Smyrna: The Poor Church that was actually Rich, Part 1

Revelation 2:8-11

Click on the link below for the Scripture to open in new window if you wish to read this passage before I begin to explain the details. Revelation 2:8-11

Uniqueness of the Letter to Smyrna

“Out of the seven Churches, two only are un-rebuked. Of these two, Smyrna is one. It is a poor Church… . It is beset with opposition, but it has the Lord for its Advocate, and is addressed by him in words of cheer and of hope. ” (see Pulpit Commentary below).

We need the same cheering and encouragement today. Smyrna speaks to our situation where persecution looms over us and temptations to compromise with Christ’s foes to get along entices us.

Historical focus on the city of Smyrna

A Government against Christ is also against His Church.

Smyrna lay 50 miles North of Ephesus on the Aegean Coastline. It is the only one of the seven original cities that still exists (Izmir, Turkey). It had the privilege of being the birthplace of Homer, Greek poet. Its population was around 200,000 people in the time of John the Apostle. Smyrna had a strong allegiance to the Emperor Cult containing a temple dedicated to Tiberius.

It is over-weening statism, centered on Emperor worship, that will lead to great persecution for Christ’s Church in Asia Minor. Others in developing nations today are experiencing similar persecution from their own governments and from the Western powers for choosing Christ over secular humanism.

21st Century Challenges to Christ in Dictatorships. 

“On November 1, 2018, about 30 officials from the central ‘patrol inspection team’ for religious supervision arrived at a church…during a worship service to conduct an inspection. An official inspecting the church stopped in front of the pulpit and pointed to the first of the Ten Commandments displayed on the wall: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’

‘This must be removed,’ he said.

“After saying that, the government officials immediately wiped off the commandment. The church’s leader and believers strongly opposed the removal of the commandment. ‘This isn’t appropriate. They’re falsifying the words of God! It’s resisting the Lord!’

“‘[Our leader]  opposes this statement,’ an official said. ‘Who dares not to cooperate? If anyone doesn’t agree, they are fighting against the country. This is a national policy. You should have a clear understanding of the situation. Don’t go against the government.’

“Believers took down the Ten Commandments sign that day.” (see Nine Commandments below).

A dictator cannot permit any authority greater than his own. The same was true with Rome. People compromise to get along with life in a dictatorship. This was the case with the Jews in Asia Minor. Those true to Christ are caught in between and are persecuted by the government and betrayed by those who compromise!

How long until we in the West are forced down that same road? Government or Christ; we will not be permitted to serve two masters.

Mount_Pagus_Smyrna_1870_

Mount Pagus, Smyrna, Turkey, by Maison Rubellin ca 1870; t

People from a compromised religious body often betray those who leave their fold to serve Christ in holiness and truth.

Smyrna had an exceptionally large Jewish population. This figured into the persecution of Christians by Jews cooperating with the Romans. Jews had made a compromise with Rome. In lieu of a sacrifice to the Emperor when required, Jews agreed to pay a tax to Rome (fiscus Iudaicus) for the upkeep of the Temple of Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome (see Jewish Tax below). At this point Jews who paid this tax were collaborators with Rome. Christians in Smyrna once were Jews and still had ties to that body. 

Nerva_Fiscus_Iudaicus_coin

A coin issued by Nerva (Emperor AD 96-98) reads “abolition of malicious prosecution in connection with the Jewish tax.” (WikiPedia)

The Church was probably founded on Paul’s third missionary journey. The most famous of all early church fathers martyred there was Polycarp. He refused to declare that Caesar was Lord. He was burned at the stake and stabbed ca. A.D. 155. He was over eighty years old then. He was alive during John’s time at Ephesus. Tradition holds John appointed him to the Bishopric of Smyrna (see Polycarp below).

Churches from which we separated due to sin in their structures now seek to destroy us. If we left en masse, the government may have awarded our church property to a few who voted “no.”

Roving gangs of thugs now attack churches in Africa. Whole villages are destroyed while governments do not lift a finger to defend the helpless. In the US, we have lawless elements that threaten our peace and well-being as believers in Christ. 

Polycarp_burned_at_the_stake

Burning and Stabbing of Polycarp, Smyrna, by Jan Luiken (1649-1712)

Christ is fully aware of the circumstances of His Church vs. 8

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.”

