Revelation 2:8-11 – Smyrna

There is a dichotomy today in how different people see the world.  There is the way that most people see the world, which according to Romans 1:18-32 is that they believe the lie that the enemy of our souls spins very skillfully, and that way will lead ultimately to their eternal suffering in hell.  The other way is the exact opposite of that way.  This way is uniquely Christian in its outlook, in that God chose each of us to be His forever and has tasked us to live our lives for Him in the here and now, in that already/not yet arrangement we live in now so that when He comes, we will be with Him.  The dichotomy between these worldviews leads to tension and friction to say the least.  I have been a Christian now for a while, really my entire adult life, and I have seen this dichotomy cause division between friends and family, even at a personal level, though not exclusively so.

The reason for this friction at first did not seem obvious to me.  I was a new Christian, and as a result, I didn’t know a lot.  I thought that Christians were like everyone else but forgiven of their sins.  But that turned out to not be completely accurate.  Although I was still a sinner, I was at the same time justified before God, acquitted of the sins of which I had been forgiven.  God had begun a sanctifying work in my life that has continued up to the present and will continue, according to Paul, right until the day of Christ Jesus.  The late Dr. R.C. Sproul gave the phrase to me at first (though I now know the quote to be far older), simul justus et peccator.  It means that at the same time, I am both a sinner and made clean before a holy God by faith in His Messiah, God the Son, Jesus Christ.  It meant that I was given a new nature (that of Christ, see Gal. 2:20), and that set me apart from the rest of humanity.  See what a little discipling can give you?

That new nature explained why my world had been turned upside down, along with the list of things that I liked.  I used to be into what my friends and I in the 1980s called booze, chicks, and cars.  I thought about adding computers to that, but really, it was just a more futuristic version of cars for geeks, and I would know, having done work with both.  Now, after that change on 18 June 1985 at 8:02 CT, I was a new creature, I was NOT like the rest of the world, and I had to let that old stuff go.  In fact, I wanted to.  You see, back in the early 1980s, I was really into that stuff, but after that night, I was into Bible Study, prayer, fellowship, worship, singing spiritual music instead of rock and roll, like that.  All those other things were now at the bottom of the list.  Why?  Because God, in His wisdom, chose me to be His.  I even used to think I was smart because I took the deal, but really, I couldn’t resist it, and you may quote me on that.   But that meant all my friends and most of my family were headed for eternal punishment in Hell with the rest of the unsaved—unless they repented.  My family mostly rejected me on that basis I think, although we do still have a good relationship because they are family.  To be honest, I am much closer to most of you than I am with my biological pack.

Smyrna is a place where this introduced friction between worldviews comes out at a personal level, and no more clearly than it does in the story of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, in the 2nd Century, but I won’t retell that here and now.  Why does this emerge?  I suspect it has something to do with the love we all have for some or all of our unsaved relatives.  We know that without repentance and faith, our family and friends will suffer forever because they lack that essential ingredient that saves them:  Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for their sins.  He died for them sure enough, but God has commanded all men everywhere to repent, and they have that responsibility before God.  We don’t want that for them.  Who would?  So we set aside our egos and our feelings though they get hurt to give them this life-saving message, that Jesus has paid the penalty for their wrongs if they will accept it.  In Smyrna, this reached a whole other level of persecution.  However, the believers there who stayed instead of scattered held fast to the truth and preached Christ.  It made sense to them that they had been given their salvation in Christ and eternal life as a gift, and I suspect like Paul again, would give anything to make their families and friends listen.  Some turned. 

This should make us see, beloved, that the presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the chosen people of God is worth whatever cost we must pay in its transmission.  Whatever the cost to us, we must remain faithful to Jesus, and that is what the letter to Smyrna is all about.

I broke the letter down into thought units as follows:

KV10c:  Trials and troubles require our faithfulness

10c:  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

8:  Yahweh Yeshuah presents Himself

9:  Yahweh Yeshuah knows our situation

10:  The upcoming trouble will require faithfulness

11:  The promise to the overcomer

I know I said that this should be worth any price we must pay, but it should not surprise us that this could be very extreme for us.  Jesus died to pay for all our sins.  Why should we be surprised if He would require this?  It is us who incurred the debt because of our sins.  He set us free from more than just the penalty of sin when He died on the cross.  He also set us free from the power of sin in our lives, and will someday remove it from our presence.  THAT is a debt we can NEVER repay, Beloved.  We do well to know this and keep reminding ourselves of it.

