Building a Strong Relationship with Christ – The Smyrna Example: Perseverance Brings Life – Revelation 2:8-12

As we continue in our short survey of letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (present day Turkey) found in the book of Revelation we are going to turn our attention to the church at Smyrna.  Before we go too far lets take a look at the letter:

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following:

“This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life: ‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.  The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death’”  (Revelation 2:8-12 NET).

Just to give you a little background, Smyrna was a port city that is still in existence known as present-day İzmir, Turkey.  During the time of the writing of Revelation Smyrna was a commerce hub for the region with strong financial ties and allegiance to Rome.  As a result, the people of Smyrna were quite eager to meet Rome’s demands for the worship of their emperor.

As John is recording Jesus words, he starts out by reminding us the He is the first and the last.  As we see in other parts of Revelation this is in reference to Jesus’ rule over all human history.  We read in John chapter one that Jesus was present and active during creation and we know from the end of the book of Revelation that Jesus will be present and active in Earth’s recreation.  Jesus is the supreme ruler over all time and creation.

We also see a quick but candid reference to Christ’s sacrificial death and His resurrection.  With the simple statement – “the one who was dead, but came to life” – Jesus was reminding this church exactly what He had suffered for mankind (death on the cross) and precisely how He had conquered the death that resulted (resurrection and ascension).  This is key not only to quickly remind them of the Gospel but also to turn the letter’s attention to their current trial.

Jesus’ quickly acknowledges their suffering and their poverty as a result of the slanderous (accusatory false speech) of those who would call themselves Jews.  As Jesus is claiming that these men were not Jews but in fact members of the synagogue of Satan it seems clear that these where men who used the guise of religious intolerance as a pathway to persecution and torture.  Add to this the fact that the non-Jewish population of Smyrna was active in the worship of the Roman emperor (as discussed above) and were probably intolerant both of Jews and believers who did not do the same.  With the two major groups in the city hating Christians it is no wonder that they were suffering persecution, poverty and defamatory claims. 

Jesus goes on and encourages the church not to be afraid of the suffering that was on the horizon.  They already had it bad but our Lord was saying that it was about to get a lot worse.  Jesus promised that members of the church were going to be thrown in prison for a period of ten days. 

This church was living out what both Jesus (John 15:20) and Paul (1 Timothy 3:12) promised concerning persecution.  Jesus promised abundant or eternal life in John 10:10 and we have that through faith in Him.  However, nowhere in Scripture do we read that our life on earth is going to be easy.  In fact, if you read Jesus teaching in the Gospels and other passages in the New Testament it seems clear that we should expect to have trials in our service and in our relationships because of His name.

The fact is that if you are going to serve God then you are going to be persecuted.  Sure you’ve got people who don’t care that you are a Christian and study and proclaim the Word and they might leave you alone.  For the most part, however, this world is completely antagonistic towards Christ and those who serve Him. 

In fact, if you think back over the past ten years then you will remember that the mass media’s description of President George W. Bush as dumb or bumbling was not because of his slow speech and accent but rather it started when he began to share his and Laura’s faith in the Lord and how that faith had shaped their marriage, his life as a man, and his ability to lead.  They didn’t hate GW…they hated GW’s God.

Persecution comes with serving God.

Now that’s a bit of a bummer if you only think about the persecution.  Who would want to get in to that? 

Christ follows up His talk about the future trials of Smyrna by saying, “remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.”  The word used for crown here is not the same word that is used for a royal crown as a king or queen would wear but rather it was the word used for a wreath that would be given to someone who had won an athletic event.  Jesus tells this church that faithful endurance, just like running a race, brings the guarantee of living life forever with the Savior.

The Lord closes out this letter by saying, “The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death”.  If we conquer or remain faithful through persecution we have the promise of being saved from the second death.  The second death is eternal death or separation from God for all eternity.  It is interesting in this letter that Jesus never shares a complaint about the church at Smyrna as he does with other six churches.  The conclusion is that the church at Smyrna was faithfully serving the Lord and, as a result, receiving constant persecution. 

Perseverance brings life.

If there is one thing that you should bring away from this short letter it is that no matter what you are going through – whether it is persecution for your faith, consequences of mistakes, or trials in general – perseverance brings life.  That life is spending eternity with Jesus and the Father.  That life is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel of tribulations.  That life is something that we should praise and thank the Lord for.