Christ is the First and the Last — This image from the Vision of the Risen Christ, in Rev. 1, comes from Isaiah 44:6 —6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. (ESV)

This is God’s Divine self-designation. He is God alone. He has no rival among the so-called gods of our age–money, power, etc. 

The Greek Letters are Α and Ω (Alpha and Omega). This figure of speech is a merismos = “a full description is shortened by describing only boundaries or the start and end states.” (See merismos below). The implication of this designation is that Christ is A to Z and everything in between. In other words, Christ is Eternal. Christ is God! (see Fee below). 

Note also that Christ is previous to any suffering we experience. And, He is at the end of all of our troubles as believers as well. He is with us in the present. Thus, He is to be all in all to us along the way of life in the good times and the bad. Psalm 1:8 is our hope–the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly will perish. 

The Risen Christ identifies himself as the one who died and came to life — a reference to Christ’s resurrection. What kind of resources and power do we have? Resurrection power!!!

William_Hole__Jesus_Appears_To_Mary_Magdalene

Jesus revealing himself to Mary Magdalene – William Brassey Hole

Christ knows our circumstances and enriches us with His presence vs. 9

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.

Just two words bring so much comfort to us in suffering — “I know!” We may feel alone, but we are never alone with Christ fully aware of our plight. 

I know your —

(1) tribulation (thlipsis), the standard word usually translated “tribulation” in the NT. The word denotes something which “presses down upon something or someone.” 

Perhaps we ought to render this word “ordeal.” This way we take out of the equation any thought of a great tribulation at the end. The world of Asia Minor Christians was about to enter an ordeal the likes of which they had never known. John’s great prophetic insight is to see this ordeal that lies ahead and prepare the seven churches to walk with Christ through this.
(2) poverty (ptochos) denotes the state of being utterly destitute. We will see later how much commerce is linked to Roman religion. They did not compromise like their former companions — the Jews.

(3) slander (blasphemia) malicious untruths used by the unbelieving Jews to incite persecution of believers. The collaborators with Rome now became the informants on their friends and family who converted to Christianity.

The Risen Christ encourages those who have few of this world’s goods. Yet you are rich (plousias in Greek). They are rich spiritually but not in the resources of this world. “The desire for an intimate knowledge of God is the most important [blessing] in our lives. When we are in the wilderness, our biggest concern as Christians is not with the circumstances – though that is a legitimate concern – it is the assuring presence of God. (see Lloyd-Jones below). 

The Risen Christ knows all about our persecutors.

They say they are Jews but are not is an enigmatic phrase to us. Jewish attenders of the synagogue are not really of Abraham’s spiritual seed. (See chart below). 

These Jews had very likely chosen Smyrna as their place of residence because it was a city of commerce. They not only vilified the Messiah but eagerly accused the Christians before the Roman tribunals. As always, they were filled with malignant antagonism against Christians… . These so-called Jews might consider themselves to be “the synagogue of God”; in reality they constituted “the synagogue of Satan,” the chief accuser of the brethren. (see Hendriksen, pg 65, below).

Suffering believers around the world today are oppressed by those who want the money from developing nations. The greedy want to rid developing nations of any vestige of Christianity. 

Jewish Remnant

The “remnant” of Israel in the OT and the NT

They are in reality a synagogue of Satan — this reveals the true source of the believers’ persecution — Satan. The word “Satan” means “adversary” or “opponent.” This identifies some within the Jewish community who were hostile to the Gospel and persecuted believers.

When Polycarp was burned at the stake, some of the more hostile Jews sided with the Romans. They gathered wood for the fire even though it was the Sabbath!

More on Smyrna next time!

Notes

ESV. Accessed from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series) (p. 30). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Hendriksen, William. (1939). More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Jewish Tax. (2019). Accessed June 5, 2019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscus_Judaicus

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. “Enjoying the Presence of God.” Accessed June 4, 2019 from http://www.thetransformedsoul.com/about-the-book/chapters/chapter-12

Merismos. (2019). Accessed February 1, 2019 from http://changingminds.org/techniques/language/figures_speech/merismos.htm

Nine Commandments. (2019) accessed June 8, 2019 from https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/chinese-officials-erase-first-of-10-commandments/

Polycarp. (2019). Accessed June 5, 2019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycarp

Pulpit Commentary. (1890). Kindle edition. 

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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