Smyrna: The Church in Tribulation

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto 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. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

SOURCE: John Boardman and N. G. L. Hammond, eds. The Cambridge Ancient History, 3,3: The Expansion of the Greek World, 8th to 6th Centuries B.C. (2nd ed.: New York: Cambridge University, 1982), 202. Illustration by R. V. Nicholls.

Smyrna was situated 60 kilometers north of Ephesus at the present-day port of Izmer, which today is Turkey’s second largest city with one of the most important harbors in the region.

Smyrna housed the shrine to the goddess Nemesis and was one of the last cities to fall to Islam.

Acts 19:10 suggests that the church in Smyrna may have been established by Paul on his third missionary journey.

The letter to Smyrna contains no admonishment, and as the name implies, the sacrifice which Christians were called upon to make in this time period served to draw people to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

To this church, many of whose members would actually suffer death by persecution, Jesus introduced Himself as “the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive” (Revelation 2:8). Then the words of the coming peril were given, “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” (Revelation 2:10).

These words were fulfilled, for during this period, the most vicious persecutions occurred against the Christians. In 107 AD, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in Syria and a friend of John the apostle, was thrown to the lions and eaten alive in the amphitheatre of Rome.

In 155 AD, Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and a close friend of Ignatius, was killed by the sword, his body burned at the stake in Smyrna.

It was through the witness of Christian martyrs that Tertullian of Carthage, in Africa, was converted to Christianity at the age of 30, and thereafter became a defender of the Christian faith.

This period of persecution came to its climax under Diocletian, who, in 303 AD, launched a vicious, empire-wide effort for the complete annihilation of Christianity. Although he died in 305 AD, the persecution continued until it was finally brought to an end in 313 AD by the decree of toleration issued by Emperor Constantine.

The Diocletian persecution lasted ten years. The ten-day tribulation predicted for this church (verse 10) coincides with this ten-year period when the day-year principle of Biblical prophecy is applied. Persecution cleansed the Church by forcing Christians to consider whether they were truly willing to follow Christ in all circumstances.

In the ancient city of Smyrna, the most expensive homes were on the mountainsides that rose above the bay. This gave it the name “Crown City.” We can appreciate the appropriateness of the promise, “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life…He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11). –Walter Veith, Walking Through Revelation

Continue to: Pergamum: The Church Elevated