The letters to the seven churches, 2:1-3:22

ii] Smyrna


In the letter to the church at Smyrna, Jesus announces that he is well aware of the afflictions they have to bear. In the face of this trouble they must not be afraid, for it is only for a limited time. Let them hear what the Spirit says: those who endure to the end "will not be hurt by the second death."


i] Context: See 2:1-7.


ii] Background: See 1:1-8. Smyrna was a city renowned for its wealth. It had a large Jewish population and was a center for Emperor worship. The city is some 70 km. north of Ephesus, East of the Aegean gulf, and is one of the few seven cities in existence today, going by the name Izmir. We can only assume that the Christian church was planted there during Paul's third missionary journey while he was based at Ephesus. Hostility toward the church came both from the Jewish population and the followers of the Roman cult, and for this reason, martyrdom was common. From a letter written to Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, by Ignatius early in the 2nd., century, we know that the church was flourishing at the time. In around 150AD Polycarp was martyred in Smyrna.


iii] Structure: The letter to the church in Smyrna:


to whom, v8a;

"to the angel of the church in Smyrna."

from whom, v8b:

"He who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again."

Analysis of the church:

strengths, v9;

weaknesses, ??.


do not be afraid, v10;


the one who endures is blessed, v11


iv] Interpretation:

In the seven letters to the churches, 2:1-3:2, John reveals the not yet reality of the kingdom of God, a kingdom inaugurated, yet to be realized. He lets us see the Christian fellowship warts and all. As it was for the church in the first century, so it is for us. We stand at the crossroads of history, of God's now / not yet reign, compromised in the face of a hostile environment. We have survived to this moment in time between the cross and Christ's return, and if we are to share in God's promised reward we must repent, we must turn around to Christ and renew our faith in him, and then we must press forward in faith, we must endure, persevere, conquer.


Throughout history, segments of the Christian church have faced horrific persecution. The church in Smyrna well represents the suffering church, although their troubles were limited, both in severity and duration. In the last century, countless numbers of Christians have suffered for their faith. Jesus' message to the suffering church is "don't be afraid, the time is short, glory is at hand."

When it comes to this glory, John uses a very Jewish image . The notion of resurrection became common among religious Jews; there is death, and then with the coming of the messiah, there is a resurrected new life. Yet, this was only so for those who were buried in the Holy Land, if you were buried in "Babylon", then you faced the second death, you remained in the grave. John has a different take on issue!

Text - 2:8

Smyrna - a persecuted church, v8-11: i] Introduction: The Lord instructs John to write to the believers in Smyrna. The title used of Jesus in 1:17 is repeated here, "the First and the Last", and "the living one" = "the one who was dead and is alive." The title reflects the difficult situation faced by the church; Jesus is Lord, risen from the dead.

tw/ aggelw/ thV en ... ekklhsiaV grafon. Tade legei "to the angel of the church in [Smyrna] write: These are the words ..." See 2:1.

nekroV (oV) "died" - [the first and the last who became] dead. Predicate nominative.

ezhsen (zaw) aor. "came to life again" - [and] lives. Aune suggests that the aorist is inceptive, "came to life", but Mathewson argues it simply expresses "the state of Jesus being alive"; "who was dead and is alive."


ii] Analysis of the church, v9. Jesus indicates that he is well aware of the tribulations of the congregation, and their extreme poverty, although he reminds them that they are spiritually rich. Jesus also knows of the accusations made against the church by the local synagogue, Jews who might better be called children of Satan rather than children of God.

sou gen. pro. "your" - [I know the afflictions] of you. The genitive is usually viewed as verbal, subjective, "the afflictions you are going through."

qliyin (iV ewV) "afflictions" - the affliction. Accusative direct object of the verb "to know." Troubles prompted by a hostile environment, both Jewish and pagan; "I know of your tribulation", Phillips.

thn prwceian (a) "your poverty" - [and] the poverty. Syntax as above. The word is expressing real deprivation, possibly because the Christian community is isolated from the wider community; "you are deprived of the necessities of life."

alla "yet" - but [you are rich]. Strong adversative. Presumably, "but you are rich toward God."

ek + gen. "[the slander] of" - [and the slander] from. Expressing source / origin, or possibly means, "the slander heaped upon you by those who make themselves out to be Jews", Cassirer.

twn legontwn (legw) gen. pres. part. "those who say" - the ones saying. The participle serves as a substantive.

