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. 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. 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. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (NIV)
Smyrna – Description of Jesus
Jesus repeats the fact that He is the first and the last, was dead and is now alive, so that He can give hope to the church that is going to face the worst persecution of all the churches. Ephesus had hardships, but this is the only church for which persecution is predicted. If we ever face death for our faith, we should remember this church’s letter and this message of who Jesus is. He has the keys to death and Hades; others may destroy the body but through Him, we, too, will live.
Jesus knows their affliction and they must be counting it all joy because He says they are rich. I wish He would have elaborated more on this church, but we can go to the epistles and see what Paul and the other writers said about perseverance and joy. The church at Smyrna must have been applying these letters to their lives in order to be so rich.
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:3-5 NASB)
Suffering produces the character that God wants to build in us. Character provides us hope in the midst of even the most trying circumstances. When there is nothing left in this life to live for, we can still live and have hope because we know that we have God’s love in our lives. We know our future and that far surpasses anything that we have now. The Holy Spirit accomplishes this; it isn’t something that we can do by our own will power.
You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word.
Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes.
The proud have forged a lie against me, But I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.
Their heart is as fat as grease, But I delight in Your law.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.
(Ps 119:65-72 NKJV)
There are a few fundamental things that are required to have joy in the middle of affliction. The first is an uncompromising belief in the goodness of our Lord. Included in this is a desire to know and obey His commands regardless of opposition and pressure to do otherwise. Lastly is a knowledge that all afflictions come to benefit our lives. They may come because we have strayed as David did, or they may come because we are right where God wants us, like Job. When we are afflicted, it gives us the opportunity either to learn His decrees or to put them into practice.
“Two-thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die," says the Lord. "But one-third will be left in the land. I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'These are my people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is our God.'" (Zech 13:8-9 NLT)
Not all survive affliction either physically or spiritually. Only a few will, but those who do will be able to say Jesus is Lord under any circumstances. If persecution came to “Christians” in the U. S., I think that only a third would survive spiritually. As we look more into the book of Revelation, we will see times when one third or one quarter of the people will be struck down physically. God uses these harsh means to get through to a few about their need to turn their attention to Him.
Those who keep their faith, whether they die or remain alive, will be purified and walk closely with the Lord. However, we must recognize that throughout history, many people have been persecuted and gone through horrific times. Many turn to the Lord and are purified, but many do not. After Jerusalem was destroyed, the remnant came to Jeremiah and asked him to pray for them. They said they would do whatever the Lord wanted (Jer 42:1-6). When the Lord told them not to go to Egypt, they disobeyed and forced Jeremiah to go to Egypt with them (Jer 43:1-7). Even worse, after they arrived they continued to commit blatant idolatry with an in-your-face attitude toward God (Jer 44:15-19). Physical survival doesn’t guarantee spiritual revival. Only those who keep their faith can claim these promises.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9 RSV)
Jesus said that the church of Smyrna was rich. Their riches and ours is our faith, which is better than gold and gives us our most valuable possession, our salvation. It is faith in Jesus that keeps us going. If we are tempted, sin, or are afflicted, it takes only a couple of minutes to refocus our thoughts on Him and we are comforted with inexpressible joy.
Jesus does not rebuke this church. It is most likely because a church under persecution is purified. When the going gets tough, the fakes and the flakes get out.
Counsel and Warning
They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham.”( John 8:39NASU)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. …” (John 8:42-44 NASU)
This isn’t the first time Jesus has accused people of being Satan worshipers. In doing this, He established the fact that true children of Abraham (Jews and Gentiles see Eph 2:11-22) behave as Abraham did. They have true faith. That faith will result in loving Jesus and accepting Him as Messiah. People, whether of the Jewish race or not, who do not accept Jesus are in essence Satan worshipers by default (Eph 2:1-3).
Jesus assures the church that He knows what they are going through. They have opposition from Jews who are so vicious that He calls them a synagogue of Satan. At this time in history, I’m told that Jews were turning in Christians to the Roman government to take the heat off themselves.
