The Message to the Church in Smyrna
8 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:
9 “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. 10 Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.
11 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.
Let’s take a quick look at the city of Smyrna
Some Background on the City of Smyrna
Smyrna was about 35-40 mi. north of Ephesus and was another prominent city in Asia Minor that stood out for remarkable reasons:
Smyrna was a commercial center.
It was situated at a crucial, northwestern junction on the road that served as the primary land route towards other inland cities. It was also situated next to a long harbor off the Aegean Sea. The harbor’s especially deep waters were an ideal landing spot for large boats needing to dock and transfer cargo. All major trade of the Hermus River Valley flowed through the markets and harbor of Smyrna, forming a bustling commercial center.
Smyrna was a cultural center.
People admired Smyrna’s beauty. A variety of famous temples to Greek and Roman gods lined a beautiful, winding roadway called the “Street of Gold” and its other streets were paved and well-maintained. A cluster of other stately buildings was called “the Crown of Smyrna” and an elevated acropolis on Mount Pagos all supported the city’s reputation as an attractive, desirable destination. Beautiful groves of trees lined the streets of outer areas in the city.
Smyrna boasted other cultural benefits, including its claim as the birthplace and childhood stomping grounds of Homer, the infamous author of the Iliad and Odyssey. Records indicate that science and medical advancements also flourished here. In fact, some believed Smyrna to be the ideal city on earth.
Smyrna was a civic center.
Its origins trace back before 1000 BC as a Greek settlement, but it’s significance increased as it aligned with the rising Roman Empire. Because of this early allegiance in contrast to other Greek counterparts in the region, Rome chose Smyrna as the coveted site for a shrine commemorating that region’s eventual alliance with Tiberius Caesar. These factors encouraged civic pride among its residents, who prided themselves in their longstanding loyalty to Rome and wore their worship of Caesar as a badge of honor.
An earthquake leveled this city in AD 177, but the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius rebuilt it. Of the seven cities mentioned in Rev 2-3, only Smyrna remains today. We call it Izmir and it hosts approx. 200,000 people residents.
What was the cause for their oppression and anxiety in Smyrna? Wasn’t this a wonderful place to live? Well, it was – just not for Christians. Though Smyrna was a wealthy financial hub, those who followed Christ found it difficult to benefit from this opportunity. Rather than increase their wealth, they fell behind financially. The word poverty describes being behind financially due to a severe shortage of resources. Despite this unfortunate disadvantage, Christ reminded them that though they were poor according to material and monetary norms, they remained wealthy in an eternal and spiritual sense. Christ had already taught this principle during his earthly ministry when he said, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Their struggles were caused by slander.
What was the cause for their poverty? Christ blamed their financial struggles on the “blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not”. Historical records show that Smyrna hosted a sizable Jewish population. It seems that many of these Jews remained unsaved and valued their favorable position with Rome. As a result, they slandered the reputation of the Christians in this city (the word blasphemy means slander). Christ abhorred this activity so strongly that he described not just as unbelieving Jews, but as “the synagogue of Satan”. This reminds us of told the Pharisees, during his earthly ministry, that they were “of your father the devil”.
What did this slander entail? Though Christ doesn’t give an exact answer, history tells us that Jewish people accused Christians of various things to Roman authorities. They did this to distance themselves from Christians and secure more favorable treatment from Rome. They also did this because they rejected Christ as God and Savior and resented the believers for spreading this message. Common points of slander included:
- Cannibalism: due to misunderstandings about the Lord’s Table
- Immorality: due to misunderstandings about their love feasts
- Divisiveness: due to hatred that developed when family members converted
- Atheism: due to their rejection of pagan gods
- Arson: due to their frequent mention of fire (i.e., the Spirit, judgment, etc.)
- Treason: due to their rejection of Caesar as a god
So basically, the Jews who were faithful to the Lord were going to suffer. It is apparant no one quite knows what the “10 days” exactly means, however, the best explanation I saw was that there was 10 more persecuting emperors that were to follow from this time. The would persecute all Christians in all the Roman world, not just Smyrna, so it doesn’t make 100% sense. The bottom line is the 10 days would represent a long period of time.
Jesus was simply encouraging them to stay strong. They were going to suffer for following Him. He had no critique of how they worshipped and conducted themselves, just simply be ready for what is coming.
It is a good encouragement for all of us. Be ready for what’s coming. We are all going to face opposition to our faith, definitely not to the extreme that was happening under Roman rule, but we will face it in different ways. Stay strong, stay focused on Christ. The prize at the end is all worth it!!