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Letter to the Church at Smyrna


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  • Revelation 2:8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
  • 9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
  • 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
  • 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Jesus always existed the same as God. He was in the beginning with God and was at the creation. He was dead physically for 3 days. He raised from the dead and is alive forever.

Smyrna an ancient city of Ionia, on the western coast of Asia Minor, about 40 miles to the north of Ephesus. It is now the chief city of Anatolia, having a mixed population of about 200,000, of whom about one-third are professed Christians. The church founded here was one of the seven addressed by our Lord in Revelation 2:8-11. Polycarp, a pupil of the apostle John, was in the second century a prominent leader in the church of Smyrna. Here he suffered martyrdom,155 A.D.

Smyrna means myrrh which symbolizes the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This church identifies with the sufferings of Christ.

  • Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
  • 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
  • 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

We know that Jesus took our sins upon Himself when He was crucified. He was crucified in weakness but lived by the power of God.

Those that hold the church age school of thought say that Smyrna represents the period when the churches were severely persecuted. This period is about from 100 AD to 312 AD. 312 AD is when Constantine won total control over the Roman Empire. Constantine believed that he could use the church to unite the empire. This also ended the persecution against the Christians that lived in that day.

Reading church history, there is a time that the Romans inflicted persecution against the Christians many times. It seemed to come in waves. Some were worse than others. Some taught that the 10 days represented a period of ten persecutions. Remember also this church was a literal church in John's day, it was probably representative of other similar churches of that day and perhaps all through church history including this day. There was persecution in some parts of the world throughout all history since the time Christ walked upon the earth. There are churches today similar to this one.

In many parts of the world at this present time faithful brother and sisters in the Lord are even now being beaten, jailed and even killed for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are today countries that do not tolerate the gospel or have freedom of religion. To name a few: China, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Indonesia, and others. I read more recently of severe persecution in parts of Africa.

The persecution of the church actually helped to spread the gospel because it caused them to flee to other lands to escape persecution instead of just building one big mega church in Jerusalem. They scattered in all directions taking the gospel with them. This actually is what Jesus told them to do. He said that if persecution came to one city, flee to another. Since this church suffered persecution many believe the church will go through the tribulation that is yet future but we fail to realize that churches in other countries already are going through persecution and the great tribulation of Revelation has not yet come.

The tribulation period that we will read about in coming lessons mainly concerns the Jews and getting Israel to recognize their true Messiah. That is the purpose of the "Time of Jacob's Trouble mentioned in the book of Daniel which is the latter day period we call the great tribulation.

It starts in Revelation chapter 4 and notice the church is not mentioned until the last chapter of this book. It is supposed by some that the church is raptured at that time. I will explain the Pre-tribulation rapture scriptures later. I will also include the Pre wrath, mid-trib and post trib theories.
I personally lean toward the Pre-Trib position but just because I lean toward the pre-trib doesnít mean that I believe the church will escape all persecution and tribulation. Absolutely not. I believe the church that is found without spot or wrinkle at the Lordís return will be kept from the great tribulation but not all tribulation. The latter day great tribulation that occurs just before the Lord comes to rescue Israel and set up His earthly kingdom is different than previous trials and tribulation.

Those who hold to the Pre-tribulation position believe the antichrist, also called the man of sin, who arises during the future tribulation, can't come until the true church is gone, however if it doesn't quite happen that way, we still await and love His coming because Jesus will be returning literally, that we know for sure.

The Smyrna church were people of great poverty. They were poor in material goods and had no wealth. In the things that count though, they were rich. They possessed the true riches of things spiritual. They walked with God and had their treasure stored in heaven. Actually they were richer than those who do not suffer poverty. God gives us the desires of our hearts but it is far greater that our desires be for spiritual things than earthly things that can be taken away from us. What these people possessed can't even be compared to the weak and deceptive riches we think are riches. Christ did not have one word of criticism against this church.

Some could have become poor because they had to give up jobs or wealth because of the means by which they made that wealth, for instance: Making idols for worship or such occupations that were not compatible with those that believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some might have been fired or shunned because of their faith and others simply might have had their property taken away because they didnít go along with the system.

In the book of James the poor is commended far above the rich.

  • James 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

More and more we see clearly the error of the modern day prosperity gospel.

