Background and History: Smyrna
Smyrna is known today as “Izmir”, located in Turkey and as a major city with a population of approximately 300,000 habitants. It has an excellent harbor, import/export few items such as tobacco, grapes, cotton, figs, olive oil and other.
The original city was destroyed about B.C. 627, and was deserted and in ruins for four hundred years. Alexander the Great contemplated its restoration, and his design was carried out after his death. The new city was built a short distance south of the ancient one, and became the finest in Asia Minor, being known as the glory of Asia. It was one of the cities which claimed the honor of being Homer’s birthplace. A splendid temple was erected by the Smyrnaeans to his memory, and a cave in the neighborhood of the city was shown where he was said to have composed his poems. Smyrna’s fine harbor made it a commercial center; but it was also distinguished for its schools of rhetoric and philosophy. Polycarp was the first bishop of its church, which suffered much from persecution, and he was said to have suffered martyrdom in the stadium of the city, A.D. 166. It is argued with some plausibility that Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna at the time of the composition of Revelation, and was the person addressed here. This question, however, is bound up with that of the date of composition (see Trench, “Epistles to the Seven Churches”). The city was a seat of the worship of Cybele the Mother of the gods, and of Dionysus or Bacchus.
Alyattes, the king of “Lydia”, successfully conquered it, putting an end to a history of two and one-half millennia. Alexander the Great, during the fourth century, put in charge one of his four generals to build in its place the most beautiful, well build and planned city in Ionia. The result was known as the “Flower of Ionia”. 27 B.C. Smyrna went under the Romans control and which became a great allied to the Romans during the Syrian/Mithridatic wars. From 27 B.C. to 324 A.D it was a powerful city with great material prosperity. From the years 178 A.D. throughout 180 A.D. suffered many seismic disturbances but always rebound from it.
Today, Smyrna (Izmir), is known as “The Paris of the Levant”. The richly embellishment of the temples and splendid buildings, in a perfect symmetry of those encircling “Mount Pagos” resulted in the title “the crown of Smyrna”.
There is a legend that surround the origins of this great empire, and which it also has to do with their polytheistic believes. Never the less, the beginning of the Roman religious believes were “animistic” in character. Their believe were, everything that was around them and that inhabited the Earth had its own spirit or numen. They truly believe, they were watched over by their ancestors’ spirits called “genius” (for male) and “juno” (for female).
Early in their history due to the Sabine influence, the romans had as prominent gods the following:
- The god of war
- Vital role in the beginning of the Roman history.
- In accordance with the legend of the foundation of Rome, he was the father of Romulus and Remus.
- Vital role in the beginning of the Roman history.
- The god of war
- The god who watched over the people and government of Rome was the deified Romulus.
- The leader of the gods
All the three gods were worshiped at the temple on the Capitoline Hill, which they were known as the Capitoline Triad. This Sabine influence did not replace the former believe but instead, they were added to their worship.
Later on the Monarchy period, the Etruscan influence was such, that the Capitoline triad underwent a transformation:
- Jupiter still at the pinnacle of their religion.
- Mars was replaced with Juno
- Juno became the wife of Jupiter
- Quirinus was replaced with Minerva
- Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter and Juno
- goddess of wisdom
- Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter and Juno
Once the Greeks were settled on the South of the Italian peninsula, also influence their religious believes. These last influenced the Romans by giving to the Romans the power to create their mythology, and as a result, an eloquent and pictographic gamma of characters of Roman gods were borrowed from the Greek gods.
Examples of such are:
Roman gods Greek gods
- Jupiter Zeus
- Mars Ares
- Minerva Athena
- Apollo Apollo
This particular process on any culture in were the influence is operating this way is called “syncretism”, a distinctive nature displayed by the Romans gods vs the counterparts was the fact that they displayed a frugal nature. The believer’s faith was guided by a college of “pontiffs” (an assembly of the highest ranking priest in the Ancient Roman/does this sound familiar?). The highest among them was “pontifex maximus”, position hold by patricians until the third century B.C. a plebian Roman could hold such position. Also even though this position was a highly wholly spiritual function, there was later on politicized. A great example of this was Julius Caesar, whose was the pontifex maximus during the first Triumvirate.
