Revelation 2v8-11

SERMON TOPIC: Revelation 2v8-11

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 3 September 2023


Sermon synopsis: The name Smyrna may have been taken from the ancient Greek word for myrrh, smýrna, (Strabo, Stephanus of Byzantium) which was the chief export of the city in ancient times.
Myrrh is bitter to taste but sweet to smell. It has an association with sorrow and death and was used to embalm the dead (John 19:39).
The church here faced bitter persecution and death, but emitted a fragrant testimony of faithfulness to Christ.

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REVELATION – chapter 2



The letters to the 7 churches have a similar structure.

An address to a particular church.

An introduction of Jesus.

A statement regarding the condition of the church.

A verdict from Jesus regarding the church.

A command from Jesus to the church.

A general exhortation to all Christians with a promise of reward.

Revelation 2:8 (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.

a) An address to a particular church

v8a “To the angel (or messenger) of the church in Smyrna…

Smyrna (modern name is İzmir) was a Greek city located at a strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. *

As one of the principal cities of Roman Asia, Smyrna vied with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “First City of Asia.” *

* https:// wiki/ Smyrna

The famous Greek poet Homer, author of the epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, was probably born in Old Smyrna around 850 BC. *

A shrine to Homer stood in the Roman period (Herodotus, Strabo). *

* https:// ancient-smyrna


Smyrna sat 56 km (35 miles) north of Ephesus, built near the ruins of an ancient Greek colony destroyed in the 7th century BC. *

Lysimachus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, rebuilt Smyrna as a new Hellenistic city in the 3rd century BC. The city was later established as a Roman commercial center with a port on the Aegean Sea.

Scholars believe the city’s population was about 100,000 in John’s day. *

Smyrna was a center of learning and culture, and was proud of its standing as a city. It “was an outstandingly beautiful city. It claimed to be the ‘Glory of Asia.’” (Barclay)

* https:// smyrna

b) An introduction of Jesus

v8b These are the words of him who is the First and the Last…

This title used by Christ in his initial appearance to John (Rev 1:17) speaks of his eternal nature and affirm his equality with God.

The title “First and the Last” belongs exclusively to Yahweh.

Isaiah 44:6 (WEB) This is what Yahweh … says: “I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God. [cf. 48:12]

v8c … who died and came to life again.

This description of Christ from his initial appearance to John (Rev 1:18) would be especially encouraging. It would remind the persecuted Christians in Smyrna that Jesus is the ultimate victor.

Facing death – they are reminded that they served a risen Lord, who conquered death. The grave could not hold Jesus, and it cannot hold his people.

Revelation 2:9

(NKJV) “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.”

(NIV) 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.

C) A statement regarding the condition of the church

The church in Smyrna was poor, downtrodden, hated and persecuted. When facing this kind of trouble and persecution, one might be tempted to think that God has forgotten you – but Jesus says to them, “I know your afflictions” (v9) and he means it. To paraphrase, Jesus says, “I know what you’re going through.”

Christ is not oblivious to their pain and suffering. He knows what it feels like. He’s been in their shoes. He’s felt the crushing weight of persecution for the sake of the Gospel. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. (Isaiah 53:3-4)


“Smyrna was a great trade city… Smyrna stood at the end of the road which served the valley of the river Hermus, and all the trade of that valley flowed into its markets and found an outlet through its harbor. It had a specially rich trade in wines. Smyrna, like Ephesus, was a city of wealth and commercial greatness.” (Barclay)

Jesus says, “I know … your poverty” (v9). This was a rich city yet the Christians there were poor. There are two words used in the NT for poverty and one just means poor. But the word used here means “abject poverty, possessing absolutely nothing.” They were not poor. They were dirt poor. *

* https:// seriespage/ 3-smyrna-suffering-church

D) A verdict from Jesus regarding the church

v9a I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!

