Smyrna or myrrh is an ancient city of Ionia on the western coast of Asia Minor, about 40 miles to the north of Ephesus. It is now the chief city of Anatolia, and have a mixed population of whom about one-third are professed Christians. The church founded here was one of the seven churches addressed by our Lord ( Revelation 2:8-11 ). The celebrated Polycarp, a pupil of the apostle John, was in the second century a prominent leader in the church of Smyrna. There, he suffered martyrdom, A.D. 155.
The name Smyrna was derived from muron, the name of an aromatic gum derived from the Arabian tree Balsamodendron myrrha. This gum was used for embalming the dead, and medicinally as an unguent, or salve, and was burned as incense ( Matt. 2:11). More recently, scholars tend to favor a derivation from the name of an Anatolian goddess, Samorna, who was worshiped in the city.
Historically, the Smyrna period of the church may be thought of as beginning about the close of the 1st century (a.d. 100) and continuing until about a.d. 313, when Constantine espoused the cause of the church. Some suggest a.d. 323 or 325 as the date of his supposed conversion to Christianity.
Persecution by the Roman emperors characterized the the church during this period. Under Trajan (98–117), Hadrian (117–138), and Marcus Aurelius (161–180), persecution was sporadic and localized. Political oppression climaxed under Diocletian (284–305) and his immediate successors (305–313).
Historically, the period represented by the Smyrna church may well be called the Age of Martyrdom. The centuries since have been fragrant (v. 8) with the love and devotion of the thousands of unnamed martyrs of this period who were “faithful unto death.”
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