Welcome to Smyrna, whose congregation suffers 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 brings 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 the 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. It is clear that this church suffered great tribulation, material poverty, and demonic attacks.
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. 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. 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 2:8-11 NASB
Endurance in suffering…
Jesus describes Himself to this church as one who was raised from the dead, which parallels His message to Smyrna, a church that also faces persecution, tribulation, and death for their beliefs. Jesus has no rebuke for this church, but instead encourages them in their suffering. The slanderous attacks they endure are led by followers of Satan whose evil intent is to destroy these believers.
Jesus readies them for their upcoming persecution, telling specifically how long it would last. He begins with encouragement and reassurance that they need not fear what they were about to suffer at Satan’s hands.
How about today? No one wishes to be persecuted, but Scripture tells us that when we suffer as Christ’s followers, we shouldn’t be surprised. John 15:18-21 tells us that If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; 2 Timothy 3:12 says, Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted: also see Hebrews 2:10, 1 Peter 2:20 and 1 Peter 1:6-7.
But God also commends this Smyrna church for its spiritual riches laid up in heaven. In contrast to the city’s great wealth, it is materially impoverished, probably due to unfair economic sanctions levied against it. Although their enemies are hell-bent on destroying this church financially, their faithfulness and obedience build up great wealth for them in heaven. Think how powerful their preaching must have been for Satan to attack them so ruthlessly!
Let’s also be encouraged to store up treasure in heaven by our deeds on earth, which glorify God and are acceptable to Him.
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
This letter ends on a positive note.
What are the benefits of enduring persecution, even if it leads to death? God spells it out: receiving the crown of life.
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 are faithful unto death. 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 Jesus’s arms and the comfort of knowing that He is always in control. They didn’t fear prison or death.
And so can we. We don’t have to fear.
The Word tells us that Jesus wins the war against Satan at Armageddon, and then His kingdom will be established, where we will rule and reign with Christ forever. The Anti-Christ’s seven-year reign of terror is short, temporary, and controlled by God. We need NOT FEAR what is coming on the earth.
What does the modern-day church teach about suffering?
It’s common to hear the truth of the gospel twisted to promise that Christians are protected from suffering. The false gospel accuses people of a lack of faith and places the blame back on the believer, thus producing guilt and shame. Remember, Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 NASB). We are all given the gift of faith as a mustard seed which grows in our spirit during our walk with the Lord (See Luke 17:6).
Our walk of faith will have mountaintops and valleys, but God is always with us and will never forsake us. Suffering teaches us patience while building maturity and godly character.
The prosperity gospel falsely teaches that all Christians are supposed to be wealthy on the earth, and if you’re poor, you’re not blessed. Was Jesus born into a wealthy, politically affluent family? Did he live a luxurious lifestyle? Not at all, but all His physical needs were met.
Even Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness after His forty-day fast.
Again, the devil took Him along to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go away, Satan! For it is written: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”‘ Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to serve Him.Matthew 4:8-11 NASB
Are we prepared to head into these troubling days?
Do we have the personal assurance that we will be overcomers through Jesus’s death and resurrection? We find our solace in our Savior. There is only one safe place in these days of tribulation and attacks from the enemy. It’s not a physical place, but a spiritual one found in Jesus alone. Here’s what the scripture says:
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
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.Ephesians 6:12-13 NASB
Dear Father, make us ready to face these days of persecution with the courage and strength of the Lord. We rest in the knowledge that You are in control, and we are safe in Your arms of loving protection. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
Come along with me to our next stop. I’ll meet you in Pergamum.
A Survey of Revelation: The Church at Smyrna by Karen Jurgens Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.