Every outward circumstance said that the Christians in Smyrna were poor, even destitute, but Jesus saw through the circumstances to see that they were really rich. “Sweet smelling Smyrna, the poorest but purest of the seven.” (Trapp)

Paul also says, “(We are) sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, poor, yet making many rich, having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor 6:10)

Rich: This is what Jesus thought of them, and if Jesus considered them rich, then they were rich. Our estimation of ourselves is far less important than God’s estimation of us. (Guzik)

In contrast, the Christians at Laodicea thought they were rich, but they were really poor (Rev 3:17). Laodicea was a poor rich church. Smyrna was a rich poor church. Better to be a rich poor church than a poor rich church. (Guzik)

Jesus said that money is often a hindrance to entering the Kingdom of God, an obstacle that some (like the rich young ruler) do not overcome.

Mark 10:23-25 (NIV) Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! … It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

While there is nothing wrong with having money; the problem is when money has us.

Too often, material wealth is acquired at the expense of true spiritual riches.

Thus many modern Western churches cannot say what Peter said to the lame man: “Silver and gold have I none.”

But neither can they say, “rise up and walk.”


The materially poor Smyrnaean church was rich in leadership and its heritage. Tertullian wrote (c. 208) AD that the church in Smyrna traced its origins to John and Polycarp.

Anyhow the heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops till now from the Apostles or from some bishop appointed by the Apostles, as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John … let heretics invent something to match this. [Liber de praescriptione haereticorum]


Irenaeus was probably a native of Smyrna, although he later relocated to Lyon in Gaul. In the late 2nd century, he noted that Polycarp actually knew many people who had seen Jesus.

Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna… always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp. [Against Heresies, Bk. III, 4:3, 3:4]


Irenaeus writes to Florinus:

For, while I was yet a boy, I saw you in Lower Asia with Polycarp… I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse … also how he would speak of his familiar association with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. [Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenæus]

Ignatius of Antioch (another disciple of John) visited Smyrna and wrote letters to Polycarp.


v9c (NIV) I know about the slander [blasphēmian] of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

Jesus knew the abuse these Christians endured at the hands of “religious” men, those who say they are Jews and are not. Historically, we are told there was a large and hostile community of Jews in Smyrna, but this tells us that a true Jew is one who trusts God and believes in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:3). (Guzik)

It seems here this persecution follows the pattern we see in the gospels and Acts, where the Jews agitated and succeeded in stirring up Roman opposition to Christians.

Revelation 2:10-11 (NKJV)

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. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’

Myrrh is bitter to taste but sweet to smell. It has an association with sorrow and death and was used to embalm the dead (John 19:39).

The church here faced bitter persecution and death, but emitted a fragrant testimony of faithfulness to Christ.

* https:// wiki/ Smyrna

The name Smyrna may have been taken from the ancient Greek word for myrrh, smýrna, (Strabo, Stephanus of Byzantium) which was the chief export of the city in ancient times. *


Smyrna was a leading city in the Roman cult of Emperor worship.

In AD 23 it won the privilege (over 11 other cities) to build the first temple dedicated to the worship of the Emperor – at that time Tiberius Caesar.

At time of John’s writing of Revelation, the Roman Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) was the first to demand worship and to be addressed as “lord and god”.


The persecution in Smyrna was probably due to 3 reasons.

Their opposition to emperor worship. The Christians, of course, would refuse to offer incense before the altar of the emperor. They would not call him Lord, so they were at odds with the government.

Pagan worship. The city worshiped many gods and goddesses, and the Christians would not. They were out of sync with the culture in every way.

There was opposition because of the Jews; that is stated as such. Look back at verse 9. (John MacArthur)


They were persecuted politically (imprisonment) because they would not worship Caesar as a god.

They suffered religious persecution through slander by some of the Jewish population.

They suffered abject poverty because of economic persecution. This might include losing their jobs when they were kicked out of the local trade guilds, or having their possessions looted. This is similar to the plight of the early Hebrew Christians.

Heb 10:34 (NIV) You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property …

Even in our modern world, Christians are imprisoned or lose their jobs due to their faith.