KV10c:  Trials and troubles require our faithfulness

10c:  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

God has called us to be a part of His family, and we are all His younger siblings as far as the resurrection of the dead is concerned.  This is a kind of on-the-job training that is frankly more extreme than we like to talk about normally.  However, I should point out here that not everyone who is persecuted these days for the faith ends up dying physically.  I have a pastor friend in the West Palm Beach area of Florida who was once put in the hospital for preaching the gospel of how Jesus saves from all sin by an organization of homosexual men who if I understood my friend right actually asked him to talk to them about that very subject.  With the letter to Smyrna in the back of your mind, think about Pastor Steve’s options.  (Yes, Steve is his first name.  I don’t think he will mind me sharing it here.)  He could have knuckled under to the obvious pressure to gloss by the issue or soft-sell it or be very general.  Or he could have done what he did.  He went right to 1 Cor. 6:9 and pointed out the Greek word arsenekoites, defined it properly as a compound Greek word that essentially means men having sexual relations with each other, and let those chips fall where they did.  Beloved, someone had to tell these people they were headed for eternal suffering in Hell.  He was faithful and spent a bit of time recovering from his injuries.

What about a more personal thing?  On the night I was saved, I went home after work, and I was pretty jazzed, as you would expect.  I told my mom (okay, really enthusiastically) that I was a Christian now, and she turned to me with an angry face and said in the coldest voice I have ever heard from her, “Don’t preach to me.”  I know others who have suffered and may even continue to suffer like this.  My dad once overheard the tail-end of a conversation I had been having with one of HIS friends, and that guy even started it with a question!  I was just answering the guy’s question.  Not only did my dad tell me in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t speak to his friends like that ever again, but he forbade me from talking about this with my sisters!  Not that that stopped me, I just made sure he wasn’t around to hear it.  Beloved, these are all lesser examples of what they went through in Smyrna.  Some died for their witness to Christ.  Some lived to continue the work.  Which will God require of you?  We should let God decide what He wants.  Why?  Well, He is, after all, GOD!!!!!!!

Let’s get into the text.

8:  Yahweh Yeshuah presents Himself

As we go through the letters to the churches, you will begin to notice a pattern of how the Lord Jesus uses a different name each time He greets a different church.  In fact, He uses a name that at least roughly corresponds to the situation of each church.  Last time with Ephesus, it was essentially, “the One who is in charge.”  This time it is different, and you’ll see why.  Let’s jump into the text of the letter here.

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:

  • Here we are, the letter to the pastor of the church in Smyrna.  The name of Smyrna is an interesting transliteration from the Hebrew.  The name itself is connected with the Hebrew word for Myrrh, a spice that was used in embalming in ancient Jewish burial rites.  If you recognize that substance as one of the gifts that the Magi brought to the Lord Jesus on the occasion of His birth, you would be correct!  I find this interesting:  the scent that it produces is made by crushing its leaves and then used for coating the body of one who has died.  This became inseparably associated with death before the time of our Lord Jesus’ birth.  Smyrna may thus be defined as “death.”  Because it is the Lord Jesus, though, the meaning of death has been changed for all believers everywhere for all of time.
  • The title that the Lord Jesus takes to himself here is also from the list of titles in chapter 1 of the book in vv.17-18.  He is the “first and the last, who was dead and has come to life.”   The Lord takes to Himself a very ancient name for God:  “The first and the last.”  Isaiah 41:4 reads, “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning?  ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’”  What does that mean?  Well, the Hebrew word used for “LORD” here is in your Bible all caps.  That means by convention of English translation, that it is the four letters in Hebrew known as the Tetragrammaton.  The Hebrew letters are yod, hey, vav, hey, and that is THE name of God in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 46:6 also uses that arrangement of words for God when God speaks of Himself.  “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:  ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.’”  Isaiah 48:12 reads, “Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.”  You will recall we talked about the naming couplets with the name Yahweh.  Yahweh Yireh, for example, means the Lord will provide.  Another example I can remember is Yahweh Tsidkenu, meaning the Lord our righteousness.  There are others.  This one is Yahweh Yeshuah, the Lord our Salvation.  This is the title that our Lord has taken to Himself here, and I believe it is intended for necessary encouragement to the church at Smyrna, given the trial we will read about in the next verse.
  • It is important to see here that He wasn’t just the One who died, but that He was the One who rose again.  This is critical for believers to understand.  Yes, the Lord Jesus is our God.  He is our Master.  However, he is importantly our elder brother.  Romans 8:29-30 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified [emphasis mine].”  If we are His, we are His younger siblings in the sense of having been adopted into His family.  We need to understand who we are in the order of things.
  • Now, it is important to note that we are NOT little gods, as per Charismaniac theology.  We may be partakers of the divine nature, but he gave us His perfect human nature, not His divinity.  He is the God-Man.  We are only men.  We will never be God.  We may be a lot of things, but there is one God.  He is our King, we do not get to order Him what to do, or “create” things from nothing as only He can.  That said, let’s move on.

