We move on to the second of the seven letters in Revelation. This time the letter to the persecuted Church in Smyrna. Jesus has good things to say about the church in Smyrna. It’s a bit harder to determine whether there’s any bad news in here – at least the kind of bad news that the church in Ephesus received. There were certainly warnings. But whether things would actually turn out “badly” was dependent on how well the people in that church listened to and carried out what Jesus said.
Once again, the title comes from the section title in the NKJV. But this time, the title refers to the content of the letter, rather than how Jesus referred to Himself as the author of this letter. Therefore, persecution will be high on our list of things to look at.
First – Blessings in the Seven Letters
If you’re going through the series, you’ve seen this portion before. I’m including it for each letter for those who may only be checking out one of the seven letters.
The Book of Revelation starts with these verses:
Rev 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
We learn something of the importance of each of the letters from this passage. Of course, we get a modern-day evidence chain of sorts, to let us know this is from God. And while John is the recipient of the vision, we saw:
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it …
Just like when Jesus spoke of things like love and believe, He was also saying that the love and belief should be so strong as to bring about action on our part. Not our action alone – and not action to gain love or to have stronger belief. No – it’s about faith and love that are stronger than anything we could ever have ourselves, because it’s God’s meaning of faith and love that we can only achieve with the Holy Spirit.
Then the action follows from having the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit working through us, the actions that we carry out will come from God and be effective the way He intends them to be. In short – it’s not about us. It’s about God.
When we see Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, all of that involves action as a result of having read or heard the prophecy. It takes the Holy Spirit to understand the words, to take them to heart. And once we do that – we should have a desire, also coming from the Holy Spirit, to act on the words. Both for ourselves and for others.
It’s a message that God wants us to hear/read – and then do something with it. As we’ll see, each letter speaks to what Jesus has for and against each of the churches. He lets us know very clearly where we stand in relation to what He wants. To what He taught. Our goal is to be more Christ-like, and when we read this, we can look for ourselves in the letters and know just where we are.
Praying about the Seven Letters and ourselves
We’ll start with praying portions of Psalm 139. Remember that these letters are for us today, as much as for those at the time John put pen to scroll and everyone in between. One really good way for us to ask God to let us know which parts of these letters apply to us as individuals, families, small groups, churches, Etc. is to literally ask Him! And to listen for a response.
As such, let’s begin by praying the verses below, from David to God.
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
Ps 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
Ps 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Ps 139:22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
This Psalm is something we should incorporate into our prayer life. Sometimes maybe we feel like we don’t really want to know what God knows about us. But hey – He already knows, and He still loves us. So why not ask, and then also ask for His help to grow in our journey through this life in faith and the power of the Holy Spirit?
The letter to the church in Smyrna
To the Church in Smyrna
Rev 2:8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 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. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Rev 2:11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
Cultural and historical factors in Smyrna
The origins of the Christian community or communities there are unknown. We know that one of Paul’s associates—Epaphras—took the gospel to Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, perhaps while Paul was working in the ministry hub of Ephesus (Col 1:7–8; 4:13). It is quite possible that the Christian movement got its start in Smyrna during the same period, all the more as Smyrna was a more important city, and far closer to Ephesus, than any of those cities where Epaphras was known to have taken the gospel. 1
Epaphras is only mentioned three times in the new testament. Twice in Colossians and once in Philemon. None of them tell us much about him. However, all three are from Paul, including the one in Philemon, where they were in prison together.
Phm 1:23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 2
Although Smyrna has a long history even before the classical age of Greece, the history of the Smyrna that was home to the Christians addressed by Revelation began after Alexander the Great’s rise to power. The old city had been built around a defensible peak two miles (3.2 km) distant from the shoreline, thriving until it was destroyed by the Lydian kingdom around 600 BC. The area became little more than a cluster of villages until Alexander and his successors reestablished the city, this time at a small distance removed from the original site (Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.5.1–3; Strabo, Geography 14.1.37). The new city would not sit on the fortified hill but by the shore, so that it could enjoy the benefits of a natural harbor at the coast. While it would be significantly eclipsed in maritime trade by Ephesus, the harbor remained a great asset and kept Smyrna firmly on the commercial map. The original harbor has since been overbuilt and buried beneath the modern city, with the result that the modern shoreline is now further west and bears no resemblance to its ancient counterpart. 3
So pretty much nothing remains of Smyrna from Biblical times.
