We are continuing the series we began last week on the 7 churches of Revelation. These 7 churches represent all churches for all time, thus the messages given are applicable to us right here and now. We’re looking here at the second of the 7 messages , addressed to the church in Smyrna.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander[a] of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
This message is unique among the seven messages. In five of the other messages, Jesus has some critique of the church. In the message to Smyrna there is no critique offered. What makes this message different?
First, a little background on the city of Smyrna. It was known historically as a beautiful city. It is still in existence to this day; now known as Izmir in modern day Turkey. It is important to note that the city was an early Roman ally and the city was absolutely dedicated to the Roman emperors. It was inevitable that this culture in Smyrna would cause problems for people converting to Christianity. It is obvious that Jesus knows each local church and its unique situation. For people in Smyrna the obvious power was Rome. However, Jesus explained that he is the first and the last. Jesus, not Rome or any other empire, country or political system is the first and the last.
Jesus says “I know your tribulation and your poverty.” The Greek word used for tribulation here is at the heart of this message for the church of Smyrna. The word is thlipsis. It speaks of an intense crushing pressure, as one who is trapped under a giant boulder. The believers at Smyrna are under intense, even crushing pressure for their faith. This is interesting because there is no word of critique offered to the church at Smyrna. The pressure is happening not because they are doing something wrong, but because they are doing everything right. As the message continues, it is revealed that the pressure is going to get worse rather than being stopped. How could Jesus allow this? It is precisely because the Christians at Smyrna are doing everything right. As Revelation reveals, the physical battles we observe and feel are symptoms of the spiritual struggle going on behind the scenes.
The Christians in Smyrna are being opposed not by Rome or emperor worshippers, those are only tools in the fight, they are being opposed by Satan .“What needs to be strongly emphasized is that the disciples in Smyrna were not the ultimate target of Satan’s pressure. The real target was Jesus. But since he has defeated Satan at the cross and in the empty tom, Satan can no longer hurt Jesus. So the enemy goes after that which is dearest to Jesus, namely his church… The disciples at Smyrna were, therefore, not to take the pressure personally.”
Jesus also knows the poverty of the Christians at Smyrna. Smyrna was a rich city. However, because of their stance against emperor worship, the Christians of Smyrna would have been ostracized and placed at the fringes of society. They did not share in the material wealth present in the city because of their faith in Jesus. This is a strange thought for contemporary Christians. God’s blessing is often associated with happiness and financial prospering. Does God not bless those he loves? However, in Smyrna God’s blessing led to financial ruin and intense pressure being put on the Christians there.
In this environment of pressure, it is revealed that things are going to get worse. “do not fear what you are about to suffer.” There is an encouraging message if I ever heard one. There will be more thlipsis. More pressure. Could it be that pressure is actually good for the church? Historically the church thrives under persecution and dwindles in comfort.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of minimalism. It is goal of living with a minimal amount of material goods. In most cases we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time. If you’ve ever embarked on a decluttering project you know that much of our material goods are fluff. This is much like the concept of what happens when believers and the church are under pressure. Faith is forced to the essentials. The fluff is stripped away. What remains is Jesus. He is all we need. thlipsis forces the church to realize what is important.
Looking back on this intense message what do we do?
“Do not fear.” Jesus is enough. Jesus will be with every believer. Don’t take pressure and persecution personally. Jesus is the target, not you. Jesus will not leave you or forsake you.
Pressure, troubles, persecution. None of it is pleasant. Yet, faith is built under pressure. Faith that is not tested will not be able to stand in the face of future troubles. Faith that has been refined under pressure has been toughened and hardened. It will not easily collapse.
Jesus is in ultimate control. Though there will be tests, they are limited by the authority of Jesus. Stick with Jesus and you’re on the winning side every time.
And finally, in conclusion; encouragement “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’” All people will die, some of old age, some accidentally, some through persecution. The manner of death is not important. What is important is our eternal destiny. Those who are in Christ will not face the second death, or spiritual death. In the face of intense pressure believers must have an eternal focus, eyes locked on Jesus. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[g] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:24-26). Any sacrifices made, any pressures faced for Jesus will be worth it in the light of eternity. Keep going. Jesus wins.
 Darrell Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, pg 67, 72
 Darrell Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, pg 71