Synagogue of Satan

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: “I know your works. … I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” ’ ” Revelation 2:8, 9

Although Jesus did not give any reproof or rebuke to the church at Smyrna, that did not mean they were without problems. They endured persecution and suffering.

Ellen White gave strong and pointed counsel to our medical workers and ministers that when people are suffering, it is not the time to talk to them about their doctrinal errors. We are to follow Jesus’ example of providing encouragement to the church at Smyrna who needed to hear about the love of Jesus and to surrender all to Him and abide in His loving arms. Those who are suffering are not in a position mentally to be able to think through or figure out the 2300 days for the first time or some other doctrine though it may be very important. Much wisdom is needed when counseling those who are suffering.

Many of those whom Jesus met were indeed suffering physically. They were also mixed up theologically and did not understand what the kingdom of heaven was about or understand the work of the Messiah, so He simply healed them.

To the church in Smyrna, Jesus said, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9).

Paul gives us an understanding of what Jesus meant when he said to the Galatians, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). In verse 29, he said, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

If you are of faith, you are Christ’s and an heir according to the promise. Christians are spiritual Jews and when Jesus says to the church of Smyrna that these people say that they are Jews and are not, He is also referring to Christians. It is possible to think you are a Christian yet be part of the synagogue of Satan—professing to be part of God’s church, but in reality are part of Satan’s church, furthering his cause.

For this reason, we speak about the professed church and the true church. All who are part of the true church are also part of the professed church because you can’t be part of the true church if you make no profession. Paul said, “… with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).

Jesus said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). You have to make a confession to be part of the true church. There is no such thing as a person who is part of the church who doesn’t make a profession. But everybody who makes a profession is not necessarily a part of the true church. Some make big claims of being followers of Jesus but in reality, Satan is their leader.

That there is a distinction between the professed church and the true church is a clear teaching of the Spirit of Prophecy. Everyone who belongs to the true church is also part of the professed church. However, not everyone who claims membership in the professed church is a member of the true church. The situation in the church at Smyrna is used to illustrate this dichotomy.

Throughout the Spirit of Prophecy, the expression “professed people of God” is used a hundred and fifty-five times, according to a search of the CD of the writings of E. G. White. The expression “His professed people” is used a hundred and eleven times. The expression “God’s professed people” is used a hundred and ten times. Ellen White even uses the expression “professed church,” and contrasts it with the true church on occasion. Here’s an example:

In The Signs of the Times, November 1, 1899, she says, “Through the agency of Romanism, Satan took the world captive. The professed church of God was swept into the ranks of this delusion, and for more than a thousand years the people of God [the true church] suffered under the dragon’s ire.” The true church here in this statement is the people of God. The professed church persecuted the true church for over a thousand years.

Within the church at Smyrna were these two groups. To human vision, often the synagogue of Satan appeared to be more holy and spiritual than the true church. We wonder how that can be. The synagogue of Satan considered themselves better Christians with a more elevated form of Christianity than the true church.

History identifies the characteristics of the synagogue of Satan. “Christ speaks of the church over which Satan presides as the synagogue of Satan. Its members are the children of disobedience. They are those who choose to sin, who labor to make void the holy law of God.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 958.

There was a group of people like this in the Smyrna Church in the first century. Understanding the origin and destiny of the synagogue of Satan in the church of Smyrna is the secret to understanding how Christianity got from where it was in A.D. 80 or 90 to where we are today.

What is Hellenism?

Hellenism is the culture, philosophy, and religion of the Greeks that became dominant in the near east after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. The name comes from Hellen, a Greek goddess, and the name Hellenist is a designation for the Greeks. Hellenistic philosophy was the product of the great pagan reformation that occurred in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. This culture, philosophy, and religion spread throughout the near east.

What does Hellenistic philosophy have to do with Christianity?

The answer is “everything.” Christians in the first century combined Hellenistic philosophy or religion with Christianity. This hybrid was called Gnostic Christianity. Gnosticism was a collection of teachings that essentially proclaimed the basic principles of paganism, Hellenistic religion, under the name of Christianity. Although there were dozens of Gnostic sects, the principle doctrines believed by most Gnostics included the following:

Man has a divine immortal soul. That was derived from Plato. The New Testament contradicts that belief and in fact contradicts all Gnostic doctrines.

