A Survey of Revelation: The Church at Smyrna

Welcome to Smyrna, whose congregation suffers perhaps the greatest persecution in all Christianity. As a materially poor church located in a wealthy city, their faithful works performed in the name of the Lord Jesus brings them great tribulation on earth, yet great reward in heaven.

First, a little history …

Located about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus, Smyrna (modern day Izmir) was a cultural center referred to as the “Ornament of Asia.” Very loyal to Rome for at least three centuries, this city built temples devoted to various Roman gods and was the worship center for the Emperor Tiberias. Over time, emperor worship became compulsory for every Roman citizen on penalty of death, and those who refused to obey were burned alive.

Such was the fate of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, a student under John who would not deny his faith in Jesus. It is clear that this church suffered great tribulation, material poverty, and demonic attacks.

Jesus’s encouragement…

And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.

Revelation 2:8-11 NASB

Endurance in suffering…

Jesus describes Himself to this church as one who was raised from the dead, which parallels His message to Smyrna, a church that also faces persecution, tribulation, and death for their beliefs. Jesus has no rebuke for this church, but instead encourages them in their suffering. The slanderous attacks they endure are led by followers of Satan whose evil intent is to destroy these believers.

Jesus readies them for their upcoming persecution, telling specifically how long it would last. He begins with encouragement and reassurance that they need not fear what they were about to suffer at Satan’s hands.

How about today? No one wishes to be persecuted, but Scripture tells us that when we suffer as Christ’s followers, we shouldn’t be surprised. John 15:18-21 tells us that If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; 2 Timothy 3:12 says,  Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted: also see Hebrews 2:10, 1 Peter 2:20 and 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Material poverty…

But God also commends this Smyrna church for its spiritual riches laid up in heaven. In contrast to the city’s great wealth, it is materially impoverished, probably due to unfair economic sanctions levied against it. Although their enemies are hell-bent on destroying this church financially, their faithfulness and obedience build up great wealth for them in heaven. Think how powerful their preaching must have been for Satan to attack them so ruthlessly!

Let’s also be encouraged to store up treasure in heaven by our deeds on earth, which glorify God and are acceptable to Him.

 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.

Matthew 6:20 NASB

This letter ends on a positive note.

What are the benefits of enduring persecution, even if it leads to death? God spells it out: receiving the crown of life.

In Smyrna’s day, one of its money symbols was a crown engraved on their coins. In contrast, Jesus promises to give the crown of life to those who are faithful unto death. What a glorious benefit, along with eternal life in God’s kingdom.

No matter how bad it appeared, the Smyrna congregation could rest in the safety of Jesus’s arms and the comfort of knowing that He is always in control. They didn’t fear prison or death.

And so can we. We don’t have to fear.

The Word tells us that Jesus wins the war against Satan at Armageddon, and then His kingdom will be established, where we will rule and reign with Christ forever. The Anti-Christ’s seven-year reign of terror is short, temporary, and controlled by God. We need NOT FEAR what is coming on the earth.

What does the modern-day church teach about suffering?

It’s common to hear the truth of the gospel twisted to promise that Christians are protected from suffering. The false gospel accuses people of a lack of faith and places the blame back on the believer, thus producing guilt and shame. Remember, Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 NASB). We are all given the gift of faith as a mustard seed which grows in our spirit during our walk with the Lord (See Luke 17:6).

Our walk of faith will have mountaintops and valleys, but God is always with us and will never forsake us. Suffering teaches us patience while building maturity and godly character.

Material poverty?

The prosperity gospel falsely teaches that all Christians are supposed to be wealthy on the earth, and if you’re poor, you’re not blessed. Was Jesus born into a wealthy, politically affluent family? Did he live a luxurious lifestyle? Not at all, but all His physical needs were met.

Even Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness after His forty-day fast.

Again, the devil took Him along to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go away, Satan! For it is written: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”‘ Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to serve Him.

Matthew 4:8-11 NASB

Are we prepared to head into these troubling days?

Do we have the personal assurance that we will be overcomers through Jesus’s death and resurrection? We find our solace in our Savior. There is only one safe place in these days of tribulation and attacks from the enemy. It’s  not a physical place, but a spiritual one found in Jesus alone. Here’s what the scripture says:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. 

