8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
10 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.
11 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 2:8-11).
These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
This statement identifies Jesus as the greatest of all and the least of all, and as He who overcame death. These are important attributes that equate Jesus with God and provides comfort for those who serve Him with humility and suffer for His sake.
Jesus is the Greatest and the Least.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[i]
There is no one who can be as great as Jesus and there is none who can be made as low as Jesus, because there is no other who is God made flesh, who died for sinful man—yet Himself had no sin.[ii] His death was humiliating, excruciating, and done out of love for the Father—He who is also greatest and least, because the Father is above all, and none sacrificed more that He who sacrificed His one and only Son.
There is none who is more obedient to the Father than the Son, and there is none who deserves obedience, yet does not get it as He should, than Jesus. There is no one that is more well-known and there is no one that is not known as well as He deserves to be known. There is none that is more truthful than He who is born of the Spirit of Truth, yet there is none who endures more slander. There is none who loves more, and there is none who is more hated.
Hatred of Jesus reveals hatred of God, because the Son could only do what His Father gave Him to do. Those who hate the servants of Jesus also hate Jesus, because they can do nothing except that Jesus gives it. Those who are of the Spirit of God are the sons of God, and as Jesus said, “as much as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it also unto me.” [iii] There is none who continues to suffer more than Jesus, because He takes the suffering of His servants personally and with patience until it is time for Him to return and raise those who the Father gave Him.
There is no other who died and now lives, and there is none who can grant life from the dead other than Jesus. He is the first. He is the last. It is He who brought mercy to the gentiles, and it is He who will return to establish the throne of David in judgment and justice forever. [iv]
Here are additional scriptures that demonstrate Jesus as the greatest and the least. Take time as you are able to explore all scripture in context for a more comprehensive view:
- Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God (Isaiah 44:6).
- I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Revelation 22:13).
- He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-6).
- And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:9-12).
- Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:8-11).
When Jesus returns, the high are made low and the low are raised—and more specifically—those who are made so low as to die for His sake. This is He who comforts His faithful servants—He who is the servant of all, the King of all, the creator of all, and He who has the keys of hell and death.
Jesus is He Who Overcame Death.
“I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” [v]
Jesus lived as a man because He is fully man and fully God. When Jesus died, He experienced real death. His spirit went to the Father who gave it, and when the spirit is divided from the soul, the soul and body die.[vi] It is said that Jesus “tasted” death because He did not stay dead for long. He rose from the dead, He is alive to this day, and He is seated on the right hand of God the Father.
Because of His obedience to the Father, all the way to His death on the cross, Jesus received the keys of hell and death. Those who put their faith in Him will also live, because it is in His power to give them life after death. There is no other who can raise us from the dead bodily. Jesus also raises us from the dead spiritually as He forgives our sin, leads us to true righteousness, and causes His nature to grow in us so that we can become more like He is.
Below are some scriptures that deal with Jesus’s death and resurrection, as well as His power to grant life to those who trust in Him:
- For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:20-23).
- Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life (John 5:24).
- This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:50-54).
- He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it (Isaiah 25:8).
- Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
- See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live forever (Deuteronomy 32:39-40).
No person can be lower than God who became man, was hated by man, then died to save man. No person can be more exalted than the perfectly obedient Son who the Father has given all authority over death. Jesus is alive, and His words are given to comfort those who trust in Him, so let us consider what He has to say by His Spirit to the Church of Smyrna.
“I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.”
The Church of Smyrna mirrors Christ in that they are least and greatest, though not the least of all and greatest of all. Only Jesus Christ can hold that position, and He has full compassion and support for those who endure suffering on His behalf.
Jesus acknowledges their works—presumably the works that they do to serve and honor Him. He is also aware of their troubles and poverty, but as Jesus said during His earthly ministry, “many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” [vii] Though the Church of Smyrna is poor by the standards of this world, Jesus counts them as rich because they are rich towards Him, and He will exalt them in the Kingdom to come just as the Father exalted Him.
