The Letter to the Church in Smyrna
The letter to Smyrna is the shortest letter of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. Nevertheless, it is a complete and meaningful letter from YHVH to the faithful believers in Him and in His Son Yeshua the Messiah.
So far, we studied five out of seven letters to the assemblies in Asia Minor: the letter to the church of Ephesus, to the churches in Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis, and the letter to the Laodiceans. And in the last article we studied as to why the letter to the Ephesians was specifically addressed as a letter to the church of Ephesus and the letter to Laodicea: the church of the Laodiceans.
We also studied that these five churches in Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea, were more or less found guilty before YHVH, especially the wealthy and lukewarm church of the Laodiceans to which Yeshua said, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth (Rev 3:15-16). That was a warning to the Laodiceans that means only one thing: a total rejection, if repentance would not be seen in that church. No merits were found in the church of the Laodiceans, yet, He said, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire (Rev 3:18), or else.
It is not so with the last two assemblies in our study: the letters to the believers in Smyrna and in Philadelphia. The assemblies in Smyrna and Philadelphia are the only ones with whom YHVH was well pleased: two out of seven. That is why the present author has chosen to group the seven letters to the seven churches in such a manner as to distinguish the assemblies in Smyrna and Philadelphia from the rest. That is why he is very reluctant to call the assemblies in Smyrna and Philadelphia churches, given what the term “church” means today.
Let us begin with the letter to Smyrna, a port city in today’s western Turkey.
The Messiah became the First and the Last
The heading of the letter to Smyrna begins thus,
And to the messenger of the assembly in Smyrna write, ‘This says the First and the Last, who became dead, and came to life: (Rev 2:8)
The Messiah here is called the First and the Last, and rightly so because we find the same expression in Isa 44:6-7 where we read,
Thus said Yehovah, King of Israel, and His Redeemer, Yehovah Tzevaot, I am the First and I am the Last, besides Me there is no Elohim. And who is like Me? Let him call and declare it, and lay it before Me, since I appointed the ancient people. And the events that are coming and those that do come, let them declare. (Isa 44:6-7)
The words in question in Isa 44:6 are רִאשׁוֹן rishon, and אַחֲריֹן acharyon, commonly translated as the first and the last, but more literally the first, the head, the most important one, as the Hebrew word rishon comes from the word rosh that means the first, the head, the summit, the beginning, most importantly, chiefly and primarily (see Gen 1:1), and acharyon: the one who is to come, as acharyon comes from the word achar. Hence, the concept of the First and the Fast. (See also Isa 48:12, Rev 1:8 and Rev 1:11)
For more insight on the prophetic meaning of the word achar, the reader may refer to the article “To Foresee Yeshua the Messiah.”
What we should notice is that in Isa 44:6-7 it is YHVH who is speaking, while in Rev 2:8 it is the Messiah who is referred to, because only about the Messiah it can be said: This says the First and the Last, who became dead, and came to life.
So, how can these two witnesses be reconciled, but to say that through His obedience to the Father the Son deserved to be called the First and the Last by taking the sin of the world?
The fact that YHVH’s majesty, which rules over not only the visible world, but invisible as well, is thus without equal and above all time, is now proved by Yeshua the Messiah from the fact that He alone manifests Himself in the prophecy in Revelation, as the absolute and eternally unchangeable the Alef and the Tav One (Gr. the Alpha and the Omega), and that by the utterance of prophecy.
The suffering of the righteous is necessary
The message in the letter to Smyrna
I know your works, and the suffering and the poverty, but you are rich, and the despising of those who say they are Yehudiyim and are not, but are a council of the adversary. (Rev 2:9)
As we said the letter to Smyrna is the shortest letter of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation and its concise language makes out job to extract as much knowledge and understanding even more difficult.
But, it does not take much effort to note what the Messiah meant by, I know your works, and the suffering and the poverty and to juxtapose it to the rich and lukewarm church of the Laodiceans. And when He said that the believers in Smyrna are rich, it must be taken as rich in faith, not rich in wealth.
They were despised by those who called themselves יְּהוּדִיִים Yehudiyim (as found in the Hebrew text of Revelation), but are not and of the council of the adversary (lit. hasatan). Yehudiyim is an adjective meaning “Judaic” and distinct from Yehudim which means members of the tribe of Yehudah.
In the Rabbinical work Genesis Rabbah, Vayechi, Section 97, quoted by Gordon, Yehudiyim was understood by the Sages as referring to the Ten Lost Tribes who labeled themselves “Judaic” Yehudiyim, but not “Jewish” (probably the Rabbis meant Jews Yehudim, as “Jewish” and “Jews” are seen as interchangeable).
