THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA
Rev 2:8-11 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 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. 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. 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.
Smyrna, a city of Asia Minor, is located on the Aegean Sea, approximately forty miles north of the city of Ephesus. Founded by Alexander the Great, it still exists today. According to recent visitors, it still has a thriving Christian population. The history of the church of Christ that was first established there is not known, but is thought to have begun under Paul's supervision, and by the teaching of one of his ministering servants of Christ. It is worthy to note that against this congregation of Christians, Jesus had no words of correction or reproach for which John was to write and send to their "angel."
That which was recorded here by the apostle John and sent to the church in Smyrna was the words of one known as the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive. Looking back at Rev. 1:17-18, we know that these "titles" identified Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Jesus said to these Christians, I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty. As He spoke to the church of Ephesus, so He speaks to the church in Smyrna. Being the all-knowing, omniscient Son of God, He intimately knew everything there was to know about each member of this congregation, as well as the spirituality and progress of the church as a whole. The good deeds, and the sacrifice, and effort required to perform them for others, both spiritual and physical, were known by Christ Jesus. He knew about all the trials and tribulations they suffered for the cause of Christ. These afflictions were brought on them, not only by radical Jewish zealots who refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah, but also by pagan heretics that refused Christianity in favor of idol worship, and the human self-satisfaction of immoral desires, which their "gods" were said to have taught.
Jesus also had full understanding of their state of poverty. The appeal of the New Testament gospel of salvation through Jesus is, in most instances, not appealing to the rich, powerful, noble, and mighty, but rather to the poor, the meek, the merciful, those that seek peace, and the humble (See 1 Cor. 1:26-29; Matt. 5:3-12). The rich often see themselves as having no physical or spiritual needs, while the poor often seek that which is good, and also have minds receptive to attaining both physical and spiritual blessings.
To these Christians of Smyrna, who were tired and weary from good works, who were distraught and fearful due the their tribulations, and had little to sustain themselves, but they gave all they had, Jesus praised them, and told them that thou art rich. Not rich in this world's goods, but possessing wealth untold in the form of faith, hope, and treasures in heaven for their compassionate labors.
Jesus was well aware of persecution brought on the church of Christ in Smyrna by the anti-Christian Jews, but He tells them that their desire to destroy the efforts of their congregation was the work of Satan. He encourages them to have no fear of those things which thou shalt suffer. They were to remain strong, and even if imprisoned, they were to joyfully remain true to the New Testament doctrine they willingly accepted through Him. Notice how emphatic the apostle Peter states this same Christian determination to overcome the trials and tribulations of each child of God. He wrote that they were to greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
With full recognition of the tribulations suffered by members of the church of Christ in Smyrna, Jesus commends their dedicated service, telling them: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. The final eternal reward will far exceed the suffering for Christ during a few years of life on earth.