Each god had their own temple, priest or flamines. While the college was task with the affairs of the gods, the flamines represented their particular deity. The most important priest represented the Capitoline Triad, there was an exception to the rule and that was the priestesses to Vesta, goddess of the hearth, all were men. The Vestal Virgins (as they were known) priestesses were ordered to remain celibate for the entire thirty years of service and their task was to keep the sacred fire of Vesta burning in the temple. Many privileges were given to them, among some, privilege to own properties, to vote, no longer under the control of their parents, highly regarded and a reason why many patrician families wished their daughters to be given the position. The title of Vestal Virgins were appointed by the pontifex maximus by a drawing lots. Some of the downsides of the Vestal Virgins were for example that if the priestess fail to remain celibate for any period of the thirty years of service the punishment was to be buried alive.
During the beginning of the Empire, the emperor were deified after death, but it was not until Julius Caesar that the emperor was deified during their terms and after him many others will follow, there were couple exceptions; Caligula and Nero.
Worship of the imperial cult became a commonplace and even many of the emperors believed to be themselves “gods”. Commodus, for example, believed to be Hercules himself, Diocletian found affinity with Jupiter. Never the less, the one who made himself to be placed in a statue in the Jewish temples around the Roman Empire was Caligula.
Christianity started as a marginal and persecuted sect, but ended up the official state religion. As the Christians grew in number and with the ability to influence the Emperor Constantine, convinced by the Christian teachings, Constantine marched into a battle with the banner of Christ, and with heavy odds against him and his army, won the battle and attributed to Christ the victory calling it a divine intervention.
Immediately after his victory, Constantine passed the “Edict of Milan”, professing tolerance toward Christians and their believes. He ended baptized and the majority of his successors were Christians. Julian was an exception to that rule, trying to reinstate the traditional Roman gods, but with no much result. It was not but until 380 A.D. that Christianity became the State Religion.
During the month of December (December Saturnalia), on what is known as the “Via Sacra” (Sacred Way), passage that runs from the Coliseum, the Capitoline Hill (Capitoline Triad Temple Location) and Temple of Jupiter, marches and religious festivals took place.
Up to now is a brief view of the religious practices of the Roman Empire during the first, second and portion of the third centuries.
Let’s start with the Biblical passage for our delight, which is located in the 2nd Chapter of the Book of Revelation verses 8-11. Keep in mind I am using the Literate Translation which you will be able to find by downloading e-Sword program ( www.e-Sword.org ) which is a great tool for Bible Studies and is totally free of charge.
(Rev 2:8) And to the angel of the assembly of Smyrna, write: These things says the First and the Last, Who became dead, and lived:
Once again we can see how the Lord Jesus Christ appointed the angel to take the message to the assembly of Smyrna. This is indicative that there is always a particular messenger for the plan of God in our lives. This particular messenger knows the target in question and understand the all details regarding the assembly of Smyrna.
“These things says the First and the Last”… Please pay attention to the way the Lord uses the first word in the sentences, which is in a plural manner. It is indicating to us, the multiple things the Lord sees in our lives that many times we have no idea of them. Immediately after it is brought up one of the names that our Lord is known by: and these can be read in four more locations in the Bible:
- Isa 41:4
- Rev 1:11
- Rev 1:17
- Rev 2:8
- Rev 22:13
It is not until the Book of revelation that this particular Name of God is used in Capital Letters (this could be observed if you use the LIT Translation vs the KJV).
Another portion that is curious to observe in the verse the use of …”Who became dead, and lived:”… By using this particular name, God Himself becomes a witness of His selfish act in the Cross for all mankind.
As you continue reading this passage, you can’t stop noticing the theme of “death” in the letter.
As you know the word “Smyrna” means “Myrrh” which is a spice used to either preserve the bodies after death and as an aromatic spice, which is what normally we know about it. Never the less, there is a passage in Genesis 37:25 that mention specifically this spice and is in relation to the narrative of Joseph son of Jacob.
Also in Exodus 30:23 it is mentioned to be included as part of the group of species and other ointments to be use for the anointing of the tabernacle, the ark of the testimony, the table and vessels, the altar of incense and the altar of burnt offering with vessels, the laver and his foot, also Aaron and his sons. Such anointed group of spices and oils was going to be presented to the children of Israel as a holy anointing oil throughout the generations.
