The Book of REVELATION
James J. Barker
THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA
- The letter to the church in Smyrna is the shortest of
the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3.
- Smyrna was about 40 miles north of Ephesus. Like
Ephesus, Smyrna was a wicked, idolatrous city. Smyrna is not mentioned in
the book of Acts, or in any of the epistles.
- Smyrna prided
itself upon its Caesar-worship. In
26 AD, there were six great cities in Asia that were competing for the right and
the privilege to build a temple to the Roman emperor Tiberius, and of those six
cities, Smyrna gained the prerogative and the right.
- Unlike Ephesus, which today is uninhabited, Smyrna is
still a large city. Today the Turks call it “Izmir.” It is a seaport city,
and it is dominated by Muslims.
- The word “Smyrna” means “myrrh” (a sweet perfume used to
embalm dead bodies), and suggests suffering and death (cf. Rev.
- In John 19:39, we read that Nicodemus went to the tomb
of Jesus and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes.
- Therefore, the church at Smyrna is often referred to as
“the martyr church” (cf. Rev. 2:10). The persecution of Christians (by
both heathen and Jews) in Asia Minor centered in
- Polycarp lived between 70 and 155 A.D and was a close
friend and disciple of the apostle John. He served as a pastor in
Smyrna. Many Bible teachers believe Polycarp is the “angel of the
church in Smyrna” (Rev. 2:8).
- Back in the days of Polycarp, the Roman Empire
vigorously enforced their anti-Christian laws. In 155 AD, the Roman authorities
arrested Polycarp for preaching the Gospel.
- The Romans told
Polycarp that if he would deny Christ and offer up incense to Caesar’s
statue, he could escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, “Four
score and six years have I served the Lord, and He never wronged me. How then
can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?”
- Steadfast in his stand
for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and was burned alive at
- We saw last week that
the church at Ephesus received a strong commendation, but there was also a
strong rebuke (2:2-5). But there is no word of rebuke for the
church at Smyrna (and Philadelphia).
THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH
- The head of the
church was the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, He is the head of every local
church. Colossians 1:18 says Christ “is the head of the body, the
- To the church at Smyrna, Christ is introduced as “the
first and the last, which was dead, and is alive” (2:8). In describing
Himself as “the first and the last,” Christ is relating Himself to time and
- The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal God who has always
existed in the past, and who will always exist in the future. Our Lord
said to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John
- “Then took they up stones to cast at Him” (John
- Our Lord is also described as He “which was dead,
and is alive” (Rev. 2:8), referring to His substitutionary death and His
resurrection from the dead (cf. Rev. 1:17, 18).
- This is the message for Smyrna and this is the message
for all Christians: Just as Christ suffered and died, and rose victoriously from
the grave, so too will all those who suffer and die for Him (cf.
- Hebrews 11:35 says, “Others were tortured, not accepting
deliverance; that they might obtain a better
- “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings,
yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn
asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in
sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the
world was not worthy:)” (11:36—38).
- Our Lord said in Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them
which kill the body, but are not able to kill the
- The worse thing a man
can do to a Christian is kill him, but then the Christian goes straight to
heaven. The apostle Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die
is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
- Our Lord said, “And
fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but
rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in
COMMENDATION OF THE CHURCH
- The church at
Smyrna suffered greatly. Our Lord said in Rev. 2:9, “I know thy works,
- This “tribulation” does not refer to the normal trials and troubles all people have
to contend with. Our Lord is referring specifically here to the trouble they had
to endure for their stand for Christ.
- Are you taking a stand for Christ? Do your
coworkers know you are saved? Do you witness to your friends and neighbors
- Some people get upset when you give them the
- Second Timothy 3:12 says, “all that will live
godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,”
- The Barnabas Fund is a Christian organization that
provides practical aid and financial support for persecuted Christians around
the world. The Barnabas Fund makes the needs of persecuted Christians
known to other Christians around the world, and encourages Christians to pray
for their persecuted brethren.
- According to the Barnabas Fund, one in ten Christians
are being persecuted. Theses persecuted Christians are denied basic freedoms
that we here in America often take for granted: to freely worship together in
public, or to even own a Bible.
