Revelation 2:8
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things said the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Smyrna, the modern Ismir, now possessing a population of about 150,000. Its mercantile prosperity may be measured by its trade. In 1852 the export trade amounted to £1,766,653—about half of this being with England. The imports in the same year were £1,357,339. It has always been considered one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. It was situated in the ancient province of Ionia, a little north of Ephesus—next it, as Archbishop Trench says, in natural order, and also in spiritual. Its position was favourable for commerce. In olden times, as now, it commanded the trade of the Levant, besides being the natural outlet for the produce of the Hermus valley. The neighbourhood was peculiarly fertile; the vines are said to have been so productive as to have yielded two crops. There are indications that intemperance was very prevalent among the inhabitants. Servility and flattery may be added, for the people of Smyrna seem to have been astutely fickle, and to have been keen in preserving the patronage of the ruling powers. In one of their temples the inscription declared Nero to be “the Saviour of the whole human race.” The city was specially famed for its worship of Dionysos. Games and mysteries were held yearly in his honour. Its public buildings were handsome, and its streets regular. One of its edifices used as a museum proclaimed, in its consecration to Homer, that Smyrna contested with six or seven other cities the honour of being the birthplace of the poet.

The angel of the church in Smyrna.—We have no means of determining certainly who was the person here addressed. Many who accept the Domitian date of the Apocalypse argue that Polycarp was at this time the bishop or presiding minister at Smyrna. Even on the supposition that this is the true date, it seems exceedingly doubtful that this was the case. It can only be true on the supposition that the episcopate of Polycarp extended over sixty years. Polycarp was martyred A.D. 156. We know from Ignatius, who addresses him in A.D. 108 as Bishop of Smyrna, that his ministry lasted nearly fifty years. It seems too much to assume that his episcopate commenced eight or ten years before. Of course, if we adopt the earlier date of the Apocalypse, the Epistle must have been written before Polycarp’s conversion—probably before his birth. But though we are thus constrained to reject the identification which we would willingly adopt, it is well to remember that Polycarp is the living example of the language of the epistle, and that, as Professor Plumptre has said, “In his long conflict for the faith, his stedfast endurance, his estimate of the fire that can never be quenched, we find a character on which the promise to him that overcometh had been indelibly stamped.”

The first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.—Or better, who became dead, and lived again. From Revelation 1:17-18, we have selected the title most fitted to console a church whose trial was persecution. In all vicissitudes, the unchanging One (Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 13:8), who had truly tasted death, and conquered it even in seeming to fail, was their Saviour and King. Some have seen in these words, “dead and lived again,” an allusion to the story of the death and return to life of Dionysos—a legend, of course, familiar to Smyrna.

