CHAPTER TWO -
REVELATION CHAPTER TWO - SYMRNA
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CHAPTER TWO - SYMRNA PREFACE
If it were inevitable that Ephesus should come first in the list of the seven Churches, then it should be but natural that Smyrna its great rival is second. Of all the cities of Asia, Smyrna was the loveliest. Men called it the ornament of Asia, the crown of Asia and the flower of Asia. Lucian said that it was "the fairest of the cities of Ionia." Aristides, who sang the praise of Smyrna with such splendor, spoke of "the grace which extends over every part like a rainbow, the brightness which pervades every part, and reaches up to the heavens, like the glitter of the bronze of armor in Homer." It added to the charm of Smyrna that the west wind, the gentle zephyr ever blew through its streets. "The wind," said Aristides, "blows through every part of the city, and makes it as fresh as a grove of trees." The constant west wind had only one disadvantage. The sewage of the city drained into the gulf on which the city stood, and the west wind tended to blow it back upon the city rather than out to sea.
Smyrna was magnificently situated. It stood at the end of the road, which crossed Lydia and Phrygia and traveled out to the Far East, and it commanded the trade of the rich Hermus valley. Inevitably it was a great trading city. The city itself stood at the end of a long arm of the sea, which ended in a small land-locked harbor in the city's heart. It was the safest of all harbors and the most convenient; and it had the added advantage that in time of war it could be easily closed by a chain across its mouth. It was fitting that on the coins of Smyrna there should be an inscription of a merchant ship ready for sea.
The setting of the city was equally beautiful. It began at the harbor; it traversed the narrow foothills; and then behind the city there rose the Pagos, a hill covered with temples and noble buildings which were spoken of as "The Crown of Smyrna." A modern traveler describes it as "a queenly city crowned with towers." Aristides likened Smyrna to a great statue with the feet in the sea; the middle parts in the plain and the foothills; and the head, crowned with great buildings, on the Pagos behind. He called it "a flower of beauty such as earth and sun had never showed to mankind."
Its history much to do with the beauty of Smyrna, for it was one of the very few planned cities in the world. It had been founded as a Greek colony as far back as 1000 BC. Around 600 BC disaster had befallen it, for then the Lydians had broken in from the east and destroyed it. For four hundred years Smyrna had been no city, but a collection of little villages; then Lysimachus had rebuilt it as a planned whole. It was built with great, straight, broad streets. Strabo speaks of the handsomeness of the streets, the excellence of the paving and the great rectangular blocks in which it was built. Most famous of all the streets was the Street of Gold, which began with the Temple of Zeus and ended with the Temple of Cybele. It ran cross-wise across the foothills of the Pagos; and, if the buildings, which encircled the Pagos, were the crown of Smyrna, the Street of Gold was the neck-lace round the hill.
Here we have an interesting and a significant thing, which shows the care and knowledge with which John set down his letters from the Risen Christ. The Risen Christ is called, "He who died and came to life." That was an echo of the experience of Smyrna itself.
Smyrna had other claims to greatness besides its city. It was a free city and it knew what loyalty was. Long before Rome was undisputed mistress of the world, Smyrna had cast in its lot with her, never to waver in its fidelity. Cicero called Smyrna "one of our most faithful and our most ancient allies." In the campaign against Mithradates in the Far East things had gone badly with Rome. And when the soldiers of Rome were suffering from hunger and cold, the people of Smyrna stripped off their own clothes to send to them.
Such was the reverence of Smyrna for Rome that as far back as 195 BC it was the first city in the world to erect a temple to the goddess Roma. And in AD 26, when the cities of Asia Minor were competing for the privilege of erecting a temple to the godhead of Tiberius, Smyrna was picked for that honor, overcoming even Ephesus.
Not only was Smyrna great in trade, in beauty, in political and in religious eminence; it was also a city where culture flourished. Apollonius of Tyana had urged upon Smyrna the truth that only men can make a city great. He said: "Though Smyrna is the most beautiful of all cities under the sun, and makes the sea its own, and holds the fountains of the zephyr, yet it is a greater charm to wear a crown of men than a crown of porticoes and pictures and gold beyond the stand-ard of mankind: for buildings are seen only in their own place, but men are seen everywhere and spoken about every-where and make their city as vast as the range of countries which they can visit." So Smyrna had a stadium in which famous games were yearly held; a magnificent public library; an Odeion which was the home of music; a theatre which was one of the largest in Asia Minor. In particular, Smyrna was one of the cities which laid claim to being the birthplace of Homer; it had a memorial building called the Homereion and put Homer's head on its coinage. This was a disputed claim.
