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Notes on Revelation


"And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death."--Revelation 2:8-11

"Smyrna...was considered the safest seaport of its time. It had a thriving economy because it was on the main trade route from Rome to India and Persia. Alexander the Great personally planned the city, and it was called 'the ornament of Asia' because of its beauty and splendor. Many Jews lived there, yet Smyrna was overwhelmingly pagan.

"On one end of the main street, the 'street of gold,' stood the Temple of Zeus, and at the other end stood the Temple of Cybele, 'the mother of the gods.' Smyrna was also the center of emperor worship in the Roman Empire, boasting a temple to Tiberius Caesar."

(There's A New World Coming, Hal Lindsey)

"The city was of remarkable beauty. Its claim to be the chief city of Asia was contested by Ephesus and Pergamum, but in beauty it was easily first. In addition to its picturesque situation it was commended by its handsome and excellently paved streets, which were fringed by the groves in the suburbs...The protecting divinity of the city was a local variety of Cybele, known as the Sipylene Mother, and the towers and battlements of her head-dress bore an obvious resemblance to the appearance of the city. (The Greeks identified her with Nemesis, who here alone in the Greek world was worshipped, and not as one but as a pair of goddesses.)...The life of the city was and is much benefited in the hottest period of the day by a west wind which blows on it with great regularity, dying down at sunset. This was counterbalanced by a disadvantage, the difficulty of draining the lowest parts of the city, a difficulty accentuated by this very wind. Smyrna boasted that it was the birthplace of Homer, who had been born and brought up beside the river Meles."

(Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible)

"The city to which allusion is made in Revelation 2:8-11, was founded, or at least the design of founding it was entertained, by Alexander the Great soon after the battle of the Granicus, in consequence of a dream when he had lain down to sleep after the fatigue of hunting. A temple in which two goddesses were worshipped under the name of Nemeses stood on the hill, on the sides of which the new town was built under the auspices of Antigonus and Lysimachus, who carried out the design of the conqueror after his death...The rich lands in the neighborhood were cultivated by the inhabitants, scattered in villages about the country...Not only was the soil in the neighborhood eminently productive--so that all vines were even said to have two crops of grapes--but its position was such as to render it the natural outlet for the produce of the whole valley of the Hermus. The Pramnean wine (which Nestor in the Iliad, and Circe in the Odyssey, are represented as mixing with honey, cheese, and meal, to make a kind of salad ddressing) grew even down to the time of Pliny in the immediate neighborhood of the temple of the Mother of the gods at Smyrna...

"The inhabitants of New Smyrna appear to have possessed the talent of successfully divining the course of events in the troublous times through which it was their destiny to pass, and of habitually securing for themselves the favor of the victor for the time being. Their adulation of Seleucus and his son Antiochus was excessive...Yet when the tide turned, a temple was erected to the city Rome as a divinity in time to save the credit of the Smyrneans as zealous friends of the Roman people. Indeed, though history is silent as to the particulars, the existence of a coin of Smyrna with the head of Mithridates upon it, indicates that this energetic prince also, for a time at least, must have included Smyrna within the circle of his dependencies. However, during the reign of Tiberius, the reputation of the Smyrneans for an ardent layalty was so unsullied, that on this account alone they obtained permission to erect a temple, in behalf of all the Asiatic cities, to the emperor and senate, the question having been for some time doubtful as to whether their city or Sardis--the two selected out of a crowd of competitors--should receive this distinction.

"It seems not impossible, that just as St. Paul's illustrations in the Epistle to the Corinthians are derived from the Isthmian games, so the message to the Church in Smyrna contains allusions to the ritual of the pagan mysteries which prevailed in that city...[It was] a usual practice at Smyrna to present a crown to the priest who superintended the religious ceremonial at the end of his year of office."

(Dr. William Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, 1872)

"Apollonius of Tyana, who traveled far and wide, called it 'the most beautiful city under the sun.' It was proud of its long, straight streets, its double-tiered colonnades, its library, and its university. One of its most famous sons, Aelius Aristides (Ad 117-187), described it in terms that reveal the splendor of these Roman-Hellenistic cities:

Go from east to west, and you will pass from temple to temple and from hill to hill along a street fairer than its name (the Golden Way). Stand on the acropolis: the sea flows beneath you, the suburbs lie about you, the city through three lovely views fills the goblet of your soul...Everything to the very shore is a shining mass of gymnasia, markets, theaters...baths--so many that you hardly know where to bathe...fountains and public walks, and running water in every home. The abundance of her spectacles, contests, and exhibitions is beyond telling, and the variety of her handicrafts. Of all the cities this is best suited for those who like to live at ease and be philosophers without guile.
"The opposition to the new religion [Christianity] came rather from the people than from the state. The magistrates were often men of culture and tolerance; but the mass of the pagan population resented the aloofness, superiority, and certainity of the Christians, and called upon the authorities to punish these 'atheists' for insulting the gods...From the time of Nero Roman law seems to have branded the profession of Christianity as a capital offense; but under most of the emperors this ordinance was enforced with deliberate negligence. If accused, a Christian could usually free himself by offering incense to a statue of the emperor; thereafter he was apparently allowed to resume the quiet practice of his faith. Christians who refused this obeisance might be imprisoned, or flogged, or exiled, or condemned to the mines, or, rarely, put to death.

