Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life. Rev. 2:10
In the second century A.D. the city of Smyrna was rife with conflict–between Christians and non-Christians, rich and poor and between local government and the Roman provincial authority. The forthcoming injustice and martyrdom of this city’s Christian community is the theme of the author’s letter: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” (Rev. 2:9).
Unlike the missives to the other churches, there are no accusations or recriminations levied against the church at Smyrna. Instead, it acknowledges their tribulations, calling them rich (presumably in faith) and asks them to stand firm in the face of persecution as God will vindicate his servants. The promise fulfilled is an escape from being “hurt at all by the second death” (Rev. 2:11), earning victory over a spiritual death and receiving their final reward in the kingdom of heaven.
Angels are often depicted as preternaturally young. The artist at Tiffany Studios who painted this figure’s face captured an eternal beauty, immortal in its perfection. Yet humanity’s immortality can only be spiritual and is promised to the faithful by God’s conferring of the crown of life. The Smyrna angel holds the symbol of that eternal reward in her right hand: a gold crown made of rich yellow glass, created through the copper-foiling technique and embellished with chunk glass jewels around the headband. In her left hand she holds a green branch. Cloaked in opalescent drapery glass, the angel wears a red robe and tunic underneath with opalescent ripple glass that mimics fringe. Her chest plate of amber glass is visible in front with a decorative pattern created in copper-foiled ripple glass and a single yellow chunk jewel.
Theologian Emanuel Swedenborg says that Smyrna represents people “who do good but do not approach the Lord.” These people are living the truth that they know but without acknowledging that their growing understanding comes from a Divine source. They believe that they “do good from themselves because they have the faculty of doing good.” In the letter to Smyrna the promise states, “be thou faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The gift promised, a crown which adorns the head, represents an acknowledgment that the Lord “alone is life, and from the Lord alone is eternal life.”