The central theme in The Book of Revelation is a call to faithfulness. To steward our lives as a faithful witness of God’s goodness and love. We continue looking at the patterns of commendation, exhortation, consequence, and reward throughout the letters to the seven churches. Even in the midst of tribulation, God gives us an opportunity to love and trust Him. He will reward our faithfulness with His approval.Transcription:
Last time we talked about the church at Ephesus. We’ve been through the seven churches and looking at the historical eras, and now we’re going through looking at each one in the spiritual application of the message.
The church of Ephesus
In the church of Ephesus, we saw a pattern. We saw that these letters follow a certain sequence. They go to, from, commendation, exhortation, consequence, reward. They all follow that, with some exceptions.
In Ephesus, we saw it said to the church of Ephesus, from the one who picks his witnesses and messengers. I hold the stars and the lampstands in my hand. Commendation: You’re doing an awesome job standing for the truth. You sort out false teachers. You don’t allow false witnesses. You stand for the truth. That’s awesome. Great that you’re doing that.
Exhortation: I want my witnesses to be not only people who stand for truth, but also love. There’s two kinds of love I care about: Love me (God’s speaking). Love me which means I want you to care about what I want more than what you want or what other people want. And just being right isn’t enough. I want you to care about other people. Love others. That’s what I care about.
If you don’t, I’m going to take your witness away. That’s the consequence. I don’t need a witness that’s just truth. Being right leads to being right, self righteousness. The purpose of being right is to benefit others. And if you’re not going to do that, I’m not going to have you as my witnesses. Then he adds, but I really like that you stand for truth. I’m not telling you not to stand for truth. That’s awesome. I want both.
Then he says to the overcomer, I will give to eat of the tree of life. So the benefit or the reward of standing for truth in love is this joy of life, the fellowship of life.
The church of Smyrna
Today we come to Smyrna, and he follows this same pattern. What I’m going to do is go through that pattern with you, the way I see it, as an overview, and then we’ll get into the text.
Revelations 2:8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna—
So, to Smyrna. Smyrna is derived from the word myrrh, so it’s the place of bitterness. To: This place of bitterness. From: The one who writes history, has everything under control, and who was dead and came to life.
The exhortation is you are doing great, persevering in a really, really difficult time. I know things are hard. I know things are tough. And I commend you for hanging in there.
The exhortation isn’t but I have something against you. The exhortation is just keep hanging on. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Just keep hanging on.
The reward is, if you’re faithful unto death, I’ll give you a crown of life.
Then he says, to the overcomer, you won’t be hurt by something. And I’m going to propose that what he’s saying here is you won’t be hurt when your deeds are judged because your faith has already been refined and proved in this life. If you do it in this life, when you come before the judgment seat of Christ, it’s already done. You’ve already been proven.
I’ll show you where I come up with that. Let me just read it now, and then we’ll go through it bit by bit.
Revelation 2:8 And unto the angel—or the messenger—of the church in Smyrna write, “These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Let’s go through it. To the angel in the church of Smyrna write these things says the First and Last. Now this First and Last, beginning and end, alpha and Omega runs all through this book. And we saw in the introduction to Revelation that the overarching theme of the book is Jesus is writing to his servants to show his servants how to be great witnesses, martyreo, those who give a witness. And he wants us to make being a good witness such a priority that we’re willing to lay our life down for it.
Jesus here is the one who’s dead and come to life. He was dead. He came to life. What does he want us to do here? Lay down our life, so that we can be lifted up.
I’m the one that’s first and last. I’ve got all this under control. What we’re going to see as we go through Revelation is a lot of bad stuff is coming. A lot of difficult days are ahead. And, God’s already got these days ordered. What he has in mind for us is to endure so that we can be witnesses. He’s going to tell us the extent to which that’s in our best interest even though it’s hard to hear.
None of us want to go through difficulty, but it is part of life. And what we’re going to see here is it’s a part of life that brings us great riches.
So, I was dead and came to life. You’re going to have an opportunity to do the same.
I know your works, tribulation, and poverty. But you are rich.
