1. The History of Smyrna
2. The Letter to Smyrna
i. The First and the Last
1. The Alpha and the Omega
2. The Beginning and the End
3. The First and the Last
ii. The One who died and came to life
b. I know...
c. The imminent event
d. The promise
1. The History of Smyrna
Smyrna is mentioned only twice in the Bible, both times in the Book of Revelation but, of the seven cities mentioned as having letters sent to them, Smyrna, is the largest and most commercially important in present day Turkey being the city known as Izmir. Unsurprisingly, therefore, most of the ancient buildings lie hidden beneath the current buildings and very little is expected to come to light - besides, having been in almost constant use over the millennia, much of the ancient remains will have been plundered and reused.
Smyrna was situated on the river Hermus and was a well protected harbour (at the mouth of the river there is a narrow inlet which could be closed in times of war) and a natural trade route into the Asian interior.
There is evidence of habitation as early as the third millennium BC but the ancient city was probably founded around 1000BC and by 700, it was a prosperous and powerful community.
During the seventh century BC an ancient temple has been positively identified as being dedicated to Athena but there was much political unrest in the area for many years, culminating in Smyrna’s destruction in 580BC at the hands of Alyattes, king of Lydia, from which it appears to have remained abandoned and left to waste for around three hundred years. Then, in 290BC, Lysimachus and Antigonus rebuilt it according to a definite pre-calculated plan after Alexander the Great’s empire had been divided up on his death. It could truly be said of the city, then, that it ‘rose from the dead’ (see Rev 2:8). Therefore Smyrna was one of the very few ancient cities that did not evolve its layout through successive generations but had had it’s arrangement mapped out for it prior to its foundation.
From this time onwards, it steadily grew in both wealth and importance but it owed much of its later prosperity which existed at the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation to its early recognition and support for the emerging dominance of the Roman Empire.
There was a temple dedicated to the goddess of Rome as early as 195BC, having forged links with Rome by allying itself with the Roman cause when it had been engaged in a struggle against the Carthaginian Empire (265-146BC) and, according to Tacitus, having aided the empire through with a naval force.
When Rome came to dominance in the area, the city was naturally remembered and it was subsequently used as a route through which Rome could reach into Asia Minor and beyond to the east because of its excellent natural port.
It was, again, probably because of these early links with Rome that it won the right from Rome to build, in 26AD (though some authorities date it as early as 23BC when no Emperor Tiberius appears to have been reigning in Rome), a temple to the Emperor Tiberius, even though a total of eleven cities had appealed for the site to be in their location. This temple became the second Asian temple constructed for the deity of Rome and was the seat of the Caesar-cult (that proclaimed that Caesar was ‘lord’ and ‘god’) which caused intense tribulation within the christian church.
By the time of the NT era, it has been estimated that the city had a population of around 200,000 (compared to Ephesus’ quarter of a million) and was competing with Ephesus to the south for the trade of the Hermus and Maender valley. It eventually became more important than Ephesus through the silting up of the latter’s port. On one of its ancient coins there is the inscription of the city that it’s ‘the first of Asia in beauty and size’ even though Ephesus would have had something to say about that!
But, certainly, Smyrna was reputed to hold the largest theatre in Asia - even bigger than that at Ephesus which is estimated as having a capacity of somewhere around 24,000.
Ancient writers (the phrase which many of the commentators use without actually specifying their sources so I can check the text out!!) refer to a ‘crown of Smyrna’ (see Rev 2:10) which may have been a title given to a crown of flowers worn by worshippers of Cybele - others think that it referred to a ring of porticoed buildings that ringed the hilltop as Mounce notes
‘A famous thoroughfare called the Street of Gold curved around Mt Pagus (which rose over 500 feet from the harbour) like a necklace on the statue of a goddess. At either end was a temple, one to a local variety of Cybele, known as Sipylene Mother (a patron divinity), and the other to Zeus. The acropolis on Mt Pagus was called the crown or garland of Smyrna’
Certainly, a quote from Apollonius of Tyana in the first century AD reads this way and is significant when it notes that
‘...it is a greater charm to wear a crown of men than a crown of porticoes, for buildings are seen only in their one place, but men are seen everywhere, and spoken about everywhere, and make their city as vast as the range of countries which they visit’
It is unknown how Smyrna first received the Word of the Gospel either from the Bible or from other sources, but it is generally believed that it came as a direct result of Paul’s work in Ephesus where he spent around 2 years ministering the message of the Gospel (see the previous web page here). There was, reputedly, a large Jewish population there even though I was unable to determine a direct ancient source that says as much! Many commentators make this bold assertion even though there are no ancient sources quotable - perhaps it relies more on the comments in the letter in Revelation than upon any ancient text?!
