Pr Edi Giudetti
Promise in Persecution
The Promise From Immortality
8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
For any letter or any book or any writing for that matter, the first consideration we have is almost always the question of the author.
Who is it?
In the New Testament Epistles and letters, we are never left in suspense because the author always reveals himself to the reader, or at the very least he is without question recognised by the recipient of his letter. Whether it be Paul, or James, or Peter, John, Jude, Jesus or God, we have the identity of the author given to us in the letters of the New Testament. This letter to the Church in Smyrna is no exception.
These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; is the one who is dictating this letter to John that he may write it for the benefit of the recipient.
These things saith the first and the last;
Beloved I must tell you that before I write any given article if I address myself as The first and the last would be a little dishonest at best, blasphemy at worst. Who can be ever introduced and personified as both first and last?
There is only one who was there in the beginning and can be thought of as there in the end.
The entire concept of beginning and end has built within it the framework of TIME. Time itself can have a beginning and an end but to be there from the first and remain there at the end would demonstrate a being that precedes TIME, and extends beyond it.
In Chapter one of Revelation we come to a knowledge of who this person is that is dictating these letters.
The first verse says;
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signifieditby his angel unto his servant John:
Verse 8 begin the words of Jesus Christ as he says;
8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
In this beginning of his words he introduces himself as both the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, (Greek words transliterated into the English for us).
And after John testifies of his location and the state in which he was seeing these visions, in verses 9-10, he tells of hearing behind himself a great voice, as of a trumpet. The words he first hears are these, read with me verse 11;
Saying,I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
Then he turns to see who it was speaking and we have a description of that great voice given us together with the effect it has on the aged apostle from verse 12-17.
Turn in your bibles to the book of Isaiah.
Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.
In Revelation 2:8 what we have written to the Angle of the Church of Smyrna comes from the mouth of one who identifies himself as the first and the last, …..which was dead, and is alive; ….?
But how can God have been dead?
Friedrich Nietzsche’s god is dead; indeed, his god never lived, as per most of the gods made up in the place of the God of the Bible.
The god of Richard Dawkins does not exist, the god of Sam Harris does not exist, the god of Daniel Dennet does not exist, the God of the late Christopher Hitchens does not exist, the God of the late Stephen Hawking does not exist, (though I dare say these last two men now know who the real God is now). It is not uncommon for people to create a god of their own making and prove that that god does not exist, that is called “A Straw Man”. This is what most atheists do.
They invent a god like ‘the flying spaghetti monster’ and then demonstrate how it cannot exist. (These people Call themselves Pastafarians) They are just as idiotic as their belief.
It is quite another however, to consider the Alpha and Omega of the Bible, the first and the last, which was dead and is alive and claim with equal confidence he does not exist, especially when it is he that is addressing a letter to you!
The letter to the Church of Smyrna comes from the one who knows the end from the beginning, who was alive at the first and remains at the last and who brings to you a Promise… From Immortality.
The Promise In Knowledge
9 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.
The Promise In Knowledge.
If there is one who was there at the first and remains to the end, that has knowledge of that which will be concerning me, then he has my attention! He knows the works of the Church of Smyrna, he knows it! He walks among the seven golden candlesticks, which are the seven churches and so he is expected to know it’s works and all that it does. But notice he also knows what it is that afflicts the Church of Smyrna, its tribulation, and poverty.
Stemming even from the name of the Church itself is an indication of the suffering of it. The name “Smyrna” is the Greek word that we have translated myrrh in the Bible, representing the fragrant spices of a particular tree. It is used in the Bible to prepare a body for its burial, interestingly however it is also used in the knowledge and anticipation of life thereafter, which was dead and is alive.
It was one of the gifts given to Jesus Christ at his birth and it was brought in mixture by Nicodemus to the burying of the Lord Jesus Christ at his death. The word for Myrrh in the Greek is what we have hear transliterated Smyrna. It is both the name of the City and the description of its suffering.
The City itself is an ancient City and remains a City to this day in modern Turkey. It is in fact the third largest City of the nation and has been renamed only in the last century to Izmir. It was, up to the last century, a predominantly Christian city. Many of the Christians fled the City after the Greko – Turkish war of 1919-1922. An agreement of transfer was struck between the two nations and many Christians took advantage of the opportunity to flee the city. Today there is still a population of Christians in the city, but not a dominant population.
