Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Be Faithful To the Point of Death!

To the Church in Smyrna
8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Whereas the church at Ephesus was commanded to "repent", the church at Smyrna was encouraged to stay faithful, even to the point of death He promises them that they would be given the "victor'a crown". Smyrna was a city 35 miles Northwest of Ephesus. It was a port city with a good harbor. It was described as a "beautiful city". One of the first questions is who were the "Jews who considered themselves Jews, but were not"? Then, he calls this same group a "synagogue of Satan".

Most consider this is a reference to either the Jews who rejected Jesus, and still claimed to be the true Jews. Or more likely, Gentile Christians who were Judaized to avoid the increasing persecution by Rome. There was a pastor or bishop, who presided over the church in Smyrna, a few decades after John's vision. His name was Polycarp, and he was martyred in 150 AD. While the Jews in the area were fairly protected, the Christians were seen as a suspicious and a upstart group.

Whatever the case, John wanted to warn the believers of the trials and persecutions that may be impending. Notice he attributes the persecution to the devil or Satan, which were interchangeable terms. The main thing is they are both "anti-Christ", or being against Jesus. While at the same time he affirmed their final judgment in the lake of fire. So in the short term it may seem like evil forces are winning the day, and Christians are the losers. But one day that will be completely reversed and the opposite will happen. Christians will receive eternal life and the victor'a crown, and those against Christ, including the so called Jews in this text, will suffer eternal separation from God and Jesus.

The question for us is how might we be persecuted for our faith? We are seeing more and more that being a true Christian is increasingly unpopular in our increasingly secular society. Anyone who sees Jesus as "the way, the truth and the life", is seen as a narrow minded fundamentalist, and even potentially dangerous. While those who embrace "universalism" and "moral relativism" are seem as enlightened. Political correctness is construed as protecting people from judgmental and prejudicial statements, and to speak one's mind regarding Christian faith is not very PC at all.

So freedom of speech is trumpeted until those who define these terms deem those who express religious convictions, especially Christians, as pushing their religion on others. Please hear I am not saying that "bigotry", "hate speeches, and "bullying rhetoric" should be accepted. But there is a fine line between these un-Christian behaviors and words, and expressing one's own beliefs in a public setting.

For those who seek to follow Jesus whatever the cost, there is likely to be persecution, if even in subtle ways. As we walk the narrow road of the cross, we need to remember the promise John gives to the Smyreans, "be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the victor's crown".

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