9:  Yahweh Yeshuah knows our situation

I know this sounds like a platitude, and I also hate platitudes, probably more than anyone, because I used to turn everything into them, and then found out that life isn’t in platitudes.  Sometimes it’s okay, though, and this isn’t a bad one.  When I say He knows our situation, it is because He has been through our situation.  Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”  That should be comforting to us because He is telling us that He understands what we are going through because He went through it for us.  That should give us boldness, by the way, the next verse in Heb. 4 (16) reads like this:  “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Let’s look at the verse.

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.

  • Okay, there is a LOT here, let’s take it in bite-sized thoughts as we do.  The first phrase is, “I know your tribulation.”  The Greek word here is a form of thlipsis, which means a pressing or pressure.  Yes, Jesus is saying He understands the pressure we are under in a sense.  Vine says that this could be anything that burdens the spirit.  Here, it is thought He is referring to the persecution the church was then undergoing, and that seems logical in AD 95 in that part of the world.  Jesus KNOWS about that.  He was never given a moment’s peace by the world, particularly by the religious leaders of the day.  There is one place where He worked Himself to physical exhaustion, and they took Him with them in a boat, “as He was.”  And He slept through a storm!  They had to wake Him up to calm the weather.
  • “…and your poverty…”  The Greek ptocheia means destitution.  Christ knows this too.  For our sake He became poor.  He laid His glory as God aside and became human for us!  Here, again according to Vine in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, it is seen to be used in a general sense, meaning they had nothing.  There is a little history in the area to explain it.  Smyrna is in an earthquake-prone area.  In fact, it still is.  This city is still around in fact, and it is the Turkish city of Izmir, which I am told is a Turkish form of the word for Smyrna.  The reason people were poor in general is because they kept having to rebuild after all the earthquakes.  In a spiritual sense, that kind of trouble and trial can make us cut it down to bare essentials, and that is good for us in that it makes us focus our efforts on what is really important.  This is an application of what I was saying earlier about how bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ and how He died for our sins and rose again to prove it is worth whatever price we need to pay to see that it is done.  If I could say a word to those watching the livestream or the video after, we always give you an opportunity to share in our work here.  Whatever you want to do is just fine with us, even if that is simply to enjoy the Word of God as He has given it to us.  We may not have much, but we are focused on what is important here, and that is bringing the gospel to you at no charge to you.
  • “…(but you are rich)…”  The Lord right away contrasts the lacking state of the saints in Smyrna with their spiritual reality.  Yes, they may lack things, but they have EVERYTHING they need to live as soldiers of Christ.  The Greek plousios means rich or wealthy.  Vine informs here that this is used in a general sense of spiritual enrichment.  Sometimes being stripped of distracting things can do this for us.  It has for me personally, and I know of at least one other in the room who knows what I am speaking about, and I suspect there are more.
  • “The blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not.”  Some historical context may be important here.  The city of Smyrna’s social atmosphere was heavily built upon Greek and Roman paganism.  Zeus and Cybele were the primary deities worshipped here, or their Roman equivalents of Jupiter and “Magna Mater” (the Great Mother), and there were others as well.  Jews were tolerated and left to their own worship, which did NOT include the Messiah because they rejected Him.  In the era of Domitian, persecutions of Christians was flowing high, and it is the very reason John was on Patmos in the first place.  They sent them there without resources, and if they didn’t have a way of being supplied, too bad for them.  John of course had the church at least at Ephesus, and probably others even named here that could supply his needs, and even others that were NOT named.  As bad as things were for Christians who would not recognize Domitian as their god as he demanded, the persecution of the Jews was far worse in Smyrna.  In fact, they showed themselves to be every bit the followers of Satan that the pagans were. 
  • “…but are a synagogue of Satan.”  The Jews became informers and exposers, revealing the whereabouts of Christians who were running from Domitian’s forces.  This became about acknowledging Rome as supreme in everything, and no real Christian would.  They were citizens of another and heavenly realm, and would not forgo the earthly bind this put them in.  There is that already/not yet dichotomy we mentioned earlier in action.  That kingdom has been initiated for all those who are citizens of the King.  The King has not yet arrived, but we are to “do business until I come back,” as Jesus said in his parable in Luke 19:13.  We are to live by the laws of that coming kingdom.  That is now increasingly running into conflict with the dominion we now live in, and it will get worse before the Lord returns.  That is a part of the price He asks us to pay as His followers.  Out of love, I for one will gladly do so.

