Like Ephesus, the church at Smyrna represents, firstly, a very real church from the time that Revelation was written, around AD 95. It is one of The Seven churches mentioned in Revelation, and the second to which Y’shua (Jesus) tells John the Apostle to write to. Many commentators and theorists of the Revelation will explain that not only does it represent a real church, but also it portrays a period of church history that spanned over two hundred years. Their suggestion is that this particular age of the church started with the death of John, at the end of the first century, and ran through until AD 313, when the Edict of Tolerance was issued by the emperor Constantine.
The reasoning behind this is because in His letter to the church at Smyrna, Y’shua told them that they would suffer tribulation for ten days. Historians have identified ten different campaigns by various Roman leaders who deliberately persecuted Christians wherever they could. It was only with the coming of Constantine did he realise that persecuting Christians was only going to lead a serious uprising amongst the common people that the practice, as a matter of law, was stopped. Constantine seized the opportunity afforded by a truce to validate Christianity by claiming conversion into the faith. However, it appears that his true aim was to placate the common people. He did this by merging Christianity with the Roman Paganism. Constantine basically told the people that they could keep all the same gods and idols, but renamed them all after Christian saints. He kept the Pagan feasts and holidays and integrated them with Christian ones. It was a real stroke of genius for an emperor facing being overthrown by rebellion from the commoners. I don’t intend to go into depth here about this particular section of church history. But, if you have an interest in knowing the truth about Catholicism’s real roots then perhaps I could recommend that you watch the brilliant series called ‘Know You Enemy’ by The Fuel Project. You can watch it on YouTube for free. It is worth watching in its entirety but you can just pick and choose from the list. Here’s a link to the complete playlist.
Before Constantine, however, came the wave of Roman persecutions that the church suffered for over two hundred years. It is easy to see how the church at Smyrna represents this period in time. I happen to believe that it is meant to represent more than just the period between the Apostolic Age and that of the State Church Age, which will cover next. I think that the Revelation is written to be understood by everyone from each age of church history. It was designed to be understood by the churches of AD 95, just as much as it is designed to be understood by everyone alive today, as well as all those who fell asleep in the ages in between.
Smyrna is also representative of a type of church still around today. There are churches across the globe suffering dreadful persecutions because of the name of Y’shua. And it also represents a kind of believer alive today, who can be found in each one of the seven types of church. Let me explain.
Just like with Ephesus (and the following five churches), Smyrna had its own angel who stood watch over the church to ensure that God’s will was done. It is to this angel that the letter to Smyrna is addressed.
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” [Revelation 2:8b NKJV]
The words of Y’shua to the angel are to validate who is speaking. As I have explained in the letter to Ephesus, starting the letter in this way isn’t for us earthly bound people. It is a message directly to the angel, in order for the angel to know exactly who is talking. We have no real idea of what life is like inside the veil of the heavenly realm, but the angel does. The angel would know that it is the King of Kings speaking, addressing the angel and the church congregation.
The letter follows the same pattern as with Ephesus; Y’shua turns His attention to the congregation. The way His words read are as if He is responding to something that they have said to Him. I believe He is responding to their prayers:
“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.” [verse 9]
Imagine that whilst the church at Smyrna is praying to Y’shua, He has an old fashioned type of balance scale. As He places the good points, the good fruit, of the church at Smyrna on the scales, it weighs down heavily in their favour, just as it did when He considered the good fruits of Ephesus. But, unlike Ephesus, Y’shua has nothing to place in the negative side of the scale. It is all good fruit.
Instead of any reprimand, Y’shua issues a helpful warning to the church:
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer, I tell you, the devil will put some of in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [verse 10]
It is hard to imagine what that must have felt like to be in the congregation at Smyrna when this letter was read out. The words would have filled even the stoutest heart with dread. But, perhaps not. It is clear from verse 9 that Y’shua knew that they were already withstanding tribulation and other suffering. They had clearly grasped that suffering is always part of the deal when it comes to following the Christ. We should all know this already. I suspect that God only allowed what was to follow because they were well-grounded in their faith and knew how to be truly faithful.
It is clear throughout the entire Bible, and in particular, in Paul’s writings that God will never allow us to pass through the fires of testing unless He gives us the grace by which we can withstand the test itself. I am not talking, as some might think, about temptation. That is a different matter; one of the flesh. Testing, and withstanding under the pressure of a test is nothing to do with the flesh. It is all about the spirit. It was Job’s spirit that saw him through his tests, not his flesh.
Whether you like the sound of it or not, God allows us to be tested for the sole purpose of proving us. Just in the same way that precious metals are proved by fire until all impurities are removed, so too are we. This church at Smyrna was given a spirit of faithfulness at the very beginning, and it learnt to be truly faithful to God’s word, who is Y’shua.
