Smyrna, the Suffering
is an ancient city (today İzmir in Turkey) that was
founded by the ancient Greeks at a central and
strategic point on what is today known as the
western coast of the Aegean Sea. Founded at the
head of the gulf of Smyrna (today the gulf of Izmir)
that reaches about 40 miles inland it was ideally
located as a distribution point for a large portion
of the region.
The city originally founded
by a people known as the Lelages was conquered and
taken by the ancient Greeks about 1100 BC and became
a prominent city of the region for hundreds of
years. around 627 BC the region was conquered and
became the Lydian Empire. Smyrna was conquered and
sacked by a king named Alyattas III between 609 and
560 BC. Smyrna was not utterly destroyed and
continued to exist for many years but not as the
grand city it formerly was.
When Alexander the Great, a
Greek, swept through with his conquests, Smyrna was
included and became part of the consortium of
nations united under him. This became what is known
as the Hellenistic age. Alexander recognized
Smyrna's potential for trade and strategic advantage
and ordered the city rebuilt. During the years 301
to 281 B.C., Lysimachus entirely rebuilt it on a new
site to the Southwest of the earlier cities, and
surrounded it by a wall. Standing, as it did, upon a
good harbor, at the head of one of the chief
highways to the interior, it quickly became a great
trading-center and the chief port for the export
trade. In Roman times, Smyrna was considered one of
the most prominent cities of Asia Minor, alongside
Pergamos and Ephesus.
Pagan worship in Smyrna
Smyrna was loaded with
Pagan worship to false gods in the first century.
There were many temples dedicated to pagan worship
built in the city. Among them were the temples of:
Zeus, who in Greek
mythology was the king of the gods, the ruler of
Mount Olympus, and the god of the sky and thunder.
This is where the Olympian games were celebrated.
The Romans worshipped Zeus as Jupiter.
Athena who was believed to
be the daughter of Zeus and was an armed warrior
goddess, and appears in Greek mythology as a helper
of many heroes.
In 23 AD a temple was built
in honor of Tiberius and his mother Julia, on the
Golden Street, connecting the temples of Zeus and
Cybele. Tiberius reigned as Roman emperor in
imperial Rome after Augustus from 14 AD to 37 AD.
Cybele or according to the
Romans, Magna Mater, which means earth mother was a
particular favorite of emperor Augustus. Cybele
represented the fertile Earth, a goddess of nature
and of wild animals. This temple burned in 111 BC
and was rebuilt during the reign of Augustus.
discoveries in old Smyrna have revealed the figures
of Hermes, Hestia, Dionysus, Eros and Hercules.
While this is not an
exhaustive study of pagan worship in Smyrna, it is
sufficient to demonstrate the level of false worship
the Christians of the time were up against. They
worshipped the one true and living God for which
there were no statues or idols or alters. The God
of the Christians was and still is absolutely
intolerant of the worship of other Gods. In addition
to this, Christianity requires us to stand against
such pagan worship and this caused great tension and
strife between the Christians and those who
worshipped pagan gods.
Also worth mentioning along
with the pagan worship is the false worship of the
one true and living God. Smyrna also had a large
population of Jewish people who were rightly
proclaiming the one true and living God, but had
rejected Jesus Christ as the messiah. In addition
to the persecution of the Romans, the Christians
also faced the Jewish persecutions which was
Christian Persecution in
During the Roman
persecutions many Christians suffered the most
dreadful torments here. They were put to death at
the stake, or by wild beasts in the amphitheater;
their properties confiscated by the empire,
enslaved, abused and tortured; and the only test
applied to them was whether they would throw a few
grains of incense into the fire as a sacrifice to
the Roman emperor, or whether they would refuse.
The Jewish population hated
the Christians and frequently turned them in to the
Roman authorities as conspirators against the
emperor for refusing to bow down to worship him.
John had a disciple named
Polycarp who was a prominent Christian leader in
Smyrna. Polycarp was probably 25-30 years old when
John died. Polycarp himself lived until he was
martyred around 156 A.D. in Smyrna. According to
history. he was tied to a stake in the amphitheatre,
pierced through the heart by a Roman soldier and
then burned in front of an audience of tens of
thousands of Romans screaming for his death.
Later on in the Revelation,
John writes of the wrath of God being poured out on
His enemies in the form of natural disasters which
depleted the wealth of Rome and eroded her power.
Smyrna was destroyed by an earthquake in 178 AD and
had to be rebuilt by the Roman Empire. It was too
important a city located strategically and
geographically to leave in ruins.
"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These things saith the first and the last, who was
dead, and lived (again):"
Angel means messenger. Some
scholars believe this would be one of the men
overseeing that particular congregation and some say
it is the Holy Spirit symbolized in the perfect
seven stars in Jesus' right hand mentioned earlier.
Either way, the message delivered is the same. It is
my opinion that the messenger is the one perfect
complete divine Spirit of God.
The first and the last, He
was dead and lived again is obviously Jesus Christ.
No Christian would have any difficulty recognizing
this symbolism, however someone unfamiliar with the
resurrection of Christ would have no idea what this
was referring to.
