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13. Smyrna Church
Revelation 2.8-11

"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 about 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 life as your victor's crown." (Revelation 2.8-11)

Female Deity Roma

Ancient SmyrnaSmyrna is a proud and beautiful city, which is now called Izmir in Turkey, but in ancient Roman times, it is closely aligned to Rome. The name "Smyrna," means "bitterness" and may be derived from the same word as "myrrh" which is the chief export of the city in ancient times. The Smyrna Church" is located about twenty-five miles north of Ephesus on the Mediterranean Coast. It is nicknamed "Port of Asia" because it has a deep harbor for ships on the Aegean Sea. The Smyrna Church is materially poor but spiritually rich. One of its eminent leaders and a martyr in the second century was Polycarp (69-155 AD). He was the Bishop of Smyrna and was bound and burned at the stake there. The fire miraculously failed to touch him however and his persecutors stabbed him to death. His name means "much fruit" in Greek. His death produced much fruit in the lives of those who witnessed his martyrdom in the city and surrounding area. The Smyrna church, however, struggles against two hostile forces, a Jewish population strongly opposed to Christianity, and a group that supports emperor worship or worship the female deity "Roma." Roma is a goddess who personifies the City of Rome. To worship Roma is to show one's dedication to the City of Rome and the Roman Empire. Persecution and suffering are inevitable in this environment. The Smyrna church stands up well but Jesus reminds them here that he is the "First and the Last," and the "Alpha and Omega." He is the only one that they should worship, rather than the imperial emperor cult or the female deity Roma.

Smyrna Persecutions

Smyrna ChurchThe letter to "Smyrna Church," encourages Christians that although they "suffer persecution," they are nevertheless rich. John of Patmos writes in Revelation 2.9a, "I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich." Pain is part of life, but it is never easy to "suffer persecution," no matter what the cause. Christians may suffer, even to death but their time of pain and trial will be short compared to their eternal reward. The Smyrna persecutions come upon the faithful who will suffer for their faith. God, however, is still in control. The Smyrna Persecutions last for "ten days" and have a specific beginning and end, but God always remains in control. Jesus commends the Smyrna Church for its faith under persecution. He then encourages the believers that they need not fear the future if they remain faithful. "Suffering" draws Christians toward greater faithfulness!

Victory Crown

Victor's CrownChristians who are faithful to Jesus will be rewarded with a victory crown and spared the second death. Interlocking laurel tree twigs and leaves are woven to form a "victor's crown." Laurelwood has an aromatic evergreen fragrance. For this reason, the "victory crown" is sometimes called a "laurel wreath." Later, victor's crowns are also woven from "cherry," also interestingly called a "spineless burcher's broom." Victory crowns are awarded to the winners in the Smyrna Games and Olympic Games in Greece as champions much the same as gold, silver or bronze medals are presented to modern athletes in the Olympic Games. Smyrna is famous for its athletic games in ancient times. They are a smaller version of the modern Summer Olympic Games which were first held in 1896 AD and since then have taken place in a different location every four years. The modern Winter Games have a similar format with gold, silver and bronze medals awarded in each event to the winner, the second and the third place. In the Book of Revelation, those faithful under persecution are told they too will receive a victory wreath. For the Christian, this is not only a sign of victory but being circular and endless are a symbol of eternal life.

Faithful in Sufferings

AfraidAnother promised reward is that Christians at Smyrna "will not be hurt at all by the second death." Jesus doesn't say that Christians will avoid suffering, troubles, or even persecution. Rather, we must be faithful to him even in our sufferings. Only then will our faith be proven to be genuine.

Second Death

Angel of DeathThe term "second death" is used by the Rabbis in New Testament times for the death of the wicked in the next world. Although the term is not found in the Hebrew Bible, it is in the Targums an ancient Aramaic paraphrase or interpretation of the Hebrew Bible from about the 1st century AD when Hebrew was declining as a spoken language. A reference to the second death is also found later in Revelation 21.5-14 where Jesus says, "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." In technical terms, the "second death" is, therefore, part of the Christian belief system. We need to keep our eyes on Christ and on what he promises us now and in the future to receive our "victory crown." Christians will not then be hurt at all by the second death!

"Smyrna Church"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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