Monday, August 19, 2013

Revelation 2:8-11 A Letter from Christ to the Church at Smyrna

Text : Revelation  2 : 1- 7
Title : A  Letter  from Christ  to the Church in Smyrna
Date:  18/08/2013 

The letters to the 7 churches graphically demonstrate the conflict that God's people experience everywhere  and at  all  times in the history of this fallen world. We must never think that we are the only generation hat  find it difficult to  be Christians.  Every century and every generation in the history of the world, ever since the fall of Adam, and  particularly  the church age  ( the last days - the  Christian era),  has seen untold suffering.  Christians  along with the rest of the world have suffered through  wars, famine, disasters- and along with these persecution, misrepresentations,  false  accusations because of their faith in Jesus. A so called golden age of Christianity, following the 16th Century  Reformation whereby we have seen the gospel spreading all over the world  has never been free from  suffering for the church . Wherever the gospel advances  much blood is shed, for Satan  and evil men  hate the gospel, because  the gospel exposes our sin before it frees us.  John says in his gospel: “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who  does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” ( John 3: 19,20) .  The Western World,  which since the  end of World War  II,  has  seen unprecedented peace and prosperity  is now also the prime exporter of   every conceivable sexual sin.  The aggressive  advent of   the  homosexual agenda,  of  abortion and child abuse,  greed and the love of pleasure is fuelled  mostly by  the prosperous Western world.  The Western world now hates the gospel  and we are beginning to see  not only intolerance  against  biblical  Christianity; we are seeing  active steps being taken to  silence the voice  of the  Christian  pastor and prophet.
The reason is quite apparent, and the Bible has an answer for this. Satan, the fallen  angel  hates the light. And concerning the church, the Lord Jesus  has said: “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). Satan takes  active  steps to  resist, oppose and destroy  the  church. He does this through  the world systems. In  countries where there is freedom of  religion, he deceives and undermines  the  foundations of  biblical Christianity , so that what you often see as the church  is not church at all. It is a synagogue of Satan. In countries where Christianity is banned, he  makes sure that Christians get killed. He  works relentlessly  to keep the world in darkness , and Christians  (who have the light) he tirelessly works to oppress so that they lose their perspective and their joy in Jesus.  Every single conflict in this world comes back to this same thing. A profound observation was once made when somebody asked  General Douglas McArthur ( a WWII general ) as to what  the reason for war and conflict was.  He replied: "The problem is essentially theological".  War and every source of conflict   basically boils down to this immense battle between light and darkness,  between good and evil, and with reference to the church  Ephesians 6 makes it very clear that this  battle originates not with flesh and blood  but  through the agency  of the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). The church faces persecution as a direct result of this. The light of the church (symbolised by the golden lampstands -  1:12,13,20)  destroys the work of the dark forces , and therefore the dark forces  work with all their might to extinguish the light.  This  will become graphically apparent as we look into the vision of the seals in Revelation 6 - 8. 
The great encouragement that comes to us through this  Revelation to John is   that all these things that are happening to God's church are known to Him. They are  included in His sovereign decree. They are part of His plan. Amazingly our sovereign God has decreed  that His church should   be purified  in these trials, and  we see this  revealed in chapters 2 & 3. The language  indicates this  - words like  “patient endurance”, “false apostles”, “you have not grown weary”  (Ephesus),tribulation  and poverty“, “slander”, "the devil is about to throw  some of you into prison, that you  may be tested" (Smyrna),  "you dwell where Satan has his throne", "Antipas, my faithful witness, who was  killed among you, where Satan dwells.”   (Pergamum) etc.  The Lord knows all about this: what has happened, what is happening and what will happen !
It is clear that  all these churches suffer incredible ordeals. Observe also that the  churches shine with different degrees of spiritual purity and brilliance. In Smyrna (as we shall  see  today)  the glory of Christ shines brightly, but Sardis has only a few who did not soil their  garments (3:4) . Philadelphia is commended and receives an open door, while Laodicea is made up of lukewarm members.
We  observe that  Christ is concerned about the state of His churches. He is pleased when they do well. He is not pleased when they compromise the truth. In His providence He allows them to experience affliction, so that He may refine the church.  Pure gold and refined metals only emerge when they are tested in the heat of a furnace. So it is with the church. Every church faces the furnace, and the Head of our church allows us to go through this to purify us. The Bible teaches us a profound  theology of suffering.  God clearly works for the good of His church in the midst of  this suffering.

SMYRNA (2:8-11)
This city  is located  approximately 55 kilometres north of  Ephesus on the Aegan  sea. She  was a rival of Ephesus claiming  to be  the first city of Asia in terms of beauty and size.  Today this city  is  called "Izmir”  and she is now  the  second largest city in  modern Turkey. 
As far as the church at Smyrna is concerned, she was probably  founded by the apostle  Paul during his 3rd  missionary journey (AD 53 - 56). Whilst  Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19:1ff) he had daily lectures  in the  hall of Tyrannus. We read in 19:10 :"This  continued  for 2 years, so that all the residents of  Asia  heard the Word  of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”  Now Smyrna wasn't far from Ephesus, and the  people  of Ephesus  most certainly would have been included among the many in the province of Asia who heard the Word of the Lord.
One of the most famous church   fathers was Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 69 – 155). Church history  says that  he was discipled by the apostle John,  who also ordained him to the pastorate  in Smyrna. He was martyred  as an old man.   To this church  the Lord Jesus directs  words of  sympathy and assurance and words  of exhortation and promise.

