Tag Archives: Corrie Ten Boom

“A Bittersweet Prophecy” (Rev. 10:1-11)

“REVELATION: BECAUSE THE TIME IS NEAR!”

Study #14: “A Bittersweet Prophecy” (Rev. 10:1-11)

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Have you ever listened to the locker room interviews following the “big game?” The winners are delirious with joy, anointing each other with champagne and basking in the thrill of victory, while the losers suffer the agony of defeat.

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That fact came to mind several weeks ago as I watched a sports documentary about the Buffalo Bills, arguably one of the greatest teams in history. The 1990 to 1993 Bills were the only team to play in four consecutive Super Bowls. Sadly, they are also the only team to lose four Super Bowl in a row—to the New York Giants in 1990, the Washington Redskins in 1991, and the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993. Twenty-five years later, the sting of those losses has faded, but as I listened to the Bills players being interviewed, it was clear that the memory of those disappointments is still very strong. I came away from it wishing, though I was never a Buffalo fan, that both sides could have won. But that isn’t how life works. Whether it’s sports, politics, or spiritual warfare, there are inevitably two sides—the side destined for victory and the side doomed to defeat.

In spiritual warfare, which is the focus of this study, the winners are those of us who love our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We look forward to His coming with great eagerness, praying “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But before we lose ourselves in the ecstasy of that knowledge, let’s not forget that there will also be some tragic losers in that day. Unbelieving friends, neighbors, and loved ones face excruciating judgment, making the Second Coming of Christ bittersweet. In Revelation 10, John describes it as tasting sweet to his mouth like honey, but turning bitter in his stomach. Why? Because the longer he pondered this great revelation, the more he realized that though it means eternal joy and glory for him, it will mean eternal death and damnation for millions who have never accepted Christ.

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This chapter is important to study, then, for two reasons. First, it includes several interpretative problems which could, if answered wrongly, undermine the doctrine of the Deity of Christ. Second, it provides us with a powerful reminder as we look forward to His Return. It reminds us that we have an obligation to do more than enjoy our salvation; we have a duty to rescue as many souls as possible before the fire of judgment falls. Let’s strive for both goals—comprehension and compassion—as we study what John has written.

JOHN MEETS A MIGHTY ANGEL

1. Who Is This Mighty Angel?

John says in verses 1 and 2, “And I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven … and he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.”

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The first issue to resolve is the identity of the “mighty angel” in verse one. Many commentators say it is vision of Jesus Christ returning to earth. Their reason is the similar description of Jesus in chapter one (e.g., the rainbow on His head, His face like the sun, His feet like pillars of fire). But this claim is both wrong and dangerous. The danger is seen in what Jehovah’s Witnesses do with this verse. They use it as one of their proof texts for denying the Lordship of Christ. They say this “mighty angel” is Michael the archangel who is, in fact, Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ is not Lord; he is a creature—one of God’s archangels. Given this distortion, we should be careful about identifying this angel as Jesus Christ. Two facts make such an identification impossible.

First, the meaning of the word “another.” John literally describes this angel as “another angel, a mighty one.” The Greek word is allos, which means “another angel of the same kind.” But that isn’t the word John would have used if he were describing Jesus. He would have used the word heteron, which means “another of a different kind.” For the Scripture indicates that Jesus Christ is uniquely different from every other being who has ever existed. For example, Hebrews 1:4-6 says that He is “better than the angels,” and that all the angels are commanded to worship Him. Furthermore, John 3:16 calls Jesus “the only begotten Son of God. That phrase means “one of a kind,” indicating that there will never be another one like Him.

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Second, the timing of the Second Coming. According to Zechariah 14:4, Jesus will “touch down” on the earth in much the same manner as this angel. But the question is: When will He do so? This angel stands on the earth just prior to the blowing of the seventh trumpet, whereas Jesus Christ will return to earth at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 19:11-14), at which point the Mount of Olives will split in half, creating a new valley and freshwater source, and Christ’s kingdom will begin. Furthermore, when Jesus returns to earth, it won’t be as an angel but with angels surrounding Him like the clouds of heaven. (See Matt. 25:31.)

