I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that these letters to the churches were meant to prepare us for the antichrists and tribulations to come .
And again, I know many of you who read this believe that we won’t see the final antichrist when he comes or have to endure the great tribulation.
But as I read through Revelation and the other books of the New Testament, I don’t see that at all. What comes through time and again is that we will go through trial and trouble in this world, and particularly when antichrist comes. I don’t see anything in scripture that makes me believe we’ll escape these things entirely.
What I do see is that though we may not escape these things, that God will never abandon us. That these things are only for a time. And that God calls us to keep holding onto him no matter what happens.
And we see all these things in this passage.
Jesus is talking to a church called Smyrna. And as Jesus addresses them, he refers to himself as the first and the last, the one who died and came to life again. (8)
That latter is particularly interesting because Smyrna itself died and came to life again. It was destroyed in 600 BC and remarkably restored in 290 BC.
Now, the Christians in Smyrna were facing death because of their faith in Christ. And so Jesus encourages them by reminding them that no matter what happens, he is in control for he is the first and the last. He had the first word when this world was created, and he will have the last when all is said and done.
More, he was the one who conquered death. And though these Christians were facing death, like Jesus, they too would rise again to eternal life.
He told them,
I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (9)
Apparently, these people were being persecuted by the Jews. By this time in history, the Jews were starting to tell the Roman Empire, “These Christians are not a sect of Judaism. Many are not Jews at all. They’re Gentiles. So when they refuse to worship the emperor like your law requires, they are not under the same religious protections we are under. Go after them.”
As a result, persecution was starting to come to the Christians.
But Jesus tells them, “Don’t let them tell you that you are not true Jews. You are. You are the true descendants of Abraham because you have come to me by faith just as Abraham did. They are the false Jews. And their synagogue is not a synagogue of God, but of Satan.”
Then he tells them, “Don’t worry, persecution won’t come your way. I’ll rescue from all trouble that may come your way.”
Is that what he said? Hardly. He said,
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. (10a)
In short, “You will suffer. But don’t be afraid. Satan will have his way with you, but it won’t be forever. It will only be for a little while.”
The same is true today and the same will be true when we face antichrist. We will face suffering. But Jesus reminds us, “It’s only for a moment.”
And so he admonishes us,
Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (10b-11)
Jesus said pretty much the same thing to his disciples when he was still on earth. He said,
Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One (God) who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
If you fear God, you need not fear anything else, not even death. For though people can destroy your body, they can’t touch your soul. And Jesus says the second death, that is hell, won’t touch you. Instead you will have life with him forever in heaven.
How about you? Are you facing persecution because of your faith? Remember that it is but for a short time. And no matter what people may say or do to you, they can’t touch what’s really important.
So be faithful. For even if you should die for his sake, yet shall you live. (John 11:25)