Proverbs 18:10 NASB

He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

 Psalms 91:1 NASB

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13 NASB

Dear Father, make us ready to face these days of persecution with the courage and strength of the Lord. We rest in the knowledge that You are in control, and we are safe in Your arms of loving protection. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Come along with me to our next stop. I’ll meet you in Pergamum.

A Survey of Revelation: The Church at Smyrna by Karen Jurgens Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.

A Survey of Revelation: The Church at Ephesus

“‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding close to Him;'”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20a NASB

When I was an English teacher, I would grade essays by making comments throughout each paper. I would begin with the positives, summarizing what my students did well—the glowing commendations. Constructive criticism followed, pointing out any weaknesses and making suggestions for improvement.

We all learn from this technique. Even Jesus used the same pattern when he spoke to the seven churches through the Apostle John. Jesus began with what they did right.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.’

Revelation 2:1-3 NASB

What were the commendations of the church at Ephesus?

Apparently, the Ephesians were very diligent in their quest for truth. God’s Word provides standards for discerning truth from error, and the Ephesians had been well-prepared to fight against false teaching. When Paul was at Ephesus, he trained them in the truth of the gospel, warning that false teachers would surface later. Even Timothy prevailed there with hard work, patience, and perseverance, proving that he and the church at Ephesus had taken this warning to heart.

As we apply this truth to our present-day churches, let’s consider: does yours teach you to discern truth from error like the church at Ephesus?

Can you identify false teachers?

Thanks to the internet, we have access to myriads of people teaching the Word. But, are all teaching truth? Our Plumbline is knowing the Word of God for ourselves.

Some teachers are blatantly false and should be easy to discern, while the more dangerous ones preach truth with slivers of lies woven in. It is imperative to understand what we hear and be able to line it up against the whole truth of God’s Word.

If one little part is a lie, is the entire message false?

The answer is best illustrated by a story about homemade brownies.

When the delicious-smelling brownies were fresh and hot from the oven, the kids gathered around, begging for a piece. But they had to cool, so while they waited, they asked their dad to tell them how he had made them.

He rattled off a list of the finest ingredients. ” Organic flour, coconut sugar, a pinch of sea salt, and whole, organic milk.”

“Yummy!” The kids drooled. “What else?”

Oh, lots of dark chocolate.” He smiled. “And just a little smidge of dog poop.”

The kids’ faces turned green. “What? Dog poop?” They gagged at the thought and refused to taste a crumb.

This story makes an excellent point related to false teaching. Just a smidge of something false contaminates the whole gospel.

How can we know if we are being tricked? If we don’t know the Word, these charlatans can trip us up every time. In fact, they count on the flock’s lack of knowledge in order to gently lead us astray.

We must know the WHOLE gospel of truth.

God warns, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6 NASB).

Remember years ago when false teachers and prophets began to surface in the news? How about Jim Jones and his brainwashed followers who drank the lethal Kool-Aid.

Ever hear of the New Apostolic Reformation heresy based in Redding, California?

Some congregations may begin on the right path of truth, but somewhere down the road, they get sidetracked by worldly lusts and desires.

Ever hear of Ashley Madison?

Or perhaps it’s the lure of wealth and greed for bigger salaries to live like royalty in palatial estates and fly around the world in private jets.

Ever hear of the prosperity gospel?

Sin coming through the leadership can affect and mislead the entire congregation.

But God.

The Lord will help and deliver us from false teaching if we stay close to Him, planted in His Word. The Holy Spirit is our comforter and teacher. He lives inside our spirit and will never leave or forsake us. Also, He leads us into all truth, guiding and teaching us as we study God’s Word.

The Holy Spirit protects us, His sheep, from wolves hiding under sheep’s clothing. He will reveal the truth to us, and we don’t have to fear becoming a wolf’s dinner.

Now let’s now examine the shortcomings of Ephesus.

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.

Revelation 2:4-5 NASB

How could this church be so savvy at uncovering false teachers yet accused of this? Those who hate evil and false teaching have a strong gift of discernment from the Holy Spirit; yet, leaving  Jesus, our first love, is different. It’s about the condition of the heart.

Remember when you first got saved?