The Gnostics believe that this divine immortal soul originated in the heavens and is destined to return to heaven after death.

Most Gnostic Christians passionately and totally rejected the Old Testament and Hebrew religion, believing it to be the religion of the old covenant based on materialistic animal sacrifices.

They considered the material world to be evil.

The Gnostics saw themselves as a reformation, not of Judaism, but of the New Testament church itself and promoted their teachings within the church. They called themselves Christians and promoted their teachings within the church as an advanced, more elevated revelation of Christianity.

The focus was on the spiritual alone and not the material world. They relied especially on the writings of Paul because of his emphasis on inner spirituality. An example of that is found in the book of Ephesians where Paul talks about being filled with might by the Holy Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16–19). Their doctrines depended heavily on these texts.

The theory of progressive revelation was believed, saying this was a second, more advanced revelation of the Christian faith. They thought there was nothing intrinsically good or evil. Everything depended on the situation, especially its relation to materialism, because they believed that the material world was evil. Today we call that “situation ethics.” Given the right situation, almost any act could be justified.

Gnosticism developed several major strands, going in different directions. One strand would go into libertinism. If the material world had no value, then what you did didn’t really matter that much because you were concentrating on the heavens and on the spiritual. The Old Testament had no value. Simply receive the Holy Spirit and concentrate on your spiritual life and all these problems will be over. Bondage to sinful habits would be lost and disappear automatically.

Subjective morality was preached. Some rejected marriage and advocated celibacy. Many Gnostics, not all, were antinomian. Antinomianism means against the law. This belief needs to be explained because the Gnostics preached against sin, and they had powerful preachers. Not only did they preach against sin, but they also preached in favor of the highest moral standards. At the same time, they essentially licensed sin by removing the penalty. Gnosticism taught that God would never punish someone spiritual—and they maintained that all are spiritual.

Gnosticism targeted and infiltrated the Roman church in the second and third centuries. In the history of Christianity, one topic—the Sabbath—more than any other, has become the centerpiece of the controversy over Hebrew religion. It was the Gnostics that pioneered the conversion from Sabbath keeping to Sunday keeping. They said Sunday, which they called the eighth day, was symbolic. Sunday worship, they said, symbolized for Gnostic Christians their rejection of the material world, the rejection of the Creator God. They said the God of the Old Testament who gave the law and the Sabbath symbolizes the creation of the material world, and they did not like that.

The Gnostics wanted something that was spiritual. Hellenism emphasized the spiritual and de-emphasized anything material. The Sabbath promotes both physical and spiritual rest, but Hellenistic rest is exclusively spiritual, non-material.

In the early centuries after Christ, just as today, the distinction between the material and the spiritual was presented as a primary justification for discarding the Sabbath.

The Sabbath, because of its attachment to Creation, was considered materialistic, and therefore inferior, and spiritually dangerous. Both Gnosticism and Hellenistic Christianity in general understood the eighth day to signify breaking away from Hebrew religion and the Old Testament. They said the material world was the first creation and that the Sabbath celebrates the first creation of the material world. As a rebuttal to that assertion, the apostle Paul says, that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, and everything is become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So, according to the Gnostics, we need some way to celebrate the new creation. The second creation is only beginning and it can only be honored by celebrating its beginning, and when did it begin? On resurrection Sunday.

Here are a couple of other points. If you have studied the Old Testament you will know that the Passover always occurred on the full moon. The Jewish year had lunar months, and the Passover was on the 14th day of the 1st month, always occurring at full moon.

Gnostics said that because the Passover always occurs at full moon, the entire 24-hour day is lighted. The evening portion was lighted with the brightness of the full moon, and the morning portion with the sun. They said it is prophetic that someday Easter would replace the Passover. Easter, like Sunday, is supposed to be purely spiritual and therefore points to the time after the end of the material creation when there will be only light and no darkness. There will be a day, a 24-hour period, with all light and no darkness and they argued that Sunday is a natural fulfillment of the Sabbath.

