“The Church of Smyrna”
Smyrna is a Greek word for myrrh, a bitter herb used both as an anointing oil and for embalming, and was one of the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus as a young child (Ex. 30:23; Esth. 2:12; Psalm 45:8; Prov. 7:17; Matt. 2:11; John 19:39). The churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia were the only two of the seven that were fully praised by Christ. Even though Smyrna was praised, they were treading on dangerous ground. They were starting to be bitter as their name applies. After facing much persecution, they became belligerent against Christ and turned against one another, forsaking their call and duty. They had the opportunity to learn and grow from their situation, but instead, they chose bitterness and strife. They embraced fearfulness instead of faithfulness.
Like the church of Smyrna, we will all face sufferings and trials. It is not the questioning of them to help us cope, but how we learn and deal with them that help shape our spiritual formation. The trials we face will be used to enrich our own lives and make us a beacon to help others in their trials, too. When we cave in to our fears, we will only be insolvent in real poverty, bankrupted spiritually because of our opposition to Christ as our Lord and Sustainer.
John is grabbing their attention by reminding them (and us) who Christ is and what He has done. He is not just a Savior and/or best Friend; He gives us life, holds our lives, and will judge our lives. He is the One who overcame life and death for our benefit, and when we seek to run His church our way, we embarrass and dishonor Him and His Way. Jesus lived life in purity and sinlessness for our benefit, to enable us to have eternal life and partake in His fellowship. He knows us more intimately that we can imagine and desires that we be in Him and glorify Him fully. Yet, we tend to fill His call with the void of our stubbornness, recklessness, and selfishness. Yet, He is there, guiding us with a beacon that says I know your pain, I felt your pain, I have experienced your pain and I feel your pain now, too. He has taken our pain away. The tribulations we face are not the things that can derail us from Him; rather, they can form us more in Him in maturity and character.
These letters to the seven churches echo the good, the bad, and the ugly in all churches. They are styled similarly to O.T. Prophets and their oracles against the corrupt and the call to repentance, as in “let’s get it right” (Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32; Amos 2-4). Jesus directly challenges them, and us, in how we operate our church, what we doing right, where we are straying, what is heinous about us, and what we can do to get back on track. Christ is here, caring, and is present in our church! He is passionately concerned with what we do and how we do it, and wants to be intimately involved (Matt. 7:20; 10:16; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 John 4:1).