The church in Smyrna refused to worship Jesus and Caesar. They would pay taxes, work hard and generally be good citizens but they would not, could not, offer sacrifices to Caesar as Lord. They only had one Lord, Jesus Christ who had made the ultimate, once for all, sacrifice for them.
The ascended Jesus sent the church a letter through a vision he gave to his disciple John saying “I know your afflictions and your poverty” Rev 2:9. It must have been reassuring to them that Jesus knew their suffering, especially since Jesus had himself experienced it and could empathise with them. But if we expected Jesus to say “I will end your suffering right now” we are sorely disappointed. What’s more, Jesus even starts talking about their future suffering: ” the devil will put some of you in prison..[and] you will suffer persecution” Rev 210. Things were bad and they were about to get a lot worse.
Note that it is “the devil” and not God throwing people in prison. The devil does bad things, God does good things! (When travelling it’s helpful to keep north north and south south or you get lost fast!). The devil tests people through suffering expecting them to fail. He thinks the Christians at Smyrna are fair weather Christians. He though Job was a fair weather follower of God and He thinks that about you and me.
He wants to show up their love, worship and devotion as a shame and thinks he can get them to deny Jesus by putting them in prison. Now, being put in prison in Smyrna was not like it is in the UK. It was not a punishment in itself, rather you where put there while they coerced you to deny Jesus, or until your trial, or before your execution. What was in store for the Christians in Smyrna was torture, the rack, the stake, being burned alive or fed to the lions.
So here is the first crunch point. God’s priority is not the removal of all pain now. “ouch!”. That will come as we shall see but it’s not now. Jesus does not promise an easy life if you follow him but the likely hood of much suffering.
If you are trusting in Jesus because you want an easy life now then you have got the wrong guy! This is not in the small print its writ large in the words of Jesus:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8:34 (ESV)
Next time I will look at a man called Josef Tson who knew this truth all too well.