Smyrna was located directly north of Ephesus. It was a major urban and commercial center for a very fertile area of Asia Minor. Like the Christians in Ephesus, persecution of Christians within Smyrna came from both pagans and the Advocates of the Old Covenant. The Advocates of the Old Covenant consisted of both Christians and Jews who put undue importance on the Old Covenant and refused to accept the superiority of the New Covenant. To reject the New Covenant is equivalent to rejecting God’s will. John wrote the following to the faithful in Smyrna: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). Jesus was the most laconic with the faithful Smyrna church. In contrast to His criticisms against five of the other churches described in the Book of Revelation, Jesus Christ offered no negative comments or reprimands to the church in Smyrna. Jesus’ primary message to the church in Smyrna was one of encouragement under its tribulation and commendation for their faithfulness. In God’s eyes, they were spiritually rich.
Jesus was the subject of a primordial and diabolical hatred (John 7:7). Jesus explained that the world hated Him because He testified that its deeds were evil (John 7:7). Evil is a philosophy of hatred against God and the followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus stated, “You will be hated by all because of My name” (Matt. 10:22). Further, Jesus stated, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Finally, Jesus stated, “They hated Me without a cause” (John 15:25).
Jesus and His followers introduced the New Covenant. As a result, the Old Covenant became obsolete. Things like animal sacrifices, circumcision, appointed feast days, and Sabbath observance are no longer required. After believing in Christ, we please God by walking by the Spirit, wherein the Word is a light to our feet, trusting in Christ Jesus, while having no confidence in our fleshly capacity to live this supernatural way of being. This encapsulates the Spiritual Life. However, most did not accept the work of Christ or the message of the Apostles. Most could not accept that we are no longer under the Old Covenant. They could not see that Jesus and the New Covenant fulfilled and completed the Old Covenant.
Because of the conflict with paganism and because of the conflict between the Old and New Covenants, many First Century Christians were persecuted. This is a central theme of the New Testament and the Book of Revelation. However, Jesus encouraged His followers in Smyrna: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (Rev. 2:10). The Devil instigated the imprisonment of some Christians (Rev. 2:10), but they were going to experience only a relatively short period of intense testing and tribulation (Rev. 2:10). The apocalyptic language of the Book of Revelation used numbers symbolically. “Ten days” of intense suffering should be understood as a relatively short period of intense suffering. Again, Jesus encouraged His people, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The crown of life is awarded to those believers who remain faithful until their death. Such believers’ names are recorded in the Book of Life. As I have discussed many times before, I call such believers the Fraternity of Faithful Believers.
Special blessings are promised to faithful believers. The First Century Christians addressed in the Revelation were told, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:11). However, every Christian is encouraged to listen to the Spirit. We cannot live the Spiritual Life unless we remain sensitive to the Spirit of God. At the moment we first believed, we were sensitive to the Spirit’s message that Jesus is the Son of God. Unfortunately, many Christians lose their sensitivity to the Spirit over time. Many fall away because of persecution, or they are distracted by the worries and anxieties of this life. Others are distracted by the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and/or the pride (arrogance) of life (John 2:16-17). They have misplaced priorities for things like wealth, possessions, approbation, or pleasure. They refuse to live under God’s will and timing. They refuse to let God be God.
Finally, the Smyrna Christians were told, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11). The Second Death happens when a believer becomes insensitive to the Spirit, which means that the believer is no longer seeking after and drawing near to God. We are born spiritually dead, but at the moment of first believing, we are made spiritually alive. However, we can fall away from our walk of faith. Figuratively, such a believer is like the proverbial dog who returns to its vomit, or the pig, who having been made clean, returns to wallow in the mud (2 Pet. 2:22). Such believers are double-minded (Jas. 1:8, 4:8). They may speak of God, but their actions contradict their words. In contrast, we should seek to do the works that God gives us to do, and we should remain faithful until our physical death.
 “Smyrna.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Volume Four: Q-Z, Gen. Editor Geoffrey W. Bromiley, et al., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.