In Esther 2:12 you can see the use of Myrrh in the anointing of the royal queen before to be presented to the king.
Myrrh is also found in the Bible as one of the three gifts the wise men presented to the Christ Child, according to the gospel of Matthew. According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus was offered wine and myrrh before the crucifixion.
In Isaiah 60:6 expressed the Word of God that will be given presents to the Lord Jesus during the millennium but among the gifts presented to Him one will be out of the equation, and that is “myrrh”. Myrrh was representative of the pain and suffering of our Lord as a human on this earth, but that will be all behind Him once He entered the millennium and after.
(Rev 2:9) I know your works, and the affliction, and the poverty; but you are rich. And I know the evil speaking of those saying themselves to be Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
The Lord in verse 9 started to give the commendations of the assembly of Smyrna. The Lord started by saying to the assembly:
- I know your works
- I know your affliction
- From G2346; pressure (literally or figuratively): – afflicted, (-tion), anguish, burdened, persecution, tribulation, trouble.
- Total KJV occurrences: 45
- Notice how this word is used to denote one of the qualities of the spice of myrrh which is to be pressure in order for the spice to be effective in its natural way.
- I know your poverty
- From G4433; beggary, that is, indigence (literally or figuratively): – poverty. This is used when there is nothing at all available, there is nothing you can reach for. Extreme poor.
- Total KJV occurrences: 3
- But you are rich
- Is this not knowing of your worth by choice or by ignorance on the part of the assembly? Does the assembly knows they are rich but choose to be poor or do they think they are really poor?
- (2Co 8:9) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich, He became poor for your sake, so that you might become rich by the poverty of that One.
- I know the “evil speaking” of those saying themselves to be Jews
- From G989; vilification (especially against God): – blasphemy, evil speaking, railing.
- Total KJV occurrences: 19
- They Are Not
- They are synagogue of Satan.
- As I have read this particular section of the verse, my head started spinning in questions about why is this said here by the Lord? There is also an important point that we must remember, the Lord was very straight and clear to the adversary and his followers, and He never deviated.
- If we read John chapter 8, we will noticed the level of tension that existed among Jesus and the so called “religious leaders of the Jews”, in particular in verse 18 and 19.
- In John 8:19 the religious leaders asked the Lord … (Joh 8:19) Then they said to Him, Where is your father? Jesus answered, You neither know Me, nor My Father. If you had known Me, then you also would have known My Father.
- In the above phrase in Bold/Italic/Underline format they were trying to tell Jesus that He (Jesus) was a “Bastard” (this is what is known today as a sarcasm). The below verses demonstrate how intense was the tension, and when you read these verse read it as if you were a Jew…
- (Joh 8:39) They answered and said to Him, Abraham is our father (here is the second time in this chapter they said to Jesus in an indirect way that He was a “Fatherless Child” (Bastard)). Jesus said to them, If you were children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham.
- (Joh 8:40) But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has spoken the truth to you, which I heard alongside of Abraham did not do this.
- (Joh 8:41) You do the works of your father. They said to Him, We were not born of fornication; we have one father, God (This is the third time in this chapter they indicated to the Lord that “He” (Our Lord Jesus) was a “Bastard”).
- (Joh 8:42) Then Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I went forth and have come from God. For I have not come from Myself, but that One sent Me.
- (Joh 8:43) Why do you not know My speech? It is because you are not able to hear My Word.
- (Joh 8:44) You are of the Devil as father, and the lusts of your father you desire to do. That one was a murderer from the beginning, and he has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own, because he is a liar, and the father of it.
(Rev 2:10) Do not at all fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw you into prison, so that you may be tried; and you will have affliction ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
We as Christians know that it is very difficult to be a “Follower of the Way” (as we used to be known before the term Christians came about). We must pray for those that persecute us, forgive those that torment us and bless those that curse us, right? Of course we must. But there is also a reminder from the Lord that no matter what we will go thru in life, He will never leave us nor forsake us.