They also claimed that they were not abolishing the Sabbath but fulfilling its spiritual intent. They condemned the Sabbath by accusing Sabbath keepers of excessive idleness, asserting that every day is the Lord’s day. So the spiritual rest was described as an on-going spiritual state, not associated with any particular day.

This is not just ancient history. What is described here is rampant over the world today. Eighth day theology is not just some historical phenomenon. Hellenistic Christian churches today, both Catholic and Protestant, openly preach veneration of Sunday as the eighth day.

An example of this erroneous doctrine is the apostolic letter released by pope John Paul II in 1998, “Dies Domini,” on keeping the Lord’s day holy. In it, the pope echoes many of these same ancient arguments, including the contention that Sunday marks a new spiritual creation for Christians. He says that Sunday is the true Christian fulfillment of creation rest because it honors the spiritual creation, echoing the teachings of the Gnostics of the first century.

When it comes to eight-day symbolism, the pope confirms its importance in the theology of the early Roman church and describes it as much loved by the Catholic church fathers. He said that Sunday is not only the first day, it is also the eighth day, in a unique and transcendent position which evokes not only the beginning of time, but also its end in the age to come, linking this belief directly with the first century Gnostics.

The letter says, “Sunday symbolizes the truly singular day which will follow the present time, the day without end, which will know neither evening nor morning.”

And then, “Sunday is the ceaseless foretelling of life without end, which renews the hope of Christians.” Just as in Gnostic theology, Pope John Paul II saw the eighth day as a symbol of the age that exists outside the present material world when there will be no alternation of day and night, in which we will know, as he says, neither evening nor morning.

Here is the issue. Is it the will of God that the Sabbath be observed in Christian worship as it was in the Ephesian church in the first century, and as it was by all the apostles? Or is it the divine will that the true Sabbath be replaced by a pagan, Hellenistic symbol in practice?

It matters not what any man or group of men say. If you believe that there is a God in heaven, the real question is, What is the divine will? The real issue is what is the will of God.

This synagogue of Satan was right within the Smyrna Church. Though Jesus did not reprove them, it does not mean they did not have major problems. The Gnostic Christians in Smyrna made the persecution of the true church much more severe. They saw no problem with participating in the pagan religious customs of the day that the apostolic Christians would never do, causing millions of the faithful to be killed for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods. All that was required was to take a piece of incense and throw it on the fire, and say, “Kaiser es kurios” and they would be free. Those who refused were taken off to one side and killed.

The Gnostic Christians compromised. It did not bother them to participate in the pagan festivals, maintaining that this is just the material world and therefore it doesn’t even matter, for we are spiritual. By participating in the festivals they escaped much of the persecution that fell upon the primitive church. For them, it was one of those issues of outward conduct that has no effect upon inward spirituality.

Imagine how hard it would have been to be a Sabbath keeping Christian and stand for principle when half the church members claiming to believe the same, saw no need to make a stand and caved in to the powers that be. The result was greater persecution.

We must all stand strong as did Daniel and the three worthies when confronted with matters of conscience. Each person must be in control of their own conscience and not be controlled by the community of faith, the church, or the government.

This has been a controversy between the professed church and the true church for thousands of years. Around A.D. 800, Charlemagne made a decree that all who stubbornly refuse “Christian” baptism shall be put to death.

Nor are Protestants guiltless. Around 1600 the Groniter Edict was issued that said henceforth no religion other than the reformed [Presbyterian] shall be permitted in their city. He who attends any meeting of the papists or the Anabaptists shall be fined.

The Groniter Edict became very popular in Europe and many cities copied it. In the city of Deventer, in 1620, it was made into a law as follows: “The magistrates of the city of Deventer instruct all citizens and residents of their city that no Mennonites, etc., shall hold any secret or public assembly, where any preaching, marriage, or any other exercise of religion is practiced, under whatever pretense, under pain of perpetual banishment, any person found at such a place or in such an assembly shall forfeit his upper garment plus twenty-five florens. The second offense, his upper garment plus fifty florins. The third offense shall be followed by arbitrary punishment. He who lets his house be used for such a gathering, shall forfeit one hundred florins. The second offense two hundred florins. The third time, perpetual banishment.”

That was in the Netherlands. In the Low Countries, there were repeated attempts made to squelch the Catholics, the Anabaptists and anyone who wasn’t Presbyterian. An attempt was made to exterminate the papists and papal priests.