I believe that if people are truly religious (they want to know and obey God), then they will welcome the good news when they hear it. If they don’t truly want to obey God, it will become apparent in their actions. Their desires and motivation are from Satan and nowhere else. Today there are these “synagogues” all over. They don’t necessarily bring physical opposition to the Christian message, but instead distort the message. They are Christian churches where the pastor preaches against the virgin birth and other fundamental doctrines of Christianity. In the name of protecting religious freedom, the brotherhood of man, or ecumenicalism, they are watering down the gospel and convincing the lost that any way to God is OK as long as you are sincere, etc. You could also include cults that want to look like Christians but are not. Lately, groups have also risen up that label fundamental Christians as dangerous. I would classify them as synagogues of Satan as well.
Jesus also warns the church that it is going to get worse. When we are going through a time of suffering, many well-meaning Christians will tell you exactly why it has come about. Some will tell you Satan is out to get you. Others will say that God is disciplining you because you have sinned. Most are speculating and don’t really have a clue why the problems have come. This time it is different; Jesus specifically says that these tests are from Satan. What a contrast to the other churches in these two chapters! Other than the church at Philadelphia, Jesus warns them about what He is going to do to them, not what Satan has in store.
When we face trials, we should pay attention to our lives and what we have been doing. If we are living sloppy Christian lives Satan can easily trip us up and cause problems. On the other hand, if we are living strong obedient lives, Satan may be so irritated that he will try to compromise our lives. Hebrews 12:1-11 explains that we may also have disciple in our lives because we have not yet attained the holy life God desires. Then of course, there are times when problems come simply because we live in a fallen world. It is always appropriate to consider them all joy (James 1:2-4) and to always follow these instructions:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 NKJV)
In these verses you will find that Jesus tells us three times not to be afraid and once to be afraid. We are not to fear men or Satan, but to fear only Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. The only way to escape the fear of men and Satan is to acknowledge Jesus before men and not to disown Him. If we want to save our lives on this earth by denying Jesus so that we can escape persecution, we will forfeit eternal life. It will prove that our confession of Him as Lord was not sincere. The church at Smyrna may have even read these words in Matthew. They know to fear God’s chastising, not Satan’s attacks. Persecution comes even through family members as Jesus says in Matt 10:35, 36. But note that Jesus didn’t say He would turn husband against wife; Satan does that.
Job 1:9-12, 20 and 2:10 clearly show that it is Satan’s action that causes misery. But it is only by God’s permission and He sets the limits to which Satan can harm us. Job’s response to trouble was to worship God! He also recognized that he had to accept all that comes from God. Is it possible that when we rebuke Satan for causing us problems we are telling our Sovereign Lord that we don’t want to have our faith tested, that we don’t want his correction? We should be careful about our response to difficulties. Like Paul in 2 Cor 12:9, we should pray, but be prepared to accept no as an answer.
Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. "Get away from me, Satan!" he said. "You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's." (Mark 8:33NLT)
When we are tempted to do something that is clearly against God’s will and we know it is not coming from our own selfish desires, we can follow Jesus’ example and rebuke Satan. Those temptations may come from others just as Peter tried to convince Jesus not to go to the cross. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus addressed Satan and not Peter?
If you have ever had thoughts pop into your mind that are clearly wrong – rebuke Satan. Don’t dwell on the thoughts. If those thoughts are coming from the evil that you are letting into your minds through different forms of media, rebuking Satan isn’t going to do any good because he isn’t the source. James 1:13-15 clearly states that it is our own evil desires that cause these temptations.
As we look at Scripture, there are many places where demons were cast out of people. Most of these were done by Jesus. Luke 4:31-36 is a good example. The first thing that needs to be done is to establish that this is really a demon possession and not an illness. I know there are many who teach that there is always a demon behind every illness. This isn’t scriptural as the Lord sends disease throughout the Old Testament and even in the New Testament (Acts 12:23).
