Summary: Do you fear external forces will harm you? You are not alone, but you also don’t need to fear in Jesus. But - perhaps you are not aware of an internal danger that the enemy seeks to use against you.
What do you fear? One website lists the top ten fears among humans: 1-Fear of spiders, 2-Fear of people, 3-Fear of flying, 4-Fear of open spaces, 5-Claustrophobia, 6-Fear of vomiting, 7-Fear of heights, 8-Fear of cancer, 9-Fear of thunder & lightning, 10-Fear of death.
The top five fears that kids have are: Losing parents, Going blind, Academic attainment, Wetting in class, and Parental arguments. Also on the list - getting caught lying or accused of stealing. Kids seem to be more mindful of their behavior than their circumstances.
No where in the kid’s top 20 fears is the fear of death or harm. They are much more fearful of losing relationships like friends, teammates, and parents. In fact, there are no common fears between kids and adults.
I think this is instructive - kids are more internally focused on behavior, adults are more focused on suffering harm from an external source. When it comes to looking at the letters to two of the 7 churches of Revelation - I think we can learn something from the kids. We are afraid of outside harm (when we really shouldn’t be in Jesus), but we are not afraid at all of what internal compromise can do to us and our relationships with others and with God. With the two churches we look at today: one church feared an outside threat and learn they don’t need to; another church didn’t fear an internal threat, and suffers because of it.
Smyrna is about 35 miles up the coast from Ephesus. It was a very wealthy city with a powerful Jewish population and powerful emperor worship. The Jews there considered Christianity to be a cult. This is the only one of the 7 cities of Revelation 2-3 to still exist. Today it is called Ismir - in modern day Turkey.
8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ’The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
9 "’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. 10 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. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
A temple was built Smyrna and during the reign of Domitian, emperor worship was required of all Roman citizens - under penalty of death. In addition, the Jews there actively opposed Christianity - so they got it from both sides.
As a result, Smyrna was a small church - by outward appearance it was ready to be snuffed out - but spiritually it was strong.
That’s why Jesus starts out the letter saying He has died and come back life. Literally these people faced the real prospect of death or their faith - something we in the 21st century American cannot even fathom. And even as they had died with Jesus on the cross and been raised from the dead with him - they can never really die.
"I know your tribulation and poverty." Apparently not only was this church attacked, it was also poor financially. It’s odd for them to be poor in such a rich city - but then again, riches can actually be a hindrance to entering the kingdom. In Matthew 19:23 Jesus said "only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of God." So in a place where wealth is important - more than the usual number might not become Christians - a family that shares together even their financial resources.
Not only attacked and poor - but poor-mouthed by supposed Jews. They would think they were Jews - but since they had rejected the Messiah and were actively persecuting His servants - they were no more than a synagogue of Satan as they gathered on Saturday - doing the Devil’s will, not God’s.
It’s hard to imagine being afraid that when you go to bed at night you never know who will come to kill you before morning. But it is also wonderful to know that with Jesus - we never have to fear.
Jesus was realistic with this group - they are about to suffer. The Devil himself was about to let lose on them - throw them in prison, and test their faith. It reminds me of when Jesus said to Peter:
Luke 22:31-32 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat , 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. ESV