“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:9-10)
Relate: Smyrna was a city in Turkey right up until the 1920’s. Well, technically it still exists today but the name was changed just over ninety years ago. World War I was effectively over for most but in southeast Europe it continued to rage on. According to the partition of the Ottoman Empire that was part of the ending of WWI, The Western coast of the Anatolian Peninsula was to belong to Greece. This only made sense as Greece had gained their independence only eighty years before and much of the land they were to receive was predominantly Greek anyways.
They landed their troops in Smyrna six months after WWI had officially come to a close and from there things began to go horribly wrong. By 1922 Smyrna was the only place the Greeks still occupied and even that was a desperate holding action until the hundreds of thousands of Greek and Armenian refugees could be offloaded. Mustafa Kemal, now known as Ataturk, entered the city with his troops on September 8 and immediately the rape and murder of the 400,000 remaining refugees began. There was just one problem. They weren’t killing people fast enough. Far more were being offloaded onto a flotilla of Greek ships then were dying.
That’s when the fires started. Soldiers made a perimeter of the Greek and Armenian portions of the city preventing anyone from escaping while soldiers set fire to the buildings within. The numbers vary but between fifty and a hundred thousand Greek and Armenian Christians were immolated in that fire. American and British and French ships remained off the coast maintaining their immunity while Turkish bands played as loud as they could to drown out the screams of the dying. The only non Greek ship to assist was a Japanese freighter that dumped its cargo into the sea to pack in as many refugees as it could rescue. On that day Christian Smyrna was destroyed and Muslim Izmir rose from the ashes.
React: In Revelations, when Jesus was dictating the letter to Smyrna, I wonder if the genocide that wiped out about 1.5 million Armenians and nearly a million Assyrian, Greek, and Georgian Christians, was a part of what He was looking ahead to when He encouraged them to remain faithful through persecution. The burning of Smyrna was the capstone, the final event of a slaughter of over two million Christians. The 20’th century began with the slaughter of over thirty two thousand Christians in China during the Boxer Rebellion (1900), through the Armenian genocide, the slaughters under communism in Russia, China, and North Korea, and ended with the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East under Islam. Under Saddam Hussein there were 1.4 million Christians. Now that America has “liberated” Iraq from that despot, that number has shrunk down to under a hundred thousand (and even that number was before ISIS came on the stage). The twentieth century saw more persecution and murder of Christians then every century up to then combined.
Although they were experiencing the worst circumstances of any of the seven churches of Revelation, Christ had nothing negative to say about the church of Smyrna. Neither do I have anything negative to say of my brothers and sisters in countries next door who are experiencing hardships that I can only begin to imagine. Last night I came home to find my house broken into. Things were rummaged through but nothing was stolen. I’d guess that’s because I don’t really have anything worthwhile to steal. All day long I’ve had this “woe is me” attitude but then I read this. It is time to put things back in perspective. I have Christ and therefore I am as rich as can be. So are those I know who who are risking their lives by abandoning Islam and coming to Christ. There is a crown of life waiting…
Jesus, I thank You that You came. From before You were born, You were destined to die. Not just any death, You suffered and were brutalized beyond anything we can comprehend. Beyond the grace poured out for me through this, I am grateful because I know You understand the suffering of my Christian brothers and sisters beyond anything I can know. I ask that You would be their peace and their strength. Even as we rejoice and receive gifts this holiday season, help us to not forget hose who are losing everything for Your sake.