I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will never be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:9-11)
This was a poor church, verse 9 says, but Jesus says, “You are rich.” Humanly speaking, materially speaking, they were poor. But they were really rich.
Contrast that with the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:17: “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.” The church in Smyrna had nothing and was spiritually rich; the church in Laodicea had everything and was spiritually bankrupt.
Then Jesus says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
You know, the Bible says a lot about “if you endure to the end, you will be saved,” right? This is the great truth of perseverance. If you endure, you are a true believer.
The words of our Lord come to my mind in Matthew 10:22, “And you will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” True faith survives. True faith endures. True faith is proven by persecution.
The counsel is this: “You’re going to be persecuted, and it’s going to be severe. Satan is going to be unleashing hostilities on you, and some of you are going to go to prison. It’s going to cost some of you your life. You’re going to be tested all the way to death. Be faithful and I will give you the crown of life.”
What is the crown of life? It is eternal life. It is the promise of heaven.
And then He says, “He who overcomes — overcomes all threats, all persecution, all hostility, all tribulation, all attacks, all deaths — will not be hurt by the second death.”
You may die the first one — that’s physical death. You will never experience the second one — that’s spiritual death — if you are an overcomer.
What do we mean by overcomer? For that, we go back to 1 John 5:4-5:
For everything that has been born of God overcomes the world; and this is the overcoming that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
If you have true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will overcome. You may be hurt by the first death, but you will never be hurt by the second death. The second death is the final death. It is eternal death, and that will not touch you.
The Book of Revelation ends with that promise:
Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the authority to the tree of life and may enter by the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:12-14)
And there is this wonderful passage in chapter 20:
Then I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-14)
You’ll never experience that. If you are a true believer with a faith that overcomes all this, even to the first death, you will never experience the second death.
So we meet the poor little rich church — martyred, imprisoned, but everlastingly victorious. Willing to die once, but never to die twice. If you have ears, hear this message.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2015, titled “The Lord’s Word to His Church: Smyrna.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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