Let us observe in our mind’s eye an ecclesia coming together on a Sunday morning in circumstances vastly different to our own. The ecclesial hall is an abandoned warehouse lying close to the harbour of a particular city. There is a supposed meeting time, but given certain circumstances, the brethren and sisters already gathered wait patiently for over an hour for their brethren and sisters to arrive, who do so at irregular intervals. Gazing around on those assembled, it is obvious to us that this ecclesia consists of brethren and sisters well acquainted with difficulty and trial—lines of worry, grief… and poverty are clearly discernible on their faces. We note a great deal of urgent whispering and conferring taking place among the assembled group; there is joy and relief expressed as some arrive, and there are apprehensive looks as others arrive bearing news of some description.

There is given at the beginning of the meeting, what we would commonly call ‘announcements of a fraternal nature’; however we observe with interest that it is not the task of one person alone to make these announcements, and this is clearly due to the fact that there isn’t an individual privy to all the information required to make the necessary announcements. Some have information on one family’s welfare, whilst other latecomers have just received additional information on another’s— hence something of an informal ecclesial discussion constitutes the fraternal announcements in this ecclesia. We form the impression that this is of necessity rather than deliberate design.

What is the subject matter of these ‘fraternal announcements’?

We learn that ecclesial attendance is down. The reason for this, however, is not due to apathy; rather, it is because some of the brethren and sisters have been imprisoned by the authorities. One brother announces (with some difficulty) that not only is a particular family in prison, but a date has now been set for their public execution. Needless to say, this ecclesia lives in a very hostile environment. Each of the brethren and sisters know that upon leaving the place of meeting, they will walk amidst people who could conceivably be willing spectators of their imprisoned brethren and sisters. The announcements also include an appeal for funds, not for the building fund, or general expenses, but for the widow and children of a recently murdered brother. Finally, there is discussion about the next preaching effort. It is to be made despite the circumstances in an area of the city not far from the arena and not far from the hostile Jewish synagogue of the city…

Many of the brethren and sisters who have been cast into prison have been so, because of the rulers and attendees of that Synagogue. The Jews are powerful in this city and have firm connections with the pagan authorities.

Such was the atmosphere that must have prevailed in the embattled ecclesia of Smyrna when the Lord wrote to them from the isle of Patmos.

The primary purpose of this particular letter in Revelation 2 was to comfort this ecclesia. It was not to instigate reform or to demand repentance. As far as we know the ecclesia had no major problems apart from the hardship of their circumstances.

Revelation 2

8 And unto the angel of the ecclesia in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty,  (but you are rich)

These words would have comforted this ecclesia immensely. It was confirmation that their Lord was  aware of their hardship. He had noticed. He was ‘in their midst’. This ecclesia had been striving to  please him. He now commended their efforts and  assured them that though they had material poverty,  in his estimation they were spiritually rich.

The letter continued:

… and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

Again, this ecclesia would have been moved by the reassurance of their Lord that he knew exactly what they were experiencing. He knew because he had experienced the same censure from the same class. They were suffering exactly as their Lord had. Can we imagine the sobering force of the next  paragraph in this letter:

10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt  Suffer

A clear statement: ‘it’s not over’, ‘worse is to  come’.

… behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

The full impact of this would gradually sink in.  Some were going to experience a violent death; the persecution would be intense for a specified duration of time, but, after death… a crown of life.

11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the  Spirit saith unto the ecclesias; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Here was an ecclesia that did have love. Here  was an ecclesia that did not have in its midst a false prophet. It was not defiled with a Jezebel seducing  the brethren and sisters. It was not apathetic and  lukewarm… It was facing very hard circumstances faithfully, the members were poverty stricken but  faithful… and yet, the Lord did not say: “I’m going  to make it easier for you… I’m going to crush the  synagogue and burn it… your enemies will be taken  away in a moment, your lands and homes will be  restored…” His message was quite the opposite  (to paraphrase), “brace yourself… there’s more to  come”.

All Christ offered the Smyrnan ecclesia in the  short term was:

  • comfort (in that he understood what they were going through…)
  • more persecution
  • the distinct possibility of a violent death
  • poverty… and
  • grief and sorrow at the death of loved ones. The scenario long term (after a violent death):
  • a crown of life.

All this ecclesia was really offered by our Lord was the consolation of the Kingdom.

Was it enough? For this ecclesia, was the consolation of the coming kingdom enough?

Another question: is it enough… for us?

We sometimes face hardship in life, it might be  pressure of some description, financial hardship, sacrifice, family issues and problems… and  we yearn for moments of reprieve, we long for  brighter times and relief from the pressure. But  supposing the Lord’s will is that the pressure is  not to let up – but rather, only increase? What if our circumstances aren’t to change? In the mercy of God, it normally does at some point. We do have moments of reprieve.

If we were informed in a letter from the Lord  that our life from this point forward would consist  of poverty, persecution, and the loss of loved ones…  would the consolation of the Kingdom be enough?  Would we be comforted by the Lord saying:

“I know what you are going through… don’t  worry, you won’t have to die a second time”?  How much is the future our consolation in times  of trouble? How much do we really believe the  kingdom’s coming? Is it enough of a reality?

In this compact little letter the Lord comforts and informs of trial to come and hope beyond, and yet we must remember that the letter did not really  end with verse 7 of Revelation 2. Each ecclesia  received the whole of the book of Revelation and chapter 20 in particular would offer further  consolation to the Smyrnan ecclesia. They would  see themselves exalted in this chapter, whilst their enemy who in AD96 had the mastery over them  would be cast down and imprisoned.

They would see that although they were going  to face terrible persecution, in the end they would  be the last ones standing—with their risen Lord and  with complete mastery over their enemy.

The Lord promised the ecclesia of Smyrna:

He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the  second death

We read in Revelation 20:

6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the  first resurrection: on such the second death hath  no power.

This phrase identifies the Smyrnan class of  brethren. Can we not imagine the ecclesia reading  this and all of a sudden taking particular note due  to the obvious echo of Revelation 2!? They are  reading about themselves in the future!! And what  more does it say?

they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and  shall reign with him a thousand years.

Their destiny is to reign with him! This was  the ‘crown of life’ promised in chapter 2! Can  we overstate the excitement and consolation this  phrase conveyed to them!? Surely not! These  phrases provide further elucidation of the hope  before them!

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and  judgment was given unto them:

Who sits on these thrones? The brethren and  sisters of Smyrna! Instead of being judged, they are  now given the power to judge. Just as their Lord  stood before Annas and Pilate, and will have those  same individuals arraigned before him, the plight  of the Smyrna ecclesia will be reversed as well. The  verse goes on to further identify the brethren and  sisters of Smyrna:

the souls of them that were beheaded for the  witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which  had not worshipped the beast, neither his image,  neither had received his mark upon their foreheads,  or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with  Christ a thousand years.

The likely method of execution for the brethren  imprisoned in Smyrna would be decapitation. And  yet here, those who suffer death in this way are  raised and elevated to rulership with Christ! It is also  significant that the ecclesia of Smyrna was promised persecution “ten days” This was to be a limited, but  sharp and intense period of persecution.

The Consolation offered?

… they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand  years.

This equates to 100 years reigning with the  Lord for every day of persecution at the hands of  the Synagogue of Satan!

The words of Paul would surely express their  feelings at this fact:

Romans 8

18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present  time are not worthy to be compared with the glory  which shall be revealed in us.

And what of their blasphemous enemies?  We know that the members of the ecclesia were  to suffer: the devil shall cast some of you into  prison.

The Smyrnan ecclesia would read Revelation  20:10 with delight:

10 And the devil that deceived them was cast  into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast  and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented  day and night for ever and ever.

The Smyrnans were only to be persecuted for  ten days… a limited period of time… the beast  and false prophet, are tormented day and night  for ever and ever.

There was a glorious consolation held out for  the Smyrnan ecclesia, and as they continued to read  through the book of Revelation, the themes clearly  set forth would console them with the promise of  ultimate victory and everlasting joy in the presence  of their master.

Such was the consolation with which they  faced the ten days of persecution. We repeat the  initial question: Was it enough? It was enough.  Revelation 20 is a prophecy. We know that many  of our brethren and sisters in Smyrna grasped hold  of the consolation Christ offered them and were  indeed faithful unto death. Their crown awaits them.  Their victory is sure. Are we with them?