Rev 2:8-11 – To the Church in Smyrna

Christian MölkRevelation Leave a Comment

Rev 2:8

  1. Smyrna was a large and rich trading city just north of Ephesus. Smyrna means “myrrh”, a sweet perfume that was used to anoint the dead, but was also an ingredient in Israel’s holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-25), which was used to anoint and sanctify priests, among other things.
    1. When David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel, it did not mean a trouble-free life of total success. David was persecuted by Saul and had to suffer a lot through his life, but despite that, God was with him and blessed him in everything he did.
      1. In the same way, we believers today must remember that God has not promised us a problem-free life of blessing and success alone. But God has promised to be with us always and has given us of his Spirit to strengthen us and help us.
      2. No matter how hard the world persecutes us, we must never forget that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
    1. Strange as it may sound, the death and sufferings of the Smyrna congregation were like holy anointing oil before God. When the Christians of Smyrna died and suffered for their faith, it was a holy act before God.
  2. The people of the city of Smyrna were very involved in the Roman imperial cult and worshipped the Roman emperors. In 196 BC a special temple was built to Dea Roma, the Roman goddess, and in 23 AD a temple was built to Emperor Tiberius.
    1. The Roman emperor Domitian (reigned from 81 to 96 AD), was the first Roman emperor to require all Roman citizens to worship the emperor as “Lord”, a religious and political test of loyalty. Every year, incense had to be lit at the altar of the imperial cult, after which a certificate was issued to certify that the ritual had been performed.
      1. To worship the emperor and confess him as “Lord” was completely unthinkable for the vast majority of Christians, they confessed only Jesus as Lord. This refusal, however, caused many Christians to suffer and some ended up as martyrs.
      2. It was probably under this emperor that the apostle John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos.
  3. The title “the first and the last” is, according to Isaiah 41:4, 44:6 and 48:12, a title that belongs to YHWH, the Lord God. When Jesus uses this title about himself (see also Rev 1:11 and 1:17), it is to show that he is the Lord God.
    1. “I am who I am” is “ehyeh asher ehyeh” in Hebrew and is shortened to “I am” in English and “ehyeh” in Hebrew. Of course, when Moses had to say God’s name to the people of Israel, he could not say “I am” but was told by God to say “He is” instead, which becomes “YHWH” and is usually pronounced “Yahweh”.
    2. Although God had said that this was the name Israel could use, they considered the name too holy to be pronounced, except on certain occasions in the Temple, so they pronounced “adonaj” (“kyrios” in Greek and “lord” in English) instead of “YHWH”.
    3. By using a title for himself that belongs to YHWH, the Lord, Jesus shows that the Christians in Smyrna are right not to worship the emperor as Lord because only Jesus is Lord!
  4. The church in Smyrna suffered a lot, and certainly some had been martyred, so Jesus presents himself as the one who has power over both death and life. Even if the Christians of Smyrna die for their faith, they will, like Jesus, have new life again.

