THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST TO HIS SERVANT JOHN
The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor
The Letter To Smyna (2)
A Faith Community Rich in the Spirit
is easy to stay true to the faith for a day or for a few days. The difficulty
thing, the important thing, is to do so right through life. It is easy to keep
the faith when things are going well, and difficult to do so when obstacles are
met. Consistent behavior which lasts one's whole life is the only kind which
deserves to be called 'fidelity.'"
Pope John Paul II, Homily, 27 Jan. 1979
|Preamble:||2:8||"Here is the message of the First and the Last, who was dead and has come to life again."|
|Historical Prologue:||2:9||"I know your hardships and your poverty.."|
|Ethical Stipulations:||2:10||"Do not be afraid of the sufferings that are coming to you..."|
|Sanctions:||2:10||"Even if you have to die, keep faithful,and I will give you the crown of life..."|
|Succession Arrangements:||2:10-11||".and I will give you the crown of life for your prize...for those who prove victorious will come to no harm.."|
You may want to consult the Summary of the 7 Churches in the Charts and Handouts section.
This beautiful city, which rivaled Ephesus 35 miles to the south, had been destroyed seven hundred years earlier (circa 580BC) and had laid in ruins for three centuries until circa 290BC when it was rebuilt to a comprehensive plan. It was one of the very few planned cities of antiquity. Many ancient writers commented on its beauty. The city enjoyed great natural advantages, including an excellent harbor at the head of a well-protected gulf. It was the natural outlet for the trade of the rich valley of the Hermus and regions beyond. It was one of the first cities to engage in worship of the Roman emperor and it won the honor of erecting a temple to him in the reign of Tiberius (emperor who reigned at the time of Jesus' ministry and resurrection). The city of John's time was one that had risen from the ashes of death to a resurrection of prosperity. How appropriate it is that the message to Smyrna speaks of a more miraculous resurrection. In contrast to the ruins that were once Ephesus, today Smyrna thrives as modern Izmir, second largest city in Turkey.
Please read Revelation 2: 8-11
Revelation 2:8 "Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna and say, 'Here is the message of the First and the Last, who was dead and has come to life again'"
Question: By what title does Christ identify
Himself and where do you find that title in chapter 1?
Answer: the First and the Last is found in 1:17-18.
Once again John gives us a reference to the three Isaiah passages (41:4; 44:6; 48:2) as well as a repeat of Rev. 1:8 and 1:17. As in those passages this is linked with a reference to the Resurrection, very appropriate, as I have mentioned, in a city which had died and now lived once more. In passage 1:17b-18a "Do not be afraid; it is I, the first and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and look'I am alive for ever and ever.." scholars tell us that the tense denotes continuity, whereas here the aorist tenses put the stress on the actual happenings, "He became dead, and sprang to life again."
Revelation 2:9 "I know your hardships and your poverty, and –though you are rich'the slander of the people who falsely claim to be Jews but are really members of the synagogue of Satan." Hardships = in Greek thlipsis which denotes "serious trouble", "the burden that crushes." I prefer to translate this word as 'tribulations'. It was not easy being a Christian in Smyrna. John also uses the strong Greek word ptocheia which means "having nothing at all." The Smyrneans were in extreme poverty. Some scholars think the Jews may have pillaged their homes. Christianity was not one of the 'legal' religions approved by the Roman authorities. This lack of legal recognition made it easy for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them without fearing reprisal by the government. Perhaps they were subjected to confiscation of their property or vandalism because of their non-legal status. Hebrews 10:34"For you not only shared in the sufferings of those who were in prison, but you accepted with joy being stripped of your belongings, knowing that you owned something that was better and lasting."
It is also likely that that they
were the objects of an economic boycott because of their refusal to make
sacrifices to the Roman emperor as a god. This city was, you will recall, a
center of Emperor worship. Yet in their poverty the message testifies that
they are rich.
Question: How is it that in their suffering and having lost everything that the Church at Smyrna is rich?
Answer: This early Christians are rich in Christ. They are "wealthy" in the most important sense as expressed in 2 Corinthians 6:10 "...yet always full of joy; poor and yet making many people rich; having nothing, and yet owning everything."
Also notice that Jesus says: "I know your tribulations and your poverty.."
Question: What comfort can the Smyrneans take
in the knowledge that Christ has acknowledged their afflictions?
Answer: He has identified with them in their sufferings. Read Isaiah 63:8-9 For He said, 'Truly they are my people, children who will not betray me,' and He became their Savior. In all their troubles, it was no messenger or angel but His presence that saved them. In His love and pity He himself redeemed them, lifted them up and carried them throughout the days...." Paul expressed his suffering for Christ in his letter to the Colossians 1:24 "It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the tribulations that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church." It helps us, in our sufferings and hardships in life, to recall in our pain that all our persecutions are His in the first place, and ours only by participation'which is what Paul in expressing in his letter to the Colossians.
