Revelation 2:8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall 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 a crown of life.

11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.


MEMORY VERSE: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. — James 1:12


CENTRAL THOUGHT: The second church Christ addressed was Smyrna, a poor but spiritually rich congregation whom He commended and encouraged.




Revelations 2:9 “Them which say they are Jews”: Adam Clarke suggests: “There were persons there who professed Judaism, and had a synagogue in the place, and professed to worship the true God; but they had no genuine religion, and they served the devil rather than God. They applied a sacred name to an unholy thing: and this is one meaning of the word blasphemy in this book” (Clarke’s Commentary). F. G. Smith offers: “In all probability the term Jew is applied in its spiritual sense. Paul declares that ‘he is not a Jew which is one outwardly…but he is a Jew which is one inwardly’ (Romans 2:28, 29), and that ‘if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3:29). These persons professed to belong to the true ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16), but they were without salvation; and the Smyrnaen church would not recognize them as belonging to the congregation… therefore the only name that could be applied to them was ‘the synagogue of Satan’ ” (The Revelation Explained).

Revelation 2:10 “Ten days”: a prophetic term probably meaning ten years and referring to the persecution under Diocletian, from 302-312, which was the “greatest persecution that the primitive church ever endured, most grievously afflicting all the Asian, and indeed all the eastern churches” (Benson Commentary). “Crown” (as also in James 1:12 and Revelation 4:10): that which surrounds; a garland; a wreath awarded to a victor. This is different from the word crown in Revelation 19:12, where Christ has “many crowns.” Here the word means diadem or a royal crown, referring to the infinite majesty and royal kingship of Christ. This mention of crown could be alluding to the crowns given to the Dionysian priests at the expiration of their year in office, or those given during the Olympic games held at Smyrna.

Revelation 2:11 “Second death”: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:14). “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power…” (Revelation 20:6). A promise which has its pledge in the Lord’s own life after death, as in Revelation 2:8. The lake of fire is for those who do not overcome (Revelation 21:8).




Smyrna, located about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus on the Aegean Sea (now Izmir, Turkey), was a Roman commercial port with a population of an estimated 100,000 during the time of apostles John and Paul. Acts 19:10 records that from Ephesus, during Paul’s third missionary journey, the gospel was spread to “all they that dwelt in Asia,” which may have been the time when the church at Smyrna was established. There was a strong Jewish influence in the city which presented much opposition to the Christians. The poverty which was described was most likely due to the fact that when individuals embrace Christianity in an idolatrous land, they usually suffer discrimination, being shunned by society and family and disinherited by parents; are denied public employment, heavily taxed by the government and cut off from any form of assistance.

Great persecution was predicted for these already in tribulation and poverty. The ten days’ tribulation, although most likely referring to the severe time of persecution under Diocletian, could also mean “completeness: the test would be thorough. The exhortation, ‘Be thou faithful (even) unto death,’ seems to favour this last [definition]; while the mention of ‘ten days’ was, perhaps, designed to remind them that the period of trial was limited by Him who knew what they could bear, and would be but a little while when compared with the life with which they would be crowned” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers). We do know that the pastor, Polycarp, a disciple taught by John, was put to death some years later (the dates have been debated, as either A.D. 155 or as late as 167). This account is given in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:

“Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After feasting the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the proconsul, [to be] condemned, and burnt in the marketplace.

The proconsul then urged him, saying, ‘Swear, and I will release thee; reproach Christ.’ Polycarp answered, ‘Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?’ [The Jews were zealous during the persecution of Polycarp, eagerly bringing wood for the fire in which to burn him.] At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire. But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the Gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it Christian burial, rejected. They nevertheless collected his bones and as much of his remains as possible, and caused them to be decently interred.”

—Sis. Angela Gellenbeck




  1. Was Dead, and Is Alive”: How would these words have bolstered the courage of the suffering congregation?
  2. The Poor-Rich Church: Explain how this applies to Smyrna.
  3. Used by Satan: What groups took part in the persecution against the Smyrnaen Christians?
  4. Unto Death: What “angel” would have been persecuted unto death? Describe his manner while suffering.
  5. The Second Death: Explain this concept.




How may we apply the truths from this message? First of all, it is a good reminder to us that financial prosperity is not always a sign of God’s blessing or of deep spirituality. As was explained, many times following Christ means the loss of all material wealth. Truly, having God’s commendation is better than having the fleeting riches of this world.

Secondly, what a great comfort it is to know that Christ is monitoring the length and severity of the tribulation. He knows the end from the beginning. He’s already been there ahead of us and knows the deepest extent of suffering we may endure. He knows when it is too much for us, and He keeps the power to stay its hand and say, “It is enough.”

It is so encouraging to read about Polycarp. We can be assured that God’s promises were true; these things actually took place to real people, and they are witnesses to us who search for our own overcoming grace.

What did it mean for the Smyrnaens to overcome? It most certainly meant having determination and resolve to not give in to the persecutors’ demands, even when it cost suffering—they were stretched upon racks, made to lie on beds of sharp shell fragments, were scourged until bones and sinews lay bare. Our faith in Christ may lead us through the vale of death. But the promise is, although suffering unto death—the first death, the death of the body—we, overcoming fear and boldly standing for Christ, will not be hurt by the second death, the lake of fire. Be an overcomer!

—Sis. Angela Gellenbeck




This reminds me of one of the saddest stories I ever read in “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” page 15. This happened under the seventh great persecution of the Church, around the year 250 A.D. I quote:

“Nichomacus, being brought before the proconsul (Optimus of Asia) as a Christian, was ordered to sacrifice to the pagan idols. Nichomachus replied, ‘I cannot pay that respect to devils, which is only due to the Almighty.’ This speech so enraged the proconsul that Nichomacus was put to the rack. After enduring the torments for a time, he recanted; but scarcely had he given this proof of his frailty, than he fell into the greatest agonies, dropped down on the ground, and expired immediately.

“Denisa, a young woman of only sixteen years of age, who beheld this terrible judgment, suddenly exclaimed, ‘O unhappy wretch, why would you buy a moment’s ease at the expense of a miserable eternity!’ Optimus, hearing this, called to her, and Denisa avowing herself to be a Christian, she was beheaded, by his order, soon after.”

Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Also, in Luke 17:32-33, “Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” Lord, help us to be faithful unto death!

—Bro. Harlan Sorrell