“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10
The second church the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ addresses is in Smyrna. “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). “Smyrna was another seaport on the Aegean Sea; it was about 40 miles north of Ephesus. Late in the first century it was a large, wealthy city with a population of about 100,000. It still thrives today—as ‘Izmir’—with a population of about 200,000.” 1
To “the church in Smyrna” Jesus describes Himself as “the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life” to encourage these believers facing persecution and possible death, that He has conquered death and guarantees their eternal lives with Him (2:8). As “the First and the Last,” Jesus is the eternal God Who is in control of their past, present, and future. Christ suffered and died at the hands of His persecutors and was raised to life from the grave. He can offer hope to Christians like those at Smyrna who were also facing persecutions.
Today, Christians are facing similar persecutions around the world. “Violent mobs are viciously attacking Christians, as the Pakistani government also increases persecution… A Christian man in Pakistan faces a possible death sentence, after already having spent four years in jail, because he was accused of blasphemy. He could literally die for his faith at the hands of the government of Pakistan. At the same time, about 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls (minors) are being forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men EACH YEAR in Pakistan. Instead of protecting innocent Christians, the Pakistani government is using blasphemy laws to further harass and persecute Christians.” 2
In Afghanistan, Christians are suffering at the hands of the Taliban. “There are already multiple reports of the Taliban going door-to-door looking for Christians to kill, and unmarried women to take captive. Christians in Afghanistan fear the genocidal persecution suffered by Christians in Iraq and Syria. Christians are hiding in their homes in Afghanistan for fear of what the Taliban will do to them.” 3
“Persecution of Christians in India continues even as the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) reviews the state of human rights in the country during its 48th session. Just days after we filed a critical report with the HRC, detailing incidents of persecution of Christians by Hindu mobs, another mob of Hindu nationalists attacked a pastor for allegedly converting people to Christianity. This did not happen in a dark alley; the pastor was attacked and beaten inside a police station in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.” 4
“Radical Islamic militias are targeting Christians for slaughter all across Africa just because of their faith. In Nigeria, more than 120 Christian kids were recently kidnapped from a Baptist school. A few were freed or escaped, but more than 80 helpless children are still being held for ransom by radical Islamic gunmen. But this has become a way of life in Nigeria. Christian teens are abducted and forced into slavery. Christian pastors have been beheaded. This should outrage the entire world. But too few are speaking up.” 5
These persecuted Christians can find hope in the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ Who conquered death through His resurrection and guarantees never-ending life to those who believe in Him (Revelation 2:8; John 11:25-26). Believers in Christ can face suffering and death without fear because of Who Jesus is and What He has done for them.
Next, Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9). “The name of the city, Smyrna, means ‘myrrh,’ an ordinary perfume. It was also used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle, and in embalming dead bodies (cf. Ex. 30:23; Ps. 45:8; Song 3:6; Matt. 2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39). While the Christians of the church at Smyrna were experiencing the bitterness of suffering, their faithful testimony was like myrrh or sweet perfume to God.” 6
Jesus knew their “works” amid “tribulation,” and reminded them that though they were financially poor, they would become spiritually “rich” because of the promised rewards Jesus would give to them (2:9a; cf. 2:10-11; Matthew 6:19-21; 2 Corinthians 6:10; James 2:5). Some who claimed to be “Jews” were actually “a synagogue of Satan” because they were doing the devil’s work, opposing, and slandering believers. 7 Throughout church history the primary persecution of Christians has come from religious people who often think they are serving God. In reality, they are serving the enemy of God – Satan himself.
The Lord told these believers, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10). The exalted Lord Jesus instructs them not to “fear” the sufferings that were about to take place. “The devil,” acting through the Roman authorities, was about “to throw some of” them “into prison” that they “may be tested” for “ten days.” The phrase “ten days” probably refers to a period of ten literal 24-hour days, that lay in the near future of the original recipients of this letter. 8 “There is nothing in this text that provides a clue that we should take this number in a figurative sense.” 9
The risen Lord Jesus commands these believers to “be faithful until death” to receive “the crown of life” from Jesus. The “crown of life” is not the same as eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift we receive apart from any works the moment we believe in Jesus (John 3:15-16 4:10-14; Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). The crown of life, on the other hand, is a reward that we earn when we endure persecution and suffering for Christ until death (Revelation 2:10). The crown of life “is not a literal crown but a reference to the abundant quality of existence faithful believers in Christ will experience in eternity. If the believers in Smyrna die for Christ in this life, they will receive an eternal experience that is totally opposite to the troubles they faced on earth.” 10 Believers who receive this reward will have a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life in heaven.