But this is the Historic Church of Smyrna, the one that existed during the years of the Apostle Johns life. We have no knowledge of it in the New Testament other than that which is written here. We do not know who it was that brought the Gospel to the City, but we do know that the Church was faithful.
Jesus however also knows its works, and tribulation, and poverty.
The City, like that of the Ephesians, had a high population of both pagans and Jews. The pagans rejoiced in the number of Gods it worshipped. The ancient historian Aristides boasted that
“as you traverse the city from west to east, you go from a temple to a temple and from a hill to a hill”.
There pagan worshipers built Temples to the worship of Cybele, of Apollo, Aesculapius, Aphrodite and Zeus as well as a monument to the great writer Homer, whom the city claimed as their own. These temples adorned this City and demonstrated its fill of idolatry.
Sir William Ramsey records of another ancient Historian named Strabo who states that the City itself was indeed ancient, but was destroyed by the Lydians in the third century BC and did not live again for almost four hundred years. It was even a City which was dead and is alive.
We beheld the persecution of the Church of Ephesus as that which was relatively subtle. That was not the case for the tribulation of the Church of Smryna. Its persecution led to its poverty. As all persecutions do; the confiscation of “goods and property” follows hard against the Ephesian confiscation of “rights and privileges.”
As we will see in the next section; when faithfulness to Christ has all physical possession taken away, only life itself can be left to confiscate. Jesus knows their works, and tribulation, and poverty, and then he parenthesizes the truth of their state (but thou art rich).
What a joy it is that when you undergo extreme trials, the one who you desire would know you are in tribulation, does KNOW.
In reading of the trials of the holocaust of the Jews in Poland, one thing that stood out for me is that part of the suffering of the captives, was that those who loved them did not know their state, and that the captives themselves had no knowledge of the state of their loved ones. Wives separated from husbands, children from the mothers, families torn apart without any knowledge of what will come of the ones they loved. They could not get messages to them, they could not call for help and even if they could haw can they know help would come?
Is it a comfort to you to know that Jesus knows your works, your tribulation, your poverty?
(but thou art rich).
Would it comfort you to know that, though you are temporarily poor, you are eternally rich?
Would you be willing to endure suffering, even unto death if you knew that a crown of life awaited you?
9 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.
A large part of the persecution of the Church stemmed from those who called themselves Jews but were not Jews in the Biblical sense of the word.
They knew not their messiah, they wilfully turned away and counted God their enemy and as such, the synagogues in which they congregated were nothing but the synagogue of Satan. This is where they came to seek the persecution and death of those who had already died to themselves, but where alive in Christ.
This they did; they would kill them thinking that they do God service. But what they offered they offered to devils and to Satan, who, unlike the angel of the Church, was the presiding angel over the synagogues of these jews.
The Promise of Praise
10 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: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
The Promise of Praise.
This letter is one of only two letters to which only praise is given to the Church. In this letter you will not find rebuke, but you will find both warning, comfort and encouragement.
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried;
Jesus did not promise to remove from them their suffering, but he did encourage them not to fear what it is they shall suffer. “Fear Not”. Seventy times we have that precise phrase found in the Bible. That’s 10 x 7.
In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said
“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 hell.”
In Luke 12 Jesus further encourages his beloved saying;
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? 7But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.
In Revelation 1:17, when the apostle John fell at his feet as dead, Jesus simply said unto him
Fear not; I am the first and the last:
Christ is the encouragement of his own. He may not remove from you the things you might suffer, but he will sustain you through it, 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:
There is a unique characteristic in Churches which suffer extreme persecution throughout history. And that is that Tribulation has a perfecting work.
James speaks this way relating to divers temptations,
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience haveherperfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (Jas 1:3-4)
Wanting Nothing, that is, in need of nothing. In Christ we have the fullness of life even in death, we want for nothing. The persecuted Church is certainly tried in its faith, working patience, and with patience comes that perfect work, even the perfecting of the Church, being entire and completed.
This is what we see in the all the historic references of Churches that have suffered through history.
…behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison
Prisons did not exist in the days of Rome as they do today. Prisons today could simply not be afforded, nor was there the desire to afford them. Why should the criminal who’s crime came at the cost of society be sustained by society to further cost?
Pliny the Younger stated
“The maintenance of prisoners for long terms would doubtless have seemed an unnecessary financial burden to the cities. In Bithynia prisoners were guarded by public slaves, whose reliability was evidently suspect”
(Plin. Ep.10.19, 20).
No, the purpose of prison was two-fold;
- To await the verdict of judgment and therein the sentencing.
- To await death.
The Christians of Smyrna were cast into prison generally to await death. Their trial would lead to their patience and perfection.
Many are the conjectures on the meaning to the latter part of this verse; and ye shall have tribulation ten days:
Let me return to an historic understanding of Smyrna that you may understand the zeal in which they persecuted the Church.
Smyrna historically was known as the most faithful of cities to Rome. In fact, through history they had a knack for choosing the right side of the battle. Siding always with the nation that will dominate and therefore be brought under their rule. So faithful was Smyrna to Rome that she was one of the few cities that had the benefit of self governance, that is, both her laws and her taxes remained her own.
The relationship of Smyrna to ancient Rome was one of total faithfulness and of willful sub-ordinance. It is historian Colin Hemer who recalls the letter of Tacitus writing to Tiberius in 26 AD who recounts to him the faithfulness of the Smyrnaeans to Rome two centuries earlier, where it was said
“ And such was their love for the Romans that when it was reported in their assembly that the army of Sulla was endangered by the severity of the winter and inadequate clothing, those present spontaneously stripped off the garments they were wearing to send them to the legions.”
Livy repeatedly mentions the active fidelity of Smyrna to Rome in the years following 195 bc (35 passim).
Smyrna, which is our most faithful allies ...(Philipp. 11.2.5).
We see therefore that, in light of its advertised faithfulness to Rome, it executed what it saw as unfaithfulness to the empire speedily. Annual emperor worship was signified with the burning of incense on Caesars alter and followed by the issuance of a certificate commemorating, and also proving the devotion of his subjects. To risk being found without such a certificate was to risk death.
(In the last point you will hear of the death of Polycarp for just such a transgression.)
And ye shall have tribulation ten days
An inscription was discovered in the City which said;
‘To Julius Menecles Diophantus, Asiarch, who has gloriously and zealously presented (a show of combat) with sharpened (weapons) five days successively, his dearest city (pays honour)’
This gives to us indication of a period in the arena to which perhaps the Christians would be martyred. Could it be 10 days in the arena?
Historians tell us that the reign of Domitian, where he instigated again the worship of the Emperor, forced all people on pain of death to lend homage to him.
Just like the faithfulness of the Smyrna Pagans to Rome, the Smyrna Christians would not bow the knee to any but Christ. In demonstration therefore of the faithfulness of Pagan’s of Smyrna to Rome, the peak of persecution in all Asia minor rose against the Christians of Smyrna for Christ.
Ten emperors in total would arise to persecute the people of the Lord during the timeframe of this suffering Church type;
Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Antoninus, Severus, Maximian, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and Diocletian.
It was not until the so-called conversion of Constantine in 312 AD and the Edict of Milan in 313 AD which followed The Edict of Toleration in 311, that the persecutions ceased completely and a new era was on the cusp.
It was not until 380 AD that Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the religion of the empire and outlawed paganism
But for those 200 + years being a Christian openly and sharing of the hope of Christ risked a life filled with poverty, persecution and death.
Becoming a born-again Christian was a fatal decision that gave eternal life.
The Promise For Life
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. (Rev 2:8-11)
The Historic Church of Smyrna
The Period of The Church of Smyrna
The Present Christian of Smyrna
The Future State of Smyrnaian Christian
We recall the most famous of the Christians of Smyrna, Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna. His death at the age of 86 years was commemorated after 50 years preaching the gospel of Christ. The search in the theater of wild beasts began for Polycarp. The crowd had grown tired of the courage of the Christian sects and set their sights on finding Polycarp.
Polycarp had committed himself to prayer and one day in a trance saw his pillow burning and then stated to his companions “I must needs be burned alive”.
