Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Location: Ellis BS 2825.53.O73 2002
II. Churches Addressed (1:9-3:22) pp. 77-217.
B. Letters to the Seven Churches (2:1-3:22) pp. 104-217.
“2. Letter to Smyrna (2:8-11)” pp. 127-137.
Osborne notes that Smyrna is still in existence, as the city of Izmir (Osborne 2002, 127). Like Ephesus, it was a well known harbor city. In Smyrna, Christianity and Judaism had severe conflicts. Osborne suggests the Jews would denounce Christians so as to protect themselves from the Roman authorities (Osborne 2002, 127).
In the address to the church, Jesus, portrayed as “the first and the last,” is seen as the sovereign God (Osborne 2002, 128). Jesus is also presented in verse 8 as the one who came back to life from the dead.
2:9 presents the church at Smyrna as not having weaknesses to address. Osborne notes that this is the case only for Ephesus and Smyrna, the two smallest and least influential churches which receive letters (Osborne 2002, 129). He concludes that faithfulness is more important than numbers. The situation which Christ considers important here is what the church suffers, not any strengths which they have. For Smyrna, Osborne observes the persecution they receive, which drives them into poverty and draws slander against them, is recognized by Jesus as a matter of his special care (Osborne 2002, 129). Osborne also notes the juxtaposition of “poor” and “rich.” “It is interesting that every time ‘poor’ occurs in Revelation it is contrasted in some way with ‘rich.’ It is clear that both poverty and wealth (in the churches of Sardis and Laodicea) were major problems for these churches” (Osborne 2002, 130). In the case of Smyrna, poverty had apparently made the Christians more aware of their riches in Christ. Among the persecutors Osborne mentions particularly the Jewish community, called in this letter the “synagogue of Satan” (Osborne 2002, 131). This is the Jewish community which later lodged charges against Polycarp for not worshiping the emperor, then gathered wood on the Sabbath in order to burn him.
Revelation 2:10 moves us to an encouraging prophecy about affliction to come. The people of Smyrna are not to fear. They are going to suffer and will not be able to avoid it. Osborne notes the use of μέλλειν as indicating that the suffering is certain (Osborne 2002, 132). The devil is going to have some imprisoned. Osborne notes that the Romans did not use prison as a penalty, but normally as a holding place prior to execution, trial, or torture (Osborne 2002, 133). In verse 10 the imprisonment serves a purpose of tempting the Christians to depart from the faith. The period of testing mentioned, ten days, is unclear in its purpose, but is a short time. The outcome urged and expected in the letter is that they will be faithful and receive a crown of life, a divine gift. Osborne notes that Smyrna was known for games and festivals in which a winner would receive some sort of crown (Osborne 2002, 135). A crown of life is clearly a divine prize, not a human gift. Verse 11 brings the letter to a close with the observation that the Christians in Smyrna are overcomers and will participate in God’s eternal life (Osborne 2002, 136).