Revelation 2:8-11 Part 1

8) And write the message for the Church in Smyrna:  The First and The Last Who having been dead and did live says these things.

9) I know your distress and poverty (but you are rich) and the blasphemy from those who declare themselves to be Jews and are not but a synagogue of Satan.

10) Fear not the things that you are about to suffer.  Lo!  The traitor is about to cast some from you into prison in order that you might be put to the proof, and you will have affliction ten days.  Remain faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11) Let the one having an ear hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.  The one who overcomes shall not be unjustly treated by the second death.


Since we spent a great deal of time on the context during the first seven verses of this chapter, we’ve already looked at the general geographical, political and theological issues with regard to the seven Churches of eastern Asia.  All we have to do at this point is to mention the “high spots” concerning the city of Smyrna.  And since I’ve now been there and seen the ruins of the old Roman city, I can give you some additional insights.  But I’ll reserve most of my comments for the second hour.

Now known as Izmir, Turkey (since 1923), the city is the largest import and export harbor in the country.  It now has about three million inhabitants, and is the third most populated city in Turkey.  As you’ll learn shortly, it is a “new” city – very modern – with a great infrastructure of highways and streets and utilities.

Since the tower of Babel, there’s always been somebody there, but the earliest established, defensible city can be dated back to about 1450BC.  (Just to give you a little perspective here, that was about 400 years before king David was born!)  And there are artifacts of religious activity from the beginning, with every conceivable “god” and “goddess” in history… including diana, athena, zeus, adonis, aphrodite, and many others.  And please remember that the most elaborate temple structure in existence was only thirty-five miles away.  It was the temple of diana – in Ephesus. 

Sometime during the seventh and eighth centuries BC, the Smyrnans built what is thought to be the first cobblestone street in the world, along with all of its temples and sacrificial sites and houses of harlotry.  So it was truly an innovative and progressive city in every sense of the word.  As was Ephesus, Smyrna was one of the “great” cities of all the world, although Ephesus was the greater of the two.

The settled civilization at Smyrna became a city-state by the eighth century BC; and, as there were from Ephesus, there were major trade routes from Smyrna into the rest of Asia.  The city was conquered by the Persians in the sixth century BC, and then by the Greeks (led by Alexander) in the fourth century.  It became a Roman city in about 133BC, and was the first to come up with a new religion – the goddess of which was called “roma”.  And thereafter the city of Rome was a “god” in its own right.  Smyrna worshipped roma, along with all its other gods and goddesses.

So Smyrna was just as pagan as was Ephesus, with its pantheon of gods and goddesses; and judaism was just as antagonistic to the Christian Church in Smyrna as it was in Ephesus.  The culture and customs may have been a bit different, but the Church in Smyrna had the same trials and tribulations as did the Ephesians – from Rome, from pagan idolatry, and from judaism from the synagogues that were local, and from judaists sent there from Jerusalem.

The ruins of the Roman forum (called the agora in Izmir) were found underneath an old Ottoman Empire cemetery.  And for the last eighty years or so, archeologists have been trying to piece it all back together.  It encompassed the center-city marketplace, and it included the ruling Roman forum.  The archeological “digs” are still going on at the site, and we saw it all and took pictures.

Smyrna, along with the rest of eastern Asia, was raided and conquered by Arab Muslims in the seventh and eighth centuries AD.  The entire area was taken by Suleiman the Magnificent in the fifteenth century and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire which aspired to a world-wide caliphate.  Turkey, under the Selcuks, only became independent and “secular” (although primarily Muslim) in the early twentieth century (about 1919) as the Ottoman empire faded.

As I said earlier, the ancient “agora” (marketplace) of Smyrna was discovered by archaeologists during the last century.  They found it underneath an Ottoman cemetery which was moved and excavated.  It dates back to Roman times and before the Church.  (As I said, I have pictures of it for you.)  It’s right in the middle of this bustling and modern city; and it’s being “preserved” and improved in its present excavated state at the foot of a high hill on the south side of town.  The old city had been established on the side of the hill before the Romans, so the government of the city, and its marketplace, was built by the Romans at the foot of the hill.   Certainly Paul and John and others were here on occasion to visit the Church which had only recently been formed in Smyrna.

