THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Previous: Revelation 2:8a

Connection

"These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life;" - Revelation - 2:8b-d

Jesus identified Himself to this church with these words: "These things say the First and the Last." As with most of these letters, Jesus referred back to the vision John saw and reported in chapter 1. Making this claim again, He emphasized His deity, because only the One True God could be the First and the Last. See the notes on 1:11.

Then Jesus added this - another description from chapter 1 - "Who was dead, and came to life." See the notes on 1:17 where we considered the biblical concepts of human life and the meaning of death as separation: physical death is separation of the body from the soul and spirit; spiritual death is separation of the human spirit from God, who is Spirit, and eternal death is the dreaded state of dying physically while still spiritually dead. This is what happens to those who do not accept Christ as Savior.

While the death of Christ was payment for our sins, His resurrection is the infallible proof that what He taught was true and what He did for us was acceptable to the Father.

Commendation

"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." - Revelation 2:9

To each of the churches Jesus reminds them: "I know your works." See notes about works on chapter 2:2. First among their outstanding qualities was the way they handled "tribulation." The Greek word thlipsis, the word for "persecution," is from a root meaning "compression." It describes persecution from the point of view of the pressure that is experienced by those who are hated, injured, and killed by their enemies.

When Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, said "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake," (Matthew 5:10), another Greek word for persecution was used. It comes from dioko, which is the verb that basically means "to pursue." This describes persecution from the point of view of the one who is causing the trial.

Difficulties are normal for Christians, and God often allows them to build our character and refine our faith (James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6).

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. - 2 Timothy 3:12

The Book of Job gives great insight about why God allows trials. Satan, the "accuser" questioned Job's motives for living a godly life, claiming that he was faithful to the Lord only because of the blessings he received. God allowed the enemy to test him, knowing that Job was strong enough to prove his faith. In the process, Job was greatly blessed and Satan's plan to destroy him was thwarted.

The Apostle Paul indicated that the same testing process is at work in our lives as well.

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. - 1 Corinthians 10:13.

The Greek word used in this verse is peirasmos, which can mean "trial," or "temptation."

By the time of this Revelation the persecution of the church had already begun. According to traditional history, all of the original Apostles had been martyred except for John. Most Christians had been driven out of Jerusalem and were faithfully witnessing to people of the far-flung areas to which they fled. They usually experienced opposition from Jewish people wherever they went as well as resistance from believers in idolatrous religions. This persecution would be especially serious during this particular time because of the cruelty of Roman Emperors, who saw the Church as an enemy, since they would not bow to them.

The most famous martyr of the period would be Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, who was burned alive for his faith there about AD 153. The period of the Persecuted Church would continue until the time of Emperor Constantine's conversion in AD 312.

Amazingly, the Church continued to grow through these persecutions. One of the Church Fathers named Tertullian (AD 160 -225) made the now-famous statement, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Persecution of Christians has been a factor in all periods of the Church history. And it is very intense in our own days. With more than 100 million persecuted Christians in the world, it is a growing problem, especially in Communist and radical Islamic countries. Believers are being driven out of the Middle East in such numbers that some predict there will be no openly Christians there in the future. Even in the United States there is a noticeable rise in opposition to Christians, especially if they take a stand on the moral issues of the day.

Even before the 9/11 attacks, Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington wrote the book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. In it he predicted there would be a "clash of civilizations" between three great cultures (the Western, Asian, and Islamic). He predicted a massive conflict between the West and Islam caused by Islamic militarism.

In Jesus' other major sermon recorded in the New Testament, the Olivet Discourse, He predicted that persecution would grow worse during the Tribulation that is still future.

"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. - Matthew 24:9

Most of the terrifying events of the Tribulation are building up during this present time, which Jesus called "The beginning of birth pains." (Matthew 24:8). Ethnic wars, terrorism and anti-Christian philosophies contribute to an ever-growing toll of suffering and death. We will consider this subject more when we get to Revelation chapter 6.

"And poverty" describes the second problem that this Church faced with such courage. Smyrna was a prosperous city, but for Christians poverty was a by-product of persecution. Like the Jews in Europe during World War II, who were persecuted by the Nazis, they probably lost everything else before losing their very lives for the Gospel.

However God the Son confidently asserted, "but you are rich." No modern reality show could match the tremendous courage these faithful believers had or the heartache that they endured. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had taught this:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-21

He also had said,

For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? - Mark 8:36

Their third problem in Smyrna was "the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not."

To "blaspheme" is to speak against someone. It was used to describe those who defame God, but it would also apply to those who disparage other people. It was likely that these trouble-makers were really Jewish by birth, but they did not represent the purpose of the Chosen People. They were not true to their own Scripture or they would have tried to reason with the Christians who had such Jewish roots themselves.

Jesus, who knew the hearts of these persecutors, said they "are a synagogue of Satan." Actually all false religion is energized by Satan, as we will see most dramatically later in this Revelation.

Complaint

There is no repremand for this church, since it was constantly purified by the rigors of persecution. To put it simply, only a strong, dedicated Christian would be willing to die for Christ. A hypocrite would quit the church long before he would risk losing his life.


Next: Revelation 2:10-11


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