Smyrna (64-313 A.D.)
Smyrna is located about 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was on the main road between the port of Ephesus and the governmental seat at Pergamum, so it was always an important stopover for officials as they made this trip. Smyrna too was a port city that had a beautiful harbor, but most dignitaries preferred coming to Asia Minor through Ephesus.
Whereas Ephesus’ main worship center was the temple of Artemis, Smyrna’s main temple was the temple of Cybele which stood on the slope of Mount Pagos just below the fortress at the top which was known as “The Crown of Cybele.” As viewed from the harbor, the Mount was thought of as the head of Cybele, crowned by the fortress, and encircled around the “neck” by the “Street of Gold.” Cybele’s “necklace,” made of marble colonnades, ran from east to west from the temple of Zeus to the temple of Cybele.
The other main street which intersected the Street of Gold was Sacred Way, starting at the Harbor Gate and going south up the slope to the fortress itself. This street was lined with a multitude of other shrines, altars, and temples, along with numerous shops.
The Stadium and the Theater stood closest to the fortress at the top of Mount Pagos. The Theater was the first of its kind in the region, and its patron-god was Dionysus, the god of wine, revelry, and debauchery, as well as the god of theater and actors. The Stadium, one of the largest in Asia Minor, seated about 30,000 people. It was the scene of much carnage, where countless Christians were killed or fed to wild beasts. Polycarp was the most famous of the Christians to be killed at this Stadium (155 A.D.).
Smyrna stood at the end of the longest road in the world, which connected the city with Nineveh and Babylon, ending finally in Susa, or Shushan, the capital of Persia. This 1500-mile highway was called the Royal Road, because it had been financed by the King of Persia in the fifth century before Christ. Merchants from the east continuously made the three-month journey to sell goods that were difficult to find in other parts of the empire. Hence, the city’s marketplace was a shopper’s paradise.
The famous Greek poet, Homer, was born near Smyrna, and so the city had minted coins bearing his image.
In ancient times, Smyrna had been a prosperous city, but due to internal conflicts and war the city completely collapsed around 600 B.C. Its temples were abandoned and fell into ruin. But 300 years later, Alexander the Great hunted in the area, and while he spent the night on Mount Pagos, he dreamed of the twin goddesses known as Nemeses. Their names were Righteous Anger and Vengeance, and they instructed him to restore Smyrna to its former glory.
Alexander believed that the Nemeses were an unusual manifestation of the goddess Cybele. He began the task of restoring Smyrna, but because he died young, the restoration project was not completed until the reign of Lysimachus (301-281 B.C.). Smyrna was one of the first planned cities in the world, and so its streets were laid out in straight lines intersecting each other to form “blocks.”
The Cybele Cult
Although the cult of Cybele became one of the officially recognized Roman religions in 205 B.C., it remained repulsive to most of the Roman people themselves, because its rituals included bloodshed and self-mutilation. Rick Renner tells us,
“According to one of the primary legends concerning the origin of the cult, Cybele was an offspring of Zeus who was both male and female. When Zeus saw his new child, he was horrified and ordered the male organs to be removed—transforming the creature into the female goddess Cybele.
“Because the act of castration was involved in the creation of Cyble, the rituals connected to this pagan worship emphasized the virtues of self-mutilation and self-castration… A myth fundamental to Cybele worship stated that Attis, a god who fell in love with Cybele, was brutally castrated and bled to death. Therefore, on March 24 of each year, the chief priestess of Cybele—who was in fact a castrated man made into a ‘priestess’—came into the temple, slit his arms, drew blood, and offered it to Cybele in memory of Attis’ bungled castration. This annual event was called “The Day of Blood.”
“For the most part, males served Cybele as eunuch-priests, called galli… These galli had to emasculate themselves and then, from that point on, dress in feminine garments in order to be more closely identified with Cybele and deemed worthy to be called her ‘priestesses.’
