Suffering, Death, and Resurrection
By Anthony Casperson
Have you ever been depressed and had someone say that they know how you feel? Things in your life are at some of the worst possible places. And then here’s this person giving you the most trite of platitudes.
Of course, they don’t know how you’re feeling. They’ve never been in this same position. Their life has never been in such trouble. They’ve never actually faced what is ahead of you.
But instead, if you know that the one trying to console you has faced similar difficulty, their words might not raise such anger amid your depression.
(Although, as a side note, even then it would be better for a person to say that they’ve experienced similar moments, instead of saying that they know how you feel. It’s better because a wide variety of factors might make one person’s experience in similar circumstances have somewhat different levels of stress.)
Having camaraderie in our suffering is always better than mere words of platitude. Once we realize that we’re not alone in our suffering, a bit of the pressure releases. We have someone to talk to, someone to live alongside, who we know won’t judge us because of our feelings. A person who won’t think that our questions make us lesser.
This is where the church in Smyrna were during the time of John’s writing of Revelation. In our continuing series, called “Summer Revelation,” through the first few chapters of the last book of the bible, we can see Jesus’ words of consolation to the suffering church in Revelation 2:8-11.
Suffering and death were strongly on the minds of these people. So much so, that Jesus points back to John’s description of him in chapter 1 with the emphasis on the one who is the “first and the last, who died and came to life.”
Jesus had been in similar circumstances. Hated. Persecuted. Put on trial and left with the death penalty. If anyone truly could stand in camaraderie with the church in Smyrna it was the one who had faced death and defeated it by resurrecting. The one whose life had been bookended with the embalming perfume called myrrh, which it what Smyrna means in the Greek.
This one who had died and now lives speaks to the suffering church, commending them for suffering well. He knew their tribulation and poverty in earthly wealth. Though their spiritual capital left them much richer.
And these followers of Jesus were being slandered by a group of Jewish people that hated them, whom Jesus himself called the Synagogue of Satan because they worked the will of the enemy of God. Something that Jesus had also experienced with the Pharisees and Sadducees before his crucifixion.
So Jesus knew what he was talking about when he warns the church of Smyrna that more suffering was coming. But his emphasis was on telling them not to be afraid of what was coming. Imprisonment, tribulation, and (for some) death.
He’d seen it, been there. He bears the scars. It’s not like he’s someone whose read the book and has theoretical understanding of what others could experience. Pain, sorrow, and suffering have coursed through him. The burial scent poured over his body.
But he lives now a resurrected life. A life that is promised to those who stand faithful even in death. The victory crown of life given even as death tries to take its bite.
To those who hear, of the church in Smyrna and all we who follow Jesus, if we stand victorious at the end, the second death will never take hold of us. Though our bodies might die by the hand of the enemies of God, it will be the only death we taste. Unlike those enemies, who will spend eternity in hell, the eternal death that has been prepared for Satan, but will hold all who followed that enemy of God.
When we feel suffering, when the world seems to be totally against us, when death seems like the only possible outcome, we can be sure that Jesus stands beside us. His comfort isn’t just some platitude. It’s the upholding of one who has experienced not only the death of this world, but the resurrection of the next.
He is the God-man who died, yet lives. And is here with us.