Summary: Study four of the Book of Revelation.
Smyrna – The persecuted Church.
Smyrna is the martyr church, the church that suffered martyrdom for Christ. The word Smyrna means “myrrh” and carries the meaning of suffering.
Myrrh was a fragrance used in the burial rituals of ancient times.
When Jesus was buried Myrrh was used to fragrance his tomb.
After the apostles deaths the second church age suffered more persecution than the previous church age.
“The Martyrdom of Polycarp” is the oldest known account of Christian Martyrdom.
Polycarp was the elderly Bishop of Smyrna who was martyred on a February afternoon in 155 or 146 A.D.
Polycarp as a young man had known some of the apostles as evidenced in his Epistle to the Philippians. Here he wrote, “If we suffer for the sake of his name, let us glorify him.”
“The Martyrdom of Polycarp” recounts that he was arrested and brought before an atheistic loathing crowd in The Coliseum of Smyrna. He refused the Roman proconsul’s pleas to curse Christ. He stated, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” He was then sentenced to death by burning at the stake. As they led him to the stake, he requested not to be nailed to the stake because he wasn’t worthy to imitate Jesus in his death. He promised, “he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved.” When the piles of wood were lit, the flames formed a wall around him; only after the executioner reached into the pyre to stab him, did he die.
The devotion of Polycarp’s followers was so great, the governor was warned not to allow Christians to take his remains, “else they will abandon the Crucified, and begin worshiping this one.” His followers managed to gather some of his bones from the ashes, which were considered “more valuable than gold.” This is the first reference to the reverence early Christians had for the relics of martyrs.
The city of Smyrna is still in existence today, Izmir, is it’s Turkish name. It has continuously been inhabited from the time it was founded.
It is a harbor town and a large commercial center. It is noted as the most beautiful city of Asia, called the Crown of all Asia.
The city goes back to about 2000 B.C., a Hittite city at that time, built around the slope of Mount Pagos.
Later, Alexander the Great had a great deal to do with the building of it into the marvel which it has become.
Smyrna is called the Crown City because the acropolis, located on Mount Pagos, was encircled with many gardens and trees. The city was also adorned with many noble buildings and beautiful temples – a temple of Zeus, a temple of Diana, a temple of Aphrodite, a temple of Apollo, etc. The city had a theater and an odeum, which is a music center – it was the home of music. Also it had a stadium, it was at this stadium in which the Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, was martyred.
The Church of Smyrna is representative of the Church Age A.D. 100 to approximately A.D. 314, from the death of the apostle John to the Edict of Tolerance by Constantine, which was given in A.D. 313 and ended the persecution of Christians – not only in Smyrna but all over the Roman Empire.
The letter to the Church of Smyrna. It is the briefest message, and it is all commendatory – everything he has to say to them is in praise.
The Commission - And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna…
The Character – These things saith the first and last, which was dead, and lived.
Here he is referencing to the verses in chapter 1:17-18 – He gives visions of himself for what befits each church.
The persecuted believers needed to be reminded that He was in control and whatever happened he would give them the grace that sustains. He is the everlasting God and he will be near them even in persecution.
His experience with death identified himself with their sufferings. He is triumphant over death and they had entrance to heaven because they were his.
The Commendation – he gave them seven words of commendation.
Tribulation – The church in Smyrna would endure much suffering and trouble for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Poverty – The early church was made of mainly the poorer class of people, which lacked material possessions. When the wealthy became believers they were discriminated against and ultimately had their property confiscated from them.
The blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. The implication is that the Jews in Smyrna who became Christian were Jews inwardly as well as outwardly. They were the real Jews while those in the synagogue were cursed.