“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.” (Revelation 2:10)
In our last discussion about the church in Smyrna, we discovered that the church was most definitely in a situation that could cause them to be afraid. Their very lives could be forfeit at any time. Rome and the Jews presented a clear and present danger for the “poor,” suffering church. (You can read about that here: https://nliworship.com/2013/07/22/smyrna-i-know-you/ )
In the midst of all of they were facing, Jesus tells them not to fear. When you look at the way it’s written in the Greek ( μηδὲν φοβοῦ) , I think maybe a better way to put it is, “Stop being afraid.” They were, at that moment, terrified, and Jesus commands them to stop being afraid. The Lord goes on to tell them that the devil is going to throw some of them in prison that they maybe tested and tried. He says that they will have tribulation for ten days. Now, there are a variety of opinions as to the meaning of ten days. Some take it literally, some view it as a period of persecution under a series of ten different Roman Emperors, some see it as a ten year period of tribulation, etc… I simply want to point out that although the devil was active in the persecution, it was for a limited time, and Jesus was still in control. These trials would refine them and test them the way gold is tried by fire. The trials would actually reveal the beauty of their faith. And those who were faithful would be given the crown of life. It is interesting that ancient Smyrna was referred to as the “Crown of Asia.” The pagan temples built on the hill of Pagos were said to have resembled a crown, and there were other crowns that the church would have been familiar with. But Jesus assures the church in Smyrna that their faithfulness would earn them a crown of eternal value.
Although we do not face trials that could even remotely be compared to what the church in Smyrna faced, it seems like so many Christians in America today are afraid. We look at the direction our country is heading, we see conspiracies under every bush (or Obama), and many are afraid. However, in contrast to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna by which he exhorted them to respond to fear with faithfulness, the response to our fear is to buy guns, get lawyers, and stand up for our rights. I wonder just what it is we’re afraid of. Could it be that we are afraid that that we will lose our precious 501c3 status. Have we fallen so in love with the American dream that we have forgotten who we are? I know we don’t like to hear it, but sometimes being a good American and being a genuine Christian are not the same thing. We run from trials and suffering, after all; God doesn’t want his children to suffer does he? Is the bottom line that we’re afraid someone is going to come along and take all of our stuff? Jesus says to us, “Stop being afraid!”
We have forgotten that “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”(1Peter 1:6-9 NLT)
The trials and suffering that may be heading our way will not take the Lord by surprise. He may not spare us having to go through tribulation like the church in Smyrna endured, but he assures us that he is in control and we can be faithful- even to our death. I believe we American Christians need to get a new outlook on suffering, an outlook that has nothing to do with being American, but everything to do with following Jesus. “For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.” (1Peter 2:21-25 NLT) Our suffering is to be reconciliatory. Jesus’ suffering reconciled us to God, and our perseverance in suffering will not only benefit us, but may very well be the testimony others see and come to faith.
My fellow American Christians let us stop being afraid, and trust in the One who offers the crown of life to those who are faithful .