Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series, click here.

If the comparison between Ephesus and Thyatira is instructive concerning the balance between upholding a high standard of righteousness and showing mercy, the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia are about God's sovereignty. In them, you have God's choice concerning two churches. One is told she will soon suffer persecution and the other is told she will escape. 

Here are the two letters side by side:

Smyrna

Philadelphia

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following:

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life:

‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:8-11)

 

 

 

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write the following:

This is the solemn pronouncement of the Holy One, the True One, who holds the key of David, who opens doors no one can shut, and shuts doors no one can open:

‘I know your deeds. (Look! I have put in front of you an open door that no one can shut.) I know that you have little strength, but you have obeyed my word and have not denied my name. Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan—who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying—Look, I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:7-13)

And here are the essential points of contact between these two:

Smyrna

Philadelphia

  • The Synagogue of Satan has the power to slander them.
  • They are poor (but rich)
  • Will have tribulation and testing.
  • Admonished not to fear
  • Will be given the crown of life.
  • The Synagogue of Satan will acknowledge that God loves them.
  • They have little strength.
  • Will be spared tribulation and testing.
  • Commended for obeying God's word and not denying His name.
  • Must be careful that the crown is not taken away.

And so Smyrna is elected to face trials and tribulation while Philadelphia is to be spared. Faith is adequate for both situations. As the writer to the Hebrews remarks:

Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight, and women received back their dead raised to life. But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life. And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us. (Hebrews 11:33-40)

We must be ready to overcome through testing as well as to overcome in victory. One of the purposes of Revelation is to prepare us for just such contingencies. As John will be told later:

If anyone has an ear, he had better listen! If anyone is meant for captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed by the sword, then by the sword he must be killed. This requires steadfast endurance and faith from the saints. (Revelation 13:9-10)

We need to develop steadfast endurance and faith. Through them we can stand firm in the face of any difficulty or advance when the time for advancing arrives. One of the reasons for Revelation being given to us by Jesus is to give us reason to hope during the bad times. Revelation 13:9-10 is about God's sovereignty and control. When life is crashing around us, we can take comfort that nothing is impossible to Him and that He is the One who has appointed the very events that trouble us. They serve His purposes and they serve our good.

Thursday: Pergamum and Sardis

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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