Thomas Heywood, the seventeenth century poet, wrote the famous epigram:
Seven cities warr'd for Homer, being dead,
Who, living, had no roof to shroud his head.
In such a city we would expect magnificent architecture, and in Smyrna there was a host of temples, to Cybele, to Zeus, to Apollo, to the Nemeseis, to Aphrodite, and to Asclepios.
Smyrna had more than its share of a "certain" characteristic that was common to all Greek cities. Mommsen said that Asia Minor was "a paradise of municipal vanity," and Smyrna of all cities was noted for "its municipal rivalry and its local pride." Everyone in it wished to exalt Smyrna and wished himself to climb to the top of the municipal tree. It is not without a point that in the address of the letter the Risen Christ is called "the first and the last." In comparison with His glory all earthly distinctions are worthless.
There remains one feature of Smyrna which stands out in the letter and which had serious consequences for the Christians there. The Jews were specially numerous and influential (verse 9). We find them, for instance, contributing 10,000 denarii for the beautification of the city. It is clear that in Smyrna they were specially hostile to the Christian Church, no doubt because it was from them and from those interested in Judaism that Christianity drew many of its converts. So, then, we may well end this study of Smyrna with the story of the most famous Christian martyrdom that happened there.
Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was martyred on Saturday, 23rd February, 155 AD. It was the time of the public games; the city was crowded; and the crowds were excited. Suddenly the shout went up: "Away with the atheists; let Polycarp be searched for." No doubt Polycarp could have escaped; but already he had had a dream vision in which he saw the pillow under his head burning with fire and he had awakened to tell his disciples: "I must be burnt alive."
A slave who collapsed under torture betrayed his whereabouts. They came to arrest him. He ordered that they should be given a meal and provided with all they wished, while he asked for himself the privilege of one last hour in prayer. Not even the police captain wished to see Polycarp die. On the brief journey to the city, he pled with the old man: "What harm is it to say, 'Caesar is Lord' and to offer sacrifice and be saved?" But Polycarp was adamant that for him only Jesus Christ was Lord.
When he entered the arena there came a voice from heaven saying: "Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man." The pro-consul gave him the choice of cursing the name of Christ and making sacrifice to Caesar or death. "Eighty and six years have I served him," said Polycarp, "and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" The proconsul threatened him with burning, and Polycarp replied: 'You threaten me with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment. Why are you waiting? Come, do what you will."
So the crowds came flocking with faggots from the work shops and from the baths, and the Jews, even although they were breaking the Sabbath law by carrying such burdens, were foremost in bringing wood for the fire. They were going to bind him to the stake. "Leave me as I am," he said, "for he who gives me power to endure the fire, will grant me to remain in the flames unmoved even without the security you will give by the nails." So they left him loosely bound in the flames, and Polycarp prayed his great prayer:
O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy beloved and blessed Child, Jesus Christ, through whom we have received full knowledge of thee, God of angels and powers, and of all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous, who live before thee, I bless thee that thou hast granted unto me this day and hour, that I may share, among the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, for the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body in the im-mortality of the Holy Spirit. And may I today be received among them before thee, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as thou, the God without falsehood and of truth, hast prepared beforehand and shown forth and fulfilled. For this reason I also praise thee for all things. I bless thee, I glorify thee through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, thy beloved Child, through whom be glory to thee with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages that are to come. Amen.
So much is plain fact, but then the story drifts into legend, for it goes on to tell that the flames made a kind of tent around Polycarp and left him untouched. At length the executioner stabbed him to death to achieve what the flames could not do. "And when he did this there came out a dove, and much blood, so that the fire was quenched, and all the crowd marveled that there was such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect." What is sure is that Polycarp died, a martyr for the faith. It can have been no easy engagement to be a Christian at Smyrna, and yet the letter to Smyrna is one of the two in which there is undiluted praise.
CHAPTER TWO - SMYRNA
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;
See this link for further informationThe Ten Primitive Persecutions.doc
see further: http://ccel.wheaton.edu/f/foxe/martyrs/
The word "Smyrna" means "myrrh." Myrrh is indicative of bitterness and death. Obviously, this church is a persecuted church. This church represents the church age from 200 AD to 325 AD, during the ten official Roman persecutions. These ten official Roman persecutions kill saints by the thousands, but the more they kill, the more the saints multiply. We can find a detailed list of the kind of things that took place in this period in "Fox's Book of Martyrs." From 200 AD to 325 AD pagan Rome carries on a desperate warfare to wipe out every Christian on the face of the earth. When Constantine takes over Rome around 313 AD, he takes over a situation where he has to get the Christians to join up with the state (the world) in order to shut them up. This period is prophesied in Revelation 2:8-11.
