8 "To the angel of the church in Smyrna, write this: "'The first and the last, who once died but came to life, says this:

9 "I know your tribulation and poverty, but you are rich. I know the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan.

10 Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 "'"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor shall not be harmed by the second death."'  Version: New American Bible

COMMENTS

General:

  • The second of the seven letters is directed to Smyrna, another city facing persecution in the face of the imperial cult.
    • Of the seven letters, only this and the letter to the Philadelphians contain no censure.
    • It isn't necessary for every Christian class or sermon to challenge or admonish; sometimes motivation comes better with encouraging words or stimulating instruction.
  • In verse 8, "the first and the last" (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6) is reference to the Lord Almighty. Jesus' divinity is in view. His coming back to life suggests that, no matter how hard things become, we can and should have hope.
  • The Smyrnaeans had gone through tribulation and poverty (v.9). Though materially challenged, spiritually they were rich.
  • They faced significant opposition from the local synagogue (v.9).
    • These were Jews who vigorously opposed the followers of Jesus.
      • This is similar to the situation in the book of Acts, where most opposition comes from the Jews.
      • Roman persecution was still rare in the first century until the end of the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD), when emperor worship was enforced on all citizens, especially in the province of Asia.
      • Jesus calls these opponents of his followers a "synagogue of Satan." See John 8:44.
    • More suffering is on the way (v.10), and Jesus wants them to be prepared.
      • Some will be incarcerated.
      • Others will be tested "for ten days." This is a symbolic number, meaning for an extended period. For parallels ("ten days," "ten times"), see Numbers 14:22; Nehemiah 4:6; Job 19:3; and especially Daniel 1:12,14.
      • Persevering through trials leads to the crown of life. See also James 1:12.
      • We are not to fear suffering, but embrace it.
      • The Smyrnaeans are called to persevere unto death. Execution is on the way. See also 12:11.
  • Once again the churches are to listen (v.11). If they do, they will not be harmed by the second death.
    • The first death is physical death. No Christian should imagine himself exempt from this.
    • The second death is hell. See 20:14 and 21:8, and also Matthew 10:28.

Advanced:

  • Click for more on Smyrna.
  • The Jews of verse 9 were not (Messianic) Jews who joined the Christian movement. In the first century, all the true Jews (Romans 9:6ff) accepted Christ; those who did not showed that they were not God's chosen people.
  • In the N.T., tribulation is nearly always something Christians go through -- not non-Christians.
    • Thlipsis / thlibomai (trouble, distress, suffering / press hard, crush, experience trouble) appears 54x in the Greek N.T. In nearly every case it refers to the sufferings we as disciples of Christ are called to undergo.
    • This means that most of what is touted as "biblical" teaching on the Apocalypse (the Tribulation) is in error.

Thought questions:

  • If I am not blessed with the things of this world, do I realize that I am truly rich in the spiritual world? See 2 Corinthians 8:9 and James 1:9-10; there is always another way to look at our situation.
  • Do I shirk the call to suffer for Christ, or embrace it?

Next: The letter to Pergamum.

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