Smyrna and Philadelphia, the two faithful churches

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, the Lord Jesus speaks to seven churches located in Asia Minor. These seven churches represent all churches that will exist between Pentecost and the Second Coming. Five of the churches receive a rebuke from the Lord and are called to repent, but two churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, receive only commendation. These two represent the faithful churches in the time between the advents. What can we learn from them?

SMYRNA – FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH (REVELATION 2:9-10)

“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:

‘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.

This church is experiencing suffering and persecution, both physically and financially. They are in tribulation and in material poverty, although the Lord declares that they are, in fact, rich in spiritual blessings. Verse 10 is the key verse.

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Jesus told His followers that persecution is a privilege. In Matthew 5:10-12, the Lord tells us that we are blessed if we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Insults and persecution and evil reports are blessings, so we are to rejoice and be glad. This is the story of the entire New Testament. The faithful followers of Jesus will suffer for His name.

In Matthew 10, Jesus teaches the same thing as He talks about the difficult path of discipleship. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Peter tells us that we are not to be surprised by fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). These are normal for the Christian. We are to rejoice when we share the sufferings of Christ (4:13). Are you reviled for Christ? Then you are blessed (4:14). Peter and the other apostles rejoiced when they were considered worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41).

Because of Jesus, a disciple does not fear suffering, even when confronted with death.

“The devil will cast some of you into prison so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.” Jesus is speaking figuratively to future martyrs, telling them that they will be tested by prison and tribulation. They will be tested severely, and the aim of the testing is to have them deny Christ and to recant their testimony. With threats of prison and torture and death, the agents of the devil will apply the flame of persecution to those who are faithful to Jesus Christ solely so they will deny Jesus.

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” For this church, Jesus’ is almost certainly calling them to endure their persecution until they are killed. This church carries the banner of martyrdom for the persecuted church for this present evil age.

But while the church of Smyrna represents those who are faithful until martyrdom, “being faithful until death” is the required attitude of all faithful churches till the end of the age. The faithful church, and of course, the faithful believer, has unconditionally resolved to be faithful until death. So, Smyrna shows us the suffering church.

PHILADELPHIA – NOT DENIED JESUS’ NAME (REVELATION 3:8-11)

The church in Philadelphia was also undergoing persecution for Jesus’ name, but their persecution was not as severe as that of Smyrna. In the midst of opposition by those of the synagogue of Satan (Revelation 3:9), these believers “have kept My word and have not denied My name” (3:8). Like Smyrna, they have felt the flames of persecution, and, like Smyrna, they have proven to be faithful. “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing,” that hour which is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth” (3:10).

Notice that Philadelphia was not persecuted as severely as Smyrna, and Philadelphia was spared from “the hour of testing,” yet the church in Philadelphia received the same reward as Smyrna. Both received a crown (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). In His divine sovereignty, God gives to some believers severe testing even unto martyrdom, while for others He spares them from severe persecution and keeps them from the hour of testing. In God’s divine economy, some believers are considered worthy of suffering greatly for the name of the Lord and some believers are given a much lighter cross to bear. Only the Lord knows why.

Your path may be similar to that of the church in Smyrna, such that the Lord gives you severe testing and calls you to be faithful through suffering unto martyrdom. Or He may spare you from the hour of severe testing and may give you a relatively light cross. In any case, there are three things to learn from this study.

  1. Not all churches or believers are commended. In fact, the majority are rebuked and called to repent. Make it your ambition to live a life that the Lord Jesus does not need to rebuke, a life that will give you the reward of the crown of life.
  2. Like the church at Smyrna, all believers are called to be faithful until death. Resolve now that there will be no suffering that will cause you to forfeit your crown. Endure the testing and be faithful until death.
  3. Like the church in Philadelphia, all believers are called to keep the Lord’s word, and to not deny the Lord’s name. Decide now to be obedient to the Lord’s word.

SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2021                 #447

A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021