The church at Smyrna lived recklessly for Christ for one simple reason: They had their eyes on eternity.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Smyrna gets seemingly brief mention in the Book or Revelation, but those few words that Jesus gives them are extremely powerful. Regarding this church, Jesus has no words of criticism. It is one of only two that was not rebuked, the church at Philadelphia being the other. Not surprisingly, both churches suffered under severe persecution. As difficult and unpleasant as trials may be, they have a way of helping us get our priorities right. Being under fire does not afford you the luxury of complaining about the color of the church carpet, or if so-and-so shook your hand when you came in on Sunday. Trials will either drive you closer to God or cause you to buckle. Smyrna drew closer to God because it was invested in eternity.
That Jesus is concerned with even the day-to-day struggles of a church is evident in His words of encouragement in verse 10. Here, He speaks not about tribulation as a concept, but very specifically about a trial they were about to face at the time of this epistle.
“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” (Revelation 2:10).
Our Lord knows every struggle. He does not send us into those struggles, He endures them with us. His statement “ye shall have tribulation ten days” reminds us that all trials have an end and that no trial, no matter how grievous, can outlast God’s grace.
When Christ introduces Himself to Smyrna, He says of Himself that He is “the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.” “The first and the last” is an assurance to this suffering church that He is the Eternal One and the final authority on all things, regardless of the apparent might of their enemies. “Was dead and is alive,” is an affirmation of His solidarity with this church. He became flesh like them. He suffered death like many of them had, and like Him, they would all enjoy resurrection and eternal life. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” is a reminder of what they were fighting for: a city made without hands, an eternal reward and not just life, but life in abundance. Their tormentors might put an end to their earthly lives, but Christ gives His followers life eternal that none can take away. We have to live in that confidence.
Jesus’ closing promise to the people of Smyrna is a declaration of ultimate victory: “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” (Revelation 2:11). Many of us live our lives in fear of the first death (physical death) and that fear often paralyzes our effectiveness for Christ. Jesus doesn’t even mention that here because He has overcome a much more perilous fate: eternal death. If we would live fearless for Christ like the church at Smyrna, we need to live in the light of the eternal life that we already have in Christ.