KEY TEXT: Revelation 2:8-11 "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.'"
KEY THOT: Of the seven churches, only two (Smyrna and Philadelphia) did not receive any rebuke, but only encouragement to persevere in their faith. Compared to the other churches Smyrna was an extremely poor church. And on the top of that, they suffered intense persecution and martyrdom. Yet it is the one which the Lord commended the most: "I know your tribulation and your poverty ( but you are rich)" (v.9). Even today, it is still being persecuted by extremist Muslims in Turkey. Though materially poor, Jesus considered them rich. Jesus' call to this church is to be "faithful unto death" (v.10). The most famous bishop of Symrna (Polycarp) was burnt at stake by the Romans in 166 AD. So, if we want to be rich in Christ, we must be ready to be poor and persecuted. This was the "prosperity" gospel of the Church of the East who suffered persecution and death from the 14th century to the present.
In these days of material prosperity and ease, it is possible to be so comfortable in our faith that we are no longer rich spiritually. We can be so focused on material prosperity we think we are rich spiritually on that account. But Jesus sees the church differently. He is always looking beyond this life: "The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death" (v.11). The only reason we are left alive is to be a light in darkness, to bear witness to the coming kingdom by proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. Our life mission is to help believers and unbelievers come into the full freedom for which Christ has come to set us free as a testimony of the Kingdom presence and power.
Our life on earth is short--with or without martyrdom. Jesus has put before us two priorities: "but seek first the kingdom of God (a missional life) and His righteousness (a moral life) and all these things (material life) will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). Our priority in this life is not seeking material riches but missional and moral rewards.
As we enter into the new year 2018, we may be entering into the final stretch of the "last day". Just as Israel's Babylonian exile lasted for 70 years before its return to Jerusalem from exile, so Israel will be celebrating its 70th anniversary of its rebirth on 14 May 2018. Now that the USA has formally announced it's moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, possibly in 2018, this may mark a new milestone in Israel's restoration as a nation. It may also signal the final phase of Israel's life as a nation.
But are we as a church ready for the dark days ahead of us -- possible global persecution and martyrdom of Jews and Christians? Are we ready to be "faithful unto death"? We have to start setting our hearts right today before God and seek the true riches that Christ offers, not become preoccuppied with the material "prosperity" that the world offers.
Abba-Father, thank You that You have called us out of darkness into Your light, that we may bear witness to the light. Deliver us from fear of failure, fear of death and fear of lack. In Jesus' name. Amen.