Study Notes

Revelation 2:8-11


The Roman empire mandated the worship of Caesar. The city of Smyrna was knee-deep into it - they were the first city to build a temple to Tiberius Caesar. Every citizen had to burn an incense offering to Caesar and state publicly that he was the supreme Lord. After doing this, the citizen would receive an official certification that verified their pledge of loyalty and worship.

Of course, the Christians in Smyrna couldn't say that Caesar was the Lord - they knew the true Lord. As a result, Smyrna produced many martyrs - they were burned at the stake and killed by wild beasts

One of the most famous Christians in the 2nd century was Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. The Romans burned him at the stake for refusing to worship Caesar.

2:8 Smyrna And Myrrh

The word "Smyrna" is directly descended from the Hebrew word "Myrrh." Myrrh is a gum that comes from cutting the bark of a certain tree. Then it is crushed to yield its perfume-like aroma. This perfumed Myrrh is used for embalming. In this way, myrrh is very symbolic of death.

You may recall that myrrh was one of the three gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus - and what they brought is of amazing symbolic and prophetic meaning. What presents did the Wise Men bring? Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

Gold is a metal which is always associated in the Word with kingly rule. Frankincense was the spice that was used by the priests in the temple, and myrrh was the spice that was used in embalming bodies for burial.

By bringing gold, the Magi were proclaiming that Christ would be a king. By bringing frankincense, the Magi were proclaiming that Christ would be a priest. By bringing myrrh, the Magi were proclaiming that Christ would be dead.

Jesus Christ, 33 years after He was born, was arrested, convicted by an illegal trial, and killed on a cross between two thieves. Dead.

But notice the title that Jesus Christ describes Himself with at the beginning of the letter to Smyrna:

Rev. 2:8 "...The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life..."

The prophet Isaiah wrote that when our Redeemer comes again to Zion to reign:

Isa. 60:6 "...All those from Sheba will come; They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the Lord.

At that time, the gifts brought to Christ will be gold and frankincense: no myrrh. Jesus Christ was dead and has come to life - there is no more need to bring Him myrrh!

The First And The Last

Jesus had used this expression in chapter one, saying,

Rev. 1:17 ..."Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last"

He also called himself the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

Rev. 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega,"

There are a couple of fascinating things hidden in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures in regards to this "first and last" title. Alpha in this sentence is the word "Alpha" spelled out. But the Omega is the singular letter Omega. It is a linguistic picture, indicating that the beginning has been completed, but the ending is still yet to be.

An even more interesting thing arises in the Hebrew. In the Hebrew alphabet, the first and last letters are the Ahlef and the Tahv. Genesis 1:1 says,

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

But as written in Hebrew, there are two untranslated letters between "God" and "created" - an ahlef and a tahv. So the Hebrew actually says, "In the beginning God, the ahlef and the tahv, created the heavens and the earth. This happens again in Zechariah 12:10 which says,

Zech. 12:10 "...They will look on Me (the ahlef and the tahv) whom they have pierced..."

Jesus Christ has always been the beginning and the end!

2:9 Your Poverty

Many of us believe that if we don't have anything extra, we are in poverty. But the word Jesus uses to acknowledge their poverty is "pto-KHI-ah." It means to be completely destitute, to have nothing at all.

Can you imagine being a Christian in a time and place that you couldn't get a job because of your faith in Christ? Where your property and belongings were confiscated because you had decided to follow Jesus? This was an everyday reality to the Smyrnans.

Notice that Jesus doesn't tell them the lie of the faith movement: "Oh, if only you had more faith, or repented of that sin, then you'd be healthy and wealthy!"

The Smyrnans thought they were poor, but Jesus says they are rich. As we'll read in chapter three, the Laodicean church thought they were rich, but they were poor. Most often, a church has the wrong idea about itself - they think they're doing great when they're really doing poorly, and vice versa. The only opinion of the church that counts is the Lord's.

Synagogue Of satan

The synagogue of satan were those "who say they are Jews and are not". Who claim to be Jews and are not? Well, cults will often come to your door and claim that they are one of the 144,000 Jews listed in Revelation 7. But that's not who Jesus is talking about. Paul wrote,

Rom. 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

True Jews have not merely cut away the flesh on the outside, but have cut away the flesh of their hearts on the inside. They are broken and contrite when confronted with the Law of God, not proud and boastful about their observance of the Law of God.

