To the angel of the church in Smyrna, write this:
'The first and the last, who once died but became to life, says this : "I know your tribulation and poverty, but you are rich. I know the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan. Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.'
"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor shall not be harmed by the second death." (Rv 2:8-11)
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).
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For three centuries Smyrna had been one of the most important cities in Asia Minor. Jesus’ message to Smyrna highlights contrasts: the one “who is the First and the Last,” who was dead but came to life, speaks to those who are impoverished yet rich, persecuted by those who claim to be Jews but are not, and will, like Jesus, find life in death.
Like the church in Smyrna, Christians are persecuted worldwide in obvious and insidious ways. This letter warns all Christians that although we may suffer greatly, the length of tribulation will be short compared to the promise of eternal life.
Smyrna was a Greek city founded in antiquity located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Since 1930, the modern city located there has been known as İzmir, in Turkey.