Lessons From the Churches in Revelation: Smyrna

This year, there have been several articles published of growing animosity and persecution of the Christian faith. Some go as far as to say that persecution of Christians has reached almost a genocidal level. This is not the first time the church has been persecuted, and it certainly won’t be the last. Consider the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). The congregation in Smyrna was not unfamiliar with persecution; the city was a prominent port city in Roman Asia. There would have been heavy Roman influence and thus heavy influence for paganism. Despite this heavy influence and persecution, Jesus only had commendation as well as words of comfort for this church. These words were not good just for the church there, but also good for us to make application to our lives.

First, through the inspired writing of John, Jesus tells the church that He is with them. He does this by saying He knows what is going on: the works they perform to benefit the kingdom, the great amounts of suffering they have to endure, the poverty that was found there, added to that how there were a multitude of people claiming to be Jews attempting to pull them away. By identifying these things, Jesus confirms what is said in Hebrews 13:5: “… for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” That being said, Christ also says much more in His short statement. When Christ identifies their difficulties, specifically their poverty, He adds, “but you are rich;” this alone lets the brethren know that they are righteous in the eyes of God. When the world is pressing on them for being different, and they wonder if it is really worth it to endure, Christ tells them that it is.

However, Jesus also warns them that the persecution is not over. He even says, “… the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days” (Revelation 2:10). Jesus is not speaking of a literal ten days, but He is emphasizing that for a time things are going to get worse; some of the brethren were even going to suffer in prison for what they believe. Because this would be terrifying to go through, Christ reassures them. He tells them not to fear what they are going to suffer, finally giving them reassurance: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That is why enduring the persecution is worth it; because if done so, when all is said and done, they can have perfect peace in Heaven with Him, but only if they will hold on for a short while longer.

These are things that we need to hear as well. Christ is always there for us, no matter what we have to face, we never have to face it alone. This should give us great comfort, because enduring also means that by our obedience, we will be justified in the eyes of God. That is Paul’s entire point in Romans 4, that those who will believe and be obedient to the faith will be justified. Be obedient, however, means that we will have endure the persecution that we are guaranteed to have as a Christian. Second Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” There is good that comes from this however. First Peter 1:7 says that being tested “may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” James 1:3 says the “testing of our faith produces patience,” and skipping down to verse 12, it says that when we have been found approved, we will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Despite only four verses being dedicated to this church in the first century, there are multiple lessons that all of us can gather from it. We can know that we are going to be persecuted as Christians. However, this persecution is not meaningless, because it can make us stronger and more righteous people. Furthermore, if we will endure, we are promised a rest where never again will we have to worry. The world can take many things away from us, but if we are obedient until death, we are more rich than anyone in this world can ever be. We will be the kind of people found in Hebrews 13:6 who can boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

Oren Caskey