Most of us fell in love with Jesus and couldn’t stop talking about Him or witnessing to the lost. We devoured His Word and prayed every day. We were deeply in love with the Lord and His Holy Spirit. Just like a romantic relationship that culminates in marriage, we spiritually felt and acted the same way.

What happens? Just as in a marriage, the relationship settles and cools as that fire of passionate love begins to temper, dying down into glowing embers. We must poke them, blowing gently, feeding them with kindling until it smokes and the fire again catches. The more we feed it, the hotter and higher the flames will grow.

How do we stoke the fires of our love for the Lord? 

Revelation 2:4 instructs us to “repent, and do the deeds you did at first.” Then the fire will catch and burn again.

For example, our cell phones and other electronic devices must be charged every day or else they will go dead. What about our relationship with Jesus? We also have to charge up our spirits on a daily basis. We download His power through reading the Word. Then we send back the current to God through prayer, and the Holy Spirit witnesses through our spirit that we’re one with Him.


As parents, haven’t we used OR ELSE phraseology to back up our demands?  We let our children know exactly what consequence their rebellion holds.

God does likewise.

In Ephesus, Jesus added a solemn consequence if the church refused to listen and heed His warning.

His OR ELSE is spelled out in Revelation 2:5: “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Jesus meant business. Ephesus would lose its place as a church unless it listened and obeyed.

It is interesting that Jesus concludes this warning to Ephesus by saying, “’Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate'” (Revelation 2:6 NASB).

Who were the despised Nicolaitans?

We know little about them, but it is supposed that they may have been a sect that introduced false teaching in regard to a believer’s freedom in Christ. Perhaps they espoused that once you’re saved at the cross, that frees you to live like everyone else who was immersed in a world of idolatry and sexual sin. Whatever the teaching, it was a stench in the nostrils of God, and He hated it with a passion.

The cross frees us from sin to live a sanctified, holy life in Christ.

As with each letter to the churches, the conclusion ends on a high note with a wonderful promise.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’

Revelation 2:7 NASB

Do we have a spiritual ear to hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us today? If we hate evil, persevere for truth without growing weary, discern false teachers, and always keep our love for the Lord first in our hearts, there is a reward for that victory.

Is it worth it to be obedient to God’s Word? You bet it is. What a wonderful reward awaits us in God’s kingdom!

Dear Father, may we serve You with obedience and a pure heart. May we love You with all our heart, soul, mind, and body, and may our love for You never grow cold. Keep us in Your Word so that we cannot be deceived by the growing apostate church in these end times. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Where are we traveling next? Meet me in Smyrna.

The Church at Ephesus by Karen Jurgens copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.

Introduction to a Survey of Revelation

Is fear fun?

I vividly recall when The Exorcist hit the movie screen. Watching scenes where a young girl became possessed by demonic spirits seemed outrageous and in far left-field. Of course, nothing like that could happen in real life. It’s only at the movies where the producers are paid well to scare you out of your wits.

But I paid a price for feeding my fun-loving fear. For weeks after seeing that movie, I was scared of the dark and had to sleep with a light on.

My fascination with “fun fear” began when I was a child. As soon as I could read and browse in bookstores, I discovered there was more than just The Bobbsey Twins series. Nancy Drew Mysteries developed my love of suspense, and I later grew into a fan of everything Agatha Christie. My eye was also drawn to books with ghosts and haunted houses on the cover. The author? None other than the wonderful master of horror and suspense himself.

Alfred Hitchcock.

Could it get even better? You bet it did. Alfred Hitchcock Presents became my weekly TV haunt. I have no idea why, but it aired quite late at night, around ten. I lay under the covers in my dark bedroom, clutching my pillow and burying my face in it at the spookiest parts. As I turned off the TV at eleven, I took all that fun fear with me into my sleep. Needless to say, my dreams were not peaceful, and some nights I even had nightmares.

No wonder.

Back in the ‘60s, Christians weren’t as spiritually knowledgeable as today. Then, we flirted with fear which seemed thrilling, fun, and pretty tame. No one realized at that time how real the evil world of the enemy is, except for missionaries in third world countries where Satan worship prevailed. These missionaries would visit our church once or twice a year, and when they spoke at a Sunday service, we would hear all kinds of true stories that would make our hair stand up. Our solace was in the fact that America is a Christian nation, and Satanic activity is thereby limited from manifesting here.

