As we have seen in our studies thus far, Revelation is a revolutionary book in that its theme is the rule of the world by an invisible King, who reign is legitimately mediated through His bride, the Church. This is what the New Testament means when it speaks of us reigning with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6; etc.). The rule of Christ through His Church was a revolutionary concept to both the Jews and the Romans of New Testament days. Nevertheless, it is a non-negotiable and undebatable truth.
God, therefore, expects for the Church to be the Church: to submit to the dominion of Christ and thus to bring His dominion to bear on culture globally. The Church, therefore, can have an impact, has had an impact, and will have an impact in this world. In Defeating Darwinism, Philip Johnson writes:
Politics is not the answer, but that isn’t a counsel of despair. On the contrary, this should be a time of great excitement because it is a time of great opportunity. Christianity has always thrived on adversity. What it can’t stand is worldly success and social respectability…
Just about everywhere in the Christian world today, there is a combination of decay at the top and vitality at the bottom. (Thank God it isn’t the reverse!) Denominational bureaucracies and seminaries are desperately in need of thoroughgoing renewal, while the pews…are filling up with dedicated and talented people. The dedicated people have a chance to speak to a secular society that isn’t as confident as it was in 1960 and to an intellectual community that is itself confused and divided over the unanticipated consequences of modernism. That’s just the sort of challenge and opportunity they ought to welcome.
Despite decades of propaganda in the media and indoctrination in the schools, most…are sceptical of the philosophy of evolutionary naturalism and materialism. They are also well aware that this philosophy has not led to the era of rationality and social progress that was predicted. Even in the universities, where there is a separate culture war raging between scientific rationalists and postmodernists, there is a growing awareness that the ideas of 1960 are ripe for reconsideration. Western society will soon be ready to listen to a better idea. The question is whether we will have one to offer.
Johnson, of course, is contrasting evolution with biblical creation, arguing that we must be ready to take culture by the throat in presenting the truth of God’s creative work. The same is true in every area of life. It is true what Johnson says: Christianity has always thrived on adversity rather than worldly success and social respectability. We live in a world hostile to the truth of God. But we should live under the dominion of Christ and, therefore, be willing to engage culture with the truth of God’s Word, conquering the sinfulness of men with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We can do this, for Jesus Christ is Lord! Anyone who understands anything about the Bible knows that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believes that we can have an impact for His glory and honour.
In order for this to be a reality, the Church must listen to her Head and Groom. If we are what we should be, we will accomplish what we must accomplish, for being always precedes doing. What we are always comes before what we do. This is well illustrated in Revelation. Before we learn of the dominion that Christ is taking and the dominion that we must, therefore, take, we hear what the Lord says concerning the character of the churches.
In this study, we will examine Jesus’ words to the second of the seven churches. This church received a letter with no criticism whatsoever: one of only two churches to receive such commendation from the Lord (the other, of course, being the church inPhiladelphia). Interestingly, it is the shortest of the seven letters – not only in verses, but also in actual words written. We don’t know all the reasons for this, but perhaps one reason is that little has to be said to those who are faithful. This was a church that never left its first love. The believers in the church, therefore, never dropped their cross as they devotedly followed Christ, in spite of suffering. For this reason, the Lord had nothing for which to criticise the church, but much for which to commend it.
Certainly, our desire as local churches should be to desire the countercultural mindset of the church in Smyrna. We ought to desire, likeSmyrna, to have our whole heart set on the Lord Jesus Christ that we may be used for God’s glory and Christ’s honour in a great way. The words recorded are not academic; they are historic reality. If we will live as they lived, we can have a huge impact in our culture. And this ought certainly to be our prayer.
The Place in Which They Sojourned
The letter is addressed to ‘the angel of the church in Smyrna’ (Revelation 2:8). We do not know precisely when this church was founded – perhaps around the time of Acts 19:10 when ‘all they which dwelt in Asiaheard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks’. Regardless of when the church was born, we know much about the city ofSmyrna itself.
