In John’s prophetic announcements to the seven churches in Asia Minor, he has first addressed Ephesus. In this section (2.8-11), he addresses the church at Smyrna.
Looking at the map, it’s easy to see the ancient postal route. These seven churches are listed not so much in a “spiritual order” as they are given in a delivery order.
The city itself dates itself to over 3,000 years before Christ. Its storied past reveals Ionians, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, and many others.
By the time of Christ, the city was an important commercial city. It was a comparable rival with Ephesus to the south. It’s location on the Aegean coastline bolstering its ability to trade. This, along with its ease of defense as well as the Roman roads that connected them elsewhere, helped the city to grow in prominence.
At the time this letter is written, a young teen boy has come to faith in Christ. He will be personally mentored by John. Later, this man will be installed as the pastor for the church at Smyrna. In the history of Christian martyrs, his name is remembered as Polycarp.
Roughly seventy years from the point of writing, Polycarp will give his life for the faith and for the gospel. We don’t know if he ever contemplated the personal application from Revelation 2.8-11, but we can sense the comfort they would provide for him as an eighty-six-year-old man.
The facts of his life are not well-known to us today. However, what is known shows us that he understood what it meant to be faithful unto death. He became the pastor of this church in AD 115 (just about 20 years or so after the writing of Revelation) and his story can be found in The Martyrdom of Polycarp.
But as Polycarp entered the stadium, there came a voice from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp, and act like a man.” And no one saw the speaker, but those of our people who were present heard the voice. And then, as he was brought forward, there was a great tumult when they heard that Polycarp had been arrested. (2) Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked if he were Polycarp. And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to recant, saying, “Have respect for your age,” and other such things as they are accustomed to say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar; repent; say, ‘Away with the atheists!’” So, Polycarp solemnly looked at the whole crowd of lawless heathen who were in the stadium, motioned toward them with his hand, and then (groaning as he looked up to heaven) said, “Away with the atheists!” (3) But when the magistrate persisted and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
Wow! The Bishop of Smyrna was asked to live out the promise of the overcomers given to the church at Smyrna. When asked to recant and to simply burn incense to Caesar’s image, he could not. When asked to think about his age, he could only think about the faithfulness of Christ. He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death.
Stay tuned as we look into the persecution at Smyrna in the next post. Have you subscribed to this blog? If not, these book sections could be emailed each week automatically to you.
Just joining us on the journey? Follow the links below to see the previous posts. (To minimize the number of links, I’ve only added the first part of each section.)