Jesus informs the believers in Smyrna that further suffering is coming. Some of them are going to be arrested and put to death – prison in those days was usually only a place where people were held before they were executed or used in the arena to fight wild animals. How were they to deal with this information?
First, there had to be a resolve, which was that they were not to be afraid of the sufferings. If this comment had come from someone else, then the believers may have imagined that this was a call to a form of stoicism because the informant would not be able to help them. But since it came from Jesus, his instructions always carry with them the promise of strength to obey them. They would know that he would be with them in the trials.
Second, there had to be realisation of the purpose of trials. Jesus informs them that the trials are designed to test them. Of course, the devil arranges the arrests in order to destroy them, but behind the scenes Jesus uses the adversities to give them authenticity, and from that would flow assurance. The trials would bring good. Moreover they had to realise that the period of trial had been fixed by Jesus and in comparison with other possibilities the period of trouble would be short (ten days).
Sometimes, the will of Jesus for his suffering people is to allow further suffering. Such prolonged suffering does not mean that Jesus ceases to be sovereign. Instead, he is focussed on their sanctification, on their becoming increasingly like him. When the devil is raging and seems about to crush a church, remember that the crushing adds to the fragrance that is recognised in heaven. The beauty of becoming like Jesus reveals the hidden upholding of Jesus that sanctifies his followers.
The Saviour gives a great promise to them. Since the promise is linked to what happened at the athletic games it is possible that he is indicating that their deaths will take place in the arena where races were held. Victors in races received a laurel crown which soon lost its lustre. In contrast, those who will pay the price of martyrdom are assured that they will have endless life.
The gift of life will be given to each of them personally by Jesus when he returns. So the suffering church in Smyrna was told to gather comfort from the certain blessings of the future. Thinking about the life to come would give each of them strength as they passed through a fiery ordeal. Identification with Jesus often means following the path that he walked, which was suffering unto death and raised to glory.