The Church at Smyrna
(1) The church at Smyrna is one of the two congregations about which the Lord did not say anything bad.
(2) The city itself was very beautiful and many of the people were lifted up with pride and claimed to be “first and would brook no rival” (Hailey 125).
(3) The church was facing intense persecution and needed some hope to keep going.
(4) Therefore, the Lord addresses the church at Smyrna by giving:
I. Acknowledgment of their situation (vv. 8-9).
A. The “angel of the church” was “one who is sent, messenger;” possibly, a preacher or an elder.
B. Jesus addresses Himself as:
1. “The first and the last”
a. Only the Lord was and is eternal.
b. “He was before Smyrna; he would still be when Smyrna was no more” (Taylor 96).
c. “His primacy must be universally recognized” (Hailey 125).
2. “Who was dead, and has come to life”
a. “The Lord’s victory over death and His present position should inspire confidence within a church that was about to suffer imprisonment and tribulation even unto death” (Hailey 125).
b. “As he was victorious over death, so they too can face martydom knowing that faithfulness is rewarded with eternal life” (Mounce 92).
C. Jesus knew of their situation (v. 9).
1. “I know” – The Lord had a complete knowledge of their condition and needs
2. The church at Smyrna was characterized by tribulation and poverty.
a. Jews would have been drawn to Smyrna as a commercial fertile field.
b. Christians would find it difficult to make a living in the antagonistic environment created by the Jews.
(1) It appears that the Jews were persecuting Christians to the extent of imprisonment and even death.
(2) This put the Jews in league with the pagans.
(3) It is thought that the Jews called for the death of Polycarp and even helped gather wood on the Sabbath day for his execution.
(a) Polycarp, in the face of death, is quoted as saying, “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” (qtd. in Mattox 65).
(b) He would be an example of this situation later on around A.D. 167.
(4) These Jews were now false Jews (cf. Rom. 2.28-29, Phil. 3.18-19).
D. Jesus calls this church “rich.”
1. They were not rich in this world’s goods.
2. More importantly, they were rich spiritually (Matt. 6.19-21).
3. James 2.5 – God chooses the poor in this world to be rich in faith
4. They would be recipients of the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3.8).
5. “Their poverty was offset by a far greater wealth than silver and gold; they were rich in faith and favor with God and in all the attendant blessings of glory that belong to the heavenly citizenship” (Hailey 126).
II. Assurance in their suffering (vv. 10-11)
A. Jesus tells them that more sufferings are on the way.
B. They are to react by not being afraid.
1. “Fear not” – Only fear the one who can destroy both body and soul (Matt. 20.28).
2. “The suffering would be sure, but short, and very short in view of the eternal reward ultimately theirs” (Taylor 98).
a. “These 10 days of tribulation were to be a short period of time, not a literal 10 days” (West 43).
b. Some say that the 10 days is symbolic of a full period of time, prolonged but definitely limited (see Mounce 94).
(1) If so, then years of intense persecution would proceed until the Edict of Toleration under Constantine in A.D. 313.
(2) “The important thing was not so much the quantity of time but the quality of their faithfulness through it all” (Taylor 98).
3. Instead of being afraid, they were to be faithful.
a. A. T. Robertson suggests that this meant to “keep on proving faithful unto death.”
b. This carries the idea that faithfulness to Christ and His word was more important than life itself.
4. The reward for their faithfulness would be a “crown of life.”
a. The city itself had an acropolis on Mount Pagas, which gave the appearance of a crown, which became the symbol of the city (Hailey 125).
b. Further, a crown of victory was awarded to athletic and military victors.
c. Here, Christians are said to receive an incorruptible crown of victory from the Lord Himself.
(1) Earthly crowns would fade away.
(2) Our spiritual crown will never fade away (cf. 1 Cor. 9.25; 1 Pet. 5.4).
(3) Christ declares us the victors and there will be no recount!
C. In verse 11, Jesus applies this to all the churches.
1. Any who will be faithful at all time and at all costs will too receive this crown.
2. They will not taste of “the second death.”
a. This is the lake of fire, everlasting punishment (Rev. 20.14).
b. We will be spared because Jesus paid the debt for us and we accepted His gift.
(1) Could the Lord commend you on your continual faithfulness?
(2) If we are faithful, then we know that it is not in vain (1 Cor. 15.58).
(3) Do you have the crown of life waiting for you?