“Write to the messenger of the congregation in Smyrna: ‘The First and the Last, the One who died and lived, says these things: I know your distress and poverty, but you are rich. I also know the slander of those who call themselves Jews, and are not, but they are the synagogue of Satan.’” (Revelation 2:8-9 McCord)
Most who are Christians, at least in the Western World, have never suffered persecution as the Christians did in the first century. Although we may be aware that this is always a possibility in a changing and volatile world, in our minds any persecution that might come would be from someone we don’t know, from someone who does not even acknowledge God.
Yet the early persecution we read of in the book of Acts came from Jews, those who thought themselves to be God’s people. And it was against fellow Jews who had become Christians, followers of the Messiah. Jesus had warned about this.
“A brother will deliver his brother to death, and a father his child. Children will stand up against parents and put them to death. You will be hated by all people for my name’s sake. He who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Mark 13:12-13)
This is what we find the Christians facing in Smyrna, a city in the Roman province of Asia (western Turkey today). We know from history that there was a large settlement of Jews who were particularly hostile to Christians. Later they joined in the killing of Polycarp, a Christian taught by the apostle John.
The Christians in Smyrna were being slandered by “those who call themselves Jews”. Jesus pointed out that they really weren’t Jews but were following their real leader, Satan, and had become a “synagogue of Satan” not of God. This was not a new accusation towards the Jews – Jesus had said this to the Jews leaders during his time on the earth: “You are of your father, the devil…you are not of God” (John 8:44-47).
Jesus was aware of what they were going through: distress, poverty, slander. Their physical poverty would seem to be because they were Christians – either their possessions had been forcibly taken from them or they couldn’t conduct their business. Although it was bad, Jesus told them it was going to get worse.
“Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is going to imprison some of you, that you may be tested, and you will have distress for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)
More suffering, imprisonment, and even death was in their future. This was to test them. But notice that it would not go on forever: it would only be for “ten days”. Probably this is not speaking of ten literal days, as Revelation is a figurative book, but it would seem to indicate that it would be a short, finite period of time. But the indication is that it would end up with them dying for following Jesus.
Death is thought of by the Western mind as the worst possible outcome for people. Perhaps this is because most people have no hope of anything beyond this life. But this is not the case for those who follow Jesus.
They needed to be faithful, even if it meant their death. Jesus would then give them “the crown of life”. Jesus was promising them real life, eternal life, free from the suffering they were enduring.
No matter how bad it looks for Christians today, Jesus’ message for us is the same. Always be faithful to him, not matter what may happen to us. Those who remain faithful will receive the crown of life.
“Let him, who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the congregations.” (Revelation 2:11)
Readings for next week:
17 June – Revelation 2
18 June – Revelation 3
19 June – Revelation 4
20 June – Revelation 5
21 June – Revelation 6