“Once their male organs had been removed, Cybele’s neutered ‘priestesses’ were considered a ‘third gender’—neither male nor female. The transformation of these men into galli was dramatic. They took female names, and their physical appearance became so feminine that they were frequently mistaken for genetically born women when they ventured beyond the temple grounds” (A Light in Darkness, Vol. 1, pp. 368, 369).
Such was the state of the city when the first Christians arrived. The fanatical pagans of the city were among the most hostile to Christians that might be found anywhere in the empire, including Jerusalem. In fact, there was a large Jewish community in Smyrna, which knew how to use the spirit of the city against the Christians.
Judaism was recognized by the Roman government as a licensed religion (religio licita), so the pagans did not object to the presence of Jewish synagogues. At first, Christianity was considered to be a sect of Judaism, which gave Christians some degree of protection against Jewish persecution. However, after Paul’s first defense at his trial in Rome in 63 A.D., Nero realized that Christianity was separate and distinct from Judaism, and that they no longer offered sacrifice.
It was required that all religions make sacrifices either to Caesar himself or to God on behalf of Caesar. Judaism did the latter in the temple, but Christians could not fulfill either requirement. Hence, they began to be persecuted as a religio illicita, an unlicensed religion that was not recognized as having the right to exist in the Empire.
This made Smyrna even more dangerous to Christians, for they could not expect Roman protection from either pagans or Jews. The pagans were inspired by the twin Nemeses of Righteous Anger (i.e., Religious Zealotry) and Vengeance to kill the “atheist” Christians who did not worship their pagan gods. The Jews were inspired by the Old Covenant zealots in Judaism, who acted much like the Apostle Paul did in his early years. He describes himself in 1 Timothy 1:13, saying, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.”
The Greek word translated “violent aggressor” is hubristes, which is the Greek word for a sadist. It is part of Paul’s list describing the characteristics of “a depraved mind” in Rom. 1:30. Paul confesses to being motivated by such sadism in his treatment of the church during his early years as a religious zealot in good standing with the temple.
Smyrna and the Bitter Taste of Myrrh
Smyrna, then, is the church of the martyrs. The persecution in the city of Smyrna set the prophetic pattern for the Smyrna era of church history under Rome from 64-313 A.D. Historically, the Smyrna church age began when Nero began actively persecuting the church in 64 A.D. It ended finally with Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., at the end of an intense final decade of persecution from 303-313.
Smyrna means “myrrh,” a bitter herb representing death. Myrrh is an anointing oil which was used to prepare the dead for burial. The more one crushed it, the sweeter the fragrance. Tertullian, a Christian lawyer (145-202 A.D.), wrote to the Roman Emperor in his Apology, chapter 50,
“The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”
So it was with the martyrs of this time period. They were crushed by the full fury of the Roman Empire, but the more they were killed, the more fragrant the aroma before God and men. Men marveled at their great courage and converted to Christ faster than Rome could kill them.
Revelation 2:8, 9 says,
8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna, write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 9 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.
Christ addressed this persecuted church by the title “The first and the last.” It was to remind them that as alpha and omega (or alef and tav), He foreknew all of their persecution and was in control of it. It is natural for those under persecution to wonder if God has forgotten them, or if He has lost control of earthly events. But Christ says, “I know your tribulation.” Christ was well aware of their persecution, so He assures them that He is the Author of history. This persecution allowed the church to partake of His own sufferings.
Further, Christ says He “was dead, and has to come to life.” In other words, having overcome death by going through it, He encouraged the church of Smyrna to follow His example, knowing that they would receive a better resurrection. Heb. 11:35 says,
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.
Those Falsely Claiming to be Jews
When Jesus came to earth to claim the throne rights of His father David, the leaders of the temple disputed His claim. They wanted a different sort of messiah, one who would fight the Romans and make them an independent nation. Jesus, however, understood that God had raised up Rome as the iron empire described in Dan. 7:7. To use the power of God to overthrow this fourth empire would have gone against the divine decree in the time of Jeremiah, when God raised up world empires to put Judah into captivity.
