Be Faithful Unto Death

Posted on: July 7th, 2024

Revelation 2: 8-11. Four verses that can be read aloud in about 30 seconds is all Jesus needed to strengthen the suffering saints of Smyrna. And it seems to me his brief message can be distilled down into a single, powerful word: perspective.

Smyrna was called “The Crown City” not only because the hills that surrounded it resembled a crown but also because it was exceptionally prosperous and proud. This was in large part due to its loyalty to the Roman Empire. From the city’s worldly point of view, the Christians in Smyrna must have seemed awfully foolish for holding to a faith that fundamentally opposed Rome’s paganism.

Right away Jesus offered a higher perspective: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” (v8). This introduction is so apt it’s almost comical. Smyrna imprinted some of its coins with “First of Asia in beauty and size.” Their arrogance must have seemed silly to the Alpha and the Omega of all things. And while Smyrna’s Roman overlords managed to conquer much of the known world, they were utterly insignificant compared to the one who conquered death itself. Only the Lord could provide perspective so effectively by merely stating who He is.

In verse 9, Jesus offered two more contrasts between earthly and spiritual perspectives: “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.” With a simple parenthetical, almost as if a side note, Jesus assured them that even though they were materially poor, they were storing up eternal riches in Heaven (Matthew 6: 19-21). In the same breath, he declared that the Jews who tormented them were Israelites only physically, not spiritually (Romans 2: 28-29).

Verses 10-11: “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.”

The number ten throughout the Bible indicates completion, often in connection to a period of testing. So instead of a literal ten days, this likely signified that their suffering would continue until their time of testing was complete. “Be faithful unto death” was a not-so-subtle warning that, for many of the saints in Smyrna, this time of completion would only come when they had been killed for their faith.

From an earthly point of view, this would have seemed like a pretty miserable attempt at encouragement. But from a spiritual perspective, it was exactly what the saints in Smyrna needed to hear. What waited for those who would remain faithful was a glorious and eternal crown of life. Meanwhile, all that’s left of the so-called “Crown City” today is archaeological rubble.

I want to make just two applications for ourselves. First, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” (Colossians 3: 2).

By all means, pray that God will protect the religious freedom we enjoy in this country. Pray that He will heal your physical infirmities and keep your loved ones safe. Pray that He will bless your career so you can provide for your family and perhaps even have enough to share with those in need. God absolutely has the power to grant these types of petitions, and He often does. After all, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5: 16).

However, never let your faith hinge on how God answers your earthly requests. Our hope in Christ is spiritual and eternal. It is so much greater than anything this physical world has to offer. Our prayers, our meditations, our goals, our activities, and the things we teach our children and grandchildren should always be primarily focused on this Heavenly perspective. 

Second, don’t quit until your “ten days” are up. It’s possible in this life to work hard enough and well enough to retire early, but that is not the case spiritually. There is never a time you can rest on your laurels. Paul commended the Thessalonians for their “work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope” (1 Thessalonians 1: 3), but he also urged them to “abound more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

I’m reminded of my grandfather, Derrel Starling. Lord willing, he will be 99 in January, and yet he preached a gospel sermon last Sunday. He doesn’t drive anymore, so he shows kindness to the workers who deliver his groceries. He told me the other day while laughing that he had been enjoying a song called “I Ain’t Dead Yet” by Charlie Parr. I can’t think of a better way to end this article than that.
Brandon Starling