He was betrayed by two slave boys and found by the soldiers reclining in an upstairs room. He made no fuss and happily conversed with the soldiers. They wondered both at his age and his casual demeanor and enquired what on earth was wanted with such an old man.
Polycarp order that food and drink would be given to the men and asked them leave of him that he may pray within their sight for an hour. He prayed two hours and the Lord was so gracious to him as he prayed for the Church and especially for the souls of his captors. In-fact the soldiers themselves began to grieve that they needs take him to the place of slaughter and were sorry they came after him with such haste.
The account states;
“He was met by the Chief Constable Herod and Nicetes, his father, who shifted him into their carriage, and tried to persuade him as they sat by his side, urging, ‘Why, what harm is there in saying “Caesar is Lord,” and sacrificing, and the rest of it, and so saving yourself?’”
But Polycarp would not do as they wanted and he was thrust out toward the stadium.
“So he was brought before the Proconsul, who asked him if he were Polycarp? He said ‘Yes,’ and the Proconsul tried to persuade him to deny his faith, urging, ‘Have respect to your old age,’ and the rest of it, according to the customary form, ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar; change your mind; say, “Away with the atheists!” ’ Then Polycarp looked with a stern countenance on the multitude of lawless heathen gathered in the stadium, and waved his hands at them, and looked up to heaven with a groan, and 3said, ‘Away with the atheists.’ The Proconsul continued insisting and saying, ‘Swear, and I release you; curse Christ.’ And Polycarp said, ‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’”
“The Proconsul said, ‘I have wild beasts; if you will not change your mind I will throw you to them.’ Then he said, ‘Bid them be brought: change of mind from better to worse is not a change that we are allowed; but to change from wrong to right is good.’ Then again said the Proconsul to him, ‘If you despise the beasts, unless you change your mind, I shall have you burnt,’ But Polycarp said: ‘You threaten the fire that burns for an hour, and after a little while is quenched; for you are ignorant of the fire of the judgement to come, and of everlasting punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why delay? Do what you wish.’”
When the fill of wood and kindling was made high and sure and with Polycarp tied firm to the post, for he would not suffer them to nail him there but promised that even if the rope fails, he, through the strength of God, will remain firmly placed.
When he was set in place “he looked up to heaven and said, ‘O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy beloved and blessed child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received our knowledge of thee, God of Angels and Powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live 2before thy face, I bless thee in that thou hast deemed me worthy of this day and hour; that I might take a portion among the martyrs in the cup of Christ, to the resurrectionof eternal lifeboth of soul and body in the incorruption of the Holy Ghost. Among these may I to-day be welcome before thy face as a rich and acceptable sacrifice as thou didst prepare and manifest beforehand and didst fulfil, thou the 3faithful and true God. For this cause, and for all things I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee through the everlasting and heavenly High Priest Jesus Christ thy beloved Son, through whom to thee with him and with the Holy Ghost be glory now and for the ages to come. Amen.”’
“When he had offered up his Amen and completed his prayer, those in charge kindled the fire. A great flame flashed out, and we to whom the sight was granted, saw a marvel; and we moreover were preserved to 2the end that we might tell to the rest what came to pass. The fire made the appearance of a vaulted roof, like a ship’s sail filling out with the wind, and it walled about the body of the martyr in a ring.”
“In the end, when the lawless mob had seen that his body could not be consumed by the fire they commanded an executioner to go and stab him with a dagger. He did this and there came out so much blood that it put out the fire, and all the multitude marveled” 
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
Polycarp, the Church of Smyrna and the representatives of that type of Church throughout the ages up and until even this very day, will not be hurt of the second death because they overcame and they did so in Christ.
What is the second death?
The death Polycarp warned the proconsul of with great gravity;
“You threaten the fire that burns for an hour, and after a little while is quenched; for you are ignorant of the fire of the judgement to come, and of everlasting punishment reserved for the ungodly”
Turn in your Bibles to this last passage in Revelation 20:12-14
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
There is a Promise to Life even in death for the Church of Smyrna.
Indeed, the entire Bible tells about the hope of eternal life to all who believe.
Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Livonia, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Dove Booksellers, 2001), 71.
Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Livonia, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Dove Booksellers, 2001), 69.
James Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, (London: SPCK, 1987), 25.
James Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, (London: SPCK, 1987), 27.