Smyrna was the rival of Ephesus, a great and beautiful city built on the slopes rising out of the sea. Its buildings were a sight to behold and it was the most loyal of allies to Rome. Later it would be the scene of the martyrdom of Polycarp…
To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
Historical Prologue (2:9)
I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
The people suffered from poverty, extreme poverty. The believers had discovered that following Christ meant a serious sacrifice economically; they were thrown out of their employment for being Christian, they were often hungry and destitute, but they were still rich in grace and in the glorious hope of their secure future in Christ. (cf. Matt. 6:20; 19:21; Luke 12:21).
They were under constant attack by accusing Jews; you might compare these words to those found in Acts 13:50; 14:2, 5, 19; 17:5; 24:1. Those Jews, hardened as they were, probably believed they were the synagogue of God, but it is not God who is “the accuser of our brethren”, no, they were doing the bidding of none other than Satan.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death
The stipulation here is in the form of an exhortation; they will be imprisoned, they will suffer, they might be killed, and look who is behind all of this: The Devil himself. Satan is making use of the accusing Jews and the governing Romans to put them to the test in his effort to break the church of Jesus Christ… as was his pattern at that time. The real point or stipulation here is that they should remain faithful, even if that should cost them their very lives. The good news is that this intense persecution will only last for a short time. The “ten days” is not to be understood as ten calendar days, as we all know, for 10 is two handfuls, a short but definite period of time. This is often used as an encouragement for perseverance in Scripture; see Is. 26:20; 54:8; Matt. 24:22; 2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Pet. 4:6.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Blessing (2:10b, 11b))
and I will give you life as your victor’s crown
The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
The “victor’s crown” refers to the wreath of the victor in ancient athletic contests and it symbolizes eternal life here. The “second death” symbolizes perdition. Thus, the one who keeps the stipulation and remains faithful may die in the body, but will live forever victorious with Christ.
Please note that there is no curse here; Jesus has found no fault with the church in Smyrna.
Next time, we’ll have a look at the letter to Pergamum; see you then.