Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.
City of Smyrna: Modern day Izmir, Turkey
It’s interesting that only in the book of Revelation is Smyrna (and its church) mentioned (Rev 1:11; 2:8-11). So all that we know about this church from the biblical record is right here in this passage (Rev 2:8-11).
Ellicott provides some great information about Smyrna. Keep in mind this was written in the 1800’s:
(8) Smyrna, the modern Ismir, now possessing a population of about 150,000. Its mercantile prosperity may be measured by its trade. In 1852 the export trade amounted to £1,766,653—about half of this being with England. The imports in the same year were £1,357,339. It has always been considered one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. It was situated in the ancient province of Ionia, a little north of Ephesus—next it, as Archbishop Trench says, in natural order, and also in spiritual. Its position was favourable for commerce. In olden times, as now, it commanded the trade of the Levant, besides being the natural outlet for the produce of the Hermus valley. The neighbourhood was peculiarly fertile; the vines are said to have been so productive as to have yielded two crops. There are indications that intemperance was very prevalent among the inhabitants. Servility and flattery may be added, for the people of Smyrna seem to have been astutely fickle, and to have been keen in preserving the patronage of the ruling powers. In one of their temples the inscription declared Nero to be “the Saviour of the whole human race.” The city was specially famed for its worship of Dionysos. Games and mysteries were held yearly in his honour. Its public buildings were handsome, and its streets regular. One of its edifices used as a museum proclaimed, in its consecration to Homer, that Smyrna contested with six or seven other cities the honour of being the birthplace of the poet.
- They are rich (spiritually)
- Faithful in the midst of tribulation and persecution
- They’re not to fear the things they’re about to suffer
- They’re to be faithful unto death
- Will be given the crown of life for their faithfulness
- Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death
Revelation 2:8-11 — (Smyrna)
(Rev 2:8) – 8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who was dead, and lived again:
“to the angel of the church in Smyrna”
Jesus is addressing the pastor (overseer/elder) of this church (see commentary on Rev 1:20).
“the first and the last”
Speaks of Christ’s eternal existence and Divine preeminence over all things. (Is 41:4; Is 44:6; Is 48:12; Rev 2:8; Rev 22:13).
“who was dead, and lived again”
Speaks of Christ’s death and resurrection. This is the heart of the gospel message. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we have our own resurrection to look forward to.
It always annoys me when I hear or read a gospel presentation that doesn’t mention Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection completed God’s plan of redemption for mankind. His resurrection confirmed that He was who He said He was: the Son of God and Savior of the world. Furthermore, it’s His resurrection that separates Him from all other religious leaders. They’re still in their graves.
(Rev 2:9) – 9 I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
“I know thy tribulation”
“tribulation” (Gr. Thlipsis – 2347)
Distress, trouble, oppression, affliction, pressure.
Although Jesus mentions tribulation yet to come for them in verse 10, He indicates that they’re already in the midst of some type of tribulation. And to be clear, life in this world in general is a time of tribulation, as Jesus Himself says elsewhere (Jn 16:33).
“and thy poverty (but thou art rich)”
The church in Smyrna was apparently very poor materially. However, spiritually they were “rich.” They had a true faith that was characterized by faithfulness. Thus they obtained the favor of the Lord.
Being rich in this world is not a sin. I believe God often blesses some with great wealth in order to use them for His glory. However, the wealth of this world is not something we’re to pursue. As followers of Christ, we’re to pursue Him and all the eternal blessings that are associated with our salvation. The riches of this world are temporary, while the riches of Glory are everlasting.
Therefore, our priority in life is be our walk with Christ. In all that we do, in all of our pursuits, it’s to be done with the purpose of glorifying Him. If God should choose to make us materially wealthy in the process, then great! But that is not to be our goal. We’re to seek His will in all things, and that includes an honorable occupation in which to serve Him — and to do it honorably for His glory, and then leave the results to Him (regarding wealth). The honor of Christ’s name is always to be our focus in life.
(See De 8:17-18; Pr 23:4; Pr 28:20; Matt 13:22; Matt 6:33; Ro 10:12; 2 Cor 6:10; 2 Cor 8:9; Eph 1:3; Eph 2:7; Eph 3:8,16; Ph 4:19; Col 1:27; 1 Ti 6:9,17,18; He 11:26; Ja 1:11; Ja 2:5)
“blasphemy” (Gr. Blasphemia – 988)
False representation or mischaracterization of God. Evil speaking. Slanderous speech directed at God. To speak with contempt toward God. To speak about God with malicious intent.
“of them that say they are Jews, and they are not”
Jesus is referring to those who claim to be Jews just because they are in the physical line of Abraham. However, Jesus addressed this erroneous belief during His ministry in John 8:33-47. There Jesus sets the record straight for the Jews who didn’t believe in Him. Although they were in the physical lineage of Abraham, they were not true children of Abraham, nor were they children of God. Thus they were not true Jews, as the Apostle Paul confirms:
(Ro 2:28-29) – 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
(Ro 9:6-8) – 6 But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel: 7 neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed.