Who, then, is this “mighty angel?” It is possibly the archangel Michael who is not Jesus Christ, but one of the “mighty angels” of God. Daniel describes him as “the great prince who stands guard over” the people of Israel. (Dan. 12:1) John later describes him casting the devil and his angels out of heaven.

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But here he simply forewarns the Antichrist and his followers that Christ is about to repossess the earth for man. The place where he stands is also significant—“his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.” In ancient times, the purchaser of a piece of property would show his ownership by putting one foot on what he already owned and the other foot on what he was acquiring. In other words, he is symbolizing God’s sovereignty—that the kingdoms of this world (including both the land and the sea) are about to become the “kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

2. What Does The Angel Look Like?

John continues, “And I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.” (Rev. 10:1)

Picture5If this is not Jesus, but simply an archangel, then why does he look so much like Jesus? The simplest answer is usually the best. He is ministering in the power and authority of Christ. For example, Jude 1:9 says that when contending with the devil about the body of Moses, Michael did not dare to bring a reviling judgment against him, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you.” He stood in the Lord’s power and authority. Here that power takes on a visible appearance. That shouldn’t surprise us, for it’s not the first example of its kind. Exodus 34 says whenever Moses entered into God’s presence, his face shone with God’s glory, so he had to veil his face so as not to startle the people. Likewise, the same can be true of us. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Is this happening to you? Are you taking on more and more of the likeness of Jesus Christ? Nathaniel Hawthorne pictured what can happen in his story, “The Great Stone Face.” Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled so perfectly than when their great monarch died, the people determined that they would never have another king until they could find a man just like former ruler. Then, to keep his memory alive, they carved a great profile of their king on the side of a cliff. Beneath that cliff lived a little boy named Ernest. His mother assured him that one day another great man like king would come to rule their kingdom. But as the years passed and searches were made, no one like him was found. Then, one day, one of the king’s counselors stopped at the humble cottage at the base of the cliff and listened to a young man named Ernest deliver a discourse to his neighbors. Suddenly, in that young man’s face he saw the likeness of the king! How did the change take place? By meditating upon that great image day by day, as he plowed his field and cult his wood, the little boy grew to be like him, not only in the way he looked, but also in the way he thought and talked.

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This, the Bible says, is our goal as well—to be transformed into our King’s likeness by meditating upon His greatness.

3. What Is In The Angel’s Hand?

Revelation 10:2 says, “And he had a little book open in his hand.” This is the second interpretative question we need to solve. What is this little book in the hand of the angel? Some say it’s a new book that John is about to be given. But a better explanation is that it’s the same scroll we’ve been reading for the last three chapters. However, now that all but one of the seals has been opened, the scroll is described as a “little book open” in the hand of the angel. It is “little” compared to when we first read about the scroll in Revelation 5. Having read and released its judgments, all that remains of it now is the title deed to the earth, which gives Jesus the authority to reclaim and redeem the world for mankind.

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4. What Warning Is Given to John?

Revelation 10:3-4 continues, “and (he) cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars. And when he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voice, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered and do not write them.’”

Notice two important facts here. First, the roaring of the angel. This is a symbol of God’s power and authority. Several Old Testament passages (Isa. 31:4-5; Hos. 5:14; 11:10; Amos 3:8) use it as a metaphor of His coming in glory. Whereas Satan often roars like a lion to frighten his prey (1 Pet. 5:8), this roaring is a declaration of victory. Standing in the authority of Christ, Michael lets loose with a mighty roar notifying the earth that the King is about to appear.

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The second fact is the sounding of the seven thunders. Why was John forbidden to write what they said? Because there are some things about the future that God wants to keep secret. This should be a warning to those who seek “new revelations” today. The truth is everything we need for “life and godliness” has been revealed to us in the Bible. (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17) Hebrews 1:1-2 further emphasizes that no “new revelations” will be given beyond what has been revealed through the prophets and apostles about God’s Son. He is God’s final word to mankind. In fact, the book of Revelation issues a strict warning on its final page. “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18)

So be careful about anyone who claims to be receiving “new revelations” from God! The Book of Mormon, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, tracts left at your door by the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), and the teachings of Rev. Moon are not new information from God. They are deceptions from the devil designed to confuse your mind and lead you away from the one true Christ.

