LESSONS FROM JESUS’ MESSAGE TO
THE SAINTS IN SMYRNA
The Lord’s church in the ancient city of Smyrna is mentioned only in the book of Revelation. We first read about it in Revelation 1:11, then in Revelation 2:8-11 we have a record of Jesus’ letter to the saints that lived there. Surely in a number of ways, the Christians that lived in that city must have been a lot like you and me. For certain, their spiritual needs were the same as ours.
The message that Jesus sent through the apostle John to the church in Smyrna contains both reminders and words of encouragement. Let us first read the text, then take a look at some of those reminders and encouraging statements.
And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich), and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death (Rev. 2:8-11).
What are some truths that stand out in this text? First of all, as a follower of Jesus, I have a living Savior that knows and understands what is going on in my life. Our Lord was put to death, but He overcame death and lives! He will never die again (Romans 6:9). Look at how the words of this text show that Jesus is both alive and active: He speaks (8), He lives (8), He knows (9), and He gives (10). The fact that Jesus says, “I know thy works,” serves to remind me that I am never flying below the Lord’s radar. Since He knows all that is going on in my life, then I need to think, act, and speak as if I am being watched – because I am! While the fact that the Lord knows what is going on in my life serves as a warning to me, it also gives me a mental boost. Why is that? Because it means that He not only sees me when things are going well in my life, but He also is aware of and cares about my trials, my disappointments, and my down days through which I struggle.
Second, as a follower of Jesus, I am rich! Our text says that Jesus told them, “I know thy . . . poverty, but thou art rich” (2:9). Regardless of where a Christian ranks in terms of material wealth, he/she is wealthy in spiritual matters. God’s faithful children are “rich in faith” (James 2:5). Not only that, we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in the Christ (Ephesians 1:3). How were our spiritual riches made possible? “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Because the Godhead loves us and provides for us, because we have a wonderful Christian family that cares for us, and because we live with the hope of being in heaven throughout eternity, we are rich, indeed! We must not allow the affairs of life to take away our joy nor cause us to lose sight of how blessed we truly are in those things that really matter.
Third, as a follower of Jesus, there are times when I must face and deal with unpleasant realities in life. Jesus did not beat around the bush or sugarcoat His words to the brethren in Smyrna. Revelation 2:9,10 says that the Lord spoke to them about their tribulation, suffering, being put in prison, and being put to death. Look at four of those words again: “tribulation,” “suffer,” “prison,” and “death.” And why would these matters be present in their lives? Because of their commitment to the Lord Jesus. To say the least, their life was filled with challenges. Is that not also true of our life today? Becoming a follower of Jesus does not automatically remove the trials of life. In fact, being a Christian brings additional challenges and trials. How committed are we to the Cause? Are we committed enough to the Master to stick with Him through thick and thin? Are we devoted enough to stay with Him despite the unpleasant experiences that we may encounter? If we will maintain a good attitude and pure heart, the trials of life can strengthen us. The Bible says so (James 1:2,3). The question is not whether or not we are going to face difficulties in life. The question is, how are we going to respond to them? Are we going to shrink into a corner and do nothing? Are we going to throw in the towel? Are we going to gripe, murmur, and complain? Or, are we going to take the approach that says, “If the Lord and I stick together, we can get through this thing”? Sometimes we tend to “play up” the struggles that we have to deal with in life, but in reality, most of what Christians face today are miniature-scaled problems in comparison to what our brothers and sisters that lived nearly 2000 years ago faced – the daily threat of tribulation, suffering, prison, and death.
In addition, from our text I learn that as a follower of Jesus, I have one basic responsibility in life that overshadows and outweighs everything else: be faithful. When Jesus tells us to “be faithful” (2:10), then guess what? That is exactly what we need to do! How much money do you have? How much education have you received? How big is the house or apartment in which you live? Do you own a car? How many? How many grandchildren do you have? Are/were you a good athlete? On the day of judgment, not one of these questions will be important – not one of them! The only matter that will matter on that great day is the Lord’s answer to this question about your life and mine: “Was he/she faithful to Me?” Brothers and sisters, we live in a fast-paced era. Most of us are constantly busy doing this and that. We must not allow our busyness to hinder us from keeping our eye on the goal, which is to live faithfully in order to be blessed to hear the Master say, “Well done, though good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). When Jesus talks about the need to “be faithful,” we need to listen up and make that the priority of priorities in our lives.
Finally, Jesus’ message to the saints in Smyrna reminds me that, as a follower of Jesus, I have an amazing reward awaiting me. “. . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (2:10). The Bible certainly teaches that we need to be faithful “unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6,14). However, in the context of Revelation 2:8-11, being faithful “unto death” more likely refers to the idea of being faithful to Jesus even if that means that we have to die/give our lives for Him. Remember, Jesus had just spoken to these Christians about tribulation, suffering, and prison. What would they do in the face of danger? Jesus exhorted them to remain faithful to Him, regardless of what men might do or threaten to do to them. What is the amazing reward that He has waiting for us? “A crown of life,” which is given to those that make it to “the paradise of God” (2:7). To whom will that crown be given? In the words of Jesus, it will be given to those that remain “faithful” to Him. Or, as we read in James 1:12, the crown is for those that love the Lord: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” Jesus taught that we show our love for the Lord by doing what He tells us to do (John 14:15,23).
As a reminder, here are five points at which we have briefly looked. As faithful followers of Jesus: (1) We have a living Savior that knows and understands what is going on in our lives; (2) We are rich; (3) There are times when we have to face and deal with unpleasant realities in life; (4) We have one basic responsibility in life that overshadows and outweighs everything else: be faithful; (5) We have an amazing reward awaiting us.
Life is not always easy. Being a faithful child of God is even more difficult than making it through the ordinary ordeals of life that all people must face. Let each of us take to heart Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna. Let us seriously consider what He said to that congregation, and let us seek to learn and apply those principles to our own lives.