The church in Smyrna wasn’t merely facing pressure from outsiders; they were looking down the barrel at actual suffering. It seems as if they were tempted not only to conform but also to deny Christ in order to stay out of prison or worse.
We hear of intense persecution and suffering overseas—Christians martyred for their faith, unable to feed their families because their community ostracizes them, or too poor to have clean water or a roof over their heads. Yet they hold on to their faith.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’re on your knees in front a man who is about to kill you for your faith. Imagine someone offers you a job or enough money that you’ll never have to worry about starvation again. Imagine someone offers you clean water or a medication to cure your illness. However, the only way you can be rescued is to deny Christ and turn away from the Christian faith.
The church in Smyrna faced that kind of persecution. Slandered and mocked by others and facing potential imprisonment, they would have found it easy to say, “Christian? I’m not a Christian!” This might have stopped the attacks and made life easier for a while. But Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer” (Rev. 2:10).
When Jesus said the church in Smyrna shouldn’t fear their upcoming persecution, He was making them aware of what was going to happen to them. As God in the flesh, He knew what was coming for them. But He told them to remain faithful even when persecution came: “Be faithful to the point of death” (v. 10).
Job faced a similar situation. God allowed Satan to throw everything he had at Job. Satan bet that Job would deny God, but God knew Job would remain faithful. Job lost his family, his livelihood, and his physical health. He was understandably frustrated, but he never wavered:
Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head.
He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will leave this life.
The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.
Job wasn’t facing daily inconveniences we encounter today, like fighting traffic, spilling our coffee, or mishandling an argument. Job lost everything and then some. He wasn’t imprisoned, but he was definitely under siege.
The church in Smyrna faced the same temptation as Job, and Jesus essentially told them to respond the same way Job did. He instructed them to rely on the Lord and not to give in to the temptation of their flesh either to blame God or to turn to something more comfortable. He told them to look to His victorious resurrection (see Rev. 2:8), which makes any suffering we experience in this life a “momentary light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17), as Paul described it.
Believers today might think they can’t relate to the church in Smyrna because Christians in America aren’t facing imprisonment or death for their faith, at least not normally, at a cultural or governmental level. Nevertheless, we face suffering every day. Work can feel meaningless. Our marriages aren’t always candy and roses. Our bodies break down. Family members or friends get sick. Relationships go bad. And in very real ways, we can be targeted for our faith. We all suffer the effects of living in a broken world.
Jesus promised if the church in Smyrna was “faithful to the point of death,” He would give them “the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Smyrna was called the crown of Asia Minor because of the city’s beauty. Every year Smyrna’s rulers were presented with a crown of leaves for their faithfulness in governing the city. Jesus reminded the saints in Smyrna that He would give them the crown of life for their faithfulness to Him, but it may come with great suffering—even death.
No one can bestow on us a better crown than the crown of eternal life with God. There’s no greater victory. We’ll know no greater joy, and all suffering in this life will seem small compared to it. In this life we may be mocked or persecuted, but we’ll reign forever with Christ as kings and queens of the universe (see Rev. 20:4-6). One day God will end suffering once and for all, and we can live in anticipation of that glorious time (see 21:1-5).
The hope we have because of Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t meant only for the church in Smyrna, and it’s not meant only for us. This letter proclaims to the world that Jesus’ resurrection story is better than any story the world can tell. Death is every person’s enemy, yet Jesus has already tasted death for us (see Heb. 2:9). We can embrace suffering because Christ first embraced it for us. And because He was resurrected, we’ll be resurrected also. Because of His victory over sin and death, our victory is guaranteed.
We can take the message to the world that this life isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning. No matter how much we may suffer, our future is secure in Christ. In this life suffering is guaranteed, but it won’t last. This is good news in a bad-news world.
Excerpted from D. A. Horton, Letters of the Revelation Bible Study. © 2017 LifeWay Press. Used by permission.