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "[they are Jews]" - [themselves] to be [Jews and are not]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what they are "saying." The accusative subject of the infinitive is eJautouV, "themselves."

tou satana (aV a) gen. "[but are a synagogue] of Satan" - [but they are a synagogue] of satan. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "I hear the lie in the claim of those who pretend to be good Jews [but] who in fact belong to Satan's crowd", Peterson. These Jews are not the children of Israel, the children of God, but they follow another power, namely, Satan; they are pseudo Jews, in no way the holy people of God.


iii] Instruction, v10: The believers in Smyrna will face persecution, but it will not be sustained, so they must not fear, but rather set their sight on the ultimate goal, the victor's crown, life eternal.

pascein (pascw) pres. inf. "[what you are about] to suffer" - [fear nothing the things you are about] to suffer. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verb "to be about to." The implication is that they are indeed about to suffer, but should not be afraid; "have no fear of what you will suffer", Phillips. The negation mhden is emphatic by position; they are "not to be afraid at all" of the troubles that lie ahead.

ballein (ballw) pres. inf. "[the devil] will put" - [the devil is about] to cast. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verb "to be about to."

ex (ek) + gen. "some of [you]" - of [you into prison]. The preposition serves here as a partitive genitive, as NIV.

iJna + subj. "to [test you]" - that [you may be tested]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order to", or better, consecutive expressing result , "with the result that you will be tested"; "the devil is about to throw you into jail and you will be sorely tested." As Smalley notes, "it was firmly believed in primitive Christianity that the Jewish and pagan enemies of the church were prompted by Satan." Satan is the one who tests our faith in an attempt to undermine it. Of course, God is sometimes viewed as the one who tests his people. This is reflected in the interpretation of "lead us not into temptation" which paraphrases the prayer "let us not be tested beyond what we are able to bear / unto death." Yet, it seems more likely that the sense is "lead us not into temptation / testing, BUT (alla as a strong adversative = "and we know you wouldn't do that") deliver us from (the testing of) the evil one."

hJmerwn (a) gen. "[ten] days" - [and you will have affliction ten] days. Genitive of time. The number ten probably indicates a limited time-frame, or certainly restricted time-frame (by God???), cf., Dan.1:14; "you will suffer trials for a short time", TH. The alternate reading echte, "you may have", rather than ecete, "you will have", ends up giving a different sense, namely that the trials / affliction will be heaped on those / prolonged for those, who don't yield to the evil one, see Swete p32.

acri + gen. "even to" - [be faithful] up to [death]. Temporal use of the preposition. As NIV, "until you die"; "be faithful unto death", ESV.

kai "and" - Here with a consecutive flavor; "and so I will give you ...."

soi dat. pro. "[I will give] you" - [i will give the crown of life] to you. Dative of indirect object.

thV zwhV (h) "[the crown] of life / life [as your victor's crown]" - [the crown] of life. The genitive is adjectival, probably epexegetic, "the reward consists of eternal life in Christ", Smalley; "the crown which is life", Mathewson. The "crown" is the victor's laurel wreath awarded at ancient games, as NIV11 // Barclay.


iv] Promise, v11. The believers in Smyrna may suffer tribulation, but for those who finish the race, who persevere through good times and bad, Jesus promises life eternal.

oJ ecwn .... taiV ekklhsiaiV "whoever has ears ....... to the churches" - See v7.

oJ nikwn (nikaw) pres. part. "the one who is victorious" - the one conquering. The participle serves as a substantive, subject of the negated verb "will not be hurt."

ou mh + subj. "[will] not [be hurt] at all" - never [will be hurt]. Subjunctive of emphatic negation; "will not in any way be hurt."

ek "by [the second death]" - from [the second death]. Instrumental use of the preposition expressing means, as NIV. The second death refers to "the punishment of the wicked after their resurrection at the end of the age", Koester, cf., 20:6, 14.


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