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God's Message to Two Churches - The Book of Revelation
Week 25, 2016
The Church at Smyrna—“Myrrh”
(Approximately A.D. 100 – 325)
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death”’ (Revelation 2:8-11 NKJV).
The Lord begins addressing each church by noting a different characteristic of Himself. This is not arbitrary, as each church will experience some aspects of the Lord more than others. The church at Smyrna represents the period in which Christians will suffer almost continuous and widespread persecution—as did the Lord when He walked the earth.
When we read the Gospels, it is hard to find a single thing the Lord said or did that did not stir up criticism and threats. We often think that if our critics would just witness a miracle, they would repent and become supporters. That did not work for Jesus and it rarely works for anyone. The more power the Lord demonstrated in His ministry, the more the opposition rose up against Him. The Lord performed some miracles so that people would believe Him, but most were simply out of compassion for hurting people.
If He had wanted to use power to convince people that He was sent from God, He could have done more dramatic, spectacular things, like stopping the sun as Joshua did. His miracles were not for that purpose. Rather His nature is to heal, deliver, and restore the afflicted and oppressed. Pursuing healing, miracles, and deliverance is good, but not if we do it to alleviate persecution. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (see I John 5:19) John wrote, meaning most people are under the devil’s influence rather than God’s. The devil does not like seeing people he has afflicted healed and delivered. We need to pursue the power gifts for the sake of doing the work of the Lord, but understand that the more we grow in this power, the greater the opposition.
The Lord also begins by reminding this church that He overcame death. He promised this for all who faithfully follow Him. This church needed to keep this in mind because of what they were facing. This church period would face the most brutal persecution that the most powerful empire in the world could mobilize against the church.
Smyrna means “myrrh,” a primary ingredient in incense. In Scripture, incense typifies prayer and worship. Christians living through this period no doubt lived on prayer as much as on oxygen. The willingness of so many to lay down their lives for the sake of His Gospel was also a “sweet smelling fragrance” to the Lord. Those who do not know the Lord view death as the greatest catastrophe, but to those who live by faith in Him, it is the beginning of a far greater life to be embraced, not feared.
Christians at this time were not just killed in great numbers; they could not hold significant positions or jobs. In many places could not even be merchants. For this reason, to embrace Christ during this time meant almost certain poverty and deprivation. The Lord let them know He was aware of their plight and that they are not poor, but rich. How is that?
Peter wrote that the testing of our faith was more precious than gold. Have you considered that any trial you face in life is like finding a big pot of gold? Those with true faith accept the trials, and even death, as treasure and for the sake of the Lord.
Where is our treasure? As the Lord declared, where we put our treasure indicates where our heart truly lies (see Matthew 6:21). If we place our faith in the eternal purposes of God and we know we have eternal life, we will not be consumed by temporary things and our hearts will be toward the things that last forever. This life is “training for reigning.” The Fruit of the Spirit we grow in now will be a factor determining our eternal position and capacity in basic ways in the kingdom. So the church of Smyrna was far wealthier than those flushed with the world’s treasures.
The phrase in Revelation 2:8-11 about the blasphemy of those claiming to be Jews but instead were of the synagogue of Satan is obviously not about literal Jews. In those times, every Jew could prove their Jewish heritage through their genealogies. However, under the New Covenant, the Gentile followers of Christ were born again into the family of Abraham, “grafted in” as “spiritual Jews.” During this time of such persecution, some false teachers and ministries sought to take advantage of believers, pretending to have been sent by the Lord. In reality they were sent by the devil, and the Lord recognized that here.
The “tribulation for ten days” likely referred to the Diocletian persecution—the most severe attempt yet to wipe out the church. It lasted ten years from 303 to 313 A.D. After the persecution, this church period ended more abruptly than the others as the Roman Emperor embraced and promoted the faith.
The promise to the overcomers of this church assured that they would not be hurt by the second death—affirming their eternal reward in Christ.
Even though this speaks of a period in history, churches all over the world right now live in this place spiritually, threatened every day with death for their faith. Some of the greatest spiritual treasures are also found in these churches—those rich in faith are truly rich.
The Church at Pergamos—“Elevated”
(Approximately A.D. 323 - 538)
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:
“I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. “And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
“Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
“Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it”’ (Revelation 2:12-17 NKJV).
Fittingly, the word Pergamos means height, elevation, or elevated. At this time, the church went from suffering its worst persecution to becoming the state religion of the Roman Empire. One day Christians were hunted and killed, and the next they were honored citizens. Soon one had to be a Christian to hold positions of authority in the government or favored status as merchants and landowners. While a time of elevation for the church, it came so fast that it created dramatic problems, including an influx of evil and evil-intentioned people the church did not do well resisting.
The Lord begins His exhortation to this church period by reminding them of the two-edged sword—His Word. His Word contains clear warnings about the corruption that starting to flood into the church. This corruption dominated the institutional church for over a thousand years until His Word, the Scriptures, were again esteemed as the only source of church doctrine.
Next the Lord acknowledges that this church dwells where “Satan’s throne” is. Pergamos had a literal altar to the god Baal called “Satan’s throne.” In the 1930s, German archeologists excavated this altar and moved it to Berlin where it still resides in The Pergamon Museum. Interestingly, the Nazis came to power in Germany the same year this altar was moved to Berlin.
This church is also commended for being faithful even in the days of Antipas, whom the Lord called His “faithful witness.” It is no accident that this is linked to “Satan’s throne.” Paul wrote in:
II Thessalonians 2:3-4:
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revelaed, the son of perdition,
who opposses and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (NKJV).
The early church fathers who addressed this subject seemed to agree that they expected this “man of sin,” or the “abomination of desolation” as Daniel referred to it, to take its seat in the temple of God—or since Christ, the church. None of the early church fathers, or even the Reformers until the 1844 Advent Movement, foresaw a rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or the man of sin manifested there. Rather they saw him being manifested in the church.
Antipas means “anti-pope” or “anti-father.” This was a movement that rose up after the church became the state religion of the Roman Empire. It specifically resisted the exceptional authority given to the bishops, especially to the bishop of Rome, by the Emperor. Those in this movement believed that the only Head of the church was Jesus. No man should presume His rightful place or be called “father”—a title that should be reserved for the Lord alone.
Over a thousand years later, the Reformers also rose up as “Antipas.” They declared the institution that exalted men as the head of the church in Christ’s rightful place as the “abomination of desolation,” or “the abomination that desolated” the church by separating the people from their direct relationship to the Lord by putting men in His place.
There are many other factors to this issue that deserve a deeper study of the writings of the early church fathers and the Reformers. We will cover some of this as we continue this study of the Book of Revelation.
next week 26