David Reagan — Smyrna and Pergamum
Did you know the New Testament contains seven very personal letters that were written by Jesus to seven churches located in modern-day Turkey? And did you know those letters are relevant to us today?
This is our third program in a series on the seven letters to the seven churches of Revelation. These are letters that Jesus dictated to the apostle John when Jesus returned to this earth 65 years after His death, burial, and resurrection.
In our first program, we presented an overview of all seven letters, focusing on thirteen promises the letters contain for those who are classified as overcomers. And we saw that an overcomer is defined as a person who has placed his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Last week we took a look at the Isle of Patmos, where the letters were written and we discussed the first letter, the one to the church in Ephesus.
This week we are going to take a look at two more of the letters, the ones written to the churches at Smyrna, and Pergamum. Smyrna was located 35 miles north of Ephesus on the western shore of modern day Turkey, an area that was called Asia Minor in biblical times.
Today, Smyrna is the modern city of Izmir. Izmir is a major port city with a popular in excess of 3 million people. There is nothing left of the ancient city of Smyrna, because the modern city has been built right on top of it. The only ancient ruins that can be seen are what is left of a Roman marketplace that dates back to the Second Century AD.
The population of Smyrna at the time Jesus wrote to the church is estimated to have been about 200,000. The city has a superb natural harbor that made it an important commercial center rivaling Ephesus. It had celebrated schools of science and medicine, and was known for its magnificent public buildings. It had the largest theatre in all of Asia Minor.
Mount Pagus, which towers above the harbor, had an acropolis built on it that was considered to be the city’s crown. Today it is the location of a castle fortress that was built by Alexander the Great. Smyrna was filled with temples to many pagan gods and there was one, it was one of the centers of the cult worship of the emperor. There was also a large Jewish population that actively apposed Christianity.
The result was Roman persecution, combined with Jewish harassment, producing an environment of acute suffering for Christians. The most interesting place to visit in modern day Izmir is the church of Saint Polycarp. It was built by the Anglicans in 1625 to honor the man who served as Bishop of the Smyrna church from about 105 AD to 155.
His name was Polycarp, he was the disciple of the apostle John, he was burned at the stake when he was 86 years old and when he was asked to denounce Jesus while tied to the stake, he responded, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he’s done me no wrong, how can I speak evil of my king who saved me?” Polycarp’s martyrdom was a manifestation of the severe persecution the church at Smyrna was suffering when Jesus wrote his letter to them.