Welcome to Smyrna, whose congregation suffered perhaps the greatest persecution in all Christianity. As a materially poor church located in a wealthy city, their faithful works performed in the name of the Lord Jesus brought them great tribulation on earth, yet great reward in heaven.
First, a little history …
Located about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus, Smyrna (modern day Izmir) was a cultural center referred to as the “Ornament of Asia.” Very loyal to Rome for at least three centuries, this city built temples devoted to various Roman gods and was the worship center for Emperor Tiberias. Over time, emperor worship became compulsory for every Roman citizen on penalty of death, and those who refused to obey were burned alive.
Such was the fate of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, a student under John who would not deny his faith in Jesus. Isn’t is crystal clear what a hotbed of hatred and persecution this church must have faced?
But it has also surfaced today in many parts of the world. Look at the cradle of Christianity in some Middle Eastern countries, for example. Believers are imprisoned, beheaded, and crucified by the thousands for their unwavering stand for Jesus. Quite unbelievable that this could be happening in 2015, but Bible prophecy tells us to expect it in the Last Days before the Apocalypse.
And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:8-9, NASB).
Jesus has no rebuke for this church, but instead commends them for their suffering. The attacks they endured were slanderous ones led by those whose evil intent was to destroy this believing church.
Even today, does political unfairness against Christian churches exist? In some countries, they are being burned down, branded as houses of worship for Infidels. And this trend is spreading around the world.
But God also commends this church for the spiritual riches they laid up in heaven. In contrast to the city’s great wealth, it was materially impoverished, probably due to unfair economic sanctions levied against it.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal (Matthew 6:20. NASB).
Although their enemies were hell-bent on destroying this church financially, their faithfulness and obedience built up great wealth for them in heaven. Think how powerful their preaching must have been for Satan to attack them so ruthlessly!
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days (Revelation 2:10a, NASB).
God readied them for their upcoming persecution, telling specifically how long it would last. He began with encouragement that they need not fear what they were about to suffer at Satan’s hands.
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death (Revelation 2: 10b-11, NASB).
This letter ends on a positive note. What are the benefits of enduring persecution, even if it leads to death? God spells them out.
In Smyrna’s day, one of its money symbols was a crown engraved on their coins. In contrast, Jesus promises to give the crown of life to those who hold true to their belief in the Lord. What a glorious benefit, along with eternal life in God’s kingdom.
No matter how bad it appeared, the Smyrna congregation could rest in the safety of His arms and the comfort of knowing that He is in control.
And so can we.
We don’t have to fear. The Word tells us that God wins the war against Satan at Armageddon, and His kingdom will be established . Then we will rule and reign with Christ forever. The Anti-Christ’s seven-year reign of terror is short, temporary, and controlled by God.
Are you prepared to head into these troubling days? Do you have the personal assurance that you will be an overcomer through Jesus’ death and resurrection?
We find our solace in the Savior. There is only one safe place in these days of terrorism and persecution. It’s not a physical place, but a spiritual one found in Jesus alone. Here’s what the scripture says:
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9, NASB).
For by grace are you saved through faith, and not that of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 8:11, NASB).
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe (Proverbs 18:10, NASB).
He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalms 91:1, NASB).
Are you ready? So am I. Together, let’s face these days with the courage and strength of the Lord
Please continue with me to our next stop. Meet me in Pergamum.