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JOHN HEARS GOOD NEWS FROM THE ANGEL

In verses 5 to 7, the angel announces the most important and welcome news the world has ever heard. Its significance is seen in two ways:

1. By the Oath Taken

Revelation 10:5 continues, “And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it.”

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The scene is that of a courtroom. The angel lifts his hand in a solemn oath that what he’s about to say is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” This should not surprise us. When God first made His promise to Abraham, He took a similar oath. (See Hebrews 6:10.) It’s not that God’s Word was ever in doubt; it’s that you and I are people who are given to doubt. Therefore, to help us trust Him, God puts His messenger on the witness stand, reassuring us that every word we are about to read is faithful and true.

Isn’t that interesting? American presidents will not testify in court during their terms of office because they feel it could be a threat to the independence of the presidency. Consequently, no president in modern history has appeared in court. Even Gerald Ford would not appear in court to testify against his would-be assassin. Instead, he appeared by videotape. But Christ has no such misgivings. The promise which is about to be given is so wonderful that He doesn’t want us to miss a bit of its blessing. He is so patient with our doubts that He orders His messenger to take a solemn oath, swearing to its utter veracity.

2. By the Promise Given

Revelation 10:6 adds, “… that there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.

The promise at the end of verse 6 is highly significant. The angel swears there shall “be delay no longer.” To what does this refer? He’s promising that the Tribulation is about to end and the long-awaited Kingdom is about to be set up. This is another evidence for the position I’ve taken earlier—that chapter 11 marks the end of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Kingdom. For notice, what does John say will happen when the seventh angel has sounded? “The mystery of God will be finished.” Or as Revelation 11:15 announces, “The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”

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You see, down through the centuries, unbelievers have scoffed at the idea of the Second Coming, especially in this scientific age. Corrie Ten Boom told about a heckler who interrupted one of her meetings. He laughed, “Don’t tell me you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to earth again! Fools have been predicting that forever!” “Yes,” she said. “In fact, I’m more certain of it now than ever. Your very words convince me that His coming is very near.” “What do you mean?” the heckler asked. “Well,” Corrie explained, “you’ve just fulfilled Peter’s prophecy. ‘Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”’ So, you see, these must be the last days! Because you’re the very kind of person Peter was talking about.” Gulp!

Christians, on the other hand, believe this promise with all their hearts. And yet, even we wonder, “Lord, why so long?” That, you’ll remember, was the cry of the Tribulation martyrs in Revelation 6:10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Now the Lord answers both questions with a resounding, “No longer! There will be delay no longer. They mystery of God will be finished.” To what does the “mystery of God” refer? The word means “a sacred secret” which has been hidden to the world, but has now been made known to the people of God. The specific mystery to which John is referring is the age-old problem of evil. Why does God allow the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer? Just as in Job’s case, the answer to “why” is not given, but the final solution is. All sin and sorrow will now be put to an end by the return of the King of Kings!

Consider your situation for a moment. Have you allowed the disappointments of life rob you of your joy? Then arrest that joy-stealer by remembering the coming of Christ. Titus 2:13 counsels us, “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Why is that helpful? Because when He comes, all tears will be wiped away.

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Oft-times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear, we’re temped to complain, to murmur and despair; but Christ will soon appear to catch His Bride away, all tears forever over in God’s eternal day.

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus, life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ; one glimpse of His dear face all sorrows will erase; so bravely run the race till we see Christ.

JOHN IS GIVEN BITTERSWEET INSTRUCTIONS

Chapter 10 closes with two bittersweet instructions to the Apostle John. First, he is told to eat the little scroll which remains in the angel’s hand. Second, he is told to prophesy again about several key topics and characters that are to be involved in the Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ.

1. John’s Bittersweet Reaction

Revelation 10:8-10 continues, “ Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, ‘Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.’ And I went to the angel and said to him, ‘Give me the little book.’ And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.’ And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. But I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.”

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The eating of the scroll is important because it pictures God’s attitude toward judgment. In Ezekiel 33:11, the Lord says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” 2 Peter 3:9 adds, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing for any to perish but that all should come to repentance.” Here in verse 10 that attitude become visible as John eats the “little book.” At first, its news is “as sweet as honey” in John’s mouth, because he realizes that now the righteous will finally be avenged! But as he swallows it, it upsets his stomach realizing that though it means joy for him and God’s people, it also means death and damnation for millions of others.

