Smyrna Church Faithful
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13. Smyrna Church Faithful
Revelation 2.8-11

"To the Smyrna church angel 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. In ancient Roman times, Smyrna and Rome were close. The name "Smyrna" means "bitterness" and may come 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. Known as "Port of Asia," it has a deep harbor for ships on the Aegean Sea. The Smyrna Church is materially poor but spiritually rich.

Polycarp

One of Smyrna's 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, and his persecutors stabbed him to death. His name means "much fruit" in Greek. His death produced much fruit in those who witnessed his martyrdom in the city and surrounding area. The Smyrna church struggles against two hostile forces, a Jewish population strongly opposed to Christianity and a group that supports emperor worship or worship of 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 they should worship, rather than the imperial cult or the female deity Roma.

Smyrna Persecutions

Smyrna ChurchThe letter to the "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 its cause. Christians may suffer, even to death, but their 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 power. 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. A "victor's crown" is made from interlocking laurel tree twigs and leaves. Laurelwood has an aromatic evergreen fragrance. For this reason, the "victory crown" is sometimes called a "laurel wreath." Later, "cherry" is also woven into victor's crowns, interestingly named a "spineless burcher's broom." The victors receive crowns in the Smyrna Games and Olympic Games in Greece, much like modern athletes receive gold, silver, or bronze medals in the modern Olympic Games. Smyrna is famous for its athletic games in ancient times. They are a smaller version of the modern Summer Olympic Games, which originated in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The first modern Games in Athens were held in 1896 AD and usually occur in a different location every four years. The modern Winter Games held two years after the Summer 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 will also receive a victory wreath. For the Christian, this is a sign of victory but being circular and endless symbolizes 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. Instead, 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 Rabbis used the term "second death" in New Testament times for the death of the wicked in the next world. Although the Hebrew Bible does not mention the phrase, 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 appears later in Revelation 21.5-14. Jesus says, "But the cowardly, those who don't believe, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, those who worship idols and all liars - they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur, which 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 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 Faithful"
by Ron Meacock © 2020

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