Perhaps because it was a port city and enjoyed trading connections with the west, Smyrna looked more to Rome than to the Greek empires in the east. The city had already built a temple to honor Rōma, the deified personification of the city of Rome, in 195 BC—long before it was popular to do so in the region. In 195 BC, the Seleucid kingdom under Antiochus III was at its greatest strength, and Antiochus was keen on establishing his hold over all of Asia Minor. The city of Carthage in North Africa was still a great power in the west and a significant threat to Rome’s power in the Mediterranean. The outcome of their struggle was still uncertain. Smyrna’s declaration of its loyalty to the rising power in the west as opposed to the established Greco-Syrian kingdom to the east was a sign of extraordinary faith in Rome and her destiny. This loyalty would be long-remembered. In the first century BC, the Roman senator Cicero spoke of Smyrna as “among our most faithful and most ancient allies” (Philippics 11.2.5[LCL]}); Livy would remember the city as demonstrating “extraordinary loyalty” to Rome (History 38.39.11[LCL]). 4
All things considered, “extraordinary loyalty” to Rome means it was extremely difficult to openly be a Christian fulfilling the Great Commission. More on that is coming shortly.
Smyrna’s population during the first and second centuries ad may have risen above one hundred thousand inhabitants. It was once one of the great Greek cities of Asia Minor. Aelius Aristides, speaking of the city’s landscape in the late second century ad, lists its many gymnasia, forums, theaters, odeons, and temples (Orationes 17.8–11). Because the modern city of İzmir sits atop the Roman-period city of Smyrna, very little of the ancient city has been excavated. 5
So let’s take a look at some of those temples and their “gods”.
The civic forum was built around an open court of about 400 by 260 feet (122 × 79.25 m). The east and west sides were lined with two-story, colonnaded porticoes. On the north side stood a two-story colonnaded building constructed on the pattern of a basilica (essentially three long, covered aisles, with the central aisle—the nave—being wider and taller than the two outside aisles), running the length of the forum and sporting a depth of about 90 feet (27.5 m). The basilica was erected over a foundation of an arched, vaulted basement. This basement served as a shopping arcade, which could be entered from the main road behind the forum so as to preserve the decorum of the basilica and civic areas above. An altar to Zeus once stood in the center of the forum, a reminder of the watchful care of the gods and the obligations of the city to its protectors. Part of the facade of this monument now stands in the History and Art Museum in İzmir. It shows, in deep relief and in figures significantly larger than life-size, Poseidon, seated, with Demeter and Artemis standing beside him.
We have Greek gods. Reminders of the people’s obligations to those gods were set up right in the civic forum, with larger than life sculptures. Certainly, they presented obstacles for the early church to overcome when preaching the Gospel. Not to mention, the persecution that inevitably came from those who worshipped the Greek gods.
And let’s not forget, even with all that Greek influence, this was a Roman city.
Like Ephesus and Pergamum, its sister cities with whom it engaged in an ongoing sibling rivalry, Smyrna showed significant devotion to the Roman emperors in the form of worship known as the imperial cult. This is not at all surprising for a city that prided itself on its particular loyalty to Rome and, therefore, to Rome’s rulers. It would also make the question of loyalty—of “faithfulness unto death”—a principal issue for the Christians living within its jurisdiction, as they would come more and more to be forced to choose between loyalty to Caesar and loyalty to Christ.
Can you even imagine the faithfulness and courage it took to try con get people to convert to Christianity, let alone open live as a Christian, when the penalty for both was death?
That’s a lot of competition for the people’s worship. And while most of today’s Christians are relatively passive, these were life and death matters to some. Imagine being under the rule of an Emperor who was supposed to be a god. When we look at some of the horrible things they did to Christians, it took a great deal of courage to worship Jesus.
Without getting into the symbolism behind what’s going on in the passage below, just imagine being in the position of someone who worshipped Jesus.
The Beast out of the Earth
Rev 13:11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. Rev 13:18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.
I did a major update of this series during the COVID-19 stay at home period. It’s been about 8 weeks now. We’re going crazy because we can’t have large gatherings in churches. Somehow we think it’s unconstitutional for the government to forbid large gatherings for the health of the people. That it supposedly prevents our ability to worship God.