Employers in China are requiring that workers sign “no-faith” commitments or else be at risk of losing their jobs and livelihood. *

On 31 January 2019, Pan Fei, a Christian from the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu city in southwest Sichuan Province, was fired by his employer, Yonghui Supermarket in Chengdu, because he continued to go to church. *

* https:// christians-are-losing-jobs-due-to-beliefs/


In September 2018, a Christian from Beijing Zion Church was dismissed by his company due to his religious beliefs. According to a staff member in the company, the police put pressure on the management, demanding that it fire the believer and remove his name from the company’s roster lest the company’s performance gets penalized for having the Christian’s information on its books. *

… this Christian had only been going to church gatherings for only nine months, making him a new believer. And yet, the local Public Security Bureau already considered him a “religious figure” and made a record of his identity. Other believers from Beijing Zion Church were also subjected to similar threats: Abandon your faith or lose your job. *

* Ibid.

He beat her, imprisoning her in their own home. He threatened to divorce her, taking their children with him. *

She was forced to quit working, losing a job that she enjoyed which provided her with a steady income. *

* https:// when-a-persecuted-christian-loses-everything

Faiza lived in a Muslim majority country. When her husband discovered that she was attending church, he feared that would jeopardize his position in the military.

When he realized Faiza’s Christian faith was more than a phase, her husband eventually divorced her and took their children with him. Her uncle, who first threatened her for asking questions, planned to kill her, ridding the family of supposed shame. *

Faiza had no choice but to flee, leaving everything behind. Now in North Africa, Faiza is starting over. She is unemployed, with no means to pay for housing or food. Being a convert from Islam, she remains at risk of violent persecution in her new community. *

* Ibid.

And yet, despite the heavy burden of persecution, Faiza’s faith flourished. The Truth had set her free, giving her the courage to follow Jesus no matter the cost. She clung to Jesus’ words from Matthew as she experienced abuse, isolation, and uncertainty: *

“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

* Ibid.

What does Jesus want the church at Smyrna to do?

v10a Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.

Unlike many of the other 7 churches, the exhortation in this letter isn’t “I have something against you” but rather “hang in there.”

e) A command from Jesus to the church


Do not fear: Literally, this is better translated “stop being afraid.” The Christians in Smyrna suffered under persecution, and they were afraid.*

Sometimes we think that Christians who endure persecution are almost super-human, and we sometimes don’t appreciate the depths of fear they struggle with. *

There were things which they were about to suffer, and Jesus wanted them ready to stand against those things. *

* Guzik


v10b (NIV) I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison …

Some of the Christians in the church at Smyrna would be imprisoned.

Being thrown into prison was severe persecution. In that day, prison was never used to rehabilitate someone, and rarely used to punish someone. Normally, you were thrown into prison as you awaited trial and execution. (Guzik)

While the Romans would have been the ones arresting the Christians, Jesus identifies the spiritual source as the devil.


If this attack came from the devil, then why couldn’t these Christians in Smyrna just rebuke Satan, and stop the attack? Because God had a purpose in their suffering, and so He allowed it. God uses suffering to purify (1 Peter 1:6-7), to make us like Jesus (Romans 8:17), and to makes us truly witnesses of Him. (Guzik)

Most specifically in this case, God allowed this attack so that they may be tested, in the sense of being proven. Through their suffering, God displayed the true riches of the church in Smyrna to everyone, including themselves – even though He knew they were rich already. (Guzik)


v10b (NIV) I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you and you will suffer persecution for ten days.

Suffering is the ultimate test.

“The saints at Smyrna had not been given a pep-talk on ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ They had no testimony on ‘How Faith Made Me Mayor of Smyrna.’ They were not promised deliverance from tribulation, poverty and reviling. In fact, the worst was yet to come.” (Havner)

Sadly, many Christians avoid persecution of any kind by conforming so much to the world that they are no longer distinctively Christians. This wasn’t the case with the Christians in Smyrna. (Guzik)

The Christians here would be tested, but they passed the test.

The Smyrnaean church has nothing bad said about it.

This church has survived through centuries of Roman and Muslim persecution.

Despite the Muslim invasion of this area, Christianity has never completely left this city. It is the only one of the seven cities still in flourishing condition - their candlestick has never been removed. *

* See https:// seriespage/ 3-smyrna-suffering-church

Persecution doesn’t destroy the church. It makes it strong. The church in Smyrna was purified by suffering. There is no condemnation of this church. It has been purified and purged of error — purified and purged of sin by suffering. The price for being a Christian in that city was very, very high. It was a very anti-gospel, anti-God place. But John has only praise for the church. (John MacArthur)



In an act of simple trust, Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer … Be faithful until death” (v10).

We may not have to suffer as much for Jesus as the Christians in Smyrna did, but we can have the same attitude towards suffering – trust.

TRUST: firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.


Have you experienced suffering in your life where it was difficult to stand firm?

In times of trial, God promises us strength to endure.

1 Cor 10:13 (NIV) No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.


When we hear of Christians facing intense persecution and martyrdom in various parts of the world, we sometimes wonder how they can endure it. We may wonder whether or not we would stand strong in our faith if subjected to such horrific treatment.

Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983) was once ministering in a small African country where a new government had come to power. Just that week the new regime had begun to systematically put Christians to death. As the people gathered at the little church where she was speaking, fear and tension was written on every face.

Corrie first read 1 Peter 4:12-14:

“And now, dear friends of mine, I beg you not to be unduly alarmed at the fiery ordeals which come to test your faith, as though this were some abnormal experience. You should be glad, because it means you are called to share Christ’s sufferings. One day, when He shows Himself in full splendour to men, you will be filled with the most tremendous joy. If you are reproached for being Christ’s followers, that is a great privilege, for you can be sure that God’s Spirit of glory is resting upon you.” (Phillips Translation)

Closing her Bible, Corrie proceeded to relate a conversation that took place between she and her father when she was a little girl. “Daddy,” she had said one day, “I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”

“Tell me,” her father wisely responded, “when you take a train trip from Haarlem to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”

“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”

“That is right,” he replied, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our wise Father in heaven knows when you are going to need things too. Today you do not need the strength to be a martyr. But as soon as you are called upon for the honour of facing death for Jesus, He will supply the strength you need -just in time.”

“Tell us more, Tante Corrie,” one grizzled old member of the congregation spoke up. All were listening intently, seeking to store up truth that would strengthen them for the day of trial. So she shared an incident that had taken place at Ravensbruck.

“I took great comfort in my father’s advice,” Corrie told her audience. “Later I had to suffer for Jesus in a [Nazi] concentration camp. He indeed gave me all the courage and power I needed.”

A group of fellow prisoners had approached her, asking her to tell them some Bible stories. ... Death by cruel punishment had been promised for any prisoner who was found possessing a Bible or talking about the Lord. Despite her awareness of those potential consequences, Corrie retrieved her Bible and started teaching from the Scripture.

Suddenly she was aware of a figure behind her. One of the prisoners silently mouthed the words, “Hide your Bible. It’s Lony.” Corrie knew Lony well. She was among the cruellest of all the women guards. Corrie, however, felt she had to obey God who had so clearly guided her to bring a Bible message to the prisoners that morning. Lony remained motionless behind her as she finished her teaching.

Corrie then said, “Let’s now sing a hymn of praise.” She could see the worried, anxious looks on the faces of the prisoners. Before it had been only her speaking but now they, too, were being asked to join her in singing. But Corrie believed God wanted them to be bold, even in the face of the enemy. So they sang.

When the hymn came to an end, Lony instructed, “Another song like that one.” She had enjoyed the singing and wanted to hear more. Heartened, the prisoners sang song after song. Afterwards Corrie even went to Lony and spoke to her about her need for Christ as her Saviour.

“Let me tell you what I learned from that experience,” she now told her African audience. “I knew that every word I said could mean death. Yet never before had I felt such peace and joy in my heart as while I was giving the Bible message in the presence of mine enemy. God gave me the grace and power I needed—the money for the train ticket arrived just the moment I was to step on the train.”

When the meeting came to a close the nationals stood to leave. The fear and anxiety was gone from their faces. Once again joy shown on their countenances and their hearts seemed filled with peace.

Softly in the back of the room someone began singing an old gospel song:

There’s a land that is fairer than day, And by faith we can see it afar. For the Father waits over the way, To prepare us a dwelling place there. In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

Corrie was later told that more than half the Christians who attended that service subsequently met a martyr’s death. 1

1 Receiving God’s Strength When Persecuted – Corrie Ten Boom - by Vance Christie

V10c (NKJV) Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

The word used in the Koine Greek for “crown” here is “stephanos”, a wreath that was the prize for the winner at the Ancient Olympic Games.


