Lesson Three • The Church at Smyrna
Dr. Randy T. Johnson
Prison ministry can be fascinating. One of the most striking observations is that many of those who are incarcerated walk in freedom, while many who are outside the walls are imprisoned in fear, doubt, and no sense of hope.
1. How can this be true?
I believe this relates to the church at Smyrna who were poor, yet rich.
Revelation 2:8 transitions from the church at Ephesus to the church at Smyrna, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.’”
2. Who is being described and what does it mean?
In Revelation 2:9-10, the Lord compliments the church at Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 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. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
3. What compliment is given to the church at Smyrna?
4. What does it mean to have poverty and be rich?
Revelation 2:10 continues, “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. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
5. What criticism is stated of the church at Smyrna?
Jews were persecuting these Christians causing poverty and hurting their reputation. However, it was going to get worse. They would face prison and death. Warren Wiersbe notes, “No words of accusation are given to the congregation in Smyrna! They may not have enjoyed the approval of men, but they certainly received the praise of God. However, the Lord did give them solemn words of admonition as they faced increased suffering: ‘Don’t be afraid!’”
6. What are some common fears people have today?
Finally, Revelation 2:10-11 gives the command to the church at Smyrna, “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. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”
7. What two commands are given in this section?
8. What is the reward for those who are faithful to death?
9. What does it mean?
Paige Patterson makes an interesting observation, “The crown promised here is the stephanos, the victor’s crown, as opposed to the diadēma or diadem. The stephanos was not worn by royalty, at least not as a sign of that position, but rather was awarded to the athlete who had won an athletic event. In other words, it was a ‘winner’s crown,’ and the Smyrnans are invited to see themselves, whatever their sufferings, not as losers but as winners.” All too often there is this mindset that when things do not go as expected or hoped that God is punishing. God will never leave us, wants the best for us, and sees the bigger picture.
James Hamilton’s quotation helps us know how to be winners, “In order to be faithful unto death, the knowledge of Jesus must be bigger to us than the reality of death itself. Jesus is the First and the Last, the Conqueror over death, the Giver of the crown of life to those who are faithful unto death. Jesus must be bigger to us than death itself.”
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28