8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna1 write:
The first and the last2, the one who was3 dead and has lived4, says5 this: 9 I know your affliction and poverty6 , (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy7 from the ones who call themselves Jews8 and they are not, but they are a synagogue of Satan9 . 10 Don’t fear anything10 that11 you are about to suffer. Behold12, the Devil13 is about to throw some of you into prison14 so that you may be tested15 and you will have affliction ten days16. Be17 faithful to the point of death18, and I will give to you the crown of life19. 11 The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers may never20 be hurt from the second death21.
1 Smyrna had long been devoted to the Roman Empire and was the center of “emperor worship” and was the first city to have a temple built in honor of an emperor. In this case, the temple was built for the emperor Tiberias. It is interesting to note that in 155 A.D., the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, was burned alive for not calling Caesar “Lord” and the Jews had gathered wood on the Sabbath to make sure the he was burned that day. Osborne*** (Pg. 127).
2 The passage echos Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12. The constructions are a little different in the LXX, but the are very close.
3 ἐγένετο (was)
4 ἔζησεν (has lived)
Greek: “lived”. The past tense verbs of this passage are referring to Jesus’ time on earth where he lived, he died, and he lived again.
The past tense applies to our Lord in the context of His incarnation into His creation. Prior to that, He IS. The beginning is only relevant to creation.
5 λέγει (to speak, to say,)
This word carries the additional usage to teach, instruct, command,
exhort, and direct.
The Word of God speaks.
Jesus tells us that He is God in using this language. Further, He tells us He is the Son in that He was dead and lives. Everything begins with Him and is for Him. He is before all things and is without end. Everything is dead apart from Him and everything that has life lives because of Him. He is the first to rise from the dead and in Him is life that will last.
His life is the promise of God and His purpose for us.
6 Jews in the Roman world were the only people who had the right to worship their God. Unlike everyone else in the Roman Empire, Jews were given special treatment when it came to religion. Jews were not required to worship the Greek and Roman gods, nor were they required to worship the emperor. Christians, on the other hand, did not have this privilege. At first, Christians were considered a jewish sect, but after some time, the Jews made sure that the Roman Empire knew that Christians were not Jews and didn’t have the same rights that had been given to Jews. This separation is what lead to the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Although it would have been true that many poor people did convert to Christianity, the Christians in Smyrna may have been in poverty because they were being persecuted.
Within the context of this passage, Jesus is calling “affliction and poverty” strengths. The church in Smyrna had actually drawn closer to God during their hard times.
2 Corinthians 6:10 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
There is a physical reality and a spiritual reality. There is a temporal reality and an eternal reality. That is the reality.
7 βλασφημίαν (blasphemy)
or “reproach”. Blasphemy is to speak of someone in a defaming manner where it hurts one’s reputation.
8 Jews as in “the people of God”. The Jewish religion is what defined the Jew in the 1st century. We know from Romans 11, that the Jews had been cut from the olive tree and the Gentiles (wild olive trees) had been grafted into the cultivated olive tree. See my series of blogs on Romans 11 here. Now, the so-called people of God are speaking against the “true” people of God.
This is an example of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Though they claimed to be the people of God, they were not.
The day will come, and is already here, that the branches grafted in will be indistinguishable from the root. There will be neither Jew or Gentile. male or female, for all will be one.
9 τοῦ σατανᾶ (of Satan)
This is a transliteration of the Hebrew. Satan means “adversary”. It’s is astonishing that Jesus would put the Jewish people in league with Satan! The Jews had indeed been cut off the olive tree and were now being used by Satan in such a way at to persecute Christians.
Just as Satan has perverted the world, he has done the same in many religious places. Is there a more fertile ground to sow the seeds of disobedience? He had success in the Garden.
10 μηδὲν φοβοῦ (Don’t fear anything)
Greek: “Fear nothing”.
11 μηδὲν φοβοῦ ἃ (Don’t fear anything that)
John turns the Greek language on its head again. The greek word μηδὲν (anything/nothing) is in the singular, but he relative pronoun that refers to it ἃ (that) is in the plural! The case is correct, but the number is wrong. With that said, John seems to mean that the afflictions that will be suffered will be in the plural; meaning that numerous things will be suffered.
And likewise, there is only one thing the many of us should do: be faithful.
