Bible Passage: [Rev 2:8-11 NIV]
8 ‘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. 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. 10 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, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
We’re in the last days. Ever since death entered the world (Gen 3), we’ve been awaiting the promised Messiah, the servant of the Lord (Isaiah 53), the one to crush the serpent’s head. He came 2000 years ago, at the cross defeated death (Col 2:14-15) and now holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:18). He rose again (eg Luke 24 & Isaiah 53) and reigns on the throne in the heavenly realms. He will return to judge, but in the meantime his church is to patiently endure. This will involve suffering for the church, but Jesus is a man who knows suffering and controls it (1 Corinth 10:13).
Brief note on context/key themes of book
The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.
Structure of the passage [a breakdown of verses with brief summary]
Like all of the letters, Rev 2:8-11 contains:
1. a command to write to the church’s angel (v8 Smyrna)
2. Christ’s self-description (v8 First and Last, who died and came back to life)
3. Christ’s knowledge of the church (v9 I know your afflictions and poverty (yet rich))
4. A commendation and / or rebuke (No rebuke here, but imlicit commendation for their suffering v9)
5. A command to repent or persevere (Do not be afraid but be faithful even to death)
6. A call to hear the Spirit’s message (v11 as in others)
7. A promise for those who are victorious (not hurt by the second death)
The first and last (7th) letters are the most negative, but this (the 2nd) and 6th are the most positive. There’s no rebuke and they seem to be doing very well, but they still need an encouragent to persevere.
2 encouragements to persevere (in suffering):
Jesus is sovereign in suffering, v9-10
Jesus’ sovereignty not unique to this letter, but dominant theme here.
He knows the present - your afflictions, poverty and slander
He knows their afflictions and their poverty. Despite poverty of Christians in Smyrna, they are spiritually rich. They have every blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1). Maybe their poverty is related to Jews slandering and getting them in to trouble with the Roman occupation, but Jesus knows. Jews called a Synagogue of Satan because these ones are against God’s people, like Satan. It is not anti-semitic, afterall Jesus and John are both Jewish. Afflictions and poverty terrible but controlled.
He knows the future - more persecution is coming, but definite limit
This brings great comfort. Not that he stops suffering, but he controls it. He says it is for 10 days. This is a definite, limited time. It will get worse, but it will end.
Jesus is risen, so we will too v8, 10 & 11
v8 the one speaking from Ch 1, particular emphasis on his resurrection. Why? He died, he came to life, so you can be faithful unto death. If suffering leads to death, you will come alive too.
So don’t fear what people might do to you. If you are confident of the resurrection, no threats stick. What’s the worst they can do to me?
end of v10, Following the pattern of Jesus, the one who dies receives a reward of life.
v11 the one who is victorious (or overcomes) cannot die again.
Suggestions for any tricky bits? [e.g. particular verses or likely thorny questions]
v9, Jews, who are not Jews are called a synagogue of Satan: Satan is against God’s people and against God’s purposes, called ‘the accuser’. It seems that here these guys, who according to Jesus aren’t real Jews (although they may call themselves Jewish) are slandering the Christians in Smyrna, leading them to prison and possible death. They are against God’s people.
v10, 10 days: what does the number 10 represent in Revelation - some commentries say it’s a big number, some say it’s a small number. We know it’s a known, limited, definite number and it will end.
Summary of author’s main point
Jesus knows what you’re facing, and that there’s more suffering to come, but be faithful, persevere even unto death, and resurrection life will follow.
Aim/purpose for original audience
Reassurance that you can persevere because suffering will be finite says the risen Jesus, so don’t fear suffering, instead be faithful, even unto death.
Aim/purpose for us today
If suffering, be reassured that Jesus knows intimately and suffering will end, so don’t fear, instead be faithful
Key areas of application
Have a big view of Jesus and a right view of present suffering.
Don’t fear what people can do to us, continue to confess that the risen Jesus is Lord. Be bold.
Pray for the persecuted church to have a big view of the sovereign, risen Jesus, not fearing the future and persevering even unto death.