The letter to the next church builds upon this foundation. The first letter reveals God’s foundation that must be firm so that when the circumstances of trials and tribulations come our way and seem too difficult and that they will annihilate us, we will continue to stand firm in the faith and our love!
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for 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 will not be hurt by the second death.’” (Revelation 2:8-11)
Jesus is establishing His divinity to the leaders of the church so that they will pass on the same true message to those who they are responsible for in their congregations. The leaders are responsible for teaching truth to their congregations so that they will be established in the truth and can also share it with others. “...He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says…”
“The first and the last,...” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” (John 1:1-4) “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” (1 Peter 1:20) The triune God always was, He was not created, He was the Creator. He saw all of the future even before He laid the foundations of the earth. Yet because of His great love for us He sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth to be our redemptive lamb to save us from the eternity of hell. His desire is for each and everyone to see his own sinfulness and need of a Savior, but because of the gift of freewill He knew there would be those who would reject Him. I don’t know about you, but that alone convicts me that I still have a lot to learn about having the love of God in my heart for those who hate me or persecute me. The most powerful and beautiful example of our Lord’s great love and forgiveness was while He was hanging on the cross and He prayed to the Father regarding those who were murdering Him, the Messiah. But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34) And that is exactly what He has told us to do in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I am so thankful for the grace of God which will be sufficient for me in every situation! (2 Corinthians 12:9)
So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45 emphasis mine) Adam was the first living soul. He and Eve lived in the perfect environment, the Garden of Eden. They walked and talked daily with the Lord. Can you imagine? Everything was perfect! All of their needs were met before the Lord even created them. But sin slithered into the garden and deceived Eve and Adam did not stand up to Satan but allowed Eve to make a disastrous decision that changed their whole lives.
Have you ever made a choice which changed the entire direction of your whole life? It could have been as Adam and Eve and brought destruction, or it could have set you on the Lord’s path for your life and was difficult and joyous at the same time. It could have brought destruction or redemption. If it was the first, destruction, there is still time to repent and have the free gift of redemption! But for that redemption there must be a death!
What did Jesus mean when He said He was the last? If this was a video I might sound a shofar to get your attention, so pretend with me that this is a trumpet call! Jesus wants to make sure that we clearly understand that He alone will be the one to bring in the Kingdom of God. Did you hear that? Kingdom Now people cannot bring in the Kingdom of God! There is not a believer on this earth who has the power to bring in the Kingdom of God. “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:8-10 emphasis mine) My dear brothers and sisters, did you hear anything in these Scriptures which said that you were the one to bring in the Kingdom? NO! But we are to go into all the earth and preach the gospel. But if the preaching is not empowered by the Holy Spirit it is worthless.
Let’s examine a few additional Scriptures for consideration in this matter so that no one is deceived. Do the following verses give any hope that the end times we live in will ultimately be reversed? Do any of them state that the church will bring in King Jesus to finally reign because He was waiting for His church to be victorious over all the nations? “Let no one in any way deceive you, for [it will not come] unless the apostasy (falling away (nkjv)) comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains [will do so] until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; [that is,] the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12)
My dear friends, we have to get out of the mindset that it is us who make the difference! We are the vessels that the Lord will flow through and, yes, we will receive crowns for our faithfulness to do what God has laid out for our lives, but it is God who has the power to bring in the kingdom by simply speaking out the spiritual sword from His mouth against all the nations. “And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.” (Revelation 19:15) You see dear reader that it is Yeshua who brings the kingdom in and receives all the glory, not the church. You and I get the blessing of watching the miracle of new birth but it has nothing to do with us other than our obedience and willingness to be used as part of God’s plan! Honestly, isn’t that enough? It definitely is more than we deserve. But because of His great love for us He brings us into His plan to see the outpouring of His love and redemptive healing. Wow!
One last caution before we move forward to the next section of Jesus’ teaching. There will be deceivers who will appear to be angels of light. Remember these words of our Lord, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” (Matthew 7:21-23)
“...who was dead, and has come to life,..” Jesus is giving testimony of the witness of His death. John was the last living apostle who had witnessed His death and His resurrection. Jesus’ body suffered the most cruel punishment imaginable for a human being and had physically died on that cross. But He miraculously was raised from the dead by the hand of God! There were many witnesses and Jesus was reminding them of this truth. And because of this truth, many who believed He was the Messiah were being persecuted and killed. To be a follower of Jesus meant that you had spiritually died of all your desires and desired more than life itself the life of Jesus! “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
These believers in Smyrna were living testimonies that they did not count their lives more important than being in the will of the Lord. Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) These words were embedded in their hearts. They weren’t just words, they were life to them. Listen to what Jesus says to them next, ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.’ (Revelation 2:9-10) “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12) “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
For those without a strong spiritual foundation this passage will not sound like a victory passage, but it truly is. Smyrna was a wealthy area but the church/believers were being persecuted by the Jewish leaders who had much authority. They had cut off all financial dealings with the believers in Jesus Christ and they were not allowed to buy or sell. They were economically poor and were being starved but notice what Jesus says, ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich),...”. They were rich because they were the true heirs of Messiah! His next words bring reassurance to them that they are under attack just because of their beliefs. Jesus’ next words were not to make the believers hate their persecutors but to remind them that even though this battle definitely was affecting them physically, it was a spiritual battle. These Jewish leaders were not the seed of Abraham looking for the Messiah, they were children of the devil who had positioned themselves as the rulers and had really placed themselves in the position of God. (You may want to go back to the Gospel of John and read the many accounts of how the rulers, Pharisees and Sanhedrin, tried to kill Jesus, how they called Him a blasphemer and the devil! How Jesus so many times tried to speak into their lives to reveal the seed of deception only to have them reject Him over and over again! They truly thought that by KILLING Jesus they would have total authority again over the people.)