Question: Who is it who increases their suffering by slandering the church? By the way, the word 'Satan' means slanderer or accuser.
Answer: The Jews, or "those who falsely claim to be Jews." These people are identified as those who claim to be children of Abraham, but in reality are children of the devil. These are the Israelites who have rejected Christ and in doing so have rejected the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Peter in his great homily in Acts is clear on the point of those who reject Jesus as Messiah: they are covenant-breaking apostates. Jesus also addressed this group in John 5:39-47 and John 8:39-44. Please read these passages.
Question: In the John chapter 5 passage Jesus
tells the Jews of Jerusalem that He will not condemn them before God for their
unbelief but who will condemn them?
Answer: The great Lawgiver and Prophet, Moses'the most revered of the Old Covenant leaders.
Question: Why will Moses condemn them?
Answer: He was God's prophet of the Law of the Old Covenant and it is the covenant obligation of the Children of Israel to live in obedience to the Law of Moses.
Question: in the John chapter 8 passages, who
is it that Jesus says is the father of the Jews who have rejected Him?
Answer: Satan. These passages also remind me of what John the Baptist told his Jewish audience in Matthew 3: 7-12. The Baptizer, as the Last of the Old Covenant Prophets, tells the Jews if God wanted He could raise up rocks to be sons of Abraham. (there is a play on the words son = ben and rock = eben). Paul elaborates on this theme in Romans 2:29 and Romans 9:6-8 The chapter 9 passage reads: "It is not God's promise that has failed. Not all born Israelites belong to Israel, and not all the descendants of Abraham count as his children, for 'Isaac is the one through whom your Name will be carried on '(Gen. 21:12) That is, it is not by being children through physical descent that people become children of God; it is the children of the promise that are counted as the heirs."
Question: Who is it then, who is the true Israel and the true heirs of Abraham and the Covenant?
Answer: the New Covenant Israel...the Church and her body of Christian believers. The New Israel was formed out of the holy remnant of the Old Israel = the disciples and Apostles who were both the sons of the Old Covenant and the heirs of the New. In turn they brought the gentiles into the Covenant of Christ and now, according to the teaching of the New Testament, the person (regardless of his ethnic heritage) who has been clothed with Jesus Christ is the inheritor of the promises to Abraham and possesses the blessings of the Covenant. (also see Romans 11:11-24; Galatians 3:7-9 & 26-29).
Question: Christ is also united with the
Christians suffering this malicious slander. How was Christ slandered?
Answer: In Jesus' trial before the Jewish Law Court, false witnesses were brought to testify against Him (Matthew 26:59-62). For other examples of Satanic false witness against the Christian Church see Acts 6:9-15; 13:10; 14:2-5; 1:5-8; 18:6 & 12-13; 19:9; 21:27-36; 24:1-9; 25:2-3 &7).
Revelation 2: 10 Do
not be afraid of the sufferings that are coming to you. Look the devil will
send some of you to prison to put you to the test, and you must face hardship
for 10 days...
The message is the suffering is not over....more is coming but don't be fearful; be faithful and keep your focus on God. The Smyrnean's beloved bishop, St. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John who was placed at Smyrna as their bishop by John himself, will be arrested and condemned to death by being burning alive (Polycarp miraculously survived the burning and was then killed by a sword. His martyrdom was faithfully recorded by believers who were present). No where in the New Testament is there a promise of freedom from suffering in this life. We must be faithful like the Smyrneans and remember without the cross there will be no crown. But what God does promise is that though the Church may suffer...even suffer the death of the body...she will not suffer the death of the soul!
Verse 10 continued: "..and you must face hardship for ten days. Even if
you have to die, keep faithful and I will give you the crown of life for your
The prophet Daniel and his three friends had been tested for a 10 day period (see Daniel 1:11-21). It was a relatively furious persecution but only lasted a short time. This reference to 10 days could be referring to a short period of time...10 days of tribulation in exchange for a thousand years of victory (Rev. 20:4-6). The number 10 also represents perfection of order and could be used as a symbol of the perfection they would achieve as they suffered this persecution...from crosses to crowns.
See 2 Timothy 2:11-13: Paul says
this is a saying that we can rely on:
"If we have died with Him, then we shall live with Him. If we persevere, then we shall reign with Him. If we disown Him, then He will disown us. If we are faithless, He is faithful still, for He cannot disown His own self."
