Faith perseveres: Devotional Commentary for October 3-9
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
8"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
9 'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
10'Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.'
The letter to Smyrna was the second of seven letters written to the churches in Asia Minor. Like its sister city Ephesus, Smyrna was located on the western coast of Asia Minor. It was located about forty miles North of Ephesus at the mouth of the Hermus River.
Smyrna was a populous and prosperous city, second only to Ephesus in trade and commerce. Culture thrived in this city, featuring the largest public theatre in all of Asia. Its golden boulevard was lined with temples for the Emperor and other pagan gods. It is also believed by many to be the birthplace of Homer, author of the great epics The Odyssey and The Illiad. However, Smyrna gained her notoriety from the bloody campaign that the Roman emperors waged against Christians within its boundaries. Early church historians remind us that it was in Smyrna that Polycarp, John’s closest disciple, was appointed bishop of Smyrna and was later martyred.
Jesus opened his letter to Smyrna by identifying Himself as “the first and the last” and as He "Who was dead, and has come to life.” He spoke to the church in Smyrna as One with total and absolute Authority and as One Who suffered and conquered death by accepting and obeying His Father's Will. These Truths about Jesus were indispensably significant to the Christians in Smyrna in light of the suffering they were experiencing as His disciples. It was necessary for them to know that Jesus knew their predicaments and that He is preserving and guiding them through their suffering.
Jesus affirmed to the believers in Smyrna that their dire circumstances, their plight, and the atrocities of satan against them were fully known to Him. Their poverty, the blasphemy of those who persecuted them, and the continuing tribulation and persecution perpetrated against them was not hidden from His Omniscience. It did not happen in spite of Him or outside of His sovereign control. Yet, He consoled and exhorted them to persevere, fully knowing that they were experiencing real suffering and its inevitable consequences.
Jesus identified those who troubled the church in Smyrna as the "synagogue of satan." They were the evil hands of satan who actually bolstered the efforts of the Romans to annihilate Christians. But Jesus added that more tribulation was forthcoming at the hands of satan, casting some into prison and having others committed to more severe atrocities and trials.
Still, Jesus urged His disciples in Smyrna to persist in faith even unto death and remain resilient in their commitment. He assured His disciples in Smyrna that the persecution is only for a limited time as specified by the expression "ten days" as ordained by God. The temporary earthly conditions are for their testing and refinement. But in the end, they will receive the Crown of Life prepared for them and live with their loving Savior in eternal bliss, having endured tribulations and trials for Christ's sake. To be sure, those who belong to Christ will draw their strength from their hope and riches in Jesus Christ.
Jesus' designation of the persecutors as the "synagogue of satan" was not a derogatory remark against Jewishness. It was the true identity of the enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The persecution of the Christians in Smyrna was not a judgment from God for any wrongdoing. Nor were they abandoned by God Who could have delivered them. It was an attack against them for their faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ by those who already rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
Therefore, those preserved in faith to the very end will be given the “crown of life.” Though much has been speculated about the significance of such a crown, it can be said with reasonable certainty that at the very least, the Crown signifies the unmerited reward of eternal life. Being redeemed and strengthened by their Savior, all enduring believers will receive the Crown of Life from the Hands of Jesus Christ for whose sake they humbly and joyfully suffered.
Once again, we are strongly urged to discern and heed what the Spirit says to the church in Smyrna. The world is hostile to Christians and will make every effort to squelch the Gospel by forcibly suppressing the voices of Truth with satanic atrocities and ruthless persecution. This is the nature of the world in which we are called to live and serve God. This world is not our home. We are just passing through serving God and glorifying His Name. Being redeemed enduring winners in the victory of Jesus Christ, having received the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ, and having our names written in the Book of Life by Jesus Christ, we are delivered by Jesus Christ from the clutches of the second death. Therefore, He urges us to persevere, because our end in Christ is much more glorious than our beginning and sojourn on earth.
At the outset, it seems that the believers in Smyrna did not receive any explicit commendation or criticism from Jesus Christ. However, the Lord expressly acknowledges their perseverance and encourages them to persist even more. The terrible predicaments which plagued the life of the believers in Smyrna were not unknown to Jesus Christ. But His exhortation to them was to persevere and endure to the end, even unto death.
He did not abate their trouble. Nor did He ease their anguish. He actually told them it will get worse on earth before it gets better in heaven. Still, He urged them to persist and continue in faith.
To most of us, such statements by Jesus confuse us and leave us in the dark, because, His words stand contrary to our natural sentiments. But there is nothing natural about victory through suffering. We do not understand why He would not just remove all adverse situations from the lives of His children. We know He is able. He has convinced us that He knows. Then why would He let His children suffer at the hands of evil forces?
We must not forget that we are living in a world dominated by sin and darkness. This was indeed the curse pronounced upon the world as a result of disobedience. By one man sin entered the world, making all of Adam's children hostile to God, to His Son Jesus Christ, and to His Gospel. Consequently, unless one is redeemed by God's saving Grace, one remains hostile to the Gospel and serves the purposes of evil. The believers in Smyrna were victims of such forces.
On the other hand, the Lord brings glory to His Name by imparting His Grace to His children, enabling each one to excel where He has appointed us to serve Him. Some through fire, some through flood, others through suffering, and still more through humiliation, ridicule, and rejection. We need to realize that the crux of the matter is not so much the safety and earthly security of Christians as it is the manifestation of wickedness in its most intense form.
Since God our sovereign Father is equally Righteous and Gracious, He is able to preserve His children while at the same time exposing sin and wickedness for what they are. God would never leave His children at the mercy of evil forces. But He would never cover for sin by diminishing its consequences. That is why He paid the penalty for sin with the Life and the precious Blood of His Son Jesus Christ, instead of simply blowing sin and wickedness out of existence.
The believers in Smyrna and all the saints appointed to suffer for Christ are chosen to reflect God's Glory and the Victory of His Son through endurance, humbleness, privation, and faithfulness. That is God's Will and Purpose for them. Theirs is, the Crown of Life prepared for those who love Jesus.
Jesus told His disciples that the world will treat them the way it treated Him. So there should be no surprises. Since the forces of evil cannot stand at ease in the presence of the Holy Spirit, they will strike at the servants of God seeking to silence the Spirit of God. However, such hostilities only expose sin, refine and strengthen believers, and vindicate Truth and Righteousness. As believers, we would do well to lean on Christ and our Hope in Him rather than taking charge to remedy with our own natural resources what seems undesirable to us.
The essence of Jesus' letter to Smyrna is that, the issue is not what the world does but how the Christian responds. Sin must reach its fullness so that it is duly and justly judged by the Righteous God. The righteous in Christ, who are appointed to glorify God and fulfill His Will and Purpose through suffering, will stand firm receiving the full force of hateful persecution. They are preserved and their journey is guided by God's steady Hands: they are ultimately rewarded. But sin will earn its well-deserved judgment at the Hand of the Righteous God; the Holy God.
So the suffering Christian would endure by the Power of God's preservation while sin continues to rise to its repulsive end. We persevere in faith, knowing that Jesus Christ the Victor has already overcome the world for us. Let us be of good cheer in spite of the passing earthly conditions because the Victor has overcome the old serpent. So where do we go to ease our suffering? To the One Who preserves us now and forever, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.