Thoughts on Revelation 2:8-11
This letter from Jesus to the church in Smyrna is the first of only two of the seven to contain just commendation.
The city had an excellent harbour as a natural outlet for trade routes across Asia. It had a well organised and cultured society with good town planning, celebrated schools of science and medicine and a 20,000 seater theatre.
In 23AD a temple was built in honour of Emperor Tiberius and it was one of the first cities to engage in emperor-worship. Yet it became a Christian city. The opening words of the letter must have been of immense encouragement to Christians who were in fear of their lives due to persecution: ‘These are the words of him who is the First and the Last’, verse 8. It is so comforting and empowering that they were in the hands of the Sovereign God, who knows the end before the beginning. God has a powerful and personal message for His church in Smyrna. The same message is for us in Wales today:
‘I know your afflictions’, verse 9:
God knows the battles we face and the valleys through which we trudge. The Christians in Smyrna were often thrown out of employment upon conversion. For some becoming a Christian meant poverty, hunger, imprisonment or death by means of a wild beast or the stake. All this in a prosperous, civilised city!
God knows our accusers, ‘I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not’, verse 9. The most dangerous challenge to our Christian walk sometimes comes from those who should be our allies. The local community in Smyrna was more antagonistic to the new Christians than the Roman soldiers who occupied their city. They even gathered wood on a Sunday to fuel the fire at the execution of Christians.
There is no need to fear hardship for the effective spread of the Gospel. ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer’, verse 10:
There can be an absence of fear even when we face circumstances we know will be traumatic. Fear often has its evil way because it has a foothold in our history. But facing the circumstances that resurrect that fear with Christ in us enables us to overcome. Let’s remember too every season of trial or suffering has a limit. In Smynra’s case it was ten days.
Hold onto the Faith. ‘Be faithful even to the point of death’, verse 10:
Faith’s proof is faithfulness. Saying we have faith in God and living faithfully in serving Him are the same thing. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was possibly the church leader to whom this letter was sent. Irenaeus here the Greek Bishop informs us that
Polycarp met the elderly Apostle John and was a leading defender of the Christian Faith here. Polycarp was arrested and instructed to ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar and revile Christ’. His response is recorded for us: ‘Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and saviour?’ He was then martyred.
Our faith is seen in faithfulness. What has God given you to be and do? Within your family, your work, the church? Whatever the answer, we are called to execute our calling with faith and faithfulness.
Let’s reflect on Hebrews 11:1 and use Luke 17:5 our prayer ‘Lord, increase our faith!’