Embraced by Christ
Jesus is the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega, the one who is from everlasting to everlasting. Kingdoms rise and fall, and dynasties crumble, but the Lord Jesus is without beginning and without end, for even death could not hold Him. He precedes us and will continue after us.
The beleaguered people in Smyrna needed to hear this description of their Lord so that they could be reminded of and encouraged by it. Faced with the prospect of suffering, even to the point of death, they felt themselves to be anything other than triumphant. Therefore, to know that they had been included in Christ—to know that He was their Savior, their companion, and their friend—made all the difference to the challenges they faced.
Smyrna was the home of Polycarp, one of the most famous Christian martyrs of all time, who, as the city’s bishop, was bound and burned at the stake around AD 155. Polycarp may not have been in leadership at the time the church received this letter from John, but he might well have been a young listener as it was read. At the very least, these words would surely have become very familiar to him as he grew in faith. We see their impact on full display when he was urged to renounce his faith in Christ in order to save his life. Instead of recanting, Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
It is tempting to blend so perfectly with the surrounding culture that there is never a possibility of being on the receiving end of animosity and persecution because there is never anything different and challenging about us. But the Lord Jesus does not tell us to avoid suffering in His cause; He tells us not to fear it. If we are prepared to stand strong concerning the exclusivity of the claims of Christ, the purity that is represented in following Christ, and the sufficiency and authority of the word of Christ, then we will need to remember Christ’s words: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Your calling is the same as that to the church in Smyrna: to be faithful to the end, no matter the cost. You have been embraced by Christ, and He is as real, alive, vibrant, and committed to His kingdom and to His people as He was in the days of Polycarp. How will you stand for Him today?
To the Church in Smyrna
8“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
9“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander1 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. 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. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
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