When the apostle John wrote the Book or Revelation and sent it to the 7 churches, he was also writing to you and me, and to our times, as well. His series of visions and dreams are not meant to confuse or to confound us. Admittedly, the Book of Revelation is one of the more difficult-to-understand Books of the Bible. And for this reason, many people avoid a study of it.
On this issue, we need to always keep in mind 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which reads:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
All Scripture is profitable - and that includes the Book of Revelation.
Every book in the Bible has a key verse, or maybe several key verses that summarize what is found in that book.
In the Book of Hebrews, it is Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)
1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
The discourse throughout the book of Hebrews is a series of presentations of contrasts, between the Old and the New. It is a contrast between revelation, as it came through the prophets concerning the Messiah, and Christ Himself, the Messiah.
For the Book of Proverbs, the key verse is Proverbs 1:7. It goes along with the Key Subject - Wisdom.
Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
I think we can add one more corollary verse that expands the thought of the verse just read.
Proverbs 9:10 (NIV)
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For the Book of Romans, the key verse is Romans 1:16 KJV.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
And for the Book of Revelation, the key verse is Revelation 1:19 KJV.
19 Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.
Though many have put forth outlines of the Book of Revelation to help us understand it, none seems to be more practical or illuminating than the 3-fold outline given here. We find an abbreviated chronological outline of the entire book given here. It organizes the book into three parts.
1. Things which you have seen
2. Things which are
3. Things with will take place after this
How does this relate to the chapters in the book of Revelation?
Chapter One - "Thing which you have seen." This speaks of the past. And Christ is portrayed as the "Glorified One."
Chapters 2 & 3 - "The things which are." This speaks of the messages to the seven churches, and speaks of the present. Here, Christ is shown to be the "Head of the Churches."
Chapters 4 - 22 - "The things which will take place after this." This speaks of the future. Here, Christ is shown to be the "Triumphant One."
Revelation 4:1 (NKJV) helps us understand the dividing place between the last two eras.
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this."
The phrase "things which must take place after this" uses the same wording as that used in Revelation 1:19 to depict the 3rd era.
So the beginning of chapter four is where the third section of Revelation begins. This brief outlines help us understand the timing of the events depicted in the book. The bulk of the book addresses people and events which follow the church age in which we live.
In Revelation 2 & 3 we find a stack of letters, seven in all. These seven letters to seven churches are powerful letters and they burn with urgency. Their message is still as vital and timely today as when first written. The churches are named for the city in which they reside. The churches (cities) are named first in Revelation 1:11. Then in chapters 2 & 3, we find 7 letters written specifically to each of these congregations. They are given in the same order in which we found them in Revelation 1:11.
Revelation 1:11 NKJV
11 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."
In each of the 7 letters, Jesus Christ passes a moral judgment upon the church concerned.
o Two of these churches are commended without any rebuke - Smyrna and Philadelphia.
o To the church in Laodicea he expressed unrelieved condemnation.
o 5 churches had sin and they were told that repentance was needed.
o In one case - Ephesus - repentance had to be forthcoming or they would loose their lampstand.
o The church at Thyatira had works, love, service, and faith. However, they also allowed false teaching and immorality. A similar situation existed in the church at Pergamum.
o To the church in Sardis, Christ more rebukes them than praises them.
o The letters to Ephesus, Pergamum and Thyatira finds approval and disapproval somewhat even.
It is clear that the risen Lord is in a position to evaluate the condition of each church. He knows their state with perfect accuracy. As we learned in earlier lessons in this series, the words "I know your works (deeds)" are said by Christ to each of the seven churches. The reason He knows their state and is in a position to evaluate each church is because He continually walks among the churches (Revelation 1:20 & 2:1). And the stars He holds are the pastors of the 7 churches (Revelation 1:20).
Christ is the divine overseer of the churches. Did He not say "where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). Christ visits His people. He dwells with them. He walks among them. He inspects them. He knows them.
Today we begin looking at the second of the 7 churches of Asia Minor, as mentioned in Revelation. The church at Smyrna. On our trip almost a year ago, we flew into Istanbul and then on to Izmir. The city of Izmir is the modern city of Smyrna. It is the third largest city in Turkey with 2.8 million people. Only Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, are larger.
