10 November 2007Revelation 2:8-11
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (v.10b)
At the beginning of the book of Revelation, there are seven
'letters' to young churches in Asia. These verses are the letter to
the Church in Smyrna, a Roman seaport built to replace an ancient
Greek city of the same name a few miles inland.
The Church in Smyrna was being persecuted, almost certainly by members of the local synagogue. The writer, John the Divine, aims to strengthen them to face not just the persecution which is already happening, but that which is to come.
What is to come will be worse. Some of the believers face imprisonment, which John sees as the work of the devil, although the agents of it are human. We think of prison as a place where people are held either pending trial or as a punishment after being found guilty. In the ancient world, it was usually the place where people were held prior to execution. Facing prison meant, in effect, facing death.
John's encouragement to his readers to be faithful until death is, therefore, no idle form of words. But those who are martyred for their faith actually become conquerors in the name of the risen Christ. Jesus told his followers not to be afraid of those who could kill the body but could not kill the soul (Matthew 10:28) and John echoes that here. Martyrdom brings eternal life.
'The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church' (Tertullian - a famous Christian in the early Church). Who are important contemporary martyrs for you?
The name of 'martyr' has been claimed for some people in the contemporary world who have themselves engaged in acts of violence in the name of their faith. What do you think are the dangers of promoting an ideal of martyrdom within a faith community?
Have you ever put your life, reputation or comfort on the line for the sake of your faith? If so, what happened as a result?