Let that be your sentiment as you look forward to the Lord’s coming. Be excited about the blessings you and God’s people are about to inherit. But don’t be in a hurry for judgment to fall. Remember, there are multitudes who are to perish without Christ, multitudes who need your prayers. Will you do that for them? More than that, will you make a conscious effort to tell them about Christ’s love? The choice is up to you. Who will be the model for your life? Will it be John? Or will it be Jonah, who longed for God’s judgment to fall.

2. John’s Bittersweet Responsibility

Finally, Revelation 10:11 is a commandment to John, “And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.’” This is the most important verse for understanding the rest of the Revelation. As I’ve said before, chapter 11 marks the end of the Tribulation. As soon as the seventh trumpet sounds, “the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” (Rev. 11:15) You ask, “Then where do the rest of the chapters of Revelation fit in the chronology of events? Verse 11 is the clue. It reveals that following the seventh trumpet, John is to prophesy a second time.

 

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You’ll remember back in Revelation 1:19 John was instructed to “write the things which you have seen (his vision of the Glorified Christ in chapter 1), and the things which are (the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3), and the things which will take place after this” (the events of the Tribulation found in chapters 4 through 11.) However, before he can finish the first prophecy, a second assignment is given to him. In Revelation 10:11, he is commanded to “prophecy again about many peoples, tongues, nations, and kings.”

Don’t miss this point! The details in chapters 12 to 19 are not events that follow chapter 11 chronologically. Instead, they are topical studies about key figures and events that will occur during the Tribulation which was just described. John is approaching his work like an artist preparing a canvas. Having sketched the general outline, he is now ready to go back and color in all the details. And again, the reason it upsets him is because of the horror of judgment to come.

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Judgment is always a blessing and a tragedy. For those who love Jesus, it’s a blessing, because of the deliverance it brings us. The Bible tells us that the planet itself will breathe a sigh of relief at Jesus’ return. (See Rom. 8:19-22.) But it won’t be a blessing to everyone. This chapter reminds us that for those left behind at the Rapture, it will be a tragedy of eternal proportions.

The News Tribune printed such a real-life horror story. It described the events following midnight exercises in the Mojave Desert. The men were anxious to get back to base. To remain in the scorching heat ((1200)) and dehydrating humidity (4%) not only meant misery, but certain death for anyone left behind.

080306-M-8774P-051 U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mendoza, of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, leads fellow Marines during a live-fire village raid exercise on Range 210 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif., on March 6, 2008. Marines with the unit are participating in Mojave Viper, the Marine Corps’ premiere pre-deployment desert training. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

So the trucks began to roll, carrying thousands of Marines back to the safety of Twentynine Palms Base. Everyone except Marine Lance Corporal, Jason J. Rother. He’d been assigned to direct traffic in the dark. Before the final truck pulled out, he was to be picked up and carried back to the base with the rest of the men. But signals got crossed. No one remembered Rother until it was too late. The Marine in charge of arms reported that his rifle was missing, but the officers assumed that he was AWOL. In fact, it wasn’t until two days later that they decided to return to the desert and search for him.

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Imagine the terror that gripped Rother’s heart as he watched that last truck disappear from sight? As the hours passed, he must have wondered, “What do I do now? Do I stay here and hope they come back for me? Or do I start walking while the night air is still cool?” No knows for sure how long he sat and waited and prayed, but finally he began to hike toward the highway 18 miles away. He made it 17 miles. Then overcome by the heat, he laid down and died.

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What a needless tragedy! What a horrifying way to die! That’s a small picture of the eternally greater tragedy that’s about to befall many unbelievers you know. Christ is about to call His troops home, and when He does, a time of suffering will begin the likes of which no one has ever seen. But you can do something to make the bitter news a sweeter. You can begin to pray for one of the unbelievers in your life, that God will use you to lead them out of danger to safety in Christ. Remember, wherever there’s a spiritual winner, anticipating the thrill of victory, there’s a spiritual loser suffering the agony of defeat. So act now while there is still time. It’s the only thing that makes sense in light of His grace and love.

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Smyrna: Will I Suffer for Christ?

