“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 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. 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.’" (Revelation 2:8-11)
Big Idea: All Christians will face some level of persecution in their lives. Three truths about your King and Savior will keep you sane and help you endure during tribulation: he knows you intimately, he is with you in tribulation, and he will raise you from the dead, never to die again.
I. Knows Intimately (v. 9)
For Smyrna, a church being cruelly persecuted, they needed to know that Christ is sovereign. He possesses the distinctly divine quality of being eternal; he is the “First and the Last” (cm. 1:8). So knowing the end from the beginning, Jesus certainly knows their present sufferings. He specifically knows their “afflictions,” “poverty,” and “slander.” Jesus was not merely aware that the Smyrnans were suffering, he had known it before time began and he even felt the pain of it as one who was one in flesh with them.
II. Present in Tribulation (v. 10)
John’s words become more ominous as he warns believers that they may even be imprisoned for their faith. Jesus clarifies that the devil is directly responsible for the incarceration. And he even explains the devil’s agenda; it is to “test” the believer. The Smyrnans are provided the confidence that while the devil will test them by putting them in prison, King Jesus will ensure their success. It is his presence that guarantees a believer’s endurance through suffering.
III. Raises Incorruptibly (vv. 8, 10-11)
This letter ends with the same condition as most of the others: the one who “overcomes” will experience heaven. This shows us the necessity of perseverance. The Bible teaches that salvation is conditional upon obedience to the very end of life. However, we must understand this as an instrumental condition rather than a meritorious one. Meritorious conditionality would mean that by being obedient you earn heaven, that God owes you heaven because you have purchased it by your self-discipline. That is clearly against Scripture and offensive to the notion of grace (Ga. 2:21). But an instrumental condition merely describes something that must happen in order to assure a certain end. It doesn’t matter how the condition is met, it just has to occur to accomplish the desired result. So our salvation is contingent on an instrumental condition and that condition is met by Christ in our place.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What is an example of persecution you have personally experienced or have observed in the life of someone else?
- Which of the attributes of Jesus resonated with you most from this passage?
- What implications does this attribute of Jesus have for you? In other words, how is that attribute good news for you specifically?
- What is one way you should respond to this good news about who Jesus is for you?