Letter's to the Infancy ChurchesJan 26, 2023
“Be fearless and faithful … even to death.” That’s the message Jesus Christ writes to the young church in Smyrna—whose name, ironically, when translated into Hebrew means “myrrh,” a resin that becomes beautifully fragrant when it’s crushed.
Hi everyone, I’m Tammy Becker. Welcome to the Almighty God & Gospel Girl Podcast. This is week four into our brand-new series of Revelation and our podcast today is titled: Letter's to the Infancy Churches. My podcast today will be based on the reading of Revelation 2:8-12 and Revelation 2:12-15. And if you would like to follow along with the notes or maybe you would like to find the links to anything mentioned in the podcast today, you can go to the link in the description or by visiting www.youministries.com and visiting the corresponding page. As we get started today, I would like to remind you of my disclaimer, that as always…do not take my word, or anyone’s word for what you read…get yourself in the Bible and let God discern His Word to you. I am only human and make many mistakes and do not claim to know or understand everything in the Bible…I just hope by bringing out this study that your interest is sparked enough to get into God’s Word and begin to deep dive on your own.
As we learned last week, these letters are very structured, and the structure repeats from letter to letter, which helps us interpret them
- Starting with meaning of the city’s name, Smyrna
- The name is a transliteration of the Greek word smurna which is the word for myrrh
- Myrrh is a natural gum or resin that comes from a Middle Eastern tree used to make a fragrant ointment
- Myrrh was most commonly associated with death and burial since it was a primary embalming spice used to prepared dead bodies
The city of Smyrna still exists today, known as Izmir. Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum were “the royal cities” and competed with each other for attention. Smyrna was the great commercial center, Ephesus was the political center, and Pergamum was the religious center.
Smyrna was one of the loveliest cities of Asia. Called “the crown of all Asia,” its acropolis sits on Mount Pagos. Though already ancient, Alexander the Great developed Smyrna into the beautiful city that it became. The city was majestic, with noble buildings and beautiful temples—to Zeus, to Diana, to Aphrodite, to Apollo, and to Asclepius. Smyrna was the home to a theater and music center. In its stadium, Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna and student of the apostle John) was martyred, burned alive in 155 a.d.
Yes, Smyrna has seen its suffering. In His letter, the Lord Jesus said He knew all about it and He knew their poverty. Their experience reflects the church history period from about 100 a.d. to approximately 314 a.d., from the death of the apostle John to the Edict of Toleration by Constantine, which was given in 313 a.d. and ended the persecution of Christians—not only in Smyrna but all over the Roman Empire.
Everything the Lord Jesus says to the church at Smyrna is praise.
To these brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord describes Himself as “the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.” Nothing came before Christ, and there will be nothing to follow Him. He has the final statement of all things. These dear, persecuted believers needed to know He was in charge and this persecution was in the planning and purpose of God.
“Who was dead, and came to life” has a real message for martyrs (v. 8). His experience with death identified Him with the five million who were martyred during this period of church history. But Jesus said He was triumphant over death and can save to the uttermost those who are enduring persecution and martyrdom.
“I can see your pain and poverty,” He said to them. “I know you’re suffering.” The early church was made up largely of the poorer classes, slaves, ex-slaves, runaway slaves, freed slaves, poor people. When the wealthy believed in Christ, their property was confiscated because of their faith. But they were blessed with all spiritual blessings. (When Jesus wrote to the rich church in Laodicea, He said, “You think you are rich, but you are really poor and don’t know it.” But to those who were poor materially, He said, “You’re rich.”)
Some in Smyrna claimed to be good Jews, but in fact belonged to Satan’s crowd. Smyrna was a city of many cultures in which many Jews had discarded their belief in the Old Testament. They said they were Jews, but they weren’t God’s people.
For the second time in Revelation, Jesus comforted His own while they were being persecuted with, “do not fear any of those things” (v. 10). History tells us thousands went to their death singing praises to God. Of course, Jesus labels Satan as being responsible for the suffering of the saints in Smyrna. Ten Roman emperors served as Satan’s tool during ten intense periods of persecution. The Lord Jesus knew the root trouble.
“Even so,” the Lord said, “be faithful to death”—and they were. To these martyrs, Jesus promises “the crown of life.” That would have resonated with these believers who lived in Smyrna, “the crown city.” Their “crown of life” from the Lord will be eternal.
The Lord has special crowns waiting for those who suffer. If you are suffering right now and have wondered if He cares, He has something special for you in eternity. You who have suffered will get something no one else will be getting. (See James 1:12.)
Finally, Jesus ends His message to Smyrna with a favorite expression: “He who has an ear, let him hear” (v. 11) … “pay attention.” Have you heard Him today? Is He speaking to you?
LETTER #3 TO THE CHURCH IN PERGAMUM
- The name Pergamum comes from two Greek words, pergosand gamos
- Pergosmeans a tower or citadel, like a powerful fortress
- And gamosmeans matrimony or sexual union
- So the two words together mean “married to a powerful institution or fortress”
- Pergamum was a powerful city for many centuries and the seat of authority for the Roman province
- The governor of Asia lived in this city and as governor, he held the “right of the sword” under Roman law
- That meant he had the authority to decide when to apply capital punishment and to decide life and death
- The city was a preeminent city of artistic and intellectual power in the region, with a library rivaling the one in Alexandria
- It was steeped in Hellenistic culture, including having many pagan temples, monuments and cults dedicated to gods
- The city featured an altar to Zeus, the son of Dionysis, and the Augustan Temple
- It was also famous for the Asclepeion school of medicine, founded in the 4th century BC and famous as a place of “healing”
- Pergosmeans a tower or citadel, like a powerful fortress
A little over 250 years after Jesus left the earth, the world at large moved away from believing in Jesus Christ. You could call this season, paganism unlimited. Jesus had a message for the local church at Pergamum and also for us today.
