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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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