Revelation 2:8-9. And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna — “Smyrna was the nearest city to Ephesus, and for that reason probably was addressed in the second place. It is situated on lower ground than the ancient city, and lieth about forty-five miles northward of Ephesus. It is called Esmir by the Turks, and is celebrated, not so much for the splendour and pomp of the buildings, (for they are rather mean and ruinous,) as for the number, and wealth, and commerce of the inhabitants. The Turks have here fifteen mosques, and the Jews several synagogues. Among these enemies of the Christian name the Christian religion also flourishes in some degree. Smyrna still retains the dignity of metropolis, although there are only two churches of the Greeks. But besides them, here is a great number of Christians of all nations, sects, and languages. The Latin church hath a monastery of Franciscans. The Armenians have one church. But the English, who are the most considerable number, next to the Greeks and Armenians, have only a chapel in the consul’s house, which is a shame, says Wheler, considering the great wealth they heap up here, beyond all the rest; yet they commonly excel them in their pastor. Frequent plagues and earthquakes are the great calamities of the place; but the Christians are here more considerable, and in a far better condition, than in any other of the seven churches; as if the promise was still in some measure made good to Smyrna, Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer, be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” — Newton. “From the conversation,” says Mr. Lindsay, “which I had with the Greek bishop and his clergy, as well as various well-informed individuals, I am led to suppose, that if the population of Smyrna be estimated at one hundred and forty thousand inhabitants, there are from fifteen to twenty thousand Greeks, six thousand Armenians, five thousand Catholics, one hundred and forty Protestants, and eleven thousand Jews.” These things saith the First and the Last — Even that glorious and Divine Person, who, having assumed the human nature into union with his Deity, is able to say he was dead and is alive; and who therefore demands, by all considerations of reverence, gratitude, and love, thy most attentive and obedient regards. How directly does this description of the person of Christ tend to confirm the pastor of this church, and all the members of it, against the fear of death! See Revelation 2:10-11. Even with the comfort wherewith St. John himself was comforted, (Revelation 1:17-18,) would the angel of this church, and the people under his care, be comforted. I know thy works — To have been, in many respects, extraordinary; and thy tribulation and poverty — A poor prerogative in the eyes of the world! The angel at Philadelphia likewise and his flock had in their own sight but a little strength. And yet these two were the most honourable of all in the eyes of the Lord. But thou art rich — In faith and love, of more value than all the kingdoms of the earth. And the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews — God’s own people; and are not — They are not Jews inwardly; not circumcised in heart; but a synagogue of Satan — Who, like them, is a liar and murderer from the beginning, and whose temper they breathe in their opposition to my gospel and to my people, being engaged in promoting error, superstition, and wickedness, the very things wherein the kingdom of Satan consists.2:8-11 Our Lord Jesus is the First, for by him were all things made; he was before all things, with God, and is God himself. He is the Last, for he will be the Judge of all. As this First and Last, who was dead and is alive, is the believer's Brother and Friend, he must be rich in the deepest poverty, honourable amidst the lowest abasement, and happy under the heaviest tribulation, like the church of Smyrna. Many who are rich as to this world, are poor as to the next; and some who are poor outwardly, are inwardly rich; rich in faith, in good works, rich in privileges, rich in gifts, rich in hope. Where there is spiritual plenty, outward poverty may be well borne; and when God's people are made poor as to this life, for the sake of Christ and a good conscience, he makes all up to them in spiritual riches. Christ arms against coming troubles. Fear none of these things; not only forbid slavish fear, but subdue it, furnishing the soul with strength and courage. It should be to try them, not to destroy them. Observe, the sureness of the reward; I will give thee: they shall have the reward from Christ's own hand. Also, how suitable it is; a crown of life: the life worn out in his service, or laid down in his cause, shall be rewarded with a much better life, which shall be eternal. The second death is unspeakably worse than the first death, both in the agonies of it, and as it is eternal death: it is indeed awful to die, and to be always dying. If a man is kept from the second death and wrath to come, he may patiently endure whatever he meets with in this world.And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write - On the meaning of the word "angel," see the notes on Revelation 1:20.

These things saith the first and the last - See the notes on Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:17.

Which was dead, and is alive - See the notes on Revelation 1:18. The idea is, that he is a Living Saviour; and there was a propriety in referring to that fact here from the nature of the promise which he was about to make to the church at Smyrna: "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death," Revelation 2:11. As he had himself triumphed over death in all its forms, and was now alive forever, it was appropriate that he should promise to his true friends the same protection from the second death. He who was wholly beyond the reach of death could give the assurance that they who put their trust in him should come off victorious.

8. Smyrna—in Ionia, a little to the north of Ephesus. Polycarp, martyred in A.D. 168, eighty-six years after his conversion, was bishop, and probably "the angel of the Church in Smyrna" meant here. The allusions to persecutions and faithfulness unto death accord with this view. Ignatius [The Martyrdom of Ignatius 3], on his way to martyrdom in Rome, wrote to Polycarp, then (A.D. 108) bishop of Smyrna; if his bishopric commenced ten or twelve years earlier, the dates will harmonize. Tertullian [The Prescription against Heretics, 32], and Irenæus, who had talked with Polycarp in youth, tell us Polycarp was consecrated bishop of Smyrna by St. John.

the first … the last … was dead … is alive—The attributes of Christ most calculated to comfort the Church of Smyrna under its persecutions; resumed from Re 1:17, 18. As death was to Him but the gate to life eternal, so it is to be to them (Re 2:10, 11).

