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The Letter to Smyrna

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.’ Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until 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 by the second death.” (Rev 2:8-11)

The Christians of the Church in Smyrna has sacrificed much for their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The witness of their perseverance served to draw more people into the faith. The Church itself has always thrived in times of persecution throughout history. When people see the sacrifices that are made from others they tend to believe in their cause and are drawn by their dedication. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (Corinthians 2:14-15)

In the Church of Smyrna many suffered death in the course of their persecution, and Jesus introduced Himself as, “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life.” Smyrna means crushed and comes from the word myrrh. Myrrh is an embalming spice that releases an aroma when it is crushed. Myrrh is one of the gifts that was given to the baby Jesus from the Magi. (Matthew 2:11) Smyrna represents the second and third century Church which suffered intense persecution.

“And to the angel of the Church in Smyrna write.” Again the letter is addressed to the angel of the Church which may as we discussed last week could be an angelic being that watches over the Church. I myself like to think what a marvelous thing it would be to have an angel watching over our Church. The angels our God’s ministering spirits and every Church needs to ministered to. The Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit which is certainly most capable but ministering spirits have aided God’s people all throughout history and it is completely believable that they do so today.

Angels are very active in in their ministry today as they have always been. We are told that they rejoice in heaven for every repentant sinner. “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) The Scriptures warn against despising the children of God as their angel sees the face of God each day. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10) When we die here on earth it is an angel that carries us to our home in heaven. They are our companions on our journey to the Promised Land. “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.” (Luke 16:22) It is the angels that guard the gates of heaven, protectors from the evil spiritual forces in the heavenly places. “It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.” (Revelation 21:12) They are constantly ministering to us in our walk of faith during our journey here in the wilderness. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)

We also discussed the possible interpretation that the angel of the Church could be the anointed and ordained pastor of the Church.

Title

“The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this.” Again by this title it is clear that it is Jesus who is addressing the Church at Smyrna. In Revelation 1 it is clear that the Apostle John was in the presence of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who sacrificed His life on the cross that through His blood sacrifice we could be cleansed of our sins. It was Jesus who died and descended into Hell for three days. It was Jesus who rose from the grave and now sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us. He was before the beginning, (John 1:1) and He is preparing a place for each of us in eternity. (John 14:2-3) Jesus identified Himself as the first and the last in Revelation 1:8, 17)

This title that Jesus uses is fitting to the Church of Smyrna as many of them were losing their life by the persecutions of the day. This makes the title an obvious emphasis on overcoming death.

Commendation

“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” The Jews were the first to persecute the Christians at the Smyrna Church. Polycarp was one of the most famous of the early Church martyrs, a student of the Apostle John, and was the Bishop of Smyrna.

Prior to the martyring of Polycarp a young boy by the name of Germanicus who was of strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was taken to the local amphitheater and thrown in amongst the wild beast. Germanicus fought bravely and the wild beast subsided. The Proconsul then tried to persuade Germanicus to deny his faith and live because of his youthful age. Rather that submit Germanicus provoked the wild beast and was slain by them. This amazed the spectators and they cried out, “Down with the atheists!” (Those who would not worship the Roman gods.) The crowds cried for the blood of Polycarp.

The sheriff Herod arrested Polycarp and took him to the amphitheater to be burned at the stake. The fire was lit beneath him and those who were privileged to witness saw a great miracle. The flames formed an arch like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind forming a circle around the body of Polycarp. Rather than looking as burnt bread Polycarp appeared as gold or silver glowing in a furnace.

When they saw that Polycarp’s body could not be burned they called for the executioner to pierce him with a dagger. As the executioner pierced the body of Polycarp a dove flew out of his body, his blood quenched the fire, and Polycarp died. I interject here that is this not what happens when we die true in the Christian faith. The Dove (Holy Spirit) leaves this wretched flesh and sails to its heavenly home and does not the blood of Jesus quench the fire of judgment against us. Polycarp was 86 when he was martyred.

Admonition

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.” History tells is that the ten days refers to the reigns of the 10 Roman Caesars that covered a period of 250 years.

Call

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The reward for the faithful of the Church of Smyrna is to be received in heaven and no promise is given for deliverance. For interesting reading I suggest you getting a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs as the stories of the believers grace in the face of death is inspiring for us to behold. The methods of the executioners were ingenious and diabolical and used to exterminate them. Their deaths provided a form of public entertainment for the depraved of mind and heart. Yet the martyrs remained true and suffered and today have their great reward. There is a serious warning for us here today in that “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jerimiah 17:9) The time is here now in parts of this world and coming closer to our shores each day that Christians are persecuted and put to death for their faith in Jesus Christ. All the more we should pray fervently that “His Kingdom Come.”

Challenge

“’He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Here in the west and the United States we have not faced serious threats on account of our faith. Yet here in the United Sates we see more and more each day that our religions freedoms are slowly eroding away. Our government that was formed upon Christian principles now takes every effort to eliminate God from our society. Our once moral culture embraced the Christian foundations but now have little true knowledge or concern from the solid foundation that our society was built upon. Christians who are martyred annually now average 100,000 to 150,000 per year for the last 10 years. This number will only increase as the end time draws nearer.

Promise

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” As I have heard from back in the old days, “Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once. The death to watch out for is the second death as that is the permanent one.

Where ancient Smyrna once stood now stands the Turkish city of Izmir. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey. There are no remaining remnants of Smyrna today as the Church of Smyrna is in heaven.

Prophetic Application

Smyrna has been the place for much Christian persecution and martyrdom. In 107 AD, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in Syria and a friend of John the apostle, was thrown to the lions and eaten alive in the amphitheater of Rome. As mentioned before Polycarp was martyred in Smyrna in 155 AD.

The persecution came to a climax under Diocletian who in 303 AD worked for the complete annihilation of Christianity. Diocletian died in 305 AD but the persecution continued until 313 AD. It was brought to an end by a degree of Emperor Constantine. Therefore, the persecution lasted for ten years fulfilling the prophecy of the ten days in the letter to the Church of Smyrna.

We must understand that persecution can be used to cleanse the Church by forcing the faithful to follow Christ in all circumstances.

The most expensive homes in Smyrna were the ones built on the mountainsides. Thus the name was given Crown City. With this name given we can appreciate the promise given, “Be faithful until 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 by the second death.”

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, October 12, 2024

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