Jesus offers this encouragement because the suffering endured by the Church of Smyrna is worsened by the “synagogue of Satan.” Refer to The Symbolism for an explanation of what the synagogue of Satan might represent. Jesus is aware of the synagogue of Satan, and He acknowledges their blasphemy.
“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.”
This sound similar to something else Jesus said: “Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” [viii]
When writing to the Church of Smyrna, Jesus mentions a specific instance of trial and persecution that some within this church experience. What is this ten-day tribulation that Jesus mentions? Is there a literal ten days or is this symbolic? Could this be similar to what we read about in Daniel 1? “Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.” This was not a trial unto death, but this is an example of the servants of God being tested for a ten-day period. These are the same servants who refused to bow to the idol of king Nebuchadnezzar, which is an example of all who fail to bow to unjust rulers and instead choose to trust Jesus to abide with them during persecution. See the story of the three Hebrew children in Daniel 3.
In any case, we know that this time of trouble comes at the hands of the devil, which means “slanderer.” The Church of Smyrna is encouraged to remain faithful to Jesus, even to the point of death, and He will give them a crown of life.
He who was dead and is alive comforts those who suffer and die for His sake. He understands their trouble, and He reassures them that their suffering does not go unnoticed or unrewarded. They are promised salvation from death and everlasting life that only He can provide.
“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.”
The Church of Smyrna has not received rebuke from Jesus, so what do they have to overcome? Facing persecution in any measure for the faith is challenging, and even more when death is certain. How much more difficult might this be when the world whole-heartedly follows wickedness, false prophets, and false saviors who slander, accuse, and persecute God’s people? Jesus said, “many will kill you thinking they do God’s service, and this they will do because they have not known the Father nor me.” [ix]
If the Church of Smyrna are mindful of Jesus—He who is the least of all and greatest of all and He who died for us and now lives—then they will find strength to endure for His sake by the power of the Holy Spirit within them. They will look to the cross and He who suffered extreme injustice on their behalf, and they will consider it an honor to suffer for His sake, because He will give them strength and peace to endure it. He will not allow them to be tempted beyond what they can handle, though they might feel as if they cannot handle it.
There is none who felt more forsaken than Jesus on the cross who said, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Yet, the Father did not forsake Him, and Jesus will not forsake those who suffer and die for His sake—even if they might feel forsaken, and the synagogue of Satan will do everything they can to make sure that they feel as forsaken as possible.
Concern for Present-Day Ministers of Jesus
Having a small ministry does not mean that you are insignificant. It is better to be small and sincere in service—which seems to be the case very often—than to have a big-time ministry that is inflated by corruption. Man usually judges according to outward appearances, and these outward appearances of success are contrary to what God deems successful. Of course, sincere ministers know this already. However, it never hurts to be reminded.
The ministers of Satan are often the richest and the most popular, and no wonder, because the world loves its own. In reality, those who are faithful to Jesus are often the least in this world, but to Him they are great.
This does not mean there are no sincere ministers with a large reach or financial prosperity. Both the small and great that fear God are accepted by God, and all that are accepted by God are humbled before Him. Ministers who are great in this world yet humble before God are also as Smyrna, because what really matters is a heart that is “poor in spirit.” Meaning, the person is humble before God and acutely aware of how they can do nothing without Him.
There is another lesson that ministers might consider when reading the letter to the Church of Smyrna.
Encouraging Christians to endure suffering for the sake of Jesus is an important task for ministers of the faith. The degree of suffering varies depending on the culture in which we live, ranging from minor social pressures and ostracizing to more severe legal and social persecution to complete hostility and murder.
Instructing the brethren in how to endure suffering patiently and in faith encourages a soberness of mind that focuses one’s heart on Jesus Christ, trusting in His promises and strength to make enduring all things for His sake possible.
