8 ¶ 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.
Smyrna was another wealthy city in the Roman province of Asia, now the country of Turkey. The church, at this time, was poor in the context of the great wealth around it. Persecution against Christians was rampant. The reference to them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan has been used to refer to the strong Jewish population that fought the growth of Christianity there. Polycarp, student of John, and bishop of Smyrna was burnt to death there and supposedly the Jews’ fury was so great they violated the Sabbath to gather wood to burn him.(3)
However, there is another explanation that concerns we Christians directly. All throughout Christian history there have been major church organizations that have declared that all of the promises to the Jews have been transferred to them and that God is done with the Jews. This is called Replacement Theology and has the Christian church populated with false Apostles, Nicolaitan priests, and churchmen declaring that the church is indeed the Israel of God of Galatians 6:16, but not in the affirmation of a label that confirms what makes us God’s people, as in Galatians, but in an institutional transfer that strips the Jews of any future redemption and grants the church organization with physical properties that go against other statements in the Bible. For instance, the weapons of our warfare are not physical or carnal (2Corinthians 10:4) and that the Kingdom of God is invisible and within us (Luke 17:20,21).
The reference to tribulation ten days could be a reference to the ten great persecutions of Christians or the references in history to ten great persecutions might be reading back into this verse ten of the persecutions against Christians. There were at least ten great persecutions and many more, localized ones before the church and state were united under the Emperor Constantine, at which point the institutional church became a persecutor itself, which is always the case with state-churches.
If they did not renounce their faith, they would receive a crown of life, which goes to the persecuted who die in their faith, never rejecting Christ, as many Christians in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa are faced with even today.
The second death is defined as;
Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
When we are born again we can only die one time, in our flesh. When we reject Christ we will die a second time when we are cast into the lake of fire into which death and hell are thrown.
Christ commends these churches’ works, labor, patience, poverty, and rejection of evil.
(3) Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1962), 281-2.