Smyrna is the only one of the 7 cities to receive a letter from John which continued as a city down to our present time. Smyrna's name was changed to Izmir in 1924, the same year Constantinople was changed to Istanbul. Because of that, not many ruins have been uncovered. Much of the modern city of Izmir is built over the ancient ruins of Smyrna.
Smyrna - the City
Smyrna is 35 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna is one of the oldest cities in the world. It's history goes back to 3,000 years before Christ. It had a beautiful landlocked harbor that made it difficult for enemies coming by way of the sea.
Over its long and eventful history, Smyrna suffered from besieging armies, massacres, earthquakes, fires and plagues. It was captured by the Ionians in the 688 BC, and made into a beautiful city. In 580 BC, the Lydians destroyed the city and again by the Persians a century later. For the next several centuries, all that existed in the area were 4 or 5 small villages.
In about 335 BC, on the orders of Alexander the Great, Smyrna was rebuilt into a strong well-planned city. This is the genesis of the city that existed at the time of Paul and John. And during the latter half of the first century, the population here was about 100,000. Because this city had many lives - when it was destroyed and rebuilt many times, the Smyrnaeans were able to relate to the depiction of Christ in this letter, where He says He was "dead and came back to life." This city had experienced death and had literally been brought back to life. Under Lysimachus, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, the city was planned with broad and straight streets that were well-paved. Smyrna became know as the "Flower of Ionia." It was also called the "Crown of Asia." This was due to the many porticoes and fortress which encircled the summit of Mount Pagus. Mount Pagus was the acropolis of this ancient city. These shining marble building looked like a crown atop this 600-foot hill. Here is a copy of a very old painting showing Mt. Pagus with its fortress crown. Here are a couple of photos taken from Mount Pagus today.
One of the planned, wide streets ran straight from the harbor up the side of Mount Pagus, along which one would find many shrines and temples dedicated to gods. It was called the "Street of Gold". This lead one historian to refer to it as the necklace of Asia, derived from the porticoes around the top, with many jeweled shrines down the street in front. The phrase, "First in Asia in beauty," was inscribed on their coins.
Let me show you some of the few ruins that do exist. They believe they know where the ancient commercial agora was located, but there are a number of modern buildings constructed over that area. They have, however, located and uncovered some of the ancient State Agora. This Agora had two level - one underground. This picture shows the arches just below ground level, which served as the support structure for the lower level of the agora. Here is a slightly different angle of the same area. The next picture is taken from the other end of the agora looking in the opposite direction. As you can see, there are a number of rows of the underground arches.
Some of the lower are has not been fully excavated down to the original lower ground level, but much of it has been, as can been seen in this picture. Here is one more. In this area of the lower agora, there was a spring of fresh water that still produces today.
This picture of the Lion at Smyrna is important only when you know that, like Rome, Smyrna used Christians as fodder for the lions. Here is the western gate to the agora. Notice the keystone holding the arch stones in place.
The ancient city of Smyrna, like Ephesus, was a Roman free city. That meant they had earned the right to be self-governing. It had a large library, a stadium, and a large public theater. The Poet Homer, whose birthplace is claimed by several cities, including Smyrna, is said to have written the ILIAD here between 750 and 725 BC.
Today, the city is still beautiful. Unlike Ephesus, Smyrna did not have a problem with rivers that silted the harbor. With its excellent harbor, they export crops such as tobacco, grapes, figs, cotton, olives and olive oil.
Christians in Smyrna
We don't know exactly when the church in Smyrna was founded. During our study of Ephesus, we learned that Paul spend three years there. For two of those years, Paul taught his disciples every day in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). This essentially becomes the very first seminary or Bible school. And the next verse - verse 10 - tells us that during those two years "all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." I think it is a strong possibility that the church in Smyrna began during the years Paul was in Ephesus. And since Paul was teaching every day for two years in the school, the church was probably started by some of his students, not by himself. I think it is safe to say that probably all the churches in Revelation, excluding Ephesus, were started during this same time.
WHY IS IT THAT WE DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THIS CHURCH?
This church is mentioned only in the Book of Revelation. We know nothing more about it than what we can read in the letter penned by John.
OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES, WHICH BESIDE SMYRNA ARE ONLY MENTIONED IN REVELATION?
Pergamum, Sardis and Philadelphia.