Smyrna was approximately 50km northwest of Ephesus. It was considered at that time to be one of the most beautiful cities inAsia Minor. Certainly it was one of the best designed cities in that part of the world. The city was about 700 years old at the time that John received Revelation, and it had been almost completely rebuilt some 300 years earlier by Alexander the Great. Of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2-3,Smyrnais the only one still standing where it was originally situated (modern-day Izmar inTurkey).
Two things of great importance should be understood. First, the city was more loyal to the Roman state than any other. They were fanatically loyal – almost worshipful. As far back as 195 B.C., they had made a temple in honour of the Greek goddess Roma, which represented the spirit ofRome. In 26 B.C., a temple had been constructed in worship of Augustus, and in 25 A.D., another had been built in honour of Tiberius. This latter temple was destroyed but rebuilt in the second century under Marcus Aurelius. Around 100 B.C., word came to the city that the Roman army were ill-clad and freezing. The citizens ofSmyrna, we are told, literally stripped to the waist and sent their clothes to support the Roman army. In short, the Smyrnans were fanatically committed to the state. In the midst of that, God plants a wonderful church.
Second, Smyrna boasted the greatest Jewish population of any city in Asia Minor. As we will see, this posed tremendous problems for them, for the Church’s greatest opposition until 70 A.D. came from Jews committed to Judaism.
The word ‘Smyrna’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘myrrh’. Myrrh, of course, was that beautiful, fragrant ointment, which was brought to Jesus at His birth (Matthew 2:11) and used to anoint Him at His death (John 19:39). The ointment was most often used in the embalming process to give sweet-smelling fragrance to the body. We might say that this church had a beautiful aroma because it was suffering for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Person Whom They Followed
Jesus introduces Himself to the church as ‘the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive’ (Revelation 2:8). This title (‘the first and the last’) is taken directly from Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12, where it used of Jehovah. By employing the title for Himself, Jesus is claiming to be Jehovah. Knowing that the church is undergoing tremendous persecution, Jesus addresses them as the Lord Omnipotent, the One with all authority in heaven and earth.
He refers also to His cross (‘was dead’) and resurrection (‘and is alive’). Of course, as already mentioned, the city of Smyrna had also experienced something of a resurrection under Alexander the Great, but perhaps Jesus addresses the church as such because many of the believers in the church faced the threat of death (through persecution) themselves. In the face of death, Jesus reminds His church that He has conquered death, that death therefore has no hold on the child of God.
The Promise Which They Received
Having addressed them as the sovereign One who has power over death, Jesus now commends the church for its faithfulness: ‘I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan’ (Revelation 2:9). Again, not a single word of criticism is uttered, but much comfort is given by way of commendation. This commendation is significant when we consider their problems and their praise.
The Problems Which They Faced
The Lord identifies three areas of problems that this church faced (‘tribulation’, ‘poverty’ and ‘blasphemy’), which can ultimately be fitted into two broad categories.
The word ‘tribulation’ is a word which refers to pressure. It was used of a winepress, where grapes would be trodden in order to extract the juice. And just like the sweet juice comes out of pressed grapes, so the pressure that these believers faced brought to the surface what they really were. That is, the tribulation they faced manifested their Christ-like character. Every pressure that we face in this life is permitted by God in order to make known what we really are. Character is not revealed primarily when things are going well for us; it is when we are ‘squeezed’ that what we are really shows forth.
How many times do we see professing believers quit a church simply because of a little disagreement with another believer? How often do we see those professing to love Christ turn away from Him the moment they have financial difficulties? How often do we see people turning their back on Christ because a spouse will not support them in their faith? It is when such pressures strike that our true character is revealed. The Smyrnans, under pressure, pass the test with flying colours. Consider some of the pressures that these believers faced.
First, they faced pressure from the state. The Roman government demanded that the Church of the first century acknowledge them as absolute rulers. The state demanded their allegiance above all others. But, despite the fanaticism around them, the church inSmyrna stayed true to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I think it is true to say that this ‘state-fanaticism’ is becoming increasingly true in South Africa. There are those in this country who believe that the government will be their saviour. It has started inSouth Africaand, in time to come, I can only see it getting worse. And as culture begins to embrace a state-saviour and the Church goes against this, problems will most certainly arise.