Ignatius wrote four of his letters from here (to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome c.100AD) and one to here while in Troas when he was being transported to Rome from Antioch and it was to here that Bishop Onesimus from Ephesus travelled with a group from that fellowship to meet with him. Polycarp was also martyred here somewhere around 155-156AD in the stadium - he was the 12th martyr of Smyrna and died aged 86, a strange title if there was widespread death following the persecution mentioned by Jesus in this letter. Perhaps it was counted from a later date or else only those who they knew ‘by name’ were counted.
2. The Letter to Smyrna
As is normal in the other letters, the introduction to the church at Smyrna begins with a description of Jesus drawn from what has already preceded it in 1:17 and 1:18. Though some letters will add phrases to the description, this mirrors the text that goes before.
This letter is predominantly one to a suffering fellowship. Direct references include the ‘tribulation’ and ‘slander’ of verse 9 and the imminent persecution about to fall upon them in verse 10. But, even when a direct reference is not forthcoming, the allusions to death are unmistakable - for instance, Jesus proclaims Himself as the one who died (verse 8) and talks of those who overcome as being unable to be hurt by the second death (verse 11).
Though this is the shortest letter of all in the Greek (this containing 98 while the next shortest is to Sardis with 142) it is relentless in the thrust of its message and, whatever part we read, persecution should never be far from our thoughts and considerations.
i. The First and the Last
Although the phrase ‘the first and the last’ has become such an integral part of the church’s understanding of Christ, it may surprise us to learn that, throughout the NT, it only occurs in the Book of Revelation - and that only three times in 1:17, here in 2:8 and, finally, in 22:13 where it occurs as one of three phrases that initially appear to mean almost one and the same thing.
Morris notes (on 1:17) that
‘The First and the Last...means very much the same as “the Alpha and the Omega” used of God in verse 8...’
concluding by stating that it’s use, because virtually similar to that previous phrase, is attributing divinity to Christ. Hughes also agrees, stating that the ‘first and the last’
‘...is the equivalent of the divine self-identification as “the Alpha and the Omega” in verse 8...’
Though this seems to be a good interpretation of the phrases, there are a few questions need answering when we come to the declaration of Jesus in Rev 22:13 where He says that
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’
Morris simply concludes that
‘All three expressions mean much the same and they set Christ apart from all created being’
While it is true that Jesus could have used these phrases to emphasise His divinity, using differing phrases which were identical, I tend to think that there are shades of meaning here that we would do well to consider before we accept the conclusions of most of the commentators on the subject. It appears that the three titles are used together not to repeat and emphasise one aspect of the character of Christ but to state three quite different and distinct points.
1. The Alpha and the Omega
Used in Rev 1:8 (alone), 21:6 (with 2 below) and 22:13 (with both 2 and 3 below).
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet - if we were to bring the phrase into modern day English, we would hear Jesus saying that He is the ‘A and Z’. And that’s quite a good description of the One who is proclaimed as being the ‘Word of God’ (John 1:1) because words are made up of letters!
Simply, then, the title means that God/Christ is the One who stands both at the beginning of all things but also at the end. It does not need to imply any action on behalf of God but is a title that simply proclaims Him as the One who is eternal.
When Creation began, God was there and, when it is brought to an end, God is there also - He’s also at all points in the middle, too (He is present from B to Y!) but the phrase is emphasising His pre-eminence and post-eminence.
2. The Beginning and the End
Used in Rev 21:6 (with 1 above) and 22:13 (with 1 above and 3 below)
God/Christ is said here to be the beginning (when God has no beginning) and the end (when He has no end). Here, then, we are not looking at God’s eternality but His work of causing all things to come into existence and, finally, to end the existence of all things. God is the beginning (not ‘at’ the beginning’), the start, and nothing exists except that God has caused it to begin or has allowed its possibility (John 1:2-3, 8:58, Col 1:17). Similarly, nothing will cease to exist except when God causes it to end - He is the end, the conclusion, of all things.
God began the world and He will also end it - He began His work of salvation in believers and He will also bring it to completion. In all things, God is to be considered as the source and origin but also as the final outcome - therefore God is proclaimed as being both the Beginning and the End.
