you are about to suffer
The Smyrnaeans were about to enter a time of testing. God often warns his servants prior to a time of trial (Eze. Eze. 2:3-7; Mtt. Mat. 10:16-31; Luke Luke 9:23-24; John John 16:1-4; Acts Acts 9:16). This gives the saints His perspective and great hope knowing that He recognizes what they are going through and yet it remains within His sovereign will and purpose to leave them there (Luke Luke 22:31-32; Rom. Rom. 8:28).
the devil is about to throw
The devil is called διάβολος [diabolos] , a compound of δια [dia] (against) and βαλλω [ballō] (to throw). He is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. Rev. 12:10+) who throws against them his accusations (Job Job 1:6; Zec. Zec. 3:1-2).
Oppression often comes by way of people , but Scripture identifies the motivating powers behind the scene (Eph. Eph. 6:12). The early church understood this fact:
There is nothing more remarkable in the records which have come down to us of the early persecutions, and in this point they singularly illustrate the Scripture before us, than the sense which the confessors and martyrs, and those who afterwards narrate their sufferings and their triumphs, entertain and utter, that these great fights of affliction through which they were called to pass, were the immediate work of the devil, and no mere result of the offended passions, prejudices, or interests of men. The enemies of flesh and blood, as mere tools and instruments, are nearly lost sight of by them in a constant reference to satan as the invisible but real author of all.1When members of the church at Smyrna found themselves in prison, they were to understand that it was spiritual powers which had placed them there. This would make it easier to bear the Tribulation and especially to pray for those who persecuted them (Mtt. Mat. 5:44).
that you may be tested
The knowledge that their tribulation was within the plan and design of God would provide immeasurable comfort.
God makes use of evil for His own purposes: He allowed a lying spirit to go forth (1K. 1K. 22:22; 2Chr. 2Chr. 18:21); He allows Satan to test His saints (Job Job 1:12; Job 2:6; Luke Luke 22:31; 2Cor. 2Cor. 12:7; Rev. Rev. 20:8+); and wayward believers to be chastened by evil (1Cor. 1Cor. 5:5; 1Ti. 1Ti. 1:20). God even uses demons in judgment (Rev. Rev. 9:15+; Rev. 16:14+). God allowed Satan to test Jesus in order to illustrate His sinless impeccability (Mtt. Mat. 4:1).Gen. 22:1; Ex. Ex. 15:25; Ex. 16:4; Ex. 20:20; Deu. Deu. 8:2, Deu. 8:16; Deu. 13:3; Jdg. Jdg. 2:22; Jdg. 3:1, Jdg. 3:4; 2Chr. 2Chr. 32:31; Job Job 23:10; Ps. Ps. 11:4-5; Ps. 105:19; Isa. Isa. 48:10; Jer. Jer. 12:3; Jer. 20:12; Luke Luke 4:1; Luke 22:31; Jas. Jas. 1:12; Rev. Rev. 2:10+).
The briefness of this period may be intended as a motivation for endurance (Isa. Isa. 26:20; Ps. Ps. 30:5; Mtt. Mat. 24:22; 2Cor. 2Cor. 4:17; 1Pe. 1Pe. 1:6)3 . Hemer suggests the phrase betrays the language of the arena where the Smyrnaean saints might meet their supreme test.4
Some have seen the days as allusions to ten historical periods of persecution:
[To] those who interpret here [an] allusion to the ten persecutions which the Church is often said to have passed through, during the three hundred years of its conflict with heathen Rome . . . it has been objected that this enumeration of exactly ten persecutions is altogether arbitrary; that, if we include in our list only those which had some right to be called general, as extending over the whole Roman empire, the persecutions would not be so many; if all those which reached any one city or province, they would be many more.5It seems best to take this time period as representing ten literal days: The ten days are literal and refer to an unknown persecution within a definite period of time during the generation to which this message was addressed,6 In the book of Revelation, time zones, be they days, months, or years, are always quite literal, and it is best to take these ten days as being the same.7 For a survey of different views regarding the meaning of the ten days see [Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 168-170].
How sobering to receive a personal message from Jesus requesting we remain faithful to the point of death! He Who knows all things is asking these at Smyrna to prepare for the ultimate witness!
The phrase speaks of intensity rather than chronology. It needs hardly be observed that this unto death is an intensive, not an extensive, term. Christ does not mean, to thy lifes end, contemplating life under the aspect of time; but to the sharpest and worst which the enemy can inflict upon thee, even to death itself. 9
At a later date, Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, proved faithful until death:
We learn from that precious document, the Epistle of the Church of Smyrna recording the martyrdom of Polycarp, that Jews [those of the synagogue of Satan] joined with heathens in crying out in the amphitheatre that the Christian bishop should be cast to the lions; and when there was a difficulty about this, that he should be burned alive; which being granted, the Jews, as was their wont . . . were forwardest in bringing logs for the pile; they, too, doing all that lay in their power to hinder the remains of the martyr from being delivered to his followers for burial.10The death of His saints throughout history stands as the ultimate witness to the belief in eternal life provided to those who have believed upon His name (Rev. Rev. 12:11+).
crown of life
They were to understand that death would be merely a transition for them. An exit from this world and an entry into His presence where all suffering is behind. The thought then is that the time of interim suffering is likely to terminate in actual death, not the mere threat of it, but that death for the Christian is the prelude to life.11
The crown of life represents eternal life, and as here, is found in association with steadfast continuance in the faith (Jas. Jas. 1:12):
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousnessindignation and wrath. (Rom Rom. 2:5-8). [emphasis added]The church at Smyrna was told to be faithful to receive the crown, for temptation and weariness are ever near along the Christian path (Rev. Rev. 3:11+). See Crowns.
1 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 104.
2 Ibid., 105.
4 We have thus at least the attestation of this form of expression at Smyrna. . . . there is reason to think that Johns words may have recalled to the Christian the language of the arena. An appearance at some great festival there might well await those who were faithful unto death.Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 69.
5 Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 107.
9 Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 108.
10 Ibid., s.v. Martyrdom of Polycarp.