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Revelation 2:8-11 | Free Grace Bible Study

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I can’t say I’ve ever truly suffered physically. I’ve had a few scrapes and scratches in my years. One of which was right across the sensitive surface of my eye. It was excruciating, but it passed in a few days. Beyond that, I can hardly think of a time when I faced any intense pain. 

Most of the suffering I’ve endured has been emotional, relational, and familial. The death of a close friend in college was so intense. I’d call the grieving that followed a form of suffering. Even that, however, I don’t think even approached the kind of pain and toil the earlier Christians faced. Their world was one of unthinkable suffering. That is true of the group we will look at in today’s bible study. We’re going to explore what Jesus has to say to Smyrna. 

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Lesson Description

In today's lesson, we're talking about what Jesus told the church in Smyrna, a place that was going through a really tough time. Jesus, who went through suffering himself, tells them he gets what they're going through. He sees their struggles and even though they don't have much money, he reminds them they're rich in ways that really matter. We'll look at why Jesus praised them, how he encouraged them to keep going, and what the promise of the "crown of life" means for sticking it out through hard times.

If you would like to lead a group through this Bible study, this page gives you the basic tools to help your friends, family, small group, or church grow in God's word. We encourage you to take what is written and make it your own. If you have any questions please contact us through the contact form on our website: freegrace.in. Whether you are leading a group or going through the material as an individual, we're glad you've joined us, and hope you enjoy.

Passage | Revelation 2:8-11

“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: “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. 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.

“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.” ’

Bible Study

2:8 Jesus had suffered tremendously while he was on earth. He has first-hand knowledge of what it is to face tribulation and pain. In the following verses, He will address Smyrna’s suffering, but before He does, He wants to remind them that he understands their plight. He reminds them that He is the One who was dead and came to life. This would certainly call to mind those terrible things He faced before being crucified.

2:9 Smyrna is one of the grand cities of the ancient world. When John was writing, it was a flourishing port city in the Aegean, which is why Jesus acknowledged their rich reputation. This gives His spiritual critique a surprise twist as he points out that along with their good works, they have a high level of poverty. I’m convinced there is a double meaning in Jesus’ reminder that they are rich. While the current state of affairs might have been that they were living in poverty, they had an opportunity for true richness in Christ, which He would talk about a few verses later (vs. 10).

The poverty Jesus mentions was very literally true of Smyrna’s believers since they had faced such Tribulation. He gives us some clues as to what type of tribulation the believers there faced in the following line. 

Blasphemy is speech that is designed to slander, defame, or abuse. We often think of blasphemy as words spoken against God, but in this case, the infraction is not against God only but against believers in Smyrna. That’s why Jesus can say,  I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not. Smyrna had a large Jewish population at this time. There must have been a sizable group of them who had taken it upon themselves to persecute and bring tribulation to the believers. This is why Jesus called them a synagogue of Satan. 

Note that John is not questioning their ethnic Jewishness but instead their spiritual claim upon their covenant with God. Paul talked about this concept when he said, For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly… he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28–29) The implication is profound. Ethnic Jews who oppose God’s church and reject Jesus as Messiah have departed from true religious Judaism. 

We can surmise that this group with Jewish heritage was actively pursuing the believers in Smyrna since they were facing tribulation but also since they had come into poverty.

2:10 Instead of telling them that their troubles are over, Jesus prepares them for more by telling them not to fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Often, we pray for relief from trouble. The answers to those prayers may not be an exit but a reminder to not fear in the midst of such pain. 

He gives them some specifics on the kind of trouble they can expect. The devil, which probably means members of the synagogue of Satan (vs. 9), is about to throw some of you into prison. It would be easy to see such a circumstance as a purposeless outcome, but there is a reason. They are going to be put in jail to be tested. This reminds us of Job, whom God allowed to be tested to the limit. However, the testing isn’t going to be indefinite. The tribulation would last ten days. Numbers often symbolize concepts in Revelation. The ten days may be literal or figurative representing a painful but limited amount of time. 

Earlier, Jesus referenced their poverty; now, He acknowledges that they have an opportunity for true riches in the kingdom. He gives the conditions for receiving this bountiful prelate. They would need to be faithful until death. This is why He could have said earlier that they are to be tested. If they pass the test, that is, if they are faithful until their last breath, then they will receive a fantastic privilege. For their extended faithfulness, Christ will give them the crown of life. The crown of life is also mentioned in James 1:12, and there, just like here, it is associated with perseverance under trial. Some believe that crowns are an intangible symbol that represents privilege. However, I’m convinced that when Jesus says he will give out crowns for achievement, He means it. Those who persevere until death have a crown waiting for them in heaven. 

In the New Testament, two Greek words get translated as crown. One is mainly associated with the crown a king would wear to show he is in charge. However, the word used in this verse is mainly associated with the laurel or ringlet of gold an athlete might receive for winning a sporting event. The Christian life is a race, and a crown is waiting for those who run it well.

2:11 Once again, Jesus reminds the reader that this encouragement is not just for those in Smyrna but for all who are interested in receiving such an eternal reward. If anyone has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

He adds a unique line, which is not found in the previous or following refrain. He offers further comfort to the one who overcomes. The overcomeris the one who wins, the one who finishes well and perseveres even until death (vs. 10), and the one who succeeds at the Christian life (see note on vs. 7 for more about the overcomer). The one who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. The second death is mentioned later in the book. There, John says, Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:14) 

Some have suggested that since Jesus says the overcomer will not be hurt by the second death, that must mean the opposite is true, that the second death will hurt Christians who don’t persevere until death. In other words, some claim you can lose your salvation by giving up on the Christian life before the end. That, however, is not what Jesus is getting at. Remember, the believers in Smyrna were suffering, going through tribulation, and facing deep hurts. Jesus wanted to remind them that they had already escaped the greatest “hurt,” which would be the second death. And because the second death would not hurt them, they could cling to the hope of that great day when they would be rescued from it to endure, persevere, and overcome. 

Discussion Questions

"Starting with what Jesus says in verse 8, how can remembering Jesus' own struggles and victory over death give us strength when we're dealing with tough situations?"

"Moving on to verse 9, Jesus talks about being rich in Him despite not having a lot of material wealth. What do you think it truly means to be rich in Christ?"

"Still in verse 9, Jesus addresses how harmful words can be, especially from those who pretend to be something they're not. How do harmful words affect us, and why do you think Jesus highlights this issue?"

"In verse 10, Jesus advises not to fear suffering. How can we find the courage to face our fears, especially when things look bleak?"

"Also from verse 10, let's chat about the idea of being 'tested.' Can anyone share a personal experience where you felt your faith was being tested?"

"Thinking about the latter part of verse 10, Jesus talks about staying faithful even to the point of death. How can we show our faithfulness in our daily lives?"

"Let's reflect on the 'crown of life' mentioned by Jesus in the same verse. How does the promise of this reward make you feel?"

"Now, looking at verse 11, why do you think it's important for us to pay attention to what Jesus says to all the churches, and not just the message to Smyrna?"

"Considering what's said in verse 11, what does being an 'overcomer' mean to you? How can we overcome the challenges we face?"

"Lastly, thinking a bit about what's in verse 11, how does the assurance that the second death won't harm us change the way we view our current problems?"

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