If you are facing a sentence of death – a bad report, a scary diagnosis, the loss of a business – you would do well to read Christ’s letter to the church at Smyrna. It’s the shortest of the seven Revelation letters, yet death is mentioned three times in four verses.
(Bonus fact: the name Smyrna means myrrh, which is also the name of a spice we associate with death. Myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare Christ’s body for burial (John 19:39), and myrrh mixed with wine was also the last thing Jesus tasted before he died on the cross (Mark 15:23, John 19:30).)
The sentence of death
This letter about death was written by One who calls himself “the first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life” (Rev. 2:8).
Jesus writes because some of the saints in Smyrna are going to be put to death. That’s bad news. But the good news is that Jesus has been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. (Revelation 2:10a)
The Jesus of the Gospels warned his disciples that they would be hauled before the courts for the sake of his Name (Matt. 10:17–18), and it’s the same warning here. The saints in Smyrna were already suffering, but their troubles were about to get worse. “After ten days of prison, some of you will be put to death” (Rev. 2:10).
To those about to die, Jesus says “Do not fear.”
Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17b–18)
Do not fear?! How is it possible to not fear death? Because the Risen Lord has conquered the grave.
All die, but not all fear death. Death is inevitable, but fear is a choice. When you see Jesus who was dead but has come to life, faith rises and fear diminishes.
Some read “Do not fear” as a command that must be obeyed, but Jesus is dispensing grace. He’s giving a timely word of encouragement. He’s inviting us to walk by faith.
The sentence of life
Jesus wants the saints at Smyrna to know that the coming trouble will last only a short time. Those who get through it will endure on his account, while those who don’t survive will have the joy of meeting him face-to-face.
Smyrna was not the only church where the saints were persecuted for their faith, but no church suffered more. The believers were bullied into poverty, their reputations were besmirched, and some of them were burned at the stake.
They paid the ultimate price.
Jesus forewarned them to prepare them. He wanted them to know that he, not death, has the last word. “After death, life!”
What is Christ’s message for us?
Fear not, for Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
If you have received the sentence of death, perhaps in the form of a bad medical report or a lost opportunity, take heart: Death does not have the final word. The Alpha and Omega is the beginning and the end.
The One who was raised to life is with you in your trial. He will never leave you. And he invites you to see beyond the curtain of the present to the realm of the everlasting.
As a dearly loved child of the Most High, you have nothing to fear for nothing can separate you from his love. No matter how bad it gets, even if your heart stops beating and they bury your body in the ground, there is hope.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:4–6)
Put your trust in Jesus for he will never let you go.