Of course, Jesus could always tell that there was a demon behind the problem, but we can’t. We can require the demon, in the name of Jesus, to tell its name. If we have faith, then the demon must answer. My bet is that you will never hear it say its name is Satan. If it does, you have just been introduced to the Antichrist. If a name is provided, then it would be appropriate to cast it out in Jesus’ name.
We also have to remember what Jesus said in Matt 12:43-45. Casting out a demon doesn’t guarantee that the problem will be solved forever. If there is no change in the person’s heart, he is still vulnerable to future possession. God hasn’t finished His work in the person yet.
One last thing about casting out demons, when you read the verses about disease and demons, there are only a few maladies that are associated with them. You don’t see cancer, leprosy, fever, flow of blood, plague, blindness, and most common illness associated with them. If the demon doesn’t answer, “Cancer is my name,” then it is not appropriate to cast out the demon of cancer and never appropriate to rebuke Satan for it.
I think Jude had the right answer. Those who revile demons for every disease or difficulty are dreamers (Jude 8-10). They don’t really understand what the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are doing.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:11-12 RSV)
Satan is our enemy yet we can take a stand against his schemes. There is a big difference between schemes and overt attacks. Schemes are the things that are hidden and hard to discern. I think that Satan’s primary purpose is not to destroy our health or prosperity, especially since he can’t do it without the Lord’s consent. His primary purpose is to prevent us from being a good witness and spreading the Word. We can stand against that scheme by being a good witness whatever our circumstances, whether in ill health or good, whether in riches or poverty.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9 NASB)
Satan’s motives are clear; he uses suffering to try to destroy our witness, yet we are to resist, not lie down passively and take it. The resistance should be directed toward what Satan wants stopped or weakened (our faith), not necessarily the suffering. With self-control, we are able to do this.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14-15 ESV)
By faith, we know that Jesus has destroyed the devil’s hold on us, the fear of death. We can make it through sufferings and anything else knowing this.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18 NIV)
We need to remember that Jesus suffered and was tempted. Suffering and being tempted is not a result of a lack of faith but more likely a proof that we have a faith that Satan wants to destroy.
The devil is going to put some of the church in prison for ten days. There are three ways to look at the ten days of persecution, literal, symbolic, and prophetic.
Since Jesus tells them to be faithful even to the point of death, it could mean that it was a literal ten days, which was the customary time that someone was kept in jail before their execution. Acts 12:1 does not specify the time Peter or James was kept in jail; we only know it was short. We also know that James was killed but the Lord miraculously got Peter out. Because of these examples, the ten days could also be understood as a sign that many would die and some would be rescued.
The ten days can also be symbolic of a “complete” time of suffering.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. (Col 1:24 NASU)
Paul speaks of suffering in his body to complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. The Church will suffer until His return and Paul is completing his portion of it. We are all expected to complete some suffering if we are part of Christ’s Church.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Rom 8:17 NIV)
If we expect to participate in His glory, we should be prepared to participate in His suffering as well.
But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10 NKJV)
Our suffering will not continue forever. There will be an end to it and when it is finished or completed we will be made strong and steadfast.
The ten days could have been prophetic for the early church. There were ten eras of persecution of the early church. They started with Nero in 64 AD and the last was from Diocletian and ended in 312 AD.
Each of these three viewpoints appears to fit and prepare us for Christian life. We know that we are expected to suffer, and regardless of the length of time we are to be faithful. We know that suffering completes our faith by testing it. Knowing the history of what the early church went through encourages us by example. If they went through that and didn’t deny Jesus, then He will also give us the strength to do likewise.
We also know that some suffering will result in death. We need to be prepared for that.
We also can see that until Jesus comes back, there will always be suffering. We should not be surprised.
