The second of the seven letters was written to Smyrna. We find this city on the west coast of Asia Minor, present-day Turkey), appr. 45 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna is the first city in Asia Minor in terms of beauty. It is a port city, situated on a round hilltop surrounded by slopes rising from the sea, on a small peninsula at the head of a deep estuary. It also lies at the mouth of a small river, Hermus. From there, ships could sail inland into the heart of Lydia. It is one of the oldest cities in Asia Minor. The city was famous for its athletic competitions, gladiatorial games, and circus games. At the time of this letter, the city probably had more than 100,000 inhabitants.
The church was probably founded during Paul's 3rd missionary journey, during his three-year stay in Ephesus. See Acts 19:10. The famous Polycarp was bishop here and died a martyr's death in 155 A.D. On the day of his death, he said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong." That day, he was burned at the stake and pierced with a spear. That day, he exchanged this earth for heaven. He lives forever, with Christ. The letter to Smyrna is unique because it contains no criticism and no rebuke. It is also a very small letter, only four verses.
The letter begins with the address, “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write.” Then follows, as in all letters, a self-designation of Christ, “These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.” Christ is “The first and the last.” There is no beginning and no end in Him; He exists from eternity to eternity and encompasses all things. Christ is also the one, “Who was dead, and is alive.” The name “Smyrna” has to do with Myrrh. This Myrrh was probably produced here. It is a highly valued spice, used for, among others, as a gift (think of the wise men at Jesus’ birth), as an anointing oil (Exodus 30), to numb the senses (Mark 15:23), and to embalm bodies John 19:39). So, the name Smyrna evokes thoughts of death. To this Smyrna, Jesus says that He is alive forever, He overcame death! In that confidence, Polycarp could give his life as a martyr. In that confidence, the small but faithful church of Smyrna could find encouragement and confidence to carry on despite its tribulations and its poverty. Let us also, in all circumstances of life, hold fast to Jesus who is “the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive.”