As we’ll see in this epistle, the conditions of the church of Smyrna are those current during the 70th week of Daniel. Like the epistle to the Ephesians, there is little if anything in this address to remind us of the doctrines taught in the Pauline epistles. Here the standing of those in Christ is not grace, but works. This indicates a change in the divine economy, when preaching has gone back to the original “Gospel of the Kingdom” as taught by Christ. This, however, does not block out such precious application as we may make for ourselves, provided we understand the interpretation to belong to those who will be living under tribulation conditions.
(2: 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.”
The saints here pictured are living in times of tribulation. Because of this tribulation, they have become poor. Yet Christ tells them that they are rich. Who could dream of such riches in times of such great poverty? Remember the Gospel which Christ preached, in which He said: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6: 19-21).
The church of Smyrna is living out Christ’s teaching in their lives. They know what it means to have little of this world’s goods. And yet that little is abundandly outweighed by the riches they have laid up in heaven, through patiently suffering tribulation, and not allowing their faith to waver. The exact nature of this tribulation isn’t hard to conjecture. It likely has to do with the persecution enacted by the organized state religion of the last days.
In Daniel 11 (one of the great keys to unlocking the Apocalypse), we read of Antichrist having intelligence with “them that forsake the holy covenant,” and of his “corruption by flatteries” of such as do wickedly against the covenant (Dan. 11: 30, 32). Over against this group of apostates stand “the people that do know God.” These same “shall be strong, and do expoits” (Dan. 11: 32). The context of Daniel’s predictions hints that this turmoil begins when the “abomination of desolation” is placed in the temple. This event sets off the “Great Tribulation” which will occur during the last half of Daniel’s 70th week (see Daniel 12, Matt. 24: 15-21).
During this period of trial, the saints will be persecuted by the “synagogue of Satan,” that is those who side with the “beast” faction. The church is represented as those who have their Father’s name written in their foreheads. They stand distinct from others who bear the mark of the beast. A close study of Daniel 11: 21-45 is required of anyone who would understand prophecies such as Christ’s Olivet Discourse, as well as chapter 13 of the Apocalypse. We’ll get to these as we progress through these chapters.
(2: 10) “Fear none of these 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.”
Once again, we read in Daniel 11: 35: “And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even unto the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed.” Compare with Daniel 12: 10: “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.” Anyone who doubts that the church addressed in this epistle belongs to the period of the last half of Daniel’s 70th week, will be found to ignore the correspondence between John and Daniel. The gravity of this error will be appreciated when we realize that John unfolds and expatiates upon what Daniel had already predicted.
The saints are told that that they are about to be cast into prison, that they may be tried. This persecution is the antitype of Daniel 3, in which Nebuchadnezzar, an acknowledged type of Antichrist, set up a golden image (probably an Asherah, or phallic idol) in the plain of Dura, commanding that all who refused to do homage thereto should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to this idol, they were bound and cast into the furnace. But Christ was with them in their afflictions (Dan. 3: 19-25).
The antitype of this persecution is seen to fall out during the last half of Daniel’s 70th week, which will commence when the true Nebuchadnezzar, that is, Antichrist, places the “abomination of desolation” in the holy place of the temple, and commands all to worship it. Perhaps this is alluded to in Revelation 13: 14. That this abomination may, in fact, be a phallic deity, is a proposition seriously entertained by Dr. Bullinger. For more details on the Asherah, see Appendix 42 of the Companion Bible.
Peter, writing to Christian Jews of the dispersion, speaks of a similar “fiery trial” which is about to try the saints (1 Peter 4: 12). According to Preterists, this fiery trial was none other than the events of the Jewish war, whch were then imminent when Peter wrote. But we suggest, that Peter is alluding to the same period of which John writes. We have every reason to believe that, like John, Peter was prophetically standing within the confines of Daniel’s 70th week, and addressing those about to endure persecution from the beast and his adhererents. According to established principles of prophecy, it is no new thing for an inspired writer to speak of events which properly belong to a future dispensation (1 Peter 1: 11-12).
The words, “be thou faithful unto death, and I shall give thee a crown of life,” bring to mind Christ’s solemn asseveration: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24: 13). A glance at the context will show that He is speaking of tribulation times.
(2: 11) “He that hath an ear to hear, let him what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh, shall not be hurt of the second death.”
Here is revealed the reason for that urgent requirement of “endurance unto the end.” Only the overcomers will be crowned. The term “second death” means death in the age to come; whereas the first death is the death of this age. The first death is that which will be annulled at the general resurrection. Until then it remains in force. It mainly entails the separation of soul and body, the two components of man.
At death, the soul descends into Hades, while the body undergoes corruption. Such is the penalty that Adam brought into the world. When the first death is annulled, however, the processes of corruption will be cancelled out, souls and bodies will be reuinited, and the wicked permamently banished from the presence of God, and from the second Eden where Christ dwells with His saints. Being rendered incorruptible will prevent the wicked from being extinguished by the flames into which they’ll be cast; thus making their torments eternal (see Matt. 10: 28; Mark 9: 43-50).
But the righteous who endure all evils will be saved from this penalty. Those who stand steadfast in their faith, refusing to take the mark of the beast, and not shunning to lose their lives for Christ’s sake, will be raised in the “First Resurrection;” and on them the second death will have no power (Rev. 20: 6). Once again, this “better resurrection” is mentioned in Daniel 12: 2, and follows the Great Tribulation, of which Christ, through His servant John, speaks in this epistle.