As we heard in our exposition of the first seven verses, in the several dispersions from Israel during its first thousand years of existence before the birth of Jesus, there were some Jews almost everywhere in the world.  And Smyrna was certainly not an exception.  And therefore there were Jews at Pentecost, 30AD, from Smyrna; and some went home having been united to the Christ.  The Church of Jesus Christ was established in the city of Smyrna at that time, shortly after the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus in about 30AD.  And the Church received many more during the intervening thirty-five to forty years before Christ’s Parousia, as the Church at Jerusalem extricated many thousands from Israel into the nations.  (The apostle Peter calls them “refugees” from Israel in the nations in his two letters, because the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”, having been searched for and found by Jesus and His disciples, had been commanded by Jesus to get out of Israel before the “abomination of desolation”.) 

Although Paul makes no mention of the Church in Smyrna in his letters, it’s easy to assume that he visited all seven of the Churches in eastern Asia (since he was pastor at Ephesus for up to three years), and since the seven cities are reasonably close together; and surely his letter to the Church at Ephesus was circulated to Smyrna and to all seven of the Churches of Revelation.

So, the Church at Smyrna probably had multiple congregations by the time the apostle Paul arrived (as did Ephesus and the other five Churches).  The city was deemed very important at the time; it probably had a up to a hundred thousand residents, and there was a substantial Christian element (as well as the well-established judaist synagogues).  And Paul and the apostle John, from Ephesus, probably visited there to serve those people, since, as I said, all seven Churches were within easy travel distance.  Smyrna is only about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus, on the coast of the Aegean Sea, at the western shoreline of a gorgeous bay off the Aegean.

Now, just for the historical interest, let me take you, just for a couple of minutes, to a more contemporary issue.  And I’ll relate it to the text for you at the end.  I think this is important to us in order to see the whole sordid “world-order” picture before us this morning; and cause us to recognize and appreciate the deep enmity and hostility, from the beginning, toward the risen Christ and His Church…. first from judaism and then from the satanically controlled world order (the Roman world order in this case).

Of late there has been a move on the part of the leadership of the democrat controlled house of representatives of the United States congress to force a United States government condemnation of the Turks for the genocide and religious cleansing of Armenians.  That’s not arminians – as in the followers of Jacob Arminius – but the nationality!   Armenians are those living in Armenia, or those decendants of Armenians.

The religious and ethnic “cleansing” of Armenians, recently addressed by our democrat controlled house of representatives, took place beginning during the year 1919, at the end of the first world war.  That’s almost ninety years ago.  We’ve had ninety years to condemn the genocide that took place; and yet the speaker of the house decides that right now is the time for the United States government to issue a writ of condemnation of Turkey for that action.

The reasons for the attempt to condemn Turkey right at this time, ninety years after the genocide, appear to be two-fold: 1) Turkey, upon being condemned internationally for that genocide, would pull its support for the United States in its effort to subdue Iraq (something democrats would love to see happen, because they wish to humiliate the president and the nation, and remove our troops from Iraq), and 2) the speaker of the house of representatives has more immigrants from Armenia in the district she serves in California than any other district in the country.  But that’s a whole other story.  (And, by the way, Rousas John Rushdooney, whose books, articles and teaching played no insignificant role in my own theological development, was an Armenian whose parents immigrated.)

Armenia, a bordering neighbor of Turkey to the northeast, was once much larger than it is now, having occupied some of what is now called Turkey.  There have always been large numbers of Armenians in the land area now known as Turkey.

In 301 AD, thirty eight years before the first holy Roman Emperor – Constantine – was even baptized, Armenia declared itself a Christian nation!  It was the first country in the history of the Church to declare that Christianity was the state religion!  And I think it appropriate to attribute that to the apostle Paul, working by the Spirit of Christ, and whose efforts for Christ’s Church among the Jews and Gentiles in Asia Minor were incredibly successful.

