Wednesday, October 19, 2016

19 October 2016
Good morning, welcome. Today’s message is to the church in Smyrna. Like Ephesus, Smyrna was a large, important city in Asia Minor. Unlike Ephesus, Smyrna remains to this day, as Izmir in modern Turkey. In John’s day Smyrna was a center of emperor worship; the city had a temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
Revelation 2:8-11 (NRSV)

Jesus has found no fault with the church in Smyrna. They have been faithful in the face of persecution from within and without. The Jews of the ‘synagogue of Satan’ may have been Jews who professed Christ but insisted on retaining their Jewish traditions and imposing them on Gentile believers. Or they may have been Jews who, fearing losing the protection given them by Rome, were accusing Christians of stirring up trouble by refusing to participate in emperor worship. Either way it is not intended to be taken as a blanket condemnation of all Jewish people, then or now.

 Emperor worship would have been a requirement for joining trade unions and such; refusal to participate would have resulted in sanctions and persecution-affliction and poverty-and most likely would have been seen as treason against Rome. The situation would get worse before it got better; Jesus hints at imprisonment and martyrdom, although ‘ten days’ would indicate this would be for a limited time.

The Smyrna church was not merely witnessing to some new philosophy or belief system or theology; it was witnessing to God Himself. As fully human Jesus had already suffered martyrdom at the hands of Rome. As fully God He is the first word on resurrection and the last word on death. The faithful in Smyrna will not experience anything Jesus has not already experienced. The first death is temporary and will touch some; the second is eternal and will not touch the faithful.

The promise is for us as well. The word translated ‘conquers’ implies a struggle resulting in victory. The idea of suffering (or not suffering) for the faith may be used to justify all sorts of behavior, not all of which would be pleasing to our Lord. In applying these words to our own lives it is important to remember it is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself we seek to know, worship and obey. The struggle for many of us-myself included-is to allow ourselves to be transformed daily into the image and likeness of Christ. Most of us will not be called to die for Christ in the literal, physical sense; all of us are called to live for Him in every sense (see, for example, Romans 12:1-2 and Luke 9:23).

The church in Smyrna is about to suffer. Jesus does not promise to take away their suffering. His promise is for the faithful who come out on the other side. Perhaps we would be better served today-individually and corporately, as the Body of Christ-to shift our focus away from avoiding persecution (and complaining about it when it comes, as if somehow we have been granted immunity) and towards being a faithful witness to our Lord whatever the circumstances.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you this day. JRG

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