'"And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death".
History: This Church age lasted from 170 A.D. to 312 A.D., covering about 256 years, the beginning reign of the Emporer Constantine. Smyrna was a city located some 40 miles west of Ephesus in western Asia Minor (now known as "Izmir", the chief city of Anatolla in Modern Turkey) Because of its superb natural harbor, it was an important commercial center. In spite of keen competition from the neighboring cities of Ephesus and Pergamum, Smyrna called itself "the first city of Asia." According to Dr. Clarence Larkin in his book entitled "Dispensational Truth", "The fierce persecution of the Smyrna church age was a result of the chastisement of the Ephesus church for losing its "First Love and failing to return to its zeal and enthusaiasm for Christ. This "chastisement" was designed to cause the church to return its true love to God. Thus, the meaning of the name "Smyrna" being "Myrrh or bitterness"
As early as 195 B.C., Smyrna foresaw the rising power of Rome and built a temple for pagan Roman worship. In 23 B.C., Smyrna was given the honor of building a temple to the Emperor Tiberius because of its years of faithfulness to Rome. Thus, the city became a center for the "cult of emperor worship-a fanatical "religion" that later, under such emperors as Nero who ruled in A.D. 54-68 and Domitian who ruled in A.D. 81-96, brought on severe persecution for the early church. The apostle John encouraged the persecuted Christians of Smyrna to be "faithful unto death" and they would receive a "crown of life" (Rev 2:10). To its credit the church at Smyrna was still faithful, and against her no word of reproach was uttered. It was Polycarp's field of Christian usefulness, and here Polycarp suffered martyrdom, in A.D. 168, 86 years after conversion, was its bishop, "the angel of the church in Smyrna." The Lord's allusions to persecutions accord with this identification. The attributes of Him "which was dead and is alive" would comfort Smyrna under persecution.
II. The Letter: "These things said the first and the last, (Alpha and Omega) which was dead but is alive: (verse 8)
Jesus had the Apostle sddress this church in this manner for 2 reasons:
First, he wanted to impress a need for this church to have a deep reverence for Him.He was the first, for by him the foundation of the church was laid in the patriarchal state; and he is the last, for by him the top-stone will be brought forth and laid in the end of time.
Second, to bring a spirit of comfort to them and to encouragfe them to endure the hardship as good soldiers in Christ Jesus as they were constantly under heavy persecution, after all, He was dead, and by dying purchased salvation for us; he is alive, and by his life applies this salvation to us. And if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled by his death, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. His death we commemorate every day; his resurrection and life every sabbath day.
I know your works, tribulation and poverty, (but you are rich!)
That is, poor in temporal things, but rich in spiritual things (hope, reverence for God, faith, prayer, and true worship) poor in spirit, and yet rich in grace. Their spiritual riches are set off by their outward poverty. Many who are rich in temporals are poor in spirituals. Where there is spiritual plenty, outward poverty may be better borne; and when God's people are impoverished in temporals, for the sake of Christ and a good conscience, he makes all up to them in spiritual riches, which are much more satisfying and enduring. Spiritual riches are usually the reward of great diligence. This church in following the "apostolic" behavior of the Ephesian church became rich spiritually in the midst of intense persecdution.
Poverty is no hindrance to the favor of God, and there are some things in it which are favorable to the promotion of a right spirit toward God which are not found where there is abundant wealth. The Savior was eminently poor, and not a few of his most devoted and useful followers have had as little of this world's goods as he had.
And I know the blasphemy] The reproaches; the harsh and bitter revilings. On the word "blasphemy,"(Matt 9:3 Matt 26:65). The word here does not seem to refer to blasphemy against God, but to bitter reproaches against themselves. The reason for their persecution doubtless on account of their religion.
Those who will be faithful to Christ must expect to go through many tribulations; but Jesus Christ takes particular notice of all their troubles. In all their afflictions, he (Jesus) is afflicted, and he will recompense tribulation to those who trouble them, (vengance is mine sayeth the Lord) but to those that are troubled rest with himself.
Of them which say they are Jews Who profess to be Jews.
That is, of those who pretend to be the only peculiar covenant-people of God, as the Jews boasted themselves to be, even after God had rejected them; or of those who would be setting up the Jewish rites and ceremonies, which were now not only antiquated, but abrogated; these may say that they only are the church of God in the world, when indeed they are the synagogue of Satan.
As Christ has a church in the world, the spiritual Israel of God, Satan also has his synagogue. Any assemblies which are set up in opposition to the truths of the gospel, and which promote and propagate damnable errorsand those assemblies (churches)which are set up in opposition to the purity and spirituality of gospel worship, and which promote and propagate the vain inventions of men and rites and ceremonies are all synagogues of Satan:
Satan presides over them, he works in them, his interests are served by them, and he receives a horrid homage and honour from them.
The synagogues of Satan professed themselves to be the "church". This is blasphemy. God is greatly dishonoured when his name is made use of to promote and patronize the interests of Satan; and he has a high resentment of this blasphemy, and will take a just revenge on those who persist in it.
III. Instruction: Fear Not!
Suffering: Have no fear of suffering nor the things you will suffer in persecution. Smyrna was to experience suffering. Some were to be thrown in prison and face trial for refusing to submit to Emperor worship. This church was to experience "10 days" of persecution. The "10 days" is symbolic of 10 "terrible persecution periods" Smyrna suffered under the hands of the Roman Emperors from Nero A.D. 67 to Diocletian before Constantine stopped the persecution in 312 A.D. after warring with Diocletian. He did not promise them exemption from suffering. He saw that they were about to suffer, and he specifies the manner in which their affliction would occur. But he entreats and commands them not to be afraid. They were to look to the "crown of life," and to be comforted with the assurance that if they were faithful unto death, that would be, theirs. We need not dread suffering if we can hear the voice of the Redeemer encouraging us, and if he assures us that in a little while we shall have the crown of life.
Faithfulness: Be faithful unto death and I (God) will give you a crown of life.
In regard to the church, their affliction would be "comparatively" brief, yet some of them would experience death. Those who actually would experience death should at those closing moments remain faithful to their Savior until the hour of death. In relation to all, whether they were to suffer a violent death or not, the same injunction and the same promise was applicable. It is true of everyone who is a Christian, in whatever manner he is to die, that if he is faithful unto death, a crown of life awaits him.
IV. Their Reward: And I will give thee a crown of life
James 1:12. 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Cor 9:24-27.
The promise given to the Church at Smyrna is somewhat different from the promise made to the faithful in Ephesus (Rev 2:7), but however the same thing promised to Ephesus is substantially promised them: an admission into heaven. In Ephesus' case it is seen as a peaceful image of those admitted into the scenes of paradise; here in the case of Smyrna, it is seen as "the triumph" of "the crowned martyr".