A Study of the Seven Churches of Asia
by Al Maxey

(Revelation 2:8-11)

In the letter to the church at Smyrna "Christ weaves together a pattern of commendation and comfort. The commendation is partly one from the silence; He finds no complaint to bring against them" (Ray Summers, Worthy Is The Lamb, p. 112). "The Letter to the church in Smyrna, while the shortest of the seven, is also the most warmly commendatory" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 1684).

"It is noteworthy that only two of the seven churches of Asia received praise unmixed with censure from the Lord: Smyrna and Philadelphia. This, however, does not mean that they were perfect, entirely devoid of sin. 'For we all stumble in many ways' (James 3:2). 'If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us ... and we make Him a liar' (I John 1:8, 10). There has never been a perfect Christian; and since a congregation consists solely of the Christians who compose it, there has never been a perfect congregation. However, the Lord could well overlook their shortcomings so long as they were growing in their love for and devotion to Him; so long as the direction of their lives was upward rather than downward" (James M. Tolle, The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 37-38).

"The message of this letter is one of encouragement in the face of coming persecutions. The Smyrneans are reminded that Christ Himself, the Eternal One, shared a martyr's death but lived again" (J.W. Roberts, The Living Word Commentary: The Revelation To John, p. 40). "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3).


ONE --- "I know your tribulation" (NASB, NWT, ASV, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NAB, Phillips) ..... "afflictions" (NIV) ..... "troubles" (TEV, SEB) ..... "how hard pressed you are (NEB) ..... "how much you suffer" (LB) ..... "your affliction and distress and pressing trouble" (Amplified). This is the Greek word thlipsis which means "oppression, affliction, tribulation." It primarily means "pressure; a hard-pressing." It "has reference to sufferings due to the pressure of circumstances, or the antagonism of persons. Both the verb and the noun, when used of the present experience of believers, refer almost invariably to that which comes upon them from outside sources" (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

"Jesus knows the crushing and grinding lot of the church in Smyrna; nothing is concealed from His sight" (Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 126).

"In classical Greek this word is always used in its literal sense. It is, for instance, used of a man who was tortured to death by being slowly crushed by a great boulder laid upon him. In life there is always pressure; under that pressure many people collapse. Life becomes too much for them; physically and mentally they cannot stand the strain. It is there that Christ comes in. Jesus Christ enables us to cope with life, to meet the pressures of life standing erect and on our feet" (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 35).

Jesus not only praises them for remaining faithful in the face of their "pressures," but tells them that their struggle is not yet over. "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil (diabolos = "a slanderer; false-accuser") is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation (same Greek word as in vs. 9) ten days. Be faithful until (or: "even to the point of") death, and I will give you the crown of life ..... He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Rev. 2:10-11).

"Ten days" is symbolic of a full, but comparatively brief period of time. Most scholars feel it lasted until the time of Emperor Constantine (288 - 337 A.D.). On Saturday, 23 February 155 A.D. Polycarp (an elder in Smyrna; he studied under the apostle John) was burned at the stake, becoming the "twelfth martyr in Smyrna" (The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4, p. 393). Another noted martyr from Smyrna was Pionius, who was martyred in 250 A.D.

Satan would use these "ten days" of affliction to try and undermine the faith of the saints; Jesus would use it to prove and manifest the faith of His followers! "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12). "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (II Cor. 4:17). "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials" (I Peter 1:6). "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). See also: Matt. 24:21-22; Daniel 1:12-15.

Christ was fortifying His people for continued testing. Their affliction was not over. They would be required to endure a while longer. And yet it always seems to be the case, that those congregations and persons who experience the most affliction for their Lord, are also the most faithful and spiritually alive. "Fidelity to Christ may bring death on earth, but it brings life in eternity. The man who is faithful unto death dies to live, but the man who saves his life at the cost of principles and at the price of his loyalty to Christ lives to die!" (William Barclay).

Don't Fear
Be Faithful
And LIVE!!

TWO --- "I know ..... your poverty" (NASB, NWT, ASV, LB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, RSV, NAB, Phillips, Amplified) ..... "how poor you are" (NEB, TEV, SEB). This is the Greek word ptocheia, which signifies far more than just "being poor; poverty." It literally means: "destitution;" the reduction of one to begging for survival. It is not just a lack of extras, but a lack of everything; the very necessities of life are either absent or almost impossible to come by. "In Greek there are two words for 'poverty.' Penia describes the state of the man who is not wealthy and who, as the Greeks defined it, must satisfy his needs with his own hands. Ptocheia describes complete destitution. It has been put this way --- penia describes the state of the man who has nothing superfluous; ptocheia describes the state of the man who has nothing at all" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 78).

