Read Revelation 2:8-11
8 “Write this to the angel of the Church in Smyrna: ‘These words are spoken by the first and the last, who died and came to life again. I know of your tribulation and of your poverty—though in fact you are rich! I know how you are slandered by those who call themselves Jews, but in fact are no Jews but a synagogue of Satan. Have no fear of what you will suffer. I tell you now that the devil is going to cast some of your number into prison where your faith will be tested and your distress will last for ten days. Be faithful in the face of death and I will give you the crown of life. Let every listener hear what the Spirit says to the Churches: ‘The victorious cannot suffer the slightest hurt from the second death.’ (JBP)
Appearances can be deceiving. The ancient church at Smyrna was poor and persecuted, even though it was in a prosperous city. They were being attacked by Jewish extremists who were themselves betraying their true heritage. In fact, much of the early persecution of the church was from such quarters: only later did the Romans start cracking down.
And yet those same local Christians were in fact rich in a spiritual sense. They might have looked like losers but were really winners. They would share in the victory of Jesus assuming they stayed true to him. Like Jesus himself, they would endure suffering. Like Jesus, they would look like being defeated but would in fact be triumphant. That phrase, “the second death” refers to eternal estrangement from God. We all must die physically, but those in Christ do not stay dead: they avoid that second death.
We can so easily conclude that those Christians who meet in our day in draughty halls, singing out of tune some long-forgotten songs, and who are few in numbers, are pathetic losers. We can easily write off an unobtrusive Christian who never seems to have bright ideas or say very much at all. Just as there would have been some who would have written off a dishevelled Jewish man hanging on a cross one Friday long ago.
We need to see things and people and churches through God’s eyes. We need to grasp his ability to spy out treasure where we may only see trash.