In what ways is this state-fanaticism evident in South Africa? Perhaps it is most evident in the schooling system in our country. For some reason, the government believes that they have the right to tell us how to educate our children. Contrary to popular belief, the government has no right to seek to conform my children to their image. My children are made in the image of God, and they are to be conformed to the image of Christ. My responsibility is to make sure that my children conform to the correct image.
I am not saying that our country’s education departments are ringing their hands in some sort of conspiracy. But anyone studying our public education system will soon see that it exists simply for the state to turn out what the state wants. But there is going to come a time when Christian parents are going to have to stand up and boldly declare, “Do what you want to me; but these are my children and you are not going to indoctrinate them with your lies.” We cannot allow the government to steal our children. Our mandate is to raise our children to live under the dominion of Christ. If that means that I must say no to the government school system, then so be it – even though there may be great pressure because of that.
Sadly, the Church of today has seemingly been sucked into the mindset that the government has rights in areas where God gives them no rights. A friend from another country, where churches – like in South Africa – do not have to pay property taxes, told me of a church in his city that had decided to take some of the money that would have gone to taxes and support the public school system in that city. What a disgrace! That is little more than stealing God’s money! How can we possibly justify taking God’s money and giving it to a school system that is atheistic to the core?
The believers in Smyrna refused to give into governmental pressure. They did what was right, despite threats against nonconformity from the state and those that supported the state.
But not only did they face pressure from the state; they also, second, faced pressure from the synagogues (religion). The Lord speaks of ‘the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan’. At first glance, it seems as if this is some cultic group bordering on full-fledged Satanism. Actually, the Lord is referring to the local synagogue: what we might call ‘orthodox’ Judaism. To some, it may appear rather unkind to refer to Jews as ‘the synagogue of Satan’, but this is precisely how Scripture describes them. And this is not the only time that the New Testament does so. In John 8, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, and makes a similar accusation:
I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
The Pharisees, of course, were the leading ‘orthodox’ Jews of the New Testament synagogue. But Jesus told them quite clearly that they were children of the devil. Though they were of the lineage of Abraham, they had rejected Jesus Christ, thus proving that Satan was their father.
I have twice referred in the past few paragraphs to ‘orthodox’ Jews. This is a term that we frequently employ to speak of Jews who still cling to the Old Testament rites. David Chilton points out something very important for us to understand concerning ‘orthodox’ Judaism: “There is no such thing as an orthodox Jew unless you are speaking of a Christian. Non-Christian Jews are not believers in God but [rather] are covenant breaking apostates.” Chilton is absolutely right: a Jew that rejects Jesus Christ is not an orthodox Jew. Those whom we call ‘orthodox’ Jews claim to believe Moses, but Jesus said, ‘For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me’ (John 5:46). Nobody who rejects Jesus Christ as Messiah believes the Old Testament. And no Jew who denies the Old Testament can be considered ‘orthodox’.
The church in Smyrna faced intense persecution from the Jews around them. As I have already mentioned, there were more Jews inSmyrnathan in any other city ofAsia Minor. And it is clear from the New Testament that the Church’s greatest opposition in that first century came from the Jews (Acts 6:9-15; 13:10, 45, 50; 14:1-5, 19; 17:5-8; 18:5-6, 12-13; 19:9; 21:27-36; 24:1-9; 25:1-3, 7; 28:17-28; etc.).
The point is quite clear: just because you are of Jewish lineage does not mean that you are a child of Abraham. As Paul said, ‘they are not allIsrael, which are ofIsrael’ (Romans 9:6). That is, physical, racial descent from Jacob (Israel) does not make you a child of God. There are many who are racial Jews who are not of the promised seed. These were the ones opposing the church inSmyrna.
Perhaps most reading this cannot claim to face opposition from Jewish synagogues (though there certainly are some who face such opposition). But there are many professing believers who are not true believers, who cause tremendous problems for the true Church of Jesus Christ. There are apostate churches in the world who are the greatest problem to faithful churches. The question is whether we will stand faithfully, withSmyrna, in the face of the opposition that we face from the religious lost.