(Gal 3:7) – 7 Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.
(Gal 3:16, 26-29) – 16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
26 For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. 28 There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.
We see from both Jesus and Paul that a true Jew is not one who is of the physical lineage of Abraham, but is of the spiritual lineage of Abraham, through faith in Christ — both Jew and Gentile. We are all one in Christ through our common faith in Him (Eph 2:14-16).
Jesus was condemning the Jews who were apparently persecuting the Christians in Smyrna. Not only did He declare them to be non-Jews, but also to be a:
“synagogue of Satan”
Those are very strong words! In fact, that’s basically what He said to the Jews in our passage in John where He said: “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). Thus Jesus declared them to be false Jews.
Albert Barnes provides some helpful historical information about Smyrna in regard to the persecution of Christians by the Jews:
It may throw some light on the passage, however, to remark that at a somewhat later period – in the time of the martyrdom of Polycarp – the Jews of Smyrna were among the most bitter of the enemies of Christians, and among the most violent in demanding the death of Polycarp. Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 4:15) says,. that when Polycarp was apprehended, and brought before the proconsul at Smyrna, the Jews were the most furious of all in demanding his condemnation. When the mob, after his condemnation to death, set about gathering fuel to burn him, “the Jews,” says he, “being especially zealous, as was their custom – μάλιστα προθύμως, ὡς ἔθος αὐτοῖς malista prothumōshōs ethos autois- ran to procure fuel.” And when, as the burning failed, the martyr was transfixed with weapons, the Jews urged and besought the magistrate that his body might not be given up to Christians. Possibly at the time when this epistle was directed to be sent to Smyrna, there were Jews there who manifested the same spirit which those of their countrymen did afterward, who urged on the death of Polycarp.
But are the synagogue of Satan – Deserve rather to be called the synagogue of Satan. The synagogue was a Jewish place of worship (compare the notes on Matthew 4:23), but the word originally denoted “the assembly” or “the congregation.” The meaning here is plain, that though they worshipped in a synagogue, and professed to be the worshippers of God, yet they were not worthy of the name, and deserved rather to be regarded as in the service of Satan. “Satan” is the word that is properly applied to the great evil spirit, elsewhere called the devil.
God judged the nation of Israel for their unbelief when He destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70 via the Roman army. Of all people they should have recognized their own Messiah. As a consequence of their rejection of Christ, the nation ceased to exist and the people were either killed or scattered abroad.
This was not only God’s judgment upon the nation for their unbelief, but I believe it was also symbolic or an outward declaration that the New Covenant had been fully established. It was symbolic of the transition from the Old Covenant of Israel to the New Covenant of Christ. This transition is completed in the Church, of which Christ is Head. In the New Covenant, the true Jews are all those who are in Christ. Thus Israel of the New Covenant is the Church. The Church is the New Israel of the New Covenant. More specifically, Christ Himself is true Israel, and we enter into that through faith in Him, as a spiritual nation.
Therefore, Israel has its fulfillment in Christ and His Church. The Church doesn’t replace Israel, it continues as a spiritual nation. The Apostle Peter confirms this in 1 Peter 2:4-10:
(1 Peter 2:4-10) – 4 unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, 5 ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame.7 For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner;8 and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 9 But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
Note the Jewish terminology in this passage:
— Spiritual house
— holy priesthood
— spiritual sacrifices
— elect race
— royal priesthood
— holy nation
— the people of God
All of these terms are Jewish, but Peter uses them to describe the Church. He reveals that Israel is now a spiritual house. The “house of Israel” was a common phrase of the Old Testament, and was always used for the nation of Israel. See the following verses:
(Ex16:31; Ex 40:38; Lev 10:6; Lev 17:8; Nu 20:29; Josh 21:45; 1 Sa 7:2-3; 2 Sa 6:5; 1 Ki 20:31; Ps 98:3; Ps 115:12; Is 5:7; Ez 20:13,27; Matt 10:6; Acts 2:36; Acts 7:42; He 8:8,10)
But here Peter reveals that the “house of Israel” is now the Church, which is now a spiritual nation, and not an ethnic nation. Under the New Covenant, the Church is the “house of Israel,” which he also refers to as a holy nation and elect race. In the OT, the elect race were the Hebrews, the children of Abraham. But here Peter applies this name to the Church.
Peter also refers to the Church as a holy & royal priesthood that offers up spiritual sacrifices. In the OT, Israel offered up animal sacrifices. In the NT, members of the Church offer up spiritual sacrifices. Those animal sacrifices always had Christ and His Church in view. They were a picture of Christ and of the true (spiritual) sacrifices in Him.
