Messianic Community in Smyrna
Smyrna was located on the Aegean coast of Anatolia where it could easily defend itself from an enemy attack. It is known today as Izmir in modern-day Turkey. Because it is highly populated, much of ancient Smyrna has been lost except for the agora (public speaking area), theater, and parts of Roman aqueduct. Smyrna is the ancient Greek word for myrrh which was the main export from this city in ancient times. As an essential oil, myrrh has healing qualities for the skin and is used to anoint a body for burial. The believing community at Smyrna was established by Sha’ul (Paul) during his third missionary journey.
Smyrna persecuted followers of The Way, the followers of Messiah Yeshua because Messianic Jews refused to claim Caesar as ‘lord and god’. Many Messianic believers were sent into the arena to be fed to wild animals. Polycarp, a personal disciple of John, became the leader for the congregation at Smyrna. He was highly sought out by the crowds in Smyrna for persecution. As an aged man, he was arrested by the Romans and taken to the arena where he was commanded to “Curse Yeshua (Jesus) and be released.” Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Him. He had never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” Because he would not deny Messiah (Christ) and stood firm in his faith after many entreaties by the Roman proconsul, he was burned alive. Those who watched the event noted that his flesh never burned so the authorities had to stab him to kill him.
“To the angel of the Messianic Community in Smyrna, write: ‘Here is the message from the First and the Last, who died and came alive again: “I know how you are suffering and how poor you are (though in fact you are rich!), and I know the insults of those who call themselves Jews but aren’t — on the contrary, they are a synagogue of the Adversary. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Adversary is going to have some of you thrown in prison, in order to put you to the test; and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful, even to the point of death; and I will give you life as your crown. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities. He who wins the victory will not be hurt at all by the second death”’ (Revelation 2:8-11).
Yeshua sends the second messenger to the community in Smyrna. He reveals himself as “the first and the last, who died and came alive again.” With the “first and last” reference, this congregation would have immediately understood that Yeshua is the alef tav –– את –– found between the words in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The two letters that begin and end the Hebrew alphabet are the alef and the tav – את. These two letters create a small word, ‘et’ that is found throughout the Hebrew Old Testament. Some translators give it a grammatical purpose as a noun modifier, but it has no specific meaning.
Read the transliteration from the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1: Beresheet bara elohim et hashamayim v’et haeretz and notice the two-letter word ‘et’ or the alef and the tav. This is what Yeshua refers to in Revelation 1:8 when he states that he is the alef and the tav that is found in Genesis 1 and between thousands of words throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. By claiming he is the alef and the tav, he directs readers to himself on every page of the Old Testament.
Some suggest that the Hebrew letter picture of Crossed Sticks for tav refers to the cross; however, there is more to Yeshua than the cross. He is at the “beginning and the end” –– it is his ‘sign’ found throughout the Scriptures. The alef and the tav are also connected with the ‘God of heaven’s armies’ of which Yeshua is the Commander in Chief, and the Warrior who is coming soon to redeem the whole earth.
This translation change from Aramaic/Hebrew into Greek not only removes the understanding of the “beginning and the end”, it removes a unique part of the Hebrew Scriptures that reveal Yeshua in practically every verse. To change the alef and the tav to letters in the Latin alphabet or the Alpha and Omega in the Greek removes a significant meaning for the את – the ‘sign’ of Yeshua that he uses to describe himself in the message to Smyrna.
Hebrew Word Pictures
Et – את
Alef – An Ox means ‘first’ and ‘strong.’
Tav – Crossed Sticks mean ‘sign’ and ‘covenant.’
The Hebrew Word Picture for et: first strong sign of the covenant.
The myrrh of Smyrna is prophetic to this community because the faithful will be martyred. They will have to face death and Yeshua encourages them in the hope of the resurrection (John 11:25-27). Because he suffered, died, and came back to life, they also will be resurrected. The word martyr in Greek means ‘witness’ alluding to their deaths becoming the witness of Yeshua’s faithfulness in their lives – their ultimate birth into the eternal Kingdom of life.
