Summary: The analysis of Christ's message to Smyrna as set forth in Revelation 2:8-11 teaches us that suffering is a characteristic of a true church of Jesus Christ.
We are currently in a series of messages titled, “Christ’s Message to the Seven Churches,” that is based on the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation.
In Revelation 1 the resurrected and glorified Christ revealed himself to his Apostle John, and told him to write letters to seven churches in Asia. Today, we shall examine the second of those letters, and learn about Christ’s message to his church in Smyrna.
Let’s read Christ’s message to Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11:
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ ” (Revelation 2:8-11)
The first church that Christ addressed was the church in Ephesus. And the second church Christ addressed was the church in Smyrna. It was the second church on the postal route in Asia.
John Stott wrote the following in his commentary titled, What Christ Thinks of the Church: An Exposition of Revelation 1-3:
If the first mark of a true and living church is love [which was lacking in the church in Ephesus], the second is suffering. The one is naturally consequent on the other. A willingness to suffer proves the genuineness of love. We are willing to suffer for those we love. Evidently Christians in Smyrna had not lost their pristine love for Christ, as had the Christians in Ephesus, for they were prepared to suffer for him. Like Peter and John, they were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [that is, Christ’s name]” (Acts 5:41).
The analysis of Christ’s message to Smyrna as set forth in Revelation 2:8-11 teaches us that suffering is a characteristic of a true church of Jesus Christ.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. The Address (2:8a)
2. The Description (2:8b)
3. The Commendation (2:9)
4. The Complaint
5. The Command (2:10)
6. The Warning
7. The Appeal (2:11a)
8. The Promise (2:11b)
I. The Address (2:8a)
First, let’s look at the address.
Christ said in verse 8a, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write. . . .” The letter was addressed to the angel, which also means “messenger.” In context of the letters, I take it to mean that each letter was addressed to the pastor of the church.
Commentator Grant Osborne tells us the following about Smyrna:
Smyrna is the only city that has continued to the present day, having the modern name Izmir. Another harbor city with a thriving export trade thirty-five miles north of Ephesus, it was renowned for its beauty and its civic pride, calling itself “the first in Asia.” . . . It maintained an excellent relationship with Rome. . . . It was the first city in Asia to erect a temple to the goddess Roma (195 BC), and in 26 AD, because of its long loyalty to Rome, it beat out ten other cities for the privilege of building a temple to the emperor Tiberius. In succeeding decades, it became a center of the imperial cult. In 600 BC it had been destroyed by Alyattes, king of Lydia, but when Alexander the Great came through in 334 BC he commissioned that it be rebuilt. This was done in 290 BC by Lysimachus and Antigonus, two of his successors. The city was rebuilt closer to the harbor, and its architecture made it one of the most pleasing cities in Asia: famous temples (the temples of Zeus and Cybele were connected by a mall that was the envy of the ancient world), a group of buildings called “the crown of Smyrna,” an acropolis on Mount Pagos, and a beautiful roadway called “the Street of Gold.”
It had a large Jewish population that virulently opposed Christians. This may have been occasioned by the destruction of the temple and consequent anti-Jewish feeling in the Roman Empire. Christianity thus became a double threat, not only religious but political. It is common to theorize that the edict under Domitian demanding emperor worship made it easy to persecute Christians, and that the Jews were active in denouncing Christians to the authorities, possibly to deflect attention from themselves. Rome had given the Jews the right to practice their religion, and they did not want this precious privilege threatened. In addition, in the 80s Judaism had excommunicated the Christian “heretics” from their synagogues, and they wanted nothing to do with them. In 155 AD the famous bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, was burned alive for refusing to call Caesar “Lord” during an extensive persecution instigated by the Jews. The Smyrna church itself had been founded either by some returning Jewish traveler present at Pentecost or (more likely) during the Pauline mission of Acts 19.