Be faithful unto death in sharing the message of Jesus no matter the consequence.
Revelation 2:8-11 - “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
Why did Jesus say be faithful unto death? What does really that mean? Following the unprovoked attack on Israel by Hamas, Arius, my six-year-old, was asking why Hamas would target little children and elderly people. There is no justification for that other than their demonic philosophy of life, which states, “We love death as you love life.” That kind of love of death and hate of life is not what Jesus meant when He said be faithful unto death.
The problem is, people understand death here and now that everyone experiences. What they need to understand is that there is a second death with everlasting unimaginable pain that people can escape if they know Jesus and are faithful to Him unto death.
In Revelation 2:8-11, the church in Smyrna was suffering for Jesus. Jesus promised if they endured and remained faithful unto death, they would receive the crown of life and the second death wouldn’t hurt them.
The big idea is that, if we want the crown of life and don’t want to suffer the everlasting pain of the second death, then we need to believe in Jesus, endure for Jesus, and be faithful unto death.
How do we do that? By following Jesus in both what He did and what He said. He was faithful unto death and death on the cross. That is what He did and what He said was that His followers would be persecuted for His name’s sake. He called them to be faithful unto death.
This calling comes with three realities that every follower of Jesus should consider: prerequisites, precautions, and prescriptions.
Being Faithful Unto Death Comes With Prerequisites
The language in verse 1, “to the angel of the church in Ephesus,” and in verse 8, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna,” is the same, only the church is different. Again, the “angel,” aggelos in Greek, is a messenger which refers to the pastor of the church.
The prerequisite for pastors is not different from their congregations. Be faithful unto death in sharing the message of Jesus. Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, was probably the pastor who read this letter to the church in Smyrna. He faithfully shared the message of Jesus until he was martyred.
Jesus next said, “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” In the Greek, it translates to “who became dead and came to life” which indicates Jesus’ authority over life and death.
In John 10:18, Jesus said, “No one takes it [His life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” The church in Smyrna needed to hear this.
In Revelation 2: 9, Jesus comforted them by saying, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” So, there were fake Jews just as there were fake Christians. It hasn’t changed. Do you know there are Jews that are siding with the enemy in the Israel-Hamas war?
In Revelation 2:3, we talked about two different words for “know”: ginosko and edio. Ginosko means knowing something over time but edio is knowledge in its totality. Jesus uses edio to let them know that He knows it all and highlights three areas.
Jesus knows our physical suffering. The Greek word for tribulation, thlipsis,” has the sense of being “compressed or pressured.” The hostile world around them was compressing and pressuring them but their stand for Jesus was unshakeable. How about you and I? How do we respond to the pressures against our faith? They were suffering in a general sense, but they were also suffering specifically for their faith in Jesus, and Jesus said more was coming.
Jesus knows our financial suffering. The Greek word translates not just poor, but destitute. Why were they destitute? First, they were paying heavier taxes for practicing a non-sanctioned religion. Second, they could not get jobs, or run businesses.
Growing up in Pakistan I personally experienced that. My Pakistani ID card states I am a Christian. I knew church goers who changed their religion on their ID card to get jobs. Things are changing in the United States as well. Recently, I had a conversation with a believer. His company fired everyone and hired some back based on new qualifications that stood against Biblical beliefs and values. I am sure some will compromise to keep their job to have income. Jesus said the church in Smyrna may be poor and destitute, but they were rich in the currency that really matters.
Jesus knows our social suffering. Have you ever been ostracized for your Biblical values? In Western individualist culture, it may not be a big deal but in the East, for many, social isolation is worse than death. Christians in Smyrna were ostracized by their own people.
In verse 9, Jesus said that he knew “the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Please do not take this as justification for anti-Semitism. In its context, it is from Jesus the Jewish Messiah, John, a Jewish man, is writing, and it is written to a church in a predominately Jewish city, meaning most likely the congregation was made up of Messianic Jews.
Many Jews rejected their Messiah and took it upon themselves to get rid of the apostates. Paul was one of them until he wasn’t because his eyes were opened to the truth. The phrase “synagogue of Satan” shows up later in Revelation 3 as well. It could mean that they thought in their religious zeal, taking the lives of those who received Jesus as their Messiah would please God. Just like Hamas today, they were not doing the work of God by persecuting and killing God’s people; they were working on behalf of Satan.
The application is, persecution whether physical, financial, or social should never stop us from sharing the gospel. No suffering, small or big, for Jesus ever goes unnoticed or unrewarded.
Being Faithful Unto Death Comes With Precautions
Verse 10 reads, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” We see three precautions here for all believers.
Believers will suffer, and it will only get worse. Jesus did not say it would stop; rather He simply stated do not fear. Why not? Because Jesus knows how it all ends.
