LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA

HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND OF SMYRNA

The ancient city of Smyrna, not the ones on the states of Delaware, Gorgia or Tennessee, was about 56 kilometers (more than 36 miles) north of the city were have just studied, Ephesus.  Smyrna is in our day is found in the country called Turkey just like any of the seven cities mentioned in the book of revelation. In today’s turkey the city of Smyrna will be found in the location of called Izmir. Having a look at google map of Izmir, knowing that cities and cities may move for political reasons, landscape mappings remain almost the same for years. Smyrna must  have been an inland port city. Smyrna was a Greek nation in the days of John the revelator strategically located at the Aegean coast of the region of Anatolia. Permit me to say that the region in which the seven cities were located in the nation of what was called Lydia as seen in biblical book of Ezekiel 30: 5. Ephesus was a major city with a sea port and Smyrna 56 kilometers away north, was a smaller city more to the coast when compared to Ephesus.

 

SMYRNA IN REVELATION

This area is covered by the bible text of Revelations 2: 8-11. The name Smyrna means “sweet smelling savor”. Smyrna literally means “the more you beat it, the more the fragrance”. The Smyrna appeared only twice in the whole bible and these appear to be in the book of Revelation chapters 1 and 2. It is believed by bible scholars that the fragrance Myrrh, is a reddish-brown sap made into resins from the back of a thorny tree botanically called Commiphora myrrha or C, molmol, was among the gift offered to Jesus Christ at his birth. (Matt 2:11). The spiny tree grows from about 3 to 5 meters tall and 1.0 to about 1.5 meters wide.   

A reminder of the significance of the gifts given to Christ at his birth. Gold – his kingship or Royalty; Frankincense which stands for his Priestly role and Myrrh signifying his sacrificial death and burial.

 

EVALUATOR’S IDENTIFICATION

Christ, the ultimate evaluator of our faith identifies Himself as the “First and the Last; the One that was “dead” and now “is alive”. Jesus Christ is the only One who decides all about us individually and collectively. He is the One that died to set us free. He paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure we inherit eternal life. In the book of Isaiah the prophecy pointing to his mission was made “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: … Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: …and afflicted…But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-5. (KJV)

 

EVALUATION                                 

“I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and [I know] the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but [are] the synagogue of Satan.  Christ is the only one that has the ability to evaluate us. His appraisal tools are impeccable for He is our standard. We see words in this case that did not appear in the evaluation of Ephesus,   tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich). Individuals or groups or even organizations facing tribulation are never literally and materially rich. They are always on the run and acquiring physical wealth is a waste of time and when it exists at all, these structures become a waste of time.   

 

SMYRNA AND PERSECUTION

Smyrna represent the Christian period in history covering the period around 100 A.D to 323A.D.  Note that these dates or period overlaps with the events as we have noted before. The events during these periods can not be characterized as a “flip switch” but as one looks back at the church’s history a clear picture of the issues that has presented itself, then it becomes very glaring that prophetic pathways have being strictly marked as earlier predicted by the scriptures. What does this mean? This implies for the period in question that the church will suffer persecution. Indeed, the church suffered most of the persecutions at this period in time 100 to 323 A.D. Prior to A.D 100, the persecution of Christians was little and spontaneous compared to what is about to happen.

The bible and traditions recorded deaths of but a fewer apostles of Christ: John the Baptist (Matt 14:1-12), Stephen Acts chapters 6 & 7, and Acts 12:1 & 2 gives us a brief information about the death of James. Later on in the first century, two Roman emperors: Nero Claudius Augustus Germanicus (A.D. 54-68) killed a lot of Christians in A.D 64. Vespasian’s second son, Domitian (A.D. 81-96) and another in the second: Trajan (A.D. 108) had a mission of exterminating the Christians.  

 

THE GROWTH OF CHRISTIANITY: FIRST TO THE THIRD CENTURIES A.D.

