The seven churches in Revelation are a chronological prophecy of what will happen in Christianity (both true and nominal) after Jesus’ departure through His second advent. The church in Smyrna is the second church. It covers a period of severe persecution of true Christians by pagan Rome and by false Christians. The “ten days of tribulation” (verse 10) refers to the persecution by Diocletian from 303-313 A.D.
During this time, large numbers of people began to identify themselves with the Christian profession. However, they were really hypocrites, claiming to be “spiritual Israelites”. These Gentiles claimed to be “spiritual Jews” when they were supposedly grafted into the stock of Israel. The Apostle Paul wrote, “…you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree (the Abrahamic promise),” Romans 11:17 (ESV). All such false professors would simply be “tares,” claiming to be Christians but were not.
Thus began the formal outward root of decline, leading to apostasy. While this state of things was not nor is not called Judaism, the term describes the condition in the great professing church systems. They built a priestly hierarchy (like the Jewish priests), as necessary mediators between God and His professed people. This was in direct contradiction to 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV), “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.
It was in this period of Church history that certain set forms and ceremonies were gradually introduced and took the place of the simple worship common in the Apostle’s day. Churches began to have “altars” on which “sacrifice” (the mass) was offered by “priests”. This led to a religion of ceremonies, penances, fast, masses, formal prayers, vigils, abnegations, and bodily macerations. By the observation of these rituals, eternal salvation was supposed to be secured. However, we embrace the scripture, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”, Ephesians 2:8 (ESV).