Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  


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”.

Popular Interpretation

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, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee 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 ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth 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 “The Jewish Satan”, 2.3.2.

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.

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 (1). However it must also be noted that Pergamon was a centre for snake worship associated with the shrine of Asclepius (2). Revelation speaks of 'satan', the adversary, as being characterized by the serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2).

(1) I.T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse Of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967) p. 456.

(2). J.A.T. Robinson, Redating The New Testament (London: SCM, 1976) p. 228.