You are rich
In the seventh church, the church of Laodicea, Jesus says, “buy from me all the gold you want. You can have as much gold as you want. And the way you get that gold is when I knock, hear my voice and open the door. And then I will come in, and we will fellowship. And you can listen to me, and you can know me.” And that’s infinite riches.
When we go through persecution for the sake of the Lord, I think what he’s promising here is not only in the days to come, but he’s promising us his presence. There’s no riches that material wealth can give that even come close to the riches we have when we walk in fellowship with God in that sense.
There are lots and lots of people in the world who have a lot of material stuff, but no relationships; and they’re miserable. Relationships with people that love us is what brings joy in life. And nobody can love like Jesus can love.
A synagogue of Satan
I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you’re rich). And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews but they’re not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Probably what’s happening here is the Jews are persecuting these believers. We saw that all through Paul’s writings: that he’ll go to a city, he’ll go to the synagogue, start making great progress, and then the Jews organize and go get him stoned or beaten or arrested or run him out of the city.
It’s interesting that he says they’re a synagogue of Satan. Anybody that opposes the gospel is doing the will of Satan.
Do not fear
And it’s interesting because he says do not fear any of those things which you’re about to suffer. It’s hard enough to suffer when you’re suffering. It’s even worse when you know suffering’s coming.
One of the things I learned when we raised David, who was by far our most difficult child by a factor of ten, one of the things I learned is that spanking didn’t do any good. It didn’t hurt. He didn’t care. It was always worth it to him. Whatever it was that he did was worth it to him.
Unless he had to wait for it. That drove him crazy. What I learned is to say, “Go to your room. I’ll be in there in a little bit.” And by the time I got there, it didn’t matter. I could just barely touch him, and it was an agony because he had to wait for it. He couldn’t stand waiting for it.
Well he’s telling them: Look, you’re about to be thrown into prison. This is difficult. Difficult days are coming. And what I want you to do is understand what that’s about.
Relationship between Satan and the government
It’s interesting here that it says the devil is going to throw some of you into prison. This is a time when these seven churches are all on the western coast of Turkey, and these were Greek cities which then became Roman cities, and this Turkey, then, was a Roman province called Asia.
So, if somebody’s going to throw them into prison, it’s going to be a Roman soldier at the behest of a Roman governor. And Jesus says, that’s Satan throwing you into prison. There’s a lot of interesting implications there, don’t you think?
Because what that means is that Satan is actually the one controlling the Roman government at that point in time.
Relationship between events in heaven and events on earth
This goes back to a point we made when we first set this up, and we’re going to see this all through Revelation: the connection between what’s happening in heaven and what’s happening on earth.
Jesus says I’ve got my lampstands up here, and I’m going to take your lampstand out. The clear implication to Ephesus is if I take my lampstand out in heaven, then your witness is gone on earth.
We looked at Daniel. Daniel asked for clarity about what does this vision mean. And an angel was sent to tell him and got held up for 21 days. And when he finally gets to Daniel, he says, hey, sorry I’m late. When you asked, I was dispatched, but I got hung up by the prince of Persia.
Daniel worked for the prince of Persia. That was a man. But the angel got held up by an angel that was the prince of Persia.
There’s a real connection between what’s going on in heaven and what’s going on on earth. We’re going to see this over and over again. We’re going to see these strange things happen in heaven, and when it happens in heaven, a seal is opened, and then all of a sudden stuff breaks out on earth.
Relationship between Jesus and Satan
Satan is going to throw them into prison, but wasn’t Satan already defeated at this point? Wasn’t Satan already displaced by the new ruler of the world? He was. Jesus has already beaten Satan.
This is kind of like a lame duck President. He’s already lost his election, but the new president hasn’t been inaugurated yet. And he’s getting stuff done in between. Jesus allows this to take place, and it’s interesting too in Romans 13, we know God appoints the authorities. But, that’s because he’s first and last.
This kind of reminds me of Job. Satan comes in to the presence of God in heaven, and God brings up and says have you seen my servant Job? He’s making you look really bad.
