Many people ask who or what are the “synagogue of satan” mentioned in the Book of Revelation, as they get a wrong impression of Jews from a statement made in the Book of Revelation chapter 2 verse 9 where it mentions a certain phrase that was understood 2000 years ago in the first Century persecution that is no longer understood today by readers without the cultural context of the language and persecution 2000 years ago and thus it causes many misunderstandings!
The phrase used 2000 years ago was originally “an assembly of Beliel” which in Greek got written as “sunagōgē to satanas” or literally in English “a synagogue of adversaries” but in Revelations is translated “synagogue of Satan” unfortunately causing people to think negatively of Jews and our synagogues as everywhere else in scripture the Christian translators translated the word for “assembly” erroneously as church where it had a positive connotation, but in two places in Revelation where it has a negative association with an assembly doing wrong they sadly chose to use “synagogue” to disparage the Jews, when in fact this term “an assembly of Beliel” (i.e. “a synagogue of Satan”) was simply a common term referring to a group of “so called Jews” who persecute other Jews like Saul (Paul) did… Or like other elitists with evil agendas today…
In Revelation 2:8–9 it says,
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (the key word here to understanding this is the Assembly of Messianic Jewish believers in Smyrna’s were being afflicted or persecuted – Smyrna being the description of Messianic Jews who are willing to die for their faith.)
…and in Revelation 3:7–9
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write… “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” (The inference here is that “true” Jews are loving to all, emulating the Divine attributes, and anyone who claims to be a Jew but is not Loving (like the Assembly of Philadelphia is representing) are not “true” to the Jewish faith and thus called of the “assembly of Satan”.
As mentioned above, the Greek word translated “synagogue” literally means “an assembly” and the word “Satanas” means “adversaries.” So John was told that the believers in Smyrna and Philadelphia would suffer persecution from “an assembly of adversaries”. The term satan from it’s earliest use in Psalms is further understood to be the inner adversary of the ego, i.e. the selfish nature which causes division and persecutes others who are different!
Note: The phrase does not mean that Jewish people are satanic or that synagogues are bad! It is simply a phrase to describe those who persecute others!
The context of this phrase only meant to convey that certain Messianic Jewish Assemblies (described as Smyrna and Philadelphia, the two symbolic two candles of the Menorah who also represent God’s witnesses in the last days) were persecuted by other so called Jews instilled in leadership by Rome. The proof of this is confirmed in the fact that similar cultural language of that day is found used in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where a small persecuted Jewish sect considered those engaged in the falsely imposed Greco/Roman leaders of Judaism apostate, and called its persecutors “the lot of Belial” (Satan), as the sect at Qumran held to a belief that those on the side of good were elected by God and governed by the power of light, while the wicked were seen as “the lot of Belial” and constrained to do evil. (War Scroll 1:142)
There is not much difference between the unbelieving Jewish persecutors in Revelation and the unbelieving Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the church unto death (Acts 9:1–2; 22:20). Saul, in his unregenerate state, thought the followers of “the Way,” were against the “system” so he attacked it and sought to destroy it. This was because the persecutors like Saul were being prejudiced by their teachers and Roman imposed rulers of the day, who being uninformed, were encouraged to oppose the early Believers, similar to those who persecute believers today. In fact the book of Acts claims twice that Paul was a Roman citizen ( Acts 16:37-38 Acts 22:25-28 ) who spoke Greek (Act 21:37), and as such, he bore the Latin name “Paulus” , which in Greek is shown in the NT as Παῦλος. (Note: Many false leaders and false priests and false teachers in Judea were put into place by the Greeks to Hellenize and assimilate the Jews, and this is why the true Zadok priests hid themselves and their identity in Qumran as “the Essenes”.)
Later, when Shaul/Paul heard the voice on the Damascus Road, his life was transformed and he ceased persecuting the body of believers and became an apostle and believer God had sent Yeshua as Messiah ben Joseph.
Unfortunately, these two verses in Rev. 2:9; 3:9 have led to much anti-Semitism down through the centuries and sadly some Gentiles (including some Christians), have used them to speak negative of the Jewish people or to go so far as to even deny that Yeshua himself was Jewish. However, such people do so because of personal prejudice, blind hatred, and ignorance concerning whom the Bible is identifying in these two verses… and I write this article hoping to enlighten so this ignorance and negativity does not continue as Israel is the Apple of God’s eye and He does not desire that any should think negative, speak negative or act negative against any of His people!
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Torah Parashah teaching with video and audio and illustrations by Rabbi Isaac. © Assembly of Called-Out Believers. Use by Permission.