Phil. 3:2-3 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Jesus had a confrontation with some Jews in John 8, saying,

John 8:37-44 "I know that you are Abraham's offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.: They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father.: Jesus said to them, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father." They said to Him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father..."

The Jews that were of the synagogue of satan were those who had the religion on the outside, but no heart for God on the inside.

2:10 Tribulation And Suffering

In only two of the seven letters does Jesus have nothing bad to say to a church. Did they have all their doctrine down? Probably not. Did they have a dynamic ministry of service and outreach? Doubtful. But Jesus doesn't point those things out. What He says is, "I know your tribulation, your poverty, and the suffering you are about to go through." The Lord is far more concerned with comforting you in distress than condemning you in doctrine. He desires much more to help you persevere through your poverty than to pick on your performance.

And He reminds them, that although they are stricken with poverty here on earth, their reward in heaven is tremendous - He says to them, "You are rich." Oftentimes, we feel like God's forsaken us in the midst of suffering. David wrote Psalm 13 in a state of mind like that.

Ps. 13:-61 HOW long, O LORD? Wilt Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, {Having} sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider {and} answer me, O LORD, my God; Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the {sleep of} death, Lest my enemy say, "I have overcome him," {Lest} my adversaries rejoice when I am shaken. But I have trusted in Thy lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Don't give up hope, don't lose faith. The Lord is there with you - weeping with you as you weep.

Cast into Prison by the Devil

In many churches, if Jesus said, "Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison", they would just "bind" the devil. They'd say, "satan, we bind you in the name of Jesus!" But Jesus doesn't tell them to bind the devil - He tells them to be faithful unto death. Strangely enough, we never read of any believer in the Bible "binding" satan. The Lord told the Smyrnans that this was going to happen for their testing. The book of Job gives us a behind-the-scenes account of the dialog between satan and God:

Job 1:6-12 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it." And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him." So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.

Of course you know the subsequent story - Job was afflicted with financial, relational, and medical trauma.

But notice this: the devil needed God's permission to touch Job. It was the same situation when he asked again regarding Simon Peter. Jesus told Peter,

Luke 22:31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat."

Paul the apostle said,

2Cor. 12:7-9 ...There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me - to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness."

Wouldn't it have been great if Job could have bound satan? He would've never had such a horrible time - losing everything he owned, his children dying, his body suffering. What about Peter? If he had "bound" satan, would he have been able to avoid his testing? Why didn't Paul just "bind" satan? Because God uses satan for His own purposes. Because with maturity in the faith comes the realization that God often allows satan to buffet us for His purposes. Colossians 1 says,

Col. 1:16 ...By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and for Him.

In Genesis 50, we read that Joseph knew that what the enemy means for evil, God means "for good, in order to bring about this present result."

Ten Days

What is the meaning of the "ten days" of tribulation? A day sometimes refers in the Bible as a time period. During the history of the Smyrnan Christians, there were ten emperors who vehemently persecuted them. Historians estimate that over five million Christians were martyred during that time period.

As for the actual meaning of the ten days, it may have been to bring to their remembrance the situation that Daniel was in. In Daniel 1 you may recall that Daniel and his friends were taken by force to serve in the king's court. But the food and wine provided for them would ceremonially defile them as Jews. Although it would have been a very simple thing to eat the food, to them it would be a sin.

Dan. 1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

Dan. 1:12-15 "Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence, and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king's choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see." So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. And at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king's choice food.

It would have been so simple just to eat the food, just like it would have been so easy for the Smyrnan Christians to burn the incense and say "Caesar is Lord." But they refused to compromise their faith.

Crown Of Life

If the Smyrnans were faithful in their testing, if they persevered until death, they would receive the crown of life. James also knew this to be true:

James 1:12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which {the Lord} has promised to those who love Him.

If you love God, you will persevere in faith until your death, and then you will receive the crown of life.

2:11 The Second Death

Now we come to the second promise of salvation to him who overcomes. What is the "second death?" Revelation 20 says,

Rev. 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power

Everyone will go through one of two scenarios. Either you will be born twice and die once, or you will be born once and die twice.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

John 3:5 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

If you're born again, your name is written in the Book of Life. At the judgment Day, everyone whose name is not in that book is judged according to their deeds.

Rev. 20:14-15 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Rev. 21:8 "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Jude calls them "twice dead." Rest assured, it is much better to be born twice and die once than to be born once and die twice.

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