Smyrna was a city in Ionia; we read not when, or by whom, the gospel was first planted and a church gathered there; nor can we tell who are meant by

the angel of this church: see Revelation 1:20. That it was no single person is probable, for he speaks plurally, Revelation 2:10, the devil shall cast some of you, ex umwn, into prison.

These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive: for the meaning of this phrase, see annotations on Revelation 1:8,17,18; only it is observable how Christ, speaking to this church under great tribulation and persecution, fits a name proper to comfort them; for he himself was dead, and yet now alive, and he living, those that believe in him, because he lives, shall live also, John 14:19; and as he was the first, so he will be the last, surviving all his enemies, and be at last a conqueror over them. And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write,.... Of the city of Smyrna; see Gill on Revelation 1:11. That there was a church of Christ here is not to be doubted, though by whom it was founded is not certain; very likely by the Apostle Paul, who was in those parts, and by whose means all Asia heard the Gospel of Christ, Acts 19:10. Some think the present angel or pastor of this church, was Polycarp, the disciple of John. Irenaeus (f), who knew him, says he was appointed bishop of Smyrna by the apostles. Here he suffered martyrdom, and was buried: the large amphitheatre, in which he was put to death, is still to be seen, and his sepulchre is yet preserved in this place (g): a very famous epistle, sent by this church at Smyrna to the churches at Pontus, giving an account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, and others, is extant in Eusebius (h). According to the Apostolical Constitutions (i), the first bishops of Smyrna were Aristo Strataeas and Aristo the second, and Apelles, of whom mention is made in Romans 16:10; and who is reckoned among the seventy disciples; See Gill on Luke 10:1; and is said to be bishop of Smyrna before Polycarp; who succeeded Polycarp, I do not find; but it is said there was a church at Smyrna in the "third" century; and so there was in the beginning of the "fourth", since there was a bishop from hence in the council at Nice: and in the "fifth" century, mention is made of several bishops of this place; as of Cyrus, a native of Constantinople; and Protherius, who, it is thought, succeeded him, and was present in the synod at Chalcedon; and Aethericus, who assisted at three synods in this century, at Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon: and in the "sixth" century, there was a bishop of Smyrna in the fifth synod held at Rome and Constantinople: and even in the "eighth" century, one Antony, a monk, supplied the place of the bishop of Smyrna in the Nicene synod (k). The Turks have in this place now thirteen mosques, the Jews two synagogues, and of the Christians there are two churches belonging to the Greeks, and one to the Armenians (l). This church, and its pastor, represent the state of the church under the persecutions of the Roman emperors. Smyrna signifies "myrrh", which being bitter of taste, is expressive of the bitter afflictions, and persecutions, and deaths, the people of God in this interval endured; and yet, as myrrh is of a sweet smell, so were those saints, in their sufferings for Christ, exceeding grateful and well pleasing to him; wherefore nothing is said by way of complaint to this church; not that she was without fault, but it was proper to use her tenderly in her afflicted state: and, as Dr. More observes, as myrrh was used in the embalming of dead bodies, it may point to the many deaths and martyrdoms of the saints in this period, whereby their names and memories are perpetuated and eternized,

These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive. Of these characters of Christ; see Gill on Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:17, Revelation 1:18; and they are very appropriately mentioned, to encourage the saints under their sufferings of death; since Christ, who is the eternal God, had in human nature tasted of the bitterness of death for them, and was risen again; suggesting, that though they were called to undergo the bitterest deaths for his sake, they should be raised again as he was, and live with him for ever. The Ethiopic version reads, "thus saith the holy Spirit"; but it cannot be said of him that "he was dead",

(f) Adv. Haeres. l. 3. c. 3.((g) Vid. Smith. Notitia septem Eccles. Asiae, p. 164, 165. (h) Hist. Eccles. l. 4. c. 15. (i) L. 7. c. 46. (k) Hist. Eccles. Magdeburg. cent. 3. c. p. 2. cent. 4. c. 2. p. 3. cent. 5. c. 2. p. 3. c. 10. p. 595, 596. cent. 6. c. 2. p. 4. cent. 8. c. 2. p. 4. (l) Smith. Notitia, p. 167.