Whether the term Yehudiyim is to be taken literally as ones of the lost tribes of Israel, we cannot know with certainty. What we know is that they were imposters who despised the believers in Smyrna. But concerning the lost tribes and whether they are lost, the leader may refer to the article “Where are the Lost Tribes of Israel?“
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. See, the Avadon is about to throw some of you into prison, in order to try you, and you shall have suffering for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I shall give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)
The Messiah found no guilt in the believers in Smyrna in contrast to the other churches in Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea.
However, He warned them that they were to suffer persecution, as the suffering that was about to come was necessary. The destruction (haAvadon) האֲבַדּוֹן was about to throw some of them (not all of them) into prison, in order to try them, but this suffering was to be for ten days. Here, ten days are to be taken literally; otherwise it will be unreasonable to say that they represent ten prophetic days, as in Psa 90:4: For a thousand years in Your eyes are like yesterday.
Then the Messiah went on in His letter to Smyrna to encourage them to be faithful until death and should be given the crown of life.
In the translations from Greek, Rev 2:10 attributes the sufferings that will be afflicted upon the believers in Smyrna to the devil. In the original Hebrew text of Revelation, however, it is attributed to האֲבַדּוֹן (haAvadon), destruction. We find the same word in Rev 9:11, where it clearly refers to the adversary (Heb. hasatan) and his locust-like associates, as we read thus,
And they (the locusts) had a king over them, the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Avadon, but in Greek has the name Apollon. (Rev 9:11)
And the king over “the locusts” whose name in Hebrew is Avadon, but in Aramaic it is Sh’ra, and in Greek: Apollon, is the same the angel of the abyss who will persecute the faithful in the last days of the world as we know it. (Read also the article “I Shall certainly fill You with Men as with Locusts.”
In the Greek mythology, Apollon (Appolo) is a Greek god of light; god of prophecy and poetry and music and healing; son of Zeus and Leto; twin brother of Artemis, later identified with Helios, the sun god.
The Hebrew word Avadon comes from the root verb avad that means “to bind or prohibit”. The Aramaic word sh’ra means “to loose or permit”. Both words can be used idiomatically to refer to destruction. By comparing the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, it is logical to conclude that different interpretations and translations were given to the name of the future ruler of the New World Order.
The Crown of Life promised to the overcomers
The promise of the Messiah in His letter to Smyrna
Be faithful until death, and I shall give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)
The Savior reminded them in His letter to Smyrna that beyond the suffering of this brief life the crown of Life awaited them, which would abundantly reward their faithfulness.
We should know that there are four crowns that are awaiting those who will be faithful to the end. These are the four rewards, as recorded by the apostles, and they are:
The Crown of Life for those who endure trials.
We find another reference to the Crown of Life in the letter of Yeshua’s brother Ya’akov (James), as we read,
Blessed is the man who does endure trial, for when he has been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which the Master has promised to those who love Him. (Jas 1:12)
Ya’akov haTzadik (the Righteous) gives one more detail as to what the Crown of Life will require from those who will receive it. He says that those who endure trials when found proven will receive their promised reward, because they have loved the Messiah
The Crown of Glory for those in humility.
Shepherd the flock of Elohim which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but voluntarily, not out of greed for filthy gain, but eagerly, neither as being masters over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you shall receive the never-fading crown of glory. (1Pe 5:2-4)
To serve the Lord as He wants to be served is worthy of the Crown of Glory. Notice what Apostle Shimon Kefa (Peter) says will be required from those who will receive it. We may say that Shimon meant those leaders of the congregations who are called to shepherd the flock of Elohim, as only leaders can shepherd the flock.
They will be expected to serve voluntarily, not out of greed for filthy gain, but eagerly, neither as being masters over those entrusted to them, thus being examples to the flock.
We should recall the words of our Master who says,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. But the hireling, and not being a shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. Now the hireling flees because he is a hireling and is not concerned about the sheep. (Joh 10:11-13)
But for more understanding of this controversial subject for many of “the professional priesthood”, the reader can refer to the articles “Do not be called a Rabbi!”, “Is There Any Place for Professional Priesthood Today?“, “Do Not Sell Wisdom, Instruction and Understanding“, and “Do not Muzzle an Ox while it is Threshing! Did Paul Claim the Tithes?“
The Crown of Righteousness for those who have preached the Word (2Ti 4:2), fought the good fight, finished the race, guarded the faith (2Ti 4:7), and have loved, anticipated, and taught prophecy concerning His Second Coming.
For the rest, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Master, the righteous Judge, shall give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all those loving His appearing. (2Ti 4:8)
The Crown of Faithfulness.
