After delivering the letter to Ephesus, the messenger moved 35 miles of Ephesus to the city of Smyrna.
The city of Smyrna started off with a humble beginning. Just a few years before the birth of Christ, a disastrous earthquake destroyed the city, leaving it in ruins and rubbles. Then, Smyrna was rebuilt. It bloom and blossomed. Perhaps of its beauty, powers came to conquer. Conflicts and conquests happened, and once again, Smyrna was tragically reduced to an insignificant, dying village.
Not long after, Alexander the Great came to conquer the area. He revived Smyrna, bringing vibrancy and life back to it, and turned it into one of the major Greek cities with a large library, a public theatre, a stadium seated about 20,000 people, impressively important back in those days. Most probably when Apostle John was writing this letter, it had become a bustling city with the population of over 100,000.
Crushed but courageous
Smyrna then grew into a prosperous, powerful, beautiful and important city. It also became the major centre of cult worship. Imagine living in Smyrna as Christians at that time: a city filled with statues and altars to different Greek gods and having to face attacks and accusations from the jointforces of pagans and Jews, and being so despised to the extent that no job opportunities were offered to them. In the prosperous city, they were literally
living in poverty—for Christ.
These Christians were literally crushed from all sides, like the name of the city.
The name Smyrna was taken from the word “myrrh” (this city was wellknown for the production of myrrh). Myrrh was a bitter sweet gum that oozed from a shrub tree. When the leaves of this tree were crushed, they would release a sweet-smelling perfume.
Smyrna Christians were such: They were crushed politically, socially, economically, religiously, but when crushed, their lives became sweet fragrance offered up to the Lord. They would rather give up everything: material possessions, financial security, comfort and wealth than to give up Jesus Christ. They were courageously devoted to loving Him.
Seeing the persecutions and hardships they were enduring for Him, Jesus—the “First and the Last, who died and came to life again” (verse 8) came to them with words of comfort, saying, that He knew their afflictions and poverty (He had been through it Himself for us!). Although they were afflicting, and were living in poverty, yet, Jesus reassured them that they were rich (verse 9). They were rich in Him, and they were rich in their faith in Him.
Jesus Christ encouraged them not to be afraid (verse 10). Persecution would come as the devil would try very hard to destroy them. However, Jesus reminded them the devil could put them in jail, or even kill them, but he could not do harm their souls. Victory is always for Jesus and all those who follow Him.
Jesus urged them to remain faithful to Him, and someday, they would receive the victor’s crown (verse 10). Another thing Smyrna was also famous for was its athletic games. The champions at the games would be given a crown. Likewise, for you and me today, if we remain faithful to Jesus Christ, someday, we will be crowned with the crown of life. “Blessed is the man who stands up under trial; for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)
Even today, life is not easy. There will be trials and tribulations, pain and persecutions in the forms of broken relationships, financial difficulties, pressures from work, religious persecutions. Being Christians means that there will be rejection and persecution. Jesus Christ says so (John 15:18-25; Mark 13:13; John 16:33) because we are living in contrast with the world.
The Smyrna Christians gave us positive and powerful testimonies: though they were crushed, they were courageous, and someday would be crowned with the crowned of life. The Lord was pleased with them (out of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation, only the church in Smyrna and Philadelphia did not receive rebukes and correction from the Lord Jesus). Though they had insignificant identities in the wealthy city, they were certainly promised a crown in God’s kingdom which never ends.
May we follow their examples: crushed but release a sweet fragrance to the Lord; courageous in daily living, to win the crown of life.
By Rev Candy Liong
Faith Methodist Church, Miri