The following post is the second in a series focusing on Revelation 2-3, the letters to the 7 churches. I have written these posts to supplement the Sunday School class I am teaching on the same topic, however they will be helpful to you independent of the class as well. Enjoy!
Persecution. Suffering. Trials. All of these words bring to our minds very vivid thoughts. Some of us think of the terrible persecution being inflicted upon Christians in Syria, Iraq and around the globe. Others of us think about a hard time we are currently going through. No matter what comes to mind, the truth is that every single one of us has gone through a trial, is going through a trial, or will go through a trial. Trials, suffering, or whatever you want to call it affect every one of us.
John, in his letter to the church at Smyrna, addresses this issue of suffering. Indeed, this specific church suffered more than most. As a Roman colony the primary form of worship was emperor worship; it was the Roman governments way of ensuring loyalty among all of its people. This in and of itself meant severe persecution for Christians in these colonies, but Smyrna was worse. The people had an especially strong devotion to Rome, making the persecution of Christians exponentially worse than anywhere else in Asia Minor.
It is in this context that John writes:
“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.” Revelation 2:10
Here are three key truths about suffering that we can take away from this passage:
1. The devil is the primary culprit. John makes no qualms about it; the devil is the active participant in the churches suffering. He is the one throwing them into prison and inflicting them with tribulation. We should never forget that we have a real enemy. Our enemy is not man, but a real devil whose goal is to steal, kill and destroy. At the same time, we must remember that he is not God. He is not omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent, and in order to have authority to infuse any type of suffering into our lives he must be given that authority from our Father. In the book of Job we see Satan receive authority from God to inflict intense pain and suffering on Job. He could not have laid a finger on Job were it not for the authority given to him by the Lord Himself.
2. God has a purpose in it. Let me be clear. You are not, nor will you ever suffer just for sufferings sake. Your Father in Heaven does not get any joy in watching you suffer. He does, however, understand what trials will end up producing in you, and He has determined it to be worthwhile. John writes that this difficult, trying time for Christians in Smyrna is designed to test them. A better translation is that they were to be “proven” or “refined” through their trials. Paul writes:
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3
Your trial, friend, is not the end. Unlike us God sees the finish line, the end result. He knows that although our situation looks grim right now, it is going to produce in us something that no amount of study, reflection or even prayer will produce. Allow Him to refine you. Allow Him to produce in you a life that is going to bless others, win souls for His kingdom, and bring you great, great joy. Hold fast to the promise:
“blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life.” James 1:12
3. There will be an end to it. John says that their tribulation will last for 10 days. Scholars do not agree on the meaning of “ten days,” but we do know that he was not referring to ten 24-hour time periods. This was to be a long period of time for this already suffering church. While we don’t know the length of this period of time, we do know that it had a beginning and an end. Those facing intense persecution in Smyrna could rest in the fact that God ordained exactly how long their suffering would last and that once He deemed it to be over, it would indeed be over. No matter what you are going through, I can tell you that it will be over. At some point, in one way or another, it will cease and this chapter will come to a close. Rest assured in this, however don’t miss out on what God is wanting to do in you. Remember, there is a purpose in what you’re going through.
No matter what you’re going through, remember who your enemy is, remember that there is a purpose that God has in everything you go through, and that He will, in His own time, bring it to pass.
So, what is it for you? How is The Lord trying, or purifying you right now?