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Study #4: The Letter to the Church in Smyrna

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Debora Johnson Horse Picture of John Wesley

One of the best stories about John Wesley involves his expectation of persecution. One day he was riding along when it suddenly dawned on him that three days had passed without an egg or brick being tossed at him. But instead of than being happy about it, he worried. He slid down off his horse, knelt on the ground, and began to pray, “Lord, what’s wrong with me? Am I backslidden?” And for several minutes, he asked the Lord to show him the reason for his lack of suffering. Just then, an irreligious fellow looked over the hedge and spied the preacher praying. Recognizing him, the irreligious fellow said to himself, “I’ll fix that Methodist preacher!” and picked up a brick and threw it at him. The brick missed its mark and fell harmlessly to the ground. But Wesley saw it and leaped to his feet with joy. “Praise God!” he shouted. “It’s all right. I still have His presence.”

You may wonder, “Was Wesley crazy or just an old fool?” The answer is neither. He was simply taking literally what Jesus told us from the beginning. John 15:20, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” 2 Timothy 3:12 repeats the warning, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Today one of the big debates among Christians is the Tribulation. Will the church remain on earth and go through the Great Tribulation? That’s a question that we will address in Revelation chapter 3. But regardless of the position you take regarding the Tribulation, there is one issue on which all Christians can agree. Every church and every Christian will go through some tribulation. The enemy of our souls will not be content to let us serve Christ without some sort of opposition. If he can stop us through official persecution, he will do it. And if the Lord does not return soon, we in the West may begin to face a degree of persecution we have never experienced before. But even when that avenue isn’t open to him, he finds other ways to hurt us—personal insults and injustices, rejection by family and friends, financial disasters, mental and physical disorders. Satan never ceases in his search for something to weaken our faith and destroy our effectiveness for Christ.

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But as great as his opposition is, let’s not forget. God has a purpose and a victory in our suffering. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” One of the best examples is found in Revelation 2:8-11 where we meet the church of Smyrna, who suffered intensely for Christ. But they did it to the glory of God, providing a timeless example that we can follow today.

By the way, I failed to mention something significant when we began our study of the churches. But I want to mention it now because, as you’ll see shortly, it becomes very important in the study of this letter. The seven letters to the seven churches follow a common pattern. First, the destination of the letter is given along with a description of Christ which is intended to encourage them or warn them. Next a commendation is given citing the good deeds of the church, followed by a word of correction from Jesus. Finally, each letter closes with an exhortation and a promise of blessing to those who hear and obey it. But as we study the church in Smyrna, one of these features is intentionally missing.  There is not one word of correction. Let’s learn why as we look at several key factors about this city. They will help us understand what is said in the rest of the letter.

  1. City

The letter begins, “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write.” Historians report three facts about this city. First, its beauty. The Romans called it the “ornament of Asia.” For it boasted the safest, most beautiful harbor of its day and was an excellent example of city planning, laid out according to the specifications of its founder, Alexander the Great.

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Second, it was a Roman city. Even though it was located 500 miles from Italy, Smyrna was infatuated with Rome, so much so that even before Rome became a super-power, they erected a temple in its honor at the center of their city. Later, due to their loyalty in war, Caesar also made it a free city, granting Smyrna all the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship. This was then followed by an even greater honor. In 26 AD, Smyrna was chosen as the site for a new temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar. This not only deepened their devotion to Rome, it also made it a center of emperor worship. This delighted all but the Christians in Smyrna, for now the choice before them was: Worship Caesar or suffer.

But the most striking thing about the city was its name. The word “Smyrna” means myrrh—a spice used as an embalming agent and as an anesthetic for pain. As such, it became a symbol and synonym for suffering. For example, when Jesus suffered on the Cross, it was myrrh He was offered to drink, and it was myrrh that was used in preparing His body for burial. It is fitting, then, that the suffering church of Asia should be found in the city of myrrh. In fact, what is interesting about myrrh is that it has to be crushed to give off an odor. And the more it is crushed, the sweeter its odor becomes. That was the experience of the Smyrnans. God let the devil crush them, but the more he crushed them, the sweeter their testimony became. I pray the same will be said of us when we go through trial or persecution.

