“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”
Revelation 2:10 NLT
The Smyrnaean church was really experiencing some hard times. Jesus could see what was coming in their lives and warned them, through John, that the persecution and tribulation would be intense. So intense in fact, that some of those in the Smyrnaean church would face death. Others would be imprisoned. And all because they believed the Truth, God Himself. Of course, all this suffering would strike fear into even the strongest, and most committed, men and women amongst them. So Jesus’ message starts once again with “Don’t be afraid“. Our wonderful Lord fully realised that the intersection between the natural and the spiritual will sometimes induce fear amongst human beings. I’m reminded of the first thing Jesus said to the disciples when He was walking on the sea of Galilee. In Mark 6:50 we read, “They were all terrified when they saw him. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here! ”. I’m sure the Smyrnaeans were themselves just as terrified, if not more, because some of them would be facing death. But the Lord loved these people and had a message for them that would have strengthened them through their persecution. He told them that it would only be for ten days.
For some, the idea of being tested for our faith is rather daunting. Someone once asked the question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you”? Beyond all reasonable doubt? But why would God allow us to be tested in the first place? Perhaps there are times when we go through the motions of being a Christian, but deep down we have lost our way. Our faith is perhaps weakening, or may even have reduced to a level of non-existence. In the past two years, Christians have been quite severely tested, at least here in the UK. Tested by the Covid lock downs that have shut our churches, and forcing us to depart our comfort zones and grapple with new technology, such as Zoom and YouTube. Removing from us the option of seeing our friends in person, and warming a pew on a Sunday morning. We may not have been through the physical pain and suffering the Smyrnaeans experienced, but the outcome may have been the same. When us Christian pilgrims are faced with the reality that there is a cost to our faith, some will decide that the price is not worth paying. And consequently they will disappear from the spiritual radar and fall away from the faith. In my locality, some Churches of Scotland are having to close because the congregations are no longer numerically viable. One of the reasons is that the numbers of attenders hasn’t recovered to the pre-Covid levels. Thankfully, other churches are thriving, the stronger for the testing experience.
For the faithful perseverers, there is a “crown of life”. It is there stored in a safe place. We each have one lined up for us. Our names are written on them. They are precious and far more valuable than any amount of gold and precious jewels would be. James 1:15 picks up the theme as well, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him“.
So what does a “crown of life” look like? Here are a few thoughts. The crown imparts life, as we read in our verse today. Also it is a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), a crown of righteousness, (2 Timothy 4:8). It is imperishable and will never wear out (1 Corinthians 9:25). It is a crown of joy (Philippians 4:1). And it is the prize for staying true to our calling (Philippians 3:14). I can’t wait to get mine, and I know it will be a perfect fit. And there’s one just for you, my reader, today. If …
Dear Lord. We thank You for Your encouragement, always there for the asking when we go through a time of tribulation. I pray for the strength to stand firm in my faith day by day. Amen.