The Lord Jesus  who identifies Himself here as  “the first and the last (Alpha and Omega)  who died and came to life”   says to this church:          “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Rev. 2:9-11)
Please note:   The Lord Jesus intimately  knows[1]   their tribulation  and  poverty.  Christians in were  often discriminated against and deprived of jobs. They belonged to a lower caste. Becoming a Christian, from an earthly point of view was a real sacrifice. It often  meant hunger, poverty, imprisonment and death. Jesus knows that !  He reminds them however of the reality. They are rich- spiritually rich!  Their reward is in heaven (Matt 5:12).They are storing  up for themselves treasures in heaven (Matt 6:20). For this reason they must not begin to pity themselves.  
The apostle Paul had to remind the Corinthian Christians of this : "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." (2Cor. 8:9) . What perspective and what comfort that their Lord knows all this and has taken care of their  future rewards.
Now consider for a moment the source of their afflictions and poverty! John refers to the slander “of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” It  appears to be the  local community of Jews. They claimed to be God's people racially (descended from Abraham), but not really. Paul in his letter to the Romans (Rom.2:28,29) makes it very clear: "for  no man is  a Jew  who  is one outwardly… but  a man is  one inwardly, and circumcision  is  a matter  of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter."  These Jews  resisted Christ, and they  were deliberately blaspheming God as they persecuted His church under the guise of doing Him service (Jn. 16:2). Thus John  was able to say  that they were  of the  “synagogue of Satan”. Satan is  now introduced as the prime mover behind   the slander  (which caused tribulation and poverty). It is significant  that Satan’s name means "accuser“ or “slanderer". That is precisely what they did! They followed in their father’s footsteps  (v. 9b).

If we find ourselves in such discouraging circumstances, a word of encouragement and perspective is   what is needed, and the Lord Jesus is more than willing to give it  to the Smyrneans.  
Satan is  the cause  of  the  suffering of the Christians, but  we learn that behind and above stands the eternal, sovereign  God who permits these things to happen for a season, and who brings glory for Himself  out of this  suffering of the saints, just as He brought glory out of the cross.
Jesus, from His exalted position in heaven  knows  ahead of time what must be  and He tells  His flock:  “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”   
The Lord Jesus  exhorts the Christians at Smyrna  not to fear.  He exhorts them to be faithful  even to the point of death. Is that not a tall order? Not if we take  into consideration that the  history of God’s faithfulness  proves Him to be trustworthy. He is not in the habit of forsaking His people in their difficulties , and  just as He was with His people  when they  suffered in Egypt ;  just as He was present  with  Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the fire  (Daniel) ,  and just as  He was with Daniel in the Lion's den,  and just as He was  with David  in his many trials , so  the Lord Jesus is with  the church at Smyrna , and so He is with His church today.  "Never will I leave you ; never will I forsake you"  is His promise to Moses ( Deut. 31:6) and Joshua (1:5) and  also to N.T. saints ( Hebrews 13:5). We shall only persevere to the end by the grace of God. In our own strength we would  never withstand persecution.
The  Lord Jesus  tells  His people that  this  is for the purpose of testing.  Once again we learn that  even though Satan does this , God uses   such testing to purify His church.
The Lord Jesus says  that this persecution will be very limited - 10 days - painful yes ; but nevertheless a very limited time. The fact that it is expressed by days and not by months or years , should encourage the church at Smyrna. The Scripture speaks in a number of places of such short seasons of suffering , which serve as an encouragement to endurance ( Is 26:20 ; 54:8 ; Mt 24:22 ; 2 Cor  4:17 ; 1 Pet 1:6)
The Lord Jesus  ends with a word  of  promise : "Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life". This refers to the crown of eternal life, which all who belong to the Lamb , and all whose names are written in the book of life, shall receive. An added admonition and promise follows : "He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." Polycarp and Antipas of Smyrna  might have died the first death ( which we all must die i.e. the separation between body and soul). The Lord  Jesus does not promise His people that they will not get hurt in this process  - but they certainly will not be hurt in the second death which is eternal separation between the soul and the Saviour God.

What is the Spirit saying?
Jesus knows all about  the  church’s  trials. He knows  that we have been slandered and misrepresented by  those who say that they are Christians but are not. He is telling us: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Satan is testing you, but those who belong to Christ will survive the fire  of testing.” Thank God that He is in charge ! Be faithful unto death, and don’t be afraid  of that death. Fear God! He has the power to  keep your soul for heaven. He also  has the  power to cast the  soul that has not trusted Him in Christ  into eternal hell – the second death.  Be faithful unto death and receive the promise - the crown of eternal life. Amen

[1] Gr.  “oida”  - word used for intimate knowledge 

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