The church at Ephesus was exhorted to remember their first love just as they were commended in their works. From Ephesus we learn that one’s motivation needs to be properly aligned with the Lord’s will; this will result in purity of teaching because one will only teach as the Lord authorizes (cf. Romans 15:18). What do we learn from the Lord’s words to Smyrna?
The city of Smyrna has a history of both destruction and abundance. When the Lord addressed His letter to the church in Smyrna the city was in the midst of abundance. By the end of the first century the city “…had become the highway terminus and commercial metropolis of an immensely fertile hinterland.” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, volume 4, p. 555)
In such an environment vice runs rampant. Smyrna was plagued with immorality and debauchery. The leaders of the city of Smyrna desired to please Rome and so they sought and won the rights to a temple erected in honor of Tiberius, a temple that encouraged idolatry (emperor-worship). Add to this contention a strong anti-Christian Jewish community, and one can surely understand, in part, the discouragement that might have been felt by the Christians.
It was in this city, however, that the Lord’s church had a foothold. They were striving to combat the evil in their environment. Interestingly, this is one of two churches whom the Lord addressed wherein He said nothing negative at all. His words were words of encouragement and instruction.
Whatever discouragement they might have had is now turned into great encouragement. They easily could have thought that they were able to do little on account of their poverty and, perhaps, their numerical size. The Lord, however, looked upon them as being rich. He did not measure with the same standard that many use even today – material wealth. Though they were poor economically, their spiritual wealth was accomplishing much good.
The Lord’s Identity
The church’s wealth came from Him who is identified as the first and the last. He is what we might call “bookends” to all things in relation to time; that which is in the past and that which is in the future, whether one comes or goes our Lord is the sustainer of all.
Satan had knowledge of the spiritual realm and experience in battle; whatever limitations he may have had in the way of knowledge, he was conniving enough to gain what he needed in order to use it for his own ends. Perhaps Satan might have thought he was victorious over God’s plan at the crucifixion. If he did think this, it was but a short time later that he learned (at the resurrection) that his time was effectively over (cf. Revelation 12:12; 2 Timothy 1:10).
The Lord’s Knowledge
Knowledge is a key to success in this world. Knowledge, however, can be a liability if one has knowledge but it is improperly used. People fear other people who improperly use knowledge.
Fortunately, the Lord’s knowledge is no liability at all. What He knows about us He uses to help us become better than we are now. And if we are not where we should be, He uses that knowledge to help us get to where we need to be.
When one thinks about that which the Lord knows, it is not long before the impressive quality of just who He is stands forth. The Lord was quite aware of the experiences the Christians in Smyrna were enduring. He also knew that Satan had a hold on those who actually claimed to belong to the Lord.
Those who thought they belonged to the Lord actually gathered at the “synagogue of Satan” (cf. John 16:2). The Lord’s knowledge is simply incomprehensible! Because of this the psalmist said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6, NKJV).
He knows what is done, experienced, and thought by any one of us. In fact, He knows whatever can be known and, thus, He knows what we must do to get through the tribulations of life.
The Lord’s Encouragement
The Lord also knows what others attempt to do to His church. The church was going to endure tribulation for ten days (2:10). Exactly what time span we are to make of these ten days is uncertain. It is likely that a short time frame is in view, but whatever time frame is in view it would be intense.
The Lord said they would be tested, and we can be sure the test was not anything like a “multiple choice” test one has had in school! This test would bring about suffering, and much of it.
When experiencing such it brings to mind what things in life each man must determine to be valuable (cf. Joshua 24:14-15). He must determine what is precious, what is valuable, and what he will endure for that which he considers to be a pearl of great price.
The tribulations the Christians in Smyrna experienced originated with Satan and his servants. Do you think the Jews realized they were but pawns used by the Lord’s adversary (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:13-15)? With these tribulations in front of them the Lord gave words of encouragement; if they are faithful to Him who is the first and the last, they will receive the victor’s crown.
The Lord’s Instructions
When we think about the Lord’s will and His instructions, we might think His commands and admonitions are easy to obey. We might think again, however, when we are put to a severe test that includes much suffering.
The church in Smyrna was to be faithful in order to receive the crown of life. Though it is easy to understand the admonition, it is another thing entirely when one has to endure what he understands intellectually.
It has been said, “…the church of Christ persecuted is the church of Christ pure. [On the other hand,] the church of Christ patronized has always been the church of Christ impure.” (G.C. Morgan, cited by David Roper, Revelation 1-11, Resource Publications, p. 125)
The crown of life is eternal life, and it will be given to him who overcomes. A test is of no value if one is guaranteed to pass it, but one will pass if that which is held precious is not forsaken. Let us, then be determined to be clothed with white garments, purified of any stains.