Sometimes marriage is just plain hard. We face all kinds of difficulties. Does God really understand what we’re going through? How can the words of Jesus help us in times like these?
We continue our study this week on finding wisdom for marriage from the Book of Revelation. (Links to the other posts in this series can be found on our Couple’s Bible Study page.)
This week we look at the letter to the church at Smyrna. It also holds great wisdom for us as we seek a strong marriage. It is found in Revelation 2:8-11:
We know from verse eight that while John penned this letter, the words are those of Jesus. John is simply the scribe.
The description of the messenger as “the First and the Last” refers to God all the way back to the Old Testament. We read in Isaiah 44:6: “This is what the Lord says, ‘Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.’” The description of the messenger as he “who died and came to life again” is a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Jesus is directly addressing the church at Smyrna…and us. So these are words that we should listen to carefully.
Jesus Understands Us
Jesus says He understands us. Two times in verse nine He says “I know.”
The author of Hebrews assures us in Hebrews 4:14-15: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
This gives us great assurance in our marriage. In fact, in the next verse in Hebrews we see what having Jesus as our Savior does for us. Hebrews 4:16 states: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
What does Jesus know and understand about us?
First, He knows “[our] afflictions and [our] poverty” (v.9). Jesus certainly knew poverty. He was approached by a “teacher of the law” (Matthew 8:19) who told Him that he would follow Him wherever He led. Jesus’ response to this man is found in Matthew 8:20: “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’”
Jesus fully understands whatever we go through in our marriage. Suffering? Pain? Slander against us? Rejection by friends and family members? Jesus experienced all of that. Feeling rejected by even the one with whom we are to be one–our husband or wife? Jesus experienced this feeling of rejection, too.
He died on a cross after all but one of His disciples had fled from Him. We also read what He cried from the cross in Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli lema sabachthani?’” (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).
We joke about the statement, “I feel your pain.” But Jesus really does. Because He experienced it and felt it Himself.
We Will Face Difficult Times, as Jesus Did
The overall message of these verses is that in our life and in our marriage there will be difficult times.
We may have to endure “poverty,” “affliction,” and “slander” (v. 9). We may face “persecution” and even “death” (v. 10). We are not promised that our lives and marriages will be pain-free and easy.
Don’t believe the words of those who would try to tell you that following Christ in your marriage will guarantee ease. Listen instead to what Jesus told His disciples before sending them out to proclaim His message:
“‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved’” (Matthew 10:16-22).
Sounds very much like what Jesus is telling the church at Smyrna here, doesn’t it?
Listen also to what Jesus said to His disciples (and to us) in John 16:33: “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’”
This also is very similar to Jesus’ message to the Christians at Smyrna. He said to them in Revelation 2:10: “‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.’”
Staying Faithful Will Bring Great Blessing
But then He also gives them assurance as they face the difficulties. He says at the end of verse 10: “‘Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.’”
We will face hard times in our life and marriage. But we are guaranteed it is for a great purpose that only God can bring about.
This is why His promise in Romans 8:28 is such a beloved verse to us as His followers. The promise is this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We are called in Revelation 2:10 to remain “faithful, even to the point of death.” This is precisely what God says to us as husbands and wives. When He created marriage, God said in Genesis 2:24: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Jesus explained this further in Matthew 19:6: “‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’”
God makes it very clear as well in 1 Corinthians 7:39. He led Paul to write: “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.” By the way, this applies to husbands concerning their wives also.
Faithfulness to God until death is a command to us in every area of our life, including our marriage.
The result of remaining true to God and His Word is far greater than any problems that we may encounter as a result of our faithfulness. We will receive the “victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10). The word used here for the crown is “stephanos” in Greek. It refers to the crown of victory given to the winner of an event at athletic games.
It reminds us of Paul’s desire for his life. He writes in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:12-14: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
This is the goal we should have for our life and marriage. This is the goal we will have if we will do as God instructs us in Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
We will enjoy the promise given to the Christians in Smyrna in Revelation 2:11: “‘The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.’” We can live out Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28: “‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’”
Knowing our Lord understands what we go through is comforting. And following His example to stay faithful no matter what difficulties we may face will bring great blessing in our relationship with Him and make our marriage stronger.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
♦ Read this week’s teaching together. Discuss how God is speaking to and leading the two of you.
♦ Are you going through a difficult time in your lives and/or marriage right now? If you are, do you believe that Jesus understands what you are experiencing? Do you believe that He will bring good out of it for you and your marriage? If so, pray and thank Him asking Him to help you to continue to believe this. If you are struggling to believe this, pray and be honest with Him, and ask for His help to trust Him.
♦ Are you living your lives for Christ individually and together? Is that your purpose and commitment? Are you seeking His guidance in every decision you make? Is your greatest desire to follow Him, serve Him, and glorify Him? If so, how can you continue to keep your focus there? If not, what can you do to start making that your focus?
♦ Close your time together in prayer. Ask God to help you get or keep your focus on Him. Ask Him to use you in each other’s lives to do this. Make a commitment together to make and keep Christ the center of your lives with His help.
Next week we will continue our study of how Jesus’ words to the churches in Revelation speak to our marriage. We will look at the message to the church at Pergamum.