A couple weeks ago, we discussed why the church in Ephesus disappeared. I think it is noteworthy that Smyrna (now Izmir) is the only one of the churches that has maintained a continuous unbroken Christian presence. In fact, it is here where we find the last stronghold of Christianity in the entirety of Turkey.
There are about 15 to 20 active churches here - Protestant, Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox, at least two of which are evangelical churches, one called the New Birth Church. And there is the First Baptist Church in Izmir. I was also able to locate at least 10 synagogues active in Izmir today. The churches and synagogues are legally recognized by the Turkish government. St. Polycarp Roman Catholic Church was built by the French in the early 1600's. Later I will say more about Polycarp, who was a disciple at the feet of the apostle John.
Now, let turn our attention to Revelation, chapter 2. Let me state again that Christ communicates his message to each church using the same pattern. I have broken the pattern into 8 parts.
Revelation 2:8-11 NKJV
8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, "tThese things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:
9 "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."'
In our lessons on the Ephesian church, we were reminded that everything must flow from our first love. If we leave that place of relationship with our Savior, the church will not last. We can be doing good things, things God would have us do, but if we have left that first love behind - if Jesus is no longer our chief desire, the days of the fellowship are numbered.
WHAT IS THE THEME OF THE MESSAGE TO SMYRNA?
Tribulation and suffering.
This is the shortest of all the letters - just 4 verses. Yet these four brief verses contain unparalleled words of comfort to this church. Jesus is filled with warm affection. And yet, the Lord's affection does not say it is going to be an easy road ahead. It is interesting to observe that there is no rebuke to this church. Of all the seven letters, this one is expressed in the most continuous and unbroken tone of laudation. Out of the seven churches, Christ rebukes 5 of them.
WHICH OF THE OTHER CHURCHES RECEIVED NO REBUKE?
The church at Philadelphia.
The interesting thing is that the two churches receiving no rebuke were those who were persecuted the most, though Philadelphia had much hardship in a different manner. And to Philadelphia, Christ does not promise the crown of life, but asks them to be attentive that no one takes their crown.
This does not, however, mean they were perfect, entirely devoid of sin. No such perfect church has ever existed. And only one person ever lived without sinning - our Savior.
James 3:2 says "We all stumble in many ways."
1 John 1:8, 10 reads:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
There has never been a perfect Christian, and since every congregation consists solely of the Christians who compose it, there has never been a perfect congregation. He does tell them, in Rev. 2:11, to continue to overcome the enemy to the end, even death, and He provides them with two promises if they do so.
Before continuing, let's discuss the definition of a couple of words.
WHAT DID WE SAY THE NAME "EPHESUS" MEANT?
That word means "desirable."
WHAT DOES THE WORD "SMYRNA" MEAN IN ENGLISH?
Our English word "Myrrh" comes from the Greek word "Smyrna."
WHAT IS MYRRH?
b. Holy ointment
Myrrh is a bitter gum and costly perfume which exudes from a certain tree or shrub primarily in Arabia and Ethiopia today.
This word is used only 3 other times in the New Testament, and 14 times in the Old Testament. Of the 14 times in the Old Testament, 8 of them are in the Book: Song of Solomon. The three times it is mentioned in the New Testament are very important. I will want to visit each of them. But first, let's look at a couple in the Old Testament.
As most of you probably remember, the brothers of Joseph did not like him much - they hated him. When the brothers of Joseph were considering what to do with him - maybe even kill him, a caravan of Ishmaelites happened by, and Joseph was sold to them as a slave.
Genesis 37:25 NKJV
25 And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh , on their way to carry them down to Egypt.
In these ancient times, myrrh was used in Egypt for embalming the bodies of the Pharaohs.
A few years after that event, Jacob (Israel) sent his sons to Egypt because of a famine in Israel. After the first visit to Egypt, the famine continued and they ran out of the grain purchased in Egypt. When Jacob was about to send them once more to Egypt, Judah tells his father that the man down in Egypt told them not to return unless they brought along their younger brother. The man, of course, was Joseph, who they didn't recognize as such on their first trip. So they took along with them their youngest brother, Benjamin. But, for good measure, Jacob sends along a bribe - so to speak.
Genesis 43:11 NKJV
11 And their father Israel said to them, "If it must be so, then do this: Take some of the best fruits of the land in your vessels and carry down a present for the man - a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh , pistachio nuts and almonds."
Myrrh was also used in the Old Testament Jewish ceremonies. It was used as one of the ingredients to the holy oil used in the Tabernacle and Temple worship.