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  1. Comfort

Notice also how fitting the description of Christ is in verse 8: “These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” “First and the Last” refers to His eternity, reminding us that nothing catches Him by surprise. Whatever hardships or heartaches lie ahead of us, He has already previewed them and made sure they all work together for our good. (Rom. 8:28) Remember that was you await that medical biopsy, make that pivotal career decision, or pray for that long-awaited need. Remember that “the eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms?” (Deut. 33:27)

“Was dead and came to life” is, on the other hand, a reference to His resurrection and the reason He can say to us in verse 10, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.” Why needn’t we fear? Because regardless of what we suffer in this life, Jesus promises that we will live forever, “Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19)

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Several years go, an ocean liner called the Empress of Ireland sank. On board were 130 Salvation Army officers, only 21 of whom survived, very few compared to the number of people on board the ship. Many wondered, “Why would God let so many of His children die?” When they examined their bodies, they learned why. Not one of those who drowned was wearing a life preserver! When interviewing the survivors, they said that when these brave souls saw there weren’t enough lifejackets to go around, they took theirs off and strapped them onto others saying, “It’s OK. I can afford to die. I know Jesus.”

Do you? Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you don’t need to worry about the future, because no matter what you suffer here, you’re going to live forever. And not only live forever, Jesus promised that whatever we give up for Him in this life—friends, family, or possessions—will be more than made up for in the life to come. What a comfort to those suffering saints in Smyrna. Now listen to His commendation of the Smyrnans.

  1. Commendation

In each of the letters to the churches, Jesus begins His commendation with the statement, “I know your works.” But in comforting the Smyrnans, He adds, “I also know your suffering.” That’s true, isn’t it? As the old hymn puts it—

Jesus knows all about our struggles, He will guide till the day is done;  There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus—No, not one! No, not one!

First, He says, “I know your tribulation.” There are many words for tribulation in the Bible. This one means “pressure from without,” referring not to physical illness or emotional stress, but to physical persecution from the world. Think of the torture of the first Christians—flogging, prison, mauled by lions in the arena, lit as torches in Nero’s garden, beheading by the sword. Yet Jesus says, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

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Next He says, “I know your poverty.” The word means “destitute.” As victims of the “ten percenters,” the Smyrnans gave up everything for Christ. Roman law stated that when someone was turned in for being a Christian, 90% of the victim’s property went to the government, but 10% was awarded to the informant as a reward, leaving the Christians absolutely destitute. And yet, Jesus could say to them in verse 9, “You are rich!”

How could that be? How can a person be both rich and poor? Because God’s definition of riches is radically different from that of the world. For example, there are many in today’s Christian culture who will tell you that if you have enough faith and you’re in God’s will, you will never be sick or impoverished. God always wants His children to be healthy and wealthy. But I can tell you without apology that those who say such things know nothing about the Kingdom of God. As James corrected his readers, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5) The truth is that God frequently lets His children go through lean times. Not because He doesn’t love us, but because He wants us to experience first and foremost of all the richness of knowing Him.

This reminds me of the Thomas Acquinas’ visit to the holy city of Rome. While there, the pope took him on a tour of the papal treasures. Smiling proudly, the pope said, “So, you see, Thomas, no longer can we say like Peter, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” To which the great man replied, “No, and neither can we say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.” You see, as American believers, we are rich when it comes to creature comforts, but I wonder, how wealthy are we when it comes to knowing God?

Third, He says, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In Smyrna there was a large Jewish population who claimed to love God, but rejected Jesus His Messiah and did everything in their power to destroy His church. For example, when Polycarp the pastor of this church was sentenced to be burned at the stake, history records that it was the Jews who stacked the wood for the fire.

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Synagogue in Ancient Smyrna

Does this mean all Jews are Christ-killers and deserving of our contempt? By no means! Paul reminds us in Romans 11 that the Jews are still the apple of God’s eye and that one day all Israel will be saved. Therefore, whoever curses them will be cursed himself. Still, the Bible is clear that the greatest enemies of the saints are often religious themselves—Cain, Caiaphas, the Inquisitors. That has been the devil’s strategy from the beginning. He uses religion and religious people to discredit and persecute the people of God.