It is very fascinating that the Christian group started with only twelve men, Christ being their leader. The baptism of Jesus Christ in A.D 27 at the age of 30 years (Luke 3:23) marked the beginning of his ministry. As Jesus Christ and his disciples moved from one Judean city to the other, his firm continued to spread. This continued for three and a half years and at the end of this mission was for Him to die. Crucified in A.D 31, Christ mission came to an end with 40  days to spare before ascension. As Christ ascended into heaven the twelve took over the mission. There were events that occurred after the ascension of Jesus that led to the gospel not staying within Jerusalem and Judea. That was the killing of Stephen. ( Acts 7:54-60). The death of Stephen by Jewish authorities induced fear into Christians that were in Judea and they left in their thousands to the gentile cities and nations carrying along the gospel of Jesus.   The bible account of the churche’s growth are seen in these passages: Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 5:14; Acts 8:1,4.  The church grew so much that they became a threat to the Roman Empire. They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). We know that this is a world full of sin so I would interpret the verse: “turned the world upright” or to the devil’s world or kingdom “turned the world upside down”, yes. Christians were so focused on getting the gospel, that they had started making enemies wherever they were. The bible was clear in the book of acts “…for as concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”  (Acts 28:22).

 

The number of Christian as at this time was very difficult to obtain as a result of lack of records but various research has shown using different types of models has given us an idea of the population and the number of Christians that lived then and also the possible number of those Christians that were persecuted and killed. One of those models is the Stark’s theoretical framework of cost-benefit analysis. This looks like a business model theory and one would wonder what this has to do with religion or the bible. As we have stated earlier due to lack of specific census figure on the number of Christians, curiosity of the Christian population by historians, social scientists and scholars across the board has sky rocketed.  

Curiosity about the growth of Christianity must have been happening in an exponential manner to have gotten the attention of the Roman authorities in a world where communication was so poor compared to where we are now. For this reason, in the last three decades sociological research methods has been involved in the course to satisfy peoples’ curiosity leading to scholarly and academic debates over these periods.  Rodney Stark, professor of Social Sciences at Baylor University was one of the people who made a remarkable publication on how this might have happened. Stark gave no precise number in his books written in 1996, 2006, 2007 but came up with the following proposal that “by 350 AD the majority of people within the boundaries of the Roman Empire were Christians”. (Stark 2007 pg 313).

Kenneth Scott Latourette was a well-known American historian born August 6, 1884 and died December 26, 1968), focused his carrier on the growth of Christianity in China, Japan, and the rest of the world. Being the educator and Christian missionary he was, once wrote this about the growth of Christianity in this period “One of the most amazing and significant facts of history is that within five centuries of its birth Christianity won the professed allegiance of the overwhelming majority of the population of the Roman Empire and even the support of the Roman state …”  (Dreyer, W. 2012. pg 65).

Robert Louis Wilken, emeritus professor of history at the University of Virginia came up with some figures starting with the population of the Roman empire 60 years after the ascension of Jesus Christ: 60 million citizens; population of Christians at the end the century was placed at about 10,000 Christians mathematically giving us 0.017 per cent of a figure of contemporary sociologist. (Taylor, J. 2014).  According to Wilkens, 200 A.D. the population of the Christians were more than two hundred thousand being 0.36 percent of the population of the empire. Now “By the year 250, however, the number had risen to more than a million, almost two percent of the population”. This means that there was a sharp increase within a space of 50 years: more than a million by A.D 250 and a staggering 6 million by A.D 300 being about 10 % of the empire’s population.

Some other bible students felt that it was more than these but however, these figures or models show that the persecution at this time seems to have triggered the increase in the number of those who became Christians by A.D. 300.

