Steadfast in Difficulties
Smyrna was beautiful and wealthy. Christians, however, were persecuted and lowered to a state of poverty. Even so, Christ encouraged them to remain steadfast in faith.
Today, persecution of Christians is rising. In many parts of the world, affliction, imprisonment and even death await Christ-followers. Although we do not seek persecution, we acknowledge that the same God Who enabled the church at Smyrna to persevere will empower us to remain steadfast during difficulty.
We are rich in spiritual blessings because of Christ. (8–9)
The word “affliction” is understood to mean “living under oppression.” The church at Smyrna wasn’t facing a little opposition but crushing tribulation.
Being lowered to a state of poverty is difficult for most of us to fathom. Yet Jesus proclaimed they are rich. Why? Because Christ is the One Who conquered sin and this world. All who follow Him will experience rich spiritual blessings.
Even today, we are not exempt from severe persecution. We may lose all we own because of our radical allegiance to the Messiah. However, Christians must allow God to realign our thinking. All the riches of the world are transient. Instead of looking at the beauty of your “Smyrna,” “set your minds on things above” (Col. 3:2). Don’t let the allures of the world draw you away from Jesus; you are rich in Christ.
We need not fear adversity. (10)
Jesus warned believers in Smyrna that even greater persecution would come. Because Jesus is the sovereign Lord, they need not fear this adversity. There would be a time of imprisonment and even death for some of them, but this persecution would not last forever; there would be an end (implied when they are told they would suffer for 10 days).
Believers should be encouraged — the suffering will be brief. This knowledge was an impetus for them to remain faithful and not fear.
Smyrna loved games. They were familiar with the victor’s crown that rapidly faded and died. Instead of being immobilized by fear, the early Christians were promised the joy and thrill of receiving an eternal victor’s crown. In the same vein, you must not fear adversity. Trials and troubles will come, but Jesus reigns forever. The same eternal crown is promised to believers today.
We need not fear death. (11)
This letter concludes with an encouragement to be victorious and remain steadfast in the difficulties of life. This challenge is based upon one’s identity in Christ. In verse 8, Jesus reminded them He died and came to life again. Thus, as Christ was resurrected, so too will all who trust in Him.
A decade or two after John’s vision, Polycarp (who was the pastor or bishop of the church in Smyrna) refused to offer incense to the Roman emperor. For this, he was burned at the stake. He said, “You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while, is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.”
Polycarp knew the first death is temporary and must not be feared by Christians. Even though you may suffer physical death at the hand of persecutors, you will not be touched by the second death, which is separation from God in the lake of fire (20:14). Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, remain steadfast in your difficulties.
By Rob Jackson, Ph.D.
Jackson has served in a variety of ministry roles, including pastor and state missionary.