The Church at Smyrna: Part 5 of 5 (series: Lessons on Revelation)
by John Lowe
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
The call for anyone who is willing to hear (to listen to) “the Spirit” is repeated at the end of each letter. But whoever is “victorious”—that is, whoever stands strong for the faith despite persecution and suffering—“will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Believers and nonbelievers alike experience physical death. The first death for those in Smyrna might well be martyrdom. But even then they would be “victorious” because they would not face the “second death.” All people will be resurrected, but believers will be resurrected to eternal life with God, while unbelievers will be resurrected to be punished with a “second death”—eternal separation from God (see also 20:14; 21:8, 27; 22:15).
It is the responsibility of the individual to “hear what the Spirit says.” We will not be excused by God at the judgment seat if we depend upon others to do our hearing, our praying, and our confessing. It is an individual matter. We must individually hear and obey what “the Spirit” has to say to us. Only the ones who “hear what the Spirit says” know how to become overcomers. To be an overcomer under the conditions that existed in Smyrna required strong faith, clear spiritual vision and understanding, and looking to Him Who is invisible. Even though He is invisible, He is nearer than breath itself, promising never to forsake the saints, but to go with them faithfully even to the end, and through the valley of the shadow of death!
The “victorious” believer is promised eternal security. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The text does not say that those who fail to overcome will be hurt by the “second death.” That is an inference unjustified by the text. The promise is that the overcomer will not be hurt by the “second death.” We must not read into Scripture something it does not say, nor build an argument on the silence of Scripture. The promise here has to do, not with the ground of eternal security, but with the assurance of it. Those who unflinchingly faced the fire and the foe will have the blessed assurance that the “death” they are facing is trivial; it is the “second death” that men must fear, and this terrible “second death” will never come near them. When our Lord spoke of the faithful being unharmed by the “second death,” He meant precisely the same as Paul when he said that nothing in life or in death, in time or in eternity can separate those who love Him from Jesus Christ. Such a man is safe from all that life or death can do to him (Romans 8:38-3917). Peter provides us with an interesting example in Acts 12:1-6. He has been arrested by Herod and condemned to death, the sentence to be executed the next day. James has already been slain. It is his turn next. But what is Peter doing? Is he down on his knees praying for strength to go boldly to his execution? No! Is he pacing the floor gripping his hands and resolving to face his “death” like a man? No! He is asleep! He is not only conqueror, he is more than conqueror. He has the blessed assurance of eternal security. “Death” is the gateway to life!
The assuring word of Christ to Smyrna is the word to all suffering and persecuted Christians. As stated in Hebrews 12:11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who had been trained by it.”
1 (Hebrews 2:18, NIV) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
2 (Hebrews 4:15-16) “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one
who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 3
Poverty: the word used here for poverty means “abject poverty, possessing absolutely nothing.” 4
(Revelation 1:17-18) “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” 5
(Acts 19:10, GNT) “This went on for two years, so that all the people who lived in the province of Asia, both Jews and Gentiles, heard the word of the Lord. This went on for two years, so that all the people who lived in the province of Asia, both Jews and Gentiles, heard the word of the Lord.” 6
(2 Corinthians 12:7, NIV) “. . . Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” 7
(Hebrews 10:34; KJV) “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling plundering
of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” 8
(James 2:5; KJV) “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 9
Dole: Charity (practice), giving food, clothing or money. 10
Sacerdotalism is the belief that propitiatory sacrifices for sin require the intervention of a priest. That is, it is the belief that a special, segregated order of men, called the priesthood, are always the only ones who can commune directly with God or the gods. This system of priesthood is exemplified by the priests in the Old Testament and Catholicism. 11
(Romans 2:28-29, GNT) “After all, who is a real Jew, truly circumcised? It is not the man who is a Jew on the outside, whose circumcision is a physical thing. Rather, the real Jew is the person who is a Jew on the inside, that is, whose heart has been circumcised, and this is the work of God's Spirit, not of the written Law. Such a person receives praise from God, not from human beings.” 12
(Revelation 12:10, ERV) “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, “The victory and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah have now come. These things have come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown out. He is the one who accused them day and night before our God. 13
Ten days, in the Bible, signifies “a brief time.” (Genesis 24:55; Acts 25:6). 14
(Revelation 4:10-11, NIV) “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” 15
Second death is a Jewish phrase for the final condemnation of sinners (Matthew 10:8). We learn from Revelation 20:14-15 that the second death, which follows the general judgment, consists in being cast into the lake of fire for an eternity of dreadful torture, along with Satan, the two beasts, and Death and Hades. 16
Polycarp: Fifty years after John’s death, Polycarp, the pastor of the church in Smyrna was burned alive at the age of eighty-six for refusing to worship Caesar. 17
(Romans 8:38-39, NIV) “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.