When God Doesn’t Seem to Have Much to Say — A Lesson from the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8–11)
How would you like to get a letter from Jesus?
Revelation 2–3 is my favorite part of that book. It contains the seven letters from Jesus to seven churches in the province of Asia.
But there’s something that bothers me every time I read it.
Why did the church in Smyrna get the shortest letter?
I find it odd because Smyrna looks like the church that was suffering the most.
Whatever you make of the symbolism of these seven letters, first and foremost, they’re messages from Jesus to real churches. These were letters to your brothers and sisters in the great cloud of witnesses.
The worst of the persecution seems to be in Smyrna.
Of the seven churches, they were the only ones facing imprisonment for the gospel.
Smyrna was the only other church besides Philadelphia that Jesus had nothing negative to say about. Yet the letter to the church in Philadelphia was twice as long as the letter to Smyrna.
In case you’re curious, here’s the word count, in the Greek New Testament, for each of the seven letters:
There at the top is Thyatira. Jesus had some good things to say about that church. But they also had a problem with someone He calls “Jezebel.” The letter to Thyatira is so long because Jesus took 86 words to address that problem.
Jezebel got almost as many words as the church in Smyrna.
This is what Jesus said to the church in Smyrna: “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”
To other churches it was “Hold fast to what you have until I come” or “I am coming quickly, hold fast to what you have so that no one takes your crown.”
Smyrna got “Be faithful unto death.”
It’s almost as if Jesus was saying: “And to the church in Smyrna write…you know what, never mind. They’re coming to see me soon anyway.”
They got the shortest letter.
I would have given them the longest one.
What lesson can we take from this?
Is the lesson that even Jesus has to oil the squeaky wheel? I don’t think that’s the lesson.
Consider this. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned His disciples against measuring their prayers by their word count. You don’t need a lot of words, He told them, because your Father already knows your needs and He knows you.
Maybe Jesus didn’t need to use so many words with Smyrna because they knew Him so well.
Maybe a few words to them went further and did more than a lot of words to Thyatira.
Maybe the saints in Smyrna didn’t need a long letter because they were focused on hearing the two words that really matter: “Well done.”