Welcome to Smyrna! I’ve nicknamed the church at Smyrna ‘The Rich Poor Church”. You will understand why in just a bit. The admonition to ‘never judge a book by its cover’ fits the church at Smyrna to a tee. Today the city of Smyrna is known as Izmir, Turkey. Ancient Smyrna was likely settled as early as 3000 BC and was on the main trade route between India, Persia, and Rome. It claims to have been the birthplace of Homer, author of The Iliad.
The word “Smyrna” means bitter and is related to the word myrrh. Myrrh is a fragrant spice or perfume that is produced when the bark of the flowering myrrh tree is pierced or crushed.
According to the Scriptures, Jesus was offered myrrh twice. The first in Matthew 2:11 when the wise men came to worship Him as a baby, foretelling the agony He would endure prior to His death. The second time was when He hung on the cross.
In Revelation 2:8-11 we will see that Jesus has a word of encouragement for this church that will soon endure a crushing of their own. Read with me.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
Jesus greets this church in a way that speaks to their situation. “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” The “First and Last” is a name that God gave Himself in the Old Testament, hence, Jesus is saying that He and the Father are One. In reminding this church that He died and came to life, He encourages them to remember that He was, and is, victorious over death.
Jesus reminds the church in Smyrna of His knowledge of their trials, and that they are poor in regard to money. The Greek word used here for ‘poverty’ means severe poverty; lacking even the basic necessities. These people are the poorest of the poor.
He also knows that they are plagued by some folks who pretend to be Jews, but really are not. One commentator likened the persecution of the Smyrna church to that of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. The persecution that the Smyrna Christians faced was probably due to their unwillingness to worship Caesar, the Emperor. Whatever their persecution level had been, it was apparently about to get worse.
In spite of the poverty and persecution the Christians at Smyrna lived with, Jesus said that they were rich. He commended them that they had what really mattered: faith and trust in Christ. The Christians at Smyrna belong in the Hall of Faith right alongside Joseph, Daniel, and Paul. They kept their eyes on Jesus, and stayed faithful to the end.
How long was the persecution that they would endure? Jesus told the church at Smyrna they would be persecuted for 10 days. Scholars disagree on whether the time period is 10 literal days or a symbolic time period. I do not believe this is a matter over which we need to concern ourselves. The fact is that there was a time limit on their persecution, and Jesus set that limit.
The church at Smyrna offers encouragement to keep on keeping on when times are tough. When people make fun of us because of our faith, when they ridicule and persecute us because we stand solidly on Scripture, we can turn to Smyrna and be encouraged that if we, too, remain faithful we can expect rewards in heaven.
Jesus promised these Christians the crown of life. This symbolism would have been significant to the folks in Smyrna for two reasons. First, the Greek word used here for ‘crown’ is diadema, which was the crown worn by the winner of the athletic games.
Secondly, Smyrna faced the Aegean Sea and was flanked by a hill known as Pagos. On the crest of this hill were many pagan temples that gave the appearance of a crown when viewed from a distance. Because of this, the city was often called ‘the crown of Asia’.
So, what is our takeaway as we leave Smyrna? Three things:
- If we stand for Jesus and His Word, we will be persecuted
- Jesus will be with us when we are persecuted
- Jesus sets the limits of our persecution
Let’s engage. Remember, everyone who comments on any post will be entered into the drawing for a February giveaway.
- Was there anything from today’s lesson that strengthened or encouraged your faith?
- If you have experienced persecution for your faith in any way, would you be willing to share a word of testimony about it here?
- What was the key to the strong faith that this dirt-poor church had?
- How can you and I apply this to our lives in 2016?