Armenia continued to exist even through Arab and Mongol invasions, and through Persian and Russian control, all through the Ottoman empire which was established in the mid-1500s.  Living under the control of Muslims couldn’t have been easy for Christian Armenians since mohammedanism hates all things Christian.  And in the mid-to-late 1800s the Muslim sultanate massacred as many Christians in Armenia as they could find.

Then with hatred for the Armenians’ Christian heritage, the slaughter began again in 1915 by Muslim Turks (Selcuks) who had overthrown the Ottoman Empire; and it continued through 1922, in an attempt to cleanse Turkey of all Armenians.  Genocide is the only way to describe it, and it should have been condemned a long, long time ago.  The slaughter was horrible all through the nation as the Turkish military systematically exterminated them.

Which brings us back to Smyrna, at that time ruled from Greece.  Turk soldiers easily defeated the Greek military, which had to be supplied from across the Aegean, and entered Smyrna on September 8th 1922.  And here’s the account from one who was an eye witness to the scene:


The streets leading into the Armenian quarter were guarded by Turkish soldier sentinels and no one was permitted to enter while the massacre was going on.

Armed Turks, including many soldiers, entered the quarter thus guarded and went through it looting, massacring and destroying. They made a systematic and horrible “clean up,” after which they set fire to it in various places by carrying tins of petroleum or other combustibles into the houses or by saturating bundles of rags in petroleum and throwing these bundles in through the windows.

They planted small bombs under the paving stones in various places in the European part of the city to explode and act as a supplementary agent in the work of destruction caused by the burning petroleum which Turkish soldiers sprinkled about the streets. The petroleum spread the fire and led it through the European quarter and the bombs shook down the tottering walls. One such bomb was planted near the American Girls’ School and another near the American Consulate.

They set fire to the Armenian quarter on the thirteenth of September 1922. The last Greek soldiers bad passed through Smyrna on the evening of the eighth, that is to say, the Turks had been in full, complete and undisputed possession of the city for five days before the fire broke out and for much of this time they had kept the Armenian quarter cut off by military control while conducting a systematic and thorough massacre. If any Armenians were still living in the localities at the time the fires were lighted they were hiding in cellars too terrified to move, for the whole town was overrun by Turkish soldiers, especially the places where the fires were started. In general, all the Christians of the city were keeping to their houses in a state of extreme and justifiable terror for themselves and their families, for the Turks had been in possession of the city for five days, during which time they had been looting, raping and killing. It was the burning of the houses of the Christians, which drove them into the streets and caused the fearful scenes of suffering which will be described later. Of this state of affairs, I was an eye-witness.

The fire was lighted at the edge of the Armenian quarter at a time when a strong wind was blowing toward the Christian section and away from the Turkish. The Turkish quarter was not in any way involved in the catastrophe and during all the abominable scenes that followed and all the indescribable sufferings of the Christians, the Mohammedan quarter was lighted up and gay with dancing, singing and joyous celebration.


Needless to say, Smyrna (Izmir) is a Turkish city now, only now recently recovered from the almost total desolation heaped upon it eighty five years ago by the Islamic Turkish military; there are no Armenians there (tens of thousands of them having been slaughtered), and very few Christians.  And the Christians that may be there have to live under similar kinds of pagan rule that those Christians in our text had to live under ninteen hundred years before.

Shortly after this massacre, what was left of Armenia was invaded by Russian troops; and Armenia was incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under Stalin.  The Armenian Church suffered greatly under Stalin – and then later under Khrushchev.  But the Soviet Union broke apart under Gorbachev, and Armenia once again gained its independence in 1991.

Armenia is now a democratic republic; and a free market economy has just this year been put in place.  The nation is still predominantly Christian (completely surrounded by Muslim nations – Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the north and Iran to the south), with most worshippers being members of The Armenian Apostolic Church.  It is ritualistic but conservative, and roughly similar to the Coptic Church and the Syriac Church.

Geographically, it’s of interest that Mount Ararat (the Biblical mountain on which Noah’s ark descended after the flood) is in the southern part of Armenia close to the Turkish and Iranian border.