The condition of the congregation in Smyrna includes suffering and poverty. They are insulted by those who call themselves Jews, but are not. Yeshua calls these “false Jews” members of the synagogue of the Adversary. Blood lineage or DNA determines Jewish heritage; however, a Jew is technically a descendant from the Tribe of Judah. The term ‘Jew’ in a religious context has become common for anyone who practices Judaism regardless of tribal affiliation or ethnicity.
Sha’ul refers to Jews in his letters as the ‘circumcision group’ and the gentiles as the ‘uncircumcision group’ when discussing Jewish and gentile believers in the Body of Messiah. In his letter to the Romans, Sha’ul defines a ‘true Jew’ which would be opposite of a ‘false Jew.’ His definition works for the individual in either ‘circumcision’ group. Both Jew or gentile must receive ‘circumcision of the heart’ and praise –– the meaning of the name Judah –– the Elohim of Isra’el together as ‘one new man.’
“For the real Jew is not merely Jewish outwardly: true circumcision is not only external and physical. On the contrary, the real Jew is one inwardly; and true circumcision is of the heart, spiritual not literal; so that his praise comes not from other people but from God” (Romans 2:27-29).
Using Sha’ul’s definition for ‘true Jew,’ there are Jews in the synagogue in Smyrna whose hearts have not been circumcised; they are not praisers of Elohim. There are several possibilities for those who are of the synagogue of the Adversary. First, they may be Jews who hold onto their DNA heritage as descendants of Abraham and believe that gentiles must convert to Judaism in order to join the local Jewish community. There could also be gentile converts to Judaism insulting other gentiles who refuse to convert because they feel cheated for converting when faith alone is enough to enter the congregation. Another possibility could be that the Jewish leaders of the synagogue have become adversarial to the Messianic Jews in the synagogue. They see these followers of Yeshua having fellowship with gentiles and demand they refrain from such behavior or be excommunicated from the synagogue. These Jews do not understand the change in the God-fearer and the desire to join with Isra’el and the covenants. A third possibility is that there were those in the Jewish community who retained their dedication to Roman in order to receive benefits or jobs. They worship as Jews, but then also take part in the cultural gods of the city. Whichever group it may be, Yeshua calls them ‘false Jews’ and liars and compares them to the ‘Synagogue of Satan’ –– a harsh judgment for Jewish community in Smyrna.
Yeshua has no corrections for Smyrna because he knows their faith and their fate. They are going to suffer at the hands of the Adversary and be tested for “ten days.” ‘Ten days’ may be an allusion to the ‘Ten Days of Awe’ following the fall Feast of Trumpets. Whether literal or not, these ‘ten days’ will test the faith of the believers in Smyrna. They will be persecuted and face death at the hands of those who are used by satan. Smyrna’s faithfulness to Yeshua will be their witness and will result in an eternal reward –– the Crown of Life promised to those who love Elohim (James 1:10).
“And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for testifying about Yeshua and proclaiming the Word of God, also those who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received the mark on their foreheads and on their hands. They came to life and ruled with the Messiah for a thousand years….” (Revelation 20:4).
“Those [in Smyrna] who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit, Ruach haKodesh [the holy wind] is saying to the Messianic community.”
Yeshua uses these same words in the gospels when he speaks in parables, however, he doesn’t include the words, “what the Spirit says to the communities.” One reason he taught in parables was so that people could “look but not see, and listen but not understand” the message of the Kingdom (Isaiah 6:9-10, Luke 8:10). Because he wanted his disciples to have a deeper understanding of the coming Kingdom, he explained the hidden meaning away from the crowds.
Yeshua spoke all of his parables before the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot when the ‘holy wind’ was poured out (Acts 2:2). With the arrival of the new covenant, men and women who obey the message of Yeshua and the Kingdom are given new hearts and a renewed spirit. The Ruach haKodesh gives them “ears to hear what the Spirit is saying” so they can obey His voice.
Yeshua doesn’t want Smyrna to just ‘hear’ his message, but ‘listen’ to it. His message was to be received through spiritual ears that were fine-tuned to his voice, the voice of the Shepherd (Psalm 95:7-8, John 10:27-28) His sheep were to ‘listen’ and ‘obey’ the message so they would be overcomers –– Isra’el –– and receive their eternal reward.
But you [Smyrna], how blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear!” (Matthew 13:14-16).
Revelation 2 – Messianic Community of Pergamum
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