To the Churches in Revelation, Part 2: Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11)
The letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation chapters 2-3 are from Jesus to His people in the 1st century. However, they are more than applicable to us in the 21st century. This wisdom is fitting for times such as these! Times may have changed, but hearts have not.
In part 2 of this series, we’ll look at the church in Smyrna. We’ll see Christ’s diagnosis of them, along with the prescription.
“8 “To the angel (or messenger, or pastor) of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
Background of the church at Smyrna:
- It was celebrated for its schools of science and medicine, its buildings, and wide paved streets.
- The temple of Bacchus, god of wine, was there.
- Many apostate Jews lived there.
- Traditional birthplace of the poet Homer.
- 40 miles south of Ephesus.
- Modern day- Izmir, Turkey: Around 1.7 million population.
Jesus’ Diagnosis- The positive report:
- They had suffered material poverty but God saw them as rich.
- They trusted God amidst intense persecution.
Many believers in Smyrna belonged to the various city labor guilds prior to their conversions. Because of their newfound faith in Christ, they apparently lost rights to the guilds. Many may have gone bankrupt as a result.
In the set up of the guild there was rampant idolatry and sexual-immorality of every kind. The Christians in Smyrna refused to be a part of it. As a result, there were huge economic and social ramifications.
The instigators of the persecution were apostate Jews (who were referred to by Jesus as instruments of Satan). History tells us at the martyrdom of Polycarp (a disciple of John the Apostle, in 168 AD), this particular group eagerly assisted by gathering wood for the fire in which he was burned (this group was also referred to again in Revelation 3:9).
Furthermore, the church at Smyrna was told by their culture that Christianity was nonsense (much like our society today!). But in the end, it will be crystal clear that God’s Word is the only thing that makes sense.
Even though the church at Smyrna was suffering now for a short time, their victory in Christ was secure forever. No one is richer than the one who counts Christ as their true treasure.
There is a very interesting passage at the end of verse 10 that says: “…you will suffer persecution for ten days…” Jesus is telling the church that He will let the devil throw some of them in prison to allow their faith to be tested. We’re not sure if this is a literal 10 days or reference to a period of time.
Regardless of how long this time period was, we see the notion of testing of faith (or spiritual warfare) consistently throughout Scripture from cover to cover (i.e.- Joseph, Job, Paul, and even Jesus’ own life on earth). Romans 8:28 specifically addresses how God allows testing in order to mature His people. Testing is always for our good and for His glory even though it’s not pleasant and may leave battle scars.
Spiritual warfare is real and Satan wants more than anything to sabotage Christ followers. However, God is sovereign over all things and uses suffering to sanctify His Church. This is hard for our finite minds to comprehend, yet it is true nevertheless.
Jesus’ Diagnosis- The negative report:
- None- Does this mean they were a perfect church? No! Smyrna is one of two churches among the seven here in Revelation that no condemnation was given.
Jesus’ Prescription- They were to do 2 things:
- Be fearless.
- Be faithful.
In the midst of the intense persecution, the church at Smyrna was pressured to conform to sinful societal norms. As true followers of Christ, we are called to be faithful and run the race all the way till the end.
The challenge and reward for the faithful-
A common theme you will see in the letters in Revelation is Jesus calling the faithful, aka: true followers, “overcomers.” Those who overcome for Christ will be rewarded eternally. The Bible is very clear that the faithful in Christ can look forward to rewards in heaven. This should encourage us to press us on.
Nothing that this world has to offer can even remotely compare to Christ. We certainly do not want our reward now by giving into the ‘trinkets’ of this world. Our reward in Christ will never perish.
At the end of verse 11, Jesus promises that His followers (“overcomers”) will not ever experience the 2nd death (The 1st death is when our physical bodies die). The second death is exclusively for those who have rejected Christ. It is eternal separation from God for all eternity and it is permanent. There are no 2nd chances. As the beginning of verse 11 shouts, “Whoever has ears, let them hear…”
So who’s listening?
Keep Looking Up,
Rev. Jon Barrett | Director of CVCCS