If you want a little more information on that already/not yet idea, you can find it under the heading “inaugurated eschatology” in George Eldon Ladd’s Theology of the New Testament, published by Eerdmans in 1974, revised 1993.  Some of the ideas I have probably had a seed from that work, as well as Dr. John MacArthur’s commentary series, the sermons of Alistair Begg, and Dr. Steven Lawson in a book or video I don’t remember anymore. [hahahaha]. Oh yeah, and the Holy Spirit, but I don’t know how to cite Him as a reference.  Moving on.

10:  The upcoming trouble will require faithfulness

The trouble we have been speaking about is now going to be specifically dealt with by the Lord Jesus in this verse.  Understand that there are multiple levels at which this text or any other may be applied.  There is always the local and historical level, but there is a level at which it will apply to all of us, as well as a personal level at which applications may be drawn though we must be careful to avoid reading ourselves into the text (something Christ Rosebrough called Narcigesis, a specific form of eisegesis).  The application here stands out like a lighthouse beacon on a shoal of rock.  We MUST be faithful.  Let’s look at the verse.

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.

  • Okay, once again there is a lot here, so we will look at it one phrase at a time and see what it says and means, then make application as we may.  The first phrase is, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.”  The plain meaning here is that something is about to happen, it will be of a nature that will make you fearful, and you will suffer in it and also from the fear it will cause.  The Lord gives a solving imperative here:  Do not fear.  The Greek here is a form of phobeo, meaning “to make you flee in terror.”  That does not need to be in a literal sense, although I have at least once run for my life in a different context than Christian.  I won’t get into detail, it isn’t important here.  It may have been a literal thing here, or it may have been more figurative, or maybe one led to the other, it is hard to say and easy to imagine and speculate.  The Lord is about to tell us what is going to happen, and that should end the discussion.
  • Some of the believers were going to be cast into prison.  It is important to note that John tells us who is doing the casting into prison.  It isn’t the Romans, it isn’t the Jews,  it is the prince behind them all because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.  We need to remember that when this is happening, people!  It is the devil that is behind this too.  So if we know we are going to be taken prisoner like this, should we not be prepared for the battle?  I can tell you the Apostle Paul’s response.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:10-20)  I should add that Paul spoke this from PRISON, beloved!  It was his first imprisonment to be sure, but do you think that it was the Romans holding him there?  Or the Jews who put him there?  Or even himself?  No, I tell you it was the Lord.  Paul said in multiple places that He was the prisoner OF THE LORD.  These people were to be imprisoned by Satan himself.  And the devil is a terrible foe, but he is still God’s devil.  Nothing happens that God hasn’t approved first.  Beloved, if God has ordained this, who are we to argue?
  • “…so that you will be tested…”  Tested?!?  Yes, Beloved, tested.  To try, to test, to assay, to prove.  This is said of Christ, and here of believers, so that it was merely the cause of suffering for Him, and only suffering, not a drawing away to sin.  This has a specific purpose:  that the believer should realize his own helplessness and his dependence upon God.  Tests are an opportunity for certification and qualification, folks.  We should not run from them or fear when they confront us.  Instead, we should set about passing them.
