“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 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. 10 Fear none of those 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. 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Rev. 2:8-11).
Located forty miles north of Ephesus was Smyrna. Placed on the Aegean Sea, Smyrna had a rich and extensive history, stretching all the way back to the successors of Alexander the Great, who founded the city. Smyrna suffered much from destructive earthquakes. And the Church of Smyrna suffered much from Jewish opposition. In biblical terminology there were those who said they were Jews, but were really occupants of the synagogue of Satan. Such language is difficult to understand unless we realize that the Bible teaches there are three types of Jews.
First, there is the racial Jew, who has the genes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the bloodline. Second, there is the religious Jew. This could be anyone who was born of Jewish racial stock, and refers to a Gentile proselyte who embraced the way of life prescribed by the Law of Moses. Third, there is the regenerate Jew, or the person who had the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob manifested in a love relationship with the Lord. A true Jew, in biblical terms, is not the racial Jew, or the religious Jew, but the regenerate Jew. One of the great challenges that face a large segment of the professing Church is to see that Gentiles are, in biblical language, part of the spiritual seed of Abraham by faith in Christ.
“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal. 3:7).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29).
The Church fathers understood this biblical, mystical, spiritual reality. “As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelite race” (Justin Martyr, AD 100 – 165). “Now I have shown a short time ago that the Church is the seed of Abraham” (Irenaeus, d. AD 202). “For it is not of the Jews that he spake the world of old, nor of the city of Zion, but of the church. For all the prophets have declared Zion to be the bride brought from the nations” (Hippolyus, AD 170 – 235).
The struggle between Judaism and Christianity is real. If it had been possible, Judaism would have destroyed all Christians by physical acts of persecution, to include starvation, isolation, loss of income, poverty, and execution. During the days of John, Smyrna’s small Christian assembly was the object of much insult. Later Polycarp, who was from Smyrna, would suffer martyrdom (AD 169). Despite the poverty, despite imprisonment, despite the hatred of the world, it was the testimony of heaven that the Church was still rich. It was rich in spiritual blessings. It was rich in faith. It was rich in love. It was rich in hope.
To honor the saints, the Lord promised a crown of eternal life. The way that the crown of life was won was by being faithful unto death. That is still the way to win the crown of life. Jesus warned about those disciples who turned back from following Him. There is no room in the Kingdom Of God for soldiers who desert their posts, for sailors who abandon their ships, for farmers who do not toil, for fishermen who do not fish, for builders who lay aside the tools of their trade. “Be ye faithful,” is still the royal command. “Even unto death.” There are crowns for Christians. The Bible speaks of several crowns that will be given to Christians as spiritual rewards of service and faithfulness.
There is the Crown of Life. ”Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).
There is the Crown of Rejoicing. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thess. 2:19).
There is the Crown of Glory. “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:4).
There is the Crown of Righteousness. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
There are two words for crown in the Bible. One word is diadema, and refers to a royal crown. Another word is stephano, and speaks of joy and victory. That latter is what is emphasized in the life of the Christian. The believer can know the joy of victory in the contest of life. There is also the joy of being recognized for faithful labor. And there is the joy of fellowship at a banquet, such as the marriage supper of the Lamb. These spiritual crowns of joy and victory for Christians, are given as the gifs of God for the people of God, and they are without repentance. This means they are not going to be returned. Enjoy.