Seven - The Church in Smyrna
Read Revelation 2: 8 - 11
Smyrna – The City
The city of Smyrna was the second largest city in the Roman province of Asia Minor. It is the only city of of the seven churches still in existence today. It is now modern day Izmir. There about 200,000 people living in this city. In John’s day it was a city that had been “resurrected from the dead,” in that it had been destroyed 700 years earlier and had lain in ruins for 300 years. Jesus may have alluded to this in reference to His own resurrection (died but alive) in his greeting to the church. 
It was a proud, prosperous and beautiful city that boasted a famous stadium, library, and public theater (the largest in Asia). It is believed Smyrna may have been the birth place of the poet Homer (The Odyssey & The Iliad) but it is not certain.
The city was friends to Rome; which means they heartily welcomed Roman rule. In 195 B.C. the city erected a Temple to Dea Roma (goddess Roma) which is the earliest recorded establishment to the Roman Cult. In 23 BC they were granted permission by Rome to build a temple to the emperor Tiberius. Caesar worship was common and enforced in Smyrna, so it was very difficult to be a Christian and live in this city.
Smyrna – The Church
Not much is known about the origins of the Church in Smyrna. It was probably formed around the time Paul was in Ephesus on his third Missionary Journey. Ignatius an Apostolic Father wrote in the early 2nd century that the Church of Smyrna was well organized, with elders, deacons and a Bishop (Polycarp: who was ordained as bishop by the Apostle John). He wrote a letter to Polycarp and to the church in Smyrna.
Ploycarp is believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John. At the age of 86 he was burned at the stake for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. The story goes that when the fires would not consume him he was stabbed and killed. His account is one of the first well documented non-biblical martyr stories. This was fitting because the Apostle John wrote to the church concerning persecution that was impending.
Smyrna – The Letter
This is the second letter of the Apocalypse written by John and spoken by Jesus. Smyrna is the first of two churches who does not receive a rebuke from Jesus. The letter opens with the traditional greeting “To the Angel of the Church in Smyrna” and then identification of the one who is speaking (and in all these cases it is Jesus). Jesus proclaims that he was dead and is now alive and this could be in reference to the fact as I mentioned earlier that Smyrna was once a city that ceased to exist but then was rebuilt and brought to life.
Verse 9: Jesus acknowledges the hardships or “tribulations” (anguish, burden, affliction) this church is facing. Smyrna was a persecuted and poor church in a wealthy city. It is without doubt the two (persecution and poverty) go hand in hand. The church was persecuted because they refused to bow the knee to Rome. They did not recognize the Caesar as a deity and refused to offer worship to him and refused to renounce their Christian faith. In this kind of violent environment it is no wonder that the people who were part of this church were poor. Most likely they were unable to get jobs because of their faith so they probably were destitute and had very little material possessions. The people of the church of Smyrna gave up everything to follow Jesus; they did not compromise their loyalty to him by bending the knee to Rome in exchange for a life of comfort which I am sure was a temptation at times.
Jesus reminds them that though they are poor, they are very rich spiritually speaking. James 2:5 reminds us, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” These are words of comfort and encouragement to the church. Jesus reminds them in these few words that the things of this world do not make you wealthy. Salvation, redemption and future glory may have contributed to the individuals of this church being materially poor individuals however they were the richest people on the planet.
In contrast, Jesus speaks about the Jews who are a "synagogue to Satan". What we know is that the persecution of Smyrna does not just come from pagan Rome; it also comes heavily from the Jews. The Jews were still hostile against those who followed Jesus. The Jews believed Jesus was a blasphemer and when they saw the success of Christian evangelism, they wanted to stop what was happening. Jews would physically harm Christians and they would also inform Roman rulers of these Christians and their worship practices and in a city like Smyrna this was very common. These Jews thought they were true Jews but they were in fact a synagogue to Satan. They were not working for the God Israel; in fact they were doing the work of the devil.
Verse 10: Jesus tells them “Do not fear” because hardships are coming. Take a moment and let that sink in. “DO --- NOT --- Fear”. Tough times were ahead for the church and Jesus is telling them not to allow fear to overtake them. They are about to face some pretty heavy persecution. He informs them who is behind this scheme. Jesus says, “The Devil is going to throw some of you into prison.” Some have speculated that “the Devil” is Rome (and they certainly were the ones who were going to instigate the persecution) but it is the devil himself who will be the one behind the scenes influencing this persecution. Certainly the people must remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear the one who can kill the body but not the soul.”
Prison was not a welcome place. The ancient world prison wasn’t a place like it is today. Restoration and rehabilitation was not the purpose of a prison. It was where you were sent to die. The accused were sent there to await execution. Jesus wasn’t telling them they were spending a night in jail; he was telling them that this will end in death for many in this church.
Ten Days – Could suggest a literal ten days, could be a short time, while others suggest it is a long but limited period of time. Regardless persecution was coming.
Be faithful – Jesus tells them to remain faithful to him even unto the point of death. The faithful ones will receive a crown of life. The word for crown here refers to the wreath of garland which was given as the prize for victors in competition (the reward of righteousness).
Verse 11: "He who has an ear to hear… The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death." In John 16 Jesus tells his disciples that he has overcome the world. Since he has overcome they are overcomers. He essentially says, “The world will cause great persecution and trials but have courage and know I have overcome the world. The world has no power over me.” John also reminds us in his Epistles that those who are born of God through Jesus have overcome the world. The second death has no power over those who are in Jesus.
Church of Smyrna For Us Today
So what does all of this have to do with us today? I have three suggestions.
Compromise is not an option
There is no doubt we live in a hostile world that has little love for Jesus and embraces compromise. People (even those who once claimed to be a follower of Jesus) have compromised their faith in exchange for comfort, wealth and status. Following Jesus is costly but worth every penny; spiritually speaking. The world is pulling the strings of your heart. It wants your worship and your affection. There are so many things out there that are demanding your heart and entice you to bow the knee to them. The truth is only Jesus satisfies. We cannot compromise our loyalty, love and life to Jesus for something that is ungodly, empty and cannot deliver.
No Matter How Poor You May Be You are extremely wealthy
You may or may not have material wealth. God is not concerned with your material wealth as he is with your Spiritual health. Material wealth means little in the Kingdom of God. No matter what your financial status is if you are a child of Jesus Christ then you are the richest person in the world. You have what many who have everything materially but nothing Spiritually cannot have… salvation, redemption, hope and future glory. It is Jesus who makes us the riches people on the planet.
We have overcome because Jesus has overcome
As believers we need continual reminding about the fact that we are overcomers… We are victorious in this life because Jesus was victorious on the cross. The world has no hold on us and we are not slaves to it. The words Jesus speaks to us shows that there is nothing the world can do to take away our joy; and it certainly will try. May we know that in turmoil, pain, suffering, and persecution joy can be found. Let this truth be our foundation. We live in a time of uncertainty, violence, godlessness, amoralism and turmoil and this should not affect our lives in the least because Jesus is still on the throne. We have overcome the world because we belong to Jesus and He is the victor thus we are victorious as well.
Do not fear my friends we have overcome. Be faithful because Satan will strike and in Jesus we are victorious in this life and we shall receive the crown of life in the life to come.
 Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: A parallel commentary (Re 2:8–11). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
 The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Revelation (1977) Mounce, Robert: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing. P. 91
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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