Not only did this church face problems by way of pressure, but they also struggled with ‘poverty’. The word so rendered speaks of abject poverty. We cannot say for sure why these believers were poor, but there are perhaps some New Testament indicators. Though they may well have been poor when they got saved, we know that many believers in the New Testament lost their jobs because they professed Christ.
It is interesting that the Lord does not promise material wealth if these believers are faithful (we will come back to the ‘but thou art rich’ clause in a moment). He simply commends them for their faithfulness despite their abject poverty. They stayed faithful despite their poverty: they were not for sale.
The Church today needs believers that are not for sale. Several years ago, I met the manager of a new Chick Fillet that had opened in Eastgate Mall here inJohannesburg. Chick Fillet is a company run by Christian people, and no Chick Fillet opens on Sunday. This manager told me of the difficulty they had had trying to secure space from centre management, who demanded that they open on Sunday. They stood their ground, refusing to open on Sunday. Though they were certain that the restaurant would fail, Eastgate management eventually granted permission for them to come into the centre and remain closed on Sundays. The Chick Fillet manager said to me, “I think we are going to prove them wrong; but even if not, we will not open on Sundays.”
Chick Fillet is no longer in Eastgate – they went out of business – but it was still the right thing to do. Would to God that there were more believers who would stand for the truth despite the pressure placed on them from outside. Too many believers are so consumed with aspirations of wealth that they are glad to cast aside the Word of God in order to avoid poverty. The believers inSmyrnawere not like that, and their attitude ‘earned’ them a commendation from the Lord. They could doubtless have been more wealthy had they been willing to compromise their position, but they would not do this.
The Privilege Which They Lived
Despite the pressures they faced and the poverty they experienced, the Lord said of this church, ‘but thou art rich’. They were poor in material things, but wealthy in the things that really mattered. They lived a privileged life and thus they truly lived a powerful life. The bottom line is simply this: character is worth far more than comfort if comfort comes at the price of compromise. The Smyrnans understood this, and thus stood for the truth at all costs. And because they would not compromise their principles, they had a powerful impact in the midst of their terrible persecution.
The Persecution Which They Expected
Rather than assure them of deliverance from their troubles, the Lord assured them that persecution was both to continue and to intensify: ‘Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life’ (Revelation 2:10). “You have proven that you can handle persecution,” the Lord seems to say. “I am going to allow more persecution so that you can be further enriched.”
The ‘tribulation’ spoken of here seems to clearly parallel Matthew 24:22 – ‘And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.’ Since Matthew 24 speaks to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there is no biblical support for us to place the ‘tribulation’ of Revelation 2:10 sometime in the future during a ‘Great Tribulation’ period. Though Matthew 24:22 (which parallels Revelation 2:10) speaks of the tribulation that Jews would face in Jerusalem just prior to its destruction, history tells us that wherever Jews were in the Roman Empire at the time, they were being persecuted. When Jews were persecuted, they turned upon Christians. And, sinceSmyrna had such a large Jewish population, they would also suffer the consequences of the Roman’s war against the Jews.
Though they were already facing persecution when the Lord wrote to them, the Smyrnans would soon begin to face even greater persecution within a few months. The time frame given for this increased persecution is ‘ten days’ (which parallels ‘those days shall be shortened’ in Matthew 24:22). We do not necessarily have to assume that this persecution lasted precisely ten days (though this is certainly possible): ‘ten days’ is simply a way of saying “it won’t be for too long”. In giving the time frame as ‘ten days’, the Lord was giving the believers in Smyrna hope that their persecution would come to an end. However you wish to interpret the time frame, the point of the verse is clear: that greater persecution was around the corner. There would be no need to ‘rapture’ these believers from this time of tribulation, for they had the necessary character – the character of Christ – to endure to the end.
