“Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” Revelation 2:10b
Smyrna was a harbor city located about 40 miles northwest of Ephesus. The church in Smyrna is one of two churches that Jesus doesn’t have criticism for. Instead, Jesus tells them that He knows, both by observation and experience, their sufferings that they are enduring. He encourages them that things are not what they seem. They are physically poor, but spiritually rich! While it may appear that they are being defeated, they are victorious in their sufferings and death for His sake.
“Paradox is vivid in the letter to Smyrna, one of Jesus’ two blameless churches. The Smyrnan Christians are poor, yet they are rich. Their opponents claim to be the Jews but are Satan’s synagogue. The victor who is faithful to the extremity of death is promised a crown of life and safety from the second death.”19
“Imprisonment awaited the church at Smyrna, but Jesus assures his faithful ones that the tribulation will be brief, a mere ‘ten days’ (Rev. 2:19). Roman authorities used incarceration not for long-term containment but for short-term custody of those awaiting trial or the sentence of death. Since Jesus’ prediction of coming affliction closes with the exhortation ‘Be faithful until death,’ the release that He promises after the ‘ten days’ may not be a return to freedom on Smyrna’s streets but something better: martyrdom – the apparent defeat that is, paradoxically, the supreme victory.”20
“Some commentators find significance in the particular title of Jesus in 2:8. Centuries before, Smyrna had nearly vanished but had recovered to become a prominent and beautiful city (Strabo, 14.1.37), allowing some to compare it with the mythical phoenix, a symbol of resurrection; Jesus, by contrast, truly rose from death.”21
“Crowns (wreaths of olive, laurel, pine, or celery) were appropriate to victory in battle and more often in athletic competition; hence they became a familiar symbolic image to all adults and most children in Roman Asia.”22
“Whereas ‘overcoming’ in Ephesus required restoration of love (2:4), in Smyrna it demanded withstanding persecution. Popular Jewish teaching on martyrdom already could identify martyrdom with overcoming (4 Macc. 9:24; 17:15), so no one could miss the point. But Revelation especially underlines the point in the image of the triumphant lion as a slain lamb in 5:5-6: We overcome not by returning hostility but by laying down our lives in the confidence that God will vindicate us.”23
“Christians are experiencing economic persecution (e.g., loss of income and jobs, destruction of property, legal trouble), resulting in poverty. This could be related to exclusion from local trade guilds, which provided work but often promoted pagan religious activities that caused Christians to compromise their faith. Yet in spite of their material poverty, Jesus declares them spiritually rich! This stands in contrast to the church Laodicea, which is materially rich but spiritually poor. (3:17)”24
- What does it mean and how does it make you feel when Jesus says, “I know your afflictions?” (Rev. 2:9, Heb. 4:14-16)
- Jesus told the church at Smyrna: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” What is the reason we shouldn’t fear in the face of suffering, challenges, and difficulties? (2 Cor. 4:16-18) Why do we fear?
- How does the truth that we will not be hurt by the “second death” motivate us to live in this life?
- The letter to the church of Smyrna is filled with paradoxical statements: you are poor but you are rich, and you may die but you will live. Can you think of other ways that the kingdom of God is paradoxical?
Take some time this week and think about how often you are ruled by fear. What has that fear kept you from doing or accomplishing?
Confess that fear, ask for help to overcome that fear, and cling to the promises of Jesus.
19, 20 Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2001.
21,22, 23 Keener, Craig S. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
24 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.