“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…‘”
Smyrna is the shortest of the seven letters.
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write
The word “angel” means messenger and refers here to the pastor of the church at Smyrna. Jesus wants the pastor to convey this special message to Smyrna.
Smyrna today (Izmir Turkey) is a seaport located about 40 miles north of Ephesus. It was the second most prosperous city in Asia Minor. Its harbor was one of the greatest of the Roman world. The harbor stood at the end of a great road coming through the Hermus Valley.
Smyrna was a free city and did not pay taxes to the Roman Empire. It was a place where Roman judges held court. It was, as Ephesus, a center for the imperial cult. They dedicated a temple to Tiberius, Livia, and the senate (A.D. 29). They also dedicated a temple to dea Roma (“the goddess Rome”) in the second century B.C.
Smyrna portrayed itself as the most beautiful city of Asia Minor. It sat at the head of the gulf on hills sloping down to the sea. Its streets were wide and paved. The famed Golden Street ran the city’s entire length from the harbor to the Acropolis on Mount Pagos. Temples lined this street from the harbor beginning with a Greek temple to the goddess Cybele. Farther, there was the splendid temple to Apollo. Still beyond that sat the temples to Aesculapius (the god of healing) and the temple to the goddess Aphrodite. The monument to Homer stood on this street as well. Smyrna was the birthplace of Homer. Positioned at the end of the street was the Acropolis on Mount Pagos, the imposing temple to Zeus.
Much of the life of Smyrna revolved around athletics, theatre, and religion. There were a great gymnasium and stadium in the city. The largest Greek theatre in the Roman world (20,000 seating) sat on Mount Pagos’ slopes.
The church at Smyrna faced severe persecution because of Jewish slander. John calls them the “synagogue of Satan.”
These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life
Jesus gives Himself a title with each message to the churches. He appeals to some special authority about Himself in each of these titles. Jesus here describes Himself in polar opposites: 1) First and Last and 2) who was dead and came to life.
First, Jesus describes Himself as the one who is eternal, the First and the Last (Re 1:8,17; 21:6; 22:13), and the one who conquered death. Jesus is from everlasting to everlasting. He originated everything, and He will judge everything.
The phrase “was dead and is alive” indicates His humanity rose from the dead. Jesus died for our sins in His humanity to pay for our sins, and He rose from the dead to gain victory over death.
Jesus conquered sin and death so that we will get the victory over sin and death.
We do not have to pay for our sins because Jesus did all of the suffering necessary for our sins. God is satisfied with His suffering for our sins. He took our hell that we might have His heaven. Our only responsibility is to believe that Jesus did all of the suffering for our sins (John 5:24).
Because Jesus defeated sin, He also defeated death. Jesus rose from the dead. He killed death in doing so.
“So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory. ”O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?’
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58).