"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
"...you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him." (Matthew 24:44)
Jesus is coming back! And none of us knows the day or hour that will be.
In Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, we read about the warnings given to seven churches during the day of the Apostle John. Today we will look at the first two of those churches: the church in Ephesus and the church in Smyrna.
These were real churches with good points and with problems. And the praises and the warnings given to these churches will help us to remember to be alert and ready for the coming of the Lord.
In verse 2, Jesus says, "I know your works, your labour, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have laboured for My name's sake and have not become weary.
More than anyone else, God knows our hearts and knows the motives of our hearts, if we have served Him genuinely.
"Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love." (verse 4)
If love has grown cool in a marriage, what is the best way to restore than spark of love? Spending time together, communicating to each other, asking forgiveness for any failures, and starting again. It is the same in our relationship with the Lord.
Verse 5 says: "repent and do the first works..." In other words, start again. If you have failed to walk with the Lord as you should confess that to Him today, and begin again. He wants to restore us to that love and zeal we had for Him when we first gave our life to Him.
"I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a congregation of Satan. 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." (verses 9-10)
Although the church at Smyrna faced poverty, they were reminded that they were rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God.
There were people there who professed to be Jews and had a synagogue for worship in that place and professed to worship the true God; but they had no genuine religion and they actually served the Devil rather than God.
Could that happen to us? Someone has said that applying a sacred name to an unholy thing is one meaning of the word "blasphemy." Sometimes today we see people doing what they call "worship," and in reality it is applying the word "worship" to doing something for show or to "feel good" or to get glory for themselves. Be sure that you worship God by your entire life - by what you think, by what you do and by how you live. Anything less than that is blasphemy.
Jesus told John to write to the pastor (or messenger or "angel") of the church at Smyrna and praise the church for their faithfulness during persecution.
It is not said where this persecution came from. It might have been from the Jews, the heathens, or heretics. But the one behind it all was the devil himself. Notice the words, "the devil is about to throw some of you into prison..." The devil is behind persecution - not God! The devil uses those who are ungodly to attack the godly - but it is Satan's attacks - not God's. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that everything that happens to us is God's will.
The Bible says, "every good and every perfect gift is from above." (James 1:17) Yes, it is true that God can "work all things together for good to those that believe, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). But, it does not say everything is good.
Because God is almighty, He can take even the bad things that happen to us in life and work them out to be good for us. But never, ever blame God for evil. Satan is the source of the curse of sin in this world, and all the bad that has come into this world, came because of sin.
This persecuted church of Smyrna was warned that there would be 10 days of tribulation. Often "days" were symbols of years. There was exactly 10 year of terrible persecution by a leader named Diocletian during which all the churches in what was then called Asia suffered.
It is said of a man named Polycarp, an early Christian, that when he was brought before the judge and commanded to renounce and blaspheme Jesus, he firmly answered: "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King, who has saved me?" He was then burnt at the stake and suffered cheerfully for Christ, the Lord and Master.
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (verse 10)
There is reward for continued faithfulness. Notice it says "until death." This is certainly not a faith that says, "once I'm saved, I'm always saved and can never fall." No - it says we must be faithful "until death." The race of life is just like any foot race - we cannot win it until we cross the finish line. We start out running in faith and we must continue on in faith and keep going with His strength until we cross that last challenge of death and step into His presence. He is the one whom we fix our eyes on and who gives us the Holy Spirit so that we have His power to run the race.
"He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." (verse 11b). What is the "second death?" That is eternal separation from God and unending punishment. The first death is physical, but the second death is eternal.
But, for the Christian, we can look forward to eternal life following physical death.
We must never yield to our spiritual enemies, but fight the good fight of faith, till we gain the victory, and the warfare and victory shall have a glorious triumph and reward.
These two churches, Ephesus and Smyrna, remind us that God dearly desires to have a loving, faithful relationship with us. He knows our hearts. It is also true that we can grow cool in our love for Him. If that has happened, we need to start again.
The church at Smyrna reminds us that we may face persecution, but not to fear that, as there will come a day when we will receive the crown of life.
"You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in Heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works" (Psalm 73:24-28).
Our responsibility is to keep our love for Him burning strong, and to trust Him even if we face persecution and to remember that He has a crown of life for us!
Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.
Holiness, godliness, righteousness, and Christ-likeness in personal and church life