In America, too often we believe following Jesus equals comfort and prosperity. When we sign up to walk after Christ we sign up for a life of occasional problems, but mainly ease and peace. Church is the place we gather to talk to like-minded folks and hear some nice words about the Bible but not a place to regroup and then go fight. We do not expect our Christian faith to cost us. This also means that when we do run up against something difficult or a time of hardship we expect Jesus to deliver us. This can be something as small as a broken vehicle or something as large as cancer. Our assumptions about discipleship mean we expect Jesus to rescue us, especially when we are faithful.
But in this life Jesus does not always deliver the faithful. The church at Smyrna (Revelation 2: 8-11) found this out. When Jesus comes to them they are a church that has already suffered. Jesus says he knows their works. He knows their “tribulation and poverty.” Because they followed Him they have already sacrificed. Their love for God has made them poor. Though there is not direct praise, it is clear from verse 9 that Jesus is pleased with their steadfast faith in the midst of persecution.
What do you think is going to happen now? Surely Jesus is going to swoop in like one of the Avengers and rescue this faithful church. Smyrna has been faithful now they will be rewarded with peace, right? No. In fact, he takes them the exact opposite direction. Jesus says, “Do not fear the things you are about to suffer.” More suffering is coming, a suffering so great they will be tempted to fear and possibly abandon the faith. Jesus is not promising them an easy time. But it gets better. The Devil is going to throw some of them into prison. You are already poor, but you will become poorer. You have lost your possessions. Now you will lose your freedom. Then comes the crowning moment, they will die. Jesus says, “Be faithful until death.” The implication is clear. “I am not going to rescue you this time.”
There are a lot of lessons in these few verses. Jesus knows our suffering. Jesus is with us in our suffering. Because of that we need not be afraid. If we overcome, we will not be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:11) because our Lord was dead and came back to life (Rev. 2:9). If we are faithful to death we will receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).
But the lesson most of us need to hear is that Jesus does not always rescue the faithful in this life. We all know this in our heads, but our day to day life does not reflect this truth. We expect ease and comfort. But he does not always take us from green pasture to green pasture. Sometimes he takes us from very little grass to no grass at all. Sometimes he moves us from loss of a job to cancer or from one friend stabbing us in the back to being lynched by a whole bunch of former friends. We can be faithful to Jesus and become poor. We can be faithful to Christ and enter tribulation. We can be faithful and Jesus lets the Devil throw us in prison. We can be faithful and Jesus says, “I want you to die.” Is this the Jesus we follow? A Jesus who might tell us, “Good job suffering. Now I want you to suffer more.”