It is a severe failure in ministry to forego this lesson, instead teaching that Jesus would not allow His servants to suffer because He only wants them to be prosperous in this world and therewith find happiness and contentment. What happens when a Christian is taught that God blesses the obedient and they never suffer, then suffering comes? Their faith is weakened, and all the more when false brethren are accusing their faith because of their suffering. They might question whether God is really with them or begin to deny the faith entirely as one who is as a “seed sown on stony ground.”
The best way to instruct patience during suffering is to be an example yourself. Those who are faithful to the difficult teachings of Jesus can expect persecution by the world in varying degrees. The truth is offensive to those who hate God and especially those who hate Jesus and all that He stands for. Enduring persecution for the true testimonies of Jesus, despite the consequences, emboldens and strengthens those who look up to you, and there is a reward in heaven for those who would take care of His people and lead by example.
Concern for Christian Brethren Generally
Jesus says, “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [x] Jesus also promised to strengthen and comfort us through the Holy Spirit that provides us with peace that can withstand the troubles of this life, even dire persecution. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” [xi]
Jesus did not promise that we would avoid trouble in this world. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” [xii]
As the world continues to reject Him and turn on those who love Him, Christians can expect to be hated vigorously and eventually persecuted to the point of death. However, the death that we experience is not lasting. Jesus will return and He will raise us from the dead, and His wrath is poured out on those who harmed His servants. His wrath is more severe than the wrath of man, and His death is everlasting death while the death of man is only temporary.
Christians are promised the resurrection for a reason, and that is because the world hates us just as they hated Jesus. They will kill us just as they killed Him if we keep His ways—ways that were true, good, and obedient to the Father. If we obey the Son as He obeyed the Father, then we will die as He died. We will also live as He lives, because He has promised it and we can trust in His word.
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” [xiii]
As the world is overrun by unbelievers, Christians can expect persecution. However, Jesus tells us not to fear, but rather we should take comfort in knowing that our suffering results from our being called out of this world and into His service. We can also take comfort in knowing that the world hated Jesus first and He is sympathetic to our suffering.
Remembering this can be important when faced with times of great Christian persecution, especially when the Christian is accused as having incurred the wrath of God because of their sin. Remember Job.
This is especially true when false saviors come, particularly the false christ. Many will believe that this is God, including many professing believers of Jesus. As they enjoy prosperity that comes with their allegiance to this false god, they mock those who do not worship this false god and instead accept poverty, persecution, and death.
The current Christian notion that Jesus only wants us to live a comfortable and prosperous life will be very useful for this false christ regime.
Therefore, let us remember what Jesus and the apostles said about Christian suffering. Especially as it pertains to the suffering that results from remaining faithful to our Lord, Jesus within an ungodly world that turns on Him, embraces falsehoods, and eventually welcomes and worships a false god.
Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”[xiv]
Additional Scriptures when Considering the Letter to the Church of Smyrna
Below are some scriptural excerpts that informed the author’s interpretation of the letter to the Church of Smyrna. Reading all scripture listed here and within the entirety of These Things Saith He is recommended for greater understanding and faith-building, as well as an exercise in testing the things taught by others:
- If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me (John 15:18-21).
- And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me (Philippians 1:28-30).
- And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ (Acts 5:41-42).
- And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first (Mark 10:29-31).
- And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing (2 Corinthians 12:7-11).
- Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19-20).
- But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12).
- And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them.When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:7-11).
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
[i] Philippians 2:5-11
[ii] 2 Corinthians 5
[iii] Matthew 25
[iv] Isaiah 9
[v] Revelation 1:18
[vi] Ecclesiastes 2:7, James 2:26
[vii] Mark 10:31
[viii] Mark 13:12-13
[ix] John 6:2
[x] Matthew 5:10-12
[xi] John 14:27
[xii] John 16:33
[xiii] John 15:18-27
[xiv] Matthew 16:25
Previous Chapter: These Things Saith He Unto the Angel of the Church of Ephesus