Letter to Smyrna 1
Smyrna was an important seaport, about 35 miles north of Ephesus and rivalling it for the lucrative trade between, what is now, Europe, and Asian countries as far as China, along the ancient Silk Road. Now renamed Izmir, and greatly expanded, Smyrna was wealthy and cosmopolitan; but like all prosperous trading hubs there were many poor people and much corruption. It was a significant Roman military staging point too, and one of the first cities in which Emperor worship was enforced. The church struggled. But the Lord Jesus knew every struggle and wanted to comfort them in their distress, to encourage them to keep following because He fully understood them.
Jesus is the First and the Last: He started everything in this world and He will end it all. Everything is under Him. Even though some believers might face death for refusing to worship the Emperor, Jesus reminded them that He died under 'Roman justice' but came back to life again. Death does not have the final authority, He does. The believers had endured much oppression, as faith in Jesus Christ was not protected under Roman law. Some may have lost their jobs, been turned out of their homes and been shunned by their community. They were poor in money and possessions, but they were also poor in spirit. Jesus promised that the kingdom of heaven belonged to them (Matthew 5:3), and so they were rich. Their treasure was already deposited and invested in heaven (Luke 12:33).
It is horrible to continually hear people speaking badly about you. The Christians in Smyrna understood the pain of slander. Many had come from Jewish backgrounds; a religion which was protected by the Romans. But the gospel was a threat to the Jews, as Jesus experienced (Mark 15:9-10). And so, if they could accuse Christians they protected their own position in society, while justifying their disgust of Jesus and His people. Whatever religious label they wore, those who rejected Jesus and persecuted His people, were doing Satan's work. But, when such accusations were made by members of the same family, it was hard to bear, even though Jesus knew that would happen (Matthew 10:21). Family relationships are very precious, but Jesus is more precious; and following Him will be fully rewarded (Mark 10:29).
To be separated from family, reduced to poverty, despised, slandered and oppressed by evil is not what any of us want. But Jesus understands, because it happened to Him (Hebrews 4:15-16). He endured because of the joy of heaven ahead, and that is why we need to fix our eyes on Jesus instead of on the painful suffering (Hebrews 12:2-3). Even though messengers of Satan attack you, the grace and power of Jesus Christ will keep you safe (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Don't forget that Jesus always has the last word, so if you are on His side - be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9).
© Dr Paul Adams