  • James 5:1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
  • 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
  • 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Then we have the word of Jesus Himself:

  • Matthew 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
  • 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
  • 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

When we give regularly to the Lordís work or give to those who have a desperate need, God rewards us by taking care of our own needs. He never promised that we will get rich while living on earth previous to His coming. He does promise to bless us with spiritual blessings and a reward in heaven if we obey Him and are faithful until the end. True, we will be rich when we go to be with the Lord. So many want their inheritance now in this life and it is compromising their faith. Some cannot handle being rich now. It could hinder the gospel rather than help many times because we are so busy working to increase in riches that we have no time for the teaching and preaching of the gospel.

False Jews, mentioned in Revelation 2:9, were not the most of the Jewish people but the religious Jews who claim to be people of God but who rejected Christ and were persecuting the believers in Christ. These Jews were ones who spread stories and lies about Christians to the Romans. This may have been the cause of early anti-Semitism among the ones being persecuted.

Remember though the first church was Jewish so not all Jews were these that caused the persecution. The Apostle Paul at one time was one of those until God showed mercy on him. These also may have been supposed believers in Christ but who had tried to impose the law on the Gentile Christians. In other words there were those that tried to add to the simple gospel by saying they could believe in Jesus but had to be circumcised and do other works of the law to be saved. This has been a temptation for centuries not only for the synagogue but for different churches that have sprung up.

Many well meaning people trying to keep us walking in holiness have added to the gospel and in many cases replaced the gospel with doctrines and commandments of men that are harsh. Adding to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ can actually cover up or hide the true way of salvation causing us to trust in religious rituals or religious works instead of trusting Christ for our salvation.  In no way am I advocating any sinning gospel or a gospel that teaches one can openly sin and still be saved. To much emphasis on being saved by grace and not of works can give people the idea that the works spoken of was turning from sin. No. Repentance is part of true salvation. Jesus saves us out of sin not in our sin. I'm speaking of adding to the gospel by forbidding things that Jesus didn't forbid, in other words just our preferences and opinions rather than the actual word of God.

The book of James makes clear that true godly living are to following a true conversion to Jesus Christ and without true works of faith, faith is dead being alone. Yet the works that follow true faith are not ordnances, rituals, religious acts, or other man made rules but faith in the blood of Jesus to cover and blot out our sins. We are never to go back and openly embrace the sin Jesus saved us out of. The short book of Jude bears witness to that fact along with many other scriptures.

Here were some of the lies spread against the early Christians:

  1. Being atheists Ė Because they had no images in their places of worship, they were accused of not believing in God. The Romans had many gods. The early Christians refused to worship or pray where statues or images were present.
  2. Christians were accused of being cannibals Ė They took this from the early communion services where they partook of the Lordís supper. The symbols of the Lordís supper were only to represent His blood and body but they accused them of doing the actual act. Years later the Roman church did get into what we call transubstantiation, where they believe the wine really literally turns into the blood of Christ and the round wafer turns into His actual body. This of course is scientifically impossible.
  3. They were accused of being unpatriotic because they would not bow to Caesar as a God-like image.
  4. Accused of ruining the economy. They no longer paid tribute to the goddess Diana. The temple at that time was a place of commerce. Silversmiths were out of a job. See why we need to make sure the church does not become a place of business.

Some believe that those that claimed to be Jews but were not was a latter day teaching that try to preach that the church replaces the Jewish people. This is called replacement theology and is wrong. Paul writes that Israel will be grafted back into the vine at a future date. The church may be part of the future Israel but we never replace them. We have to view Israel, not as enemies but as future believers in Jesus Christ. We are to pray for the peace of Israel and we are to love them. Never, never, never are we to hate them, persecute them or drive them from their homeland and claim that land for ourselves. A more modern opinion of those that are claim to be Jews and are not, are Jews who rebel against the law of God openly embracing anything against God, God as creator and against God's divine order.

We are saved by repenting from sin and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, but many times we think that isn't enough and we try to add to this by restoring Old Testament rituals, priesthood, sacraments and ceremonies to add to salvation or try to make one holy. The blood of Jesus is enough to make us holy and worthy of eternal life. We don't have to return to Old Testament ordinances, sacrifices or rituals. All those things were put in place to lead us to Jesus who was the perfect sacrifice for sins. After Jesus came, the work was complete and He alone brings us salvation. He alone is the mediator between God and mankind.

