Commentary on Revelation 2:8-11

Notes (NET Translation)

2:8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life:

Christ, the speaker, identifies himself by referring to the description of him given in 1:17-18. The designation “the one who was dead, but came to life” was probably used because the Smyrneans faced death (2:10).

2:9 ‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

Despite being materially poor the Smyrnean Christians were spiritually rich. The slander from the Jews disqualifies them from being true Jews (cf. Jn 8:31-47; Rom 2:28-29). The Jews of Smyrna are probably called a “synagogue of Satan” because they are the main cause of the distress suffered by the Christians in the city (cf. Acts 13:45, 50; 14:2–7, 19; 17:5–9; 1 Thes 2:14–16; Martyrdom of Polycarp 12-13; Tertullian, Scorpiace 10).”The simple fact of Jewish opposition meant that Christians would no longer enjoy the protection and tolerance the Romans often granted Jewish people, for the Romans stopped giving the Christians the right to worship their God (an exception granted only to the Jewish people and for a while given to Christians as a Jewish sect)” (Osborne 129–130).

2:10 Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.

The coming suffering of some of the Christians of Smyrna is inevitable. The devil is ultimately behind the upcoming imprisonment but who is the source of the testing?

The passive tense of the verb allows two implicit subjects: God as the source of the “test” (divine passive) or Satan. The immediate context might favor Satan (the consensus view), but one wonders why in that case it would not be active, “to test them.” The frequent use of divine passives in this book and the implicit hint in the verse that God is controlling the extent of the trial make God as the subject an attractive proposition. Some (e.g., Beckwith 1919: 454) think there may be double meaning. It is Satan’s purpose to “tempt” them to apostatize, but God’s purpose was to “test” their faith (the two aspects of πειράζω). This view has a great deal of merit. (Osborne 133)

In the Roman world imprisonment was used for: “coercion against recalcitrance, detention pending trial, and detention awaiting execution” (Osborne 133). The latter two options are the most likely in this context. The “ten days” should not be taken literally but rather as an indication that suffering would be for a limited period of time. In fact, death was a real possibility. The faithfulness of the Smyrneans would result in eternal life (“the crown that is life itself”) given to them by “the one who was dead, but came to life” (2:8). The “crown” (stephanos) was the wreath/garland given to victors at the games, which were popular in Smyrna (Pausanias 6.14.3). Ultimately the devil will find himself imprisoned (20:1-3).

2:11 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death.’

The second death is the lake of fire (20:14) and the lot of evil-doers (21:8). It has no power over the faithful (20:4-6).

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Brown, Raymond Edward, ed. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Pearson P T R, 1991.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Koester, Craig R. Revelation and the End of All Things. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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