Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Letter to the Congregation of Smyrna

This is a continuation of a study on the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation.  Today, I am taking a look at the letter to the congregation of Smyrna.

Some Background Information About Smyrna
Today Smyrna is a city of about 300,000 and is called Izmir.  Along with Philadelphia, they were the only two churches without rebuke in the letters, and they are the only two cities that still exist today.  Smyrna was a very rich city, and was fully paganized – there were gods all over the place.

The name Smyrna means embalming.  The name stems from myrrh – a spice that releases the scent when crushed.  Myrrh was used by priesthood for making anointing oil, and for embalming the dead.  This letter is about death.

Remeber the gifts to Jesus by the magi?  Frankincense represents the priesthood, gold represents kingship/diety, and myrrh represents death.  It is interesting to note that in Isaiah 60:6, only gold and frankincense are brought to the Messiah in the future kingdom, but no myrrh.  He has overcome death!

The Good:
Revelation 2:8-11 says,

To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.  I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of 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 will not be hurt at all by the second death.

In Smyrna, the emperor had to be worshiped by a pinch of incense once a year; then you could go on to worship your own gods.  The believers wouldn’t bow down, and they were persecuted and martyred - about 5 million of them during the time period, which was from about 100 AD to the time of Constantine.  Christianity had become illegal due to outbreaks of disease and floods being blamed on them. 

“Be faithful, even to death”  Yeshua never promised escape. It is not clear what the ten days represented, but one possibility is that during the 200+ years represented by this letter, there were many emperors; but only ten of them persecuted Christians, beginning with Nero.

In spite of persecution, Yeshua says “Do not be afraid.”How is this possible? I believe that it is because He will be there with them, and will give them the supernatural ability to endure the persecution. Read Foxe's Book of Martyrs and see for yourself.

Crowns in scripture represent rewards.  These believers who overcome are given the Crown of Life (to counteract death)  from Yeshua Himself - they will avoid the second death.  Coins in Smyrna had crowns on them.

The Bad:
There was no bad - Yeshua had no words of admonition for them.  The church at Smyrna is a picture of the church today in places such as China., Sudan, and India; where persecution abounds, yet the church thrives in those places.

Satan figured out that he was losing the battle by persecuting the believers - it just made the church stronger!  So he began plotting to work in a much more sinister way.  Watch for my next post on the letter to Pergamum, coming soon.

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