I have news for you. There weren’t any large gatherings in those days like what we have now. And there was no constitution protecting anyone’s right to worship anything. There was however, an obligation to worship the Roman Emperor.
I’m afraid to see what happens to many of today’s Christians when Armageddon comes, and the government says worship the beast or die. Will we finally realize that when we have persecution our source of strength and courage is God? Or will we continue to look to the government?
Like Ephesus and Pergamum, its sister cities with whom it engaged in an ongoing sibling rivalry, Smyrna showed significant devotion to the Roman emperors in the form of worship known as the imperial cult. This is not at all surprising for a city that prided itself on its particular loyalty to Rome and, therefore, to Rome’s rulers. It would also make the question of loyalty—of “faithfulness unto death”—a principal issue for the Christians living within its jurisdiction, as they would come more and more to be forced to choose between loyalty to Caesar and loyalty to Christ. 6
In the middle of the second century, Smyrna would become the scene of a great drama of faith as Polycarp, the elderly bishop of the Christian congregation there, was brought to trial in the arena before the provincial governor. The governor might not have known the details of Christian faith and practice, but he knew that it drew people away from giving the gods—including the emperors—their due, and that this Christ and his kingdom was a rival to Rome and her emperors. This could not be tolerated in the city of Rome’s “oldest and most faithful allies.” The governor therefore gave Polycarp an ultimatum: “Swear by Caesar’s fortune; change your mind; say, ‘Away with the atheists’,” or face death in the stadium (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.2). The local police chief urged the old man, “What harm is it to say ‘Caesar is Lord’ and to offer a sacrifice?” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 8.2). But Polycarp could not bring himself to show disloyalty to so great a benefactor as Jesus: “For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has wronged me in no way. How, then, can I revile my king, who rescued me?” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.3). As a result, the elderly bishop was burnt at the stake and, when the fires failed to do the job, stabbed to death.
Issues of loyalty to the emperor and the traditional gods were a major factor in the growing tension between Christians and the civic authorities throughout Asia Minor and its surrounding provinces—witness the famous correspondence between Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia and Pontus, and the emperor Trajan from about 110 AD (Pliny, Epistulae 10.96–97). It is likely that these would have been at the fore of the trials that the glorified Christ predicted for the near future of the Christians in late first-century Smyrna. 7
Break down the letter to the church in Smyrna
So – let’s break down the letter to the church in Smyrna. Please note, as referenced above, not everyone agrees on how to do this. Some split the message between “Divine Knowledge”, the good stuff – and – the “But”, the bad stuff.
I’ve chosen to not do that. I have nothing in the “But” section. My main reason for doing so is the words Jesus has for this church in the “So” section. I’ll explain more later. However, having said that, there’s nothing wrong with disagre
|To||the angel of the church in Smyrna|
|From||him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.|
|Divine Knowledge||I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.|
|So -||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. Be faithful, even to the point of 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.
|To those who overcome||He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.|
To / From in the letter to the church in Smyrna
The traditional To and From headings are present.
Obviously, it’s to the church in Smyrna. As we saw in the letter to the Ephesian church, it’s most likely not to an actual Heavenly angel. Rather it’s probably to someone, probably of a high position, within the church. To that end, Young’s Literal Translation says:
‘And to the messenger of the assembly of the Smyrneans write: 8
This letter is from him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. This doesn’t seem to be an introduction to bad news like most of the other letters have. It’s two very straightforward statements of who Jesus is.
who is the First and the Last
There are three times in Revelation where Jesus refers to Himself as the Alpha and the Omega. The first and the last – for those that aren’t up on their Greek alphabet.
Of course, the Jewish audience, whether they had any knowledge of Greek or not, would recognize the concept of the first and the last. For instance, take this exchange between Moses and God at the burning bush in Exodus.
Moses and the Burning Bush
Ex 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Ex 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
Ex 3:13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
Ex 3:14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
Ex 3:15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. .
And then there’s the verses below, from a Psalm written by none other than Moses:
A prayer of Moses the man of God.
Ps 90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Ps 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
So there is ample reason for Jesus’ audience to know exactly what He meant when saying He is the First and the Last. Including the part from Ex 3:15: This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
However, just in case that wasn’t enough reason to recognize what Jesus said, there’s also this from Isaiah.
Since it’s a passage that I don’t remember getting a lot of attention, I’m including the whole thing. For purposes of being first and last – verse 6 obviously applies.
