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TO THE ANGEL OF THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA

From The Heart

Publish date: 07/12/2004

"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. 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.   Revelation 2:8-11 NIV

Smyrna is a city which lay on a gulf with the same name. It lay a little north of Ephesus. Around about 627 BC, the original city was destroyed. It lay deserted and in ruins for four hundred years. The new city was built a short distance south of the ancient one, and became the finest city in Asia Minor. It was known as "the glory of Asia." It was one of the cities which claimed the honor of being the poet, Homer's, birthplace. The Smyrnaeans erected a splendid temple to his memory. Apparently, he was said to have composed his poems in a cave in the neighborhood of the city. Smyrna's fine harbor made it a commercial center; but it was also well known for its schools of rhetoric and philosophy. The city was a seat of the worship of Cybele the Mother of the gods, and of Dionysus or Bacchus. The church of Smyrna suffered much from persecution and Polycarp, who was the first bishop of this church, was said to have been martyred in the stadium of the city, A.D. 166 at the instigation of and with the support of the Jews.  

“These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” Jesus Christ is the first and the last. He is the first - for by Him all things were made. He was before all things with God and was God himself. He is the last, for all things are made for Him, and He will be the Judge of all. Jesus is God from everlasting to everlasting. He is an unchangeable Mediator between God and man. Jesus is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He was dead and is alive. He was dead, and died for our sins; He is alive, for He rose again for our justification, and He ever lives to make intercession for us. He was dead, and by dying purchased salvation for us; He is alive, and by His life applies this salvation to us.

“I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you are rich!” They may have been poor in goods, but they were rich toward God and rich in grace - their spiritual riches being set off by their outward poverty. Where there is spiritual plenty, outward poverty may be easier to bear. When, for the sake of Christ and a good conscience, God's people are impoverished in natural goods, He makes all up to them in spiritual riches, which are much more satisfying and enduring. Obviously they suffered powerful persecutions and tribulations, even to the spoiling of their goods, which contributed to their poverty. They were willing rather to give up their goods and have Jesus, than to deny Him and have plenty and therefore they were spiritually prosperous. Not one of these sacrifices went unnoticed by Jesus.  

“I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  Jesus is aware of the enemies of the cross and of His people – they will not get away with the things they say and do to the true church. They may claim to be God’s people, but they are tools of the devil, used to do his work. They may claim to represent God as they persecute the people of God, but they will be judged and punished for their blasphemy. Their cousins are still around today. In Smyrna, the Jews claimed to be the only truth even as they supported the murder of Christians, but they were full of and used of the devil. Even today, there are so-called Christians who claim to be the only ones who hold the truth as they persecute the people of God. They are as much the “synagogue of Satan” as were the Jews who violently persecuted the church in Smyrna in the first century.

“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.”  God foreknows the future trials of His people, He forewarns them of them, and fore-arms them against them. They are prepared and also encouraged, because they know that God is with them and there is a reward awaiting them. Jesus proposes and promises a glorious reward to their fidelity: a crown of life - a crown, to reward their poverty, their fidelity, and their conflict. A crown of life, to reward those who are faithful even unto death, who are faithful till they die, and who part with life itself in fidelity to Christ. The life so worn out in his service, or laid down in his cause, shall be rewarded with another and a much better life that shall be eternal.

“He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”  There is not only a first, but a second death, a death after the body is dead. The expression, “second death” is peculiar to the Book of Revelation. It is defined as "the lake of fire" - the death awaiting the wicked after judgment.

In the book of Revelation, everyone can see and hear what passes between Christ and His churches - how He commends them, how He comforts them, how He reproves their failures, and how He rewards their fidelity. As the world observes God's dealings with His own people, they may learn instruction and wisdom from it.

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