Exodus 30:22-30 NKJV
22 Moreover the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
23 "Also take for yourself quality spices - five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh , half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane,
24 five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil.
25 And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.
26 With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony;
27 the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense;
28 the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base.
29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy.
30 And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests.
Myrrh was used as an ingredient in the holy anointing oil for the priests.
Now let's turn to the New Testament. As I mentioned earlier, the word "myrrh" occurs just three times in the New Testament.
CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE MYRRH WAS USED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?
1. At the birth of Christ.
Matthew 2:11 NKJV
11 And when they (The Wise Men) had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh .
2. At the crucifixion of Christ.
According to Mark 15:23, while Christ hung on the cross, He was offered wine mixed with myrrh. In this case, myrrh would have dulled His senses so the pain wouldn't be so bad. But this Passage say Christ did not accept the mixture. Our Lord took the entire weight of our sins, and the pain it produced for you and me.
3. At the burial of Christ.
John 19:39 NKJV
39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
Myrrh was used to prepare the body of Jesus for burial after He died.
Myrrh was mentioned three times in the New Testament. It was present at Christ's birth, death and burial. Myrrh refers to suffering. I also need to mention that myrrh yields its fragrance by being crushed. Crushing is what Christ experienced when He died for you and me.
Since myrrh can refer to suffering, it is fitting that the suffering church be located in Smyrna. Hundreds of years before God ever started a church in that city, He had it prepared with the appropriate name - Smyrna.
I have already mentioned a few of the names given to the city of Smyrna.
o The Crown of Asia
o The Jeweled necklace of Asia.
It was also called "The Port of Fragrance."
When Christ came into the world as a little baby, He came to suffer. When He died on a cross, He was suffering. To show the end of His suffering, He was embalmed with myrrh.
A moment ago, I mentioned that myrrh has to be crushed before it gives forth any fragrance. The more it is crushed, the more fragrant if becomes. The same things is true of this church in Smyrna. The more the people were crushed, the sweeter the aroma. The more they were stomped on, the more the world caught the fragrance of their faith and love.
The crushed church is a fragrant church. God has permitted Satan to bruise His church. But the harder he bruises it, the more he releases the fragrance of God's grace, and the more devastating its testimony becomes to Satan's strongholds.
As we go through Christ's message to this church, we will spend more time discussing what happens when the church suffers. But let me make a few more comments here with regard to the topic of being crushed.
It is interesting to see what happens to a believer or a church in persecution. They are very much like a child. When a child is hurt or wounded, their normal response is to run to their mother and explain where they hurt. The church in persecution responds in much the same way. The more they are crushed, the more we run to Jesus. Instead of destroying the church, persecution drives the church to Jesus Christ.
The more the church is crushed, the sweeter it smells. The more it hurts, the more it runs to Jesus. Each of us can probably identify with that at some moments in our past. Times when we had no one to turn to but Jesus. By the way, Christ loves to have you do that. He is there waiting for us. Perhaps that will help you to understand why God allows trouble in your life. He knows that's what you need to make you turn to Him.
Let me close with two Passages - one in Isaiah and one in Revelation.
Isaiah 60 speaks of the future time when Jesus comes back the second time to earth. For 1,000 years, he will reign on earth. The Jews will no longer be the castoffs of the world. This Passage speaks of the nations coming to Jerusalem with gifts.
Isaiah 60:1-6 NASB
1 "Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 "For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you.
3 "And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.
4 "Lift up your eyes round about, and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms.
5 "Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you.
6 "A multitude of camels will cover you, The young camels of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba will come; They will bring gold and frankincense, And will bear good news of the praises of the LORD.
When Christ came the first time, the wise men gave Him three gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh.
o Gold = royalty, kingship
o Frankincense = deity, priesthood
o Myrrh = suffering, death
This time, only gold and frankincense are mentioned. I believe that is because His death was now behind Him. He will not die again, and we will live with Him forever.
Revelation 21 speaks of a time just after the previously mentioned 1,000 year reign of Christ. In our last lesson about the church at Ephesus, we talked about the paradise of Heaven.
This passage identifies that paradise as the New Jerusalem.
Revelation 21:1-5 NKJV
1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."
Here we are told that the time will come when all suffering will end. And it will end forever.1i