8“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
9“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
12“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
13“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.16Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Ancient Smyrna is present-day Izmir, Turkey. For those who've visited Izmir, you can tell it's a lovely city nestled next to the Aegean Sea. At the time of the writing of Revelation, Smyrna was a city closely connected with Rome and a city with a large Jewish population that was hostile to followers of Jesus. An Early Church Father, Polycarp, was martyred in Smyrna.
Smyrna now, Izmir, no longer has a significant Jewish population, having disappeared long time ago; rather, it's heavily Muslim given that it is part of Turkey. As in the time of Polycarp, being a follower of Jesus in present-day Smyrna is just as difficult and challenging.
In contexts such as Smyrna, what can believers hope for?
Speaker of the House Rep. Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts once said famously, "All politics is local," meaning that a politician's success boils down to his or her ability to understand and influence his or her constituents. Applying this principle, we can say "all theology is local" or "all Christianity is local." What can believers hope for in contexts where they are summarily thrown into prison for adhering to Jesus?
Hoping for a job promotion, for greater wealth, for political influence, for public recognition, for incredible church growth -- any such things that we might hope for in our context -- would simply be out of the question in contexts of persecution. Think of believers in NK and Syria and Iraq. When one is hoping to survive imprisonment and violent attacks, other hopes simply vanish.
What can believers in contexts of persecution hope for? The answer is given above in verse 10: "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
Being faithful in some contexts is good enough. Hoping for the crown of life in some contexts is prize enough.
I share these thoughts not to make us feel guilty about the good things we are blessed with in our lives. Those good things of family, friends, finance, and future are good gifts from God above. And we should be rightly thankful and we should enjoy and celebrate these good gifts. Not to do so would be an extreme expression of ingratitude toward the Lord.
But contexts of persecution do remind us to be prayerful about our brothers and sisters who are living under circumstances that are not as favorable and free as ours.
Here's a link to the places of severe persecution of believers in Jesus: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/
Let's keep these brothers and sisters in the Lord in prayer today: Father God, we pray for our brothers and sisters of faith. We pray for those suffering unspeakable horrors and persecution and torture. We pray for our NK brothers and sisters, we pray for those in Somalia, Iraq, and Syria. We pray for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iran. We pray for those in Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria. Father God, may your comforting and loving presence cover them. Strengthen their hearts and faith. Even in the midst of great difficulty may you grant them peace and joy. May prayers of hope arise in hopeless contexts. May prayers of love and devotion also arise. We thank you that we live in a country where worshiping you is not a crime. We thank you that singing aloud and sharing the good news of Jesus with others are not criminal acts against the state. Keep us mindful of our brothers and sisters who are struggling to be faithful and who will one day receive their crowns of life. In Jesus' name, Amen.