There is a lot of talk in some circles about a so-called “War on Christians” in America. Fox News, for example, has a segment every year on the “War on Christmas.” The assumption is that America was once a Christian nation and has been attacked by secular humanists on the left and threatened by an increasing Muslim presence on the right. While I do think Christianity is unfairly portrayed and caricatured by the news media at times, I do not think the persecution of Christians in America comes close to what those in Smyrna and other early Christians experienced. Christians in Smyrna were ‘suffering’ and experiencing ‘poverty’ due to acute attacks upon the church. These attacks were both physical and lethal. The early Christians had no political voice in the early centuries of the Roman Empire. Not until Constantine the Great became a Christian in 312 did he abolish the persecution of Christians with the Edict of Milan in 313. The early Christians and those at Smyrna were imprisoned and put to death. Nothing of the sort is happening in America today, nor is this level of persecution on the American horizon.
What I find comforting about today’s passage from Revelation is that Jesus prophetically warns those in Smyrna that trouble is on its way. Jesus knows their situation. In fact, Jesus foretells that they will suffer and some will be thrown in prison and their faith is going to be tested by affliction. Paul the Apostle says that the function of the gift of prophesy is to “speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3). We see that happening in this letter to the Church at Smyrna. Frist of all, Christians in Smyrna can take strength, encouragement, and comfort in the fact the Jesus knows what they are going through. It is not beyond His scope of attention. Second, they can receive strength, encouragement, and comfort in the fact that Jesus himself was persecuted to the point of death and yet He is alive. Jesus is identified in this letter as “the one who was dead and came to life” (v. 8). Jesus was faithful to the point of death and anyone who endures to the end will likewise be regarded as faithful and receive “the crown of life” (v. 10). The second death, that is the final death of the lost beyond God’s Judgment, will not harm those who conquer. Are you experiencing pain and suffering now? Take courage! Jesus knows your situation. Jesus has endured pain and death himself. Listen to those around you. Jesus just might be sending you words of strength, encouragement, and comfort.