It is significant to note
here and in the individual messages addressed to the
specific churches that Revelation is directed
specifically toward them, not to people and
circumstances 2000 years removed. Whatever the
Revelation meant to those to whom it was addressed
is what it must mean today. The principles taught
within the Revelation are timeless, but the events
depicted therein are of that time period.
"I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou
Jesus told the church at
Smyrna He was aware of the tribulation they were
living through. The church at Smyrna was also
poverty stricken. The reason for this was that
during the time of the writing of Revelation, the
imperial cult known as the "Concilia" was enforcing
emperor worship. People who refused to worship the
emperor were forbidden to buy or sell anything,
their properties were confiscated and they found
themselves homeless. They could not have good jobs,
they were rejected by the population and
consequently were poverty stricken as a result. The
poverty they were suffering in this rich society was
part of their persecution.
How ironic it is that the
poorest, social rejects and outcasts of society were
the real priests and kings of the times. All of the
majestic wealth and shining temples meant nothing in
the end. The poorest people of all were the real
saints, living off the table scraps of the wealthy,
being oppressed, hated and rejected. This was
2 Corinthians 4:8-11
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed;
we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the
Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be
made manifest in our body.
11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death
for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might
be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
They were poor in material
wealth, but in the wealth that mattered they were
rich beyond description. What a wonderful way for
Jesus to comfort them and assure them of their final
victory. Our wealth today is by no means measured
by our material possessions. We could have nothing
and still be rich in Christ.
"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the
whole world , and lose his own soul? or what shall a
man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of
man shall come in the glory of his Father with his
angels; and then he shall reward every man according
to his works."
"and the blasphemy of
them that say they are Jews, and they art not, but
are a synagogue of Satan."
The considerable Jewish
population were said to be guilty of blasphemy.
Evidently they were participating in whatever they
had to in order to avoid the persecution of the
Romans. They were most likely burning incense to
the emperor which was all that was required to
satisfy the requirements to worship him in most
cases. They claimed to be God's children but they
are not. The synagogues they met in for prayer were
not of God, but of Satan.
"Fear not the things
which thou art about to suffer:"
God is telling them it's going to get worse,
"behold, the devil is
about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may
The devil is not literally going to throw them
into prison. This is going to be accomplished by
his followers, those who are serving him, even out
of ignorance. Christianity, if not already, will
soon be illegal in the Roman empire. Christians are
going to be thrown in prison and face death if they
refused to renounce God and worship the emperor.
Some of the Christians in Smyrna, not all of them
are going to face this imprisonment.
"and ye shall have
tribulation ten days."
Obviously this is not a literal period of time. All
of the Christians in Smyrna were not going to be
rounded up at the same time and thrown in prison to
be persecuted for 10 literal days. The number 10
represents completeness so something is going to be
brought to completion during this period of time.
"Be thou faithful unto
death, and I will give thee the crown of life."
Those who are going to be cast into prison are
commanded to be faithful unto death in order to
receive the crown of life. Many of the Christians
cast into prison by their enemies are going to die.
God would not tell them to remain faithful unto
death unless this was going to be necessary.
A Christian is to be
faithful unto death. The thought is to be faithful
even if the price you must pay is death. It is said
that Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor, was once
enraged at 40 Christian men because they would not
bow down and worship his image. He commanded them to
be stripped naked and to stand on a frozen lake
until they were ready to renounce God. But when dawn
broke the next morning, 40 nude men were found dead
on the ice. They were "faithful unto death."
In the letter to the church
at Pergamos Antipas was specifically mentioned as
one who was "faithful unto death."
"He that hath an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."
Those who can and will listen must heed what is
being said. Notice the message is said to be what
the "Spirit saith". Let's call our attention back
to the seven stars in Jesus' hand. Seven being the
number which represents the perfect divine. The
message to the church at Smyrna like all the others
is coming through the Spirit. The one perfect
messenger to all the churches then and today through
God's written word.
"He that overcometh
shall not be hurt of the second death."
The second death will be the great day of the
Lord as mentioned by Him in John 5:28-29 "Marvel
not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which
all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto
the resurrection of life; and they that have done
evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." The
second death is the resurrection of damnation where
the unsaved will be cast into Hell.
Let's note that Jesus does
not offer to take away the suffering of the faithful
Christians of Smyrna. In fact he acknowledges they
are already being persecuted but informs them it is
going to get much worse. Nevertheless, He makes a
promise to all who overcome that He will give them a
crown of life. Christ tells them not to fear death
for eternal life awaits them. This promise should be
a comfort to us as well for it is made to all who
would live faithfully and overcome the wiles of
evil. The Christians of the first century had to
remain faithful unto death. We can be assured we
must be likewise faithful unto death today. Those
of all ages who overcome the persecutions, and
tribulations to come and remain faithful unto death
will not suffer the resurrection of damnation.
In summary, Jesus had
nothing bad to say to the Christians at Smyrna.
They were faithful. Their works were acceptable
just like the works of the Ephesians but the
Christians in Smyrna obviously had their hearts in
the right place. Their deep poverty was nothing to
be ashamed of, in fact they were rich in what really
mattered. The church in Smyrna serves as a shining
example for us today. Let us likewise be rich in
works no matter what oppression may arise, and let
us all be comforted by the fact that we serve a God
that finds our works and love and dedication
acceptable and offers us mercy and eternal life in