The letter to Smyrna shows that Christ “crowns” churches that remain faithful during trials (2:8-11). This city was destroyed in 600 B.C. and had lain in ruins for 400 years. She had risen to become a large, vibrant, and beautiful city. New buildings gave the impression of a crown when viewed from a distance. The One who wrote to her also had died, but rose in glory. The parallel is obvious (2:8).
The church was suffering economically and enduring the slanders of uninformed religious zealots (2:9). Christ is faithful to His people; He knows and understands their tribulation. He wants to encourage them with truth of greater weight than socio-economic prosperity.
That faithful people will be persecuted by those opposed to God is a given in the Scriptures and in practice. The church at Smyrna will not be an exception, though the period is limited (2:10a; Dan. 1:12-14). The brief term of their testing puts the emphasis simply on the presence of faith rather than on its duration. Some will be imprisoned for their faith. Roman prisons were not intended for long sentences. A person was put in prison to await trial, either to be released or executed (2:10b).
When a Christian is experiencing a severe trial, he or she may not know if the experience is a temptation by the devil or a test of faith from the Lord. The devil tempts believers to see them fail, whereas the Lord tests believers to strengthen their faith. In either case, faithfulness is the appropriate response. A crown is characterized by the words that go with it, so a crown “of life” would be characterized by God’s gift of life. To unbelieving citizens in Smyrna, a crown would represent their pagan deity. To the Christian faithful, however, the crown of life would represent a precious gift from the Living God. The Lord expects faith and will support it. In fact, He will reward it with a crown of eternal quality (2:10b; James 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).
The “second death” of verse 11 means separation from God in hell. A person who dies in faith dies a normal human death, followed by life with God. The second death is reserved only for the unfaithful (20:6, 14; 21:8). Christ’s message for all churches is to keep the faith in Him no matter what or for how long. Life with God rewards such faith.
Dr. David Moore is a Baptist preacher in Pampa and an online instructor in Bible and theology for Taylor University and Nations University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org