When You’re Afraid of Tomorrow

Second, he knows our pain and shares it personally. He knows our “affliction.” This word translates thlipsis, meaning “pressure,” a terrible burden which presses down and grinds us up. The Greeks used this word for the stone that grinds wheat into powdery flour, or presses grapes into wine. Jesus knows the burden we are bearing today.

He knows our “poverty” as well. This is the word ptocheia, which means the person who has nothing at all (contrasted with penia, meaning someone who has nothing to spare). Early Christians were typically poor (cf. 1 Corinthians 1.26-27; 2 Corinthians 6.10; James 2.5), and often suffered the confiscation of their goods and property (Hebrews 10.34). But in Smyrna, Christians lost everything. Jesus knows our financial needs, whatever they are.

He knows our “slander.” The word is literally “blasphemy.” The Jewish leaders hated Christians and slandered them in terrible ways. And he knows our pain. When he says “I know” in v. 9, he means that he feels their pain deeply. He has been wherever we are today.

Third, he controls the future. He flatly states, “The devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (v. 10). He knows what will happen to them in the future, but promises a reward far greater than their present sufferings.

“Ten days” means a hard time of limited duration. Jesus may be referring to Daniel’s ten days of testing in Babylon from which he and his friends emerged victorious (Daniel 1.11-16; see also Genesis 24.55). We would say that things will be hard “for a while.” But the eleventh day always comes, and with it our victory.

God will never let us suffer beyond what we can stand: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10.13).

Last, he rewards our faith. When we are faithful unto death, we will receive the “crown of life.” This is the stephanos, the wreath of victory given at the Olympic Games to the victorious. God will give us great reward when we have served him faithfully. James 1.12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

And so, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (v. 11). The “second death” refers to the final, eternal judgment and punishment of the wicked (cf. Rev 20.11-12, 14-15). Jesus warned unbelievers to fear judgment (cf. Luke 12.4-5). But he comforts us with the knowledge that our faith will be rewarded eternally.

The Smyrnan Christians continued to be faithful in the face of an uncertain future. Ignatius wrote to their church around AD 107 these words:

I give glory to Jesus Christ, the God who has thus given you wisdom; for I have observed that you are established in immovable faith, as if nailed to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, both in flesh and spirit, and confirmed in love by the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded as touching the Lord (Ignatius, “To the Smyrnians” 151).

What about the future most worries you today? How would you commit that problem to God, right now?