19 July 2012Revelation 2:8-11
"I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part 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. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (vv. 9-10)
Perhaps we can imagine John's messenger leaving the prosperous city of Ephesus, travelling 35 miles north to the coastal port of Smyrna (modern Izmir), a town that numbered, even in New Testament times, around 200,000 people. Although the city itself was proud, rich and beautiful, the Christians here were small in number and quite poor. The town had a strong allegiance to Rome, and had a large Jewish population; this combination made it a very difficult place to practise Christianity and the church was actively persecuted. The most famous of the early Church martyrs was Polycarp, known as the 'twelfth martyr in Smyrna", who was burnt to death for his refusal to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. This is the background to the references in verses 9 and 10 to affliction, poverty and suffering. Smyrna was a challenging place to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
So the message that Jesus gives through John is that the difficulties of the Christians in Smyrna have been noticed, and the pressures understood. Jesus has heard the slanderous accusations. These often came from Jews in the town who, by their falsehoods about the Christians in their midst, betrayed their own faith and thereby were "a synagogue of Satan" (v. 9). The small and beleagured Christian community are encouraged to stand firm, to "be faithful until death" and are promised the "crown of life" (v. 10); the word used here is not a royal crown, but a victorious athlete's garland.
The passage reminds us, in our own day, of the many churches around the world who suffer hardship and persecution. False accusations, Christians not kept safe by the state, individuals persecuted and even killed because of their faith - these things have happened down the ages, and still continue today. We need now to offer such Christians the same kind of encouragement and prayerful support that Jesus offers to those in Smyrna.
- When did you last include persecuted Christians in your list of prayers? Take the time to do so today.
- What kind of practical support is appropriate for fellow Christians to offer to those who are being persecuted because of their faith?