Updated: Mar 16
Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)
Like Ephesus, Smyrna (just 25 miles further north) was a prosperous port. It had beautiful temples to the Greek and Roman gods. The city was linked to death, both in their history and in Jesus's letter to them. It had been destroyed in 600BC and had been rebuilt by 290BC, this is symbolised by the 'crown of life' that represented the city, however, what's being implied here is far more. Here Christians were being persecuted, fear of death, incarceration, and most likely, martyrdom. The reference to the Synagogue of Satan links to the betrayal that was happening where Jews were acting as informants for the Romans against the Christians. Anyone who was acting counter-cultural was singled out and punished. There is a heavy focus on life and death in this letter, with this letter playing on Jewish martyrdom traditions. The faithful are facing death, but they have the promise of eternal life which is represented by a crown of victory, the resurrection! The ultimate reward in heaven.
To this church, there is no correction. While Ephesus needed to restore their first love, Smyrna needed to withstand the persecution. This raises the question to us, the body of Christ in the 21st century, which is, are we ready to die for our faith in Jesus Christ?
We are blessed here in Melbourne, while we know that other global churches need to be underground and hidden for risk of death, but if we answered 'no' to the above question, we need to ask ourselves the following question, how much can we say we love Christ if we're not willing to die for Him?
Jesus promises us a far greater reward than the power and status our oppressors now enjoy!
Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17)
This church was located in the ancient capital of the region. The home of parchment and a hot spot for pagan, Greek, and Roman worship. Apart from a massive temple to Zeus (which had a huge alter), it had many other temples, including one for Athena. The city also worshiped the cult god, Asclepius, the god of medicine. The symbol for this god can be seen today linked to many health care providers. The Caduceus is a short staff entwined by two serpents often topped by wings. Satan's throne might refer to any of these temples, (often decorated with serpents), or even the visual a person would have seen when viewing the whole city from afar, as it sat high on top of a large hill.
Some of the church here were being heavily influenced by the culture around them. Whether sexual immorality is a direct rebuke of how they are taking part in some of the pagan temple worship that used prostitutes, or metaphorically in the same way James uses adultery to demonstrate idolatry,
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
The inclusion of Balaam (from Numbers 22-24 and more importantly the way Balaam got the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord, Numbers 31:16), tells us that this church was really struggling with resisting the influence of the culture around them. Pagan worship was part of the culture and to resist it was seen as highly suspicious.
The church is being called to stay steadfast in the face of this opposition and not to become compromised. The hidden manna (the bread God provided to the Israelites in the wilderness), is to provide eternal sustenance to the church as they face only being able to eat meat that had been sacrificed to these pagan gods. The white stones pointed to admission chips used for these pagan temples, but now Jesus is using them to give His people a new identity and a new name,
The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. (Isaiah 62:2)
So, how do we have the appropriate level of interaction with the culture of the time, without being compromised by it?
The topic of abortion and sexual identity are two of the many topics Christians face into today. Standing on the Word of God is countercultural, and we must grapple with the possibility that standing firm in the Word of God might mean becoming the persecuted church in Smyrna. This is a tough reality that we may face in the very near future when you can have beliefs as long as they are what the culture says is acceptable.