Be Ready to Suffer
Jesus wrote a letter through the apostle John who was exiled on the Isle of Patmos, just a short distance from Ephesus. He wrote the seven letters Jesus dictated to him, and then sent them by boat to Ephesus where there was a world-renowned library and book distribution center. Those letters were copied down and distributed around the postal route (the geographical circle of the locations of the seven churches). Smyrna was the first city, about forty miles from Ephesus. Can you imagine their reaction when they read Jesus’ letter telling them that someone was coming to kill them? That would have been quite a shock!
How did Smyrna get under such a wave of persecution? The problem of that day was called “Emperor Worship.” In A.D. 26, during the life of Jesus Christ, an altar was built to Emperor Tiberius. He was on the throne of the Roman Empire that controlled the entire western world at that time. In the center of Smyrna a temple to Tiberius was built. On it was an inscription that said: “This is dedicated to the glorious Emperor God Tiberius.”
To remain an accepted part of the Empire, each person had to declare his or her loyalty to the emperor by visiting the temple, scooping a pinch of incense, and putting it on the fire. Afterward, a certificate was given to certify that you passed. That was the one act that unified the masses of people in the Roman Empire. However, most Christians would not do this because it required them to say, “Caesar is Lord.” This ritual was not enforced upon Christians until A.D. 94, when the letter to the church at Smyrna was written.
It was A.D. 94 when Emperor Domitian said, “If you will not take that incense and throw it on the fire, in honor of me as god, then you will be killed because all the Empire will worship me!” When Domitian commanded even the Christians to confess “Caesar is Lord,” or pay the price of death, Jesus wrote them the letter recorded in Revelation 2:8-11.
The church at Smyrna was about to face the ultimate test of their lives: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10). The choice before them was this: Deny Christ, and live; worship Christ—and die! If you were to face that edict today, do you know how you would respond?
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