Jesus concludes His message to the church in Smyrna: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11). Jesus promises the faithful believer (“he who overcomes”) that he “shall not be hurt by the second death” (2:11). The second death is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). It follows the first death, which is separation of the soul from the body. 11
“Arminian commentators err in taking this verse to mean, ‘Believers who do not overcome shall be hurt by the second death.’ Reformed commentators also err by reading it this way: ‘All true believers are overcomers and therefore will not be hurt by the second death.’ Both views have Jesus offering escape from hell for faithful obedience to Him.” 12
“John’s readers are also reminded that even if they lose their physical lives, they will never lose eternal life. He reminds them, ‘You will never be hurt by the second death.’ The word ‘never’ is very emphatic in Greek, a double negative (ou mē, ‘definitely not’). This expression is common in categorical and emphatic denials.” 13
Since no believer can ever experience the second death in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15; 21:8) or lose eternal life (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29), John must be using a figure of speech called a litotes which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. 14 For example, “If you do me this favor, I will not forget you.” The phrase, “I will not forget you,” is a litotes for “I will repay you very well.” A Biblical example of litotes is Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name,” meaning God will definitely remember all your hard work. 15
“There is a problem, however, with taking this promise as litotes. If it is true that one who overcomes is not hurt by the second death, then what happens if one does not overcome? Would it not follow that he would be hurt by the second death, that is, damned? If this is truly litotes, then the answer is, ‘No.’ If we say, ‘Michael Jordan is not a bad basketball player,’ we mean he is a very good basketball player. However, the reverse does not follow, ‘If you are not Michael Jordan, you are definitely not a good basketball player.’ A litotes cannot be read in reverse.” 16
Dillow writes, “Ed Ediger correctly observes, ‘Jesus does not say that a failure to “overcome” will result in “the second death.” Possible implications, particularly opposite ones, are not necessarily intended by the speaker. Negative implications are not always true.” 17
“In regard to Revelation 2:11, Lang says, ‘It is not safe to reverse divine statements, as is done by inferring here that a believer who does not overcome will be hurt of the second death’ (emphasis his). The passage is not addressed to nonbelievers, it is addressed to overcomers, that is, believers, and according to Jesus, believers will never experience the second death (John 6:39).” 18
In Revelation 2:10-11, the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus is promising churches and believers who are faithful to Him until death, a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life which is the exact opposite of the second death. Suffering believers in the first century and today can find comfort and encouragement from Jesus’ glorious promises in these verses.
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, You are the First and the Last, the eternal God Who is in control of our past, present, and future. Because You died and came back to life, You can relate to us when we suffer and guarantee eternal life in heaven to all who believe in You. As children of God, we do not need to be afraid of persecution and possible death because You have conquered death. Although the first death may hurt us, it is only briefly, but the second death will never touch us at all, because You have secured eternal life for us with You forever. We pray that in Your power we may remain faithful to You until death, knowing that You will give us the crown of life so we may experience a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life in heaven which is the exact opposite of the second death. With the crown of life, we can bring You more glory and honor throughout eternity! In Your life-giving name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 34.
2. Retrieved from an October 4, 2021, email from American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.
3. Retrieved from an August 24, 2021, email from American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.
4. Retrieved from an American Center for Law and Justice September 14, 2021 article by Shaheryar Gill entitled, “Mob Violence and Persecution of Christians Grows Defending Persecuted Christians in India at the United Nations.”
5.Retrieved from an August 16, 2021 email from American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.
6. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2372.
8. Constable, pp. 35-36 cites Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (London: Pickering and Inglis, Ltd., n.d.), pg. 69.
9. Ibid., pg. 36.
10. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1505.
11. Constable, pg. 37.
12. Vacendak, pp. 1505-1506.
13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 962.
14. Ibid.; Constable, pg. 37 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981.), pg. 119.
15. Vacendak, pg. 1506.
16. Dillow, pp. 962-963.
17. Dillow, pg. 963 cites Edwin Aaron Ediger, Faith in Jesus: What Does it Mean to Believe in Him? (Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press: A Division of Thomas Nelson, 2012), pg. 393.
18. Dillow, pg. 963 cites G. H. Lang, Revelation, reprint ed. (Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle Publishing. Co., 1985), pg. 96.