Furthermore, the religious leadership did not agree with Jesus’ teachings, for they held the traditions of men, by which they worshipped God in vain (Isaiah 29:13, quoted in Matt. 15:7-9).
The rightful heir to the throne of Judah held in his hands the right to be called a Judahite (or, in Greek, a Judean). If any man of Judah—or any group of Judahites—revolted against the king, or if they moved to another country to start their own independent nation, they were no longer Judahites from a legal standpoint. Their genealogy would not change, of course, but they were no longer Judahite citizens. Neither could they claim status for their nation as the “true Judah.”
Judah was the territory and included only those who were ruled by the rightful king—in this case, King Jesus.
A good example is found in the story of Absalom’s revolt against David. When David and his loyal followers left Jerusalem as a refugee for a time, one might ask which group was truly Judah? Was it the majority of the Judahites who were ruled by Absalom? Or was it the small group who were loyal to David? From a legal perspective, where was Judah at that time? Was true Judah not in exile with David?
Since the New Testament conflict was simply a replay of Absalom usurping the throne of David, we see the same question arise in the first century. Jesus was the rightful Heir to the throne, but his throne was usurped by the chief priests who were acting as spiritual children of Absalom.
A thousand years later, when Jesus came to Judah as the rightful Heir of the throne of David, those who recognized His lawful right remained Judahites (“Jews”), but those who rejected Him lost the right to be called Jews.
Knowing this, the Apostle Paul says in Rom. 2:28, 29,
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise [“Judah”] is not from men, but from God.
Those who were recognized by men as Jews were not the group that God recognized as Jews. Men’s opinions, even when they are the majority opinion, are always wrong when they conflict with God’s truth. Hence, when we refer to today’s Jews as Jews, it is understood that we are merely accommodating men’s definition of the term. Having God’s perspective—and knowing the law—we understand that those who follow the King of Judah are the true Jews—if not by genealogy, then certainly by legal citizenship.
In Rom. 2:29 Paul says that a true Judahite was one who praised God, because Judah means praise. But the Jews in Smyrna were not true Jews at all, because they blasphemed God by their persecution of Christians. Recall from 1 Tim. 1:13 that Paul considered himself to be a converted and reformed “blasphemer.”
John understood this as well. No physical connection to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Judah gave such Jews the God-given right to be called Jews. The seven Spirits of the Lord (and the glorified Christ Himself) instructed John to write about “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In fact, as we will see later, this was repeated in the message to the church of Philadelphia (Rev. 3:9).
We know from biblical history that the so-called Jews were the first persecutors of the church. After driving many Christians out of Judea, Jews from other cities often filed official complaints against the Christians in order to induce Rome to arrest them. Both John and Paul witnessed these things and wrote freely about the conflict.
It was also common for the authorities to confiscate the property of those who were accused of unlawful behavior. So Christ recognized the “poverty” of the Smyrna church, yet tells them “but you are rich.” They were poor in worldly goods, but they were rich in faith, for they had laid up for themselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20).
The Greek word translated “rich” is plousios, which is a word that means “extremely wealthy,” one who enjoys a superabundance of possessions and finances. Yet in the natural, the Christians of Smyrna suffered from abject poverty. Most of the jobs in Smyrna, like in many cities, were available only to members of a trade union (guild, or collegia) who held a monopoly on its particular type of work.
Guilds also had patron gods and goddesses, and they required their members to sacrifice and give homage to those pagan deities. The Christians could not join guilds without worshiping its patron god. Hence, the Christians of Smyrna found themselves not only poor but absolutely destitute—the equivalent of modern homelessness. Neither did Christians have any recourse to seek legal protection, for they were part of an illegal religion and therefore were excluded from the rights and protections afforded even to the poorest of the pagans.
