Smyrna, the second of the seven churches of Revelation, is undergoing a time of tribulation. Tribulation is one of the motifs found in Revelation and although it is frequently interpreted as severe persecution and natural disaster occurring right before the end, for John in this particular letter anyway, tribulation is about the present and ongoing pressure to conform and be acceptable to the world.
This letter is one of two (the other being the letter to Philadelphia) that contains no warnings from Jesus. It contains only an exhortation to “fear not” and “remain faithful unto death.” The promise is a “crown of life,” a symbol of victory.
The key to the interpretation of this letter is the cryptic phrase, “ten days.” It is the only obvious allusion back to the Old Testament and it is a reference to the ten days of testing requested by Daniel (Daniel 1). Daniel’s situation was the pressure to conform and accommodate to the worship of the gods of Babylon. The church in Smyrna is to see herself as experiencing a situation similar to that of Daniel in Babylon. Just as Daniel was able to remain faithful and was rewarded accordingly by the God of Israel, the church in Smyrna is exhorted to remain faithful to Jesus and whether or not individual Christians live or die physically, their reward of eternal life is already secure in Jesus.
This letter is yet another message of hope and promise: Jesus identifies with his church and walks with them through their tribulations and tests. There is no need to fear because Jesus has already conquered and the promise of victory is sure.