A few months ago, life was normal. Kids went to school. Bigger kids were paid millions to entertain adoring fans by playing baseball and football. The economy was strong and unemployment was at a record low. The twenty-four-hour news cycle was filled with obnoxious political wannabes lying about what they would accomplish if elected. The church calendar was filled with activities. And masks were worn by bank robbers and surgeons in the operating room.
In the blink of an eye, normal went away.
Is it too much to imagine that Christians in America could actually face physical persecution? Is it conceivable that sanctions could be levied on all those who refuse to reject Jesus as Lord, or on those who fail to claim allegiance to a false deity? Is it beyond the realm of possibilities that standing for Christ would mean imprisonment or death?
Maybe Jesus’ letter to Smyrna doesn’t apply to us. Maybe.
Smyrna, a port city on the Aegean Sea, about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus, was a proud Roman city. In 23 B.C. the Temple of Tiberias was constructed at Smyrna. There, the Roman emperors were worshipped as god. (Think about that... when one emperor died, the new guy was worshipped for a while...) Toward the end of the first-century, emperor worship was mandated by law. Citizens who refused to hail, “Caesar is lord,” could receive the death penalty.
Smyrna was also known for its rather large Jewish population that actively and aggressively opposed Christianity and the spread of the Gospel.
In the second of His seven letters, Jesus addresses His beloved church in Smyrna, a congregation caught between a rock and a hard place.
“I know your affliction and poverty, but you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will experience affliction for ten days. Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:9-10, CSB).
Jesus is “the First and the Last, the One who was dead and came to life” (Revelation 2:8, CSB). He says, “I know” ... “I know” ... “don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer” (Revelation 2:9-10, CSB).
He warned them that the “synagogue of Satan,” that is, the Jewish people who were doing the deeds of the Devil, would “slander them.” He warned them that they might face imprisonment and “affliction for ten days” ... a rather short amount of time.
Then Jesus, the Great Promise-Keeper, made a promise. “Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will never be harmed by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11, CSB).
I liked life in the good old days... when it was normal.
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