However, given the culture in Smyrna, we’ll see that the entire passage is applicable. One question for this study as a whole – is this passage included as a reminder to the people in the church in Smyrna? Or is it more ominous? Is it a warning of impending doom?
The LORD, Not Idols
Isa 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. Isa 44:7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let him foretell what will come. Isa 44:8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
Isa 44:9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Isa 44:10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? Isa 44:11 He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.
Isa 44:12 The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. Isa 44:13 The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. Isa 44:14 He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. Isa 44:15 It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Isa 44:16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” Isa 44:17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” Isa 44:18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. Isa 44:19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” Isa 44:20 He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie? ”
Isa 44:21 “Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. Isa 44:22 I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
Isa 44:23 Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.
The last verse is a foretelling of what awaits “those who overcome”.
who died and came to life again
This could be regarded as simply identifying Jesus as the One who died on the cross and was resurrected on the third day. However, as is generally the case in Revelation – there’s more to it. Remember, this is the persecuted church. What better reminder could they possibly have than the resurrection of Jesus – the one because of whom they’re being persecuted?
So what does the From part mean?
Both of the references Jesus uses to identify Himself to the church in Smyrna are to give hope and strength to the people. I don’t view them as the dire warnings that were so obvious in the Ephesian church.
But we’ll find out for sure as we proceed to the next portion of the letter, the Divine Knowledge section.
Divine Knowledge in the letter to the church in Smyrna
Next, we’ll look at the Divine Knowledge. The things Jesus knows about the church.
Jesus’ first message to each church is: “I know your works.” The churches’ works are sometimes commendable, sometimes requiring censure. So, sometimes this is good news for the receiving church. However, that’s not always the case.
Jesus told the church in Smyrna, I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich! That certainly sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s keep going, and find out more. And what’s that about Jews being a synagogue of Satan?
In the letter to the church in Smyrna, Jesus doesn’t have a list of deeds. But there is Divine Knowledge.
I know about your condition
I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!
OK – we most likely assume the rich part has to do with spiritual richness/maturity. But what are the afflictions and the poverty really about? It’s only by knowing what they are that we can begin to see and learn the lessons of success from the church in Smyrna.
Think back to how Jesus referred to Himself
When Jesus described Himself, He said: who died and came to life again. Add the meaning of Smyrna, and we see that once again, the situation in the church is directly related to Jesus’ description.
Note how each description of Christ goes back to the picture in 1:13–16, and how each one meets the special need of that church. Smyrna was the persecuted church, so Christ reminds them of His own suffering, death, and resurrection (2:8). Smyrna means “bitter” and is related to the word “myrrh.” One thinks of fragrance released because of crushing persecution. The church has always been the purest and the most fragrant when it was going through times of suffering. 9
Now, take that last sentence and remember what we just saw about how many Christian churches today feel about their alleged persecution during this COVID-19 virus situation. What’s happening now isn’t even persecution of Christians – it’s something being applied to all large gatherings.
Ultimately, how do we think God might view our handling of things? Pure and sweet? Or something else?
Persecution often goes hand in hand with having possessions taken away. For instance, see what the author of Hebrews wrote regarding perseverance. While the original intended audience for the book of Hebrews was not today’s Christians, there are many things in it that are very relevant. Just to provide background, here’s who may have been the intended audience when it was written.
There are seven things about the readers that can be deduced from the epistle.
First, according to Hebrews 2:3–4, they, like the author, were second-generation believers. The readers and the author are united by the us in verse 3 and distinguished from those who were eyewitnesses.
Second, they were Jewish. Since the readers were respectful of Old Testament authority, the writer heavily quotes the Old Testament. The quotation from the Old Testament settles the argument, which indeed it would do for a Jewish audience.
Third, the readers were Jewish believers. The main danger the author warns against is that of going back into Judaism. This would not have been a temptation for Gentile believers. The entire backdrop and frame of reference from which the author writes are Jewish history and the Jewish religion. Some commentators believe the people in the audience to whom the author is writing are not believers because of statements he makes here and there, but he clearly treats them as believers.
Fourth, as stated in verse 12, the readers have been believers for a long time and they should now be teachers of the Word (5:11–14).
Fifth, although they have been believers for a long time, they have remained spiritually immature and have not progressed in the faith (5:11–14).
