Revelation 2:8-11 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Christ’s letter to the second church was short but definitely not sweet, as we’d think of the term. No, He recognized what we consider to be their problems: afflictions and poverty; yet, Jesus says they are rich. How?? Because they know, love and follow Him carefully. Christ also emphasizes to them that He died and rose again, reassuring them of their spirits’ eternal life even after their bodies die.
Then Jesus warns them about the persecution to follow, some even to death, but reminds them that this is for a limited time. God’s Kingdom on earth will flourish, no matter what. We can see the evidence of that today. But many thousands die yearly for the sake of Christ. For many years, we did not hear about this unless we read Voice of the Martyrs or something like that. Many Christians were killed during World War II for helping Jews escape Hitler. Long before and even after that, believers have been martyred. Today we see pictures from the Middle East where believers are being killed simply because they confess the name of Jesus. In other countries, they are denied jobs, put out of their homes, put in prison or killed because of their beliefs. We hear of the Chinese taking all the crosses off churches and know that in many totalitarian countries, people must often gather in underground or secret churches, not letting outsiders know.
None of us wants to hear words about suffering or death like this; yet it’s the world we live in. Recently hate crimes occurred in our own country. Do you remember the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado? Only those who said they believed in God were shot. Then much more recently, the black church was attacked by a gunman and weeks later college students were killed. Witnesses said they were asked if they were Christians and if so, they were shot in the head; other students were shot in the legs or feet. Still other people have gone to jail, paid tremendous fines, had to resign their jobs, or shut down their businesses because of persecution of Biblical beliefs, all right here in our country. Yes, we never thought it would come to that here, did we? Yet it is facing you and me; our children and grandchildren.
We must ask ourselves if we are prepared. This basically goes back to the letter to Ephesus: if Christ is our first love, then we will be. Otherwise, we may vacillate when the time comes for such decisions. We’re heard of child believers having to stand before ISIS fighters and asked to denounce their belief in Jesus; they were killed instead of denying their Savior. And often their parents were forced to watch that terrible brutality! Would we have that kind of courage? We realize anew how tremendously blessed we are in this country, even though we’re beginning to experience Christian hostility now.
Am I ready to face such things? I don’t know. Perhaps you also wonder if you are ready. We want to be; none of us plans to deny our Savior. I think in order to be ready for whatever the future holds, we must make Christ our first love, just as He told the Ephesians. Evidently, the church at Smyrna had already reached this goal.
We must continually pray for God’s mercy to give us a spiritual awakening in our country so that our grandchildren don’t face persecution here. But we must also prepare ourselves and our families if we should come to such a time. We can only do that by maintaining our first love to Christ and remembering that He died for us and rose again so that we may have everlasting life. Then the second or spiritual death cannot hurt us either.
Philippians 3:12-14: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.