Matt. 10:22 = "You will be hated by all on account of My name, Jesus said, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved."
Question: What is the "crown of life?"
Answer: The crown of life is salvation. The phrase "crown of life" is only used one other time in Scripture that I could find. It was used by a man who certainly knew what it meant to persevere in hardship for the greater glory of Christ. That man was James, Bishop of Jerusalem, kinsman of Jesus, who was martyred for his faith in 63AD. See James 1:12 "Blessed is the man who holds out to the end through trial. Once he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life the Lord has promised to those who love Him." Revelation 1:10 provides us with an entire program for living = faithfulness, endurance, and loyalty to the love of Christ. I like the way St. Teresa of Avila expressed this determination to achieve the promise of eternal life in Way of Perfection : "..by making an earnest and most determined resolve not to halt until the goal (eternal life) is reached, whatever may come, whatever may happen, however much effort one needs to make, whoever may complain about one, whether one dies on the road or has no heart to face their trials one meets, even if the ground gives away under one's feet.."
Revelation 2: 11, "Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is
saying to the churches: for those who prove victorious will come to no harm
from the second death." This
phrase "let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying.." ends
each of the 7 letters. In this letter and the next letter this phrase is
followed by a promise. In the other letters the promise precedes the phrase.
Question: What is the second death? What is the first death and the first resurrection? To help you with your answer read Revelation 20:6 &14-15; Revelation 21:8 and Ephesians 2:1, 4-6; Colossians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:1 &3.
Answer: The second death is death of the soul; an irreversible, enduring, condemnation. The First Death is defined in Revelation 20:6 which states that those who are not hurt by the 'second death' are the same as those who partake of the 'First Resurrection," and that they are priests and kings with Christ. Do you recall the blessing St John already affirmed to be a present reality for us in Rev. 1:6? The First Resurrection cannot refer to the physical resurrection at the end of the world (1Cor. 15:22-28). But instead, it must refer to what St. Paul clearly taught in his epistle to the Ephesians 2:1; 4-6: "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins...but God, being rich in mercy,...even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him." Christians in every age are partakers in the First Resurrection to new life in Christ in our Baptism, having been cleansed from our first death in Adam = original sin . Read John 5:24: "In all truth I tell you, whoever listens to my words and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life; without being brought to judgment such a person has passed from death to life." Also read the Catechism # 1002-1004 . #1002 "Christ will raise us up "up the last day"; but it is also true that, in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ. For, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, Christian life is already now on earth a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ..." #1003 "United with Christ by Baptism, believers already truly participate in the heavenly life of the risen Christ, ..."
Of course there will also be a Second Resurrection (a physical one) at the end of history, but that is not mentioned in Rev. 20:6. Read John 5:24-29, where Jesus discusses both resurrections. We will be discussing the first resurrection and the second death at length in chapter 20. There is a saying that I was taught as a child that really expresses the reality of the first resurrection in our baptism when we are raised to "new life" ("born again" or more correctly stated: "born from above") and the terror of the second death: "Born twice, die once, born once, die twice!"
Question: Does the Church at Smyrna receive
Answer: The Church at Smyrna does not receive any word of reproach from our Lord. They receive only words of love and encouragement. Only the church at Philadelphia will match them in their fidelity to the Lord.
Question: Do you see any Old Testament references?
Answer: Look at the "was dead and has come to life again" passage.
Question: Does that verse recall any Old Testament figure(s) who was believed to be dead or who was almost dead but was found to be alive?
Question: What period of Biblical history do these references recall?
Answer: The Age of the Patriarchs and Israel's bondage in Egypt. Christ describes Himself as He who "was dead and has come to life." This is a redemptive act foreshadowed in the lives of Isaac (Gen 22:1-14; Heb 11:17-19) and Joseph (Gen 37:18-36; 39; 20:41-45; 45:4-8; 50:20). The danger of imprisonment by false accusers is paralleled in the life of Joseph (Gen. 39:13-20). The "crown of life" reference is reminiscent of the blessing of the crown of Vizier for life of Egypt that was given to the faithful Joseph in Gen. 41:40-44. Moses' brother Aaron, as the first High Priest, wore a crown (miter) as the glorious image of Man fully redeemed (Ex. 28:36-38). This letter also brings to mind the salvation of Israel from bondage in Egypt. The material poverty of the community at Smyrna compared to the richness of their spiritual life can be compared to the material poverty of an Israel in slavery in the land of Egypt who continued to pray to God for deliverance. And finally, the 'tribulation' for ten days' followed by victory recalls the story of Israel's endurance through the 10 plagues in Egypt before deliverance.
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