The Message to the Church in Smyrna
Smyrna is also a port city, located about forty miles north of Ephesus. It was noted for its scenic beauty, being nestled in rolling hills with deep forests. It called itself the “first city” because it was the first city in Asia to accept Roman rule. A famous landmark was the acropolis located on Mt. Pagas, which looked like a crown. As a result, the crowned mountain became a symbol of the city.
No additional information about the church in Smyrna is known beyond the information given in Revelation. Likely it was started by those taught by Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).
Jesus describes himself in this letter as the first and the last, the one who was dead but now is alive. In other words, his eternal life is emphasized.
In praise of this church, Jesus states that he knows of their tribulation. This group was suffering more than inconveniences, they were actively being persecuted, which was causing them to live in poverty. However, they were only poor in terms of physical wealth. Spiritually they were rich because their treasure was in heaven (Matthew 6:20-21).
In particular, they were facing blasphemy from the Jews in Smyrna. Blasphemy is a form of slander against a person where the slander knows he is lying, but does so to hurt the person. They might call themselves Jews, but Jesus said they were not true Jews (Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3). Instead, Jesus said they were a synagogue of Satan (John 8:44).
There is nothing said against this church. Only Smyrna and Philadelphia have this distinction.
However, Smyrna is warned about the future. They are about to suffer an increase in persecution, beyond what they were already enduring. After all, Satan is looking for those he can devour (I Peter 5:8). Some of the Christians in Smyrna would be cast into prison, and God is allowing this as a test. Like Peter, the church would be sifted like wheat (Luke 22:31-32). The good news is that the testing would be a short one (ten days). Ten is the number for something complete or full, while “days” indicates a short period. It brings to memory the testing Daniel asked for in Daniel 1:12, 14.
Jesus urges them to remain faithful, even if it results in their deaths. Thus, we conclude that some in Smyrna would die for their faith. Yet, the reward for their faithfulness would be a crown of life (James 1:12) – something that the eternal Jesus could give (John 17:2). The type of crown being discussed is a victor’s crown. In these days it was a crown formed of flowers or leaves and used in various festivals and sporting events. Earthly victor’s crowns fade, but the crown Christ is offering is incorruptible (I Corinthians 9:25; II Timothy 4:8).
Those who listen to Jesus and overcomes will only face one death (Hebrews 9:27). The second death is an eternity in hell (Revelations 21:8). Faithful Christians will not partake in the second death (Revelation 20:6).