Spring 2022 Bible Reading Plan - Letters to the 7 Churches: Smyrna
Download a PDF version of this study here.
FORMAT NOTE: We will go through this passage by identifying 1) Who Jesus is, 2) Who His People Are, and 3) Where His People Are Headed. There are seven questions to walk through the text and then two application questions at the end. Feel free to lead in a way that serves your group.
Spend 1-2 minutes on the context in Smyrna:
- This church was known for suffering. Smyrna is the Greek word for myrrh, a flagrant perfume used in burial. Many believe that this church represents the martyrs of all the ages and the sweet-smelling fragrance of their faithfulness until death. There was no rebuke for this church and because they were faithful until death, their lampstand has never been removed. Christianity has never completely left this city. It is the only one of the seven cities still in flourishing condition.
- The city of Smyrna was a harbor city about 35 miles north of Ephesus. Most of its wealth came from trade. The harbor brought tons of different people groups and cultures into the city. Much like San Francisco today.
- None of the other six churches were singled out for their economic suffering, which suggests that the poverty the Smyrna congregation endured was unusual, noteworthy, and probably severe.
- Quick Teaching on Smyrna’s poverty: Many jobs in the city were headed by trade guilds which are like our labor unions today. These trade guilds relied heavily on certain pagan gods to provide and care for their occupations. For example, if you were a sea merchant you would pray and offer sacrifices to Poseiden so that your freight would arrive at the port. Imagine being a Christian today and going to work where people pray to certain gods for success and prosperity in their work.
- Quick Teaching on Smyrna’s slander: Malicious gossip was spread about the Christians in Smyrna. They were seen as cannibals for “eating the body and blood of Christ” (I.e. taking communion), accused of incest (demonstrating love to “brothers” and “sisters”), and were seen as atheistic and treasonous (belief in only the One True God/loyalty to Christ rather than Caesar and Rome).
- In practice, people would not want to work with Christians who did not believe in their gods. Many of the Christians in Smyrna did not compromise their faith in Christ in the midst of slander and tribulation, which led to economic disparity for God’s people in Smyrna.
Main Idea: Through the lens of who Jesus is, who we are in Christ, and where we are going based on these truths, this text helps us develop a biblical understanding of suffering and how to persevere and be encouraged in it.
Read Revelation 2:8-11
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
Who Jesus Is:
- What is the significance of Jesus being called, “the first and the last”?
- Help the group to understand the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign means He is in control of everything that happens, from before time to eternity and everything in between.
- What is the significance of Jesus being called, “the one who died and came to life”?
- Romans 6:8-9: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”
- Why is this helpful for the church to hear Jesus described this way before he lays out the rest of the letter?
Who Are His People:
- While the society viewed this small church as poor, Jesus interrupts with a correction for this church: “but you are rich.” Have someone read 2 Corinthians 8:9 and James 2:5. After reading these verses, what do you think Jesus meant when he told this church they are rich?
- Although we may not have all the worldly possessions we desire, we have everything we could ever need in Christ - forgiveness, love, salvation, peace, etc..
- In light of this, how do these words of Jesus serve as an encouragement to the church in Smyrna?
Where Are His People Headed:
- The Temporary: The Christians in Smyrna were about to be thrown in prison. During the Roman era, the prison was not just a holding cell, but a place to await trial that more than likely resulted in martyrdom if they refused to deny Christ. We may not experience this type of suffering and tribulation, but we are not exempt from suffering in this life. We will all experience hardship of some kind either now, soon, or perhaps at the end of our lives. Why are we able to not fear?
- The Eternal: His people are headed to dwell with Him forever. Jesus is offering eternal life to those who remain steadfast and faithful to him. The crown represents eternal life and the second death refers to the lake of fire (See Rev. 20:11-15). Jesus’ people will not be thrown into the lake of fire, but will dwell with God forever. According to Revelation 4:9-11, what are “crowns” ultimately for?
- No longer will we suffer poverty, slander, or tribulation. Jesus will hold fast those who are his from the lake of fire we will be able to completely worship the Lord and be in His presence forever.
Summary: Here’s what we discovered in this text: Jesus is sovereign over his creation, people, history, and the future. He entered into history and died for our sins to reconcile us to God. Although we will suffer trials in this life, Jesus is taking us towards eternity where we can dwell with God forever. Jesus himself experienced poverty, slander, and death. His command during trials and tribulation is to be faithful to Him. Jesus says, “I’ve been there, I’ve done that, you can too. I’ll empower you, I’ll be with you.” In light of this… let’s look at how we can apply this to our lives.
- What is something difficult that you have been dealing with lately and how does this encourage you?
- How does this letter to the church in Smyrna help you understand the topic of suffering?
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