Rev 2:9

  1. When you suffer for your faith, you may sometimes think that God has forgotten you and no longer hears your prayers for help. But Jesus testifies that he really knows how they feel, he “feels” their suffering.
  2. Although Smyrna as a city was rich, the Christians of Smyrna were poor. This was part of the persecution suffered by Smyrna’s Christians. Perhaps they lost business contacts and opportunities when they refused to worship the Emperor as Lord.
    1. Probably it was this that had made their faith so strong, because those who were not prepared to sacrifice everything for Jesus, they probably left quite quickly.
  3. In worldly terms, the Christians of Smyrna were poor, but according to Jesus, they were rich!
    1. We Christians can be compared to the children of kings. When we are not in our palace, it is quite possible that we may get into trouble, be persecuted or be considered poor, but the truth is that we are the richest in the whole kingdom and have an inheritance waiting for us.
  4. In contrast to Smyrna is the church of Laodicea, which thought of itself as rich, but according to Jesus was poor (Rev 3:17).
    1. It is not necessarily wrong to have a lot of money as a Christian; there is no automatic blessing in being poor. But the fact is that spiritual wealth is not measured by the number of crowns in the bank account, so the person who has a lot of money can, according to Jesus, be poor, while the person who is poor is actually rich.
    2. According to Jesus, it is difficult “for the rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23-25), but just because you are rich doesn’t mean that you, as a Christian, have to give up all your money to enter the kingdom of God. However, you do need to be careful not to let money rule your life (Matthew 6:24).
  5. According to history, there was a relatively large Jewish population in Smyrna and they don’t seem to have accepted Jesus as Lord, rather they made a mess of the Jews who believed in Jesus.
    1. For the sake of simplicity, it may be useful to distinguish between the terms “ethnic Jew” and “religious Jew”. The absolute majority of the first Christians were ethnically Jews, so when Jesus says that the Jews who mock the Christians only “call themselves Jews”, he is not talking about ethnicity, but means that a true Jew religiously is a Jew who believes in Jesus. The Jews who did not believe in Jesus were, of course, ethnically still Jews, but religiously they were not Jews because “he who is a Jew is one inwardly” (Rom 2:29a).
    2. Jesus’ calling these Jews who persecute Christians “Satan’s synagogue” does not mean that all Jews belong to Satan, as the vast majority of Christians were ethnically Jews, but it does mean that this persecution was influenced by Satan himself.

Rev 2:10

  1. The Christians of Smyrna had already suffered and would suffer even more. Of course they were afraid, but Jesus encourages them and shows them that he is in control of the situation and that they can be safe no matter what happens.
  2. To show concretely that he is in control of the situation, Jesus tells them exactly what kind of persecution will come next: they will be thrown into prison for ten days. When the Christians were then rightly thrown into prison, they could be sure that liberation would also come 10 days later.
  3. This persecution came from the devil, but just as with the sufferings Job suffered, God allows and limits the suffering and decides when it will end.
  4. Since this persecution came from the devil, why didn’t God stop it? Because God had a purpose for this persecution. God is not the one who gives us suffering, but sometimes he allows the suffering that the devil causes in order to teach us something, make us grow in our faith or something like that (1 Peter 1:6-7).
  5. The church in Smyrna was put to the test, but it certainly seems that they passed the test. Of all the churches and cities mentioned in Revelation, only Smyrna remains today.
  6. In New Testament times, there were two different kinds of crowns, one worn by kings and one that served as a prize at athletic competitions. If the Christians of Smyrna are faithful unto death, they will receive a crown as a prize for winning. The prize they would win if they were faithful unto death is life, eternal life.
    1. It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “crown” is “stephanos”, the name of the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:59).
    2. Athletes win crowns of leaves that eventually wither and die, but Jesus’ disciples win crowns of life that never withers and dies.
    3. It is remarkable that Jesus gives this kind of crown to those who are faithful in spite of suffering. Otherwise, one sometimes hears from success theologians that God gives success and riches to those who follow him. Here, on the contrary, it is those who are poor and suffering who win the prize.
  7. One of those martyred in Smyrna was Polycarp (69-155), a disciple of the Apostle John. According to tradition, Polycarp was ordered to confess that the Emperor is Lord and to burn incense at the altar of the Emperor’s cult, to which he is said to have replied: ‘For 86 years I have served him, and he has not wronged me. How shall I reproach my King, who hath saved me?” After this answer, he was burned at the stake along with twelve other Christians, but was stabbed with a knife when the fire did not take hold. (Polycarp’s Martyrdom, chapter 18.)

Rev 2:11

  1. The messages given to the various churches in Revelation are, of course, primarily addressed to the local churches, but they may well have great significance for individual Christians and churches around the world even today. 
    1. The churches going through persecution today can be greatly blessed by reading texts like these and encouraged by Jesus’ message to the church in Smyrna.
    1. Although we in the West are spared, countless Christians are currently being persecuted, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. Some even claim that more Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined.
  2. Dying here on earth is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing that can happen is to die the second death”. According to Revelation 20:14, the “lake of fire”, where death and hell are cast, is the “second death” and there all those are cast who do not have their names written in the book of life (Rev 20:15).
Share & Print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *