In this section of The letter to the church in Smyrna, we’ll look at the “So …” section. As in, so what’s next? As in, when Jesus says “you are about to suffer”, is that as bad as it sounds?
In each of the letters, this could be good or bad news for the receiving church. It depends on what else is in the letter. Often, it’s a caveat that goes along with the Divine Knowledge. In this case, we learn a lot from Jesus also telling them not to be afraid of the suffering. And yet, we still don’t know just how bad the suffering will be. Although, we probably should be able to make a very educated assumption.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.
Before we begin though, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.
|To||the angel of the church in Smyrna|
|From||him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.|
|Divine Knowledge||I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.|
|So -||Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.|
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
|To those who overcome||He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.|
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.
Honestly, this statement shouldn’t be a surprise for any Christian. But oftentimes, it is. Even more than a surprise, it brings feelings of anger towards God. I know, because I’ve been there. I can say from my own experience, it was from a lack of maturity and understanding.
The graph we’re using reflects the reality that a lot of new Christians have high expectations for their newfound faith. Not necessarily correct expectations, but expectations nonetheless. We don’t generally get told right away that following Jesus will bring hardships. Even though Jesus told us they would come.
For instance, take a look at the Beatitudes. Not just the ones that we generally talk about. But look at what’s at the end. What comes when we actually do the first ones.
5:3-12 pp — Lk 6:20-23
Mt 5:1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Mt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Mt 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Mt 5:3-9 sounds really good. Life is great when we do those things.
Rejoice during persecution
But how many of us are told ahead of time about verses Mt 5:10-12? Especially the one about how we should rejoice and be glad when persecution and other troubles come because of the actions we carry our related to our faith?
I dare say, in churches where Jesus just wants to be our “friend”, it’s not heard much. Probably not in most kids’ programs at church either. And when we see our Christian friends living the good life, do we really expect anything different? Do we realize that many, but not all, of the worldly rich Christians are like one of the churches in these letters that’s getting strong warnings from Jesus? I doubt it.
The really sad part is that, as we say in the Ephesian church, even those who once knew the truth in those last three verses lose track of that truth. The truth that suffering does come. And the truth that we shouldn’t fear it. Harder still, the truth that we rejoice and be glad in the midst of it. Why? Because ours is the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.
This verse is interesting.
This sounds bad. Maybe even worse than you expect, even in a worst-case scenario.
However, I suspect the English translation in the NIV loses something. For instance, one Commentary says this about that verse.
he (John) spells out the nature of their on-the-horizon suffering: the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, language that is full of theological grist, even as it spells out the harsh realities of what awaits these particular believers. Not one to yell “devil” (as in “the devil made me do it”) at every occurrence of evil, John nevertheless recognizes that lying behind the evil that persists in Smyrna is “our ancient foe, who seeks to work us woe.” The nature of the persecution will be imprisonment, whatever that would have meant at that time in such a city; but its ultimate purpose from the divine perspective was to serve as a means “to test you.” That it is said this persecution will last for ten days is to be understood as indicating that it would be for a limited time only. Fee, G. D. (2011). Revelation (pp. 31–32). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.
It can make it sound like the devil has the authority to put someone in prison. Not only that, but the purpose is for the devil to test those people.
There’s something missing, if that’s truly what is being said. So I turned to Young’s Literal Translation, to see what it said. Here it is:
10 Be not afraid of the things that thou art about to suffer; lo, the devil is about to cast of you to prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days; Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 2:10). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
So, it really does say that.
However, before we jump to any false assumptions about what’s going on, let’s apply some of the other knowledge we have.
Remember the book of Job. And remember that, ultimately, God is in control. The devil can do nothing without God’s permission. Again – just reference the things Satan was allowed, and not allowed, to do to Job.
So – what we must realize is that God is allowing the devil to have some people put in prison. And while the devil may be thinking the purpose is to test and hopefully tempt those in prison to turn away from God, there’s something else going on.
As with Job, God is allowing the testing to take place, with the knowledge that the person being tested can come through the testing spiritually intact. More on that in a moment.
As for the ten days, we really shouldn’t take it as necessarily being a literal ten days. Ten is often used in the Bible to represent a measure of completeness. Whatever timeframe the testing covers, it’s the amount of time that God, not the devil, deems necessary. And in any case, it’s temporary. It will not last forever.
The key to all of this comes in the next sentence.
Be faithful during persecution, as God is faithful to us
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
It is our faith that can sustain us through the period of testing. Some will make it. But some won’t. I believe that’s why we really need to do a better job of fulfilling the Great Commission. All of the Great Commission. One more time, here it is.
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
If all we do is baptize people, how can they ever be ready for a time of testing? If we don’t teach them everything Jesus taught, what hope do they have? For that matter, if we don’t learn and follow everything Jesus taught, what hope do we have?
Do you remember when Jesus was teaching about what would come to be known as Communion? Thousands of people were following Jesus. Until He spoke of the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood. But they didn’t have a clue what He meant. They thought it was cannibalism.
That probably sounds so “dumb” to many Christians today. But that’s because we know better. We have the Holy Spirit. However, if we stop at Baptism, don’t really teach the rest of what Jesus said – is it any wonder that some will get tested and fail? They won’t have the strength of faith to keep them going through the testing.
Jn 6:60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Jn 6:61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
Jn 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Jn 6:67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Jn 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
So the question for the church in Smyrna, as well as for us, is which group will they / we be in? Will we decide it’s too hard, and walk away? Or will we stick around?
Truth is, we can only stick around if we’ve been discipled the way Jesus gave us to do it. Then, and only then, will we find out it’s actually easier, in many respects, to stick around. There’s no fear. There’s peace. Because there’s also the presence of God.
Based on the words Jesus gave for this letter, I believe Jesus knows this church will come out OK. That this church will be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
How about you – the reader?
I invite you to pray about that question before you move on to the conclusion of the letter to the church in Smyrna.