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Interpretation of Letter to Smyrna

The church at Smyrna was a suffering church (2:8). It was warned about an impending persecution and that some of its members would experience martyrdom (2:10). The church in Smyrna would soon be persecuted and martyred by Jews and heathens. This would happen for "ten days" (2:10). Most commentators take that figure to mean a short but definitely limited period of time. We moderns have similar expressions to denote short periods of time during which traumatic events occur, such as the phrase, "A day of infamy…"

Christ’s introductory title as the One "who died and came to life again" would be encouraging to these potential martyrs (2:8). The church members at Smyrna could face martyrdom in full confidence. They would be resurrected to eternal life by the one who himself was victorious over death through a resurrection.

The members at Smyrna were poverty-stricken people. Yet, Christ says they were spiritually rich (2:9). The contrast with Laodicea is significant. The Laodicean church assumed it was rich, but it was spiritually impoverished (3:27).
Problems at Smyrna (2:9-10)

The church at Smyrna apparently suffered at the hands of a group "who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (2:9). These Jews thought they were the people of God but were actually the representatives of his adversary (John 8:31-47). In all likelihood, the people referred to were local Jewish citizens of Smyrna who opposed the church. They may have been pressing the local government to take action against the Christians.

Why are these people said not to be Jews? They were Jews by race and religion. But they were not spiritual Jews, in the sense that the New Testament defines a Jew. Paul made the point in his writings: "A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit" (Romans 2:29). The church saw itself as the Israel of God, the "true circumcision" who worshiped God in Spirit and put its faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:3). Promise to Smyrna (2:10-11)

The church at Smyrna would receive the "crown of life" (2:10). The crown here is stephanos in Greek, not the diadema, or royal crown. The stephanos was the victory wreath or trophy awarded to the winner of the games. A Roman magistrate who performed well also received a stephanos at the end of his term of office. In like manner, Christians who serve Christ will receive the victor’s crown in that they conquer the world in Christ, the Lamb, and the victory is modeled in their faithful service to him (1 Corinthians 9:24).

The overcomers in the Smyrna church will not be hurt by "the second death" (2:11). Revelation identifies the second death as the lake of fire (21:8). It is the second or eternal death. This death has no power over the faithful who have a part in the resurrection (20:6).