Summary: Persecution is to be expected by the godly and enduring persecution can bring great spiritual good.
Verse 8 – Jesus introduces Himself as being “the First and the Last, Who was dead, and has come to life.” The importance of this particular self-designation to the Smyrna Church of Christ will be seen when we have studied the challenges facing this congregation.
Verse 9 – Jesus acknowledges that He intimately knows what challenges this congregation is now enduring and what is to be experienced in their imminent future.
It is clear that the Smyrnians were under attack by the local Jewish Synagogue, which was carrying-out the will of Satan; that being, to destroy this Christian congregation. The members of the Synagogue, like all other Jewish Synagogues of that period, may be Jews by ethnicity but were not so spiritually...which was of the more importance. Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” Philippians 3:2-3, “Beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh [ethnicity].”
Jesus regarded the Synagogue's claim, that its members were God's chosen people rather than the members of the Church, as “blasphemy.” These false Jews' persecution of the church in Smyrna brought inward “tribulation” and outward “poverty.” The outward “poverty” came when the false Jews turned-in the Christians to the Roman authorities for refusing to worship Caesar Nero as the Divine king. As seen, in Revelation 13:17, those who refused to worship Caesar Nero were not allowed to enter into everyday commerce (buying and selling).
This led to earthly and physical poverty for many faithful Christians. Jesus reminds the congregation that even though they were experiencing outward poverty, they are inwardly rich. Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”
Verse 10 – Jesus then reveals to these brethren what they shall face in their immediate future. Satan, working through the evil Jews and the persecuting Roman authorities, is going to be successful in putting some of them in prison.
Jesus says that He will allow this to happen for the purpose that they might be tested and tried. The truth is that persecution can make us or break us. It breaks us if the persecution causes us to deny our Lord and forsake Him. Equally, it breaks us if it causes us to shut our voices in publicly declaring the Gospel and will of God.
However, persecution for Christ's sake can 'make us' if we submit to it with the right attitude or spirit. James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” After talking about our reward preserved for us in Heaven, we read: 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
That the church in Smyrna would experience severe persecution only “for a little while” is understood when Jesus says it would be “for ten days”. I think that the “ten days” are not to be taken literally but, rather, to be taken figuratively for a relatively short time. History confirms this interpretation because within a few years after this Letter was written, the Jewish Nation would be destroyed and the surviving Jews within the Empire would be solely focused upon their own survival rather than persecuting Christians. Moreover, within a few years, Nero would be dead and with his death would come the end of official Roman persecution for that generation of Christians.
Verse 11 - Jesus does not have any complaints about this congregation. He finishes with words of comfort and encouragement to keep-on keeping-on. But, before we consider those words, I want us to remember that, at the opening of this Letter, Jesus referred to Himself as the One “Who was dead, and has come to life.” Jesus was persecuted for His stand for the Truth to the point that He lost His life. But, that was not the end. Due to His faithfulness, He now lives forevermore and is able to promise His followers - “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” And, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death [which is eternal damnation]. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”