Revelation 2:10: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
The original persecution of Christians is described in the New Testament and was from the unbelieving Jews. It was the Jews of Judea that came into direct conflict with Christ in the Gospels and were the instruments of His arrest, condemnation and crucifixion. The Roman Empire did not distinguish between Christians and Jews until later at the time of Nero, or perhaps Hadrian. Even then the persecution under the Roman government was often at the instigation of the unbelieving Jews, as is indicated clearly in the New Testament as well as secular Roman history.
The tribulation under Nero may have been instigated by his wife, Poppea, who was a Jewish proselyte and a probable source of accusations against Christians . Poppea had requested and received favors for the Jews and had retained the High Priest Ismael and Helcias the treasurer. (Josephus’ Antiquites 20.2, also footnote; see also Eusebius, History of the Church, 104-5).
There were several other periods of intense persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. Those under Domitian, (circa AD 96), and Diocletian, (circa AD 245-313), are well documented by secular historians. However, in New Testament times, it was the Jews that “had the greater sin, John 19:11.”
“Persecution of the early Christians was sometimes because they would not bear arms and because they would not worship the emperor. As the Empire weakened some saw its collapse as a prelude to the fall of ‘Babylon’ and the return of Christ. The persecution under Diocletian lasted for 8 years and about 1500 Christians died. Some denied the faith and the Church seemed weakened for a time but the example and testimony of the martyrs became the source of many-fold converts. ‘The blood of martyrs,’ said Tertullian, ‘is seed’.
“‘There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won,'” (Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization, Part III, (Simon and Schuster, 1944), p. 652.
The message of Revelation 2:10 has strengthened every persecuted saint since that time with the command: “Fear not!” A fearless people are unconquerable.
The Crown of Life
The idea of the “Crown of Life” promised here is not taken from the ornamental headdress worn by kings as a symbol of their status, power and authority. It is rather from the idea of the crown of a plant, which is indeed a crown of Life.
The crown of a plant is that amazing cell or clump of cells from which the plant grows and increases. It is the life-producing part which reaches upward toward the light of the sun and multiplies itself continually. At the same time, it is reaching downward into the earth for the water and nutrients required to sustain its growth and produce fruit. Some plants will die if this crown is destroyed. Others will create new crowns at the leaf junctures. In any case, the plant grows only from the crown.
The idea of the king’s crown no doubt originated from the plant crown. It indicates a life source, or eternal life. When associated with mortal kingship, it is therefore a form of idolatry, since it is ascribing attributes of deity to a mortal man. A prominent and enduring motif of this symbol is the fleur de lis, combining the idea of the plant crown and the king’s crown.
This lesson is an edited excerpt from my book, Revelation in Context, available locally at the Living Word Bookstore in Shawnee, Oklahoma or www.Amazon.com, or www.XulonPress.com.
Free downloads are also available at www.revelationincontext.sermon.net.