Due to relentless attacks brought upon them by local blasphemous Jews, this message from Jesus to the “suffering” church in Smyrna is meant to comfort them for past and future tribulations. The first of just two churches in which He has only praise.
v.8-9 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
Seemingly put under heavy duress by a malignant group of blasphemous Jews, Smyrna is addressed during a time they were suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ.
With full knowledge of the congregation’s present and future suffering and persecution, however, Jesus seeks to comfort them. By His title, “the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life”, He virtually joins with them in their affliction. As the Living Savior, who became dead but lived again (having suffered death, yet triumphed over it); this afflicted congregation was being assured that in Jesus they too would pass through suffering and death and into an everlasting joy in the world to come.
Although the Smyrna church was destitute, powerless, and duly crushed under the heel of persecution, Jesus tells them, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich).” Smyrna was rich, in spite of their condition, because they stayed true to God and thus found favor with Him. One’s true faith is the only true riches, and those works accomplished to the glory of Christ (and subsequently stored in heaven) are the only true treasure (Matt.6:19-21).
By His statement, “and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan”, Jesus identifies the source of the church’s persecution.
Seemingly, these were those with Jewish extraction and thus considered themselves Jews, but because of their bitter opposition to Christ and His people, not a true Jew in the eyes of God (see Rom.2:28, 29). Because they were serving Satan and not God by persecuting the Church, Jesus refers to them as the “synagogue of Satan”.
v.10 “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.”
Allow me to set up my comments to this passage with the following fictitious letter we will imagine has been posted as a church bulletin at Smyrna.
Over the last several months, our impoverished fellowship has come under brutal attack by the Jews in Smyrna. When we gather, they are at our doors screaming profanities as we make our way in. During our service, they pound relentlessly on the walls and doors to disrupt us. As we depart, we get spit on, manhandled, or pelted by stones. As a result, many new believers are dropping out, and fewer unbelievers come to visit. Moreover, those of us who remain are finding it difficult not to feed upon each others fears and apprehensions.
Because we have been taught that God has jurisdiction over our enemies and always stands ready to deliver His people, we have been praying for God’s intervention. We can report a miracle! We are told that John the Apostle had a spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ during his imprisonment and has sent a letter personally addressed to us by our Lord. So we will gather this evening and read the letter, and tonight learn what God has in store for us. Let us remain hopeful that our deliverance is near.
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