Smyrna, which is the city of Izmir in present day Turkey, was about 35 miles north of Ephesus. It had a population of around 200,000 in 90 A.D. and was considered the “crown of Asia”, the most beautiful city. The temples of Zeus and Aphrodite were located there, as well as a large stadium, where Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was put to death in 155 A.D.
The name Smyrna means “myrrh”. This Church represents the suffering church period, from 100-314 A.D. During this time in history, at least 5 million Christians were put to death (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) in horrifically cruel ways. Emperor Constantine’s “Edict of Toleration” in 313 put an end to this persecution.
In the letter to the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), Jesus introduces Himself as “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life” ~vs. 8
Jesus had no words of rebuke or correction for this church, only encouragement. Persecution had driven them into prayer, the Word, fellowship with each other, and the arms of God- they were already walking quite closely with Him! When I go through times of suffering and trials, I certainly pray more and want to get closer to God. It purifies me, strips away distractions and brings me back to the basics of life. And when things are better, unfortunately I sometimes drift away from Him…
“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich),'” ~vs. 9. Part of the suffering these Christians were experiencing during this period of history was the seizure of property and livestock, and the loss of their businesses- because they refused to deny Jesus. These people were physically destitute, yet Jesus called them rich- because spiritually they were. And no one could take that from them. Ever.
“‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast 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. 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.'” ~Revelation 2:10-11
The persecution was beginning, but far from over, when John penned Revelation. There were 200+ more years of it coming, but there would be a limit- “ten days”. “Be faithful unto death.” Jesus wasn’t expecting them to do this on their own. He would be there with them, and help them through it all.
“He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death”. As D.L. Moody once said, “He who is born once will die twice; he who is born twice will die only once.” These suffering Christians clung to Jesus and to their faith, even unto death. Because they were “born again”, they would not have to worry about hell and eternal separation from God. Jesus promised them the crown of life, and eternal life with Him.
Life is hard, but with Jesus it is good.