The second church addressed in Revelation is the church in Smyrna:
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that 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 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:8-11 ESV)
There are some differences between this letter to the church in Smyrna and the previous letter to the church in Ephesus. Primarily, Jesus does not mention anything that he has against the church in Smyrna. Apparently, the church in Smyrna was under persecution, and more persecution was to come. However, Jesus promised that the persecution would have a limited time duration.
What does Jesus say about the church in Smyrna? 1) He knows about their tribulation and poverty. 2) He knows that they are actually rich. 3) He knows that they have been slandered by some who claim to be Jews.
“Tribulation and poverty” are very strong terms, pointing to oppression and extreme poverty. Because of these strong terms, we should understand their “riches” as being spiritual wealth, not physical wealth. Similarly, “slander” is a strong term usually translated “blasphemy”. Those who blaspheme the church in Smyrna claim to be Jews – perhaps Jewish Christians? But, by their actions they show that they are truly follow Satan, not God.
What does Jesus want the church in Smyrna to do? 1) He does not want them to fear. 2) He wants them to remain faithful.
He wants them to face their current situation and the upcoming persecution with courage and faith. This seems to indicate that the opposite of faith is fear. He does not tell them to repent as he did the church in Ephesus. He did not tell them to attempt to avoid persecution. Instead, they are to remain faithful and fearless in the face of persecution.
What does Jesus promise the church in Smyrna? 1) He promised further persecution. 2) He promised that some would be thrown into prison. 3) He promised that some would be tested (tempted?). 4) He promised that the additional persecution would only last a short time. 5) He promises a crown of life.
These may not seem like good promises. But, notice that Jesus does not threaten to remove the lampstand from the church in Smyrna. I wonder which the church in America would choose: a threat to remove their lampstand, or a promise of persecution. We treat persecution as if it is harmful to the church, but in reality Scripture shows just the opposite. As Paul exhorted the churches, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”. (Acts 14:22 ESV)
Today, it seems the church is more willing to compromise than to face persecution. Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not talking about political disagreements or the possibility of paying property taxes or having people disagree with you. I am talking about the loss of health, wealth, comfort, and even life. We are very good at loving ourselves and taking care of ourselves. We are better at loving ourselves than we are at loving others, and thus, than loving God.
Around the world, there are many church that are facing persecution. Jesus has promised them a crown of life if they remain fearless and faithful. I wonder if the church in America is closer to the crown of life or the loss of a lampstand. Similarly, it seems that we should not pray for persecution to end, but instead we should pray that those who are under persecution to stand faithful and without fear.