Revelation 2:8-11

The second letter was directed to the church in Smyrna. There is absolutely no doubt about who this letter came from. It came via John, but it came from Jesus. It is a departure from the form of most of the other letters where Jesus gives a commendation to the church, then issues His complaint against it, followed by a correction. In this letter, there is only commendation and an encouragement. It was written to a suffering church, a church which was in extreme poverty. Only those who have lived amongst believers in persecution can possibly understand the problems, repression and financial sanctions that they face. They are often subjected to long terms of imprisonment, torture and deprivation, the loss of family and loved ones, eviction from homes and, because they are regarded as outcasts from society, any who help them can also be subjected to the same sanctions.

The first and the last

John is instructed to write his letter as from Jesus, who described Himself as "the first and the last". In other words, in all things He is pre-eminent. He was the executive creator of the universe. (John 1:1-40) He was and is and will be (for all eternity) God. He is the Son of God and, as such, all things were created by Him and for Him.

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and, in Him, all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him and, through Him, to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:15-20)

What an amazing picture of Jesus from beginning to end and yet, thank God, He is not finished in all He has to do!

A new family

The apostle, Paul, describes Jesus as "the last Adam". (The name "Adam" means "man".) As he explained it in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

"The first man - Adam - became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural and, after that, the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:45-49 - The "Living Bible" version)

Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross as a substitute for you and me. Death - eternal separation from God - was the consequence for us of our sin. Jesus took our place and suffered our punishment for that sin, paying the price and allowing us to go free. Understanding and accepting this kindles our primary desire as Christians to love Him and follow Him for the rest of our lives. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Jesus was raised from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, where all authority has been given to Him. He is known in the Bible as "the firstborn of many brothers". You and I are the family to which He is referring and part of our inheritance is eternal life. Death for a Christian is but a transition, from temporal life on earth to eternal life in His presence. (Romans 8:28-30)

Needs met when the Lord supplies

Jesus knows everything there is to know about us. He knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves. What happens to us never takes Him by surprise or catches Him off guard! Jesus here brings us fantastic comfort with the words: "I know"! It is so encouraging that, when we are facing a dark trial, we can have our best friend take us by the hand and say: "I know. I care. I understand. You can count on Me." There is no heartache, pain or fear that the Lord does not share. He knows all about it. When He says that He knows of the afflictions and the poverty under which the Christians belonging to the church at Smyrna are living, He is telling the truth. He also knows that their poverty is temporary, as will be their affliction. Spiritually, they are rich and Jesus is well able to supply what they need here and now.

But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 - "King James" version)

God is infinitely rich and His riches are for us because we are His children. He supplies our needs, day by day, through Jesus. The closer we draw to Him, the better we shall understand His supply line and His way of fulfilling our needs. His supply should never be a surprise to us, but the way it arrives may often be! David had this to say about the Lord’s provision for His people:

"I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." (Psalm 37:25)

What a wonderful promise! God sees things so differently. He does not want to pamper us so that we become spoiled children. Often the things we have longed for and valued have become an abomination to Him and a curse or an idol to us. Consequently, we are blessed if we lose them. So Jesus saw the believers at Smyrna as rich. The same can be true for us. We may not have millions in the bank, but we are rich because we are His children and have all the blessings of heaven. The believers in the church at Smyrna lived at the sharp end of opposition to their church and their personal lives, but they had what was needed to live a rich, Christian life and to have all their needs met.

Using whatever God gives us for good

Not all believers live in poverty like those in Smyrna. God may have put us in a position where we are earning loads of cash or have inherited money. In those circumstances it is very important for us to learn how to manage our finances under God’s direction. Whilst He has no intention of letting us go short, He does want us to use our money, skills and abilities to advance His kingdom on earth. God’s principles of finance can be summarised as:

  • sowing and reaping;
  • tithing and giving.

Farmers only sow seed into good ground that has been well-prepared. They know the seed that they are going to use and the crop that they will reap. It really doesn’t surprise them to get a return on their investment. Of course, it is God who gives this return and He gives it so that the surplus can be sown again and reap another and a bigger harvest. If we are in the position of having such resources, let's sow our seed (financial or otherwise) into ground that we have prayed over and use it to obtain a harvest of souls for God's kingdom. When we follow God’s plan for our finances, we shouldn't expect those not in the kingdom of heaven to understand what we are doing. They may even despise or oppose us, but let's not be deterred; God wants us to follow His Spirit and His ways (based on the teaching of His word) rather than the theories, values and practices of the secular world around us! (Psalm 1:1-3)

Opposition and suffering

The church in Smyrna looks so like the underground church in China today, which we see as being afflicted and in poverty. Yet here, Jesus shows us that He sees this particular underground church as being rich in Him. In those nations, to which the Christian faith spread first, it had to overcome opposition from existing religions and beliefs, but eventually became established firmly in the government and also the culture, so that many people understood and largely accepted Christian values and teaching. The same pattern has been followed as the good news about Jesus Christ has spread around the entire world. In our own day, there are still many countries where strong opposition to the Christian message prevails.

Being a Christian does not mean that God will give us a "free pass" to avoid suffering. If anything, the reverse is true. Even in countries where Christian belief has traditionally been accepted as normal, there is now a strong push to separate Christian values from Christian faith and belief. Some of those values have been kept but re-named as "universal human values". It seems that people want to "have their cake and eat it"! As a result of these changes in thinking, Christians who insist that it is impossible to have Christian values (such as loving our neighbour or doing to others as we would like them to do to us) without first acknowledging our sinfulness and turning to Jesus for help in keeping the values of His kingdom, are likely to be maligned and ridiculed, suffering abuse or even physical attack for their beliefs. Christians are even told that simply giving voice to their beliefs causes offence and suffering to others. Naturally, we should not go out of our way to provoke others, but we, like the apostle, Paul, still have a duty to share and explain the good news of Jesus and His salvation for all humanity with all those around us.