Loss of employment and loss of all one's possessions was commonly used by Emperor Domitian as a means of persecution. "Their poverty in earthly possessions was due to persecution. Work and patronage in business may have been withheld from the Christians; again, mobs may have looted their homes, shops, and bazaars" (R.C.H. Lenski, An Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 97). "Their poverty may have resulted from oppression and robbery on the part of their enemies" (John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, p. 41). "Perhaps the high esteem of emperor worship in Smyrna produced economic sanctions against Christians who refused to participate. In Smyrna, economic pressure may have been the first step toward persecution" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 438).

All citizens of the Empire were required to burn incense to Caesar and say, "Caesar is Lord;" in short, they were to acknowledge his deity. This the faithful Christians refused to do. If someone reported you to the Roman government for this offense and the government took your property, the person reporting you was rewarded with 10% of your confiscated property! Many of these "ten percenters" were Jews, who did it as much out of spite as for the reward.

Although they were impoverished, yet Jesus says they are "rich!" Spiritual riches are being referred to here. "Wealth, true wealth, is enrichment of character, not possession of gold. This is indeed a rich church" (Ray Summers, p. 113). "Their poverty was offset by a far greater wealth than silver and gold; they were rich in faith and favor with God and in all the attendant blessings of glory that belong to the heavenly citizenship" (Homer Hailey, p. 126).

"You stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions" (Heb. 10:32-34). Paul describes some Christians as being "poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things" (II Cor. 6:10).

THREE --- "I know ..... the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (NASB, NWT, ASV, KJV, NKJV) ..... "how you are slandered" (NEB, LB, NIV, RSV, NAB, SEB, Phillips) ..... "abused and reviled and slandered" (Amplified) ..... "the evil things said against you" (TEV). In the original Greek this is the word blasphemia which means "slander, reviling; speech injurious to another's good name" (Thayer's Greek -- English Lexicon of the NT, p. 102). "Defame; injure the reputation of someone; slander, defamation, all abusive speech" (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek -- English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 142-143). This word comes from two Greek words ("injure" + "speech") and simply means: "speech designed to injure."

"Since the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) the antagonism between Jews and Christians had grown, until it resulted in a curse against the Christians being included in the synagogue prayers!" (J.W. Roberts, The Living Word Commentary: The Revelation to John, p. 40). "In all probability, the vilifying of the church in Smyrna by the Jews had resulted in the poverty of many of its members. Because of their hatred for Christ's followers, the Jews would publish libelous statements concerning their character and manner of life. This would arouse the ire of the pagan population; and in all likelihood there followed the confiscation of the goods of many of them, which reduced them to dire poverty" (James M. Tolle, p. 39).

"James Drawbell, the famous journalist, has a sentence or two in one of his books: 'I admire conscientious objectors in this war, so long as they are conscientious; and I admire soldiers. The only ones I never admire are the ones who fight with their mouths.' To fight with one's mouth is always contemptible. The slanderer and the malicious gossip have much to answer for --- and they will answer for it!" (William Barclay, Letters To The Seven Churches, p. 37-38).

The official title of the synagogue was "Synagogue of the Lord" (Numbers 16:3; 20:4; 31:16). "Synagogue" is a transliteration of the Greek word sunagoge, which means "an assembling together; congregation, assembly." The congregation of the Jews in Smyrna was NOT of the Lord! "They say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 2:9). Those who opposed Jesus were sons of the Devil (John 8:44), and those who oppose His people are a congregation serving Satan! "Satan" is a transliteration of the Greek word satan, which means "adversary, one who opposes another." An assembly of opponents is an assembly of Satan!

"The real author of the persecutions is Satan, working through his servants the Jews and the Romans" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 454). "'But are of the synagogue of Satan' reveals for the first time in Revelation the ultimate source of the persecution of Christians --- Satan. Satan is the author of persecution, and wicked men are his instruments. 'Synagogue of Satan' refers, then, to certain Jews in ancient Smyrna who, motivated by Satan, slandered the church there" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 438).

Ephesus Pergamum

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