Summary: Encouragement to persevere
We started last month to look at the letters written to the Seven Churches in Asia as a series.
The book of Revelation was written by the apostle John whilst he was banished to the island of Patmos in traditionally AD 96 at a time when Christian Churches were being persecuted throughout the Roman Empire possibly under the Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96).
Let’s just quickly summarise the seven churches before going on to look at Smyrna the second of these churches in more detail.
1) Ephesus Rev. 2:1-7
It was an orthodox church, with good works, patience, sound doctrine, church discipline and hatred of evil. But it suffered from backsliding and loss of its first love.
Catchword: Loss of First Love
2) Smyrna Rev. 2:8-11
This was the poor, rich church that we are going to look at today. It had spiritual endurance and heavenly treasure and is one of the two churches (the other being that of Philadelphia) to have no reproof.
3) Pergamum Rev. 2:12-17
It was a church with a bad environment. Its virtues were perseverance in an evil environment but it is reproved for its tolerance of wrong doctrine and heretics.
4) Thyatira (pronounced Thy’at’ira)
Thyatira, the church of the evil prophetess, was commended for its love, spiritual service, faith and patience but reproved for its lax discipline and tolerance of a corrupt prophetess.
Catchword: Lack of Discipline
5) Sardis Rev. 3:1-6
It was the dying church. For most of its members there was nothing to commend it for, though some were commended for purity. It was reproved for extreme formalism, imminent spiritual death and inactivity.
6) Philadelphia Rev.3: 7-13
It was a weak but loyal church and was commended for its witness and faithfulness to God’s Word. It received no reproof.
7) Laodicea Rev. 3:14-22
It had nothing to recommend it. On the contrary it was condemned for its lukewarmness, spiritual conceit, no conscious need, spiritual poverty and spiritual blindness.
Perhaps this is the closest church to our churches in England today.
I believe it is good for us to read these letters so that we can watch for the pitfalls that other churches have fallen into and to take note.
It is also good for us to consider what the Lord requires from his church.
So today we’ll take a look at the Church in Smyrna.
I think that we will understand the letter better when we know something about the city and the people to whom the letter was written.
Smyrna is present-day Izmir in Turkey, about 210 miles south-south-west of Istanbul on the Aegean shore.
It is about forty miles due north of Ephesus and had a population of about 200,000 (two hundred thousand)
It was an important seaport at the mouth of the Hermus River for the ancient trade route through the Hermus valley.
It was wealthy and it was a city where learning flourished, especially sciences and medicine.
It was believed to have been the native city of
Smyrna was a faithful ally to Rome long before Rome became supreme in the eastern Mediterranean. As a result it had earned special privileges as a free city and an Assize (that is a self governing) town during Roman rule.
During the time of the Roman Empire, Smyrna was famous for its beauty and for the magnificence of its public buildings.
It was also a hotbed of idolatry. Among the beautifully paved streets traversing the city from east to west was one known as “Golden Street”. It was full of with pagan temples.
For example there was a temple to Cybele and another to Zeus at the two ends of the street. And there were with temples to Apollo, Asclepis and Aphrodite in between.
It was also a centre of emperor worship, having won the privilege (from the Roman Senate in 23 AD) to build the first Temple to Tiberius.
Under Domitian (81-96AD) emperor worship became compulsory under pain of death for every Roman citizen as an expression of political loyalty than religious worship.
Yet most Christians refused to perform emperor worship, with dire consequences.
Story: Perhaps a modern day equivalent to the predicament of the Early Church in Smyrna was that of the Christians in Japanese occupied Korea. Things came to a head when the Japanese ordered the Christians to worship their Emperor at the Shinto shrines.
Smyrna was the home of an important Christian community in the first century. The Gospel probably reached Smyrna at an early date, presumably from Ephesus (Acts 19:10).
It may well be that Smyrna and the other five churches to which letters are written in Rev. 2 and 3 were daughter churches of the church at Ephesus where, tradition has it, that St. John was the bishop.