‘The devil,’ said the Lord, ‘shall cast you into prison, that ye may be tried.’ The key word here is the word ‘that’. We might paraphrase the verse thus: “The devil will cast you into prison, in order that God’s plan may be fulfilled and you may be tried.” Though Satan would be behind the persecution, God would orchestrate everything in order to fulfil His purposes. Martin Luther once pointed out that “the devil, after all, is still God’s devil.” The devil (using the Jews and the Romans as his instrument) planned to destroy the church, but God would override Satan’s plan in order to accomplish His own plan inSmyrna.
The Lord furthermore encouraged this church that, should they be ‘faithful unto death’, He would give them ‘a crown of life’. What precisely is this ‘crown of life’? For years, I believed that this was a physical crown, which (along with many other crowns) we will then cast before Jesus’ feet in heaven. But I am no longer convinced that this is the proper interpretation. I would interpret this ‘crown of life’ as full and final salvation. James said it this way: ‘Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive a crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him’ (James 1:12). If we persevere through the difficulties that we face we will be fully and finally saved in the end (i.e. we will receive glorified bodies and be forever delivered from the penalty, the power, the presence and the pleasure of sin). It is not that we earn salvation by persevering. Rather, our faith is proven by perseverance, and those whose faith is proven to the very end will receive the end of their salvation. Jesus said it this way, ‘He that endureth to the end shall be saved’ (Matthew 10:22).
It would be a most frightening thing to be part of a church that never goes through trials. When I still believed in a pretribulational rapture, I used to express my concern that, should the rapture take place on a Sunday morning, many would still be sitting in their seats in church. Though I no longer believe in a pretribulational rapture, I am still certain that there are many in churches that have no saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Why does God allow a church to go through times of trial? Is it not as a purging process? That we might examine ourselves and see whether we be in the faith?
The Smyrnans underwent intense persecution, which the Lord allowed that their faith may be tried. He encouraged them to be faithful to the end, even if it cost them their lives. He encouraged them to not fear those things that the devil would do to them. They heeded well the words of the Lord recorded elsewhere: ‘And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28). And He promised them a crown of life – full and final salvation – if they would remain faithful to Him. They faced the purging process and, no doubt, most came through it with flying colours.
I feel almost silly to talk about persecution. I know nothing of the persecution that these Smyrnans experienced. I do not have to sneak to church, fearing reproach from the government should I be discovered. I have little fear of losing my life when I stand for the truth of God’s Word. And yet I should be unsurprised should these things be happening. The pretribulational rapture basically teaches that God so loves the (Western?) church that He will rapture her out of this world before a future time of great tribulation. In other words, the modern Church will escape the trials that churches for centuries have experienced and that many non-Westernised churches are experiencing even today. The result is that, rather than looking to the current reign of Christ during times of testing, we have cried for (unbiblical) deliverance from our trials. But why are we any more deserving of deliverance than Christians who have been shot, raped and murdered? Rather than looking for deliverance from trials, let us seek to be rich in the character of Christ, which will enable us to persevere despite the pressures we face.
I recently received an e-mail from an organisation that sells all sorts of eschatological literature. This particular e-mail advertised a book entitled, Glad To Be Left Behind, by Dudley Hall. The blurb on the book reads thus:
Glad to Be Left Behind follows four teenagers as they search for answers when they are left behind after a tragic suicide. With Uncle Herm as their guide, Paul, Kristy, Chuck and Francis look at life, death, church, the rapture, and Armageddon as they search for the reason they were left behind. Noah, Moses, Joseph, and David were all called to leave their former lives and become someone new in theKingdomofGod. They left behind what they had known and followed the dream of serving God.
A brief author profile reads thus: “…Dudley Hall has show great dedication to helping his own generation find its destiny as he points the coming generation toward the greatest thrill possible – losing your life for Jesus’ sake.”
A contemporary Christian song that I recently listened to had words to this effect: “I must be crazy because I can’t wait until the day I die.” Is this a biblical mindset? No! I don’t wake up in the morning wishing that today would be the day that I die. Rather, I realise that God has graciously given me another day to live, and I ponder how best I can use the day for His glory and honour. Looking for the day we die or the day of the rapture is nothing more than an unbiblical escapist mentality. Rather than looking to escape our trials, let us look to Christ and realise that we can face life without fear because of the richness we have in Him. We ought to be glad to be left behind, for it affords us further opportunity to live under the dominion of Christ, and to show the world that, indeed, He has all power in heaven and earth.
