May 8, 2020
Postcard to Those in Pain
By Skip Heitzig
One of the reasons I love music so much is that it's universal in its appeal. I've been in countries where I've picked up a guitar and didn't play anything really good, yet people liked hearing me play. There's something else that's universal: the language of pain. We don't like to hear its message, but it certainly speaks loud and clear when it comes.
In Revelation 2, Jesus wrote a postcard to a group of people in pain: those in the church of Smyrna, who were suffering persecution for their faith. In verse 9, He told them, "I know your…tribulation." In the original language, the word tribulation means to be crushed, like a heavy stone grinding wheat or squeezing juice out of grapes. Smyrna was a huge, wealthy city filled with shrines and temples to all sorts of gods and goddesses. Because Christians were very exclusive in their worship of the one true God, it got them into trouble.
Part of this trouble was that they were cut off from the right to make a living, and Jesus noted this: "I know your…poverty" (v. 9). In that day and age, a lot of persecution against the Christian church also came from those in the Jewish community, many of whom had the ears of the Roman government (see v. 9b). They would circulate reports and rumors about Christians, and this upset the Roman Empire and resulted in even greater persecution.
But look at the counsel Jesus gave the church: "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" (v. 10). Jesus offered no solution to their pain. In fact, He predicted it would get worse. As Paul promised, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
But Jesus did know everything they were going through. He opened up His postcard by saying, "These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 'I know your works, tribulation, and poverty'" (vv. 8-9). The word know refers to knowledge by experience, not observation. That would have been a comfort to them. He's been through it all. He knows the end from the beginning.
Jesus also offered them the crown of life: "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 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" (vv. 10-11). Here was Jesus at the finish line, saying, "I have your victor's crown. Just keep coming—be faithful." Now, what is the second death? That's spiritual death. Those in Smyrna were facing physical death, but they'd only die once, then they'd be with Jesus forever in eternity.
Most of us are probably not suffering to the extent the church at Smyrna was. Regardless, whenever you suffer, you have a choice: you can allow the pain to be either a heavy stone that crushes you and makes you bitter or a chisel that shapes you. So take this to heart: things for you may get better, stay the same, or get worse, but the First and the Last will be right there with you through it all.