The Church of Smyrna
to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, These things says the First and the
Last, who was dead, and came to life: 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 a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things
which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you
into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be
faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be
hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:8–11)
the seven letters to the churches, this is the shortest and Jesus has no
criticism to give the church; in fact, it is a letter of consolation and
was the largest and richest city of Asia Minor at the time of the Revelation. It
was located about 50 miles north of Ephesus and about 180 miles SW of what is
now Istanbul. The modern name of the city is Izmir. The city has a natural
harbor that made it an important commercial center and contributed to its
wealth. The Smyrnans called the city “the first city of Asia.” In 195 b.c.
Smyrna was aware of the growing power of the Roman Empire and made an alliance
with Rome against Antiochus III. To solidify this alliance, Smyrna built a
temple to the goddess Roma. In 23 b.c. Smyrna was given the honor of building a
temple to Emperor Tiberius because of its years of loyalty to Rome. Because of
its loyalty to Rome and its commitment to pagan worship, the Christians of
Smyrna experienced severe persecutions under Nero (54–68 a.d.) and Domitian
(81–96 a.d.) In 155 a.d. Polycarp, the elderly bishop of Smyrna and disciple
of the Apostle John, was martyred in Smyrna. He was to be burned at the stake;
but when the flames failed to touch him, he was stabbed to death.
of the letter to Smyrna
verse 8 the Glorified Christ reveals Himself as “the First and the Last, who
was dead, and came to life.”
characteristics of the church as seen in verses 9–10 are its tribulation and
poverty and the insidious existence of a synagogue of Satan.
promise Christ gives to overcomers in verse 11 is that they “shall not be hurt
by the second death.”
First and the Last
reveals Himself to the Church “as the First and the Last, who was dead, and
came to life.” The reason He presents Himself in these attributes is because
of a specific tribulation the church is facing.
word tribulation means grievous trouble; severe trial or experience. In biblical
terms we tend to think of tribulation as some kind of persecution. Most
commentators on the Revelation explain the church at Smyrna in the light of
historical persecutions of Christians by the Roman government. However, from
what Jesus says, the grievous trouble and severe trial came, not from without,
but from within. The source of this tribulation was a synagogue of Satan.
particular attributes of Christ are appropriate, and essential, for the severe
trial that was being inflicted on this church. As the “First and the Last”,
He is the eternal Christ. This is a great truth we must comprehend and apply in
our present world if we are to be the church of God. Early in His earthly
ministry, Jesus let us know that the kingdom of heaven would be persecuted.
Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Notice that the cause of the persecution
is righteousness—being right with God and living out His will in your life.
the history of the church, it has always faced the severe trial that comes when
people professing to the church reject God’s righteousness and try to
substitute something else. Sometimes that something else has been heretical
doctrines; sometimes it has been some kind of religious practices; but always it
has been an attempt to be Christian without having the righteousness of God in
the lives of the people.
will recall that the expression “first and last” is the same as “alpha and
omega”. We learned that while alpha and omega are the first and last letters
of the Greek alphabet, the expression implies the entire alphabet, not just the
two letters. As the First and Last, Christ is always present before a trial
comes and He will always be there when it has passed. What is of greater comfort
is that He is always with us through the trial; He will not forsake us as He
said in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. Also, as the
Last, Christ will always be there to pick up the pieces after the tribulation
and take His church on into the future and into eternity with Him.
the one “who was dead, and came to life”, He assures us that He is the true
source of eternal life. As the people of God, the ones experiencing the trial
over righteousness, we are to remember that we have died to sin according to
Romans 6:2 and because of that we can no longer live in it. When a synagogue of
Satan begins to infiltrate the ranks of the church, it always wants to make
allowance for sin in the lives of professed Christians.
second thing Jesus mentions about this church is their poverty. It is this very
poverty that incites tribulation from the synagogue of Satan. The poverty of
which Jesus is speaking is not the absence of money. The poverty of the Smyrnans
is actually and asset to them. Jesus spoke of this poverty in Matthew 5:3,
“Jesus taught Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of
word blessed means happy. Why would the poor be happy? Because the poor in
spirit are those Jesus came to save from sin. Look at what He said in a
synagogue at the start of His ministry in Luke 4:18 (Jesus quoting from Isaiah
Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel
to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to
the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are
reading this verse in the synagogue, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture is
fulfilled in your hearing.”
John the Baptist wanted to be sure Jesus was indeed the Savior he sent his
disciples to ask Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
Jesus sent this answer: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are
cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel
preached to them. (Matthew 1:5)
poverty or being poor in spirit of which Jesus speaks is the recognition of
personal sin that only God can forgive. It is expressed ever so forcefully by
the publican in Luke 18:13, “And the publican, standing afar off, would not
lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God
be merciful to me a sinner”.
that are poor in spirit have repented their sins and experienced forgiveness and
have received God’s grace to live out the righteousness of God in their lives.
The fact that there are Christians that actually live holy lives through the
grace of God angers the synagogue of Satan because their lives nullify any claim
they have to being the people of God. Here is the source of the severe trial
brought on the true church by the synagogue of Satan.