  • “…you will have tribulation for ten days.”  Again, tribulation is thlipsis, pressure, and it has a finite period that it will last.  It even tells us 10 days, but this is sometimes used as a figure of speech that may mean a short period of time.  It isn’t necessarily 10 days to the minute.  That tribulation is that you will be in prison.  That particular pressure is kind of specific, and it may have preparations one can make associated with it.  For example, memorize your lawyer’s phone number.  Ha ha.  It is a carefully controlled end point at which you may be set free or you may be killed for being a follower of Christ.  Paul’s response to prison was to sing hymns all night with Silas.  His response to Mamertine Prison was to take the opportunity for more prayer and the study of the Word.  Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord, right?  Don’t fear or run away from the suffering.  Pass the test.  How?  That’s the next phrase, which I took as my key verse.
  • “Prove yourself faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.”  What does the faithful Christian do?  He follows Christ in whatever circumstances.  If they put us in jail, the Lord gave us a prison ministry, right?  I’m not making that up, Beloved.  James Coates and Tim Stephens, pastors here in Canada, have been to jail because they wouldn’t stop being pastors to the flock of God.  These were not, as some in this congregation have suggested, men who were predisposed to criminal activity.  These are men of God, Beloved.  They Scripturally resisted the overreach of a tyrannical government and paid the price.  Can we do the same if that comes to us?  If they throw us in jail, can we share Christ with people?  Yes.  Will it cost us?  Probably.  Does that change the fact that we should?  Not at all.  Might they kill us?  Possibly.  Does that change the duties we have to our fellow man?  It does not.  What is the COST of being a disciple of Christ?  For many over the centuries, it has been the ultimate cost, many times at the hands of religious people who thought that killing actual followers of Jesus was some kind of favour to God.  We cannot realistically expect to escape persecution like most of the church has had for most of the last 2000 years over most of the planet.  Be faithful right up until the point where they kill you.  After that, the work is done, Beloved.  That might be a hard thing to hear and harder to accomplish, but I would be an unfaithful teacher if I did not point this out.  The work of the disciple is finished when we die here.  I’m not saying hasten that, but I am saying to be faithful until it happens to us.  That is the task.  You saw the ride.  You bought a ticket anyway, so don’t quit now.  When these things start to happen now, it is a sign that the time of Christ’s return is closer than when we first believed.

What we must grasp is that because of the love that the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated to us from the cross, we owe a debt we can never repay.  We should out of love for Him and for the things and people He loves be prepared to pay any price to move that along until He returns.  Don’t be surprised when it begins to show up at our doorsteps.  And even if the letter ended here, that should be enough for us.  But there is more, and it is better.

11:  The promise to the overcomer

God has promised in each letter a thing to the overcomer of this situation.  The key to overcoming this is to be a faithful representative of Christ to the world.  Will people receive a literal crown?  I don’t know.  I’m not in this for the rewards or “what I can get.”  I’m doing this not for the reward but the hand that gives it.  Nonetheless, He promises a specific reward for this faithfulness, so let’s see what it is.

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.

