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Smyrna, Part 2

Dec 09, 2015

The Smyrna church corresponds to the Korah church under the Old Covenant. More specifically, the false Jews of “the synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9) speaks of the Korah rebellion. Numbers 16:1-3 says,

1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, 2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown, 3 And they assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

The cause of this rebellion is given in Numbers 16:9, 10,

9 Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also?”

Korah was a Levite, but he was not a priest. That is, he was not a descendant of Aaron. He was dissatisfied with his calling as a Levite to minister at the tabernacle. So he desired to replace Aaron as high priest. In other words, he had rejected the word of the Lord that Aaron was to be the high priest (Exodus 28:1).

Korah’s primary motive was envy and ambition, which caused him to rebel against the word of the Lord. However, Korah was able to convince 250 leaders of the congregation that Moses and Aaron were unfit to lead Israel to the Promised Land. Earlier, in Numbers 13 and 14, the people had refused to enter the Promised Land on account of their fear of the giants. The prospect of remaining in the wilderness for 40 years until all that generation had died was too much for them to accept. They thought it was better to return to the land of Egypt and remain in bondage.

The Problem with Authority

The first problem with authority, as we noted in the case of the Moses church, was that the people wanted a man to represent them before God, rather than to have direct communication with God. The second problem is that men reject those that God has truly called as leaders, on the grounds that God has called all of us democratically.

Korah used the earlier problem against Moses. He argued that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst.” The statement was true enough, but it failed to recognize the individual callings of God. A calling, regardless of how great or small it seems to be, gives men authority to fulfill those callings. When any person is functioning within his or her calling, all others, from the apostles to teachers, must submit to the word or action that is operating in the called one.

Moses and Aaron were functioning in their callings, but Korah wanted to replace Aaron, and apparently, the 250 leaders of the congregation wanted to replace Moses with their democracy. If they had succeeded, they would have been led by their own carnal minds, rather than by the Spirit of God. Every major issue would have been decided by a vote, with the yeas overruling the nays.

God indeed wants to speak directly to all men. But God has also instituted authority in the earth. He instituted the five-fold ministry listed in Ephesians 4:11,

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.

Hence, we must avoid both problems that men have with authority. We must avoid the authority of men, while at the same time submitting to the word of God that is in men. Whenever anyone speaks the word of God, even apostles and prophets must submit to the word of God, regardless of the vessel through whom it may come.

Moses and Aaron were truly called of God, but Korah and his companions treated the word as if it came only from their carnal minds. They did not recognize revelation when they heard it coming from Moses and Aaron, and so Korah was able to take advantage of the people when they grumbled over their situation.

The Rebellion in Smyrna

The Smyrna church faced the same problem as seen in the Korah rebellion. It appeared in Revelation 2:9, where God said that He had taken note of their tribulation, poverty, and “the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not.” The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (and perhaps in a nearby synagogue in Smyrna) were the New Testament equivalent to the rebellious company of Korah in Numbers 16.

Moses was a type of Christ (Deuteronomy 18:18; Acts 3:22). So also was Aaron, for even as Aaron was the high priest of his order, so also was Jesus Christ the High Priest of the Melchizedek Order (Hebrews 7:17). Jesus, who was the One anointed and called to be both King and High Priest, was rejected by the leaders in Jerusalem, whose motive was to usurp His authority for themselves.

It appears that the church in Smyrna had tried to reach out to the Jews in the synagogue. Perhaps some Jews had been converted to Christ but still wanted to maintain the old order of Judaism. Whatever happened, the Smyrna church was found having problems with a Korah-like rebellion in their midst. The Spirit of the Lord thus sent them a message, pointing out this problem.

Strangely enough, after pointing out the problem in their midst, no solution is given. The church is told only that they would have tribulation and persecution.

We can fill in the blanks, however, when we relate Smyrna’s problem with the Korah rebellion. This is the advantage we have in knowing how the Old Covenant churches were repeated in the New Covenant churches. In fact, the things that happened in the Old Covenant churches gave warning to the New Covenant churches not to repeat the same patterns of the past. The only way to avoid such repetition was to fully adopt the New Covenant and leave the trappings of the Old Covenant in every way. Unfortunately, the church has always had difficulty with this, because they have not clearly understood the differences between the two covenants.

The Purpose of Tribulation

The laws of tribulation, found in Leviticus 26 and in Deuteronomy 28, show that Israel was to go into tribulation on account of their rebellion against God (Christ). For example, Leviticus 26:14-16 says,

14 But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, 15 if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant, 16 I, in turn, will do this to you…

The purpose of such tribulation is to purify the church—that is, to discipline the church so that it continues to obey the word of God, rather than the traditions of men. Such tribulation, then, can produce overcomers who repent and turn to God in their need. They learn not to “reject” and “abhor” God’s law, but to embrace it in a New Covenant way. They do not see their success in being obedient as the basis of their salvation, but rather they see the law as the divine standard of righteousness that God is writing on their hearts.

It appears that there was a Jewish contingent within the Smyrna church that was working to bring the Christians back under the Old Covenant. They rejected the word that had come through the Apostle Paul in earlier years, and they rejected the word coming through John as well.

Paul’s opposition to such “Judaizers” is most clearly seen in his letter to the Galatians, where he discusses the two covenants. John’s opposition to them is seen in his use of the term antichrist to describe them in his first letter. John’s approach was to show that those who usurped the throne of the anointed King of Judah are like Absalom, who usurped the throne of his anointed father, King David.

We can see, then, a progressive revelation going from Ephesus to Smyrna. The most notable progression is the two-part question of authority. The second is how leaving the church’s first love brought the need for discipline and tribulation in the second church. Viewing it in this manner, it is clear that the purpose of this tribulation overall was to purify the church and to give it understanding of the purpose and proper use of authority.

The lesson is this: First, develop ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Second, do not reject genuine authority of men’s callings, for God has raised them up to edify the church, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:12, 13…

12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

When we learn to discern the voice of God speaking through men and women—and any other source—then we can develop some measure of spiritual maturity. We ought not to hear the voice of men, but to hear the voice of God in men, whenever it speaks. We ought to recognize, too, that God does not tell any man everything, but distributes His revelation among the many. He does this in order to create the need to function as a body, so as to promote unity and love among the brethren.

This is the voice of the Spirit of Understanding, which is the particular Spirit of the seven Spirits of God given to Smyrna. Those that hear will understand what they hear, so that they may know the divine plan and live accordingly.

This is part 18 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Revelation

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones