As already noted in earlier posts, the message to each of the seven churches also represents a spiritual message to everyone in every age of time. But there is also a definite relationship of each message that highly correlates to a particular “age” in history, identifying the prevailing spiritual condition that existed among those claiming to be the church at that time. Each message tells of people who are true to Jesus, but also warns us concerning those who are in serious need, or who are complete fakes. These “church age” messages describe to us the spiritual conditions that are especially characteristic of the people of that “age.”
So far (in earlier posts) we have identified the following key attributes our Lord Jesus provided us relating to Smyrna. In summary, they are:
- True Christians were suffering tribulation and poverty (but Jesus said they were spiritually rich)
- Now among the true Christians, there is a significant number of people who are fake Christians
- They are warned of being tried ten days (representing an actual longer period of time) and they are exhorted to be true to the death
Since the beginning of Christianity there have been fakes that would try to work their way in, but especially starting in the third century we start to see a clear pattern taking hold. The year 270 AD has been identified by many as a key year that a number of significant compromises and heresies started up:
- The first monastery in the world was founded by Anthony, an Egyptian. He started the formation of men into organized bodies of monks living in monasteries, creating a body of men (monks) drawing others apart to themselves, rather than going out and introducing more new converts to Christ. This practice would continue to grow, along with their extreme ideas and doctrines surrounding the notion of extreme self-denial called monasticism. Establishing in the then known church a type of “self-attained” righteousness or holiness, from which some practices eventually would become the “outward hallmark” of the later Roman Catholic priesthood. For many years this ascetic form of living would become the outward justification for the existence of a very corrupt church.
- About 10 years before 270 AD, a “season of external prosperity” had started with the accession of Gallienus to the imperial throne of Rome. Prior to this the Christians had been under a long period of persecution with little relief. But now, until the reign of Diocletian in AD 303, the Christians were able to enjoy a period of about 40 years of peace and prosperity. But this period also marked the greatest decline in true spirituality and the strengthened development of a ruling hierarchy among those called “the church”. In particular the bishop of Rome began to amass quite a collection of riches, living quite sumptuously. This situation is recorded to have led Proetextatus, a heathen, who was praefect of the city of Rome, to say, “Make me bishop of Rome, and Ill be a Christian too!”
- It was during this period of history that the Church for the first time even asked a Roman emperor to arbitrate an internal dispute (which the Apostle Paul taught specifically against in his first epistle to the Corinthians.) In AD 272, after Paul of Samosata was accused of heresy but refused to be deposed as bishop of Antioch. The Emperor Aurelian ruled in favor of Samosata’s successor, a man who was in good standing with the church leadership hierarchy. And so, we see the beginnings of a “power-partnership” forming between church hierarchy leadership and the earthly rulers of that day.
- Finally, this period of “prosperity” did end for 10 years starting with the rule of Diocletain – and this was a period of great persecution where many lost their lives.
These spiritual conditions associated with the Smyrna church age are also reflected within Revelation in:
- The opening of the second seal showing us a red horse rider (church leadership) taking control of a great spiritual sword (the Word of God).
- The sounding of the second trumpet, showing us a great spiritual mountain (what claimed to be the church) being cast into the sea.
- Finally, a ministry that is guilty of the blood of Christ through their misuse of both the Word of God and their office – will cause the people that follow them to also become “blood guilty.” Consequently in Revelation, as part of God’s final wrath judgment vial poured out on hypocrisy, we are shown that both the work of this ministry and the people (represented by the sea of people and the flowing together of their blood guilty hearts) are exposed as “blood guilty.”
History has recorded for us certain significant downturns in spirituality that approximate starting around the time of 270 AD. As we continue to post further on the book of Revelation, the “Smyrna Church Age” will become more apparent and distinguishable as a time that not only contained severe persecution, but also marked a significant increase in the numbers of those “which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9)