And Satan says, yeah, well, it’s just a deal. You give him everything. Why, who wouldn’t take that deal. You make him all rich and everything, and all he has to do is worship you. What’s the big deal about that? Take away all his goods and he’ll curse you.
And God says, alright. Go ahead. Just don’t hurt his person.
After Satan comes back, God brings it up again and says, hey, you see Job didn’t fold like you said he was going to. Now you’re looking really bad. And in the course of saying that, God says, although you incited me to ruin him. See, God said, I’ll give permission even though Satan did all the dirty work.
Same kind of thing here. I’m letting this happen to you. I’m letting this happen to you. Satan is going to administer it, but I’ve got something really good in mind for you. So hang in there. Don’t be afraid. Satan is going to be let loose. Satan is at work. Don’t fear.
Satan’s at work in the world today. Have you noticed? He’s on the loose. He’s in control of a lot of governments. And those governments are doing bad things. Don’t be afraid is the message, even though we may suffer as a result.
Ten days of tribulation
Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison. Why? That you may be tested, and you’ll have tribulation ten days.
That’s interesting. Ten days. A ten-day sentence I can handle. I don’t think this means ten literal days. What he’s trying to say in here is you’re going to be tested until that time is over. But it’s a specific amount of time. The first and the last. God has already written it out. He’s already scheduled it out. You’re going to have a specific amount of time.
But why ten days? It’s interesting. If you look up the phrase ten days, you find it two different places. If you want to look, you can. Daniel 1:12.
Daniel comes up and says, “hey, can you give me a time of testing that’s ten days?” Remember what the test was? The vegetables. Will you let me have vegetables and water instead of meat sacrificed to idols, stuff that would defile us? Give us ten days. And at the completion of ten days, then we’ll see.
It appears that a ten-day trial is considered a complete trial. That’s interesting, isn’t it?
You also see in Jeremiah 42:7 that Jeremiah has petitioned to God, and God answers ten days later. It’s like, I’m going to answer you, but I want you to wait for ten days. The implication here seems to be ten days is a complete time.
Look at this: that you may be tested and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life. That sounds a lot like something we’re very familiar with, which is James chapter 1.
James on trials
James 1:2. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. And the root word here, trials, is the same word as in Revelation 2. Same root word. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
And if we look down in verse 12: Blessed is the man who endures temptation—trials, the same root word here as in Revelation 2.—when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life.
It’s the same, exact message. I’m going to send you trials. I’m going to send you temptation. When you endure it, you’re going to get the crown of life.
Now, let’s look at this. James chapter 1—because I think it expands on what we’re being told here in Revelation 2. In verse 2 it says, My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
There’s nothing joyful about being thrown into prison. There’s nothing joyful about being persecuted. The circumstances don’t bring joy. But he says here: Count it joy. Decide that this is good for me.
Why trials are good for us
And in Revelation we’re told why it’s good, and in James we’re told why it’s good. Why we can make that decision. It tells us right here in verse 3.
—the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
What God wants us to do is take advantage of this one opportunity we have in our existence to know God by faith. The one opportunity we have in all our existence to live by faith. There’ll come a time when we die that we’ll know God by sight. And it will be wonderful.
But the angels have known God by sight for a long, long time; and they spend a lot of their time trying to understand what we’re getting to understand, which is to know God by faith, because they’re never going to get to know that.
And who’s going to rule the angels? The overcomers are going to rule the angels. Even though there’s no indication that we’re going to be more powerful than the angels. But, there’s something about this knowing God by faith that bumps us up to a level that goes above the angels.
I Peter says they’re looking down like an archeologist would study an object, trying to understand what we are getting to understand. And that faith, having our faith perfected is so amazingly valuable that when we’re suffering, we should say, boy, this is awesome. This is really great for me. I’m going to count this as joy because it’s such a fantastic opportunity.
James goes on and says that’s not that easy to do. It’s not that easy to believe. So if you need help believing that’s true, what do you do in verse 6? Ask for wisdom and God will give you the perspective to see this if you’ll ask without doubting because we can really believe this. We can believe what he’s telling us in these letters to the churches if we’ll ask God, help me see that what I do now I can count as joy because of what it’s laying up for me.