During this time filled with stressers in our lives, the message of Jesus to the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) rings true: Jesus encourages us who are facing “tribulation” with two powerful words (one word Greek actually): “I know.” The One who endured rejection, betrayal, injustice, extreme poverty and died the death of a criminal tells us: “I empathize with what you are going through because I’ve experienced it myself (literally, “grief was known [to Him]” in Isaiah 53:3). ” I don’t know about you but when I hear someone say in my times of pain: “I know what you’re going through,” I often think: “actually you really don’t know what I’m going through.” But when Jesus says to us in our pain, “I know,” it’s very real and doesn’t ring hollow at all. He empathizes in the truest sense of the word. The one “who died and came to life” (Revelation 2:9) comes alongside us and tells us not to fear the ordeals of our lives, including death.
Entrusted to be Tested
The church in Smyrna was able to endure and pass the test of poverty (yet they are “rich,” Revelation 2:9, see 2 Corinthians 8:2), betrayal, slander and injustice. Yet the worst is yet to come (Revelation 2:10). In fact the next round of trials may end up in death (as in the case of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna in 155 AD). However, even the death ordeal will be overcome one Day (Revelation 2:11). In this call to be a faithful witness unto death, we need to be ready for more ordeals along the way. As my friend Ron Smith puts it: ‘God tests us so He can test us some more.” Yet on the other side of this death ordeal is the reward: the Crown of life and overcoming the Second death (Revelation 2:11). Tellingly, the evil one who is about to throw the Christians in prison in Smyrna will himself one day be thrown into prison and in the end experience the Second Death forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:2-3; Revelation 20:7-10; Revelation 20:14). In contrast, “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the Second death” (Revelation 2:11). The call for us now is to endure through plagues, injustice, betrayal, economic hardship and whatever else the devil will throw at us and to wait patiently for our vindication. One day by faith in Jesus Christ, we will receive the crown of life.
Questions to consider:*
- The church in Smyrna was warned by God that they would be tested. He entreated them to endure, to remain faithful unto death and be rewarded with the Crown of Life (eternal life). How might testing and trials strengthen you for the days ahead, so that you, too, endure until death?
- As you reflect upon your personal experiences of testing in matters of poverty, betrayal and injustice, think about how the Lord carried you through those times. Did that deepen your trust in His protection and provision? If you remain wounded by any of those experiences, how has that impeded your faith walk today? God always remains willing and able to heal.
- A strong relationship with God is crucial for enduring the trials we know we will face. Reflect upon your spiritual disciplines such as Scripture reading and prayer as ways to deepen your relationship with God and ability to trust Him.
*compiled by John and Dolores Marciniec.