Sixth, the readers are wavering in their faith because of persecution (10:32–38).
Seventh, they are readers who know the author (13:19, 23). 10
So – while the entire passage may not be relevant to the church in Hebrews, or to the entire Christian church today, I include all of it in the hopes that it will help the self-evaluation part of what we’re doing here. Apply the parts that relate to the church in Smyrna and the parts that apply to each of you, as appropriate.
The need to persevere
See the underlined verses for situations like what was happening in the church in Smyrna specifically.
A Call to Persevere
Heb 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
These verses are important for anyone going through persecution to remember. If it’s an entire church going through persecution, it’s important for the people in it to help keep others on the narrow path Jesus spoke of. Small groups, church-wide prayers, even two or three together can help.
Heb 10:26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
While tribulation, persecution and suffering are hard enough to go through, think about the alternative. With God’s help, we can get through the temporary troubles. But when it’s God Himself who judges us and finds us guilty, who can help us when we fall into the hands of the living God? The answer, of course, is no one can help.
Heb 10:32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
Sympathizing with someone going through persecution or other troubles is one thing. But when it’s us in prison and having our things taken away – does that change things? Do we go from sympathy to anger?
Heb 10:35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.
For the church in Smyrna, the promise is: He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. A very appropriate promise for this church. One undergoing intense persecution and having so much taken away from them, that they are now poor in a city that was generally prosperous. But for them, if they maintain their faith and love for Jesus, the end for them will the beginning of eternal life with Jesus.
Heb 10:38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
That last part sounds like courage. Courage in the face of adversity.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Let’s look at something from the book of Acts. The scenario could have been possible for someone in the church in Smyrna. But not anymore. Obviously, we’re not going to stand before the Sanhedrin today. And yet, regardless of what the group is called, the issues and the adversity is still relevant today and will be during the Tribulation. So it’s worth looking at while examining the church in Smyrna, and while examining ourselves.
An example of persevering
Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin
Ac 4:1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
No, we’re not likely to be put in jail here in the U.S. Not yet. But there are many places in the world where that really does happen today. Some places where the penalty for doing what Peter and John did where the penalty is death. Death – just like what’s coming in the Tribulation.
The reason I point this out so clearly here has to do with what’s happening now, in COVID-19 stay at home times. I know lots of people in the U.S. and other western countries call it “lock-down”. But it’s not. It’s not lock-down in the sense like what’s happening in China. And we call the inability to meet in church unconstitutional.
It makes me wonder. How are we ever going to be able to deal with the Tribulation and what’s coming later, according to Revelation?
It seems like Christians, of all people, should realize the difference between the two. But it feels like, in general, we don’t.
That doesn’t bode well for anyone who might want to become a Christian in the future. Rather than the courageous leaders in the early church, we have, well – we have what we have. It’s worrisome.
Ac 4:5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Will we have the courage to answer this question as Peter did? It’s an extremely difficult question to answer. During the Tribulation, would we be willing to answer – and then die for that answer?
Ac 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is “ ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
This is a far cry from the cowardice that Peter showed when Jesus was arrested. No denials. No hiding. No fear.
Ac 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
This won’t happen during the Tribulation. There won’t be any counter-offers of negotiation. There will be death. Period. No discussion. If we are alive then, are we ready? If we’re raptured, but our families, friends and other relatives are still there, have we done anything to get them ready?
Ac 4:18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Talk about courage. Peter and John turned down the offer. Refused to be silent. But still they were set free. Again, that’s not going to be the case during the Tribulation. Are we ready?
Ac 4:21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
And that’s part of the reason why it’s not going to happen. because all the people were praising God for what had happened. A whole bunch of people praising God isn’t going to happen either. Not unless there’s a mass slaughter right afterwards.
We probably can’t imagine that happening. At least not those of us in a “civilized” western-style country. But as Christians, we should know the Bible says it’s coming. We should believe it. And we should be prepared ourselves. And, we should be preparing people we love and care about. Oh – by the way – isn’t that supposed to be, literally, everyone?
I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!
So we’ve looked at the afflictions – the persecution.
How was the church in Smyrna rich?
The poverty was exactly what it sounds like – poor in a city that was rather wealthy.
The riches? Spiritual.
Treasures in Heaven
6:22, 23 pp — Lk 11:34-36
Mt 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be al
This post first appeared on God Versus Religion, please read the originial post: here