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Jesus Addresses Smyrna, the Suffering Church
The Book of Revelation includes seven letters Jesus instructed the Apostle John to address to seven separate churches which were in existence at the time John was given this Vision.
In this article we will look at the second of these seven letters written to the congregation at Smyrna (Chapter 2, verses 8-11).
We will begin with an overview, then the actual verses taken from the Book (with my commentary added), concluded by an historical summary about the city of Smyrna.
May you be blessed by the comforting words Jesus imparts to the congregation in Smyrna, "the suffering church".
The Letter to Smyrna
Due to relentless attacks brought upon them by local Jews, this message to Smyrna is one of comfort, and the first of just two churches Jesus has only praise for.
2:8-9 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. "
Seemingly put under heavy duress by a malignant group of blasphemous Jews, Smyrna is addressed during a time they were suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ.
With full knowledge of the congregation's present and future suffering and persecution, however, Jesus seeks to comfort them.
By His title, "the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life", He virtually joins with them in their affliction. As the Living Savior, who became dead but lived again (having suffered death, yet triumphed over it); this afflicted congregation was being assured that in Jesus they too would pass through suffering and death and into an everlasting joy in the world to come.
Although the Smyrna church was destitute, powerless, and duly crushed under the heel of persecution, Jesus tells them, "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)." Smyrna was rich, in spite of their condition, because they stayed true to God and thus found favor with Him. One's true faith is the only true riches, and those works accomplished to the glory of Christ (and subsequently stored in heaven) are the only true treasure (Matt.6:19-21).
By His statement, "and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan", Jesus identifies the source of the church's persecution.
Seemingly, these were those with Jewish extraction and thus considered themselves Jews, but because of their bitter opposition to Christ and His people, not a true Jew in the eyes of God (see Rom.2:28, 29). Because they were serving Satan and not God by persecuting the Church, Jesus refers to them as the "synagogue of Satan".
2:10 "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.
Allow me to set up my comments to this passage with the following fictitious letter we will imagine has been posted as a church bulletin at Smyrna.
Over the last several months, our impoverished fellowship has come under brutal attack by the Jews in Smyrna. When we gather, they are at our doors screaming profanities as we make our way in. During our service, they pound relentlessly on the walls and doors to disrupt us. As we depart, we get spit on, manhandled, or pelted by stones. As a result, many new believers are dropping out, and fewer unbelievers come to visit. Moreover, those of us who remain are finding it difficult not to feed upon each other's fears and apprehensions.
Because we have been taught that God has jurisdiction over our enemies and always stands ready to deliver His people, we have been praying for God's intervention. We can report a miracle! We are told that John the Apostle had a spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ during his imprisonment and has sent a letter personally addressed to us by our Lord. So we will gather this evening and read the letter, and tonight learn what God has in store for us. Let us remain hopeful that our deliverance is near.
Okay, now imagine yourself within the congregation as the pastor reads this actual letter addressed to Smyrna.
It speaks nothing of deliverance, only of an impending persecution even more terrible than before. Would your heart sink? I'm going to suggest that many hearts in Smyrna sunk. They were about to be severely tested, and they would have to trust God through all of it. (Compare to James 1:2-3).
"...and you will have tribulation ten days."
This is taken by some commentators to mean that Smyrna's trial would be "frequent" as in "day after day". Others take it as "short lived" as in a literal period of just ten days. Yes, trials can be frequent. James and Peter both speak of having endured "various trials" (Jas.1:2; I Peter 1:6). It's also true that trials are really just short lived. As Paul notes, when compared to the eternal benefits we derive from them, trials are "but for a moment" (2 Cor.4:17). In either case, trials are inevitable. The Bible says, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim.3:17).
It should be mentioned, however, that the Bible does record one other incident where the servants of God were tested for ten days.
According to the prophet Daniel, he, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego endured a fast for a period of ten days (Dan.1:12) that caused them to be exalted in the eyes and the court of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan.1:14-21). Though the testing of Daniel was measurably less severe then what was about to befall Smyrna, perhaps its underlying truth spoke to and comforted the congregation. That God can be trusted. He will see us through the trial, and we will become better because of the trial.
2:11 "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." '
Smyrna is one of just two churches that are not admonished (the other is Philadelphia), so Jesus concludes on the high note of two promises.
To the faithful, Jesus says, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." This speaks of the reward that will be given to those who, out of deep love for Christ, endure temptation (Jas.1:12).
And to the redeemed, Jesus says, "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." This speaks of eternal life. For the "second death" speaks of being cast into the lake of fire, which is the eternal abode of the unsaved (Rev.20:14). The redeemed will not be hurt by this death.
Known for its schools of science and medicine, as well as its elaborate buildings, the city of Smyrna (during Roman times) was considered the most brilliant city in Asia Minor. Although the origin of the church at Smyrna is uncertain, it is known that Polycarp (the first Bishop of the church) did suffer martyrdom in 166 AD (due in large part to the Jews). It is the only remaining city of these addressed in Revelation, and today (in Turkey) is known as Izmir.
About the Author
James Kobzeff is an evangelical born-again Christian who has long had a passion for the Church to know the Revelation. His commentary is the result of having studied and taught the Book many times over the past thirty years and is considered a continual work-in-process.
You can read more at his blog Learn the Revelation
Other Church Letters
- Revelation 2 (1-7): The Letter to Ephesus, the Insincere Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Ephesus is a grieving lament. See why, and what did He mean they left their first love, they could have their lampstand removed, they resisted the Nacolaitans?
- Revelation 2 (12-17): The Letter to Pergamos, the Carnal Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Pergamos is one of rebuke. See why, and what He meant by where satan's throne is and where he dwells, Balak's stumbling block, the Nicolaitans, a white stone.
- Revelation 2 (18-29): The Letter to Thyatira, the Idolatrous Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Thyatira is one of strong rebuke. See why, and what did He mean by the woman Jezebel, cast her into a sickbed, rule them with a rod of iron?
- Revelation 3 (1-6): The Letter to Sardis, the Spiritually Dead Church
This letter Jesus addresses to the church at Sardis is a call for them to wake up. See why, and what did He mean they were alive but dead, that He would come as a thief, that names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life?
- Revelation 3 (7-13): The Letter to Philadelphia, the Faithful Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Philadelphia contains no rebuke. See why, and what He mean by the synagogue of Satan, hour of trial, and does Jesus suggest the rapture?
- Revelation 3 (14-22): The Letter to Laodicea, the Lukewarm Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Laodicea contains a strong rebuke. See why, and what He mean I wish you were cold or hot, I will spew you out of my mouth, I stand at the door and knock?