Today we are introduced to the second Church of Smyrna. Let’s pick it up in Revelation 2:8 where it says, “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.”
At this time Rome had mandated the worship of Caesar. The city of Smyrna had built a temple for the worship of Tiberius Caesar and every citizen in Smyrna had to burn an incense offering to Caesar and state publicly that he was the supreme Lord, under the penalty of death. After doing this, the citizen would receive an official certification that verified their pledge of loyalty and worship. Of course, the Christians and Jews in Smyrna couldn't say that Caesar was the Lord as that they knew he was not and that it would constitute idolatry. The Bible says in Exodus 20: 3-5, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God…”
As a result, Smyrna produced many martyrs. They were burned at the stake and killed by wild beasts. One of the most famous Christians in the 2nd century was Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. He was the pastor of the church at this time. The Romans eventually burned him at the stake for refusing to worship Caesar. History tells us that the Roman authorities said, “Curse Christ and I will release you." In response Polycarp said, "Eighty-six years I have served Him. He had never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?" They then burned him at the stake.
The word "Smyrna" is directly descended from the Hebrew word "Myrrh." Myrrh is a gum that comes from cutting the bark off a certain tree. Then it is crushed to yield its perfume-like aroma. This perfumed Myrrh is used for embalming. In this way, myrrh is symbolic of death. Remember the three gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus? They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These three gifts were both symbolic and prophetic. Gold is a metal which is always associated in the Bible with kingly rule. Frankincense was the spice that was used by the priests in the temple. Myrrh was the spice that was used in embalming bodies for burial. By bringing gold, the Magi were proclaiming that Christ would be a king. By bringing frankincense, the Magi were proclaiming that Christ would be a priest. By bringing myrrh, the Magi were proclaiming that Christ would be put to death. Jesus was a prophet, priest and king! Exactly thirty-three years after He was born, arrested and convicted by an illegal trial, He was killed on a cross between two thieves.
This is also hinted at to this church when the title that Jesus Christ used to describe Himself was "the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive." The prophet Isaiah prophesied that one day again the Lord will receive some of these same gifts in Isaiah 60:6 where it says, "All those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the Lord." Notice that the gifts will not include myrrh this time. That’s because He will never die again!
Notice the term "first and the last." Jesus had used this expression in chapter 1 when He said in 1:17, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last." He also called himself the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet in 1:8 when He said, "I am the Alpha and the Omega." There are a couple of fascinating things hidden in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures in regards to this "first and last" title. Alpha in this sentence is the word "Alpha" spelled out. But the Omega is the singular letter Omega. It is a linguistic picture, indicating that the beginning has been completed, but the ending is still yet to be. There is so much to learn while studying the Bible!