The Christians of Smyrna were outcasts living in absolute poverty in a Christian subculture. John’s message from Jesus comforted them by noting their extreme spiritual wealth in the sight of God.
As we will see later, the church of Laodicea, which describes the church at the end of the age, had done the opposite of the church of Smyrna. The Laodiceans were rich in earthly goods, but not in the true wealth of the Spirit. It appears to refer to the Prosperity message that has the appearance of faith, but is usually a form of positive thinking.
Be Faithful Until Death
Revelation 2:10 says,
10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold [idou], the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Rick Renner says this about the Greek word translated “behold.”
“The word ‘behold’ is the Greek word idou, a word that is very difficult to translate. The King James Version translates it as behold, but in our contemporary world, this ancient Greek word might be better rendered, “Wow!” (A Light in Darkness, Vol. 1, p. 442)
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon tells us that idou is used “when a thing is specified which seems impossible and yet occurs.” Renner continues,
“Although not a literal translation, it carries the idea: ‘Wow—if you could see what I see! What is about to happen to you nearly leaves Me speechless. Yes, I am the One who knows the end from the beginning—but even I am amazed to see what you are about to endure…” (p. 442)
Men always fear persecution and suffering. But when they understand that God is with them, and that this persecution is built into the divine plan, they may take comfort in knowing that there is purpose in it. Smyrna was told that they were being “tested” to see if their faith was real.
Jesus told them that some of them would be cast into prison. Roman prisons were horrible places. Prisoners were normally lowered by a ladder into a windowless room, and when the upper door was shut, they remained in total darkness. There were no toilet facilities and no food or water, except for what their friends might be allowed to bring them.
Men were not sentenced to go to prison for set periods of time. They were there to await execution, though many died before they were executed. Hence, when the Christians in Smyrna were warned in advance that some would be cast into prison, they certainly understood this to mean that they would die in a terrible place, and that their bodies would probably be cast out with the sewage into the nearby river.
This prophecy was fulfilled first among the believers in Smyrna itself, but also on a broader scale in the entire Empire during the Smyrna church era from 64-313 A.D.
Jesus told them in Revelation 2:10, “you will have tribulation.” The Greek word translated “tribulation” is thlipsis, a word that was first used to describe the manner of execution of a man in earlier times, who was forced to lie down while a boulder was slowly lowered upon him. The pressure slowly crushed him to death under its weight. This is thlipsis. It refers to coming under pressure that causes distress.
The Spirit focused upon “tribulation ten days,” prophesying of the ten distinct times of persecution initiated during the Smyrna era.
1. Nero (67 A.D.)
2. Domitian (81 A.D.)
3. Trajan (108 A.D.)
4. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (162 A.D.)
5. Severus (192 A.D.)
6. Maximinus (235 A.D.)
7. Decius (249 A.D.)
8. Valerian (257 A.D.)
9. Aurelian (274 A.D.)
10. Diocletian (303 A.D.)
The final persecution (under Diocletian from 303-313 A.D.) lasted ten years until it was fully stopped by Constantine. Diocletian, the Roman Emperor, ordered the destruction of churches, the burning of Bibles, and all Christians to sacrifice to the Roman gods. These edicts were issued in Nicomedia, the capital of the Eastern half of the Empire.
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea at that time, tells us that he personally witnessed many of the martyrdoms in the city of Tyre, where men were given to the wild beasts. But two years into the persecution, Diocletian was struck with mental illness, forcing him to retire in 305 A.D. He was replaced by Maximian, who was replaced in turn by Licinius.
In those days there were four Caesars—two in the East and two in the West. Diocletian himself had divided the empire earlier in 285 A.D., putting each half under two caesars. The main persecutions took place in the East. In the West, the emperors disagreed with the policy of persecution, and so they performed only minimal persecution to satisfy the official government policy. Constantine was one of those Western Caesars, and as he increased in power, he put an end to the persecutions in the territory that he controlled. Constantine was a British prince. His mother, Helen of York, was a strong Christian.
