THE TEN DAYS OF SMYRNA’S PERSECUTION

THE TEN “DAYS” OR PERIODS OF THE PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH REFERRED TO BY JESUS IN HIS WORD TO THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA, REVELATION 2:8-11

As recorded in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3, Jesus dictated messages regarding seven Churches to John, who at the time was in exile on the Island of Patmos. They are, in the sequence listed, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The messages generally followed the same seven elements: Church name, the name Jesus chose for Himself in addressing them, a commendation, a concern over a matter than needed correction, an exhortation, a promise to the overcomer, and a closing statement. The closing statement was identical for all seven Churches: He that hath an ear, listen. Two Churches were singled out for having no commendation: Sardis and Laodicea; another two Churches were singled out for having no concern: Smyrna and Philadelphia.

These seven Churches are variously identified as seven Churches representative of Christianity at the time that Jesus delivered the message, Churches that typified the prevailing character of the Church over seven sequential eras of Christianity, and Churches representative of Christianity over the entire Christian era from the first Pentecost to the Second Coming of Christ. In actuality, the views are not mutually exclusive; they all have some validity. Corresponding to the sequential view, Christian theologians have associated an identification and time period for each Church, as follows:

Ephesus: Apostolic, first through fourth centuries
Smyrna: Persecuted, first through fourth centuries
Pergamos: Heretical, first through fourth centuries
Thyratira: Post-Constatine, fifth through ninth centuries
Sardis: Medieval, tenth through sixteenth centuries
Philadelphia: Missionary, sixteenth through nineteenth centuries
Laodicea: End-Time, twentieth century to the return of Jesus Christ to earth

The specific message given to Smyrna is presented in Revelation 2:8-11:

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich); and I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things that 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.”

Over the years many Christians have wondered what Jesus meant by the ten days of persecution. I favor the opinion given by John Foxe in Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World. During the time interval ranging from A.D. 64 under the reign of Nero to A.D. 313 under Diocletian, Foxe in Chapters 1 and 2 of his work identified ten separate periods when persecution was particularly violent and widespread, typically a result of the Christian refusal to worship the Roman emperor as god. During these and subsequent persecutions, Christians remained nonviolent, holding fast to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, particularly His Word in Matthew 5:43-48 regarding the treatment of enemies:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you. That ye may be the children of your Father, who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them who love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the tax collectors the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the heathen so? Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect.”

In fact, as a rule Christians under persecution have, in the spirit of Titus 3:1, generally attempted to follow the dictates of the governments of which they have been subjects. It only has been under a direct conflict of loyalty between God and the government that Christians have practiced civil disobedience. An example of that is given in Acts 5:26-29:

“Then went the captain with the officers, and brought [the apostles] without violence; for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council; and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we strictly command you that ye should not teach in [Jesus Christ’s] name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered, and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

Persecution typically is not unexpected in the Christian community, except, perhaps, in those Churches having the Laodicean character. Jesus Himself gave Christians plenty of warning about it, typical examples being given in Matthew 5:10-12 and John 15:18-20:

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.”

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of this world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”

It is an interesting fact that the persecution of the early Christians didn’t harm the Church in the least, but rather helped it grow. It strengthened those Christians who held fast in its wake and in the scattering of those who fled, it served to propagate the Gospel to lands that otherwise would not have known of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He offered.

A summary of Foxe’s take on the ten “days” of Smyrna’s persecution is presented in the table below.

PERIOD DATES PERSECUTOR COMMENT

1 54-68 Nero Peter and Paul killed

2 95-96 Domitian John Exiled to Patmos

3 104-117 Trajan

4 161-180 Marcus Aurelius Polycarp martyred

5 200-211 Septimus Severus

6 235-237 Maximus

7 249-251 Decius

8 257-260 Valerian

9 270-275 Aurelian

10 303-313 Diocletian worst persecution

After Diocletian’s persecution, Constantine became Emperor of Rome and legitimized Christianity, which led to growing complacence thereafter, a condition that continued to worsen until the Reformation, of which Martin Luther played a major part. The persecutions that occurred during the Middle Ages were largely associated with the Catholic Inquisition. Modern persecutions are primarily the result of the Muslim hatred toward Christians and the attempt of morally weak governments to maintain an uneasy peace between themselves and the Muslim communities within their boundaries.

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