 

CHALLENGE

Christ assessed the Smyrna church and declared “I know thy…tribulation, and poverty,…”.  As it is earlier stated that the church of Smyrna represents the Christian period in history which covers the period around 100 A.D to 323 A.D. Christ, the Evaluator also declared “but thou art rich” to a church that is very poor. The church that Jesus Christ left after ascension is now facing persecution from every direction: the Jewish leaders, Roman Leaders and the entire Roman empire societies who would kill Christians following the words from their leaders. Individuals or organizations under persecution usually own nothing. Whatever they owned prior to their trial is usually destroyed or taken away so materially, they are poor. The church in Smyrna compared to the church in Ephesus, was a very poor one materially but spiritually, which is a look from Christ point of view, this church is very rich and has to be ready to die for the sake of Christ. Christian scholars describes the Church at Smyrna as “ the suffering church”.

 

ADMONITION

The church in Smyrna had no admonition from Christ. Amidst the seven churches, Smyrna received no rebuke. This is the church, “the more you beat it, the more the fragrance”: the more the persecutions to the Christians the more the heathen and the pagans convert to Christianity.  This is the church that is ready to die for Christ. However, He warned her of those who were wolfs in sheep clothing, who profess to

 

COMMITMENT

The suffering church must be prepared to suffer persecution. I do not know who prepares to face beatings, torture, imprisonments, banishments and eventually death but Christ says “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days” Rev 2:10 (KJV). They must not allow these to derail their attempts to keep the gospel from being propagated. The church kept the gospel going. She kept her promise. The Christian population moved from about a couple of hundred thousand to more than 6 million going by the Wilken’s model for the least.

TRIBULATION FOR TEN DAYS.

The content of this paragraph will take us back to the page  section of this site that deals with symbolisms. Remember that one prophetic day stands for one literal year so the ten days stands for ten literal years.

We already know earlier that Smyrna was the persecuted church. Something spectacular happened between 303 and 313 A.D., emperor Diocletian took it as a point of duty to stamp out Christianity and for the next ten years Christianity will witness the worst persecution ever within a period pf ten years. This period of ten years was so intense that the emperor Diocletian came up with a device of clamping down on the leaders of churches knowing too well that once the shepherd is captured, the sheep scatters. He rounded up pastors and bishops and burnt churches and scriptures in order for the roman traditions and culture to thrive. As he abdicated his throne in 305 A.D in the west emperor Galerius in the east committed more atrocities in an empire that has been divided into east and west by the former emperor with two more regions and leaders springing up. As at this time the Roman empire has witnessed cracks within herself.

 

PROMISE

Jesus Christ prepared the church for what she was to face and what the devil has planned for her. Christ reassured her by saying “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer” (Rev 2:10)(KJV). He prepared her for an inevitable circumstance- death, which Christ himself also suffered. He honestly expressed these words to her “be thou faithful unto death, …” and finally, He made the everlasting promise “and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev 2:10)(KJV).  Christ promise to His faithful ones was simply that they will reign with him forever.  “…He that over cometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Rev 2:11)(KJV). The second death is the final death at the end of the 1000 year stay of the saints. The final destruction of sin.  Jesus Christ died on the cross and is alive, an assurance to those who believe in him and are asleep that they will live to inherit eternal life at his second coming.

 

CONCLUSION 

Jesus Christ concluded His message to the second church with the following words  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;…” (Rev 2:11)(KJV). This will be the second time Christ will make such pronouncement on the sayings of the holy spirit.

 

Sources:          

 

Dreyer, W.A., (2012). ‘The amazing growth of the early church’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological  

                Studies 68(1), Art. #1268, 7 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/ hts.v68i1.1268

Holy bible () King James version

Healthline, (2021). 11 Surprising Benefits and Uses of Myrrh Oil

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/myrrh-oil

Latourette, K.S., 1964, A History of Christianity, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London.+-

Public Broadcasting Service (2006). The Roman Empire in the first Century.

https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/vespasian.html

Public Broadcasting Service (2006). The Roman Empire in the first Century.

https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/nero.html

Taylor, J. (2014). Early Church Growth

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/early-church-growth/

Wilken,  R (2012).  The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New

            Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2012), 65-66.