Well, for a while, anyway.

Then, as I’ve already mentioned, The Exorcist was born on the big screen, and our innocence began to fade. As illegal drugs made the scene, free love in all its forms manifested. Rebellion and flower children blossomed. The Ten Commandments and prayer disappeared from public schools as rock bands with hellish music pounded their anti-Christian message into teens. Wholesome movies and TV shows were sidelined. Now TV shows became less moral and movie producers experimented with racier visions within inane storylines rated R and X.

Did they make mega-bucks doing that? You know it.

Like a lullaby sung over a sleepy giant, this great Christian nation was lulled to sleep. Churches began to dwindle as members became fascinated with worldly pleasures, and ministries worried about their financial future. How could they once again pack their churches and their offering plates to capacity?  Thus, they re-invented and molded themselves to attract modern-day society.

How so? Here are some of the ploys:

  • Make the church a welcoming, comfortable place—more like a club where you are encouraged to pay your monthly dues in the offering plate, or better yet, online.
  • Lure with rock band music containing Christian lyrics, and feature a coffee bar or restaurant on the premises. (I understand some are now even serving wine and beer.)
  • Do away with the true gospel, watering it down so that there’s no cross to convict, no call to repentance, and no mention of the word “sin.” Replace those terms with psychology, and help people reason away their guilt. Tell them, “After all, if God is a loving God, how could He send anyone to hell?”
  • No convicting sermons—just pleasant ear-tickling stories to entertain and keep everyone coming back next week.
  • Have lots of fun group activities for athletics and hobbies, or study books that sound religious, but really have no gospel message.
  • Give everyone a job in the church, so they feel included and important. Tell them “it’s all about you” instead of being all about Jesus.
  • Instead of spiritual milk and meat, feed the flock gobs of cotton candy—and remember the good news: sugar is addictive!

Now for the present moment.

Our innocent, precious children are weaned onto their first series of books as soon as they have learned to read. The title of the most popular one, in my opinion? Why, Harry Potter, naturally! The world of witches and spells teaches them fear, rebellion, and the ABC’s of Satanic worship. Right away their minds are receptive to witchcraft and closed to Christianity. (Some good parents and Christians alike scoff at the warnings that Harry Potter could in any way be dangerous.)

I remember hearing nuns say, “Let me train a child until he’s five, and by then he will be a Catholic his whole life.” Reminds me of the verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NASB). So, these early childhood years matter very much.

How about public school curricula?  

They now endorse soft education, meaning there is no discipline, no character training, lax patriotism, and little, if any, true learning. The consequences are lots of kids stoned on drugs, disrespectful, lazy, and with time wasted on technology (which is only a robotic substitute teacher). Schools have shut down over Covid, and mask-wearing became mandatory after re-opening. Currently, children as young as kindergarten are being taught to question their biological sex and are encouraged to assign themselves new gender pronouns, in addition to sexual grooming.

No wonder American education, no longer able to boast being number one in the world, has, in 2022, plummeted to 14th out of 37 OECD and G20 nations. What an educational failure we have become!

So, what is the church’s role in this present age, and what are God’s expectations?

The answer may surprise you, as it did me. In studying the book of Revelation, the beginning of John’s letter is to the seven churches. In my Bible studies spanning nearly five decades, I was taught that those letters were just for that day and time, or that there have been seven dispensational ages—one message for each church—and the last is for our present day.

But no.

I clearly see in my present studies that these messages are eternally pertinent for today, no matter the age or year. There is no perfect church outside of heaven’s—and we have to die to get there. On the earth, all of our churches have some commendations, but according to Jesus, there is always something in need of correction.

I plan to take each church and examine what Christ said to each one through John. Let’s agree to establish our hope in God and let Him establish our future.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV

What we may learn about the church could be startling. Please join me on this fascinating journey.

Our first stop? Ephesus.

Dear Father, instruct us through Your words of warning and encouragement to John. May our hearts and minds be open to Your truths, for Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. May we all come to You through Your Son. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Introduction to a Survey of Revelation by Karen Jurgens, copyright 2023 All rights reserved