“First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life” assures us that as His
body, the church of the living God, we can not only endure tribulations but
successfully survive the trial.
Philippians 4:13 the Living Glorified Christ is very real to the Church. “I
can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The Living Bible renders
this, “for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who
gives me the strength and power”. We may not like tribulation of any kind, but
Christ permits it from time to time. When it happens we must acknowledge that
Christ permits it and that He will take us safely through it to the end.
Jesus gave the saints at Smyrna strength and power to remain faithful, He most
certainly will give us strength and power to face anything He permits to come
is a synagogue of Satan?
definition given by Jesus is that it is people that blaspheme by saying they are
Jews when they are not.
of all, in the context of the church, what does it mean to be a Jew? We know
that the Christian church originally consisted of Jews because of Jesus’
ministry in Galilee and Judea, and the establishment of the church in Jerusalem
on the Day of Pentecost. We also know from the New Testament that there was a
faction of Jewish Christians that tried to promote a Judaized Christianity among
the Gentiles. But by this time that was mostly a dead issue.
Jews mentioned by Jesus here have nothing to do with ethnic Jews or Israelites.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 2:28–29 tells us who are the Jews of the New
he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward
in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of
the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but
Living Bible paraphrase perhaps captures the meaning in simpler English:
you are not real Jews just because you were born of Jewish parents or because
you have gone through the Jewish initiation ceremony of circumcision. No, a real
Jew is anyone whose heart is right with God. For God is not looking for those
who cut their bodies in actual body circumcision, but he is looking for those
with changed hearts and minds. Whoever has that kind of change in his life will
get his praise from God, even if not from you.
uses a play on words that we do not see in English. The word Jew is essentially
the same as the word praise. The Hebrew word Jehudah, Jew, means praise. And in case we need to be told the
meaning of the word praise, it means commendable.
speaks of the praise that comes through redemption in Christ in Ephesians
be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every
spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him
before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame
before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to
Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory
of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have
redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches
of His grace.
the grace of God we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, are made
acceptable in Christ, and adopted as sons of God. This is all to the praise of
the glory of His grace.
continues to emphasize this praise in verses 12 and 14, “we who first trusted
in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. . . [the Holy Spirit] who is the
guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,
to the praise of His glory.”
that profess Christianity without being NT Jews commit blasphemy according to
Jesus. Without the observable qualities of consistent righteousness they are
lying and claiming to have a relationship with God they do not have. Jesus
taught a parable about such people in Matthew 13:24–30:
kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men
slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when
the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the
servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in
your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has
done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather
them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also
uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the
time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares
and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my
explains the parable in verses 37–43,
who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds
are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The
enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the
reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the
fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His
angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and
those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire.
There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth
as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him
severe trial or tribulation comes on the church when it has to endure the
presence of a synagogue of Satan. But remember, Jesus was aware that the
synagogue would show up; He promises to keep His church trough the trial, and
eventually He will gather out those who practice lawlessness—what the King
James Version calls iniquity. Lawlessness, iniquity, is in Greek an-om-ee-ah, meaning that which is illegal. Eventually the synagogue
of Satan will be cast into the furnace of fire, which in the letter to Smyrna is
expressed as the second death as well as in chapter 20:6, “Blessed and holy is
he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no
power”. Verse 10 reports that they will be cast into the lake of fire.
synagogue of Satan temporarily puts some in the church in prison. This happens
only so that they will be tested; the purpose of the testing is that their
righteousness will be revealed in contrast to the lawlessness of the synagogue
of Satan. In other words, it shows up the synagogue of Satan for what it really
long will we have to stay in prison? How long will this testing last? Answer: 10
are used to time references in the Revelation such as times, months, days, and
it is interesting how those time references always work out to represent
essentially that same period in history. Some commentators suggest the 10 days
here means 10 years; 10 years of literal persecution.
Scripture appears use the number 10 to represent the fact of testing:
31:7, 41. Jacob’s wages were changed 10 times.
14:22. The Israelites tested God 10 times in the wilderness
19:3. Job was reproached 10 times by his friends, and
1:12–15. Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the king’s food in an
act of faithfulness to God. The test was eating only vegetables and water for 10
days. It is interesting that after the 10 days, they were found to be “ten
times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all the
Christ allows a synagogue of Satan to infiltrate a congregation or the church at
large, it always is a test of the faithfulness of the true church.
counsel is to be faithful—even unto death. This suggests that such a test
could last beyond the life times of some or all in the church at the time the
test begins. The reward is the crown of life. James 1:12 speaks of this crown of
life, “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”.
promise of the Holy Spirit to the church is that “He who overcomes shall not
be hurt by the second death”. That second death is the lake of fire into which the synagogue of
Satan eventually will be cast. Enduring the trial and staying true to the
righteousness of God and the holy life He intends for you to live insures that
you will not fall into the trap of the synagogue of Satan and its bitter end.