Revelation 2:8-11: Death and resurrection.
‘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.” NIV
Out of all the 7 cities mentioned in these 7 letters, Smyrna is the only one still in existence today. All the others lie in ruins. It is now the modern Turkish City of Izmir, about 40 miles north of ancient Ephesus (which, in the time John wrote, was the most important city in Asia). Smyrna itself had undergone a kind of death and resurrection, being rebuilt after destruction. In the face of persecution, when we know we may lose our lives for Jesus, it is important to remember that He ‘’died and came to life again’’ (8). So will we, if we die in Him. Polycarp, a famous martyr and citizen of Smyrna, had learned about Jesus from the apostle John. He in turn influenced Irenaeus, one of the great early church leaders. These words surely must have encouraged this dear old man, Polycarp, as he prepared for his own martyrdom. He was given the opportunity to renounce Christ and live, but he would not.
Another fascinating feature of Smyrna is that it ‘was thought of as a city with a crown, due to the way its splendid architecture used the natural advantages of a steep hill to good effect’ (Tom Wright: ‘Revelation for everyone’, p.18).
Most of the populace of Smyrna worshipped the emperor as a god, and a big temple had been built in his honour in the city. But the Christians would not bow down to him, and as a result they suffered economic privation. Their shops and houses were looted. But in the ‘upside-down Kingdom’ there are apparent contradictions that hold true (9): ‘Now let the poor say, ‘’I am rich.’’ ‘
The Jews of Smyrna also hated the Christians and slandered them (9b). They were servants of Satan whose very name means ‘slanderer.’
The letter envisages a short period of intense persecution which lay just ahead for the Smyrnan Christians (10). The ‘’ten days’’ is probably not literal, but represents a short period of time. Reading this verse, I am reminded of what C.S Lewis said about there being two equal and opposite traps we can fall into regarding the devils: one is to believe in them too much, and attribute too much to them; but the other is to believe in them too little, and not recognise the reality of the battle we are in. However, the devil is always ‘God’s devil’. He is on a long leash, but he is on a leash. He can do nothing without God permitting it. The Lord is always in control.
There is something more to fear than dying; it is undergoing ‘’the second death’’ and being spiritually lost for all eternity.