Agonizomai: Rev 2:10 - Smyrna the Persecuted Church<br>Martyrdom, the Ultimate Blessing

Friday, May 01, 2009

Rev 2:10 - Smyrna the Persecuted Church
Martyrdom, the Ultimate Blessing


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Rev 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.


How can a man not fear what is beyond his own power and control? Civil authority, willingly operating under the deceit of the devil in defiance of God, and immense and unseen spiritual forces bent on deceiving or destroying all of Christ’s own are surely enough to make the strongest heart faint. Yet throughout the ages saints have faced and borne the most terrible cruelties with joyful grace and forgiveness. How? How can it be? And again we are cast upon Christ Who did precisely this before our very eyes so that, through our exercise of the faith in Him that we have been given, He could demonstrate those qualities of His life and character in us.

We know that God is sovereign. We know that all forces on earth and above the earth and under the earth are subject to Him both by legal right as well as by dint of sheer power. God never abdicated His sovereignty to Satan. God has always been utterly in control of all things and He always will be. What He does not cause directly He allows for His own good purposes. By "legal right" is implied the fact that God is just in all His acts, including the salvation and sanctification of the blackest sinner. He has purchased or ransomed them for a price from bondage to the enemy by satisfying the wrath of God against their sin. The price was paid not to the enemy, but to the God of holiness, so that the prisoners would be perfectly reconciled to Him through His own act of pure grace and mercy.


When John says that the devil is about to throw some into prison he does not mean that a red, horned, scaly, goat-footed satyr with a pitchfork is literally going to lay hold of people and physically toss them into jail. Neither does he mean that the people who do the actual imprisoning and accusation will not be responsible for their own willful actions. What he is doing is using a figure to convey that the danger to the church at Smyrna is incited by the forces of darkness who are opposed to the kingdom of God. As with the saints so with the heathen, human actions are taken by free human agents - but those agents are captive either to righteousness or to corruption, according to ruling spirit of their lives.
The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. {Mt 12:35}
The heart’s nature dictates the direction that the heart will follow. But we have the mind of Christ and He has put a new heart within us. The Smyrnan church, though small and about to get smaller, consists of those who have truly been regenerated by God. This is why they are able to be faithful. The testing of the saints is not done in order to prove to God that they are worthy. It is done so that God can show them that He has made them worthy in Christ. When we abide in Him in the midst of tribulation we discover both things - that we are indeed in Him and that He has indeed made us worthy. He has done it. He has done it (past tense).

I think this is one of the most misunderstood parts of the gospel. Here is a command or a statement that plainly says, "Do this and I will do that..." It looks like tit-for-tat. It looks here like God is saying that He will only give eternal life to those who are determined enough, strong enough, persistent enough to endure to the very end. It seemingly depends upon us. But this is not the full story. It depends on us abiding in Him Who has done all things well and has finished the work of redemption. We walk in what Christ has done.

Yes, but it’s we who do the walking isn’t it? Even that is not completely right. We walk in Him - in His power - with the new heart that God put into us, upheld and sustained from start to finish because it has been His purpose from all eternity that we should finish the course. He is at work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. When we understand this, then there is no longer any room for thinking in terms of God did this for me and now I’m doing this for Him so that He will give me eternal life if I can just hold on. I can’t hold on. But He can keep me.


Jesus said that whoever believes on Him has eternal life. {see John 3:36,5:24,6:47} What He meant by the term "believes" is explained more fully when He speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Believing isn’t a mental assent, an acknowledgment of His existence - not even some sort of recognition that He is God. That sort of faith the devils have, and they tremble. No. Belief in Christ is a vital relationship that affects all we do because we are constantly partaking of Him. It is the demonstration of His very own obedience in us through the yielding of our own will by putting to death the deeds of the body. It is to increasingly be overtaken by the divine will in such a way that it is our will to do the divine will. Such a transformation can only be effected through supernatural means. It takes a mystical union of the believer and God in Christ by the Holy Spirit which can only be brought about by God Himself. "You must be born again".

So the Smyrnans are told to be faithful unto death as an exhortation that will bring about in those who belong to God the very thing commanded. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. {Ro 1:16} The gospel is God’s means of feeding Christ to His people and their life is in Christ. The Spirit takes the food and metabolizes it in the believer through faith. The Living Word comes to our hearts in the written Word by means of the Spirit. They will be faithful in whom Christ dwells by the Spirit to make them so - that He may be all in all.


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