{6} And unto the angel of the church in {c} Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

(6) The second passage is to the pastors of the church of the Smyrnians. The introduction is taken out of Re 1:17,18.

(c) Smyrna was one of the cities of Ionia in Asia.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 2:8. The self-designation of the Lord[1037] corresponds to the admonition and promise, Revelation 2:10-11.

ἔζησεν contains by its combination with ἐγεν. νεκρός the intimation that the life is a new one succeeding a victory over death.[1038] The aor. ἔζησεν[1039] marks the historical fact of the resurrection, as the precise fact of death is designated by ἘΓΕΝ. ΝΕΚΡ.; cf. the aor. Revelation 1:5, Revelation 3:9. An analogy is furnished by Josephus, Life, 75: “Of the three crucified who were taken down, two died notwithstanding the care: ὁ δὲ τρίτος ἔζησεν” (the third lived).

[1037] Revelation 1:17 sqq. Cf. Revelation 1:15.

[1038] Revelation 13:14, Revelation 20:4-5. Cf. Ezekiel 37:3; Matthew 9:16; John 5:25.

[1039] Cf., on the other hand, the ζῶν εἲμι, κ.τ.λ., Revelation 1:18.

Revelation 2:8-11. The epistle to the church at Smyrna.

Smyrna, eight geographical miles north of Ephesus, on a bay of the Aegean Sea, and the river Meles, was already in ancient times, as it is to the present, an important place of business. After Old Smyrna had been destroyed by the Lydians, New Smyrna, twenty stadia from the old place, was built, according to Pausanias by Alexander the Great, according to Strabo by Antigonus, and afterwards by Lysimachus,—a very beautiful city.[1030]

Of Christian life at Smyrna we have, except in the Apoc., the earliest statement in the Epistle of Ignatius,[1031] at the beginning of the second century. At that time Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna,[1032] of whose martyrdom in the year 168 the church of Smyrna itself has made the record.[1033] Many, especially the Catholic expositors,[1034] regard Polycarp the angel of the church[1035] mentioned in this epistle; which, however, is in a chronological respect untenable, even if it should be admitted that the Apoc. was composed under Domitian, although Polycarp “had served Christ” for eighty-six years.[1036]

[1030] Cf. Wetst., Winer, Rwb.

[1031] Ep. ad Smyrn., ad Polycarp.

[1032] Cf. Irenaeus in Euseb., H. E., iv. Revelation 14 : “Πολυκ.

ὐπὸ ἀποστόλων κατασταθεἰς εἰς τὴν ʼΑσίαν ἐν τῇ ἐν Σμύρνῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ ἐπίσκοπος (“Polycarp—appointed bishop by the apostles in Asia, in the church at Smyrna”). Cf. iii. 36. Tertullian, Praeser. Haer., 32: “It is reported that Polycarp was placed, by John, in the church of the Smyrnæans.”

[1033] Martyrium S. Polyc. in den Edd. der apostol. Väter. Cf. Euseb., H. E., 4:15.

[1034] N. de Lyra, Ribera, Alcas., C. a Lap., Tirni., Stern, Calov., Hengstenb., etc.

[1035] i.e., bishop. Cf., to the contrary, on Revelation 1:20.

[1036] Martyr., c. 9.Revelation 2:8-11. The message (shortest of the seven) to the Christians in Smyrna, “one of the first stars in the brilliant belt of the cities of Asia Minor” (Mommsen), a wealthy and privileged seaport, and like Sardis a constant rival of Ephesus for the title of primacy which properly belonged to Pergamos, the real capital of the province. It is probably owing to the petty jealousies of these urban communities that the prophet refrains from speaking of one to the other (as Paul did, with his churches), by way of example.The Church in Smyrna. 8–11

8. The angel] Supposed by many of the ancient commentators to have been Polycarp.

which was dead] See on Revelation 1:18.

