Be Faithful – The Persecuted Church in Smyrna
“8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11 NIV
The city of Smyrna was known at the time as the “Glory of Asia.” It was a city of great wealth, but was also deeply committed to idolatry and the worship of the Roman Emperor. At the time Revelation was written, the worship of Greek gods like Apollo, Aphrodite, and Zeus were starting to die out, but worship of the Roman Emperor was growing stronger. A bible commentator stated the following:
“Emperor worship had begun as spontaneous demonstration of gratitude to Rome; but toward the end of the first century, in the days of Domitian, the final step was taken and Caesar worship became compulsory. Once a year the Roman citizen must burn a pinch of incense on the altar to the godhead of Caesar; and having done so, he was given a certificate to guarantee that he had performed his religious duty.” (Barclay)
“All that the Christians had to do was to burn that pinch of incense, say, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ receive their certificate, and go away and worship as they pleased. But that is precisely what the Christians would not do. They would give no man the name of Lord; that name they would keep for Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. They would not even formally conform.” (Barclay)
If there were one word to describe the church in Smyrna, it would be faithful. Jesus Himself recognizes the church in Smyrna for their faithfulness. He encourages them to remain faithful despite their persecution, lack of funds, and intense poverty. It is worth noticing that the persecution faced by the Smyrna church came from “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Ouch! Those are some harsh words from Jesus for the religious people! Jesus recognized that it was those who came under the guise of being the righteous or spiritual people of the day who persecuted believers most harshly! This is troubling because often it is the criticism from those within the church that can be the most hurtful and vengeful.
One amazing thing about the church in Smyrna is that of the 7 churches that Jesus speaks to, Smyrna is one of only two (the other being the church in Philadelphia), that Jesus does NOT have something to speak against!
While Smyrna is the poorest of the churches listed in Revelation, Jesus recognizes them as the most faithful. THIS CHURCH IS RECOGNIZED AS THE PERSECUTED CHURCH. Jesus allowed them to endure persecution from Satan for testing. God had a purpose for them to be tested. This passage teaches that it costs to be a dedicated Christian… in some places more than others.
Here’s some important life application points we can gain from the church in Smyrna.
1 – The Christians in Smyrna were not able to “rebuke Satan” and stop the attacks.
2 – The Christians in Smyrna were not called to pick up and move to a different place where they would be more comfortable.
3 – The Christians in Smyrna were not given a pep talk from Jesus about “how to win friends and influence people” nor were they given a sermon promising them deliverance from their problems and poverty. To the contrary, they were told that things were going to get worse!
Through the suffering of the Christians in Smyrna they were promised a crown. In the Greek language, there are two different words for crowns. One word described the type of crown that a king would wear. This was a crown of royalty. The other type of crown was the type Jesus spoke of here. The crown Jesus spoke of was given as a trophy to a triumphant, victorious athlete.
In Smyrna worshippers of pagan gods wore their earthly crowns. Good citizens who did their “civic duty” and confessed Caesar as their Lord wore their earthly crowns. Victorious athletes wore their earthly athletic crowns.
Jesus looks a small group of tired, hungry, suffering and bankrupt Christians and says to them, “You are My winners! You deserve a trophy from Me! You are my champions! What the world says about you isn’t important, but what I say about you is. I’ve tested you and you passed the tests. You kept your faith in Me and trusted no matter what! The world thinks you are poor, and sometimes you may even think you are poor, but I say you are rich! Others will get crowns made of leaves and branches that will turn brown and die, buy you… You, My faithful followers who refuse to bend your knee to anyone else. You who endured the challenges before you… You will receive the crown of life!”
That is what Jesus said to the church in Smyrna. That is what I long to hear Him say to me as well.
Lord You call me to be faithful to You no matter what! In the end, it is not about the inspiring sermons I hear or the motivational books I read, what You search for is my faithfulness to you. It is not about the work position I acquire or the size of the house I live in that You search for, but for my faithfulness to You. Lord give me courage to be bold and faithful to You in all I do. Amen.
Ty Tamasaka is an author who hold a Master of Arts Degree from Pacific Rim Christian University in Christian Ministry He is a Bible teacher who loves to encourage people to enjoy Jesus’ grace and extend His Kingdom. Ty just released his new book Starting Fresh: Following Jesus on the Adventure of a Lifetime in addition to More than a Conqueror: 5 Pathways to Personal Revival.