Wednesday, 9 September 2020
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: Revelation 2:8
The second letter to the second church begins with these words, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write.” As a refresher, the word “angel” is certainly to be taken as “messenger” and signifying the leader of the congregation. Also, the word “church” signifies those who have been called out from the world and to the fellowship of His kingdom through the gospel.
This is the second and last time the name Smyrna is found in the Bible. It comes from the noun smurna meaning “myrrh.” That is derived from the word muron, signifying anointing oil, or ointment. Concerning this city, Vincent’s Word Studies provides this description –
“Lying a little north of Ephesus, on a gulf of the same name. The original city was destroyed about b.c. 627, and was deserted and in ruins for four hundred years. Alexander the Great contemplated its restoration, and his design was carried out after his death. The new city was built a short distance south of the ancient one, and became the finest in Asia Minor, being known as the glory of Asia. It was one of the cities which claimed the honor of being Homer’s birthplace. A splendid temple was erected by the Smyrnaeans to his memory, and a cave in the neighborhood of the city was shown where he was said to have composed his poems. Smyrna’s fine harbor made it a commercial center; but it was also distinguished for its schools of rhetoric and philosophy. Polycarp was the first bishop of its church, which suffered much from persecution, and he was said to have suffered martyrdom in the stadium of the city, a.d. 166.”
John is instructed to write to this church a letter from the risen Christ, beginning with, “These things says the First and the Last.” This was stated in verse 1:17. It is a title claimed three times by the Lord (Yehovah) of the Old Testament (Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12) –
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.” Isaiah 44:6
Concerning the idea of being “the First,” Paul expands on what that means in Colossians 1, explaining how He is the first in several key ways –
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” Colossians 1:15-18
Christ is the First – not “in time” but “prior to time.” He is also the Last. He is the completion of all things. As He transcends time, He is already at any possible ending that ever could be, seeing it completed. This does not mean He has an end, but just as nothing exists before Him, nothing can exist after Him. He is unchanging in His being. This is seen, for example, in Hebrews –
“…without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” Hebrews 7:3
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
And yet, being without change, Jesus next says, “who was dead, and came to life.” It speaks of His humanity, literally saying, “who became dead, and lived.” It is Jesus Christ who broke the bonds of death itself, having died, but not for His own sin. Because of this, Peter notes in Acts 2 that “it was not possible that He should be held by it.”
This is given to those at Smyrna who were set to face testing (as will be noted). The reward for their faith is to be “the crown of life.” Because Jesus died and lived again, He promises that to those who are in Him, they too shall live again. There is to be no fear in what man can do. The body may die, but Christ has prevailed! It is the greatest note of comfort and freedom to His people. Again, returning to Hebrews –
“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14, 15
Praise God! He is alive and we too shall live because of Him. He is Jesus!
Life application: Smyrna’s history was one of being sacked, torched, and destroyed. One of the earliest – and certainly the most famous bishop – of Smyrna, Polycarp, was himself set ablaze, burned for his witness of Christ. The last words of Polycarp were recorded as –
“Eighty and six years have I now served Christ, and he has never done me the least wrong: How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? …Thou threatenest me with Fire which burns for an hour, and so is extinguished; but knowest not the Fire of the Future Judgment of that Eternal Punishment which is reserved for the Ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt!”
Polycarp understood that Christ had died and rose again. In Him is the power of the resurrection, and He has promised it to all who accept His gospel. It is with the same confidence of Polycarp that we should look to our own end – not in fear, but in joyous release from this earthly body of pain and woe. Christ will replace it with something glorious. Praise God for what He has done and what He offers to us!
Lord God, You were there before the universe existed. You are right now – with us and directing all things. And You will be – even unto the ages of ages. You are the First, and You are the Last. All things are from You, and all things belong to You. And yet, You would favor us with intimacy and love because of Jesus Christ our Lord. How can such a marvelous thing be? And yet it is. Thank You for Your love, revealed to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.