Jesus looks at the Christians of Smyrna, and says to them: “You are My winners. You deserve a trophy.” (Guzik)


What Jesus said to this church is important, but what He didn’t say is also important. Jesus didn’t have a single word of rebuke or correction for the Christians in Smyrna. All He had was the promise of a crown – and the encouragement to be faithful until death …” (Walvoord)

There are 5 crowns promised to believers. No trial we face on earth is in vain. In James, this same crown of life is promised to those who persevere under trial:

James 1:12 (NIV) Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.


In about 156 AD, at the instigation of Jews and pagans, Polycarp was arrested.

He was at least 86 years old. When the soldiers sent to apprehend him found him at a farmhouse, they were embarrassed to see that they had come to arrest such an old, frail man. They reluctantly put him on a donkey and walked him to the city.

On the way to the city, the government officials tried to persuade Polycarp to offer a pinch of incense before a statue of Caesar and simply say “Caesar is Lord.” That’s all he had to do, and he would be off the hook. They pleaded with him to do it to escape the dreadful penalties. At first Polycarp was silent, but then he calmly gave them his answer: no.

This former disciple of John was led into the city’s arena to face the proconsul and possible execution. Seeing his advanced age, the proconsul was at first eager to spare Polycarp.


“The Martyrdom of Polycarp” (2nd century) relates:

The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” (Christians were referred to as atheists because they did not believe in the pagan “gods”).

Polycarp looked at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!”

“Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.”

“86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.”

“If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.”

“You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.” *

* Polycarp’s Martyrdom (ca. 69-ca. 155) Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. Abridged and modernized by Stephen Tomkins.


As Polycarp was led into the arena to be executed, he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, play the man.”

“Faithful until death”, Polycarp would receive the crown of life Jesus promised to the Christians in Smyrna.

He was heard to pray: “Lord God, Father of our blessed Saviour, I thank You that I have been deemed worthy to receive the crown of martyrdom, and that I may die for You and Your cause.”

v11a Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Though the Spirit has something to say to us through every one of the churches, this letter to the Christians in Smyrna may apply least of all to modern, western Christians. To this point, we simply don’t face the kind of persecution the Christians in Smyrna experienced.


Nevertheless, the day of martyrs is definitely not past. There are many Christians today, especially in Muslim and Communist countries, who can relate to this letter written to the church at Smyrna.

According to Open Doors (2023) today, more than 360m Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. *

Every day Christians are killed, imprisoned, abducted, sexually assaulted, forced into marriage or forced to leave their homes and even their countries—simply because they have chosen to follow Jesus. *

* https:// en-US/ persecution/ persecution-trends ** https:// en-US/ stories/ 15-christians-killed-every-day


In the last 30 years, the number of countries where Christians suffer high and extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled to 76 countries. *

By the time you go to bed tonight, 15 Christians will die today for their faith in Jesus. Ten will be abducted. **

In recent years, violence against Christians has reached an all-time high. Research for Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List reveals 5,621 recorded cases of Christians killed for their faith. ***

Also, many Christians (not included in the 5,621) died indirectly for their faith—due to deprivation (of basic necessities). **

* https:// en-US/ persecution/ persecution-trends ** https:// en-US/ stories/ 15-christians-killed-every-day *** The actual number, however, is likely much higher. It’s extremely difficult to estimate the numbers of Christians killed for their faith. Data remains hard to come by despite Open Doors’ extensive on-the-ground networks. After all, no one is reporting when a Somalian family kills one of their own; or a Christian dies of starvation or beatings in a North Korean labor camp.

This was a promise for overcomers. This promise is for those who overcome the threat of persecution, and the presence of persecution.

No true believer will have to endure the Great White Throne Judgment and be condemned to the Lake of Fire, which is the second death (20:11–15).

v11b The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

If you are suffering for Christ’s sake, you need to remember these five things that we learn from this letter:

Jesus is the ultimate victor.

Suffering is the ultimate test.

Satan is the ultimate enemy.

Trust is the ultimate solution.

Life is the ultimate reward.