Now, verse 10 is written and intended for more than just that first century church. But, let’s deal with what it meant to them before we look at the wider representations.
Y’shua tells them not to be afraid of what is coming their way. These people are clearly Spirit-led and He is talking to them on a spiritual level. It doesn’t matter what happens to the flesh. Y’shua was telling them that God will give them the grace to withstand whatever test is coming their way. We know from the book of Job that God allowed Satan to test Job in order to prove his faithfulness. Here Y’shua is telling the church at Smyrna that they too should consider the coming test as a sign that God already favours them, just as He favoured Job. In this life, it is rare that we get any warning before events that cause turmoil and pain arrive, but here we see Y’shua warning the church what was to come. He is telling them that they will likely be martyred before the test is over. The aim of the test is to stay faithful. If we remain faithful to God, He will always reward us, just as He promises in verse 10.
I can find no evidence of what persecution this faithful body of believers suffered after the distribution of this letter, but because Y’shua said they would, I believe that they suffered. The question that we need to ask ourselves is why did they have a spirit of faithfulness under persecution when their contemporaries didn’t?
Further to this letter being addressed to a particular body of believers from the first century, I believe it is also addressed to the entire church that existed between around AD 100 and AD 313. With all of God’s prophecies there is evidence of a message to the people of the time and place where the prophecy was first delivered. Then there is a message for a time yet to come. Often that message foreshadows events on or surrounding the Day of the Lord. If we treat the letters to the churches of Revelation in the same light, then we can accept that Smyrna also represents a period of church history, during which the church as a whole suffered persecution.
With the case of Smyrna and the period between AD 100 and AD 313, it is well documented that the church as a whole suffered ten different ‘days’ or periods of persecution under Roman rule. Although three of these periods of persecution began before AD 100, theologians insist on including them in their timeline. This is probably to ‘fit’ the prophecy in verse 10 that there will be ‘ten days’ of persecution. I don’t agree with forcing God’s prophecies to ‘fit’, because God’s word is exact and perfect. Shoehorning incorrect details into facts isn’t how God works. However, I will include the ten periods of persecution here, just in case I am wrong.
Ten Pagan Persecutions:
1. Nero – AD 54-68
2. Domitian – AD 81-96
3. Trajan – AD 98-112
4. Marcus Aurelius – AD 161-180
5. Severus – AD 193-211
6. Maximinus – AD 235-238
7. Decius – AD 240-251
8. Valerian – AD 253-260
9. Aurelian – AD 270-275
10. Diocletian – AD 285-305
So, that presents the ‘yet to come’ representation of Smyrna. Of course, it is not yet to come for us, for it has passed. But it does foreshadow something for the End of Days, and the Great Tribulation in particular.
The church at Smyrna also represents a type of church that exists today. Across the world there are churches suffering the most horrendous persecution on a daily basis. The news doesn’t generally report these things, but if you do your research you will see that the church is persecuted in China, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and countless other places. And if you understand what God has already made known to us about Jacob’s trouble, it is very easy to see just how the prophecy of verse 10 fits into the Tribulation.
Wherever you stand on the Rapture, or whatever you want to call it, it is clear that parts of the church will be raptured, or caught up, BEFORE the Great Tribulation begins. This is confirmed by Y’shua when He speaks of one being taken and one being left behind in Matthew 24 and Luke chapter 17. We also know that from Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians that those alive in Christ will be caught up to meet with the Lord in the air, along with those dead in Christ. There is also evidence that only some will be taken up in Revelation itself. If we take the church at Philadelphia to be a type of church in existence at the End of Days, Y’shua promises to save them from the hour of trouble that is coming upon the whole world. This suggests that only those who practice what the Philadelphians did will be caught up with the Lord. It will be this rapture that will turn the hearts of the Hebrews to accept that Y’shua is indeed their Mashiyach (Messiah).
Now, in order to understand the prophecy for an end times church at Smyrna, we need to understand a little of Hebrew ritual and festivals. Y’shua is the fulfilment of God’s Law. everything in the Torah points to the person of Y’shua. He is God’s Word Made Flesh. That includes the festivals. The Hebrews celebrate seven festivals a year and Y’shua is the fulfilment of each and every one. So far only four of the seven have been fulfilled.
Pesach (Passover) was fulfilled by Y’shua at His crucifixion. The sacrificial Lamb.
Matzah (Unleavened Bread) was fulfilled by Y’shua whilst He lay dead in the ground for three days and nights. Bread made without yeast represents His body without life in the tomb.