3. The First and the Last
Used in Rev 1:17 (alone), 2:8 (alone) and 22:13 (with both 1 and 2 above)
This is the phrase that is used in the introduction to the Smyrnaeans currently being discussed. Had Jesus said that He was the Beginning and the End to the Smyrnaeans (as understood above), we could well appreciate the reason for the declaration - the Smyrnaeans were about to go through a period of intense suffering when many of them would find that they would lose their lives for Christ and the Gospel. This would be a time of pain but those who stood strong until the end would be rewarded (Rev 2:10).
It would be encouraging to know that Christ was to end their suffering - that He was the End of all suffering and that, afterwards, they would receive a reward for their endurance and faith.
But that’s not how Jesus addresses them here. He proclaims Himself as the First and the Last, a title that is not used of God in Revelation (as we see in 1:8 where God speaks using ‘Alpha and Omega’) but with a phrase that speaks of the unity of both divinity and humanity in Christ.
To see this, we need to consider how these two words can be used elsewhere in the NT.
Protos (translated ‘first’ - Strongs Gk number 4413) can be used to denote rank. So Mk 10:44 shows us Jesus being attributed as saying to the disciples that
‘...whoever would be first (protos) among you must be slave of all’
That is, whichever disciple would desire to be the most important and elevated above all the others, has need to humble himself and serve the body because it is in service that greatness is considered.
Mk 12:28 also shows this usage of the word where one of the scribes asks Jesus
‘Which commandment is the first (protos) of all?’
By comparing Mtw 22:36, we see that the parallel passage uses the word translated ‘great’. The question, then, is aimed at determining which of the commandments is above all the others in importance.
Eschatos (translated ‘last’ - Strongs Gk number 2078) is also used to denote rank but, this time, of what is of the least importance. In Lk 14:9-10 we read of Jesus telling His disciples
‘...when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest (eschatos) place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you’
That is, they were not to take the position of superiority when they sat down at table to eat but take up the lowliest position. Position is also in mind when Paul the apostle notes that
‘...God has exhibited us apostles as last (eschatos) of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men’
Both protos and eschatos are used in Mk 9:35 and are here contrasted. Jesus asks the twelve what they were talking about on the way to Capernaum but the disciples are hesitant to tell Him because they were discussing amongst themselves which it is of them who is the greatest. Therefore Jesus calls them to Him and says
‘...If any one would be first (protos), he must be last (eschatos) of all and servant of all’
It is also important to note that ‘rank’ is not one of the most common concepts to be found accompanying the usage of the words in the NT so that, when we come to Revelation, it is more likely that they don’t hold this meaning than they do.
Unfortunately, there is no context to decide their meaning but, because of the three phrases that are used in Rev 22:13, I believe that the phrase would not have been used to repeat what had already been said (even though it is not impossible).
Therefore, in Rev 2:8, Jesus’ proclamation that He is both the first (in rank) and the last (in rank) needs some explanation. I have already said that the title is not used of God, supreme in the heavens, but of Christ alone in Revelation and it is for this reason that God in humanity is being considered.
Most christians would proclaim loudly that Jesus is first in rank, far above all (Phil 2:9-11) but recoil against any thought that Jesus is still in that position of humility where He is also the servant of all (as He was on earth - Phil 2:5-8). But Jesus is not so exalted as to refuse to associate Himself with lowly men and women. He takes upon Himself the form of a servant even today and comes alongside the believer to strengthen and encourage him, to serve Him through the working of the Holy Spirit in order that all might achieve salvation on that final day (Mtw 28:20, Mk 16:20, II Tim 4:17, Acts 18:10, John 14:23).
That Jesus proclaims Himself as this is significant when we come to the letter to the Smyrnaeans. They are about to enter a time of great tribulation when many of them are going to lose their lives (Rev 2:10) - it is a great encouragement, therefore, and source of strength to know that Jesus is not standing aloof from their situation, elevated far above all in the heavens but unwilling or unable to descend to be with them through their hour of need, but that He is the One who shares their suffering and will be alongside them throughout the trial until they find it completed.
Therefore, the phrase ‘the first and the last’ is especially significant when used in the address to the Smyrnaeans.
ii. The One who died and came to life
This, simply, proclaims Jesus as the resurrected One, who has conquered death. Whereas in Rev 1:18, the thought is that Jesus is continuing to live (‘I am alive for evermore’), this phrase refers to the event of the resurrection (‘I...came to life’). Therefore, although many commentators see this verse as a direct quote from what John has previously written, it must be noted that something slightly different is being described.
