The church of Smyrna represents the persecuted church. These precious believers were under severe persecution from the Jews as they were led by Satan. We see from these verses in the book of Revelation that persecution arises from the devil’s hatred of God and His children.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulations, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’” Revelation 2:8-11
God’s Word reveals to us that His children have always suffered persecution and been put to death for their faith. Jesus revealed this to us in the twenty-third chapter of the book of Matthew.
32 “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes I the name of the Lord!’” Matthew 23:32-39
Jesus Christ, God the Son of God, was persecuted and killed because He reproved these sinners who always rejected God’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation because they wanted to “serve God” on their own terms based upon teachings of men handed down by traditions, and thus they rejected the true knowledge of God and service rendered to Him through rejecting the revelation of God given in His Holy Scriptures. The same has been true from the start of the church and down through the ages.
After the Jews murdered Stephen there arose a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and the believers, except the apostles, were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. At this time a Pharisee by the name of Saul arose to persecute believers, dragging both men and women into prison. (Acts 7:60-8:3). Saul, not satisfied with this sought letters from the high priest so he could bring believers from Damascus and have them thrown into jail in Jerusalem. While He was journeying to Damascus, the Lord Jesus Christ met Saul on his voyage and confronted the evil he was doing (Acts 9:1-4).
5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:5-6
From these verses, we can clearly see that persecution of Christ’s children is persecution of Himself. Even though Jesus Christ was killed by the Jews, it was all part of God’s plan of salvation, and He didn’t stay in the grave but rose from the dead.
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—23 Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” Acts 2:22-24
Saul confronted with the living and risen Christ, immediately repented of his sins and asked Christ what it was He wanted him to do, and then he did it; and so the persecutor became a born again believer in Jesus Christ. Saul was named Paul and also suffered persecution for following Jesus Christ. Believers in Jesus Christ, those who have repented of their sins and put their faith in Him, being born again by the Holy Spirit, that suffer persecution and death at the hands of those who hate them have the Word of Christ that they will live. His promise to the believers in the church at Smyrna is His promise to all of His children who suffer persecution. If God’s children suffer death for their confession of Christ, they must know and be comforted by the fact that Jesus Christ also suffered death because of His commendation of the truth. Just as Christ arose from the dead, so will all genuine believers in Christ. Death isn’t the end; it is the translation from this world to the home of God, Heaven.
54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:54-60
Stephen followed the example of our Lord and Savior when He died upon the cross, when He committed His Spirit to God, and prayed to His Father to forgive those who persecuted and murdered Him.
34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”….46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last. Luke 23:34, 46
Jesus calls His children to be faithful and true to Him, even to death. Because He rose again from the dead, they will too because He will give them the crown of life, and they will not be subject to the second death, which is eternal punishment in the lake of fire. We must fear God rather than man and stay faithful even to death, because death is not the end but the beginning. May God bless us with sincere faith, that is faithful even to death, and courage to live and die as Christ did, following His example and the example of His saints through the ages.
51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53
27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. 34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:27-39