We have briefly looked at the doctrine of the church while studying the letter sent to the church in Ephesus, one of the seven to whom Christ wrote through the apostle John. These seven churches' circumstances were different and covered a spectrum that reflects the trials and lives of churches of all time. As we identify with some or all of the churches at some time or another, we know two things: Christ already addressed our particular circumstance, and hearing His voice on the matter comforts us.
Ephesus was famous for its temple dedicated to Artemis, the virgin huntress of Greek mythology. The temple's extensive land holdings and banking reserves established its economic dominance in Ephesus and its environs. Miniature terra cotta copies of the goddess's image found throughout the Mediterranean region suggest that the temple was a magnet of religious tourism.
Merchants and manufacturers were making handsome profits making artifacts and shrines for the goddess Artemis. Denouncing Artemis affected the manufacturing industry directly. Let's read about the effects that industry felt as the message of Christianity brought conflict in Ephesus.
Acts 19:23 - 40 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."
28When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" 29Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. 30Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. 32The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.
33The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" 35The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: "Men of Ephesus, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. 37You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it."
41After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.
This is not much different from our culture today where business is considered parallel and independent of religious beliefs. The gospel instantly sets sinful practices apart from itself as it was designed to do, combating sin. The Christian business person can and should practice within the precepts of the gospel, confirmed by the law, and not separate and independent of it. There is no 'Sunday life' and the rest of the week being 'Business as usual.'
Ephesus was a center of learning with an impressive library. It was also a center for occult arts. As soon as the power of the apostle Paul became known, as we read in Acts 19:12, every practitioner of evil wanted to have this power of healing, not that they had any interest in healing people, but their interest was to have a product to sell to their customers. And what better product can they ask for than to be able to sell health and freedom from evil spirits.
Some of them went around driving out evil spirits invoking the name of Jesus saying, "In the name of Jesus … I command you to come out." Sounds awfully like an evangelical television preacher of today doesn't it? Even a Jewish chief priest with his seven sons practiced it but they were severely beaten. Let's read further:
Acts 19:15 - 20 [One day] the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. 17When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
The church in Ephesus needed spiritual discernment and so do all the churches always, till the end of time. Discernment is the very fiber by which Jesus keeps his church together, which is why discernment of his body before celebrating the sacrament of communion is so important. The believer has to discern many things and judge whether they are from God or not.
Discernment is the very quality for which Jesus commends the Ephesian church, "you cannot tolerate evil men and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles…" and "you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." So, we see a church locked in a battle for its doctrinal purity.
Paul warned them of an impending danger:
Acts 20:29 - 31 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Later Paul left Timothy at Ephesus to "instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies." Paul's protectiveness had borne good fruit. The Ephesians refused to tolerate counterfeit apostles and other purveyors of deceit. The church's intolerance was as politically incorrect in the midst of ancient pluralism as it would be today, but it reflected Jesus' intolerance of poisonous lies and of liars who prey on his sheep. Jesus shares this church's hatred of the Nicolaitans' deeds.
As a matter of interest, Nicolaitanism represented a movement in the churches at Ephesus and Pergamos to subject the people of God to one or more powerful leaders. The term is derived from "nikao," which means "to conquer," and "laos" meaning "people," hence, "people conquerors." Very plausibly, the Nicolaitan movement marks the beginning of a form of priesthood in the church. It is a separation of people in a priest class and laity. It is an "us and them" philosophy. Jesus hated them for their deeds and so did the Ehesians, because Scripture teaches that all believers are priests and have direct access to the Father through Jesus.
In the letter to the church in Pergamum, which we will deal with later, the Nicolaitans are compared with Balaam, who, after failing to pronounce a prophetic curse against Israel, recommended to King Balak of Moab a different strategy to defeat God's people: estrange them from their divine Protector by luring them into immorality and idolatry.
Numbers 25:1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women 2who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods, 3so Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD'S anger burned against them.
Numbers 31:16 "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD'S people.
This is the threat - using the same weapons, sex and idolatry - that the Nicolaitans posed for the churches of Asia Minor. But the church at Ephesus saw through their ruse, reacting with holy hatred. They were also noteworthy for their perseverance, which had not caused them to grow weary in response to their sufferings.
They have endured for Christ's sake.
John 15:21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.
