When Losing is Winning
Jesus speaks to the church first and foremost on the grounds of who He is. He is not simply reactive to the church (but He is responsive) – he is proactive, his action determined first by who he is, and then by how the church stands in relation to him.
Here Jesus reiterates to the Smyrnan church that he is “the first and the last, who died and came to life.” As “the first and the last” Jesus is the One who stands at the beginning and at the end of history, from whom and for whom all history exists, and who controls the whole of history. However, he is not only over history, but also has entered into history, as a man, facing down the powers of sin, evil and death that threaten the destiny of creation and humanity. For he was dead and became alive – sin, evil and death did their worst and he triumphed over them.
The truth of Jesus Christ gives the solid basis that God’s people should “Fear not!” The church in Smyrna was suffering – both poverty and slander on account of their faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus as Lord, in the ancient world as much as now, means the inability to bow the knee to any other claim to Lordship.
In ancient Smyrna it meant Christians would not participate in the cult of emperor worship, and to not do so meant that Christians suffered economic ostracism and were also falsely accused of being harmful and destructive in the community. In modern Australia there is growing pressure for Christians to not in any way publicly challenge the views of sexuality and gender that currently are being promoted and that flatly contradict the clear teaching of Scripture. People have already lost their jobs for doing so. And there is the possibility that such public speech will be called hateful, and face legal action. In all this we have the inestimable riches, the treasure of Jesus Christ.
Jesus knows all this trouble – he knows it from his own experience, and he knows it as the Lord of history and of the church. He knows it as the one who was sent to death and who has come to life. So, he calls us to not fear what we may be about to suffer, but rather to be faithful even unto death. The promise is that we too will receive the crown of life! The one who suffers thus actually conquers, and will not face a hurt worse than death – the second death, the denial of a place in life by the Living One.
Next week: Revelation 2:12-17