When Daniel’s three friends were threatened with death if they did not bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, they boldly declared, ‘If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up’ (Daniel 3:17-18). And thus ought to be our response as well: “God has the power to deliver us, but even if He chooses not to, we are going to do what is right!”
The Church of the West needs to understand that Jesus Christ did not save us to deliver us from our problems. Rather, He allows pressure in our lives that we might be tried, and that we might persevere by looking to Him. No matter how much knowledge you have, no matter how much Bible you know, you can only persevere in trials by looking to Christ alone.
The Promise Which They Heard
The Lord closed His words to the Smyrnans thus: ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death’ (Revelation 2:11). The second death is elsewhere defined as ‘the lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:14) – eternal punishment. This is essentially the same as the promise of the preceding verse: those who persevere will not be hurt of the second death; rather, they will receive a crown of life.
There is an important lesson for believers to learn here: only overcomers will be saved in the end. Those whose profession is proven by perseverance in problems will be granted the crown of life. I thank God for the older members in our church – those who were members when the church was founded, who have persevered through hardships, and who are still members today. Why is it that these have persevered for so many years? Because they have been continually looking to Christ and provoking one another to good works. There is a serious problem in a church in which there is a turnover of membership every 18 months. If a church is headed in a biblical direction, the members of that church will persevere. For there is a biblical expectation that those who have been saved by grace will persevere in grace to the very end.
By grace, those who persevere through trials will be purged and presented victorious over the second death. But this will only happen as we stand by our fellow believers and provoke one another to good works. The letters in Revelation 2-3 were written, not to individuals, but to bodies of believers in Christ. If we will persevere with the Smyrnans, we must do so as a body, seeking to carry one another when help is needed.
The Power Which They Had
It is significant that the only city of the seven addressed that remains standing today is the city of Smyrna. Why is this? I firmly believe that “as goes the church, so goes the culture”. We can curse the culture and society as much as we like, but the blame ultimately comes back to the Church. Perhaps the city ofSmyrnastill stands today because the church of the first century refused to give into the sinful demands of the culture.
Today, Izmar (Smyrna) is consumed by Islam. Would it not be wonderful to see a gospel awakening take place inTurkey, beginning inSmyrna? I am not trying play a prophet, but it is certainly possible! History tells us that the church inSmyrnastood strong long after the letter was written, long after the destruction ofJerusalem. As late as 155 A.D. Polycarp was bishop ofSmyrna(at about 95 years of age). Persecution had arisen again, this time instigated primarily by the Romans. There was a large, Coliseum-like structure in the city, to which Christians were taken to be burned alive or fed to wild animals. Polycarp was arrested and brought to this place. One author records the scene thus:
Faithful to death, this venerable leader was burned at the stake in the year A.D. 155. He had been asked to say, “Caesar is Lord,” but refused. Brought to the stadium, the proconsul urged him, saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ.” Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” When the proconsul again pressed him, the old man answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that…I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness that I am a Christian…” A little later, the proconsul answered, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, expect thou repent. I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said, “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of coming judgement and of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.” Soon afterwards, the people began to gather word…the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them. Thus Polycarp was burned at the stake.
Almost 100 years after the letter was written, the believers in Smyrna were still persevering despite their suffering. In some ways, I have no desire to be part of a Smyrna-like church. I have no martyr complex: I do not want to suffer the type of persecution that these believers did. But would it not be wonderful to have the character of the believers inSmyrna? No doubt, this character will require the crucible of suffering. So be it, for God’s glory!
We can live powerfully by living a ‘resurrection life’. The Lord mentioned His cross to the Ephesians (‘tree of life’ – Revelation 2:7). And He spoke of His resurrection to the Smyrnans (‘and is alive’ – Revelation 2:8). If we will live victoriously, we must embrace both the cross and the resurrection of Christ. We must understand that we can persevere to the end, for Jesus Christ, who was dead, lives again!