- Back in the 1950’s, Vance Havner said, "It is not easy
to preach on Smyrna nowadays. The average American congregation is in no
mood to appreciate such a church. In a day of quick prosperity…it is
not easy to interest a well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed Sunday morning crowd
in the Smyrna brand of loyalty. We are more like Laodicea, rich and
increased with goods and needing nothing. It does not cost much to be a
Christian now…Everything is measured in terms of success and prosperity these
days. We are not interested in what it costs to be a Christian but in what
we get by being one…I am often amused and amazed at the way we equate
Christianity with success, popularity and prosperity. We may not admit it
but we use the same old gauge the world uses, except that we employ religious
language” (Messages on Revival).
- Vance Havner preached that 50 years ago. What
would he think if he were around today, surrounded by all of these shameless
health & wealth and prosperity preachers?
- “People turn it on and
assume that TBN is American Christianity, and Americans know everything, so why
not listen to it?” says Bonnie Dolan, founder and director of Zambia’s Center
for Christian Missions. “[W]e have Zambians looking to the West for direction,
and they associate TBN with the West. And it’s killing our churches”
- In March 2003, a
cashier at a five-star hotel in Nigeria was arrested for allegedly stealing
nearly 40 million naira (then about US $400,000) from his employer. His
colleagues were shocked because there was nothing to suggest that he was living
above his means - he had no car and he lived in a rented apartment in a
non-fashionable part of Lagos. The man confessed that he gave all the money to
his Pentecostal church.
- James 2:5 says,
“Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world
rich in faith?” Poor financially, but “rich in
- In II Corinthians 6:10,
the apostle Paul describes Bible preachers as “as poor, yet making
many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” Our Lord
said we should laying up treasures in heaven, not here on
- To the church at
Smyrna, our Lord says, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty,
(but thou art rich)…” (2:9).
- The church at Laodicea
(3:15-17) was rich (financially) but poor (spiritually); whereas the church at
Smyrna was rich (spiritually) but poor (financially).
- Smyrna was a wealthy
city. The Christians in Smyrna were in poverty because their property had
been confiscated. This form of persecution has always been
commonplace. The Nazis did it. The Communists do it. The
Muslims do it.
- And the pagans did it
to the Christians in Smyrna.
- The Lord informs the
church at Smyrna that He knows the reviling of the “synagogue of Satan”
(2:9). The meaning is not clear but it certainly has reference to
religious Jews who persecuted the Christians at
- Our Lord says, “I know
the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not”
- The apostle Paul says
in Romans 2:28, 29, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly;
neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a
Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart,
in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of
AN ADMONITION TO THE CHURCH (2:10,
- The Christians in Smyrna were told by our Lord in verse
10, "ye shall have tribulation ten days." There are various interpretations and
explanations given for these "ten days."
- W.A. Criswell
said, "Ten refers here to intensity," and he refers to the ten plagues in Egypt.
- The Christians in Smyrna were not promised escape from
this intense persecution and death. They were promised “a crown of
- The crown of life is also referred to in James 1:12,
"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he
is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath
promised to them that love him."
- The Christians in Smyrna were not promised deliverance
from death, but deliverance from “the second death”
- The “second death” is eternal punishment in the lake of
fire (Rev. 20:14, 15).
- There are many unsaved church members today who think
everything is going to be OK, but some day they will wind up in
- Oh what a terrible shock! (Cf. Matthew
- We need more Bible preaching on holiness, righteousness,
repentance, judgment, sin, and hell.
- The Christians in
Smyrna were persecuted but they stayed loyal to our Lord. But there are
very few Smyrna Christians around today (cf. Matthew
- There are multitudes of
church members today who would not hesitate to take the mark of the beast if it
would mean no persecution, a better job, more money,
- They will have a nice
car, a beautiful home, nice clothes, and plenty of money. But when they
are cast off into hell, they will realize it was not worth it (Rev.
- The city of
Smyrna is only mentioned here in the book of Revelation, but the Greek word
Smyrna is found three times in our New
- The first time
it is used is in Matthew 2:11, where we are told that the wise men from the east
brought the young Christ child “gold, and frankincense and myrrh
- Gold for a
King. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.
for the sweet fragrance of His life. This signifies our Lord’s
- Myrrh (Greek
word is smyrna) is for our Saviour. Myrrh typifies the suffering of our
Lord for our sins. Our Lord suffered and died on the cross for you and for