The city of Pergamum is 55 miles north of Smyrna, inland a few miles from the Aegean coast. The acropolis still stands on the top of the mountain. The ruins of the great temples and the city can be seen for miles. At the time, it was the most famous city of Asia, certainly the most royal. In the winter when Rome got cold, Caesar Augustus would vacation in this beautiful area. As a fortified, stronghold city, it could withstand the enemy. Built on the cliffs, overlooking the Caicus River valley, Pergamum sat on a strategic location between two rivers that led to the Aegean coast.
Not only did Pergamum boast great temples, but it also had the greatest library of the pagan world. In fact, the parchment (pergamena) used in books is named after the city. Marc Antony gave his girlfriend, Cleopatra, this library and she lugged it off to Alexandria, Egypt. It was considered the greatest library the world has ever seen—and it originally came from Pergamum.
This third letter was addressed, like the others, to the angel or messenger of the church, the pastor. Since Pergamum was the center of false religion, specifically emperor worship, the only way it could be reached would be by the Word of God—a sharp sword with two edges that was able to divide truth from error.
The Lord commends this church for three specific things. First, He takes note of their circumstances. He knew they were living in a difficult place. Did you know the Lord takes note of your circumstances, too?
They lived in Satan’s headquarters. Satan isn’t in hell today. (Though he will be later, as we’ll see in chapter 20.) He is loose and the prince of this world, controlling kingdoms and going up and down the earth as a roaring lion, hunting whoever he can devour (see 1 Peter 5:8).
Pergamum reveals religion as big business. It boasted the temples of Athena, Caesar Augustus, Hadrian, the altar to Zeus, the temple of Dionysius, and of the god Asklepios, which in addition to being a temple was also a worldrenown hospital of the ancient world. For 700 years, people went to it from all over the world for healing. Good men used medicine there, but basically, it was a satanic stronghold.
Another word of commendation Jesus gave to the believers at Pergamum was He saw they were faithful in defending His deity.
The church in Pergamum represents a period in church history (from approximately 314 to 590 a.d.) that produced great giants of the faith like Athanasius from North Africa who defended the deity of Christ, and Augustine who answered the heresy that denied original sin and irresistible grace. These two giants stood unshakably for the great doctrines of the faith.
Now the two things the Lord condemns in the Pergamum church are also doctrine—the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. “The doctrine of Balaam” (v. 14) is different from the error of Balaam (see Jude 1:11), when Balaam thought God would curse Israel because they were sinners. It’s also different from the way of Balaam (see 2 Peter 2:15), which was covetousness. This teaching of Balaam the Lord condemns is the way Israel intermarried with Moabite women, that opened the door of Israel to idolatry and fornication.
“The doctrine of the Nicolaitans” we saw earlier. The church at Ephesus hated it, but here in Pergamum some didn’t think it was so bad. It allowed great sensuality in the church and returned religious rituals to the clergy, ignoring that we are all on equal footing at the Cross. Christ says He hates it! Jesus Christ hates as well as loves. We had better be careful not to indulge in the things He hates.
More than anything, Jesus Christ hates sin. The only cure for that in our lives is to repent—literally, “change your mind.” And if we admit our sins, calling them out as God sees them, God will be faithful to forgive us of these sins and purge us of all wrongdoing (see 1 John 1:9). If the church at Pergamum would not repent, the Lord said He would fight against them with the sword of His mouth, the Word of God. What a mistake if we think the church has the authority to decide right and wrong.
The true church is made up of believers in Jesus Christ, the body of Christ. We are to be lights in this dark world, identifying first with the person of Jesus Christ and to recognize, not the church, but the Word of God as our authority.
Using His favorite expression, Jesus says “he who has an ear, let him hear.” “Listen! Wake up!” We overcome by the blood of the Lamb. (This is for genuine Christians today, too.) Never are we overcomers, but we overcome by Jesus’ shed blood for us. We don’t win the victory; He wins it for us.
“To him who overcomes,” Jesus says, “I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (v. 17).
“Hidden manna” speaks of His own body, crucified for us as He is revealed in the Word of God. In fact, Jesus said He Himself was the Bread (see John 6:32-35). If we want to mature in our relationship with Christ, we must feed on Him. And, actually, Christ is hidden from view; He is not known or understood in our day.
Jesus also says He will give the overcomers a white stone with a new name written on it. It’s helpful to learn that the people of Asia Minor to whom John was writing had a custom of giving to intimate friends a tessera, a cube or rectangular block of stone or ivory, with words or symbols engraved on it. It was a secret, private gift. Jesus says He is going to give to each of His own a stone with a new name engraved on it, perhaps a new name for Him that relates something different to each one of us. It will be His personal and intimate name to each of us. What a precious gift that will be.
That’s it for today.
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