THE LETTER TO SMYRNA
Loving Lord, in your marvelous grace, turn my memory into hope, my gratitude into energy, and my strength into service.
Read REVELATION 2:8–11
To the Church in Smyrna
8 “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 about 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 life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Recognize the dangers of the values shaping the world and rejoice in the true riches which are ours in Christ.
The brief letter to the church at Smyrna is one of only two of the seven in which the message is entirely positive and without any word of rebuke. There is a striking contrast between the description of this community, materially poor yet spiritually rich, and the situation in Laodicea where exactly the reverse is the case!1 The poverty of believers in Smyrna stood out in a city of great wealth and conspicuous prosperity, where material well-being was accompanied by prestige and honor. In this city, Christians were nobodies: they counted for nothing. The word used for ‘poverty’ actually signifies destitution. Jesus, who in life was despised and rejected, completely reverses the values by which honor and worth are assessed within the wider world and assures these marginalized believers that they are rich by the standards of the kingdom of God.
There are statements in all of these letters that are highly contextual. For example, for the original hearers in Smyrna the promise of ‘the crown of life’2 would call to mind the magnificent acropolis which dominated this city and was referred to locally as the ‘crown of Smyrna’. Christians, who possessed little of this world’s goods, were told that they faced continuing and worsening persecution – even martyrdom – and yet were in possession of the gift of life and the promise of unimaginable glory and joy to come. This radical reversal of the values that dominated the wider world is characteristic of the entire book of Revelation. In the globalized world of the twenty-first century, it compels us to reflect on the ‘judgments we make about churches in various situations today’.3
Reflect on that closing sentence. How do we evaluate the spiritual health of Christian congregations?
Faithful Father, I can’t imagine facing slander, prison, or death because of my faith. If that happens Lord, I know your power will see me through. Thanks and praise to you.
1 Rev 3:17 2 Rev 2:10, NIV, 1984 3 Catherine and Justo Gonzalez, Revelation: Westminster Bible Companion, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997, p26
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