The Church at Smyrna
This is part two in a seven-part study on the Churches in the book of Revelation. Part one can be accessed here: https://iamawatchman.com/a-study-on-the-7-churches-ephesus/
The notes below compliment this live worship-hour video recording of a teaching on the Church at Smyrna.
Almost 2000 years ago Jesus shared a message to seven churches in seven cities located in present-day western Turkey. That message is presented in Revelation 2-3. When John wrote the book of Revelation, there were about 100 churches in greater Asia. So then, the question is: Why these seven churches? These churches were not the largest or most notable—two of the seven churches had grave issues. Many believe Jesus chose to speak to these churches because their location and ministry are representative of both future periods in church history and the major issues individuals and churches struggle with today.
The Lord’s message to the church at Smyrna prophetically points forward to a time of great persecution for believers (approximately 100—325AD). For much of this time, the open practice of Christianity was considered a crime and punishable by death. Millions of Christians were martyred or imprisoned for their faith. The church was tried and tested, but prevailed and flourished. This is a testament to the courage and perseverance of those early believers. It is also a testimony to the grace and encouragement of God.
The Lord’s message to the Church at Smyrna reminds believers that God can use suffering and opposition to bring about spiritual growth and an increased witness. It is important to note that though the 2nd—4th century church suffered terribly under Roman persecution, it was perhaps the most vibrant and Great-Commission oriented period of church history.
Smyrna vied with Ephesus (located about forty miles away) and Pergamum (Pergamos) for the title, “First City of Asia.” Though established in the 11th century BC, Smyrna did not attain importance until after Alexander the Great laid the foundation for a new city. The work of enlarging and fortifying the city was carried out under Antigonus (316 – 301 BC) and Lysimachus (301 – 281 BC).
Smyrna is located 42 miles from Patmos (a city of 100,000). The name, “Smyrna” is derived from the word, “myrrh” which means “bitter.” It aptly portends to an age of bitter persecution.
Polycarp, was the first Bishop of Smyrna. He was martyred there in 155 AD. Polycarp is said to have been discipled by the Apostle John. Polycarp is associated with some of the oldest Christian writings in the world today.
WORDS OF PRAISE:
Jesus praised this church with the words: “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” (Rev. 2:9a). Many had lost jobs because or could not work because they would not give a pinch of tribute (indicating that Caesar was to be worshipped).
The encouragement and challenges Jesus extended to the church at Smyrna are echoes of earlier New Testament writings. For example, believers are to persevere (see Heb. 12:1). Believers are to not grow weary in doing good (See Gal. 6:9). Believers are to be sanctified (see John 17:15-17; 1 Thess. 4:3) and believers are to flee from evil (1 Thess. 5:22).
A WORD OF CHALLENGE:
Revelation 2:10 presents a somber challenge:
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison…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.”
From this one verse believers are commanded to:
- not be afraid
- be prepare to suffer
- know that the suffering will not last
- remember that faithfulness yields a reward
- acknowledge their wrong and return to the right path.
Persecution made the church strong
It is said that “The branches heaven laden and bowing to the ground—are those bearing the greatest fruit.” Persecution strengthens character and produces faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). Persecution and trials encourage reliance and obedience (Acts 9:15-16). Persecution and the scattering of the saints broadened the scope and witness of the Church (2 Cor. 1:3-4). These are just a few reasons that James challenges believers to “consider it joy when we encounter various trials” (James 1:2-4).
The call is to be strong in the faith. Challenges and suffering is coming. Those who are strong and grounded in the faith will be able to endure to the end.
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