will give you the crown of life.”
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
The word “Crown”=Stephanos-wreath of victory.
Crown and wreaths were awarded to athletics in Smyrna. However Jesus promised a more splendid crown which is the “crown of life.”
Story of Polycarp-Bishop of Smyrna
He is an early church father. He was bold and direct leading many people to Christ. When he heard that the Romans were after him, he waited for them at home. His friends pleaded him to escape so he withdrew to a place outside town. In prayer, he received a vision that he will be burn alive. When the soldiers came for him, he welcomed them and even serve them drinks/food. He also spend time praying (about 2hours). People persuaded him to renounce his faith but he refused. He said “ you threatened me with the fire that burns for a short time and soon it will be quenched. You don’t know about the fire of the coming judgement and eternal punishment that awaits the wicked.” For eighty six years, I have been His servant, and He as done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me.” The spectators were excited to see him killed but Polycarp was calmed. His body did not burn despite of the fire and his blood extinguished the flames. In modern times, we are comfortable and free to worship. We should not take it for granted. We are not certain what is going to happen in the future as there is a lot of uncertainty in the world and a lot of world events/persecution going on, but we can be certain that God is faithful.
- Pray for the persecuted churches
- Seek Him (Matthew 6:33