The Letter to Smyrna (Rev. 2:8–11)


The Letter to Smyrna (Rev. 2:8–11)

The word “Smyrna” means “sweet-smelling” and comes from the word for “myrrh,” as an embalming spice. It is throughout the Scriptures as an emblem of suffering. Like myrrh, the Smyrna church, known as the suffering church or the persecuted church, was crushed by Roman persecution and the blasphemy of some Jews but gave off the most regnant perfume.

The Correspondent

2:8 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:

This description identifies the message’s sender as the glorified, exalted Christ, described by that phrase in the vision of “the One like the Son of Man” (Rev. 1:18). The phrase, “The first and the last,” is an Old Testament title of the Lord God (Isa. 44:6, 48:12; John 14:10).

The Lord Jesus Christ introduced Himself to the angel of the church in Smyrna as the risen Lord. He said that He is “the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life” (Rev. 2:8). Such description was to bring comfort, encouragement, and power to the persecuted angel and the church believers in Smyrna. The Lord Jesus Christ endured the most unjust and severe persecution anyone has ever suffered (Heb. 12:3–4). He, therefore, serves as a compassionate High Priest, interceding for the persecuted church before God (Heb. 2:17–18; 4:15).

Knowing that the church’s angel in Smyrna was undergoing difficult times, he reminded him that His death and resurrection were for all (Heb. 2:14). Therefore, the angel should not fear death but be “faithful unto death.” He would then receive from God the “crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

The Commendation

2:9 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.

The church at Smyrna was facing intense persecution because of their faithfulness to Christ. Therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ began His commendation of the church’s angel by assuring him that He knew what he was going through.

The church’s angel in Smyrna faced blasphemy by those who said they were Jews yet were not, but were a synagogue of the ultimate blasphemer, Satan. The Lord Jesus Christ told him, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9).

That shocking statement affirmed that those Jews who hated the Lord Jesus Christ and His followers were just as much Satan’s followers as pagan idol worshipers (John 8:44). Moreover, Christ’s use of the strong term “blasphemy,” usually reserved for nasty words against God, indicates the slanderer’s severe, intense wickedness.

The Lord Jesus Christ was also aware of the “poverty” of the church’s angel in Smyrna. Many believers at Smyrna were slaves; most were destitute. Those few who once owned possessions had undoubtedly lost them in the persecution.

Christ’s statement about knowing the suffering of the angel gave much comfort to him and his church. It also provides much comfort for those who continue to suffer today. We should never forget that “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

While being in the flesh, Christ revealed the Father’s compassion. When God’s people were suffering in Egypt, the Lord God showed His compassion toward them. He “took note of their distress when he heard their cry” (Ps. 106:44, NIV). Therefore He said to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings” (Ex. 3:7, NASU).

Christ sees things through His divine knowledge. Though the poverty of the church’s angel was evident, Christ saw him spiritually rich. Therefore, He said to Him, “I know… poverty, but you are rich” (Rev. 2:9). On the contrary, the church’s angel at Laodicea was materially rich but spiritually poor (Rev. 3:17).

God sees things differently than we do. For example, Samuel the prophet thought that Eliab would be the king because of his height and appearance. God rejected Eliab and said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:6-8, NASU).

The angel of the church in Smyrna typifies the spiritual richness of the faithful suffering churches throughout history. The angel and the church in Smyrna remained loyal to the Lord, never forsaking His love. He had what mattered, the sympathetic and comforting Savior, along with His salvation, holiness, grace, peace, and love.

The Command

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. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

The Lord Jesus Christ warned the church’s angel in Thyatira that more suffering would be coming and encouraged him and his church. Christ commanded him not to fear what he was about to suffer because God would give him the strength to endure it. Likewise, Christ told His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Then, the Lord Jesus Christ predicted the devil was about to cast some of the congregation in Smyrna into prison. God permitted this as a test. By successfully enduring that trial, He would strengthen their faith (2 Cor. 12:9–10), and they would prove once again that Satan cannot destroy genuine, saving faith.

The Counsel

Christ closes the letter with some final words of encouraging counsel, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The crown of life is the reward promised to the faithful until death (James 1:12).

The crown (reward, culmination, outcome) of genuine saving faith is eternal life. Perseverance proves the genuineness of their faith as they endure suffering and persevere through it (Matt. 10:22, 24:13; Mark 4:13–20; John 8:31; Col. 1:21–23; 1 John 2:19).

2:11 “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.”

Though persecuted believers may suffer the first physical death, the Lord Jesus Christ assured them they would never experience the second death (Rev. 20:14; 21:8). This is because God protects the faithful from the second death and gives them eternal life. Therefore, Christ said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

The persecuted, suffering, and faithful church at Smyrna stands as an example of those who have heard the word in honest and good hearts. They hold it fast and bear fruit with perseverance (Luke 8:15). Because they loyally confessed Him before men, the Lord Jesus Christ will acknowledge them before His Father (Matt. 10:32).

Excerpt from: Revealing the Father through the Book of Revelation, by Hegumen Abraam Sleman

Click here to buy the book from Amazon

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