By A.T. Walker
While on the island of Patmos, John saw the Lord Jesus Christ, who instructed him to “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” In 7 Churches, we will be looking into these letters to see what Jesus has to say to these churches…and what he maybe saying to ours.
To the Church in Smyrna
The second letter is addressed to the church in Smyrna, about 40 miles north of Ephesus.
“The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this”
I love that God will, from time to time, drop His resume on folks just to remind them who they’re dealing with. In the book of Job, chapters 38-40, After Job tells God he’s got some questions about all the things that had been happening to him, God responds by reminding Job who is God and who is not. Job’s response…
“Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You?
I lay my hand on my mouth.”
So when the first and the last (Isaiah 44:6), the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 22:13), and the One who was dead, but now alive (John 11:25) decides to speak, it’s best to just shut your mouth and listen.
“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
How comforting is it that the Lord is not blind to our sufferings? That he sees our poverty? And how much more of a comfort is it that he not only sees them, but knows them. Isaiah 53:3-4 says:
“He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.”
When Jesus says he knows your sufferings and tribulations, he knows because he has felt them. He has experienced them. He was well acquainted with them. So, as a good husband, he comes to comfort his bride in these rough and ragged times. He reminds them that though they are lacking temporal riches, they far exceed the wealth of any earthly kings with their spiritual riches. If you have Christ, all the wealth of the world is worth less than a penny rattling around in a beggar’s cup. To quote the Trip Lee song “Cash or Christ”:
“Got money, got whips, got ice?
Still broke homeboy! No Christ!”
The church in Smyrna faced heavy opposition from the Jews in the area, who see Christianity as a false religion and a threat. This verse does give us a glimpse of how serious Jesus is about being the only way to God. If you believe that you can serve God without recognizing Jesus, then Jesus says you are not serving God…you’re serving Satan. Yikes…
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.”
There is no escape from suffering. It comes to us all. If Christ is your hope, we can cling tight to him and know that we don’t have to fear it (though that is always easier said than done). We have so much fear. We even fear silly things like going to the dentist or visiting your Mother-in-law (Not me, mine’s awesome!). How wonderful that we have permission from Jesus to be free of it! Oh, if we would only let it go…
Jesus doesn’t tell this church that they are going to be blessed with a new building or a thriving community outreach ministry. He tells them they are going to prison and that Satan will be the one dragging them there. Smyrna is Job. Like Satan came and took everything that wasn’t the Lord away from Job, he will rob this church of all their freedom, comfort, and even their lives. But a sweet reminder from their King…it won’t last forever. Whatever Satan and this world throws you, know that it doesn’t last.
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”
Some may not see this as the most comforting thing to say to those about to be thrown into prison, but Jesus is never one to offer false comfort and false hope. He offers true comfort and true hope. The church, if preaching the true gospel, will experience backlash from the world. The church that is widely accepted by the world probably stopped preaching the gospel along time ago.
Two deaths are mentioned here. Of the first, Jesus tells his church to not fear it, but does not say that it won’t be painful. Many in this church would soon experience the first death. Polycarp, a pupil of John, would be buried alive for refusing to renounce the name of Jesus. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have been beaten, burned, and beheaded for his precious name. The first death is ugly. But to those whose faith endures, by the power of the Spirit, we are saved from something much worse…the second death. This is the death that awaits all those who refuse to recognize Christ as Lord.
If you are not in Christ, you will taste the first death, and it may not be pretty, but the second death will be hellish.
If you are in Christ, you will taste the first death, and it may not be pretty, but it will be precious in the eyes of the Lord.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants” Psalm 116:15