“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I am Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea…He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches'”
Revelation 1:9-11; 3:22 NKJV
Smyrna is the second city mentioned by Jesus on the first century Roman mail route which received the greatest end-time message of all time! It is said to have been a great city of commerce, wealthy and beautiful, but the church there was noted by Jesus for its courage under heavy persecution. What a contrast of environments!
The world around these believers was prospering while they struggled to make ends meet as a result of the stand they had taken for Him. This sounds very similar to the scenario in which the Lord describes His own second coming in Luke 17:22-30. Using both Noah and Lot as examples, Jesus warned His disciples not to build their lives exclusively within the rhythm and commerce of the world system. Even as things around these two men continued to prosper and develop according to the “normal” course of life, God prepared them and their families to escape an otherwise unforeseen destruction! Likewise, the Lord didn’t chastise the Christians in Smyrna for any wrongdoing because they were also faithfully holding forth the word of God in the midst of their community.
As important as love is to a fallen church like the one in Ephesus, so the willingness to endure persecution is to a church that is faithful. For those who have a hard time understanding tribulation, Jesus gives us a few insights into what made this congregation such a target. First, there was the slander they faced from the always envious religious who’s who…who weren’t really who they pretended to be! Second, this was a direct result of being on the real “slanderer’s” (literal meaning of “devil”) hit list for a specific period of time. Finally, the Lord was personally demanding their faithfulness in this test be carried out until “death” if necessary!
The church in Smyrna is often overlooked, maybe because it was such a hard case to understand. Christianity can be ironic in that it doesn’t seem right to us that good people should be allowed to suffer. At the end of the day, however, Jesus often trusts the most dependable with the most important jobs!