THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

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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. - Revelation 2:10

In spite of the situation at Smyrna, the Savior says, "Do not fear." How can a person not be afraid when there is such a real and imminent threat? The sacrifice of brave soldiers throughout the course of human history is surely one of the most amazing aspects of the way our Creator designed us. When it is necessary to face certain death in order to protect our loved ones, there arises in the human spirit a heroic determination to die if necessary to promote the greater good.

How much more courage and determination people have when they know that God is with them! This is the supernatural peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). The Apostle Paul said that it was the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

David demonstrated this God-given courage many times. How else could he have offered to fight Goliath when he was just a young man, and all of Israel's soldiers were afraid to stand against the giant? In the Psalms he explained his faith in the Lord.

In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? - Psalm 56:11

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. - Psalm 23:4

Daniel exhibited this same supernatural courage when he was thrown into the lions' den (Daniel 6). His three friends were willing to face the fiery furnace rather than worship a false god (Daniel 3).

Persecution takes many forms, so the Lord Jesus included all of them when He told them not to fear "any of those things which you are about to suffer." Paul, who was no stranger to persecution and suffering, said something remarkable to the believers at Philippi:

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, - Philippians 1:29

The fascinating thing about this verse is that it claims that suffering for Christ is actually a gift and a privilege. It is something that has been granted or given to them: first to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake. A godly person could actually give thanks for the experience, because it draws them even nearer to Jesus, and it proves to others who witness it how real his belief is.

"Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison." There are many names for Satan in the Bible. One of the most common descriptions is the devil (Greek diabolos, meaning "the accuser"). He and his demons are always trying to destroy believers. One of his most effective tactics is to ruin our reputation or our confidence by accusing us of wrong-doing. In the case of persecution, he is behind the drama that turns people against the saints.

I recently read a novel called "Safely Home" by Randy Alcorn. I recommend it to you because, even though it is a novel, it describes the terrible-but-true conditions that Christians face in China. The main character in the story begins each day wondering if this will be the day that he might need to die or reject his faith. And he wonders if, when that time comes, he will have the courage to stand for the Lord Jesus. He and his family live in utter poverty because Christians cannot have the better jobs. He has to meet in secret places with other believers in the middle of the night because house churches are illegal. He is thrown into prison and forced to do slave labor, but he doesn't lose his faith. It is a story of the great victory that untold numbers of Chinese Christians have experienced.

There was a purpose for the trials that the Church of the second period of Church history would endure: "That you may be tested." As we have already noted, these trials were a refining process. The pure faith that was produced by going through persecution was a powerful proof to all who heard about it that Christianity was true! People who were looking for a belief system that was real could not resist the attraction of such purified conviction.

Christians throughout the remainder of time would draw inspiration from the faithfulness of the saints from this Second period of Church history. However, the Lord would set a limit to its duration: "And you will have tribulation ten days."

The word "day" is used in various ways in most languages, and in the Bible itself. It could mean day-time, or a 24-hour period of time, but it might also mean a long period of time. Later we will see that Daniel's prophecy of "seventy weeks" means seventy "sevens" of years. And Peter wrote,

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. - 1 Peter 3:8

Many commentators have suggested that these ten days foretold the ten periods of Christian persecution under various Roman emperors. Here is a list of these well-known attacks against Christians:

Nero - AD 64-68
Domitian - AD 90-95
Trajan - AD 104-107
Aurelius - AD 161-180
Severus - AD 200-211
Maximus - AD 235-237
Decius - AD 250-253
Valerian AD 257-260
Aurelian - AD 270-275
Diocletian - AD 303-312

The first period of persecution was during the Apostle Paul's time in the Early Church, and the second period affected the Apostle John, resulting in his exile to the Island of Patmos where this Revelation was given to him.

The last of the ten persecutions ended when Constantine became emperor and was converted to Christianity himself.