  • First, we remind ourselves of what the Spirit says to the churches.  If you have ears to hear is a statement made by Christ in the Gospels, and it indicates those who are willing to listen.  If you are in that elect group of people, to use a particular phrase, and that was also a specific reference, you are willing to listen.  If you are not willing to listen, that’s okay too, but you shouldn’t infringe on the rights of those of us who want to listen, even if you don’t like us.  That wouldn’t be very tolerant.  If you were to censor us for our views here, that shows that you have already lost the argument.  No, for those who want to hear, let us hear.  For those that don’t, we return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
  • Okay, here is the promise:  Overcome and you will not be hurt by the second death.  What does that even mean?  The “second death” is the result of the final judgement.  For those that have repented of their sins and believed that Jesus paid the penalty for their own sins on the cross, that is those who have been born from above, they will not have to suffer the second death.  I’ve heard it quaintly stated like this:  Born twice, die once.  Born once, die twice.  The New Birth or conversion to Christianity is referred to by Jesus Himself as being born again in John 3, which you can read at your own leisure.  What is the second death?  We will say more when we look at that part of Rev. 20, but it is the final judgement of all non-believers before they are eternally cast into hell forever with the devil and all his angels.  These angelic beings will not rule in that place but will be stripped of their powers and suffer forever after.  It is described as limne tou puros in Greek.  Literally, that means “lake of fire.”  I didn’t make that up.  Have you ever accidentally burned yourself?  I have, when I was a small child.  Mom was serving Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup for lunch.  I was strapped in my high chair, and I’m not sure what I did, but I knocked the bowl over into my own lap.  The soup had just been dished out of the pot, where I could see it bubbling.  It was blindingly painful.  I heard screams.  It took me a moment to figure out that it was me screaming.  I scalded myself, but no permanent damage was done.  That is one of my earliest memories, by the way.  I still remember the pain.  I was maybe 2 or 3 years old.  It has been more than 50 years since that happened and I still remember that.  Beloved, the lake of fire will be much worse, and one will never be able to leave it, ever.  That is the second death.  Overcome, and it will never be able to hurt you.  Instead, you will be in the presence of God with great joy forever.  Of the two destinations for your immortal soul, which would you prefer?  You shouldn’t even have to think to answer that.
  • What does it take to overcome?  Well, here, it means that you must be faithful in doing the works of God, even if they threaten to kill us, or even if they DO kill us.  If you die like that, in the name of Christ because they had to kill you to keep you from doing His work, you will not ever be exposed to the absolute terror of the second death.  And what is the work of God?  Anyone? [wait].  We have looked at this before, but I will remind you again.  John 6:29–Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”  Those works.  The works of faith, that Jesus died on a Roman cross voluntarily and vicariously to pay the penalty for your sins and mine, all so we would not have to end with suffering for eternity in the lake of fire.  This requires two things. 
  • The first thing is to repent of your sins.  Change your mind about those sins.  Admit that you are sinning, or doing wrong in the presence of a holy God who will not allow sin in His presence.  Change your mind about the road you are on, the broad and easy way downhill into hell.  Turn away from doing those wrong things and turn into the straight and narrow way that treks upward to heaven instead.  The second thing is to believe that this turning and trip were made possible by the Lord Jesus Christ as He died on the cross to pay for those sins, and that He rose from the dead to prove it.  Do that and you will overcome anything, including this short stay in prison that may or may not end in your death.

What we see in this shortest of letters, spanning only 4 verses, is that we must be faithful under pressure.  In the days of the early church in Smyrna when this letter was written, the pressure was to acknowledge that Emperor Domitian was a god.  No Christian could ever acknowledge that a man, and a horribly vain and sinful man at that, was their God Yahweh Yeshua, the One who identifies Himself at the beginning of this letter. 

The pressure may be different for us here and now, but it is no less real.  It might be a pressure from your employer to do things the Scriptures forbid.  It might be a desire for something.  Many face this today in the form of drugs, or sex, or some other dissipation.  All of these things and more give pressure that would have you compromise your faith.  And if you do, then turn again, as we saw not that long ago in 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  We are nothing but failure, I understand that.  God is still there, He still loves us, and He still sent His only Son to die for our sins, and that atonement made by Jesus on the cross has still been made, and is still effective if we will again turn away from our wrongdoing and toward Him once more.  There is, by the doctrines of grace, eternal security for the believer, Beloved!  May we be faithful, and if we are not, let us turn and try again until we are. 

Another thing we see is that there was no concern raised with Smyrna.  Nothing bad is said about them, unlike Ephesus who had left its first love.  I have heard a few times over the years that Smyrna had a heavy load with the persecution they faced, and because of that, the Lord gave them a kind of pass on criticism.  I think that’s pretty far from accurate.  Smyrna was doing just fine spiritually speaking, and they were already being faithful.  How do we know that?  Because the enemy of our souls was persecuting them and trying to stamp them out.  There is no need to do that with a compromised church, which we will see next time in Pergamum.  There is a principle in dealing with the enemy.  If the only thing he can do to you is attack you openly and physically, you’re on the right path spiritually speaking.  It isn’t that you aren’t capable of sin, you are, but you are walking in the Spirit and not fulfilling the desires of the flesh.  If all they can do is kill your body, your spirit and soul still live, and now forevermore with our Lord Jesus, the Christ of God.  Let us walk in THAT reality.

That’s what I saw this time in the letter to Smyrna.

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