This has relevance to the Smyrnaeans in two specific areas:
Firstly, just as Jesus died and rose from the grave, so also the city had done between its conquest in 590BC and it’s replanning and founding in 280BC. For nearly three hundred years it had been ‘dead’ but through both Lysimachus and Antigonus it had risen from its ruins to be one of the most prosperous cities of the area.
How much of this was in the mind of the inhabitants of the city, though, is difficult to determine and it may be that, knowing Smyrna’s history, we are seeing in Jesus’ words something that does not have to be there.
Secondly, though, and more importantly, His words relate directly to His further words in Rev 2:10 - that the church is to undergo a time of persecution, after which many of the believers would lose their lives. In the phrase, Jesus reminds them of His victory over death and the inference is that, if Christ has risen from the dead, then they can be assured that the resurrection from the dead will also be theirs on the final day (this is further reinforced by Jesus’ words in Rev 2:11).
It, perhaps, would have been more poignant had the phrase of Rev 1:18 - ‘I have the keys of Death and Hades’ - been included here for that phrase instructs believers that Jesus has not just conquered death but now has power over death. However, the description of where Jesus won that power over death is probably sufficient for the Smyrnaeans to understand the implications.
b. I know...
As we saw in the comments on the letter to Ephesus, just because Jesus says ‘I know...’ it does not mean that He is necessarily praising them for what He is subsequently going to list as ‘knowing’. In Ephesus, the point was made that, though He knew their works (2:2), their works were deficient (2:4-5) and, therefore, His knowledge was not something that demanded praise for the Ephesians but, rather, just knowledge.
Therefore, unless we can be sure that Jesus is commending the church for what He knows about them, the sentences may be no more than observations from Him who knows all things.
Certainly, of the three things that Jesus ‘knows’ about His church at Smyrna, the first could be a point worthy of praise (but we have no way of knowing), the second ends with a note of praise though, in itself, it says nothing of the Smyrnaeans spiritual state, while the third is a comment on the words that are being addressed at them by the Jewish community.
Jesus says ‘I know...’ but He is not merely referring to what is going in within the fellowship, He is saying that He knows exactly what they are going through by experience because He went through all three in His earthly walk:
i. Tribulation - Mtw 26:67-68, 27:28-31, Mk 15:15 and the crucifixion
ii. Poverty - II Cor 8:9. At times, Jesus had nowhere even to lay His head down to sleep - Lk 9:58, John 6:5-7
iii. Slander - John 8:48, 8:41, Mtw 11:18-19, 12:10, 12:14
A question that arises from passages such as this and Acts 14:22 (‘...through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God...’) is why the church in Britain is not experiencing tribulation because of our relationship with Christ. When we are ‘reproached for the name of Christ...the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you’ (I Peter 4:14). Does this mean that this spirit doesn’t rest upon us?
Satan will oppose any movement of God that presents itself as a threat to his dominion - if we are not threatening that dominion, therefore, satan has nothing to worry about. The Smyrnaeans found themselves in intense suffering because they would not bow down to the world systems and it is only as we oppose the world systems in our own lives that we will know opposition and persecution - if we live as friends of the world and adopt all their ways of living and lifestyle, then our lives cannot be a cause for offence to them.
Finally, we should not think that suffering is necessarily evidence of a right relationship with God (for instance, I Peter 4:15) and neither should we think (as I’ve heard it said) that, for revival to come, we should seek persecution and suffering (see Heb 12:14). Rather, we should seek to do God’s will and to know Him better and, out of that deepening of our relationship, there will, consequently, come opposition to Christ in us.
‘I know your tribulation...’
The recurring theme throughout this letter is persecution. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the first thing that Jesus ‘knows’ concerns the attacks that are being initiated on His Church.
The Gk word used here (Strongs Gk Number 2347) is one that literally means ‘pressure’ and is used to convey serious trouble, not just an uncomfortable situation. Morris calls it ‘serious trouble, the burden which crushes’ and this gives some idea of the intensity of the afflictions that are being described.
The Gk word is used along with Strongs Gk Number 3173 and translated as ‘great tribulation’ in Mtw 24:21, Rev 2:22 and 7:14.
‘I know...your poverty (but you are rich)...’
The Gk word here (Strongs Gk number 4432 - transliterated ptocheia) is one that means much more than not having enough money. It means, rather, not having any money. Kittels notes that
‘[It] means “destitution”, “begging”. It is worthy of note that in distinction from penes, which refers to those who are poor and have to work for a living, the [word] group refers to the total poverty which reduces people to begging’
and Trench (being quoted in Morris and referring to the contrast between the two Gk words)
‘The penes has nothing superfluous, the ptochos nothing at all’
Their poverty, like their tribulation, was extreme - they had nothing in this world (even though Smyrna was one of the richest cities of Asia at that time) and yet Jesus comments that, although they are destitute materially, yet they are spiritually rich. God has chosen the materially poor in this world to be spiritually rich in faith (James 2:5).