First Fruits (Grain Harvest) was fulfilled by Y’shua when He rose from the grave as the firstborn from among the dead.
Shavuot (Festival of Weeks or Pentecost) was fulfilled by Y’shua when He gave His Holy Spirit to the church. The Hebrews mark this day to commemorate the giving of God’s Word.
Yom Teruah (Festival of Trumpets) Unfulfilled, but expected to be fulfilled by Y’shua when He comes to meet those alive in Christ up in the ere, along with saints that have fallen asleep since Pentecost.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) Unfulfilled, but expected to be fulfilled by Y’shua at the very end of the seven years of tribulation when He returns to earth and rescues Isra’el from the battle of Megiddo.
Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). Unfulfilled, but expected to be fulfilled by Y’shua after the judgement when a new heaven and new earth will be revealed and God will dwelt with us permanently. To tabernacle means to dwell with.
If you would like a deeper look at the festivals, I can recommend the following site published by The Refiner’s Fire. You can see their section on the feasts, or festivals, by clicking here.
As you can see that the final three festival are yet to be fulfilled by Y’shua. It is believed that the next to be fulfilled is Yom Teruah or Festival of Trumpets. There are various sacred texts relating to this feast throughout the Old testament. You can find one account of it in Numbers chapter 29. The blowing of trumpets in celebration is a common theme to the festival. Now note carefully what Paul says will accompany what people call the rapture:
“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” [1st Thessalonians 4:16-17 NIV]
The trumpet call of God. This is often confused with the Last Trumpet mentioned in Revelation chapter 11. That is a trumpet sounded by an angel, not God. The Festival of Trumpets will be fulfilled by Y’shua, just as the other festivals will be. While the trumpets are sounded, those believers who have fallen asleep ‘in Christ‘, that is true believers who have died since Pentecost, and any of the true church who are alive at the time, will be caught up in the air to meet with Y’shua. This will signify the beginning of Jacob’s Trouble and the release of the Anti Christ. We know that the Anti Christ, or Man of Lawlessness, has not yet been revealed because there is an obstacle in his way. That obstacle is the body of Christ on earth. The moment that the true church are caught up, the Anti Christ will be released, and the final seven years as prophesied by Daniel in Daniel chapter nine, will begin. How do we know that the body of Christ, the true church, is the obstacle?
“And now you know what is holding him (the Man of Lawlessness) back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one (literally ‘without Torah’) will be revealed,…” [2nd Thessalonians 2:6-8a NIV]
Notice that the one who is holding the lawless one at bay is a ‘he’. Many believe this to be the Holy Spirit but we know that He will be at work on earth throughout the tribulation. He will not be removed in order to make way for the Anti Christ. The only explanation is that the body of Christ (which is masculine) is holding back the lawless one. Once the true church is caught up with Christ in the air, the lawless one will be released and the tribulation will begin.
The churches of Revelation, or The Seven, represent not only real 1st century churches, but also sections of church history, and types of churches. Smyrna represents persecuted churches from the End of Days. They will not be raptured, despite Y’shua only having good things to say about them. How do we know? Because Y’shua warns them that they will suffer for ten days and that they must be faithful unto death. The ten days, in this case, refer not to ten periods of persecution, but instead to the time between the Feast of Trumpets (the Rapture) and the Day of Atonement, when Christ returns to the earth at the battle of Megiddo, at the end of the tribulation.
How do we know that to be the case? Read this:
“On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound trumpets.” [Numbers 29:1 NIV]
“On the tenth day of this seventh month hold a sacred assembly. You must deny yourselves and do no work.” [Numbers 29:7 NIV – describing the Day of Atonement]
It is clear from Hebrew law that there are always ten days between these two festivals. This describes a period of great persecution for one part of the church left behind after the rapture. In fact, only the type of church likened to the church at Philadelphia will be caught up with Y’shua. That type of church, and true believers from all the other types of churches who are faithful just as the original Philadelphians were.
During that final ‘ten days’ the church likened to Smyrna will suffer at the hands of the Anti Christ. He will see to it that they are all martyred. One seventh of the entire church will be martyred under this purge. Christ asks for those faithful servants to be faithful to death, warning them for what is to come, just as He did for what has already passed.
Smyrna also represents a kind of believer that you can find in every type of church. They is always someone being persecuted for their faith. Usually, you will not know about it because their faith is such that they won’t draw attention to themselves. They are there, probably in your church, nonetheless.
The letter to the church of Smyrna finishes in the same way that they all do – with a message to all who are prepared to listen to what the Spirit of God says. The rewards on offer are for all treu believers who overcome and remain faithful to Y’shua.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” [verse 11]