The Church of Smyrna was in trouble and further trial was imminent. There are three things that the letter says about this trial.
(i) It is great affliction, crushing beneath a weight. The pressure of events is on the Church at Smyrna.
(ii) It is deep poverty. In the New Testament poverty and Christianity are closely connected. "Blessed are you poor," said Jesus (Luke 6:20). Paul described the Christians at Corinth as being poor yet making many rich (2 Corinthians 6:10). James speaks of God choosing the poor in this world to be rich in faith (James 2:5).
In Greek there are two words for poverty. One describes the state of the man who is not wealthy and who, as the Greeks defined it, must satisfy his needs with his own hands. The other word describes complete destitution. It has been put this way--the first word describes the state of the man who has nothing superfluous; the second describes the state of the man who has nothing at all. The poverty of the Christians was due to two things.
(iii) There is imprisonment. John forecasts an imprisonment of ten days. That can be taken historically or spiritually. Ten days was an expression for a short time that was soon to come to an end. Therefore, this prophecy may be, at once, a warning and a promise. Imprisonment is coming, but the time of trouble, although sharp, will be short. Two things are to be noted.
First, this is exactly the way in which persecution came. To be a Christian was to be against the law, persecution came but it was not continuous. The Christians might be left in peace for a long time, but at any moment a governor might acquire a fit of administrative energy or the mob might set up a shout to find the Christians--and then the storm burst. The terror of being a Christian was the uncertainty.
Second, imprisonment does not sound so bad to us. We might say: "Imprisonment? Well, that is not so bad as death anyway." But in the ancient world imprisonment was merely the prelude to death. A man was only a prisoner until he was let out to die.
2:9 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.
The instigators of much of the Christian's persecution were Jews. Again and again in Acts we see how the Jews stirred up the authorities against the Christian preachers. It happened at Antioch (Acts 13:50); at Iconium (Acts 14:2,5); at Lystra (Acts 14:19); at Thessalonica (Acts 17:5).
The story of what happened at Antioch shows us how the Jews often succeeded in moving the authorities to take action against the Christians (Acts 13:50). Round the Jewish synagogues gathered many "god-fearers." These were Gentiles who were not prepared to go the whole way and to become proselytes but they were attracted by the preaching of one God instead of many gods, and were attracted specially by the purity of the Jewish ethic as compared with the heathen life. In particular women were attracted to Judaism for these reasons. Often these women were of high station, the wives of magistrates and governors, and it was through them that the Jews got at the authorities and moved them to persecute.
John calls the Jews "the synagogue of Satan." He is taking a favorite expression of the Jews and reversing it. When the people of Israel met together they loved to call themselves "the assembly of the Lord" (Numbers 16: 3; 20: 4; 31: 16). Synagogue literally means a coming together, an assembly, a congregation. It is as if John said: "You call yourselves the assembly of God when, in fact, you are the assembly of the devil." Once John Wesley said of certain men who were presenting a crude picture of God: "Your God is my devil." It is a terrible thing when religion becomes the means of evil things. It has happened. In the days of the French Revolution, Madame Roland uttered her famous cry: "Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!" There have been tragic times when the same could be said about religion.
Six slanders were regularly leveled against the Christians.
(i) On the basis of the words of the Sacrament--this is my body, and this is my blood--the story went about that the Christians were cannibals.
(ii) Because the Christians called their common meal the Agape the Love Feast, it was said that their gatherings were orgies of lust.
(iii) Because Christianity did, in fact, often split families, when some members became Christians and some did not, the Christians were accused of "tampering with family relationships."
(iv) The heathen accused the Christians of atheism because they could not understand a worship which had no visible god such as they had in their idols.
(v) The Christians were accused of being politically disloyal because they would not say: "Caesar is Lord."
(vi) The Christians were accused of being incendiaries because they foretold the end of the world in flames.
It was not difficult for maliciously minded people to disseminate dangerous slanders about the Christian Church.
The main trouble with the first church in the first period was that some of its leaders claimed "Apostolic succession." Now these Nicolaitanes - "the conquerors of the common people"- are claiming something even wilder. They are claiming that because the Christian is a spiritual Jew (Romans 2), that he is also a physical Jew, and therefore gets all the promises given to the Jew, and therefore God is all through with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the beginning of A-Millennial and Post-Millennial theology.
Now we have A-Millennialism and Post-Millennialism coming in, which teach that God is all through with the Jew forever, the Christian has replaced the Jew, the church has replaced Israel, and the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are the same. Further, all the Old Testament promises to Israel are spiritual and to be applied to the Christian, that God is all through with Israel and we can persecute the Jew and get away with it, and the church has replaced Israel.
