Knowing as we do that at a period only a little later than this, Polycarp was bishop there, a very interesting question presents itself to us, namely, whether he might not have been bishop now; whether he may not be the Angel of whom this epistle is addrest [sic]. There is much to make this probable. . . . It is true indeed that we have thus to assume an episcopate of his, which lasted for more than seventy years; for the “good confession” of Polycarp did not take place till the year 168, while the Apocalypse was probably written in 96. . . . As early as AD 108 Ignatius . . . found Polycarp the bishop . . . of the Church of Smyrna . . . We have only to extend his episcopate twelve years a parte ante, and he will have been Angel of Smyrna when this Epistle was addrest [sic] to that Church. Is there any great unlikelihood in this? His reply to the Roman Governor who tempted him to save his life by denying his Lord, is well known . . . that he could not thus renounce a Lord whom for eighty and six years he had served . . . [These eighty-six years] represent no doubt the years since his conversion. Counting back eighty-six years from the year 168, being that of his martyrdom, we have AD 82 as the year when he was first in Christ. This will give us fourteen years as the period which will have elapsed from his conversion to that when this present Epistle was written, during which time he may very well have attained the post of chiefest honour and toil and peril in the Church of Smyrna. Tertullian indeed distinctly tells us that he was consecrated bishop of Smyrna by St. John . . . and Irenaeus, who affirms that he had himself in his youth often talked with Polycarp, declares the same1the church of Smyrna
Many writers of that time referred to it as the loveliest city of Asia. Smyrna had a magnificent natural situation and setting at the end of a long, protected inlet of the Mediterranean which gave it a natural harbor well sheltered from the elements. The harbor was compact and easily defended in time of war by simply drawing a chain across its entrance. The city itself began at the harbor and covered the undulating ground between the harbor and the Pagos, a hill covered by temples and public buildings. These noble buildings encircled this hill, and the locals proudly called these the crown of Smyrna (see Rev. 2:10+).7The meaning of the name Smyrna, myrrh or bitter, “Smyrna means ‘bitter,’ certainly an appropriate description for the lot of Christians who lived there.”8 is associated with death:
In the New Testament the word σμύπˊα [smypa] occurs only twice (Mat. 2:11 and John 19:39) and a derivative form once (Mark 15:23). Commentators note the enormous quantity of myrrh and aloes brought by Nicodemus for the burial of Jesus. Use of these spices evidently accorded with normal Jewish practice (cf. John 11:44), except that their quantity in this case represented a costly act of devotion to Jesus, resembling that of Mary (John 12:2-11), Jesus there applied the lesson of her gift to his forthcoming burial (John 12:7; cf. Mark 14:8; Mat. 26:12).9
So much has been idly written upon names, not a little most idly on the names of these seven Churches, and the mystical meanings which they contain, that one shrinks from any seeming fellowship in such foolish and unprofitable fancies; and yet it is difficult not to remember here that σμύρνα [smyrna] , the name of this suffering Church which should give out its sweetness in persecution and in death, is a subform of μύῤῥα [myrhra] . . . [which] . . . served for embalming the dead (John 19:39) . . ., went up as incense before the Lord (Ex. 30:23), was one of the perfumes of the bridegroom (Ps. 45:8), and of the bride (Sos. 3:6)10Significantly, this is the church of tribulation and martyrdom. Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans recognized the ongoing zeal of the church at Smyrna: “I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ.”11 This is one of only two churches (Philadelphia being the other) for which Christ gives no word of criticism.the First and the Last
1 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 97-98.
2 Copyright © 2003 www.BiblePlaces.com. This image appears by special permission and may not be duplicated for use in derivative works.
3 “The countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Egypt.”—American Heritage Online Dictionary, Ver. 3.0A, 3rd ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), s.v. “Levant.”
4 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 159.
5 “[Polycarp] may have been a young man in the church which first received the present letter. He evidently came much under its influence.”—Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 65.
6 Ibid., 60.
7 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 2:8.
8 Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 158.
9 Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 64.
10 Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 111-112.
11 J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 110.
12 M. R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2002).