Anyway, I love the historical connections; and I thought you might enjoy that.  There has never been a time in history during which the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t in the midst of paganism.  And the hatred of Christ’s Church has always been rabidly virulent.  And nowhere has that been more evident than in the city of Smyrna.

Even so, Christ’s Church has made steady gains in every nation on earth, as our Lord commanded.  And, as the Scripture indicates, since the crucifixion, resurrection, bodily ascension and enthronement of the Lord Jesus Christ, Satan no longer is free to do as he wishes in the nations.  And, as I’ve said previously, I’ve read the last chapter – and we win!

Our Lord’s messages to these seven Churches requires faithfulness – exclusive faithfulness – of them.  Even in the environment of absolute paganism and barbarism and worship of the state.  They were told to remain steadfast in the doctrines of the apostles.  Persevere in the faith.  And make disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey all that our Lord commanded.

Smyrna (the Church) was constantly under seige… from Rome, from pagan idolatry, from animalistic sexual customs and practices, and from the culture.  But they were especially under seige from judaists, as we’ll see in the coming expositions of these four verses.

But the first thing that leaps out of the text at you is the fact that Jesus condemns nothing in His message to Smyrna.  It is the only one of the seven messages in which there is no warning to repent.  Now, that doesn’t mean that there was no sin in the Smyrna Church; what it does mean though is significant, isn’t it?  It means that, even though there were some foreboding things about to occur as Jesus says in the text of this message, the Church was doing what was right before its King; it was doing what the Spirit of Christ and the apostles had prescribed in the letter from the general assembly in Acts chapter fifteen.

It was conducting Biblical worship; it was in unity in Christ – that unity being evident between its Jewish and Gentile Christians; it dealt swiftly and surely with perversity and doctrinal error; and it wouldn’t listen to anything in opposition to apostolic doctrine.

So our Lord was pleased with this Church.  They were doing what Holy Spirit had directed at that first general assembly.  They were doing what Jesus had commanded.  And no doubt the Church was delighted with the message from “The First and The Last Who having been dead and did live”.

So, Jesus, appearing and speaking to John, declares Himself to be Yahveh of old, The First, The Last, and The Living! (verse eight) And the context is plain, and clear, that there is none other than Him; and that any other understanding of Him is an idol and is a false god!  And the Church at Smyrna is to be comforted by these Words from Jesus, for they are immediately reminiscent of, and connected to, the same words spoken to Jacob, and to Isaiah, and to Jeremiah….  “I Am the First, the Last, and the Living”.  And the Church is to know that the resurrected and enthroned Jesus is Yahveh of old; and He comes with the terrible Sword of indignation for His enemies – and comfort, protection and salvation for His people.

Jesus is God… the crucified, resurrected, bodily ascended and enthroned God-Man.  He is self-existent, independent and omnipotent.  He has ascended into the glory cloud, receiving His glory from before His incarnation; and He received all the nations as His inheritance and was crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  And He, having been raised from death, is never to die again.  Death is no master over Him.  He is alive forever more.  As the apostle Paul says in Romans chapter six beginning at verse three:


3) Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

4) We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.

5) For if we have become united in him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection;

6) knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin;

7) for he who hath died is justified from sin.

8) But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him;

9) knowing that Christ being raised from death dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him.


So, we “little ones” – “newborns” – having been united to Christ are removed from our lineage – our parentage – our ancestry – our heritage in Adam; and we are justified in our new heritage in Christ Jesus.  In Him, as the apostle Paul says (united to Him) we died in Him, we were raised in Him at His resurrection!

And since He was dead and now lives forever, we died with Him and in Him to our old Adamic heritage, and we live in the Second Adam.  And we live in Him forever – as He lives!  We are newborns in Christ!

Therefore we are to remain faithful to Him – even unto death!  And He will give us the crown of life.  That was the message to this Smyrna Church in torturous times – especially in the light of “that which is necessary to be done in quickness.” (Rev 1:1)

“Blessed the one reading and the ones hearing the words of the prophecy and keeping things having been written in it, for the time is near.” (Rev 1:3)

But it is equally true for the Church in our time, and for this Church as we read and hear the words: “Remain faithful… and I will give you the crown of life.”