Agonizomai: Rev 2:8-9 - Smyrna the Persecuted Church<br>The True Lot of the Blessed

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rev 2:8-9 - Smyrna the Persecuted Church
The True Lot of the Blessed

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Rev 2:8-9 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

Right up front in addressing this suffering pastor and church comes the reminder of who it is that comforts them and how He is uniquely qualified to do so. This is the comfort of all the saints - that we shall rise again as He Himself did. His resurrection is the guarantee of our very own. And not only that, but it brings about the removal of the fear of death. He has the power and the right to raise us. He is the first and the last. He was before all things and through Him all things were made. He is called, amongst other things, "Mighty God and Everlasting Father" (Isaiah 9:6). The implication is that His appearance in history in the form of a man Who came to die and rise again of His own power, taking up His life again as He promised His disciples He would - this appearance is irrefutable and comforting.

The Smyrnans (and we ourselves) are reminded that it was God Himself Who came and died (as a man) and rose again. It was God Who suffered so that we would be made free in Him through the obedience of faith. The bad news of their imminent and very real suffering is put into perspective against the backdrop of the infinite humility, condescension and love of God Himself. Eternity with Him is but days away.

To people like most of us it would be a dreadful thing to be given the means and time of our death - because our faith and our love are weak, or because we are worldlier than we like to think. But to convinced saints who are abiding in the love of Christ it is good news. It is something to be embraced with a certain joy. 10 days and they will be with the Master and lover of their souls! To be sure, because they are human their joy is undoubtedly mixed with a measure of trepidation. Such occasions give opportunity for the devil to probe our faith and love for the Lord.

But they also, under the divine sovereignty and providence, are the means by which the last fruits of grace are communicated and formed in the soul before becoming forever fixed in us in heaven. Until the very end Christ is working still to perfect His own according to His eternal plan and power. We shall die when and how He decides. Until then we are invincible. This is comfort to the person of faith.

There is here a direct contrast with the Laodicean church. The Smyrnans were a church under great persecution occasioned by rabid Jewish opposition. It was at Smyrna that the Christian martyr Polycarp was killed. Desiring him to be thrown to the lions for his faith in Christ, but frustrated by the obstacles to such a sentence, the Jews rejoiced when he was condemned to be burned, and even carried the faggots to his pyre. The Smyrnan believers had been socially and economically oppressed also. Property confiscations, ostracisation, discrimination in business - all had their part in the persecution of the Way at Smyrna.

But how we see that, though some may have gone out from among them, those that were left were of pure and tried mettle, ready for more tempering in the furnace of God’s sanctifying, chastening love. Though wealth itself is not to be despised, it is deceitful and engenders a love for the things of the world that underlies all evil in the hearts and minds of the unwatchful. There are comparatively few noble and wealthy in the kingdom. God has chosen the base and the mean things of the world to confound the mighty and the proud so that no flesh should glory in His presence. There are those who are poor-rich, like the Laodiceans, and there are those who are rich-poor, like these Smyrnans. The Smyrnans would have considered themselves blessed indeed to be so poor, knowing that such poverty and tribulation were manifested under the watchful, limiting, loving permission of the Lord Who had died and come to life.

Whenever and wherever the saints are undergoing tribulation (persecution), poverty and slander you can be sure that the Lord God Almighty is working in glorious power, putting to shame the demons of hell through the faith at work in His children. It is faith lived out that glorifies God. It is that heart and mind that loves Him more and better and deeper in the midst of the onslaught of the very gates of hell because it sees that in the very weakness of mere humanity the power of the risen Christ is made manifest to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places - both good and evil. It is not mainly for us that the heavenly angels are cheering - as Lucado would have us believe in his book "The Applause of Heaven." No! It is praise and blessing and honour and glory power to the Name that is above all names on Whose account, by Whose grace and in Whose power it is all brought to pass.

This is what utterly mystifies and terrifies the enemy - the grace and love and power of God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. It is not we, the recipients of grace and mercy, at whom the demons tremble. It is not we, the powerless, helpless freed captives that the devil fears, but the Almighty, Holy, Just God who has bound the strong man and robbed his house. Christ has removed the barrier, torn the curtain, demolished the roadblock that kept the holiness of God from embracing sinful man. It is simply and alone our faith in this fact through which the whole power and treasury of heaven is unleashed to manifest the victory of Christ in the world. He was made manifest to set at naught the works of the devil. Our fight is with spiritual tools - salvation, faith, imputed righteousness, the truth, the gospel of peace , the Word of God - all wrapped in prayer. The work of God to which we have been separated is, as Christ said, " believe in the One Whom He has sent." (John 6:29) This belief is no passive thing. It is a belief that strains mightily to abide in the love of God and to trust Him to remove every obstacle within that dulls the abiding of His love in us and thus, its expression through us.

And these Smyrnans are right in the midst of the fray. Trusting in God and in His eternal and infinite love in Christ while the whole world surrounding them is malevolently bent on their destruction. They know the true nature of the conflict. Each human is accountable to God for believing God or not. But the Smyrnans know that they are fighting against the powers of darkness that motivate and urge their persecutors to give in to their own corrupt natures and release their blood lust. Is it the saints they hate? Yes and no. They hate the saints for Who is in them. They are persecuting and robbing and killing Christ Himself because whoever does it unto the least of one of His little ones does it unto Him. He is in them and they in Him.

The fear of God is indeed the beginning of wisdom. Who but God could take enemies like us and bring about in us the obedience of faith by leading us into trials and tribulations, temptations and persecutions? Who could take our evil and turn it to good and, while He is doing it, be manifesting His victory through frail and powerless vessels to the immense spiritual powers and forces of darkness that are at enmity with Him? What answer can there be to such manifold wisdom and power? Surely every mouth will indeed be stopped and every knee will bow at the Name of Jesus to the glory of God the Father. Amen!


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