"And unto the angel of the church of Smyrna write; These things saith the First and the Last, Which was dead, and is alive;
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
Fear none of those things which 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."
In order to refresh your minds I want to point out again how we arrive at finding the names of the messengers to the various ages. God in His sovereign will has seen to it that the history of the New Testament church was not lost, even as He saw to it that the history of Israel would not be lost by placing it in the Bible and corroborating it today from multitudes of scrolls, earthen vessels and other artifacts that archaeologists have discovered and interpreted. We actually have a running commentary of Bible history from the first page up to now. Thus by reading history we can find out what man or men in the various ages were the closest to God's original pattern, the Apostle Paul. The ones that God used to bring His people back to the Word of Truth would be the ones to examine. Then out of those there would be one for every age who would stand out the clearest as the closest in Word pattern and power. That one would be the messenger. The ages also are found by a study of history. One simply needs to read the ages as found in Revelation and it all patterns perfectly with history as INDEED IT MUST. Since the church ages were foretold by God and their very conditions revealed, then of necessity, the history that would follow would be as the Bible sets forth. It is that simple - but then simplicity is the key to the Word. Now with all this I have not simply been a student and a historian, I have sought to be a Spiritual-minded man, and it was only with the definite approval of the Spirit of God that I chose the men I have chosen. This is true as God knows my heart.
Using our God given rule of choosing the messenger for each age, we unhesitatingly declare that Irenaeus was exalted by the Lord to that position. He was the disciple of that great saint and warrior of faith, Polycarp. And it is no doubt as he sat at the feet of that great man he learned the Christian graces that flowed from his consecrated life, for Polycarp was one of the truly illustrious saints of all ages when viewed in the light of a blameless life. You will remember from your own reading that Polycarp was martyred. Too old to flee, and too sincere a man to allow another to hide him and then suffer a penalty for doing so, he gave himself up to death. But before he did, he asked for and was granted permission to pray two hours for his brethren in the Lord, for the governor, for his enemies and his captors. Like the great saints of all ages, and desiring a better resurrection, he stood firm, refusing to deny the Lord, and died with a free conscience. He was placed at the stake (untied at his own request) and the fire was lit. The fire bent away from his body, refusing to touch him. He was then pierced through with a sword. As this was done, water gushed from his side drowning the flames. His spirit was actually seen to depart in the form of a white dove released from his bosom. Yet for all this great testimony, this student of John the Revelator was not militant against the Nicolaitane system, for he himself leaned toward organization, not realizing that the desire for fellowship and what appeared like a good plan to foster the work of God was really a trick of the enemy.
With Irenaeus this was not so. He was militant against any form of organization. Also, his life history, wherein he served the Lord, was one of much manifestation in the Holy Spirit; and the Word was taught with unusual clarity and conformity to its original precepts. His churches in France were known to have the gifts of the Spirit among them, for the saints spoke in tongues, prophesied, raised the dead, and healed the sick by the prayer of faith. He saw the danger of any kind of organized brotherhood among the elders, pastors, etc. He stood solidly for a unified, Spirit-filled, gift-manifesting local church. And God honored him for the power of God manifested among the saints.
He was also clear on his understanding of the Godhead. And since he was the disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was the disciple of Saint John, we can know for sure he had as perfect teaching as is possible on this subject. In Volume 1, page 412 of the Ante Nicene Fathers we have this statement by him on the Godhead. "All the other expressions, likewise, bring out the title of one, and the same being, the Lord of Power, the Lord, the Father of All, God Almighty, Most High, Creator, Maker, and such like, these are not the names and the titles of a succession of different beings, but of one and the same." He pointed out clearly that these are but titles as is Rose of Sharon, Bright and Morning Star, Fairest of Ten Thousand, etc. Neither is there but ONE God. His Name is Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus with his strict adherence to the Word, his wonderful understanding of Scripture, and the attendance of the power of God upon that ministry, he is the right choice for the age. It is altogether unfortunate that the other ages did not have in their messengers such a balance of fruit, power, and leadership in the Holy Spirit and the Word.
The city of Smyrna was a little north of Ephesus at the mouth of the Smyrna Gulf. Because of its very fine harbor it was a commercial center renowned for its exports. It was also distinguished for its schools of rhetoric, philosophy, medicine, sciences, and fine buildings. Many Jews lived there, and they were bitterly opposed to Christianity, even more so than were the Romans. In fact, Polycarp, the first bishop at Smyrna was martyred by the Jews and it is said that the Jews desecrated their holy day (Saturday) to carry the wood that would make his funeral pyre.