Furthermore, in alluding to those OT sacrifices, Peter was also alluding to the temple where those sacrifices took place. The OT temple was a picture of the NT temple in Christ, which is the Church (also the individual members). As the Church, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 6:16-18; 1 Cor 6:19-20).
In summary, Peter reveals in very specific and unmistakable terms, that the Church is the fulfillment and continuation of Israel as a spiritual house or nation. Thus the Church is New Israel in Christ. He further reveals that the Church is now the true temple of God. The physical temple of Israel has its fulfillment and continuation as a spiritual temple. New Covenant Israel (the Church) is not a replacement for Israel – as some believe – but is, rather, the completion of Israel — the end of God’s plan for Israel.
Old Testament Israel and the temple of Israel always looked ahead to what it would become in Christ. It was a type of the spiritual Israel that they would become in Him. Everyone in Christ – both Jew and Gentile alike – are the true Jews and the true Israel of God: “the people of God.” God only has one people, not two. God’s plan for Israel is now complete. There is no further plan for Israel apart from Christ and His Church.
In conclusion, Jesus, Paul and Peter, all having revealed to us who true Israel is and what the true temple of God is in Christ, we should not be looking for either the nation of Israel or for the physical temple of Israel in the book of Revelation. Having come to this understanding early in the book, it enables us to have both the proper approach to this book and to correctly interpret certain passages in this book — as we shall see when we get those places.
(Rev 2:10) – 10 Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.
“Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer”
The Smyrna Christians were already enduring persecution, but now it appears that persecution was going to lead to real suffering for the name of Christ. However, they were not to “fear” what was coming. Instead, they were to endure with eternity in view, keeping their eyes on Jesus, who has “overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
“the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried”
It appears that not all of the Smyrna Christians would see such suffering, but only “some.” They were to be thrown into prison where their faith would be “tried” (tested).
Note that it’s “the devil” who would cast them into prison. Jesus already called the false Jews a “synagogue of Satan.” So I think it’s quite likely that it was them who would be behind their imprisonment. However, it would be Satan behind them instigating this whole thing. This follows what Paul taught, that our real enemy is not men, but Satan (Eph 6:11-12). Our warfare as Christians is not of the “flesh,” but is spiritual (2 Cor 10:3-4).
“ye shall have tribulation ten days”
Considering the symbolism in this book, “ten days” should not be viewed as a literal ten days. It’s reasonable that these Christians would not all be in prison for the same amount of time. Some may be released before others, while others remain. Still others would be put to death. Hence, it’s reasonable that Jesus was using it as a symbol to describe a short period of time.
It’s a reminder to them and to us, that no matter how long we may have to endure persecution and suffering for the name of Christ, it is but a very short time when we compare it to the eternal blessings that we have in Christ to look forward to.
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life”
Jesus makes the Smyrna Christians aware that not only would some be imprisoned for His name, but some would die as martyrs for Him.
He then encourages them by letting them know what they have to look forward to as the reward for their faithfulness: they would receive “the crown of life” (also Ja 1:12). I don’t believe this crown should be viewed as a literal crown, but symbolic for our life in Christ that we will enjoy forever and ever. Thus the meaning is that we will be “crowned with life.” Those who are faithful to live for Christ – even “unto death” – demonstrate true salvation, because the evidence of true faith is faithfulness to Christ.
This raises the question regarding eternal security. Is Jesus teaching that our eternal salvation is dependent on our own faithfulness? That we can lose or forfeit our salvation if we’re not faithful? The answer is no. However, the Bible teaches that true faith is exhibited by faithfulness. The whole message of the Bible reveals or describes true faith in such a manner. The biblical picture of true faith is one that is lived out in faithfulness to the One we profess to believe in. True faith follows what it professes to believe. True faith perseveres throughout one’s life.
Therefore, those who endure in the midst of persecution and suffering and death, are those who demonstrate a genuine faith in the One they profess to be their Lord and Savior.
(Rev 2:11) – 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches”
(See Revelation 2:7)
“He that overcometh”
Those who remain faithful — that is, those who demonstrate true faith in Christ.
“shall not be hurt of the second death”
(Rev 20:6,14; Rev 21:8)
“The second death” refers to the lake of fire, the eternal place of torment for those who don’t know Christ as Lord and Savior (Rev 19:20; 20:10; 20:14-15). The phrase “second death” implies that there is a first death. This first death in this context may be physical death, and not spiritual death, as Jesus was just talking about physical death. If so, Jesus is encouraging them that though they may have to suffer physical death, they will not be hurt by the “second death,” which will go on forever. However, to be scripturally consistent, the first death is actually spiritual death. We are spiritually dead until we are born-again in Christ. Spiritual death has its end in the “second death.” Either way, we’re to be encouraged that all of life’s troubles will one day be behind us, and in the Lord’s presence forever and ever.