is alive] Lit., lived, i.e. came to life, revived. So Revelation 13:14, and Matthew 9:18, John 5:25. The attributes of death and life are here especially ascribed to Christ, because the message He sends is a promise of life to them who die for His sake.Verses 8-11. - The epistle to the Church at Smyrna. Verse 8. - The metropolitan, setting out from Ephesus to visit the Churches of Asia, would naturally go first to Smyrna. It ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in Asia; but its magnificence must at times have seemed poor compensation for the neglect of the architect, who, in planning the city for Antigonus and Lysimachus, omitted the drains. In time of floods the streets became open sewers. For its fidelity to Rome against Mithridates, it received exceptional privileges, but suffered heavily when Dolabella laid siege to Trebonius, one of Caesar's assassins, who had taken refuge there. When eleven cities of Asia competed for the honour of erecting a temple to Tiberius, the senate decided in favour of Smyrna. This temple was no doubt standing in St. John's time. But just as Artemis was the great goddess of the Ephesians, so Dionysus was the great god of Smyrna. Dionysus represented the mysteriously productive and intoxicating powers of nature - powers which are exhibited most abundantly in the vine, which in the neighbourhood of Smyrna is said to have borne fruit twice in a year. He was regarded as the dispenser of joy and fertility, the disperser of sorrow and care. Hence the myth of his death and resurrection, which was frequently rehearsed and acted at Smyrna - a fact which gives special point to the greeting in this epistle - "From him who became dead, and lived." The priests who presided at this celebration were presented with a crown; to which there may be allusion in the promise, "I will give thee the crown of life." Not long after the martyrdom of its first bishop, St. Polycarp, Smyrna was destroyed by an earthquake, in A.D. , and was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. Earthquakes, fires, and pestilences have always been common there. But in spite of such calamities, it continues to flourish. From the large proportion of Christians there, it is known among Mohammedans as "the infidel city." Christianity seems never to have been extinguished in Smyrna, which shares, with Philadelphia, the honour of receiving unmixed praise in these epistles. "Down from the apostolic times a Church has existed here, and she has repeated, with more or less boldness and distinctness, the testimony of her martyr bishop, 'I am a Christian'" (R. Vaughan). The stadium in which he suffered may still be seen there. We have already (see on Revelation 1:20) decided that "the angel" of each Church is probably not its bishop. But, even if this were the meaning, this epistle could not be addressed to St. Polycarp, if he was martyred A.D. , in the eighty-sixth year after his conversion, and the Apocalypse was written in A.D. . The First and the Last, who became (e)ge/neto) dead, and lived (see notes on Revelation 1:17, 18). As in the epistle to Ephesus, the words of the address are taken from the titles of the Christ given in the opening. It is no mythical deity, with his mock death and resurrection, but the absolutely Living One, who indeed died, and is indeed alive forevermore, that scuds this message to the suffering Church of Smyrna. In the epistle to the Church in Thyatira we have what seems to be an allusion to the worship of Apollo, similar to that to the worship of Dionysus here. Smyrna

Lying a little north of Ephesus, on a gulf of the same name. The original city was destroyed about b.c. 627, and was deserted and in ruins for four hundred years. Alexander the Great contemplated its restoration, and his design was carried out after his death. The new city was built a short distance south of the ancient one, and became the finest in Asia Minor, being known as the glory of Asia. It was one of the cities which claimed the honor of being Homer's birthplace. A splendid temple was erected by the Smyrnaeans to his memory, and a cave in the neighborhood of the city was shown where he was said to have composed his poems. Smyrna's fine harbor made it a commercial center; but it was also distinguished for its schools of rhetoric and philosophy. Polycarp was the first bishop of its church, which suffered much from persecution, and he was said to have suffered martyrdom in the stadium of the city, a.d. 166. It is argued with some plausibility that Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna at the time of the composition of Revelation, and was the person addressed here. This question, however, is bound up with that of the date of composition (see Trench, "Epistles to the Seven Churches"). The city was a seat of the worship of Cybele the Mother of the gods, and of Dionysus or Bacchus.

Was dead (ἐγένετο νεκρὸς)

Lit., became dead.

Is alive (ἔζησεν)

Lit., lived. Rev., properly, lived again; the word being used of restoration to life. See, for a similar usage, Matthew 9:18; John 5:25.

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