I know your works, See, I have set before you an open door, and no one is able to shut it, that you have little power, yet have guarded My Word, and have not denied My Name. (Rev 3:8) Hold what you have that no one take your crown. (Rev 3:11)
This Crown of Faithfulness will be a subject of the next article in the series The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches: The Letter to Philadelphia.
Even Peter’s Crown of Glory and Paul’s Crown of Righteousness seem to fade in comparison with the Crown of Life Yeshua the Messiah and His brother Ya’akov the Righteous promised to those who endure trials even until death.
The teachings of trials and rewards are not limited to the Apostles only. Not at all.
We find the teachings of the Sages, as we read in the Midrash (Shemoth Rabba, sec. 31, fol. 129, & Rab. Tanchum, fol. 29, 4):
Blessed is the man who stands in his temptation; for there is no man whom God does not try. He tries the rich, to see if they will open their hands to the poor. He tries the poor, to see if they will receive affliction and not murmur. If, therefore, the rich stand in his temptation, and give alms to the poor, he shall enjoy his riches in this world, and his horn shall be exalted in the world to come, and the holy blessed God shall deliver him from the punishment of hell. If the poor stand in his temptation, and do not repine, (kick back,) he shall have double in the world to come.
In the conclusion of His letter to Smyrna, Yeshua addressed all assemblies, as He had done in all other letters, thus;
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He who overcomes shall by no means be harmed by the second death. (Rev 2:11)
And we keep on reading further in the Book of Revelation regarding those who have endured trials of persecution and the worst of them Jacob’s trouble aka the tribulation.
Blessed and set-apart is the one having part in the first resurrection. The second death possesses no authority over these, but they shall be priests of Elohim and of Messiah, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)
Those who have part in the first resurrection and the second death possesses no authority over them, are those who will sit on the thrones Yochanan (John) saw in heaven and those to whom the judgment was given. They are the ones who have lost their lives because of the witness they bore to Yeshua and because of the Word of Elohim (the Torah). They the ones who did not worship the beast, nor his image, and did not receive his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.
They are the ones who will see the first resurrection and will live and reign with the Messiah for a thousand years. They are the ones who will not be harmed by the second death.
They are the ones whose names will be written in the Book of Life, because they have been judged from what was written in the books, according to their good works (see Rev 20:12).
They are the ones called in Rev 12:17 the remnant:
And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to fight with the remnant of her seed, those guarding the commands of Elohim and possessing the witness of Yeshua Messiah. (Rev 12:17)
Note in the verse above the two characteristics by which the remnant will be distinguished from the rest who have called by the name of the Messiah: (1) these are those who have guarded the commandments of Elohim (they are Torah Observant) and (2) have the witness of Yeshua (they are believers in Yeshua as the Messiah).
Here is the endurance of the set-apart ones, here are those guarding the commands of Elohim and the faith of Yeshua. And I heard a voice out of the heaven saying to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Master from now on.’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “in order that they rest from their labors, and their works follow with them.” (Rev 14:12-13)
Faith in both the Torah and in the Messiah, Rev 12:17 and Rev 14:12, not or, is necessary for salvation and those who guard them (the Torah and the witness of Yeshua) will be called the remnant. These are the ones with whom the dragon will be angry.
For more on what faith is, refer to the article “What is Faith?“
The opposite is also true. Those who have not kept the commandments and the faith in Yeshua will not be of concern to the dragon; they are non-combatants the dragon will not waste time with them, because he knows he has little time until his end. They are already lost.
So, we find that the remnant are not only those who have overcome the world and believed that Yeshua is the Messiah, but those who have also guarded the Torah of YHVH, as we further read in Yochanan’s letter:
For this is the love for Elohim, that we guard His commands, and His commands are not heavy, because everyone having been born of Elohim overcomes the world. And this is the overcoming that has overcome the world: our faith. (1Jn 5:3-4)
And when He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those having been slain for the Word of Elohim and for the witness which they held, (Rev 6:9)
Let us again strongly reiterate who will be called the remnant, according to the Scripture: (1) these are the ones who have guarded the commandments of Elohim and, not or, (2) have the witness of Yeshua. That the Word of Elohim is none other than the Torah, we see in Isa 1:10 as we read thus,
Listen up the Word of Yehovah, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the Torah of our Elohim, you people of Gomorrah! (Isa 1:10)
But, the rest of the dead who did worship the beast, or his image, and did receive his mark on their foreheads or on their hands will not come to life until the thousand years were ended (Rev 20:4-5).
Because, if we act like the world does, so shall we be judged, as the world shall be judged.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.