Constantine issued an edict in 306 A.D. granting religious toleration to the Christians in Spain, Gaul, and Britain. As Constantine gained territory, he extended his policy of religious toleration until finally, after taking Rome itself, he was able to end the time of persecution altogether in 313. The end of persecution also brought the church into a new situation with new challenges in the Pergamum era.
The Overcomers’ Reward
Revelation 2:11 says,
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.
Previously, in verse 10, Smyrna overcomers were promised “the crown of life.” This crown was not a valuable, golden diadem, but a simple wreath (stephanos) that was given to victors in an athletic contest. The Greek word for an overcomer is a victor or champion. The value of a victor’s wreath was in the fact that it was a public recognition of achievement, which brought admiration from the people. Paul refers to this wreath in 1 Cor. 9:24, 25, saying,
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath [stephanos], but we an imperishable.
When God gives a stephanos to His people, it is an ironic fact that He gives recognition to those whom the world considers to be “the scum of the world, the dregs of all things” (1 Cor. 4:13). James 1:12 speaks of this as well, saying,
12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
No doubt this is the same “crown” that Paul claimed toward the end of his life, when he wrote in 2 Tim. 4:7, 8,
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Perhaps John understood this “crown” as a contrast to the “crown of Cybele” which was how the city of Smyrna viewed the fortress on the top of Mount Pagos. The Mount was pictured as the head of the goddess, and the walls and towers of the fortress crowned her head.
It was commonly believed that a special reward—pictured as a crown—was to be given to those who had suffered martyrdom, or who had been faithful through persecution. Some went so far as to say that a believer had to be killed in order to become an overcomer. This gave rise to a change in the meaning of martus, or “martyr.” The original meaning of the word was a “witness,” but soon it referred to one who had been killed as a witness for Christ.
But not all martyrs are killed. An overcomer is not necessarily one who is killed, but one who bears witness to Christ as an Amen person. It is one who has an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, for it is by hearing that one is able to bear witness by saying Amen.
The Korah Church
The Smyrna church corresponds to the Korah church under the Old Covenant. More specifically, the false Jews of “the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9) speaks of the Korah rebellion. Num. 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 Num. 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.
Centuries later, the priestly leaders in Jerusalem revolted against the One who was like Moses. In rejecting Jesus Christ, the priests led the people back to Egypt, the house of slavery. In refusing to recognize Jesus as the Lamb of God, that is, the Passover Lamb, they failed to apply His blood to their lintels (foreheads) and door posts (ears), and so they were unable to leave the house of slavery.
Jerusalem was their Egypt (Rev. 11:8), and without faith in Jesus Christ, they could not be begotten from above. Hence, the earthly Jerusalem was their mother, and they remained children of the flesh in the house of bondage in spiritual Egypt.
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 God’s invitation to all in Exodus 20 against Moses. He argued that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst” (Num. 16:3). 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, and the traditions of men thus established by democratic votes.
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 Eph. 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 the divine judgment.
The Rebellion in Smyrna
The Smyrna church faced the same problem as seen in the Korah rebellion. It appeared in Rev. 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 (Deut. 18:18; Acts 3:22). So also was Aaron, for Aaron was the high priest of his order, while Jesus Christ was and is the High Priest of the Melchizedek Order (Heb. 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.
The message to the church in Smyrna contains no criticism, so it is clear that those representing the Korah rebellion were those from the local synagogue. There is a clear delineation between the true Jews who give genuine praise to God and the so-called Jews, who blasphemed God by their revolt against the King and their persecution of the church.
Strangely enough, after pointing out the problem in their midst, no solution is expressly mentioned. The church is told only that they, like Moses and Aaron, 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 its Mediator, leaving their Old Covenant “mother” and declaring Sarah as their new mother.
The Progression of Revelation
We can see a progressive revelation in 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 Eph. 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.