Ironically, the church at Smyrna was promised even more “tribulation” after its past faithfulness in persecution – Revelation 2:8-11.
The city of Smyrna was a seaport approximately fifty-five kilometers northwest of Ephesus. It marked the start of the major road and trade route into the interior of the province. As a leading commercial center, the city prospered from its location and the importation of goods by sea. The imperial cult was well-established and widespread in the city.
Smyrna was renowned for its beauty. On coins minted in the city, it claimed to be the “first city of Asia in size and beauty.” The origin of the Christian church there is unknown, and this is the only New Testament document in which the city is named.
- (Revelation 2:8-11) – “These things the first and the last declares, who became dead and lived: I know your tribulation and destitution, nevertheless, you are rich, and the profane speech from among them who affirm that they themselves are Jews, and they are not, but a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear the things which you are going to suffer. Lo! the adversary is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried and may have tribulation ten days. Become faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what |the Spirit| is saying to the churches. He that overcomes shall in nowise be injured by the second death.”
Jesus opened the letter by stressing his position: He is “The First and the Last.” He has absolute authority over everything that transpires in the city, and therefore, the church has no reason to fear. He has the “last” word on all things.
The Risen Christ “became dead and lived,” a reference to the opening vision of the glorious “Son of Man” who stood among the “seven golden lampstands.” Although the church faced persecution, Jesus possessed the “keys of death and of Hades.” Possibly, the name “Smyrna” was derived from the Greek word for “myrrh,” an ointment used in burial preparations. If so, and in this context, it would then suggest martyrdom.
Jesus “knows” the condition of the congregation. From his perspective, it is “rich,” although its members live in poverty. Their impoverishment is due to the “slander from among them who affirm they are Jews and are not.” He knows their works, not their good deeds, but their faithful testimony despite opposition.
The church had endured “tribulation” due to its testimony. The Greek term for “tribulation” or thlipsis is the same noun used here: “You will have tribulation ten days”. The poverty of the congregation anticipates the economic program of the “beast from the earth” described in chapter 13, the employment of economic control to compel submission to its political and religious agendas – (Revelation 13:15-18).
The “slander” by local Jewish leaders indicates that members of the synagogue had denounced Christians to local magistrates, accusations that resulted in legal prosecution – (blasphémia – Strong’s – #G988).
Likewise, the “beast from the sea” had the “name of slander” or blasphémia upon its several heads, and a mouth speaking “slanders” against God, and “them who tabernacle in heaven.” Later, the “Great Harlot” sat on the “scarlet beast full of slanders” – (Revelation 13:1-6, 17:3).
False accusations demonstrated how Satan “slanders” believers and Jesus. These local accusers constituted the “synagogue of Satan,” because he was the real force driving the legal harassment of the church.
Of the seven churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia received no correction. Jesus admonished Smyrna to face any tribulation that might come. Already, the congregation had endured trials without wavering, but rather than reward the church for her past victories, he announced the intensification in her trials.
Some members would be cast into prison. In the Roman world, prison cells were holding pens for accused criminals until their trial or execution. That reality is implied in the exhortation to “become faithful until death.”
The church will be tried for “ten days.” The figure alludes to the “ten days” when Daniel and his compatriots did not eat food offered to idols, a fitting allusion since the churches were struggling with false teachers that promoted “fornication” and “eating food offered to idols,” though deceptions rejected by Smyrna – (Daniel 1:12-14).
Faithfulness would produce the “wreath of life,” which refers to a victor’s wreath. And the one who “overcomes” will not partake in the “second death.” Disciples “overcome,” but paradoxically so, by enduring persecution and martyrdom due to their faithful witness – (Revelation 20:14).