A Bit of Background Concerning the Church At Smyrna:
- A port city located about 35 miles north of Ephesus. Current location is known as Izmir, Turkey.
- A disciple of the apostle John served as pastor there until he was martyred around 155 AD.
- A city of obvious wealth, known for its resorts, spas, and market places (Hunter, 29). First-hand geographical accounts in the first century describe Smyrna as “a beautiful city”.
- We are not told in the Bible how the church came to exist in the city, many assume the gospel spread there from Ephesus.
- The normal pattern for the letter given to each of the churches includes a: Commendation, Correction, Consequence of unheeded correction, and Conquering Promise. The church at Smyrna is one of two churches (along with Philadelphia) not given a Correction/Consequence.
- This is also the shortest of the 7 letters.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
- “angel” – see comments on 2.1 – most like a reference to the church leader.
- “the first and the last who died and came to life” – a description first used on Jesus in 1.17-18. The first portion of this description, “the first and the last” emphasizes Jesus authority over time (omniscience and sovereignty).
- The latter, “died and came to life” describes his power over sin. Paul also wrote about Jesus’ resurrection and it’s power over sin and death in 1 Cor. 15.55-57.
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- This description of Jesus also emphasizes his divinity when evaluated from a macro perspective.
9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
- “I know” – Because Jesus is operates outside of time, He is fully aware of the situation with the church at Smyrna.
- APP – When we look at God’s knowledge of our suffering through the lens of faith, this truth can become one of the most comforting thoughts for believers who find themselves suffering. However, when we remove faith, this is probably one of the most troubling thoughts unbelievers/agnostics might wrestle with?
- Because Jesus had “died and came to life”, he is personally familiar with suffering
- “your tribulation and your poverty” – being caused in this case by “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Some have suggested that the Jews of Smyrna may have been falsely accusing the Christians within the court system, thus causing suffering. They were probably impacted financially through this process as well.
- “but you are rich” – God’s economy is different from our material economy. Financial prosperity is often viewed as more of a hindrance than a blessing. Riches are better evaluated through spiritual glasses. Consider:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Mark 10.25
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? – James 2.5
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. – Galatians 6.7,8
10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
- “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” – “These persecuted believers were not promised escape from tribulation; they were promised instead something far greater: the grace to endure afflictions without fear and the pledge that the one who died and came to life again will certainly bring them through to the “crown of life” (Easley, 37, 38).
- How does a person encounter suffering without fear? In short, they must realize that God is bigger than the problems they encounter.
- APP – Suffering has in many ways become foreign to the American church. We strive for comfort in every aspect of our lives. Whereas Paul, longed to experience suffering (Phil. 3.10). A biblical perspective of suffering, although never candy-coating the difficulties it may bring, instead suggests that suffering can be used as a tool for our sanctification and ability to minister to others.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1.2-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. – 2 Cor. 1.3-5
- “tested” – meaning, tempted to sin.
- “for ten days you will have tribulation” – Some suggest the letters to the churches be understood as a description of the church though various years. They suggest these 10 days refer to the great persecutions the church faced from 100-316AD and note 10 distinct periods of persecution during that time (Hunter, 28). This manner of biblical interpretation seems a bit misplaced when looking at hermeneutical approaches in general. Instead, it is better to see these letters to be have been written and received to actual churches within a specific context. Thus, the church at Smyrna will be facing an intense, but brief period of suffering, a period which includes imprisonment and possible martyrdom. This may be a literal 10 days or could be understood to be a limited period of time that has a definite conclusion.
- “be faithful unto death” – “keep on becoming faithful, keep on proving faithful unto death.” Our response to suffering to remain and strengthen our faith in the sovereign, suffering, Lord. There is also an element of “display your faith during your suffering” here as well.
- APP – Is there another way that shows Jesus as completely worthy, than when his people encounter suffering and remain faithful.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity?Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. – Job 2.9, 10
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him… – Job 13.15
- “crown of life” – This phrase may be an intentional contrast to the crown which was given annually to the priests of Dionysus at the end of their year in office. Instead, Jesus offers a true crown (1 Peter 5.4; 1 Cor. 9.25). One of the ways we combat a negative response to suffering to to think on what lies ahead for the believer.
- If we learn but one lesson from the church at Smyrna, it would be: Be faithful in suffering!
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
- “He who has an ear…” – see comments on 2.7.
- “conquers” – to win a victory over
- “the second death” – The first death is merely death of the body; the second death is eternal separation from God. Described in 20.14 as the lake of fire; eternal punishment. For the believer, the second death is not hurtful, but beneficial.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Mt 10:28.