12 ἰδοὺ (behold)
This word contains the idea of perceiving and understanding what you see. Jesus is giving advance warning of additional trials that will come their way by the devil’s hands. Just as Christ suffered for the joy set before Him, proceeding to the cross for that which lay beyond, so are we reminded that He has gone before us and waits to welcome us to His table.
13 ὁ διάβολος (the Devil)
Devil means “accusing falsely” or “slanderous”. “Devil” is commonly
interchanged with “Satan” in the NT.
14 There were three reasons that the Romans would imprison someone: 1. coercion against recalcitrance, 2. detention pending trial, and 3. detention awaiting execution. 2 and 3 were probable here. Osborne*** (Pg. 133).
15 πειρασθῆτε (you may be tested)
Greek: “you may be put to the test”. According to Osborne*** (Pg. 133), the testing is two-fold. Satan going to test some of the Christians in other to try to get them to stray. God is going to test them to make their faith stronger.
16 This is an allusion to Daniel 1:12-15 where Daniel and his three friends are tested by not eating the King’s food for ten days. They wouldn’t eat the food because it was dedicated to idols. The act of eating at the King’s table also showed complete loyalty to him. The Hebrews certainly could not do this as the King considered himself divine. This is something that the members of the church in Smyrna would have faced as Smyrna lead the way in the ancient world in Emperor worship. Beale* (Pgs 242-243).
The allusion to Daniel may then provide insight into the ten days of tribulation spoken of in this letter to Smyrna. Maybe we should see here that ten days represent a fullness in time which applies not only to this church, but individually to all members of the Church throughout these last days.
“It has been already pointed out that ten is one of the perfect numbers, and signifies the perfection of Divine order, commencing, as it does, an altogether new series of numbers.”
-Number In Scripture; Its Supernatural Design And Spiritual Significance by E.W. Bullinger
17 γίνου (Be)
Greek: “Become”. John switches from 2nd person plural to 2nd person singular. The message now becomes an “individual” message to each and every member of the Church of Smyrna.
18 ἄχρι θανάτου (to the point of death)
Greek: “as far as death”. Some translation translate ἄχρι as “until”. To translate this as “until” would make ἄχρι a conjunction instead of preposition as it is here. ἄχρι with a genitive = “as far as”.
Matthew 26:38 ESV 38 Then He *said to them, “ My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
In Revelation, Jesus tells the church of Smyrna to remain faithful, even to the point of death. He had done so. He knows it is not easy. It was not for Him.
We are called to die to self, even to the extent of physical destruction. Life is a test and a parable which teach us about God. It is for the living and for the learning.
19 τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς (the crown of life)
Not a royal crown, but a conqueror’s crown. A wreath placed on the
head of the winner of a race!
It is good to know that there is not just one winner of the race, but everyone who faithfully endures will receive this crown of life.
20 οὐ μὴ (never)
Greek: “not not”. It is emphatic in nature. Never!
21 ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου τοῦ δευτέρου (from the second death)
We find out later that the second death is complete separation from God in a burning lake of fire. The believers in Smyrna may experience physical death that leads to eternal life, but they will never experience the “complete” death.
In a sense, our first experience of death happens the moment we are born, for we are born in sin and sin is death. We are dead unless we are reborn in the Spirit, throwing off the shackles of death, and experiencing the first of freedom at last, for evermore.
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)
Ἀποκάλυψις 2·8 Καὶ τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Σμύρνῃ ἐκκλησίας γράψον· Τάδε λέγει ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος, ὃς ἐγένετο νεκρὸς καὶ ἔζησεν· 9
οἶδά σου τὴν θλῖψιν καὶ τὴν πτωχείαν, ἀλλὰ πλούσιος εἶ, καὶ τὴν βλασφημίαν ἐκ τῶν λεγόντων Ἰουδαίους εἶναι ἑαυτοὺς καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν ἀλλὰ συναγωγὴ τοῦ σατανᾶ. 10 μηδὲν φοβοῦ ἃ μέλλεις πάσχειν. ἰδοὺ μέλλει βάλλειν ὁ διάβολος ἐξ ὑμῶν εἰς φυλακὴν ἵνα πειρασθῆτε καὶ ἕξετε θλῖψιν ἡμερῶν δέκα. γίνου πιστὸς ἄχρι θανάτου, καὶ δώσω σοι τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς.
Ἀποκάλυψις 2·11 Ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις. Ὁ νικῶν οὐ μὴ ἀδικηθῇ ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου τοῦ δευτέρου.