What Jesus says here can be contrasted with what Jesus will say to the Laodiceans in Rev 3:17 where that church has the name of being rich when they are, in fact, poor. Here, though, the Smyrnaeans are rich even though they are labelled naturally as poor. It appears that, judging by the two different statements, the Laodiceans were not living in the Truth of II Cor 8:14 - the material wealth should have been shared with the Smyrnaean fellowship and the spiritual prosperity could have been reciprocated through attenders being sent to minister to them.
Many commentators have put together both the word ‘tribulation’ and ‘poverty’ and come up with a situation that was either that the Smyrnaeans poverty was a result of persecution that excluded them from earning a fair wage or that they were in poverty because their adversaries were plundering their property (as in Heb 10:34) but neither scenario need be the case here. The fellowship may, rather, have been effective in seeing the poor come to know Christ so that it was made up largely of this class of society.
‘I know...the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of satan’
The third thing that Jesus ‘knows’ is the ‘slander’ that is being directed towards them. The Greek word (Strongs Gk number 988) is more rightly translated as ‘blasphemy’ as it is in Mtw 12:31 where it is used as the descriptor of the offence of ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’
I have discussed the concept of what blasphemy is in its OT context here and these notes should be consulted for a lengthier discussion. However, I concluded there that that sort of ‘blasphemy’ could be summarised as
‘...attributing evil to a work of the Holy Spirit when it was obvious that what had transpired was a work of God’
and that blasphemy in general was the attribution of evil to either the character or work of God. Therefore, whatever images ‘slander’ conjures up in our own minds, we should replace them with the more accurate concept of ‘blasphemy’ - it wasn’t that the Jews here mentioned had spoken evil of the men of Smyrna but that, in the context of the fellowship of the saints, they had spoken evil of either the work or character of God. Even though they were Jews according to natural descent, God refuses to count them as such (Rom 2:28-29) but relabels them as a ‘synagogue of satan’ (not mincing His words here, is He?).
Hughes thinks that
‘Their denunciation as a synagogue of satan suggests that they were propagators of a perverted, pseudo-Christian gospel which was in reality no gospel at all...’
but the phrase needn’t mean that. Because they had rejected the purposes of God for themselves and spoken against what was plainly God’s work in the fellowship of the saints, they were rightly on satan’s side, not God’s. Though they would have thought of themselves as upholding the traditions of their fathers which were based on God’s revealed will and purpose, they had, in fact, only the name of being God-fearers and were actually assaulting (verbally, physically or otherwise) the true work of God in their city.
Therefore, they had the name of God upon them - but, in essence, they had the character of God’s enemy who always attacks both God and His work (John 8:33-44). We would do well to heed the warning here - and also as it has been repeated throughout Church history - that the persecutors of the next move of God are normally the people who received the last move of God. The Jews were no different in this respect but it is sad to think that, despite almost two thousand years, we, the Church, still haven’t learnt the principle!
c. The imminent event
Just when the Smyrnaeans think that things can’t get any worse, Jesus tells them
‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation [the same Greek word is used here as in verse 9 above]. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life’
God will put a limit of ten days on the suffering that is about to descend upon them, but it does not appear to be avoidable - through this severe test of their faith, many will enter death and receive the victor’s crown as their reward.
It is not enough simply to ‘pray back’ the powers of darkness that are all around the church, believers must stand strong in their faith and stand fast even in the midst of intense persecution which will come upon them. Rev 12:11 tells us that the blood of Christ overcomes the evil one but that it must be allied with the word of a believer’s testimony and with the laying down of a believer’s life in death (that is, martyrdom).
It is this resolute decision of believers that contributes to the defeat of satan - and of the weakening of his hold over society - and it is necessary for every church to stand fast when they find opposition to themselves and their fellowship.
Also of significance in a later passage of Revelation are 6:9-11, 17:6, 18:24 and 19:2. It is not without recompense that the blood of the martyrs of the Lord is shed. Rev 6:11 would also have had direct relevance to the Smyrnaeans as they heard it read out in their fellowship. It reads
‘Then they [that is, the previous martyrs] were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been [that is, the Smyrnaeans and believers like them]’
The fellowship would have been able to see a greater purpose in what they were about to experience and could be content with the recompense that Jesus promises He will take upon those who shed their blood.