In modern times, an authority on Calvinism who has studied in detail this history, which we have remarked on briefly in this article, has stated as his conclusion: “Every religious cultist that gets tied up with coercion must of necessity become corrupt.”

Don’t think it won’t happen to the Adventists. If you get involved in coercion, your church will become corrupt. The Gnostics in the Smyrna Church evidently cooperated with the pagans, making the persecution of the primitive, or apostolic Christians even worse.

This did not escape the notice of Jesus, who knew all about it. “ ‘I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison. … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. … He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.’ ”

Ever since the days of the church of Smyrna, the professed church, whether you are talking about the Catholic church, or the Protestant churches, or various Adventist churches, are a mixture of two groups. One group consists of those who love God and keep His commandments as far as they understand them. The other group Jesus called the synagogue of Satan, even though they claimed to have a more elevated and advanced system of Christianity.

Friends, billions have been deceived by religion. You must not listen to any preacher who emphasizes the importance of a relationship with Jesus while at the same time claiming obedience to His word is not necessary. Those people don’t even know Jesus, and He doesn’t know them. It was that group who caused persecution to increase in the Smyrna church.

Ellen White makes a statement in the Signs of the Times, April 22, 1889, in which she says,

“It is not the true church of God that makes war with those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

The true church of God does not take the people who love God and keep His commandments to court and try to put them in prison.

Commenting on Luke 9:54–56, Ellen White says,

“There can be no more conclusive evidence that we possess the spirit of Satan than the disposition to hurt and destroy those who do not appreciate our work, or who act contrary to our ideas.” The Desire of Ages, 487.

The Samaritans showed no hospitality to James and John because Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. The “sons of thunder” were furious and asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven on them like Elijah did. But they were shocked when they saw the pain on Jesus’ face and even more shocked when they heard the rebuke that came from His lips. He said to them that they did not know what spirit they were of. They had the spirit of Satan while believing they were with the Lord.

We are studying Christ’s message to His church and we are living in the end time. As we approach the end of the world, the true church will be persecuted by the synagogue of Satan. At the end of the world, there will be only two sides—the true church, the persecuted, and the synagogue of Satan, their fellow church members. The synagogue of Satan has almost always professed to be the true church, but it is not.

The message of Jesus to His end time church today is, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. … He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:9–11).

The message to the church of Smyrna is a message that needs to be known in the coming crisis.

Before probation closes, Ellen White has told us there will be many who will be martyred, but Jesus said do not be afraid of anything that you suffer because He has promised to be with you. Paul says we do not need to be afraid of what man is going to do to us because the One who stands with us is more powerful than man.

Remember the communication Jesus gave to the suffering church so that we may be comforted by His presence in every situation. Nothing is impossible for God. He can get us through any situation.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.

Editorial – Types and Shadows, Part IV

In the last three editorials, we have studied Colossians 2:14–17. Last month we learned that theology has been used numberless times to gain control of other people’s minds and finally to control them entirely. There are still people today with the same Gnostic attitude attempting to gain control of the church of God by dictating various practices for believers to follow in regard to eating, drinking, working, dressing, feast days, methods of Sabbath observance, ad nauseum.

Concerning this, Paul said, “Let nobody give judgment of you, wishing in humility of mind and worship of angels, which he has seen [some Greek manuscripts read ‘which he has not seen’; we will not discuss this difference here], pushing into without cause, being puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding onto the Head, out of whom all the body, through the joints and ligaments, having been supplied and having been joined together, will grow with the growth of God. If you have died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as living in the world, are you subject to ordinances [or decrees; the same root as in verse 14]—‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not finger,’ which things are all unto perishing in the process of being used— according to the commandments and teachings of men [Gnostics]? Which things have a reputation for wisdom in self-imposed worship [the word for worship could also be translated ‘man-made religion’] and humility of mind and severe treatment of the body, not in any honor for the indulgence of the flesh.” Colossians 2:18–23. The last clause of verse 23 shows us clearly that this man-made religion has no value in controlling physical passions.