The word Smyrna means, "bitter," being derived from the word, myrrh. Myrrh was used in embalming the dead. Thus we have a two-fold significance found in the name of this age. It was a bitter age filled with death. The two vines within the framework of the church were drifting further apart with an increased bitterness toward the true vine on the part of the false. Death was not only the seed of the false vine but even in the true vine there was a creeping paralysis and impotence because they had already drifted from the unadulterated truth of the first few years after Pentecost; and no true believer is any stronger and spiritually healthy and alive than his knowledge of and adherence to the pure Word of God, as seen by multitudes of examples in the Old Testament. Organization was growing apace, confirming and augmenting the death of the membership, for Holy Ghost leadership was deposed and the Word was replaced by creeds, dogmas and man-made ritual. When Israel entered into unlawful alliances with the world, and formed fellowships by marriage, the day finally came when the world took over and Babylon carried away the people of God into captivity. Now when they went into captivity they went in having a priesthood, a temple and the Word. But when they came back they had rabbis, a theological order of Pharisees, a synagogue, and the Talmud. And when Jesus came they were so corrupt that He called them of their father, the devil, and this in spite of the fact they were of Abraham according to the flesh. In this age we see the same thing happening. However, as 'all Israel' is not Israel, but a little group were the true Spiritual Israelites, so there would always be a little group of true Christians, the bride of Christ, until He came for His own.
In this city there were two famous temples. One was the temple erected to the worship of Zeus, and the other was erected to Cybele. And between these two temples was found the most beautiful road of ancient times, called the Golden Street. To me this depicts a further inroad of paganism that had already started in the first age, but was known to exist only at Rome. The joining of the two temples of a god and goddess is the seed of Maryolatry wherein Mary is called the mother of God and receives honor and titles and powers giving her a co-equality with Jesus Christ. The Golden Street that joins them is a picture of the greed that caused the Nicolaitane organizers to join state and church because they knew the wealth and power it offered them. As the Ephesian Age was but the seed bed for the tragic Pergamean Age that was yet in the future, this Smyrnaean Age was the rain, the sun, and the nourishment that ensured the vile corruption that would confirm the church in idolatry which is spiritual fornication, from which she would never rise. Death was permeating her root to branch and they that partook of her, partook of bitterness and death.
This age lasted from 170 to 312 A.D.
Revelation 2:8, "These things saith the First and the Last, Which was dead and is alive."
"The First and the Last, Which was dead and is alive." Now these are not the words of a man. A mere man (could he speak from the grave) would say, "I am the first and the last which was alive and is dead." The first thing that happens to a man is that he is born (is alive) and the last thing that happens is that he dies. So this is not a man speaking. This is Deity. Man (Adam) took life and turned it into death. But this MAN (Jesus) took death and turned it into life. Adam took innocence and turned it into guilt. This One took guilt and turned it into righteousness. Adam took a paradise and turned it into a waste howling wilderness; but this One is coming back to turn an earth rocking and reeling with destruction into another Eden. Adam took a life of fellowship and joy with God and turned it into a desert of spiritual darkness that brought forth all sin, moral decay, pain, suffering, delusion, and corruption that wars within the souls of men. But this One, from all the tragic death and degradation that filled mankind, brought forth a life of righteousness and beauty, so that as sin once reigned unto death, even so might men now reign in righteousness by One, Christ Jesus; and not as the offence was, though terrible indeed it was, but now much more is His gift unto eternal life.
And here He is, walking in the midst of those whom He has redeemed, even His church. And what were those who were redeemed? Were not many like Paul, murderers and corrupters? Were not many like the dying thief, robbers and men killers? All trophies of His grace. All brought back from the dead. All made ALIVE in Christ Jesus, the Lord.
I wonder if you noted the salutation to the first age and then noted the one to this age. Just put them together. "These things saith He that holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks in the midst of the churches. These things saith the First and the Last, Which was dead and is alive." This is one and the same person. And He is letting us know that the church is His. As the seed of the fruit is in the midst of the fruit, so is He, the Royal Seed, in the midst of the church. As the seed alone has life in it, so is He the author of life to the church. His walking signifies His untiring care of it. He is the Chief Shepherd watching over His own. That is His right, for He bought that church with His own blood. That blood is the blood of God. The One Who owns that church is God, very God. He is the 'First and the Last.' That title spells eternity. He was dead and is alive. He paid the price so He has sole ownership of the temple of God. He rules it. He is worshipped in it. He resents anyone taking over His Lordship and authority. No doubt the reason He introduces Himself to each age as Deity is to warn and comfort the people. He warns the false vine, and He comforts the true vine. This is the ONE TRUE ALMIGHTY GOD. Hear Him and live. 7ch014.htm
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