Posted September 08, 2014
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.
These were the words spoken by Jesus to the church in Smyrna. These days, Western Christianity seems to think of Jesus as the Great Enhancer of our lives, removing us from whatever difficult situations we may have been in and setting us in a safe happy place. The problem with this view is that it doesn’t account for the Jesus of Scripture and what He told us would be true of His disciples. If we read the Bible, we discover that Jesus repeatedly tells His disciples that they will endure suffering and difficulty because they belong to Him! This was the situation that Smyrna found themselves in and needed to hear the voice of their Savior.
As Jesus began to speak to Smyrna in Revelation 2:8, He introduces His words as “the words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” This self-introduction should frame our verse today and Jesus’ call to not fear and be faithful unto death… When Jesus calls Himself “the first and the last”, He’s actually claiming deity (Revelation 1:8); this title was one given by God Himself in Isaiah 44:6 and Jesus applies it to Himself. He is the Ruler over history, and this truth about Jesus should comfort the Church! He’s not a helpless savior, but rather a sovereign One. Not only is He the first and the last, but also the one who died and came to life. We should note two things about this self-description. First, it reminds us that He knows what it’s like to suffer unto death! He’s intimately acquainted with pain, suffering, and loss. Second, we are reminded that death is not the end of the story. God raised Christ from the dead, and paves the way unto resurrection for others after Him who’ve put their trust in Him for salvation.
Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that they’re going to be thrown into prison and be tested in tribulation for 10 days. 10 days may seem like a strange number, but various commentaries offer insight. Most say it’s a symbolic number, like other numbers in this same book. It may mean a short, yet definite period of time. It also might be connected to the fact that the city of Smyrna’s gladiatorial games would last 10 days and the victors would win a crown. Perhaps the reason Jesus said this was to let them know that, like the gladiators, they too were entering into a time of great testing and tribulation. Those who persevered unto death would receive a crown of life. Whatever the reason was, Jesus was seeking to offer this persecuted church hope.
Are you suffering? May two things be true of you, as they were for Smyrna: may you know and be comforted by the words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. He calls you to not fear, despite what you are going through or are about to go through. Secondly, the suffering you are walking through knows an end. It is not forever, and therefore do not fear but be faithful unto death for death is not the end, but rather a gateway unto life.