Allen Raynor Weblog: “Smyrna: The Persecuted Church” (Pt. 2)
(June 25, 2019)
In verse 9 of Revelation chapter 2 we notice the harsh words spoken by Jesus referring to “Those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” This shocking statement affirmed that those Jews who rejected Christ were just as much followers of Satan as pagan idol worshipers! He even uses the word “blasphemy” which is a very strong term usually reserved for the very most hostile acts/words against God. This was severe! Unbelieving Jews were regularly known to chime right in with pagans accusing Christians of several things such as Cannibalism – based on a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus had referred to His body and His blood which they twisted to make it sound like the early Christians were engaging in grotesque acts. The early Christians were also accused of immorality based on the perverting of the “holy kiss” believers often greeted one another with. They were accused of breaking up homes, based on when one spouse became a Christian and the other did not it often caused great conflict in the home. The early Christians were accused of “Atheism” because these believers rejected pagan deities and worshiped a God they could not see. They were also accused of political disloyalty and rebellion based on the fact Christians refused to offer the required sacrifices to the emperor.
With hopes to destroy the Christian faith altogether, some of Smyrna’s wealthy, influential Jews reported these blasphemous false allegations to the Romans. These “haters” of the Gospel were referred to as a “Synagogue of Satan,” meaning they assembled to plan attacks on the church, thereby doing Satan’s will and work. In Smyrna, the hostile Jewish population poisoned public opinion against the Christians.
Persecution against the church at Smyrna reached its peak 50 or so years after this letter was written with the execution of the aged pastor of the church at Smyrna, Polycarp. The unbelieving Jews played a big role in this. Polycarp writes extensively about knowing the Apostle John personally, when he was a young man. Foxes Book of Martyrs tells of how Polycarp was martyred in A.D. 155 at the age of 86. He was brought before the Roman proconsul at Smyrna who demanded that Polycarp take an oath renouncing Christ and placing his trust in Caesar. He refused and he famously said “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord Jesus; He has been faithful to me. How can I now be faithless to Him and blaspheme the name of my Savior.” (Polycarp; 155 A.D.) Even under the threat of being thrown to wild beasts, he calmly replied he would not. Ultimately he was burned at the stake. His dying words were “O Lord God Almighty, Father of the blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, I thank you for giving me this day and this hour, that I may be numbered among your martyrs, to share the cup of Jesus and to rise again to life everlasting.” (Polycarp [dying words]; 155 A.D.)
This tribulation against the church went on for several decades. The “10 days” seen in this passage is widely seen as a figurative number signifying a short period. However, some see it more as though “10 days” refers to short pockets/periods of time; perhaps 10 outbursts of persecution that was to come upon them. The last part of verse 10 speaks of a martyr’s crown (witness). This is a special reward/crown received by some. Revelation 4:10 tells of how the crowns received will be cast at the feet of Jesus, the only one who is worthy. Verse 11 goes on to say “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created.” (Rev. 4:10)
Jesus makes a promise to this congregation. Faithful overcomers need not fear death because earthly death is going to happen one way or another. Death is a doorway. It is either the entryway to eternal bliss/comfort/joy, or to eternal misery/pain/suffering. This is the “second death.” This “second death” is what awaits unbelievers. No believer will experience the second death; the overcomer will suffer no loss whatsoever. There is a promise to the believer who is faithful even to the point of death (the promise in vs. 10). For Christians, there is not only deliverance from the second death, but an experience of life to a rich degree. In John 10:10 Jesus declared “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b) Jesus offered words of encouragement to this church at Smyrna in the midst of what must have seemed like a dark and difficult time period. God’s perspective was perhaps different than their own. Someone has said “It’s not the load you carry that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” (unknown) Even in the darkest and most difficult hours of our life, God is still alive and well and suffering persecution of any kind is small potatoes compared to the hurt of “the second death.” Do not waste time fearing the first death, only make sure you avoid the second death!
God loved this church in Smyrna and He loves us so much that He offers these words of encouragement. If we know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we have reason to be encouraged today!
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor