“I know your afflictions and your poverty – but you are rich!” (Revelation 2:9)
The message of the risen, glorified Christ to the buffeted, impoverished church of Smyrna could well apply to persecuted churches today. Smyrna, in that first century AD, was the ‘nicest’ of the seven cities that feature in the visions of Revelation chapter 2. Smyrna was the birthplace of the poet Homer; its beautiful temple was a centre of Caesar-worship.
The Jews there were permitted to pursue their own religion, unmolested – but not so the Christians! What really counted, however, was the view that Christ had of this oppressed, battered minority.
1. They were the poorest, but purest (v. 9) – and not only in Smyrna itself, but among the other seven churches of the Revelation. The Greek word used for ‘poverty’ here is that used for a vagrant in utter destitution. And from the word ‘rich’ we get our term ‘plutocrat.’ Jesus Christ will not hear a word against these believers. That’s richness!
2. They were the lowest, but honoured. Things would get even worse for them (v. 10) – to the point of prison and death – but to them would be given by Christ ‘the crown of life.’ It was indeed one of the most honoured of all Christian martyrs – Polycarp – who originated from Smyrna; he was burnt to death on September 22nd, 155 AD.
3. They were the feeblest, but unconquerable. Verse 11 – with its promise that those who ‘overcome’ will not be hurt by the ‘second death’ of eternal judgment – applies to all who follow in the line of the Christ-honouring Christians of Smyrna.