  1. Courage

So for what did Jesus correct the church at Smyrna? He didn’t. Unlike the other churches, the outstanding feature of this letter is they needed no correction. For one of the benefits of persecution is that those who have suffered for Christ normally demonstrate a deeper purity and loyalty to Christ than those who are comfortable in their faith. 1 Peter 4:1 talks about this, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Is Peter saying that those who suffer physically reach a state of sinless perfection in which they are no longer susceptible to sin? No. He is reminding that suffering can, if we let it, purify our values, break our infatuation with the world, and deepen our love for Jesus.

Hal Lindsey described a conversation with a European Christian who made frequent trips behind the Iron Curtain prior to the fall of communism. This believer witnessed amazing examples of faith and devotion to Christ. He added, “One church that was undergoing considerable persecution said they were praying for God to send persecution upon their Western brothers, so that they too might be purified.” That’s a little unsettling, isn’t it? To realize that God may be answering their prayers even now, as we experience more and more opposition in our country. But let’s not forget that suffering can be a blessing if it purifies and intensifies our love for God.

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Corrie Ten Boom talked about this in one of her books. She told about a group of Russian believers meeting behind closed doors. Suddenly two soldiers burst into the room with machine guns, giving the believers five minutes to renounce their faith and leave, or they would be shot on the spot. A few fearfully got up and left. Then the soldiers walked to the door, locked it, and announced, “We’re believers too! But we can’t risk worshiping with anyone who isn’t totally committed to Christ. May we join your fellowship?”

Jesus did not correct the church at Smyrna. He encouraged them. First, He said to them, “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.” Let’s see what we can learn about suffering from the Savior’s words.

The certainty of suffering. You say, “I’ve had enough suffering. Now it’s time for some peace and pleasure.” But who knows what’s coming? The testimony of those who are mature in the Lord is that trials are often constant. That’s what the word “suffer” in this passage means. It means to be “constantly suffering.” Listen to the words of Dr. Edward Judson at the dedication of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Referring to the life of his father, Adoniram Johnson, the great missionary, he said, “Suffering and success go together. If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered. If you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”

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The source of suffering. Jesus adds, “The devil is about to thrown some of you into prison,” making it clear that our suffering is not always the result of our sin. Sometimes it’s the result of doing what is right. You see, now that Jesus has ascended to His throne in heaven, the only way for the devil to show His hatred for Christ is by attacking those of us who love Him. But the Savior encourages us not to be afraid. Why not? Because of two more facts about suffering.

The purpose of suffering. “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested.” The word “tested” means to prove the value of something. In other words, Satan may mean it for evil against us, but one day, if you belong to Jesus, you’ll be able to look back on what you’ve suffered and say with the Patriarch Joseph, “God meant it for good. He used it to bring out the best in me and bless others in the process.” Or as Job the Great Sufferer put it, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

The brevity of suffering. Jesus says, “You will have tribulation ten days.” Those who believe the seven churches represent seven ages of church history say this refers to the ten Roman emperors who persecuted the church. That may be true. Others think it is an homage to Daniel and his friends. For when they were tested by King Nebuchadnezzar, how long did the test last? Ten days after which they were exalted to high positions in the king’s court. But whatever the reference, its meaning is clear. Our suffering will not last long. Life is like a mist that is quickly vanishing, and as we suffer the things of this life, 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

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  1. Crowns

You wonder, “Is it worth it to suffer for Christ?” Jesus answers that question in verse 10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Jesus could have said, “Be strong or smart or successful,” something that would fit right in with our success-driven culture. But He didn’t. He said, “Be faithful.” Why? Because that’s what we lack—in our marriages, our families, our work, our churches. All it takes is a little opposition and we are ready to quit. Yet faithfulness is what God treasures most. Remember the master’s words in the parable of the talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you’ve been faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler over many things.”

But you say, “I’ve tried to be faithful, but I always end up failing.” Then try David Livingstone’s formula. The great missionary to Africa was standing before a group of students at the University of Glasgow, the signs of suffering evident in his body. Thirty different illnesses had left him emaciated. His left arm, crushed by a lion, hung limp at his side. But he offered the students hope for the trials they too would face. He said to them, “May I tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world.’ On these words I staked everything and they have never failed me.”

