Smyrna, labeled the “First city of Asia in beauty and size… The pride of Asia,” was a beautiful city on the Aegean sea coast, 35 miles north of Ephesus. It had acquired a reputation for its patriotic loyalty to the Roman Empire. It became the first city in the ancient world to build a temple in honor of Dea Roma (Goddess Rome). We are told that around AD 25, many Asian cities were competing for the coveted favor of erecting a temple to the Emperor Tiberius, and the privilege was given to Smyrna. Evidently the cult of the Empire and Emperor of Rome was a matter of great pride to Smyrna. This strong allegiance to Rome, coupled with a large Jewish populace that was on good terms with Rome and hostile to the Christian faith, made life very difficult for the Christians in Smyrna.
(In AD 155, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was martyred for refusing to deny Christ and to swear allegiance to Caesar as Lord.)
It is to this church that Jesus dictates his second letter. He writes to encourage them in their time of affliction and to let them know that more affliction is on the way; He exhorts them not to fear, but to remain faithful, even unto death, and He will give them the crown of life.
The reason that He gives them as to why they shouldn’t fear the suffering they are about to face, is because of who He is.
- He is the Eternal One- “the First and the Last” (v.8). He is the author and finisher of history. He never changes. Our circumstances change, but he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
- He conquered death and is alive forever more- “who died and came to life again” (v.8). In the same way that Christ emerged triumphant over the tomb, so shall we. He has conquered death and defeated the one who has power over death, the devil.
- He knows our trouble- “I know your tribulation” (v.9). He is not distant from us in our troubles, but is near. He is touched with our infirmities and can comfort us in our time of need. “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty ( but you are rich)” (v.9).
- He is in control- “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” (v.10). Jesus not only is all-knowing, but also has control over all things, including the length of our trial. Satan wants to use the trial to destroy our faith, but Christ turns the trial for our good, to strengthen our faith.
- He is a generous rewarder- “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (v.10). Our trials are light and momentary compared to the weight of glory that awaits us. The reward far exceeds the suffering.
May the example of the believers in Smyrna stir us on, that we too may remain faithful in our time of trial and not compromise, that we may receive the crown of life.