Believers will be tested by the devil. Jesus says the source of persecution is the devil himself. The idea that their suffering will last only ten days is critical. There are many ways to look at the number ten but the important thing is that Jesus limited the amount of suffering and how long and how far Satan can go.
Believers will be crowned with the crown of life. Jesus said be faithful unto death and you will receive the crown of life. The crown here is not a royal crown but in Greek, stephanos, is a garland that was given to the victors of games. It is the race every believer must run; it is the fight every believer must fight to be victors in the Lord.
The application for is to trust Jesus that our suffering accomplishes God’s will to prove us and that Jesus will not let us suffer beyond our ability. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Being Faithful Unto Death Comes With Prescriptions
Verse 11 outlines two prescriptions to deal with suffering and persecution.
Believers must commit to what the Spirit says to the churches and believers must commit to conquering. Conquering what? Conquering our wants. In Eden, there was no suffering and pain, and yet, when the devil tested Eve and Adam, instead of conquering their wants, they doubted God’s intentions and faithfulness. The result was the second death— eternal damnation of the unredeemed.
Jesus told the church in Smyrna be faithful unto death and conquer as in overcoming what they want which I believe must have been relief from suffering. Most of my life in Pakistan that’s all I wanted.
The word “conquer” enforces the idea of the battle-like fight. So how are you battling the fight against your wants?
The application is, whatever wants you have, Jesus wants you to overcome your wants by wanting Him more. King David in Psalm 23:1 confesses “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” meaning to not lack or have a need.
After Polycarp, the Bishop of the church in Smyrna died as a martyr of Christ, a letter went out from the church in Smyrna. It said, the governor tried to pressure Polycarp to recant, swear to Caesar and repent.
Polycarp replied, and I read, ‘For 86 years I have been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’
The governor repeatedly threatened him, “I have wild beasts,” “I shall throw you to them if you don’t change your attitude.”
“Call them,” replied Polycarp.
“If you make light of the beasts,” said the governor, “I’ll have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your attitude.”
Polycarp answered: “The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished. There is a fire you know nothing about—the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly. But why do you hesitate? Do what you want.”
So, the men prepared the pyre and stripped Polycarp of his clothes. Then Polycarp prayed a final prayer and when he said “Amen,” the men in charge of the fire lit it.
Seeing that Polycarp was not being consumed by the fire, they then ordered an executioner to thrust him through with a dagger, and so finally Polycarp was dead.
Polycarp was faithful unto death because he knew the prerequisites, precautions, and prescriptions in our text.
Surrendering Our Wants
As we close, the action step we must take to be faithful unto death is wanting to surrender our wants to Jesus who wants us to endure by wanting Him more. If you are suffering and you want relief, first consider Romans 5:3-5 says, “… we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” So, reconsider what you want.
Conquer your wants, or else, your wants will conquer you. Conquer your wants by surrendering your wants, whether good or evil, to Jesus and by wanting Jesus more. Then you will say with the Psalmist, “the Lord is my shepherd I shell not want because all my wants are met in Jesus.
Jesus promised the church in Smyrna, “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Revelation 20:14-15 says, “The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
The fire the Bible talks about, and Polycarp testified to is real. That is the destination of all who don’t profess the name of Jesus. Like John and Polycarp, never fear but share the message of Jesus no matter the consequence. Share about Jesus. Share what Jesus has done for you and for every lost soul. By sharing the gospel, you may very well alter the final destination of your neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones.
1. What is the significance of the description of Christ in Revelation 2:8 in His introduction to the Church in Smyrna? How is it relevant to Jesus’ last statement “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” in Revelation 2:11?
2. In Revelation 2:9, Jesus says the church in Smyrna is poor yet rich. How is this possible? What does it mean? Can you think of any other place in the Bible that can help in understanding this seemingly paradoxical view?
3. What is Jesus communicating to Christians in Smyrna when he calls their persecutors "a synagogue of Satan?”
How should we approach statements like "a synagogue of Satan?”
Deeper Study Questions
1. The church in Smyrna was told not to fear in Revelation 2:10, yet it predicted even more suffering and pain. If Jesus comes to you today and tells you that He sees your pain, knows that you are in pain but tells you it is going to get worse but you do not need to fear, what would your response be?
2. Revelation 2:11 talks about conquering, which is overcoming. If you feel comfortable, share in what ways you have overcome the flesh and the world.
3. How can the promise of Jesus for those who conquer help you to be faithful unto death?
Jesus’ address to all seven churches in Revelation 2-3 has a specific pattern. To better learn to how to make observations in Scripture, spend a few minutes seeing the pattern by inserting the correct verse against the statement below, focusing only on Revelation 2:8-11.
Specific church addressed
Description of Jesus
Jesus commends the church
Jesus rebukes the church
Jesus gives a solution for the rebuke
Jesus gives a high-stakes warning
Jesus’ promise for those who conquer