Churches in the western world have long thought of themselves as being "rich" and, in terms of their history of biblical teaching and missionary zeal, this is true. However, life moves on continually. How often in western churches today is it possible to hear the good news about Jesus being proclaimed in an outspoken manner? Yet, in other parts of the world, it is part of everyday life. And, yes, people are persecuted for it. In countries like Myanmar, China, India, Pakistan and some parts of Indonesia, Christians can be imprisoned and even killed for their faith, but that does not stop them from caring for the eternal welfare of their fellow citizens.

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!'” (Romans 10:13-15 - King James version)

The sheep and the goats

Jesus knows those who are His. (John 10:14) He also knows those who do not belong to Him. (See what He said about judging between the "sheep" and the "goats". Matthew 25:31-46) Many people are drawn to the warmth of Christian "fellowship" - the sense of being one family as brothers and sisters in Christ. They find comfort in the teaching at churches about God's love for the whole world, but draw back from the hard steps of acknowledging their sinfulness, being willing to throw themselves on Jesus' mercy and commit themselves to living differently under His lordship. Those who try to "sit on the fence" instead of entering the kingdom of heaven are "goats". They will not be joining the "sheep" taking up their inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.

It is not up to us to judge between "sheep" and "goats". When we meet people who are trying to keep one foot in the church and one foot in the world, we need to pray for them and show them great love. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) When we live by love, we cannot fail to win people over. It is revolutionary! Indeed, if we fully understood the enormous rewards that flow from God's "agape" love, we would be actively competing with each other, trying to out-do each other in loving others! (And everyone would emerge from that competition a winner!) Love is truly the only sure secret to our success.

Since the days of the New Testament, some churches have sought to take over the position of Israel as God's chosen people. In the same way that being Jewish was about being born into a Jewish family, following the regulations and traditions of the law of Moses and the teaching of rabbis, they have made membership of a church the sole qualification required for being a "Christian". However, the writer to the Hebrews went to great lengths to explain that Jesus was a high priest who had established a new covenant, quoting (from Jeremiah 31:31-34) God's long-standing plan to bring in a new covenant. (Hebrews 8:6-13) Under this new covenant, it is no longer sufficient to belong to a particular church: we have to be "born again" into a new relationship with Jesus.

Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for the religious teachers who acted as "door-keepers" that prevented ordinary people from entering the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 23:13) Some other examples are as follows:

  • "children of the devil" - Matthew 12:27;
  • "wolves in sheep’s clothing" - Matthew 7:15;
  • "a generation of vipers" - Luke 3:7.

We do not become Christians because of our good works; it is simply a matter of accepting God's grace - His mercy and forgiveness in response to our repentance. (Ephesians 2:5)

Encouragement to remain faithful

These believers were living in a time of persecution. Smyrna – now modern Izmir in Turkey – was under Roman rule and the city authorities were keen to curry favour with their occupying government. The emperor had proclaimed himself a god and, as such, had to be worshipped. Christian believers could not be party to that and so faced a dilemma: either to deny their Lord Jesus and bow the knee to the emperor, or to stand firm and face the persecution that came to all who refused to obey the law. Such were the circumstances under which the church in Smyrna was being warned by Jesus to stay strong in the face of persecution. (Revelation 2:10)

For many Christians in the world, suffering is part of the life they lead and it seems increasingly likely that this may be the case for many more of us in the West. It is not God who puts us in prison for our faith. We have an Enemy (Satan) who is determined to oppose God's kingdom and seeks to prevent Christians from exercising their freedom as children of God. He wants to break our love for Jesus, so his plan is to bring us to breaking point. However, a Christian who knows the Lord Jesus and calls upon His resources is very hard to break.

Here, Jesus encourages those who are going through such testing times to persevere! The Lord is saying “Do not fear.” He has promised grace sufficient for every need. For those called to give witness through their death - the word "martyr" means "witness" - that grace will be given when it's needed. In the meantime, we can learn to depend on God's grace by bringing Him in to every challenging situation that we face, learning to trust Him more and more as we see His provision, firstly in small things, then in much more significant events in our lives. Let's not forget that everything our Enemy does is temporary and subject to God's permission. The keys of death and hell were taken away from Satan when Jesus rose triumphantly from the dead. Those domains are no longer controlled by our Enemy. We need to make sure that we do not give him any unnecessary or unwarranted access to our lives and our relationships - where he has no right to be. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Jesus’ instruction to these believers in Smyrna was to be faithful. The only way through anything such as persecution on this scale is to remain faithful, yes, even up to and including death. Life on earth is such a temporary affair. Once the key decision has been made to follow Jesus, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:35) Eternity is ours and death is merely a transition into the full presence of God and His kingdom. His further promise is that these faithful people would each receive eternal life as their victor's crown. Jesus took the crown of thorns so that we might receive th crown of life. What an amazing reward for remaining faithful in such difficult circumstances! He has also given us His Spirit to complete the task He started and to empower us to walk as He walked. Never ever bow the knee to Satan, despite anything that he might promise. His promises are always lies. Jesus saw that in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-11) We must always fix our eyes upon Jesus and join with the apostle, Paul, in declaring:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Philippians 1:20-26)

Jesus then makes a promise to those who hear what the Spirit says to the churches. It echoes down through the centuries:

“Those who are victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11)

If we stand firm in our Christian faith, then the second death - an eternity in hell separated from God - will not touch us. “The lake of fire is the second death.” (Revelation 20:17) Instead, we shall live with full assurance that our salvation is fully paid for and death will not touch us as we move into the presence of God in heaven. What a promise!

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