Summary: Christ expects us to be faithful to Him, no matter the circumstances and no matter the consequences.
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The second church Jesus addresses in Revelation is the church in Smyrna. This church was a persecuted church.
Persecution of Christians still exists today. According to one recent estimate, 100 million Christians presently face persecution. These persecuted Christians live in countries, such as North Korea, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, India, Nigeria, and China. Right now, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, is sentenced to death for blasphemy.
What if you were faced with the decision to either deny Christ and live or remain faithful to Christ and die? What would you do?
Jesus expects us to be FAITHFUL to Him, no matter the circumstances and no matter the consequences.
CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO A SUFFERING CHURCH
Smyrna is the only city of the seven that still exists today (Izmir).
Among the seven churches in Asia, the church in Smyrna is one of only two churches that Christ does not rebuke. The other church not rebuked is the church in Philadelphia. Surprisingly, these two churches were the least significant of the seven in terms of numbers and influence. The lesson? It’s more important to be faithful than to be powerful.
The message to the church in Smyrna gives us four reasons to be faithful to Christ during times of suffering:
1. When you suffer, Christ is still in CONTROL.
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life” (v. 8).
The title “the first and the last” is found in the book of Isaiah. “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god’” (Isaiah 44:6; cf. 48:12).
When you suffer, God hasn’t forgotten about you. Even in suffering, He can work out His plan for our lives. Jesus recognized this truth. Before His crucifixion, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
2. When you suffer, Christ is still able to BLESS.
“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation” (vv. 9-10a).
The Christians in Smyrna were experiencing “tribulation,” “poverty,” and “slander.” We view these things as problems, but Jesus sees them as strengths.
They were poor economically but rich spiritually (in contrast to the Laodiceans, 3:17).
We often pray, “Lord, thank You for the freedom we have to worship.” If we didn’t enjoy this freedom, would we pray, “Lord, thank You for persecution”? “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Tertullian, Apologeticus). Persecution purifies and grows the church.
The greatest example of blessing coming out of suffering is the cross.
The slander against the church was coming from Jews in Smyrna. The city had a large Jewish population. Smyrna was a center for emperor worship. (Only Jews were exempt from worshiping the emperor.) The Jews may have been informing the Roman authorities of the Christians’ refusal to participate in worship of the emperor. These Jews considered themselves the people of God, but they were actually doing the work of Satan (“adversary”). Jesus calls them the “synagogue of Satan.” (Christians should never promote anti-Semitism. Both Jesus and John were Jews.)
Would the church be “tested” by God or the devil? Perhaps both. The Greek word for “tested” (peirazo) can mean either “tested” or “tempted.” So the “tribulation” may be a “test” from God and a “temptation” from Satan. God will “test” their faith, and Satan will “tempt” them to abandon their faith. Whenever we suffer, it is both a test and a temptation.
The “ten days” may be symbolic, referring to a manageable period of time. (The “ten days” may also be an allusion to Daniel’s ten-day “test” in Daniel 1:12-14). “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
There was no guarantee that the imprisonment would end in freedom. There was the possibility of martyrdom.
3. When you suffer, you have the promise of a REWARD.
“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (v. 10b).
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it’” (Mark 8:34-35).