This means that there was some overlapping between the first two periods of Church history. As we mentioned before, there are certain congregations or even denominations in every age that would identify with one of these seven churches or another. This is especially true of Smyrna since there have been pockets of persecution in every generation.

The seriousness of the danger to Christians in Smyrna is underscored by the next thing Jesus said: "Be faithful until death." Most Christians are not called upon to give up their lives for Christ, but a great many have made that sacrifice. The New Testament teaches the reality of spiritual warfare. It was seen in Jesus' own temptation (Matthew 4), His public teaching (Matthew 5:10-12), and his private instruction (Luke 21:32-33; John 21:22-23). Because of this spiritual battle, the Apostle Paul gave instruction about using the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20), and both Peter and James warned that we must resist the devil (1 Peter 5:8-9; James 4:7).

There will be casualties in this great spiritual battle, but death is not the "bitter end" for a Child of God. Physical death, the separation of the body from the soul and spirit (See notes on chapter 1, verse 17), will free us from the limitations of a corrupted world (Romans 7:21-24) and allow us to be "present with the Lord" forever (2 Corinthians 5:1-7).

To these faithful martyrs Jesus promised, "And I will give you the crown of life." Crowns are mentioned in many contexts in the Revelation. Christians receive crowns (here, and 3:11), The 24 elders have crowns that they place at the feet of Jesus (4:4,10); The false messiah - the rider on the white horse - has one (6:1; 13:1); demonic creatures have them (8:7); and Jesus has many crowns when He returns as King of Kings (Revelation 14:14; 19:12-16). Crowns symbolize victory, and are usually worn by rulers.

This crown is called the "crown of life," a most appropriate reward for those who die in Christ's service. It is also promised in James 1:12 for those who overcome trials and temptations. This is the only crown that is named in Revelation, but there are four others named in the rest of the New Testament. They are seen as laurel wreaths, given to the winner of various races or contests. Paul mentions an "imperishable crown" (1 Corinthians 9:19-24) for excellence in missionary service and self-discipline. This is a description rather than an actual name. There is the "crown of rejoicing" (1 Thessalonians 2:19) for winning others to Christ; the "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8) for loving Christ's appearance - believing in the Second Coming and longing for it; and the "crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:2-4) for humble leadership of Christ's flock.

This brings up the important question of the judgment of believers. Born-again Christians will be tested to see what we have done as a result of our sincere love for the Lord.

9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. - 1 Corinthians 3:9-15

9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. - 2 Corinthians 5:9-10

Apparently rewards will be given for our proper choices. There is no punishment per se for our former sinful life or for our failures as followers of Christ, because all of our sins will be forgiven (Psalm 32; Isaiah 1:18; Romans 8:1-4; Psalm 103:11-12; Micah 7:19). However, we will be aware of the wasted aspects of our lives that produced no rewards. In Revelation 4 we will see that we will place our rewards at the base of the Lord's throne.

Here's the thought that should motivate us about this future judgment. When we finally see the Lord Jesus face to face, won't we be overwhelmed by His presence and be unspeakably grateful for our salvation? And won't we desire, more than anything else, to prove our love for Him? We will show our gratitude by casting our crowns at His feet. But, horrible thought, what if we have nothing to give Him?

However, every single person who has trusted Christ for salvation will enjoy eternal life and blessings with the Lord. Jesus even promised the thief on the cross, who believed at the last minute, that he would be in Paradise with Him that very day (Luke 23:43).

Missionary C.T. Studd wrote these now-famous words:

Only one life,
'Twill soon be past.
Only what's done
For Christ will last.

Counsel

"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." - Revelation 2:11

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." See the notes about this expression on the message to the Church at Ephesus in verse 7 above.

"He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." See notes on overcomers at the beginning of chapter 2, verse 1; and notes about the second death in chapter 1 verse 18. Remember that 1 John 5: 5 defines an overcomer as any person who truly believes in Jesus.


Next: Revelation 2:12


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