When the apostle John read Jesus’ letter to the church of Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) there was a young man there named Polycarp, who would later become famous for his writings and his gruesome death. What I can’t stop thinking about is that this man served Jesus for decades. It’s recorded that Polycarp worshiped Jesus for 86 years, with at least 60 of those years as a pastor of the church in Smyrna.
The message to his church encouraged Polycarp to remain faithful until death. Jesus made this letter available to us in his Word so that our suffering and trials might be transformed from something to be feared to something we can celebrate. Jesus wants the story of our lives to end with the words “Faithful until Death," and to help us arrive at this he gives five main points to consider.
First, Jesus reminds us of the gospel. Christ himself was faithful to death. He gave up all his rights and privileges as God and died on a cross, defeating our sins. He then came back to life, defeating death. Jesus destroyed our two greatest enemies!
Second, Jesus sees when his church suffers and is mocked, so he reminds us of three things: 1) He cares for us, 2) He is blessing us in our trials (even when we don’t see it), and 3) he is keeping record of those who slander us. He will either judge the slanderers on the last day, or take their sins on himself and adopt them as our fellow brothers and sisters in the gospel. Be encouraged that your trials are not in vain.
Third, Jesus encourages us not to be afraid. We were once enslaved by things in this world. We all used to be enemies of God. But Jesus declares that he has died for you and has risen from death, so you are now free. No one can take that away from you. Jesus encourages us not to be afraid of what people can do to us, because we have been set free, and ultimately, they can’t touch our souls.
"Christians will suffer, but our goal is not martyrdom."
Fourth, Jesus honestly says that for some of us the trials are going to get worse. Everyone who follows Jesus as king of their life will suffer. Some will even experience torture and death. A conservative statistic estimates that 180,000 Christians are killed every year because of their faith. This averages out to someone being killed every 3 minutes. Living Stones supports several missionaries in parts of the world where it is extremely dangerous to be a Christian, and every once in awhile we receive a message that a pastor or a missionary has been killed. Reading these messages as a member of the church is hard - I can’t fathom the pain of the families and friends who grieve the loss. You may never experience torture or death, but you will suffer for Christ. However, the goal is not martyrdom. Jesus does not like it when his children start throwing rocks at others, get themselves beat up or killed for it, and say they suffered for the kingdom. Our goal is to simply be faithful, even unto death.
Finally, Jesus rewards us. In the most beautiful of exchanges, Jesus pays for our sins, gives us his Spirit to remain faithful, and then rewards us for the work his Spirit does in us. We are reminded at the end of this letter that those who are in Jesus will find rest and reward at the end of this life, not judgement.
To those who read this blog, I encourage you not to idolize the things that you do as a Christian, but instead keep looking at Jesus, remind yourself of the gospel, and remain faithful until death.