The faithful church
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
The prosperity Gospel has a deceivingly attractive logic to it. Simply put, it claims that since God is loving and all things are under His control, then following Him must guarantee health, wealth, and blessings. However, not only does the reality of the world around us contradict that idea, but more importantly, the concept is thoroughly unbiblical. God loves us with a depth we cannot fathom, but bad things will still happen to us. It’s a part of living in a world broken by sin. And beyond the hardships all people experience, as Christians, we may also face persecution for our belief in God.
Therefore, it’s important every Christian has a biblical understanding of persecution. To help us in that, we turn to the letter to the church in Smyrna found in Revelation 2:8–11. Here, we see a church being encouraged to be faithful through persecution, and from this encouragement, there is much for us to learn and grow from.
A Question of “When” Not “If”
The church in Smyrna was located in a city that was extremely loyal to Rome. It was a place where refusing to say, “Caesar is Lord” was a capital offense. Yet the believers there remained faithful to affirming that only Jesus is Lord. This refusal to worship Caesar would not be overlooked and the passage confirms that.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.”
If I had to take a guess, this passage isn’t likely to make it on a Hallmark greeting card anytime soon. Within this passage Jesus says, “you are about to suffer,” “you will be tested,” and “you will have tribulation.” Persecution became a matter of when, not if, for these believers, and this isn’t necessarily surprising. By living godly lives that refuse to conform to the sinful ways of the world, Christians have always stood out—and they always will! From Jesus to the early church to today, refusing to condone sin has always brought persecution in some form.
The Possibility of Faithfulness
But thankfully, that’s not all the passage says. Jesus also gives the church in Smyrna a word of encouragement.
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
With suffering on its way, Jesus tells the Christians in Smyrna, “Do not fear.” This reflects other verses in Scripture, such as Psalm 23:4 and Isaiah 41:10, that also command believers to not fear. Christians are to only fear God, and when we fear God, it becomes possible to fear nothing else—even persecution because fearing God puts persecution into perspective. This doesn’t mean we’ll enjoy persecution, nor should we seek it out. But when tribulation comes, as it was coming for the church in Smyrna, we can find peace in God and not fear what comes next.
Persecution is also put into perspective by realizing it’s possible to be faithful through it. If we are held by God, nothing can pluck us from His hand. We can go on. But being faithful through tribulation doesn’t mean that suffering goes away. For some believers, they will have to “be faithful unto death.” So, don’t think you’re being unfaithful if your suffering doesn’t go away. In fact, the continuation of persecution may even be a sign of your faithfulness!
The hope God gives to these believers about to endure persecution doesn’t end here. He helps the believers in Smyrna look beyond their challenging surroundings and toward the eternal rewards that await those who are faithful.
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”
For Christians facing persecution, a couple of the greatest sources of encouragement are the constant presence of the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternity with God, and this passage especially recognizes the latter. Knowing that eternal rewards await and that this world is not our permanent home changes everything. We can have peace knowing that if we are faithful, we will receive the crown of life. We can resist fearing death because we know we won’t be hurt by the second death. Persecution and suffering will come, but we have no reason to fear. Through Christ, we can be faithful through it all.