The Seven Churches of Revelation, part five

If you’re new to this series, you can catch up here:

Part 1 @

Part 2 @

Part 3 @

Who were the Nicolaitans? @

Part 4 @

Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Verses 8-11:

To the angel of the church in Smyrna, write this:

The first and the last, who once died but came to life, says this:

I know your tribulation and poverty, but you are rich. I know the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan. Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The victor shall not be harmed by the second death.

Continuing with Smyrna as a type for the Roman persecutions of the Church:

A “vital element in the growth of early Christianity was persecution and martyrdom. Early persecution was sporadic and local. The first intensive effort by the state to eliminate Christians came after the burning of Rome during the reign of the Emperor Nero in AD 64. Nero made the Christians the scapegoats for the disaster, and they were savagely tortured and burned, at least in and around Rome.

Empire-wide persecutions came periodically in the third and fourth centuries. Untold numbers of Christians died heroically for their faith; only relatively few recanted. So impressive were the many who died gladly for Christ that they were more than replaced by fresh converts. The Christian writer Tertullian observed: ‘the blood of martyrs is seed.'”

Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]: Page xiii

PERSECUTION TIMELINE: Because of the line “you will face an ordeal for ten days”, I was curious to see if there were ten periods of persecution and/or a ten year period of persecution. I found both. (N.b., the colors are just to help you track the text more easily.)

FIRST: 64 AD – In 64, a great fire broke out in Rome, destroying portions of the city and economically devastating the Roman population. Emperor Nero was rumored to have ordered the fire himself and, in order to divert these rumors, blamed and savagely punished the already-detested Christians for the fire. Tradition tells us that the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul were martyred in Rome at this time.

SECOND: 81 to 96 AD – Among the more famous victims in this persecution were Emperor Domitian’s own cousin, Flavius Clemens, and his wife, Flavia Domitilla. It seems likely that the Apostle Saint John was exiled to Patmos as part of this persecution. Domitian was the first of the emperors to deify himself during his lifetime by assuming the title of “Lord and God.” Note the use of seven stars on the coin in connection with Roman power and imperial divinity.

Domitian denarius

THIRD: 109 to 111 AD – Emperor Trajan directed that no steps were to be taken by magistrates to ascertain who were or who were not Christians, but at the same time, if any person was denounced and admitted that he was a Christian, he was to be punished. In Bithynia, it was a capital crime to admit to faith in Jesus.

FOURTH: 177 AD – For a long period, it seems the imperial policy was live and let live. As long as Christians weren’t a nuisance, the state left them alone. One notable persecution took place in southern France that apparently started as an unofficial movement to banish Christians from public spaces. Anti-Christian mob violence forced official action, leading to the arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution of Christians.

Amphithéâtre des Trois-Gaules in Lyon

FIFTH: 197 to 211 AD – Emperor Severus outlawed conversion to Christianity or Judaism. Persecution under his rule was particularly severe in Syria, Egypt and Africa. Some of the famous Christians put to death in this period included the martyrs of Madaura, Perpetua and Felicitas, Origen and Origen’s father Leonides.

SIXTH: 235 to 238 AD – Emperor Maximinus Thrax instituted an empire-wide persecution of Christian clergy. It was a tough time to be a bishop, especially in Rome. Pope Saint Pontian was exiled to the Sardinian mines in 235 and died there of privation. Pope Saint Anterus lasted only weeks in office (November 21, 235 to January 3, 236).

SEVENTH: 250 to 251 – In an effort to annihilate Christianity altogether, Emperor Decius issued an edict requiring all citizens to sacrifice to the emperor in the presence of a Roman official and obtain a certificate (libellus) proving they had done so.

EIGHTH: 253 to 260 AD – Under Emperor Valerian, Christians were forbidden to visit their cemeteries and had to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. Punishments included heavy fines, loss of rank, exile or death.

NINTH: 270 to 275 AD – After a ten year respite, the Emperor Aurelian revived Valerian’s systematic persecution.

TENTH (ten years long) 303 to 313 AD – Emperor Diocletian instigated “The Great Persecution”, ordering the destruction of Christian churches and texts, forbidding Christians from meeting for worship, arresting clergy, requiring all inhabitants of the empire to sacrifice to the gods and punishing those who refused.


Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]: Page xiii; pages 111-113;

1 Comment

Filed under Bible Prophecy

One response to “The Seven Churches of Revelation, part five

  1. Pingback: The Seven Churches of Revelation, part six | PoliNation