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 amongst 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 amongst 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. This practice would continue to grow, along with their extreme ideas and doctrines surrounding their practices.
- A theological school of “Christian intellectuals” was formed at Antioch. The result was men starting to get lifted up in their higher knowledge and understanding, and men’s ideas started to be inserted into the pure gospel.
- 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 prosperity. But this period also marked the greatest decline in true spirituality and the strengthened development of a ruling hierarchy amongst those called “the church”. In particular the bishop of Rome began to amass quite a collection of riches, living quite sumptuously. This 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!”
- 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.
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)