There’s no way around it, Jesus’ words to the ancient church in Smyrna are difficult to hear. They are difficult because they confront the fact that the church will undergo a time of great distress. Some, in fact, will be called to give their very lives for the name of Jesus. He will not prevent their tribulation but he speaks to them as the One who has suffered as well. More than that, He speaks to them as the One who is both eternal and who once was dead but is now alive. They can face their trials knowing that ‘now’ is not all that there is. Their suffering will be limited to the earthly sphere and could never threaten to undo God’s love, grace, and salvation.
While many of us will never face the prospect of death because of our confession of faith in Jesus, there are some important lessons for us. First, the Church lives at the center of a struggle. The ancient struggle between God and Satan is at the heart of all struggle. It continues to be felt by the Church in every age. Second, the Church lives in between two worlds. We sometimes live as though this world is all that there is, but it’s not. As we grow in faith, we must learn to value the things of the life to come more than we value the here and now. Finally, the Church lives on the promises of God. Paul said that, in Christ, all of God’s promises are “yes.” Not all these promises, though, are ‘this-world’ promises. Some things await the world to come… but they are worth the struggle.