You and I might think that the next thing that Jesus would do is to free His people from the prisons that they were being thrown into but we are being taught here that a time is coming (again) when we will not see the miracle of deliverance from the trials and tribulations of the believers but that we will be called to endure the persecution through Jesus Christ’s strength until the end. Many of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ are already experiencing this in the Middle East. When Jesus states that it will be for “ten days” He is speaking of the duration until it is finished. The number ten signifies completion. ‘Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.’ The words of the Apostle Paul explains this better than any words I can attempt to put on paper. “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:9-11 emphasis mine) We don’t hear much, if any teaching, about the “fellowship of His sufferings”. People love power but the suffering often turns out to be exit door for them. It truly reveals their hearts. You and I need to never forget this very important Word to us written through the Apostle Paul, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2Timothy 3:12)
I don’t say that lightly, no one wants suffering. It is easy to worship Jesus when everything is going good but what happens when things aren’t going so good? It is in the valleys of our lives where we grow because we find that without Christ we have nothing. That is where many of us learned to surrender and begin the walk of obedience with Christ as the Head of our lives. There He becomes Lord. “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:9 emphasis mine) But many will rebel, especially at this point in their walks because the “seed” did not form a strong foundation and they will turn away and try to save their lives. “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8) Many of the tares of the church will be revealed at this time. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) That’s the deciding line. All of us have an open invitation to follow Jesus, but it is only those believers who remain faithful to the end who will have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, they will be the “chosen” people, the true seed of Abraham because their roots are firmly planted in the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Can you hear the love of our precious Lord as He speaks to the believers in this church? He truly knows the pain and tribulation they are facing. He had warned His disciples while He was still with them, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matthew 24:9)
Jesus then reminds them of their calling and their reward. Oh what a promise! ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:11) “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1:7) As hard as it is sometimes for us to wrap our minds around this truth, death in our fleshly bodies is not the death to be feared. If we are Christ’s our earthly body death will deliver us into Paradise. And while we will face judgment we will not stand before the Great White Judgment Throne for the unbelievers who will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Here is the victory verse for us speaking about Satan in Revelation 12:11, "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.”
I take great comfort in these words of Jesus as we look to the future. He knows our every need and will meet those needs. He will not always meet them in the way we expect Him to, but He will meet them with exactly what we need at that exact moment!
For those of us who spiritually see the truth of the future and are not being deceived by the lies of the Kingdom Now movement or the Dominionist movement or the Seven Mountain movements or the New Age or Contemplative Prayer deception, or the number of other apostasy teachings that are being spewed in our churches today, the message to the believers in Smyrna testifies to the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ that He will never leave or forsake us. The testimony of their persecution encourages us to keep the faith and stay on the narrow path. We know that there are the martyred in heaven who are praying and interceding for us as we continue to live in this earthly body. They have walked the path before us and have now given us a clear testimony of what lies ahead and the reward that we will receive.
Now, hopefully, we can more clearly understand the truth of these words of Scripture, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,” (Hebrews 3:14 emphasis mine) Our only existence that assures our salvation is clear and the Apostle Paul states it well for us, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6) In this same letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul warns us that if we think any differently than what the Scripture teaches we are not the Lord’s. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
The way is narrow that leads to life. We cannot live with one foot following Jesus and one foot in the world, we are either His or we are not. The following verse clearly reveals truth of what a holy life for a believer looks like, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:21) What does “holy” look like? It is one whose life has been set apart for the Lord. He is a new creation and seeks the things of the Lord and His ways. We will learn to walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) Walking in faith produces the fruit of the Spirit in us. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25) Not perfect but steadfast in the new life that he/she is living. The Apostle John gives us a very clear understanding of what this “holy life” looks like. “and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27) And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:5)
Precious Lord, thank You for this great reminder of Your faithfulness and that You know everything that is happening in our lives. It is so easy for us to focus on our needs and yet forget Your teachings. I am reminded of Your Words, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25) “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34) Your Words are life to me! Forgive me for taking my eyes off of the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus! (Philippians 3:14) You alone are my refuge! You are my strong tower! You fulfill my every need according to Your riches in glory! (Philippians 4:19) Your ways are perfect. Thank You as You continue to transform my mind and bring it into alignment with Yours. I bow my knee and praise Your holy name! In all this I pray in the blessed name of Your Son, Jesus Christ! Amen.