Also of significance is the mention of satan in verse 9 with the devil here in verse 10. If these two verses are connected (that is, not just connected by being next to each other), the agency who moves to have the christians thrown into prison may well have been the Jews, the synagogue representative of satan himself.
As Mounce notes on the preceding verse
‘Jewish hostility to Christians seems to have stemmed both from their conviction that to worship a Galilean peasant who had died a criminal’s death would be blasphemy and the apparent success of the Christians in evangelizing God-fearers and even some from within Judaism...Antagonism against believers would lead Jews to become informers for the Roman overlords. In a city like Smyrna with its strong ties to Rome it would be a fairly simple matter to incite the authorities to action’
It must be remembered that today’s great outcry from the Jewish community over their persecution at the hands of ‘christians’ through the centuries should be balanced by the facts of the initial experience of the early Church (and continuing experience, I note, within the current nation of Israel) who found that their worse persecutors were the Jews. Obviously, all persecution is opposed to the will of God, whether from Jew or Christian, but, initially, it began with the Jew - not the believing christian.
Finally, the ‘crown’ mentioned here as being the reward of those who remain ‘faithful unto death’ is the victor’s crown according to most commentators (Strongs Gk number 4735) not the diadem or royal crown of sovereignty. However, Kittels notes various uses of the word and it need not have to be taken to refer to a victor’s crown (whether through war or, as noted by Mounce, through the winning of an event at the famous Smyrnaean Games) even though this appears to be the best interpretation and fits the context.
There is possibly an allusion here to the crown which encircled the city of Smyrna (see ‘The History of Smyrna’ above), a series of porticoes erected on one of the city’s hillsides marking a route between two temples. But the main relevance of the crown is that it is a crown of life. Though the church was imminently to be persecuted worse than it had been before and that some believers would lose their life, their reward for sacrificing themselves was the return of their life.
Though they may lose their physical life in their stand for Christ, Christ will return life to them - eternal, never-ending life will be meant, not a resuscitation of their physical life.
The summary of what the Smyrnaeans are about to experience is well related by James 1:12 (see also II Tim 4:8 and I Cor 9:25) which reads
‘Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him’
The ‘crown of life’ was, therefore, a known phrase used within the early Church before John penned the letters recorded from Jesus to the churches. In the letter to Philadelphia - the only other letter of the seven which seems to exclude any criticisms of the fellowship from Jesus - the ‘crown’ is again mentioned (3:11) though here the recipients of the letter are told that they are already in possession of it.
The ‘synagogue of satan’ is also mentioned (3:9) but, contrastingly, they will be spared from the trial that is about to come upon the entire world (3:10).
d. The promise
Jesus promises the Smyrnaeans that those of them who overcome
‘...shall not be hurt by the second death’
referring to the spiritual separation from God which occurs after the judging of all who have lived throughout world history (Rev 20:6, 20:14, 21:8). It is described simply as ‘the lake of fire’ in the second of these three references.
The ‘not’ of Rev 2:11 is noted by Morris as being
‘...an emphatic double negative’
which emphasises the statement being made while Mounce notes the same and interprets the sentence as saying (my italics) that
‘The overcomer is promised that he shall not in any way...be hurt by the second death’
This double negative is something akin to our underlining of a word in a sentence or of typing in a bold font - it is meant to draw attention to the absolute certainty of the statement being made.
The One who sits on the Throne (Rev 21:8) singles out the
‘...cowardly, the faithless, the polluted...murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars...’
for special mention concerning the second death. These are they, then, who didn’t overcome - that is, those who gave in to the pressures and pulls of life around them and who held a form of christianity which did not confess Christ as Lord over their lives.
Notice that the Lord rewards the believers with something that many of us would expect is a part of the new birth (and so it is) and not something that should be considered as being a reward for perseverance through persecution. But the thought here is that that which is promised in Christ is obtained only by continuance through to the end of one’s life - the prize is to he who overcomes and remains faithful to Jesus no matter what may happen throughout the course of their lives. Therefore Paul talks not of possessing the right to the resurrection from the dead but of pressing on to make it his own (Phil 3:11-12).
The implication here for the Smyrnaeans is that, if they persevere and overcome the earthly pain and tribulation which will last for a brief moment, He will deliver them from the pain and tribulation which is eternal (see also Mtw 10:28).
Along with the crown of life, it is the most apt prize for the christians who are ‘faithful unto death’ through persecution.