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If that is not enough motivation, cling to the double promise in verses 10 and 11. The first half is found in verse 10. Jesus says, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The Bible talks a lot about crowns, promising that just as the ancient Olympic athletes won laurel wreaths to celebrate their victories, you and I can win imperishable crowns to signify our loyalty to Christ forever. One crown is the crown of glory, given to faithful elders. Another crown is the crown of joy, given to faithful soul-winners. A third crown is the crown of righteousness, given to those who look forward to the Lord’s return. But this is the crown of life, given to those who are faithful until death.

“Then it’s a martyr’s crown!” you say. “Something only martyrs can wear.” No. Jesus doesn’t say to be faithful in death. He says to be faithful until death. James makes the same point in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” So it isn’t only martyrs. It’s for anyone who loves the Lord and proves it by being faithful under trial. That’s the real test of our faith – not how often we go to church, read the Bible, or pray. The real proof is how we respond to temptation and how faithful we are under trial. So ask yourself: How much do I love Jesus? Am I as holy in private as I seem to be in public? Am I as cheerful when things go wrong as when they’re going well?

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Verse 11 gives the second half of the promise—escape from the second death. “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.” What is the second death? According to the Bible, those who reject Christ die two times. The first death is separation of the soul from the body. James 2:26 explains, “The body without the spirit is dead.” But that’s not the end of it. The Bible says those who reject Christ will be resurrected one day to stand before Him in judgment, and because they’ve not given Him the worship in this life that He deserves, they will be separated from Him forever in eternity to come. Revelation 20:14 says, “This is the second death…anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Those are two powerful reasons, then, why it is worth it to be faithful to Christ until death: 1) Because we’ve been forgiven and will live with Him forever in heaven; and 2) Because every act of loyalty in this life will be rewarded in the life to come.

Let the testimony of Polycarp inspire you. It was towards the end of February. His congregation urged him to get out of Smyrna and escape the persecution that was beginning again. But he didn’t want to leave. So they forced him. They hid him in a cave, certain no one would find him. But they did. And to the surprise of his captors, he offered them something to eat and drink when they arrived. When they finished, he asked if he could get them anything else. “No,” they said. So he asked for permission to pray. “What can it hurt?” they thought looking at the old man. Little did they realize that he would go on in prayer for more than two hours. Imagine his words. “Dear Lord, we know that all men are sinners, and that no one can come to God except through your Son, Jesus Christ.” And on and on he went, giving them a full-length presentation of the gospel.

Finally, they took him away, back to the city. The officer in charge kept urging him to recant. “What harm can it do to sacrifice to the emperor?” Polycarp replied, “Jesus is Lord, and I cannot compromise that fact.” On arrival, to impress the crowd, they pushed him out of the carriage and onto the ground. Then they led him into the amphitheater and made him stand before the pro-consul. The pro-consul said, “Have respect to your age, old man. Swear that Caesar is Lord. Swear once and I will let you go and die in peace. Revile the Christ. He cannot be Lord.” Polycarp said with fearless devotion, “Eighty and six years I have served Him and He has never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The pro-consul persisted, “Swear by the genius of Caesar. I have wild beasts you know, and if you will not change your mind, I will throw you to them.” Polycarp was unmoved. He replied, “BID THEM BE BROUGHT!” (I love that!) But that angered the pro-consul all the more, so that he went on, “Since you despise the beasts, unless you change your mind, I will make you to be destroyed by fire.”

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Infuriated by the old man’s composure and eager to see him suffer, the mob began to gather wood for the pyre. Polycarp stood by the stake and said, “It will not be necessary to fasten me. I have strength from my Lord and Christ.” Then he prayed, “Lord, Almighty God, Father of Thy Beloved Son, Jesus, through Whom we have received knowledge of Thee, I thank Thee that Thou has thought me worthy this day and hour to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses.” Then the fire was kindled. But the wind kept driving the flames away, prolonging his agony. So finally, no longer able to stand it, a soldier drew his sword and put an end to his misery. Misery? He continued to praise Christ till the moment of his death.

That was the pastor of the church in Smyrna. He was faithful until death and is now enjoying the crown of life. Do you love Jesus enough to follow his example? The truth is: Nobody likes to suffer. But suffering is a fact of life. The only unresolved issue is: How will you respond to it? By God’s grace, let’s respond with faithfulness and love. For Jesus has promised, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”