Faithful Until Death

After persevering through persecution, the ever-faithful church at Smyrna is promised even more tribulation, but also great rewards to overcomers

Smyrna was a seaport renowned for its beauty, and it prospered from its seaborne commerce. Unfortunately for the church, the imperial cult was well-established in the city. The origin of the congregation is unknown, and the book of Revelation is the only New Testament document that mentions the city.

The name “Smyrna” possibly derives from the Greek word for “myrrh,” an ointment used commonly at the time in burial preparations. If so, and in this context, this etymology may suggest martyrdom.

The letter opens with Jesus stressing his exalted position. He is “The First and the Last,” the one who now possesses absolute authority over everything that transpires in the city, and therefore, the church has no reason to fear what is coming. He has the “last” word on all things.

THE ONE WHO LIVES

Jesus is the one who “became dead and lived.” The clause refers to the words of the “one like a Son of Man” from the opening vision who told John not to fear since he rose from the dead and now holds the “keys of death and of Hades” forevermore.

This image is consistent with the book’s stress on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In his death, he became the “faithful witness,” and because of his resurrection, he is the “firstborn of the dead” who is now sovereign over the creation.

  • (Revelation 2:8-11) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Smyrna write: These things the first and the last declares, who became dead and lived: I know your tribulationˎ and destitution, neverthelessyou are rich, and the profane speech from among them who affirm that they themselves are Jews, and they are not, but a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear the things which you are going to suffer. Lo! the adversary is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried and may have tribulation ten days. Become faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He that hath an earlet him hear what |the Spiritis saying to the churches. He that overcomes shall in nowise be injured by the second death.

Jesus “knows” the condition of the congregation. From his perspective, it is “rich,” although its members are financially poor.

Their impoverishment is due to the “slander” from those in the city who claim to be Jews “but are not.”  And the Risen Christ knows the works of the congregation, not so much its good deeds as its faithfulness in giving testimony despite opposition and persecution.

And already, the assembly has endured “tribulation” due to its faithful testimony. But even though it has remained faithful, it will yet endure more “tribulation for ten days.”

TRIBULATION

The congregation’s impoverishment anticipates the economic program of the “Beast from the earth,” namely, the “False Prophet” described in chapter 13. Its control over the economy is employed to compel submission to the political and religious agendas of the “Beast from the sea”- (Revelation 13:15-18).

The “slander” against the church by men from the local synagogue refers to their denouncement of members of the assembly to local magistrates, accusations that result in the legal prosecution of the saints.

Likewise, in chapter 13, the “Beast from the sea” has the “name of slander” or blasphémia upon its several heads, and a mouth speaking “slanders” against God and “those who tabernacle in heaven.” Later, the “Great Harlot” is seen sitting on the “scarlet beast full of slanders” - (Revelation 13:1-6, 17:3).

The false accusations by the synagogue demonstrate how Satan “slanders” believers and Jesus, and the “Dragon” is the one behind these efforts to suppress the church at Smyrna.

And because the Devil is behind the persecution of the saints in Smyrna, the Risen “Son of Man” names these accusers the “synagogue of Satan.” The “Dragon” is the real power and source behind the harassment of the assembly.

UNTIL DEATH

Of the seven churches in Asia, only Smyrna and Philadelphia receive no correction. Yet Jesus admonishes the saints in Smyrna to face any tribulation that might come. The congregation has endured trials without wavering already, and now is exhorted to continue doing so in the coming “tribulation.”

Some disciples will be cast into prison. In the Roman world, prison cells are holding cells for accused criminals until their trial or execution. That reality is implied in the exhortation to “become faithful until death.”

The congregation will be tried for “ten days,” a figure that alludes to the “ten days” during which Daniel and his compatriots were also “tested” and did not eat food offered to idols. The allusion is fitting since the Asian churches are struggling with false teachers who promote “fornication” and “eating food offered to idols” - (Daniel 1:12-14).

Faithfulness in trials and persecution will produce the “wreath of life.” This refers to a victor’s wreath. And the one who “overcomes,” even in death, will not taste the “second death.”

Thus, the promise to the saint who “overcomes” looks forward to his or her reward at the final judgment. At that time, the faithful whose name is “written in the book of life” will not be cast into the “lake of fire,” which is the “second death.”

In contrast to the “overcomer,” all the “fearful, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” will have their part in the “lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” - (Revelation 21:8).

Finally, the faithful disciples of Smyrna “overcome” in the same paradoxical way as Jesus, the “faithful witness,” by enduring persecution and martyrdom because of their own testimony for him.


POPULAR POSTS

Destruction of Babylon

Gog and Magog