God is not through with the Jew (1 Thessalonians 2, Romans 9,11), and we are told not to be "wise in our own conceits" and think that we have replaced him, because we have not. We may be a spiritual Jew, but the literal, physical, earthly, visible twelve tribes of Israel have yet to come into their own: they will at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
In the Smyrna period, the Post-Millennial teaching begins to come to the fore. In 354 AD, Augustine, an "North African bishop, wrote a book called "The City of God," in which he fully develops this theology. He even goes so far as to say that Rome has replaced Jerusalem, and this is one of the main sources from which the United States gets its blasphemous, anti-Biblical "Christianity." We get it from the North African Latin Church (which may account for their interest in several social problems going on right now!).
"I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)." Notice how differently God looks at things. There's a lot of difference in saying we are poor and being poor. There's a lot of difference in thinking we are rich and being rich. Notice in Revelation 3:17, where a church thinks it is rich and God says it is poor. In Revelation 2:9 the church believes it is poor and God says it is rich! This is a witnessing, martyred church. This is the church that goes into the Colosseum and is eaten by lions. This is the church that is tied to the stake and soaked in tar and burned. This is the church that is put in bags with rattlesnakes and thrown into the river. A detailed account of this church is found in "Fox's Book of Martyrs," which every Christian should read.
"I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." These people, who claim to replace Israel, and to replace the Jew, are of the Devil according to the text. They are not merely backslidden Christians.' they are not even professing Christians, according to the text; they are not "Church Fathers," but are (to quote the Holy Spirit) "children of hell" (Matthew 23, John 8).
The Smyrna period is in sharp contrast to our church period today. Folks stand up and sing, "It Pays to Serve Jesus." It does pay to serve Jesus, but it doesn't always pay off in the coin of this world every time. John the Baptist was paid for serving Jesus by having his head cut off, Stephen was stoned, Christ was crucified, Paul had his head cut off, James was thrown in jail and had his head cut off. This modern Christianity where we think that if we "live for God" everything is going to be just hunky-dory is a 20th century Hollywood version (2 Timothy 3:12).
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.
We have seen that the Church at Smyrna was battling with difficulties and threatened with worse to come. In view of that, the letter to Smyrna opens with two resounding titles of Christ which tell what he can offer to a man confronted with such a situation as faced the Christians at Smyrna.
(i) Christ is the first and the last. In the Old Testament that is a title belonging to God. "I am the first," Isaiah heard God say, "and I am the last" (Isaiah 44:6; 48:12). This title has two aspects. To the Christian it is a tremendous promise. Come what will, from the first day of life to the last the Risen Christ is with us. Of whom then shall we be afraid? But to the pagans of Smyrna it was a warning. They loved their city calling it the first in Asia, and they themselves were all striving every man to be one better than his neighbors. The Risen Christ said: "I am the first and the last." Here is the death of human pride. Beside the glory of Christ all human titles are of no importance and all human claims become ridiculous. When Julian, the Roman Emperor, had failed in his attempt to banish Christianity and bring back the old gods, and when he had come to death in the attempt, he said: "To shoulder Christ from out the topmost niche was not for me."
(ii) Christ is he who was dead and is alive again. Christ became dead; it was episode through which he passed. The Risen Christ is he who experienced death came to life again in the triumphant event of the Resurrection, and is alive for evermore. Here again there are two aspects.
(a) The Risen Christ is one who has experienced the worst that life could do to him. He had died in the agony of the Cross. No matter what happened to the Christians of Smyrna, Jesus Christ had been through it. Jesus Christ can help because he knows what life is like at its worst and has experienced even the bitterness of death.
(b) The Risen Christ has conquered the worst that life can do. He triumphed over pain and over death; and he offers us through himself the way to victorious living.
In this passage there is also a demand, and the demand is for loyalty, loyal even when death is the price to be paid. Loyalty was a quality of which the people of Smyrna knew something, for their city had flung in its lot with Rome, when Rome's greatness was only a far off possibility, and had never wavered from in its allegiance, in fair weather and in foul. If all the other noble qualities of life were placed in the balance against it, loyalty would outweigh them all. It was R. L. Stevenson's prayer that "in all the chances of fortune, and down to the gates of death" we should be "loyal and loving to one another."
