The second message from Christ to the churches in Asia Minor is addressed to the church at Smyrna. Unlike the message to the church at Ephesus, this one does not contain any rebuke. The Ephesian believers had grown cold in their love for Christ, and their church would eventually be dissolved. If you were to travel to Ephesus today, all you would find is the ruins of an ancient city with no remnants of a church. The judgment that Christ forewarned them of had apparently come, and the church at Ephesus had its candlestick removed.
Now, the message of Christ came to Smyrna. Smyrna is a very special city in church history. John’s own disciple, a man named Polycarp, was the bishop of Smyrna. He faithfully pastored the church there into his eighties. From the message to the church at Smyrna we find many of the things that church history affirms. First, the church at Smyrna was a church of great physical and financial poverty. This was compounded by the second thing we know of the church, they endured overwhelming opposition and persecution.
According to this message from Jesus, some of the believers were cast into prison, others were forced to face death. This was a very dangerous place to be a Christian, but the Christians of Smyrna were not like the Ephesians. The Smyrnans loved Jesus more than they loved their own lives. The greatest testament we have of this love is the testimony of the Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp. The day came when the pagans and the Jews in Smyrna called for Polycarp to be killed. Instead of fleeing and hiding, Polycarp willingly surrendered to the Roman soldiers.
The guards that took Polycarp even sought to spare his life by beckoning him to simply recant his faith in Jesus and proclaim that Ceasar was Lord. The famous reply of Polycarp echoes through history, and stands as a challenge and a bolster of faith to all those who follow him to stand fast in the face of persecution. He said, “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.”
For this proclamation he was taken to an arena and burned alive while the crowds cheered. This church was greatly persecuted. However, they never caved to the pressure of oppression. Their faith in Christ withstood the overwhelming opposition they faced both physically and financially. Their love of Jesus endured the sharpest pains and greatest tribulations, and they were rewarded by Christ for their faithfulness.
Finally, because they were willing to face the first death, physical death, they would never have to endure the second death, eternal death. Their endurance had assured them of their eternal life. They could trust the One who according to verse 8 had overcome death and now offered eternal life. Their faith was not without works, instead their genuine faith allowed them to rest secured in the promises of Christ to them.
Reflect: How do you think you would face persecution? Does the example and unwavering faith of Saint Polycarp challenge you? Click on this link to read some of Polycarp’s writing to the early church at Philippi.