"At Smyrna the populace demanded of the 'Asiarch' Philip that he enforce the law; he complied by having eleven Christians executed in the amphitheater (155). The bloodthirst of the crowd was aroused rather than assuaged; it clamored for the death of Bishop Polycarp, a saintly patriarch of 86 years, who was said in his youth to have known St. John."

(Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ, Will Durant)

Emperor Decius issued an edict around 250 AD which "appears to have demanded more than the usual sacrifice which was made on the Emperor's behalf by his provincial governors at the start of each new year...Decius ordered a 'sacrifice to the gods,' not a sacrifice to or for the Emperor...The Jews were exempted, and the only opponents, therfefre, would be Christians.

Some Christians got "certificates" signed by pagan authorities which "attested the bearer's lifelong pagan observance and his act of sacrifice in the presence of a local commissioner...Suspects who could produce a certificate were to be safe from further harassment."

This time of trouble lasted for about two years and is the forerunner of the "great" persecutions of the early fourth century. One account of martyrdom from this time period is that of Pionius, a Christian Elder "purported to be set in the cultured city of Smyrna during the first February of Decius' edict."

"The story begins...when Pionius and his friends walked onto the city square through its double gate, the colonnades...were packed with a holiday crowd.

"In the 250s, Smyrna's agora had been rebuilt after a recent earthquake...Down the east and west sides of the square ran the colonnades...Two stories high, their pillared facades extended for more than 130 yards, the status symbols of a late Hellenistic city. In the northwest corner stood the double arch of an entry gate...Through the opposite gate, Pionius entered and walked northwards past the packed colonnade, leaving behind him a heavy pillared basilica. On an arch in the west colonnade stood busts of the Emperor Marcus and his wife, the patrons of rebuilt Smyrna; the building was dedicated to the 'two goddesses Nemesis, all the gods and goddesses and the Emperors'...They were taken to the temple of these Nemeseis to pay sacrifice and eat the pagan meats...

"Pionius and his fellow prisoners were arrested by a group of pagans who were led by Polemon, a temple official in Smyrna. 'You know, of course, about the Emperor's edict,' said Polemon, 'and how it bids you sacrifice to the gods.' 'We know the edicts of God,' replied Pionius, 'in which he bids us worship him alone.'

With Pionius was a homeless Christian slave girl named Sabina. She was harassed "with that frequent threat to Christian heroines, a compulsory spell in the city brothel."

Some of the speeches Pionius made while in the agora are preserved, including one on hell and the Dead Sea. "Perhaps the Dead Sea seemed a little remote from Smyrna's audience, but if so, Pionius went on, they should consider the black cones of ash in their own Burnt Lydia, which stretched away on the border's of Smyrna's assize district...The volcanic landscape of Burnt Lydia was an old and awesome curiosity...The land, they said, had been scorched by a dragon whom the god of the heavens had beaten in battle. The story was known to the old Hittite kings (c. 1200-1000 BC) and had passed to Greek travellers in the archaic age (c. 750). They equated the dragon with their monster Typhon, whom Zeus had slain, and located his presence in this scorched region..."

"In the main square, Pionius had already attacked the Jews for gloating over Christians who lapsed. Now [while in prison] he attacked them again because he heard that they were inviting 'some of the Christians' into their synagogues...Some Christians were scared of being tested and then lapsing, and in 'despair,' Pionius hinted, they were amenalbe to the Jews' overtures. The Jews' aim was to win converts in the crisis, among Christians who would prefer to join a synagogue rather than eat 'demonic' pagan meat: such a secession was less fraught and less public...Pionius reviled them as 'rulers of Sodom and the host of Gomorrah.' He was also convinced that they would spread a familiar slander: Christ, said the Jews, had died a criminal's violent death, and like other executed criminals, his spirit still roamed without rest. Christians, therefore, could conjure it up and had already brought it back to earth by their magical sign of the cross. The 'Resurrection' appearances were caused by sorcery, said the Jews, practised on a criminal's restless soul.

"Why was Pionius' prison speech more concerned to attack the Jews than his pagan captors?...No synagogue has yet been found in Smyrna, but a few precious inscriptions suggest a Jewish community of some size and rank...[These inscriptions]...join the growing evidence for a prominent Jewish presence in the lives of eastern Greek cities in the second and third centuries.

Pionius was put to death for not sacrificing to the gods during the festival of Dionysus at Smyrna in 250 AD. The assize tour of 250 is remarkable for the persecution of Christians first in Ephesus, then Smyrna and onward to Pergamum. [In Ephesus that year] "The city is the scene of the most famous of all legends of Christian persecution, the Seven Sleepers, seven Christian boys and their dog who were said to have taken to a cave to escape from Decius' edict." Pionius' sentence was not given him until early March which is a little later than usual because of the trouble in Ephesus. Then we hear of three martyrs in Pergamum in mid-April later that year.

(Pagans and Christians, Robin Lane Fox)

"Some bible authorities point out that there may be an allusion here to the well-known ten persecutions, and that there may also be an allusion to the tenth persectuion under the ruler Diocletian. This persecution lasted exactly ten years, according to bible history."

(The Revelation Verse by Verse Study, Dr. Oliver B. Greene)

See the online book The Letters to the Seven Churches by W. Ramsay.

See "The Two Babylons: Distinctive Character of the Two Systems."

Also see Seven Churches.
Also see '...say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.'


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