Revelation 2:8-11 The Church of Smyrna is the next church that this letter is addressed to. It was a church that experienced a great deal of persecution. It is sad but true that the strongest churches throughout history have been those that have suffered the worst persecution. Scripture links persecution and spiritual strength. James tells us this in Revelation 1:2-4. It is in the midst of our suffering that we are most dependent and reliant on the Lord, which causes us to draw near to Him. The result is that it is in the fires of persecution that we are purified. Trials and persecution strengthen genuine faith, and reveals false faith.
The churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia received no rebuke in their letters because of their endurance in the midst of great persecution. We will all face to some extent trials and persecution for our faith and what we can learn as we study this church is how to deal with trials in a way that will strengthen and commend us to God.
Smyrna is the picture of just what a church should be: a dynamic witness for Jesus through all circumstances no matter the trial or temptation. In each of the letters to the seven churches the writer identifies Himself. The expression describing the writer as the first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life identifies Him as the Lord Jesus which was a title for God (Isaiah 44:6;48:12) which further affirms His equality with God.
Furthermore the work of Messiah is listed here as part of His credentials, He was dead, and came to life. This also imparts the assurance to the persecuted believer of Smyrna not to fear anyone except the Lord who has power for them over death and any other trial. It is a reminder that this is the same Lord who promised and now has delivered the truth ” I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die ” (John 11:25-26). He too endured the most unjust and severe persecution anyone ever suffered (Hebrews 12:3-4), and knows and sympathizes with their suffering.
The church at Smyrna was probably planted during Paul’s Ephesian ministry (Acts 19:10), either by Paul or those who came to faith under his ministry. The city was known for its emperor worship. Under Domitian, it became a capital offense to refuse to offer the yearly sacrifice to the emperor and so many Christians faced execution, just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abendigo in Daniel’s day. The most famous of Smyrna’s martyrs was Polycarp, a disciple of John.
It is interesting that the Greek word translated ” Smyrna ” was used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation by the Rabbi’s of the Old Covenant) to translate the Hebrew word for myrrh which was used as a perfume for the living (Matthew 2:11) and the dead (John 19:39). Its association with those who suffer in Scripture links persecution and suffering as a fragrant aroma of faithfulness to God. Smyrna today is the Turkish city of Izmir, located on a gulf of the Aegean Sea and, unlike Ephesus, was blessed with an excellent harbor.
Smyrna was a center of science and medicine. Like Ephesus, it enjoyed the privilege of being self-governing.
The church is commended for four things:
1) Bearing up under terrible tribulation which we have already briefly discussed.
2) Bearing up under poverty. The idea is that of having nothing and of being destitute. Apparently many were forced out of their jobs and having their property confiscated as lawbreakers when they refused to declare that “Caesar is Lord.”
3) They were commended for being spiritually wealthy. They were outwardly poor, but inwardly they were rich toward the Lord. They were faithful to the Lord by loving Him and one another and even those who opposed them. They ministering to all in need.
4) They bore up under all kinds of slander by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of the ultimate blasphemer, Satan.
The word synagogue comes from a Greek word meaning “assembly of men” or “congregation,” and it was used much like the English word “church.” The “synagogue of Satan,” then, is an assembly or congregation—a church—made up of the individuals who “say they are Jews, and are not.” The term “Jew” is used here in a spiritual sense. The word Jew means literally Praise Yahweh. Jews were especially chosen to bring praise to God. Consider Paul’s definition of a spiritual Jew in Romans 2:29: “He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” In this case, it is not one’s physical race that counts, but his spiritual condition (Galatians 3:27-29; Romans 4:16).
Those in the “synagogue of Satan” say they are spiritual Jews—pretend to be real Believer’s—but are not. This false church was already developing in the days of the Apostle John, masquerading as God’s true church. One of the hallmarks of Satan’s activities is deception, particularly counterfeiting the things of God (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Jesus says we will know false ministers by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). There are then ministers who are not following biblical doctrines and as a result not producing the fruit of righteousness. These then are described as ministers of a “synagogue of Satan.” This is a strong message to every church. We are either an assembly of God or of Satan. It all depends on whether or not we worship and serve the Lord Jesus. We are a true church if we proclaim Messiah in the midst of an evil and corrupt world that slanders those who live righteous and godly lives (2 Timothy 2:12;2 Peter 2:1;1 John 4:1-3).
Jesus then warned the believers that more persecution was coming but He told them not to fear what they were about to suffer. He would give them strength to endure it (John 16:33; Psalm 56:11). The Lord warned them that the devil was about to cast some of them into prison. God’s purpose in permitting imprisonment was so that they would be tested.
By successfully enduring that trial, they would prove the reality of their faith, and be strengthened (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). They would prove again that Satan cannot destroy genuine faith. Satan continues to attack God’s children and attempts to destroy their faith. That is why one of his titles in Scripture is the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10) but he will fail (John 10:28-29; John 6:39; Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:28-29).
God controls and promised that they would have tribulation for only ten days. Satan’s assault would be intense, but brief. They were told to be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. The crown is eternal life, and perseverance proves their faith as they endure suffering.