[Jesus said:] “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 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. He 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.’” Revelation 1:8-11 ESV
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 ESV
Many years ago, there were pieces of wood owned by many different people and churches that were supposed to be part of the true cross of Jesus. While these pieces of wood most probably weren’t really from Jesus’ cross, the people that had them believed that they were and thought they were very precious. A church in Apamea, near Antioch in Syria, had one of these pieces of wood, and it was so important to them that they encrusted it with valuable jewels. In 540 the Persians sacked and burned the area, but they spared the church in Apamea that had this treasure. The Persians sliced off the precious stones and then gave the wood back to the church. The invaders thought that they had the best of the deal, and saw no value at all in the piece of wood! To them, the church in Apamea had become very poor when they lost their jewels.
The church in our Bible reading, in Smyrna, also seemed to many people to be very poor. They didn’t have wealth or power, and they were having all kinds of trials and persecutions. Others probably looked at this church and thought it was very pathetic, but Jesus had a different opinion. He spoke words of comfort and encouragement to them, saying that even though they seemed poor and powerless, they were really very rich. They might not have had money or precious jewels, but they had Jesus, and everything he had done for them on the cross. That gave them more wealth than anything the world had to offer. Jesus warned the church at Smyrna that they were about to suffer more trouble, and that some of them would be thrown into prison. But he encouraged them to be strong, and that he would give them a crown of life if they were faithful to death. The second death, separation from God forever in hell, would never hurt them.
We also might seem to be poor and powerless to others who look at us, and we might suffer troubles and persecutions because we are Christians. But the promise Jesus gave the church at Smyrna is good for us as well. Jesus came to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven, and he conquered death and all the forces of evil by his death and resurrection. Everyone who believes in Jesus will have life forever with him, and will never have to worry about the second death. We are very, very rich, even if the world thinks we are pathetic and weak, because we are conquerors through Jesus.
Dear Jesus, thank you for making us rich by giving us yourself. Please help us to be conquerors through you. Amen.
Moffett, Samuel Hugh A History of Christianity in Asia, Volume I: beginnings to 1500 San Francisco: Harper, 1992, p. 220.