The promise is that we will receive the crown of life. The condition is to stay faithful until death. This is a tough passage for people who believe that once saved, always saved. It makes it sound like I have to make sure I’m faithful until I die or I will lose my salvation. This is not what this verse is saying. The book of Hebrews is loaded with verses that seem to indicate people could fall away or somehow lose their salvation by not remaining faithful to the end (Heb 2:1-4, 6:4-6, 10:26-38). However, a thorough study doesn’t support this. In addition, faith isn’t something that I conjure up inside of me. It is something God has given me. When I take the focus off myself and realize that faith begins and continues in Jesus, it makes sense that I will be able to remain faithful to the end. This verse tells me that some who claim faith will fail the test and their faith will prove false. When that happens, it shows that they never had eternal life through faith.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Phil 1:6 NLT)
Who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. (Ps 103:4 NIV)
He crowns us with love and compassion in the context of forgiveness and redemption. The crown of life is available to us because of His love and compassion.
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. (Ps 149:4 NIV)
Those who are working for salvation do not get the crown of salvation because then they are not humble; they believe that they have earned something and have a right to boast in what they have done. It is simply and purely His delight to extend salvation to us when we humble ourselves before Him.
Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. (Prov 10:6 NIV)
This is appropriate for the study of Revelation. It points out the contrast between the judgment of the righteous and the wicked. The wicked can only look forward to violence.
And the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isa 35:10a NIV)
After Jesus comes back and restores the world to the way it should be, all pain, sorrow and uncleanness will be gone. We will have everlasting joy as a crown.
And provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Isa 61:3 NIV)
A crown of beauty is given in the context of the gospel being preached by Jesus and God’s day of vengeance. This demonstrates the comfort that comes from the Good News. No matter how bad things will get or what heartaches come, He will bind them up and give us freedom in Him to overcome.
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. (1 Cor 9:25 NKJV)
The crowns we will receive are everlasting; they won’t fade or perish. We need to remember this when we establish our goals in life. We need to keep in perspective our eternal goals and treasures that will be laid up for us. Jesus has called us to a race. If our worldly goals become more important to us than achieving eternal crowns, then we need to examine our priorities for the race.
For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thess 2:19-20 NASB)
People are our crown. Anyone who has helped others grow in the Lord will receive the reward of seeing how that assistance has helped others when they meet in heaven.
The crowns of salvation and righteousness are given to us based on what Jesus has done for us, but the joy, glory, and splendor are the rewards that we receive for doing His work after we are saved. Crowns also refer to the fact that there will be something over which we will rule. There are many references to reigning with Christ, which we will discuss later in the Book of Revelation.
All the crowns we are promised include blessings, love, compassion, salvation, righteousness, and much more. What Jesus suffered when they put the crown of thorns on Him was the opposite. It was hate, cruelty, and all the sinful intentions of mankind. There is nothing cheap about the crowns we have or will receive. Likewise we should not fear, but expect suffering before receiving the greater crowns.
The second death will not hurt us. The second death is referred to three more times in the Book of Revelation where it will be fully explained. Briefly, it is the eternal lake of burning fire. Those who are dead spiritually will die physically, but they will be resurrected only to be thrown into the lake of burning fire. Aren’t you glad that it will not affect you? It won’t hurt you if you are an overcomer.
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. (Matt 8:22 KJV)
Jesus uses symbolic terms, but the message is clear. Those who do not follow him are dead.
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. (Col 2:13 NLT)
Paul made it much clearer. This is another way of looking at it; we have all been dead once. If we die again without being made alive in Christ, then spiritually we will have a second death. The overcomers have no fear of a spiritual death.
Church History - Churches Today.
I haven’t seen any churches like this in the United States. They can be found in communist countries and in third world countries where the church is in combat with witchcraft and other satanic religions. The Islamic faith is particularly aggressive about persecuting Christians in many of these countries. In the United States, we are not persecuted in this way, but the time certainly could come.
In church history, this was the era when the books of the Bible were formally recognized as God-inspired Scripture. In this era, many people had to give up their lives for their faith. It was a time when the Lord used the church to grow in number and purity. Since people often died for their faith, they were not going to include anything in the Bible for which they wouldn’t die. They were not willing to include anything in the Bible that was questionable. Only a church without rebuke could be chosen for this task.
In the middle of difficulties we need to persevere and consider our riches. When we do that we will be making a difference in the world and will become dangerous to Satan but receive the crown of life. Any persecution that results will purify us and makes the message clearer.