To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 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. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
12 To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Smyrna is rich because if they continue to endure, their afflictions they will be given life and wear the victor’s crown. We should not fear the first death nor the final judgment for Christ has defeated death. We too believe and can sing with our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters: Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs Bestowing life! The second death refers to the final judgment at the end of the age when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. The Christians here are encouraged to faithfully endure. The cause of their persecution is not from the Romans but from the Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. To John, any true Jew is one who believes that Jesus is the Messiah foretold in scripture. As Paul makes clear in Romans 2:25-29, following the law is inwardly allowing the Holy Spirit to change your heart. Jesus has fulfilled the law, so he is now the reference point for Paul and John on what it means to be a true Jew. N.T. Wright argues that the Jews in Smyrna who rejected Jesus went further and were blaspheming Him by falsely accusing Christians of seeking the exemption Rome gave to Jews. This exemption meant Jews were exempt from participating in the imperial cult which is emperor worship and entails many acts that are abhorrent for Jews and Christians alike. By falsely accusing followers of Jesus of seeking this exemption in front of Roman authorities, Christians were being punished and experiencing poverty in an otherwise wealthy city.
Pergamum is a city of tall buildings. Imagine the Dallas city skyline. If you’ve been to New York or Chicago, picture those. Pergamum had a high acropolis in the middle of the city, many majestic temples, and a shrine of the healing god Asclepius whose symbol was a serpent. Pergamum was also the seat of the Roman governor for the whole region. Satan is using Rome to lead the church into complete cultural assimilation. God’s word to Pergamum is aligned with what He says through Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14. Paul addresses cultural assimilation by allowing some flexibility on eating food sacrificed to idols and on meat and drink in general; but there is to be no compromise in the church of God participating in pagan worship of any kind. The church has lost the ability to say no to the surrounding culture. In a city whose walls are made mostly of a local black stone, the church is called to be white marble.
Where do you need to ask God for victory in your life? So far, which church do you most identify with? In light of your answer, how can you apply God’s promise to that church in your life today?
Holy God, thank you for loving us. Thank you for sending your Spirit who moves among us. Thank you for Jesus our Savior who holds us in his love. We are expectant for the day when you will dwell again with us. Keep us ready. Come Holy Spirit. Amen
Please enjoy this song as it’s our prayer for the week.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.