The "crown of life" is not promised to somebody who gets saved. The passage does not say that if we are faithful unto death that we will receive eternal life. The statement is that if we are faithful unto death we will receive a "crown of life." The crowns, of course, are rewards. It's strange how people read the Bible. They'll pray, "Lord, help me to be faithful unto the end," or "Lord, help me to endure until the end," or "Lord, help me to hold out until the end, and save us all in heaven at last." They pray this not knowing that when a man is born again, God promised to keep him up to the end (1 Corinthians 1:7-9). The promise in Revelation 2:10 is not that God will give we eternal life if we are "faithful unto death," but that He will give we a crown of life.
These crowns are rewards given at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which will take place on our chart between the 8-inch mark and the 10-inch mark. While the Tribulation is taking place on this earth, the Judgment Seat of Christ is taking place in heaven. This is where the Christian will be rewarded and receive these "crowns." (These crowns are found in James 1, 1 Peter 5, 1 Thessalonians 2, 1 Corinthians 9, 2 Timothy 2, Revelation 2.)
"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer." (Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 10:28.) "The devil shall cast some of us into prison." This happened a great deal in this early period.
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.
JESUS CHRIST will be in no man's debt and loyalty to him brings its own reward. In this passage two rewards are mentioned.
(i) There is the crown of life. Again and again the crown of the Christian is mentioned in the New Testament. Here and in, James 1:12 it is the crown of life. Paul speaks of the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8), and of the crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19). Peter speaks of the crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4). Paul contrasts the immortal crown of the Christian with the fading crown of laurel which was the prize of the victor in the games (1 Corinthians 9:25), and Peter speaks of the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4). It is not the royal crown that is being offered to the Christian; it is the crown of joy and victory.
(a) First to the mind comes the victor's crown in the games. Smyrna had games which were famous all over Asia. As in the Olympic Games, the reward of the victorious athlete was the laurel crown. The Christian can win the crown of victory in the contest of life.
(b) When a man had faithfully performed the work of a magistrate in Smyrna, at the end of his term of office he was granted a crown. He who throughout life faithfully serves Christ and his fellow men will receive his crown.
(c) The heathen world was in the habit of wearing crowns, chaplets of flowers, at banquets. At the end of the day, if the Christian is loyal, he will have the joy of sitting as a guest at the banquet of God.
(d) The heathen worshippers were in the habit of wearing crowns when they approached the temples of their gods. At the end of the day, if he has been faithful, the Christian will have the joy of entering into the nearer presence of God.
(e) Some scholars have seen in this crown a reference to the halo or the nimbus which is round the head of divine beings in pictures. If that is so, it means that the Christian, if he is faithful, will be crowned with the life which belongs to God himself. As John said: "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). In this life it may be that the Christian's loyalty will bring him a crown of thorns, but in the life to come it will surely bring him the crown of glory.
(ii) To the faithful another promise is made: they will not be hurt by the second death. The second death is a mysterious phrase which occurs nowhere in the New Testament outside the Revelation (20:6,14; 21:8). The Rabbis talked of "the second death whereof the wicked die in the next world." The phrase may have two origins.
(a) The Sadducees believed that after death there was absolutely nothing; the Epicureans held the same doctrine. This belief finds its place even in the Old Testament for that pessimistic book Ecclesiastes is the work of a Sadducee. "A living dog is better than a dead lion; for the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:4,5). For the Sadducees and the Epicureans death was extinction. To the orthodox Jew this was too easy, for it meant that for the wise and for the fool the end was the same (Ecclesiastes 2:15,16;9:2). They, therefore, came to believe that there were, so to speak, two deaths--physical death which every man must undergo and after that a death which was the judgment of God.
(b) This is very closely connected with the ideas that we touched on when studying the word paradise (Revelation 2:7). We saw that many of the Jews and the early Christian thinkers believed that there was an intermediate state into which all men passed until the time of judgment. If that were this were true, then indeed there would be two deaths, the physical death which no man can escape and the spiritual death into which the wicked would enter after the final judgment.
Of such things it is not given to any man to speak with confidence but, when John spoke of the faithful being unharmed by the second death, he meant precisely the same as Paul when he said that nothing in life or in death, in time or in eternity can separate those who love him from Jesus Christ. Such a man is safe from all that life or death can do to him (Romans 8:38,39).
Before we leave this verse notice that there is an implied warning that if we don't overcome, we will be hurt of the second death. (See 1 John 4:4 and 1 John 5:4 and observe that every Christian has already overcome!)
The next period of church history is the most momentous and consequential period of church history through which the church has ever passed. This is the period where the church goes to pot so fast and so quick that, at the end of the period, the church no longer bears any resemblance to the New Testament Christian faith delivered to the Apostle Paul. What takes place in this period is of terrific consequence to subsequent church history.
Is there something our home group can pray with you about?