The Spiritual Riches of Smyrna

“Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn’t God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him?”

James 2:5

Welcome to week three of our study through the seven churches in Revelation. In week one we looked at Revelation chapter 1 and last week we looked at the letter to the church in Ephesus. Today, we’ll look at the second church Jesus addressed, the church in Smyrna.

25 miles north of Ephesus, Smyrna is known as modern day Izmir in Turkey. It is the only one of the 7 churches that still exists, and was also the only church that Jesus didn’t have a rebuke for.

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say to this church:

To the angel of the assembly in Smyrna write:

The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life says these things:

I know your works, oppression, and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Don’t be afraid of the things which you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have oppression for ten days. Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He who overcomes won’t be harmed by the second death.

Revelation 2:8-11

At the time this letter was written, Smyrna was one of the most dangerous cities in which a Christian could live. It has been recorded that Smyrna held mass executions for those who refused to worship Caesar.

Christians in Smyrna were literally risking their lives to live for Christ. To stand up for their beliefs, and even just to attend church was quite possibly a death sentence for them, but they still held firm.

Jesus didn’t write to this suffering church to give the believers in Smyrna a message that if the followed Him, life would be grand. He didn’t promise them that things would get better. In fact, He warned them that things were about to get worse, and encouraged them to be faithful even to the point of death.

Polycarp, the bishop in the church of Smyrna, was killed shortly after this letter would have been delivered. They tied him to a stake in the market place and gave him one last chance to deny Christ before attempting to burn him alive. He refused saying, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my king, who hath saved me?”

How is faith like that possible?

I believe, contrary to the church in Ephesus, the Christians in Smyrna were consumed by a love for God. And out of that love, they served Him faithfully. When I read this letter from Christ, I picture a whole community who could agree with Paul when he said, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  

Jesus once said to His disciples, If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word which you hear isn’t mine, but the Father’s who sent me. I have said these things to you, while still living with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful” (John 14:23-27).  I think the church in Smyrna got that. They loved Him enough to keep His words, no matter what.

Smyrna

One of the first things Christ wrote to the church in Smyrna was that He knew about their poverty, but also that they were rich. The believers here seem to be the exact opposite of the rich young ruler mentioned in Luke 18. The Christians in Smyrna valued spiritual riches, not earthly ones. They were truly living like Christ, who though He was rich, for our sakes became poor (2 Cor. 8:9). The christians in Smyrna gave up their earthly riches to live lives that glorified God – no matter what the cost.

I think they could honestly say, “I consider those things that were gain to me as a loss for Christ. Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phi. 3:7-11)

So what about us?

Do we love God enough to count everything else a loss?

Do we love Him enough to follow Him no matter the cost?

Despite all its persecution, the church in Smyrna was a spiritual powerhouse. They loved God enough to follow Him and Jesus promised them the crown of life. They didn’t have to worry about what befell them in this world, because they had better things in store. They had riches stored up in heaven that wouldn’t tarnish, break, or decay. Their riches were something that no one could steal, and they could never misplace.

“I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have oppression; but cheer up! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Reflection Questions:

Summarize this letter in your own words. What would you say God wanted us to understand from reading it?

Christ’s message to the church in Smyrna contradicts the prosperity gospel that is so popular in our world today. Is that belief one that you have been tempted to believe in the past?

Do you love Christ enough to follow Him no matter what the cost? (Have you ever had to give up anything for your faith in Christ?)

 

Take it Further:

 

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