1Ki_8:57 Jehovah our God is with us as He has been with our fathers; He shall not forsake us or leave us,
Also in this particular verse there is an important part that many believers omit as they read this passage, that is the reality of a an accuser that is always ready to point his fingers at us just to make our lives a “living hell”, he is called the devil. This part on this particular verse can’t and most not be confused with the part of the “Great Tribulation”, this part of the verse is what we will see on a daily basis just for been part of the “Special Elite Unit” called “Christians” or “Follower of the Way”. One way or another, there is no doubt that the Lord never leaves us nor forsake us, read below:
Heb_13:5 Set your way of life without money-loving, being satisfied with present things; for He has said, “Not at all will I leave you, not at all will I forsake you,” never! Deut. 31:6
Another part on this verse that strike me is the fact that the Lord advised of ten days of afflictions. These ten days put me to think, why the Lord mentioned those ten days in a specific manner? If we go back in history, we will be able to notice that between the End of the First Century and all away to the end of the Second Century there were a total of ten Roman Emperors. Let see them one by one in a list:
|Name||Succession||Reign / AD||Time in Office|
|Trajan Caesar Marcvs Vlpivs Nerva Traianvs Avgvstvs||Adopted and Heir of Nerva||Jan/98 – Aug/117||19 yrs 7 mths|
|Hadrian Caesar Pvblivs Aelivs Traianvs Hadrianvs Avgvstvs||Adopted and Heir of Trajan||Aug/117 – Jul/138||21 yrs|
|Antoninus Pius Caesar Titvs Aelivs Hadrianvs Antoninvs Avgvstvs Pivs||Adopted and Heir of Hadrian||Jul/138 – Mar/161||22yrs 7 mths|
|Marcus Aurelius Caesar Marcvs Avrelivs Antoninvs Avgvstvs||Adopted son/son-in-law and Heir of Antoninus Pius and
Co-Emperor with Lucius Verus until 169
|Mar/161 – Mar/180||19 yrs|
|Lucius Verus Caesar Lvcivs Avrelivs Vervs Avgvstvs||Adopted son Heir of Antoninus Pius and son-in-lawof Marcus Aurelius; Co-Emperor with Marcus Aurelius until his death||Mar/161 – Mar/169||8 yrs|
|Commodus Caesar Marcvs Avrelivs Commodvs Antoninvs Avgvstvs||Natural son of Marcus Aurelius; Co-Emperor from 177||?/177 – Dec/192||15 yrs|
|Pertinax Caesar Pvblivs Helvivs Pertinax Avgvstvs||Proclaimed by the Praetorian Guard||Jan/193 – Mar/193||3 mths|
|Didius Julianus Caesar Marcvs Didivs Severvs Ivlianvs Avgvstvs||Won auction by the Praetorian Guard for the position of Emperor||Mar/193 – Jun/193||2 mths – 4 days
|Septimius Severus Caesar Lvcivs Septimivs Severvs Pertinax Avgvstvs||Seized power with the Support of the Pannonian Legions||Apr/193 – Feb/211||17 yrs 10 mths|
|Caracalla Caesar Marcvs Avrelivs Severvs Antoninvs Pivs Avgvstvs||Son of Septimius Severus; Co-Emperor with Severus from 198; with Severus and Geta from 209 until Feb 211; Co-Emperor with Geta until Dec 211||?/198 – Apr/217||19 yrs|
Emperors Timeline 2nd Century (Click on this link to see a timeline of the Second Century Roman Emperors).
(Rev 2:11) The one who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. The one overcoming will not at all be hurt by the second death.
As it was with the first assembly, the Lord tells us to pay attention to this message of this assembly, because it is not particular to them but to all of the believers in Christ. Also it important to say that the affirmation of the Lord by explicitly saying this message is through the Holy Spirit, this is visible because the word “Spirit” is in Capital letter “S” indicative of the Third Person of the Trinity of God.
The last but not the least point to talk about is how the Lord indicates to the one overcoming this particular time will not be hurt by the second death and you might ask; what is the second death? The Bible gives us the answer and here it is:
Rev_20:6 Blessed and holy is the one having part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over these, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with Him a thousand years.
Rev_20:14 And death and hell were thrown into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death.
Rev_21:8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving, and those having become foul, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the lying ones, their part will be in the Lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
Remember always to Pray to the Lord before and after of your Bible Study for His guidance, knowledge, wisdom and understanding on the Word and God Bless You.