We do not need a prophet or priest to perform rites and ceremonies in order to get us to heaven. Jesus broke that wall of separation between God and man. When we come to Christ with a heart that turns from sin and trusts Christ to remove that sin, we are "born again" by the spirit of God. We no longer need any other intercessor or mediator. Our ministers and pastors are to feed the flock, bring the word, preach the gospel and exhort the body of Christ (the assembly or church) but they are not to Lord over, worship for us or make us dependent upon them for our salvation.

We need to learn to do our own praying, worshipping and begin to spread the gospel ourselves. We are all equal in Christ and no one is to be exalted above another. Our submission to one another is in love, truth and kindness not in force, intimidation and cruelty. Those that use cruel means to run a church, synagogue or assembly are of the synagogue of Satan whether Jew, Christian or any other religion.

After some churches went into apostasy, instead of having those that claimed to be Jews but were not, we had those that claimed to be Christians but were not and they persecuted the ones who wanted to remain true to the scriptures, make the scriptures available to all Christians and who still believed in the gospel that was once preached by the apostles and not the new Church tradition where pagan religion and the church were mixed to include everyone in order to unite the Roman Empire under Constantine. This was the first great ecumenical movement.

  • Revelation 2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

In the midst of persecution, Jesus comforts these people by telling them not to fear. In the end though they have eternal life that no one can ever take away from them. Eye has not seen neither has the ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of man what God has prepared for those that love Him.

Some teach that the 10 persecutions are the 10 emperors that used the name Caesar. However, it could be that the number ten means a set limit. There is a limit to their suffering. The ten emperors though are as follows: 1. Nero (64-68 AD) 2. Domitian (81-96) 3. Trajan (98-117). 4. Pius (137-161) 5. Marcus Aurelis (161-180) 6. Severus (193-211) 7. Thracian (235-238) 8. Decius (249-251) 9. Valerian (235-260) 10. Diocletian (284-305)

The only place of refuge was the catacombs under the city of Rome. Only the Christian could find their way without getting lost. They worshiped God and buried their dead in these places. The followers of Christ are never promised to be free from persecution. In fact the godly in Christ are always persecuted in some way.

There are other interpretations of what ten days may refer to. Some believe them to be ten literal days and some say the ten days merely means a short space of time. Whichever it means, we know that it will not be more than the church can bear. In times of tribulation the church actually becomes stronger. Those that are faithful until death will receive a crown of life that can never be taken away from them. We see from Hebrews that there were times that some did not accept any deliverance from persecution because they knew that a better resurrection was promised. In other words those that are persecuted for the gospel's sake will receive a better reward later. Some believe the better resurrection is just being part of the 1st resurrection and they chose to die for Christ rather than escape death by denying him before their persecutors.

  • Hebrews 11:35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
  • 36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
  • 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
  • 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
  • 39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
  • 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

From Matthew:

  • Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
    12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Overcomers win in the end.

  • Revelation 2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Again and again Christ admonishes us to hear His words and what the Spirit says to the churches.

  • Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

The second death is eternal torment in the lake of fire from which there is no escape. When we stay faithful to Christ until the time we depart from this body, we shall never fear hell. We can never be hurt again. When this body dies, there is no more the enemy can do to us. If we die in Christ there is eternal peace and joy forever.

If we are made fun of or criticized for believing in Jesus Christ, we should be happy for our sakes but sad for their sakes. Great is our joy to be made partakers of the suffers of Christ. Foxes book of martyrs tells of many that were killed for the cause of Christ. Many of them are now in comfort. No one can ever hurt them again. They died so that we could hear the gospel and receive eternal life.

Many died so that we could have the bible in a language we could read and understand. Starting with the Old Testament prophets and then Jesus Christ, many have died that we could live and know God. I pray that their deaths will not have been in vain. Let us receive this great gospel that brings eternal life this day.

Any leader, group, church, synagogue, organization, bishop etc. who tries to suppress private study of the scriptures is dangerous to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do understand their reasoning.  They start out by trying to keep unity by preferring that ordained people do the teaching but after a while they begin with Satan's help to pick and choose which scriptures to allow and which to not allow. The way of salvation is replaced by doctrines and commandments of men. 

We must never forbid private study of God's word. It is written for all to read and understand.  Sure some may get it wrong if they study with the wrong motives but we must trust God for those things and seek only the unity of the spirit and not unity that has to be forced. The same spirit of God that brought the apostles understanding of the word, can also bring understanding to the smallest child. Let's trust God and not try to manipulate people. 
Letter to the church at Pergamos