Faithful Until Death

The church of Smyrna is only one of two of the seven Asian churches that received no correction, the other being Philadelphia. What set this congregation apart was the level of persecution that it endured because of its “testimony,” and its steadfast refusal to “eat meat offered to idols” and otherwise compromise with the Greco-Roman culture. Its members stood firm in their refusal to participate in the imperial idolatry of Rome, and consequently, they suffered “tribulation” and persecution due to false accusations against them made by Satan’s agents.

More than the others, the Assembly in Smyrna becomes the model of faithfulness for other congregations and individual believers to emulate, both then and now, and especially in times of persecution. By remaining “faithful until death,” the saint “overcomes” Satan and avoids the “Second Death,” and he also qualifies to receive the “Crown of Life.”

Tiny Church - Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash
[Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash]

The city of Smyrna was a seaport that prospered from its seaborne commerce. Unfortunately for the congregation, the imperial cult was well-established. The name “Smyrna” possibly derives from the Greek word for “myrrh,” an ointment used commonly for burial preparations. If so, and in this context, this etymology points to martyrdom.

The Letter opens with Jesus stressing his exalted position. He is “The First and the Last,” the one who now possesses absolute authority over everything that transpires in the city; therefore, the Assembly has no reason to fear what is coming. He has the “last” word on all things.

He is the one who “became dead and lived.” The clause refers to the words of the “one like a Son of Man” in Chapter 1 who told John not to fear since he had risen from the dead and therefore holds the “Keys of Death and of Hades.”

Because of his death, he is the “Faithful Witness,” and due to his resurrection, he is the “Firstborn of the Dead.” His past resurrection assures the members of the congregation that they will not experience the “Second Death” – (Revelation 1:4-6, 1:16-20).

Near the end of the Book, Death and Hades” are cast into the “Lake of Fire,” the “Second Death.” Despite appearances, the day is coming when death will be no more, at least for faithful believers – (Revelation 20:14, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

THE TRIBULATION


  • (Revelation 2:8-11) - And to the angel of the Assembly in Smyrna write: These things the first and the last declares, who became dead and lived: I know your tribulationˎ and destitution, neverthelessyou are rich, and the slanderous speech from among them who affirm that they themselves are Jews, and they are not, but a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear the things which you are going to suffer. Behold, the Devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried and may have tribulation ten days. Become faithful until death, and I will give you the Crown of Life. He that has an earlet him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. He that overcomes shall in nowise be injured by the Second Death.

Jesus “knows” the condition of the congregation. From his perspective, it is “rich,” though many of its members are impoverished, perhaps even marginalized participants in the local economy. They are enriched with what truly matters because of their faithful testimony borne even in “tribulation” and during persecution.

Their financial poverty is due to the “slander” of those who claim to be Jews “but are not.” Jesus knows the works of the Assembly, namely, its faithfulness in bearing witness despite opposition from neighbors and government officials. Nevertheless, the congregation is about to endure even more persecution - “Tribulation for ten days.”

John previously referred to “the Tribulation” in the Book’s salutation when he issued “greetings” to the Seven Assemblies and described himself as a “fellow participant in the Tribulation and the Kingdom and the Perseverance of Jesus.” For him and the congregation in Smyrna, the “Tribulation” was a present reality.

The economic condition of the Asian believers anticipates the program of the “Beast from the Earth,” the “False Prophet” described in Chapter 13. He uses his control over the world of commerce to compel submission to the political and religious agendas of the “Beast from the Sea.” It is not Rome and local magistrates that are prosecuting believers in Smyrna, but the “Beast” and the “False Prophet,” and ultimately their overlord, the “Dragon” - (Revelation 13:15-18).

The “slander” by the local synagogue refers to the denouncement of members of the Assembly to governing authorities by “false Jews,” accusations that result in legal proceedings against the saints. Likewise, the “Beast from the Sea” has the “name of slander” or blasphémia written on its several heads, and a mouth that speaks “slanders” against God and his saints. Moreover, Babylon, the “Great Whore” sits on the “Scarlet Beast that is full of slanders” - (Revelation 13:1-6, 17:3).

UNTIL DEATH


The false accusations made against the congregation demonstrate how Satan “slanders” believers, and that the “Dragon” is behind these efforts to suppress the Church. He is called Diabolos, the “Devil,” meaning, the “Adversary.” Likewise, before he was expelled, he was the “accuser of the brethren” in the Court of Heaven, and the Greek noun diabolos means just that, “accuser” or “slanderer” – (Revelation 12:6-12).

The call for the congregation to “become faithful until death” is echoed in the declaration of Chapter 12 that the “brethren” overcame the Devil “by the WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY, and because they LOVED NOT THEIR LIVES UNTO DEATH” – (Revelation 12:11).

Faithfulness in bearing witness to the world even “until death” is HOW the Assembly of Jesus Christ confronts and “overcomes” the “Beast,” its earthly allies and unwitting human instruments, and especially the Devil.

Because Satan was behind the persecution of the Assembly in Smyrna, Jesus labeled these human accusers collectively as the “Synagogue of Satan.” However, the “Dragon” was the real power behind Caesar’s throne and the source and driving force of the persecution of the saints.

Storm and Rainbow - Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash
[Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash]

The Assembly has endured trials without wavering. It is now being exhorted to remain faithful in the coming “
Tribulation.” Some disciples will be cast into prison. In that society, prisons were holding cells for the accused until their trial and execution. That possible reality is anticipated by the exhortation to “become faithful until death.”

The congregation will be tried for “ten days,” a figure that alludes to the “ten days” during which Daniel and his Jewish compatriots were “tested” and refused to eat “food offered to idols.” The allusion is fitting since the Asian congregations were struggling with false teachers who promoted “fornication” and “eating food offered to idols” - (Daniel 1:12-14).

Faithfulness in trials and “testimony” will result in the “Crown of Life.” The saint who “overcomes” even in death will not taste the “Second Death,” which is identified elsewhere as the “Lake of Fire” - (Revelation 20:6-14).

Thus, the faithful disciple “overcomes” sin and Satan in the same paradoxical way as Jesus did by enduring persecution and martyrdom because of his or her testimony. He was the true “Faithful Witness until death,” and consequently, he reigns with His Father on the Throne at the center of Creation and summons his followers to do likewise - (Revelation 3:21, 5:6-14).



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