There are two places in Scripture that mention the Synagogue of Satan. They are:
(Rev 2:9) 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.
(Rev 3:9) Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
These are the things we know about the Synagogue of Satan. They claim they are Jews, but they are not; they are blasphemous, and they lie. A synagogue comes from the Greek word συναγωγή (sunagoguē) meaning an assembly of persons. The original meaning of the word was an assembly that may have gathered for a specific reason, such as political, fraternal, cultic, military, or some other reason (BDAG, LSJ, Strong’s). For example, the Septuagint uses the word in Genesis 1:9 to signify the gathering of the waters into one place. The Greek word for synagogue came to be used exclusively to indicate a gathering of Jewish believers. A Jewish synagogue was “an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayers and listen to the reading and expositions of the scriptures” (Thayer). The building where the assembly meets can also be called a synagogue, but here we are interested in an assembly of persons, not a building. Additionally Satan, of course, is the great adversary of God and deceiver of mankind (Rev 12:9).
Here is what we know from these two verses:
- A synagogue is an assembly of persons, assembled for a purpose.
- The members of this synagogue claimed to be Jews but were not.
- The members were blasphemers.
- The members were liars.
- They were assembled in the service of Satan, the deceiver, though these members may not have considered themselves blasphemers, liars, or in the service of Satan, because he had deceived them. After all, what believer would so consider himself?
Now it should be fairly easy to recognize who these folks were. Let us begin with the Pharisees. A group of Pharisees had told Jesus they were of the seed of Abraham, but Jesus told them if so, they would have done the good works Abraham had done. Yet they sought to kill Him. Jesus told them they did the deeds of their father. They said they only had one Father, and that was God. Jesus then told them, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). The Pharisees then told Jesus He was possessed of a demon. They rejected Him outright. They were liars and sought to murder Him.
What Jesus was saying is that these Pharisees claimed to be Jews because of their lineage to Abraham. But Jesus told them they were not what they claimed to be but were children of the Devil because they did the Devil’s deeds. These Pharisees certainly did not think they were doing the deeds of Satan; however, they really were doing Satan’s deeds by seeking to kill the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The sect of Pharisees was certainly considered an assembly of Jews, but Jesus told this group of Pharisees they were really an assembly of the children of Satan. We are not talking about literal children, but children in spirit because they were following Satan, though unknowingly. They were a Synagogue of Satan that claimed they were Jews but were not in Jesus’ eyes. They were liars, blasphemers, and assembled in the service of Satan. However, as true as that may be, in the context of our passages, Jesus was not speaking to the Pharisees, but to the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia. Neither of those was within the confines of Israel, where Jesus had spoken to the Pharisees in John 8:44. They were in Asia or modern Turkey. While there may have been Pharisees in those cities, they would not have assembled with the believers in Smyrna or Philadelphia.
Whoever these members of the Synagogue of Satan were, they were intimately connected with these two churches. These folks were either members of those churches, or infiltrators. They were not Pharisees who would not even get near Gentile believers in Christ (See Acts 10:28). They were on intimate terms with these believers.
Paul had this to say of the Jews: Rom 9:6, “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” The NLT puts it this way, “Well then, has God failed to fulfill His promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people!” That is a rather loose translation, but in context that is exactly what Paul was saying. What Paul said here is that to be true Jews, that is, truly God’s people, they must be saved by the blood of Christ. Those who were Jews by lineage were not all Jews by faith in Christ. Only those in Christ were the true Israel of God. Paul goes to say that a remnant of the Jews of his day were true believers in Christ and were thus the true Jews of God (Rom 2:28-29; Rom 9:27; Rom 11:5). We find in Romans chapter eleven that the Gentiles who were believers in Christ were also a part of the true Jews of God. They were adopted children of God (Rom 8:23; Gal 3:7) and grafted into the root stock of true Israel (Rom 11:16). Thus both Jewish believers and Gentile believers made up the general assembly of God’s people Israel (Rom 1:16; Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; See also The Relationship Between Israel and the Church).
There were false teachers going from church to church claiming that to be saved, a Gentile Christian had to believe in Christ, but also had to participate in the Jewish ritual of circumcision, and thus had to follow the 613 Jewish laws. If not, they were not saved (Gal 2:4; Gal 4:29; Tit 1:10). These were known as Judaizers in Gal 2:14. The KJV phrase “live as do the Jews” in Gal 2:14, is the rendering of one Greek word, ᾿Ιουδαΐζειν, Ioudaizein, those who Judaize or Judaizers (verb infinitive present active form of Strong’s ). In Gal 2:14, when Paul confronted Peter about his pretending to live according to Jewish law and customs when fraternizing with the Jews, but not doing so in the presence of Gentiles, he asked Peter, “Why are you a Judaizer in those circumstances?” Apparently Peter accepted the criticism and corrected himself as we can see from Peter’s epistles. These Judaizers were Jews but were not believers (2 Cor 11:13; Gal 2:4). However, even some Jewish Christians were incorrectly teaching that Gentile converts must obey the Jewish laws (Acts 15:1; Gal 2:14).
In conclusion, it is safe to say that the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke in John’s Gospel are not the Synagogue of Satan Jesus refers to in our two study verses (Rev 2:9 & Rev 3:9). Thus, based upon the fact that not all Israelites who claimed to be Israelites but were not (Rom 9:6), we can deduce that those Judaizers were the Synagogue of Satan. They were false teachers who crept in unawares and who claimed to be Christians but were not, were associated with the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia. In what way they were associated is not stated. They may have become regular attenders of those churches or they may have been roaming teachers like the Paul and Barnabas. They claimed to be Christians (saved Jews) but were not. They taught a false teaching that claimed Jesus’ work at Calvary was insufficient and that certain works, i.e. the 613 Jewish laws, were required to make Jesus’ sacrifice to be sufficient. That is a damnable heresy that is still with us today. There are many churches that add works to belief in Christ in order to be saved. Any church that says you must believe in Christ and do something else in addition to that to be saved, like attending church only on Saturday, by wearing certain garments, eating or not eating certain foods, saying liturgies, giving alms, etc., etc. is a false church. Christ and Christ alone is sufficient for salvation without any works.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)