Last week we covered Ephesus, who had experienced a great zeal documented in Acts 19. But the Lord’s message to them less than 50 years later, found a church full of religious works but little zeal. But they did hate the teachings of the Nicolaitanes, which the Lord also hates – He told them to stop just going through the motions, remember their past zeal and repent, and gain that zeal again. Remember, they met in homes, so even then, in their small groups, some were loosing their zeal for the Lord.
The Lord’s second message was to Smyrna. In The Revelation 2: 8-11 it’s just 4 verses long – that’s it. Yet one of the most important men and quotes in all Christianity came out of Smyrna.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyra write; These things says the First and the Last, which was dead, and is alive; 9 I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue (gathering) of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which you will suffer: behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have tribulation ten days: be faithful to death, and I will give you a crown of life. 11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He that overcomes will not be hurt of the second death.”
Smyrna is modern Izmir, about 35 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna was the birthplace of Homer, had a 20,000 seat amphitheater, and was a port city with about 100,000 people at the time The Revelation was written. It had a large Jewish population in the midst of Roman gods and goddess, and as they did with Paul’s ministry, the zealous Jews stirred persecution against Christians. (synagogue of Satan)
The 10 days of persecution has been understood several ways, including the 10 year reign of terror under Diocletian. But some have recognized the number 10 is a number of completion, like we use it today – a ’10’ is the best something can be. It is no coincidence the word Smyrna is derived from myrrh, which was used in embalming at that time – it is bitter to the taste but sweet smelling – so this encouragement from the Lord includes a statement their trouble won’t last past 10 years – there will be a limit to their troubles. It is merely a season of persecution, then rest will come. But He does mention being faith unto death, playing on the myrrh root word of Smyrna.
Smyrna is most known for Polycarp, one of the most important leaders who lived during and after the apostle John. Polycarp lived from 69-155AD, meaning he was born after Paul and Peter had died, but was an apostle of John, and was martyred roughly 50 years after his mentor’s death.
At this time, very often the local governments were more bloodthirsty than was Rome, so Christians were often given an opportunity to renounce their faith. Polycarp’s statement when given the opportunity remains a pillar for Christians:
“Eighty and six years I have served Him. How can I blaspheme my Lord and King?”
With that, he was tied to a stake and they lit the fires – but he wouldn’t burn – the glory of the Lord was seen on his face. Finally, a soldier took a long spear and stabbed him through the flames, ending his life. The Lord’s message to the church was do not fear, even unto death, and He who was dead but is alive forever more, will give you the crown of Life. Amen! Remember too one of the gifts the wise men brought baby Jesus was myrrh, a reference to His own future death. (Matthew 2: 11)
Pergamos; The Revelation 2: 12-17
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:
13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. 17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘
Pergamos was the home of Emperor worship, (Satan’s throne) and its governor had authority to execute judgement on the enemies of Rome – including Christians. Roman citizens were executed with a 2 edge sword: This is why the Lord said He is the one with the two-edge sword – the true Judge and executor of justice.
The Lord had issues with the believers in the city, including holding to the teachings of the Nicolaitanes, ‘victory over the people’ which created a hierarchy of leaders, taking participation out of the hands of the people.
There were some who put stumbling blocks before the people, specifically making sacrifice to gods and goddesses and the sexual visits to the temple prostitutes that went with it. We will look at Thyatira next week who had the same teaching – they taught a person could be a Christian while still participating in offerings to idols and sexual sin. That is what we see in our day – people teaching compromise with the world is ‘okay’ for the Lord loves us and is fine with it, He knows how we are – and other such things soundly rejected by the Lord.
In His last line the Lord promised to give a white stone to those who overcome with a new name written on it which no one will know but the one who receives it. This is a cultural item like the 2 edged sword reference at the start of His message.
Today we have business cards and in older times a person might receive a note or post card addressed to them. In that day when someone demonstrated hospitality by having them share a meal and spend the night in their home, the guest would give their host a white stone. The stone had their address and sometimes a short invitation or message with the intent that when their host is in the guest’s city, they would stay with them.
Jesus is saying to those who overcome, they have a home with Him in His home, and the message is personalized just for them – a note of endearment, a special name or godly characteristic or message the Lord has written on it just for them. It is full circle with what Jesus said in John 14: 1-2 – In my Father’s house are many rooms, and I’m going to prepare a place for you…” And…for us…Amen, what a blessing.
How wonderful to know we have that invitation to visit the Lord in His home…a standing invitation, and more than that, a reservation we might say.
To Thyatira and Sardis next week, until then, blessings,