One of the threats that the disciples of Jesus faced in the book of Revelation is that of “trouble” (thlipsis – affliction, distress, oppression, hardship, tribulation). John states that he shares in this trouble, which would include his banishment to Patmos for preaching God’s word (Rev. 1:9). The Christians at Smyrna had already suffered some distress (Rev. 2:9), but more is coming (Rev. 2:10). For the saints at Smyrna, their “trouble” included economic discrimination and slander (Rev. 2:9) and it is going to escalate into some being imprisoned and possibly death (Rev. 2:10).
In the larger framework of Revelation “trouble” comes in several forms. There is “unofficial” or non-governmental oppression, which includes: harassment for being identified as a Christian (Rev. 2:3, 9; 3:8-9); economic and/or social deprivation (Rev. 2:9); and slander (Rev. 2:9). There also seems to be “official” or governmental oppression in form of imprisonment (Rev. 2:10); economic (Rev. 13:17); and violent death (2:10; 11:7; 17:6). John attributes the ultimate source of “affliction” to Satan (2:9, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:3-4, 12-17), whether the trouble comes through social or political channels.
I understand the above “troubles” to refer to the late first century and the context of the Roman empire (that is the context in which John originally wrote) and not to some future “tribulation” (I have deliberately not used the word “tribulation” above because of the various problematic connotations the word carries in our time). This does not mean that there is no application of this material for the people of God today. Like all the New Testament, none of it was originally written “to” us, but it is written “for” us to learn from and apply to lives.
The call to “faithful until one dies” (Rev. 2:10) is as relevant for the people of God today as it was when John wrote it nearly two thousand years ago. This is a call to remain faithful all of one’s life following conversion. This is also a call to be faithful even if (when) life gets turbulent because of following Jesus. Following Jesus still can still have social and economic repercussions. In some situations, it means that faithfulness might lead to death itself like it did for Jesus.
Christianity requires perseverance, but we persevere in Jesus. In Jesus, our life is not trouble free, but we can endure whatever trouble, opposition, suffering, affliction, hardship, or distress comes to us because of Jesus, through our relationship with Jesus and the church. We know this is true because Jesus is the one “who was dead and has come life” (Rev. 2:8).