Previously, in stating that these religious observances were shadows of things to come, if we allow the Bible to interpret itself, the fact that these religious observances were shadows of things to come would have to refer to the Jewish ceremonial system with its animal sacrifices and yearly sabbaths and feast days (see Leviticus 23) and monthly feast days (see Hebrews 8:1–5; 10:1–4).

Many people have not noticed, when reading Colossians 2:17, that the verb, “is,” has been added. It is very common in both Hebrew and Greek texts for the translator to feel forced to add a form of the verb “to be” (such as “is,” “was,” “will be,” “are,” or “were”) to aid the English reader in understanding what is being read. The problem comes when, in order to aid readability, the meaning of the text is changed, which is what perhaps has been done in Colossians 2:17. If we did not add any words and gave the text a free translation to aid readability, it would read approximately as follows, beginning with verse 16: “Therefore do not let anybody judge you in eating or drinking or in respect of a feast or a new moon or of Sabbaths, (which are a shadow of things coming), except the body of Christ.” Or, if we were to paraphrase the text to simplify its meaning, so that all could immediately understand, the paraphrase would read approximately as follows: “Do not let anybody but the body of Christ judge you concerning your religious practices, which are symbols of the future.”

The believers are not to allow individuals (Gnostics) to usurp the teaching authority of the church—the body of Christ—itself. They are not to allow the practices of the old covenant or any type of man-made religion (human rules which had never been agreed to by the apostles and the elders of the church) to usurp the authority of the church—the body of Christ—which was instructed by the apostles themselves and which, as a body, had authority, as long is it abided by the foundational teachings of the prophets, apostles, and Jesus Christ, the chief Cornerstone.

Editorial – Types and Shadows, Part III

In the last editorial, we began looking at Colossians 2:14–17. A minimum of nine lines of evidence was given showing that the law described in this passage of Scripture could not have been the Ten Commandment Law. But it is not enough to begin to understand that this passage is not talking about the Ten Commandments. We want to know what this passage is really saying. Since very large treatises have been written about this passage, it is not possible to be exhaustive, and to conserve space, we will look one by one at a number of details.

  1. It has been recognized by Bible commentators for many years that Paul was attempting to correct certain Gnostic practices, which had crept into the church at Colossae. (Gnostics believed that they had secret knowledge about God, humanity, and the rest of the universe of which the general population was unaware.) Gnosticism was one of the major heresies which troubled the New Testament Church and which the apostles fought against so vehemently that the debate fills large sections of the New Testament. One of the major thrusts of the Gospel of John was to attack Gnostic teachings coming into the church. In 1 Timothy, 1 John, Philippians, Ephesians, and the Book of Revelation, some of the ideas of Gnosticism are again attacked. As with any major heresy, there were several branches or flavors, one of which was antinomianism (the belief that, under the gospel dispensation of grace, the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation).
  2. The Christian is not to let any person judge him in regard to eating and drinking and religious practices. Rather, he is to recognize that he will be judged by God and not by any human court. (See 1 Corinthians 4:3, 4.) In Romans 14, when Paul clearly teaches not to judge others concerning worship days, he states strongly that we will all give an account of ourselves concerning worship days to the Lord. (See Romans 14:4–13.)
  3. In addition to eating and drinking, there are three other religious observances about which the Christian is not to let any person (notice that person is singular, and this word is singular in the Greek text) judge him. These three religious observances are (1) feast, (2) new moon, and (3) sabbaths. Although the word for sabbath is in the plural, this plural word is often used in a singular sense and is often used to refer to the seventh day Sabbath. (For examples of the word sabbath used in the plural with a singular meaning in English, see Mark 1:21; 2:23, 24; Luke 4:16; 13:10; Acts 13:14; 16:13.)
  4. There is a stated reason that the Christian is not to allow any other person (i.e., a Gnostic) to judge him concerning religious observances and that is that, first of all, these religious observances are shadows of coming things. Second, these religious observances had been seized upon by Gnostics as a way to gain control of the church. Theology has been used numberless times to gain control of other people’s minds and finally to control them entirely. There are still people today with the same Gnostic attitude attempting to gain control of the church of God by dictating various practices for believers to follow in regard to eating, drinking, working, dressing, feast days, methods of Sabbath observance, ad nauseum.

To be continued . . .