III. THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA
The church in Smyrna typifies the condition of the church during the time from about one hundred years after Christ to A.D. 313. The church in Ephesus was cold in her love; the church in Smyrna suffered. This has a great significance because many times the Lord causes a cold and loose believer to suffer in order to revive him.
A. Revelation 2:8
"And to the messenger of the church in Smyrna write: These things says the First and the Last, who became dead and lived again."
"Smyrna" means "suffering," but it can also be taken to mean "myrrh." Myrrh is precious; thus, this suffering is a precious suffering. All sufferings for the Lord are precious. "The First and the Last" indicates that the Lord is the forever unchanging God. What a comfort this was to the church in Smyrna!
"These things says..., who became dead and lived again." Becoming dead yet living again was, of course, the Lord’s experience and work when He was on the earth. However, this word could also give the believers in Smyrna the greatest comfort, encouragement, and help:
(1) First, this leaves us a pattern to follow. If the Lord received death while on the earth, even more, should not we also?
(2) Since He suffered unto death, He can sympathize with us (Heb. 4:15).
(3) To accomplish God’s will and overcome the enemy, the Lord had to die. We want to accomplish the same; hence, we also must die.
(4) Although the Lord died, He resurrected. Hence, if we suffer or forsake our life for the Lord, we will have the hope of resurrection; our suffering will not be in vain.
B. Revelation 2:9
"I know your tribulation and poverty (but you are rich) and the slander from those who call themselves Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan."
1. "I Know"
(a) The Lord knows all of our sufferings! Therefore, our hearts should be content.
(b) Since the Lord knows our sufferings yet still does not remove them, such sufferings must be profitable to us.
(c) Since the Lord knows our sufferings, He must also know how to reward us in the future.
2. Their Sufferings
The sufferings of the church in Smyrna at that time were of three kinds: (1) tribulation, (2) poverty, and (3) slanderings.
What is tribulation? Tribulation is an outward persecution from the environment, such as opposition, attack, exile, oppression, beating, robbing, and so forth.
If the monetary supply during tribulation is sufficient, you do not feel the suffering that much because, relatively speaking, being rich makes it easier for you to get by. But if you are in poverty in the midst of tribulation, the situation becomes even more hopeless. Although this was the situation, the Lord added a most precious word: "But you are rich." At that time the faith of the church in Smyrna was rich (James 2:5) and her love was full (1 Thes. 1:3). Otherwise, who would not fall when placed under such circumstances?
The church in Smyrna and the church in Laodicea stand in stark contrast to each other (Rev. 3:17); it is impossible for a person to be in Smyrna, before the Lord, yet at the same time be in Laodicea, before the world.
Slander damages our reputation. Some can endure physical sufferings under tribulation and poverty, yet few can tolerate damage to their reputation.
"The slander from those who call themselves Jews." Slandering began with the Jews. When our Lord was on the earth, He was slandered by them; much more, should not we also be slandered?
What was their actual word of slander? It was slander against the truth of salvation (Acts 13:45; 18:6; 19:9; 28:22; Rom. 3:8), yet the Lord said that we are blessed if we are reviled (Matt. 5:11).
There is one more point to be noted—that is, concerning "those who call themselves Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." Who actually were these people? Before we talk about this group of people, we should first find out who the real Jews are. From Romans 2:28-29, John 8:39-47, and Romans 4:11-12, we understand that whoever sincerely believes in the Lord Jesus is a real Jew. Since these ones were not Jews but called themselves such, they must surely refer to a group of Jews in the flesh and a group of Judaistic followers.
These people had an organization, and one might say that they were the Judaistic church. Their teachings were also Judaistic, being half of the law and half of grace, half of faith and half of works. Their system followed the law; they had a priestly order. There were a great number of these people, even at Paul’s time. However, by the time of this writing, they had become more developed and more organized. They "are a synagogue of Satan." These people were used by Satan to preach a seemingly true, but actually false, gospel.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 16: Study on Revelation, Chapter 3, by Watchman Nee)