5-31 The Synagogue Of Satan
Revelation 2: 9-10, 13 & 24: “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty
(but thou art rich), and I know the blasphemy of them which say
they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear
none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil
shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye
shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and
I will give thee a crown of life”. “I know thy works, and where
thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast
my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein
Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan
dwelleth”. “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as
many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths
of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden”.
These passages are taken to mean that there is a powerful being called Satan waging war against Christians, at times working through civil powers to do so.
1. We have seen several times in these notes that “Satan” often refers to the Jewish and Roman adversaries of the church in the first century. There is no indication here that there was a super-human being working through those Roman and Jewish systems. If it is argued that those systems received power and direction from the devil in the sense of a super-human being to persecute the church, it must be remembered that Jesus told the Roman governor: “You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above”, i.e. from God (Jn. 19:11). Thus it is God, not the devil, who gives power to human governments to persecute His people, as He gave them power to do so to His Son.
2. Daniel 4:32: “The most high rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will”. Thus God was the power behind the Roman satan, or system, that was persecuting the Christians in the first century.
3. For comment on Revelation 2: 9 see section
2-4 The Jewish Satan”.
4. The devil that gave the ecclesia at Smyrna “tribulation ten days” was clearly the Romans. It was only they who could cast them into prison. The casting into prison (place of punishment), tribulation and afterwards being honoured (physical reward), recalls the experiences of Joseph and Daniel who were persecuted by the civil powers of Egypt and Babylon, as those at Smyrna were by the civil powers of the Roman “devil”. It has been shown that there were several ten-year periods of special persecutions of Christians in the Smyrna area: under Domitian, A.D. 81-91; under Trajan, 107-117 and under Diocletian, 303-313. The Septuagint in places uses the term diabolos, false accuser, to translate the Hebrew 'satan'. 'Satan' therefore carried the sense of both an adversary and also a false accuser. "The synagogue of Satan" in Smyrna may well refer to not only Jewish adversarial opposition to the Christians, but also that they falsely accused them to the Roman authorities. There could also be the suggestion that the Jewish synagogue in Smyrna was in fact working with the 'Satan', the Roman empire, against the Christians. Kraybill considers that the phrase "synagogue of Satan" is "a way of highlighting commercial or political relationships some Jews had with Rome". He also gives evidence that Jews in the provinces of the empire cooperated with the Roman government in order to ensure that they continued benefitting from the Roman legislation that exempted Jews from doing military service amd paying taxes to the imperial cult (1). In Domitian's time, a tax was levied to support the emperor and the imperial cult. Jews were exempted from this, and Christians refused to pay it. The "synagogue of Satan" in Smyrna loudly "say they are Jews" (Rev. 2:9) , in order to avoid this tax and get benefits from the Roman empire at the time; but probably denounced the Christians to the Roman 'satan' because of their refusal to pay that tax. So "synagogue of satan... who say they are Jews but are not" was an appropriate description of them (2).
5. Pergamos being “where Satan’s seat (throne) is”, shows that the Satan referred to is not a personal super-human being. If it is, then his throne was literally at Pergamos, for all to see. It has been shown that the Roman administration of the area was based here, thus Jesus commends the ecclesia for holding to the Truth, despite being in close proximity to the source of persecution. Thus “satan” again refers to the Roman authorities. It is also significant that a huge throne dedicated to the Greek gods has been discovered there.
6. “The depths of Satan as they speak”, refers to the false teaching of the
Judaizers, the Jewish satan, who were pretending to offer deeper
spiritual understanding through their false doctrine. They spoke
evil about deep spiritual things which they did not understand (Jude
v. 10), speaking words which seemed superficially impressive spiritually
(Jude v. 16). The Judaizers’ reasonings about keeping the law and
worshipping angels, “intruding into those things which he hath not
seen” (Col. 2:18; i.e. “which they know not”, cp. Jude v. 10), had
“a shew of (deep, spiritual) wisdom” (Col. 2:23). There are many
other such examples.
7. It's significant that Pergamon is the city described as having
"satan's throne" (Rev. 2:13). I.T. Beckwith claims that
Pergamon was the first city in Asia to have a temple devoted to
emperor worship (3). However it must also be noted that Pergamon
was a centre for snake worship associated with the shrine of Asclepius
(4). Revelation speaks of 'satan', the adversary, as being characterized
by the serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). "Satan's throne" may
also be a reference to the altar of Zeus in Pergamon. or the special
throne-seat of Dionysus in the theatre there. "The city featured various Pagan sites of worship, including a monumental altar to Zeus, and a temple dedicated to Augustus and Rome,which served as the center of the cult of the Roman Emperor in Asia Minor. Pergamum was in fact the capital of the Roman Province of Asia" (5).
(1) J. Nelson Kraybill, The Imperial Cult And Commerce In John's Apocalypse (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996) pp. 170, 186.
(2) This whole matter is discussed in some detail in Mark Bredin, 'The Synagogue of Satan Accusation in Revelation 2:9', Biblical Theology Bulletin Vol. 28 No. 4 (Winter 1999) pp. 160-164.
(3) I.T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse Of John (Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1967) p. 456.
(4) J.A.T. Robinson, Redating The New Testament (London:
S.C.M., 1976) p. 228.
(5) H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 144.