Isaiah 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Matthew 5:10, 12 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Luke 6:22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
II Corinthians 12:10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Acts 5:41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
Romans 5:3 - 5 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4Perseverance, character; and character, hope; 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
But Jesus finds fault with this hard-working, enduring church. He accuses them of having left their "first love." One may compare this admonishment to Jeremiah 2:2-3 in which the Lord reminds Israel of their honeymoon in the wilderness, calling his bride to the exclusive love she had for him then. But Jesus' rebuke to Ephesus is not like Jeremiah's accusation against Israel, for Jeremiah contrasts Israel's early love for the Lord to her later adultery with idols. (Jeremiah 2:4-13). Idolatry is not the Ephesian church's problem.
In his letters to some of the other churches Jesus identifies classic symptoms of declining love for himself: idolatry, which is adultery, lukewarm self-reliance and tolerance of error. He finds none of these symptoms in Ephesus.
It is more likely that the reference to having left their first love, refers to the love they ought to have had for their fellow-men. The noun love appears only here and in the letter to Thyatira, where the qualities of love and faith are paired with the pair service and perseverance (Rev 2:19). As perseverance under persecution demonstrates faith, so service shows love. Jesus had predicted that persecution would tempt people to apostatize, to betray others, or to withdraw from others in suspicious hatred; and that false teaching would mislead others.
We read in,
Matthew 24:10 - 13 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
There is the danger that an embattled church may turn inward in self-protection and suspicion, just as a church that experiences prolonged prosperity and peace could slip into lethargy and indifference. The remedy is a repentance that involves doing "the deeds you did at first." This command confirms the focus of first love for other people, for in John's writings the proof of love is found in deeds of service to others.
I John 3:16 - 20 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Paul also emphasized the balance of truth and love that makes the church grow, such as "speaking the truth in love." Having heeded the apostles' emphasis on truth, this church has slipped off balance by neglecting love. Unless corrected, the loss would prove lethal to the church's light-bearing mission in its city.
Overcoming the temptations of the workers of unrighteousness means perseverance and fasting in denying oneself those things that could break down the resolve to persevere in Jesus Christ. Here Jesus uses this phrase as a general promise to everyone who perseveres in the earthly battle against evil.
John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
I Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Hebrews 10:36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
I John 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
I John 5:1 - 5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. 4For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This passage refers to the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden in Genesis 2:9; 3:22 signaling the removal of man from the source of eternal life due to their sin. Those who overcome in Jesus, however, will gain access to the tree of life and will be able to eat from it and live in glory forever.
Revelation 22:2 Down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Jesus' last words to Ephesus are not a threat but a promise: the victor will eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God. In this first letter the painful memory of paradise lost is transformed into hope as the promise points ahead to the tree of life in the new Jerusalem, bearing a different crop each month and healing the nations through its leaves.
The great temple of Artemis at Ephesus was built on the site of an ancient tree-shrine, and the image of the date palm symbolized the goddess and her city, Ephesus. But Jesus excels Artemis, for he promises to those who overcome, through truth expressed in love, access to a tree that yields endless delight and eternal life.
Smyrna is praised, encouraged and admonished with a view to the oppression that is about to come. Smyrna is an ancient harbor city north of Ephesus. In approximately 200 BC a temple was erected in Smyrna in which Rome was hailed as a goddess.
This is the second variation on the introduction identifying Jesus Christ as the Author. Jesus affirms that he is the one who is eternal (the First and the Last), who died for our sins, which impresses upon them that they belong to Christ and not to themselves nor to this world. Not only does Christ impress upon them that he has fully paid for their sins, he also affirms that he took up his life again to live forever seated at the right hand of the Father, and that he has overcome that which would have destroyed them, namely, death. These words expressed by our Savior are the very essence of the gospel and hold within them the entire definition of our comfort and hope. To the church in Smyrna, these words have special meaning because of their circumstances. From this they know that nothing can happen to them unless it is the will of the Father, even martyrdom.
Suffering and faithfulness fit the church that lives in a city such as Smyrna. The city's name was identified with mourning through association with the embalming spice, myrrh. (Greek smyrna as in John 19:39.)
The Smyrnan Christians were poor in material possession but they were rich in their faith in the gospel.
Luke 12:21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
II Corinthians 6:10 Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
II Corinthians 8:2, 9 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
James 2:5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him.
Their opponents claim to be Jews but are in reality Satan's synagogue. The victor who is faithful to the extremity of death is promised a crown of life and safety from the second death.
These opponents claim to be Jews and while they are from the physical lineage of Abraham their father is the devil.
John 8:37 - 44 I know you are Abraham's descendants, yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.
39"Abraham is our father," they answered. "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. 40As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the things your own father does." "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself."
42Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
These passages confirm the Reformed Doctrine that God created the Universal Invisible church when he wrote the names of the elect into the book of life, chose the nation of Israel as a carrier nation for the sake of the elect, and when the time came for God to appear in the flesh as the Messiah, he extracted the elect from the nation of Israel and scattered them among all nations.
The other Jews who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah but held fast to their physical ancestry with Abraham, are called a synagogue of Satan.
God shows covenant faithfulness to families through the generations, but in the last analysis the people of God are defined Christocentrically and not genealogically. The issue that separates the elect from the hypocrites is birth from the Spirit and not birth from the flesh.
John 3:6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Romans 8:5 - 9, 13 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. 7The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
Circumcision is also not a fleshly surgery to effect pureness of heart, but it was a sign that marked God's people and the effect of that called for a pure heart. As soon as the Pharisees relied on their physical ancestry they lost sight of the sign of circumcision and clung to the sign instead of that which it signified.
Romans 2:28, 29 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.
Philippians 3:2, 3 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh, 3for it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.
Once … not a people, but now … the people of God … (I Peter 2:10)
have been called to become
… a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)
Once the church had matured, after having been tutored by the law while within the nation of Israel, she came of age and her Head, Jesus Christ, appearing in the flesh, separated her from Israel. Titles that belonged to Israel, which set it apart from the rest of the world, now belong to all who are in Jesus Christ.
Exodus 19:5, 6 'Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation...'
But the key is to remain in Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah has foretold it to the Israelites and the Pharisees knew this, having read it in their Synagogues every Sabbath.
Isaiah 5:1 - 7 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
3"Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it."
7The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
John 15:1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
This was the message of the gospel and the apostles had to preach it to the Jews and gentiles alike. One can imagine that there would have been fierce resistance from Jews to accept, what seemed to them as, a radical heresy. But they were already blinded and calloused not able to discern the prophecies and psalms, reading only what they wanted to hear.
These words comfort them and also affirm the warning about persecution that is imminent. They are not to be afraid of anything even for a moment. These words are also valuable for Christians of all time, because of the immutable character of God, we know that we should not fear anything today. To remain true to the gospel, one's faith cannot waiver for a moment.
Isaiah 8:12 "Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. 13The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread."
Jeremiah 5:22 Should you not fear me?" declares the LORD. "Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it."
Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Romans 8:35 - 39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. 36As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jewish communities often welcomed the apostles but as soon as they realized that they were preaching a crucified Messiah who welcomes pagans apart from the circumcision, they were quickly banished from the synagogues.
Acts 13:44 - 48 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" 48When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
This alienation of the apostles and newly minted believers from mainstream society was cause for great suspicion among their neighbors and they were considered troublemakers and political threats, exposing them to intimidation by local officials.
The word used for the devil in this verse can also be translated as 'the accuser' as we see in
Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.
When Jesus refers to 'some of you' it means that the whole congregation would be subject to the persecution and not the minister only. It would be a test for the whole congregation testing their faith and refining their resolve to remain in Christ Jesus even until death.
The imprisonment awaiting the church of Smyrna would be brief: a mere 'ten days.' It was customary for the Roman authorities to incarcerate for short periods of time those who awaited trial or sentencing to death.
Jesus doesn't promise them freedom after ten days in prison but to be delivered to martyrdom - the apparent defeat that is, paradoxically, the supreme victory.
Ten is the number of completeness as we see in the Ten Commandments, the Ten Plagues, and the Ten Tests as mentioned in Numbers 14:22. This indicates their complete suffering here on earth after which they will enter martyrdom and God's glory.
This admonishment flows from the first words of this passage, 'Do not be afraid…' and further strengthens those who are facing terrible persecutions leading to their deaths. Not only does Jesus comfort and encourage them, but the promise of eternal life completes the purpose of their persecutions.
Smyrna was well known for its athletics and the image of a crown was used to relate to the winner of a race.
I Corinthians 9:24, 25 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
II Timothy 2:5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules.
II Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
I Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
This closing admonition contrasts the callousness of the reprobate who has 'ears without hearing.' The congregation of Smyrna is hereby given the assurance that if they are sensitive to discern the word of God, they will hear what the Spirit says to the churches, revealing the will of God to them.
The first death is the end of our lives here on earth and the second death is when judgment is passed on those who follow the beast into the abyss. As a result of the merits of Christ, the first death is merely a passage that has no horror or should cause no fear, as the believer is safely and lovingly carried from the sting of death to the bosom of Abraham.