Meditation Mondays Revelation 2:8-11: The Persecuted Church
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until 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. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’
Last week we began to take a deeper look at the 7 churches addressed in this letter. We began by looking at Ephesus, the loveless church. Today we are considering Smyrna, the persecuted church. Again, this letter would have been given to the minister (angels) of each particular local church. John writes this letter (to be circulated) from Jesus to these churches. The particular minister of this church would have been Polycarp (one of John's disciples). We know about Polycarp from the writings of Tertullian and Irenaeus. He was perhaps one of the better known Christian martyrs. Polycarp was burned to death at 86 for refusing to worship Caesar. He would have been in his 20s at the time of this letter.
Jesus is preparing the church in Smyrna for a particular persecution. They've already experienced a considerable amount of persecution from so-called Jews. There are plenty of history books out there that document this type of persecution, but I will briefly highlight what the Smyrna church experienced at the time of John's writing.
First, they experienced immense financial poverty for following Jesus. They were outcasts. Their loyalty to Christ cost them economic advancements, tax benefits, pay benefits, etc. They were, worldly speaking poor. But they had food the world didn't know about and Jesus reminds them of that. Jesus is their food. Jesus is their portion. In Christ, they are spiritually rich and Jesus sees them and acknowledges their lowly position.
Secondly, they were charged with blasphemy from the local Jews. Emperor worship was demanded in their day and age. They refused to bow to the Emperor. They bowed to Jesus only. This is what probably led to their being mistreated and experiencing poverty. However, being accused of blasphemy was a crime in the 1st-century church. This would lead to imprisonment and even more severe persecutions such as tortuous death (like Polycarp's).
Now how does Christ encourage this church? First, He sees them. He is with them and He can empathize with their sufferings. Secondly, He reminds them that this persecution will only last "ten days". This is a symbolic number of completion, but it would have comforted this particular church to know that their pain is temporary. Thirdly, He encourages them with the crown of life and the reminder that the faithful will overcome the second death because He (Jesus) came from death to life (V8).
You have probably not experienced persecution like this and you probably never will. However, that doesn't mean this letter is irrelevant to you. Be emboldened in your commitment to Christ, Jesus today. Be encouraged to persevere in your faith. Suffer well in your particular afflictions for the cause of Christ. Remember, He sees you. He Holy Spirit lives in you. And you will bodily rise as He did and be with Him forever.