“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: 9 “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. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 “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.”
1. HISTORIC CONTEXT:
Smyrna was a seaport in the Aegean Sea; It’s located about 40 miles north of Ephesus. At the end of the first century it was a large city with a population of approximately 100,000 inhabitants. Still today it is a prosperous city known as “Izmir”, with a population of about 200,000.
Smyrna, or ‘myrrh’ in Greek, was a perfume used to embalm the dead bodies (John 19:39). Its smell is extracted more when crushed. As a city, Smyrna had died several times, due to invasions and earthquakes, but each time it had risen because residents were still rebuilding it. In Smyrna, a goddess called “Cybele” was worshiped, whom they considered the personification of the annual rejuvenation of nature. Her devotees claimed that she resurfaced every spring.
The book of Acts does not mention who founded this faithful church or when; the only indirect indicative of it is found in chapter 19:10 “And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” It is said that in this city was carrying out mass executions of Christians who were not willing to give up their faith despite the great pressure they had.
2. PRESENTATION OF JESUS:
• The first and the last: This title refers to the preeminence of Christ and His eternal validity. The first Greek word is ‘protos’ as the ultimate principle; the first in influence and rank; and the second ‘eskhatos’ has to do with the last one in time, and with being at the final end of something. Jesus is described as the One on both sides of all things, at the beginning and at the end.
As we have already seen, only God the Father calls Himself in this way (Is. 41: 4, 44: 6 and 48:12) but Jesus a rms four times in Revelation to be equal to the Father (1:11, 17; 2:8 and 22:13).
• He who was dead and lived: One can ask, how is it that God is eternal and at the same time He can die and live again? That is why Jesus became incarnate in order to die, otherwise He would not have been the sacrifice for sin. Jesus went through
the deep valley of death and separation of the soul from His body but experienced resurrection and now lives. Death could not hold Him back.
Hebrews 7:16 “[the priesthood of Jesus] who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.”
These two facets of the revelation of Christ are what this church needed in the midst of the trial that was going on and that still awaited them: prison and martyrdom. They needed to know Jesus in this depth to stay faithful until death. Being in a test of this caliber is encouraging to know Jesus as the One who was dead but now lives and who has power over death and Hades. So even the worst that could happen to them was not going to make them give up their faithfulness to Christ.
3. RECOGNITION OF THE VIRTUDES
• “I know …” Jesus as the truth, knows perfectly who they are, what they do and
what was happening in them and around them.
- – “Your works” As Jesus walks among the lampstands He is aware of their actions to the point of detail, nothing takes Him by surprise.
- – “Your tribulation” He knew the di culties they were facing, more specifically the pressure they were experiencing because of the harassment of the Jews. God is never disconnected from what happens to His people. The Romans pressed the inhabitants of the various cities to o er adoration to Caesar (Domitian) or otherwise face death. They proposed the option: ‘either you o er incense to Caesar and we give you your certificate so that you can continue with your life or you die; it’s up to you.’
- – “Your poverty (but you are rich)”: Their persecutors had cut their income. Jesus knows the great shortage that they were going through but He makes it clear to them: ‘You do not have that concept of yourself, before Me you are rich and that is what counts the most. Do not evaluate yourself only for your material circumstances but for what I say about you.’2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For our light a iction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
- – “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” Jesus knew the people who were making war against them, these “Jews” had religious appearance but in reality were not Jews but a synagogue where Satan reigned whose name means “Adversary”. It might seem impossible that this ‘Jewish’ religious system was actually a place where the devil’s plans were fulfilled.Repeatedly the Jews slandered (Acts 17: 5-9); struck (Acts 18: 12-17), stoned (Acts 14:19); they stirred up the people against them (Acts 17:13), killed them and even forced Christians to blaspheme Christ (Acts 26:10-11).
4. EXHORTATION: PERSEVERE IN THE TEST
• “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to su er” It is very interesting that Jesus does not tell them that He is going to free them from the su ering but that they should not fear in midst of it. Not to fear is a commandment that the Lord gives us because He has power over everything. Thus we overcome fear by trusting in Him. To fear or to be courageous is a decision that we make depending on who we are listening to, whether to God or to the devil.
In the first century, the enemies of the Christians accused them of: cannibalism, immorality, destroying homes, atheism, political disloyalty and by incendiaries for thinking that the world was going to be burned.
• “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested”
How would you feel if we receive a letter from Jesus saying: ‘Houses of Light Church the devil is going to throw some of you in jail to be tested ?’ Surely it would be shocking but the reason why He allows this to happen is so that they could be tested and rewarded.
As we said, under the Roman legal system, imprisonment was not usually a punishment in itself; rather it was used as a means of pressure to compel obedience to an order issued by a magistrate or as a place where the prisoner was temporarily restricted before execution.
Then the imprisonment was a trial period, but, from what we see they could only be incarcerated with the permission of God. The purpose of the devil was for them to turn away from the Lord and Jesus wanted to reward them; the final outcome depended on the decision they made. Jesus agrees with the test for what it produces in the heart.
Luke 22: 31-32 “ And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
• “and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death” He anticipates what is going to happen and encourages them to be faithful up to the extreme. Jesus limits the time of the tribulation, He is in control of the duration of the every test.
One interpretation of these ten days, besides being something literal, is that the number ten in the Bible is a su ciency number (Numbers 14:22; 1 Sam 1:8), implying that they would be tested enough, no more no less than they should be, only what is necessary.
James 1:2-4 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
• “and I will give you the crown of life” As we said, the reason why Jesus allows the test is because He wants to give them the crown of life. That is why He does not
hinder the test, however di cult it may seem, because the purpose of tests is to crown them:
James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
1 Peter 5:10 “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have su ered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
From what we see in the cases of all the churches, persecution does not destroy the church, it makes it stronger and more pure.
As we can read, this was the most persecuted church of the seven and yet there was no rebuke from Jesus. The pattern is very clear: where there is more persecution there is less sin and where there is less persecution there is more lukewarmness. Churches that were not persecuted tolerated sin and were spiritually dead.
• “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.” Jesus says: pay attention to what I tell you, if you overcome you will not receive the damage that is more destructive and definitive. The tests here may seem hard but never like the damage of eternity without God.
The second death is going to take place after the Millennium; during the Great Judgment of the White Throne and this second death all those who were not resurrected in the first resurrection will die again. It is basically the eternal separation of God in the lake of fire for all those who were not written in the book of life. It is necessary to overcome so as not to su er this eternal damage.
Revelation 20:6 and 14-15 “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years… 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire”
- What kind of pressure or test are you facing and how does it comfort you that Jesus is the First and the Last, the One who was dead but now He lives?
- According to what Jesus said in this text how can you overcome your fears?
- What is the purpose of Jesus to allow the tests?