Revelation – The letter to the persecuted church in Smyrna

We move on to the second of the seven letters in Revelation.  This time the letter to the persecuted church in Smyrna.  Jesus has good things to say about the church in Smyrna.  It’s a bit harder to determine whether there’s any bad news in here – at least the kind of bad news that the church in Ephesus received.  There were certainly warnings.  But whether things would actually turn out “badly” was dependent on how well the people in that church listened to and carried out what Jesus said.

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Revelation – The letter to the persecuted church in SmyrnaOnce again, the title comes from the section title in the NKJV.  But this time, the title refers to the content of the letter, rather than how Jesus referred to Himself as the author of this letter.  Therefore, persecution will be high on our list of things to look at.

As I’ll probably do in each of the letters, let’s start with something David wrote.  An excerpt from Psalm 139.  Something we should do often.  Something that will help us learn what the message in these letters might be for each of us – even as individuals.

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

Ps 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

Ps 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Ps 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Now, with that in mind and with open hearts, let’s invite the Holy Spirit to be with us as we examine the letter to the persecuted church in Smyrna.

To the Church in Smyrna

Rev 2:8 “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 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 the crown of life.

Rev 2:11 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.”

You may have noticed, this letter is significantly shorter than the one to the Ephesian church.  The question though – is less a good thing?  As in, do good things come in small packages?

Before we get into any details, let’s take a look at the graph we built in parts 1 and 2 of the series.  Based on what we just read, where would you put the church of Smyrna on the graph?  Why there?  Don’t worry if you don’t know anything beyond the seven verses we just read.  Part of the study will be to see how your placement might change as we go through more about the church in Smyrna.  Context and culture are usually important.  So is what it might mean to us today, in our context and our culture.

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Some Smyrna History

The origins of the Christian community or communities there are unknown. We know that one of Paul’s associates—Epaphras—took the gospel to Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, perhaps while Paul was working in the ministry hub of Ephesus (Col 1:7–8; 4:13). It is quite possible that the Christian movement got its start in Smyrna during the same period, all the more as Smyrna was a more important city, and far closer to Ephesus, than any of those cities where Epaphras was known to have taken the gospel.  [1]deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna (Revelation 1:11; 2:8–11). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading

Epaphras is only mentioned three times in the new testament.  Twice in Colossians and once in Philemon.  None of them tell us much about him.  However, all three are from Paul, including the one in Philemon, where they were in prison together.

Phm 1:23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings.   [2]The New International Version. (2011). (Phm 23). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Although Smyrna has a long history even before the classical age of Greece, the history of the Smyrna that was home to the Christians addressed by Revelation began after Alexander the Great’s rise to power. The old city had been built around a defensible peak two miles (3.2 km) distant from the shoreline, thriving until it was destroyed by the Lydian kingdom around 600 BC. The area became little more than a cluster of villages until Alexander and his successors reestablished the city, this time at a small distance removed from the original site (Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.5.1–3; Strabo, Geography 14.1.37). The new city would not sit on the fortified hill but by the shore, so that it could enjoy the benefits of a natural harbor at the coast. While it would be significantly eclipsed in maritime trade by Ephesus, the harbor remained a great asset and kept Smyrna firmly on the commercial map. The original harbor has since been overbuilt and buried beneath the modern city, with the result that the modern shoreline is now further west and bears no resemblance to its ancient counterpart.  [3]deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna (Revelation 1:11; 2:8–11). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading

So pretty much nothing remains of Smyrna from Biblical times.

Perhaps because it was a port city and enjoyed trading connections with the west, Smyrna looked more to Rome than to the Greek empires in the east. The city had already built a temple to honor Rōma, the deified personification of the city of Rome, in 195 BC—long before it was popular to do so in the region. In 195 BC, the Seleucid kingdom under Antiochus III was at its greatest strength, and Antiochus was keen on establishing his hold over all of Asia Minor. The city of Carthage in North Africa was still a great power in the west and a significant threat to Rome’s power in the Mediterranean. The outcome of their struggle was still uncertain. Smyrna’s declaration of its loyalty to the rising power in the west as opposed to the established Greco-Syrian kingdom to the east was a sign of extraordinary faith in Rome and her destiny. This loyalty would be long-remembered. In the first century BC, the Roman senator Cicero spoke of Smyrna as “among our most faithful and most ancient allies” (Philippics 11.2.5[LCL]}); Livy would remember the city as demonstrating “extraordinary loyalty” to Rome (History 38.39.11[LCL]).  [4]deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna (Revelation 1:11; 2:8–11). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading

All things considered, “extraordinary loyalty” to Rome means it was extremely difficult to openly be a Christian fulfilling the Great Commission.  More on that is coming shortly.

Smyrna’s population during the first and second centuries ad may have risen above one hundred thousand inhabitants. It was once one of the great Greek cities of Asia Minor. Aelius Aristides, speaking of the city’s landscape in the late second century ad, lists its many gymnasia, forums, theaters, odeons, and temples (Orationes 17.8–11). Because the modern city of İzmir sits atop the Roman-period city of Smyrna, very little of the ancient city has been excavated. [5]deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna (Revelation 1:11; 2:8–11). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading

So let’s take a look at some of those temples and their “gods”.

The civic forum was built around an open court of about 400 by 260 feet (122 × 79.25 m). The east and west sides were lined with two-story, colonnaded porticoes. On the north side stood a two-story colonnaded building constructed on the pattern of a basilica (essentially three long, covered aisles, with the central aisle—the nave—being wider and taller than the two outside aisles), running the length of the forum and sporting a depth of about 90 feet (27.5 m). The basilica was erected over a foundation of an arched, vaulted basement. This basement served as a shopping arcade, which could be entered from the main road behind the forum so as to preserve the decorum of the basilica and civic areas above. An altar to Zeus once stood in the center of the forum, a reminder of the watchful care of the gods and the obligations of the city to its protectors. Part of the facade of this monument now stands in the History and Art Museum in İzmir. It shows, in deep relief and in figures significantly larger than life-size, Poseidon, seated, with Demeter and Artemis standing beside him. 

We have Greek gods.  Reminders of the people’s obligations to those gods were set up right in the civic forum, with larger than life sculptures.  Certainly, they presented obstacles for the early church to overcome when preaching the Gospel.  Not to mention, the persecution that inevitably came from those who worshipped the Greek gods.

And let’s not forget, even with all that Greek influence, this was a Roman city.

Like Ephesus and Pergamum, its sister cities with whom it engaged in an ongoing sibling rivalry, Smyrna showed significant devotion to the Roman emperors in the form of worship known as the imperial cult. This is not at all surprising for a city that prided itself on its particular loyalty to Rome and, therefore, to Rome’s rulers. It would also make the question of loyalty—of “faithfulness unto death”—a principal issue for the Christians living within its jurisdiction, as they would come more and more to be forced to choose between loyalty to Caesar and loyalty to Christ. 

Can you even imagine the faithfulness and courage it took to try con get people to convert to Christianity, let alone open live as a Christian, when the penalty for both was death?

That’s a lot of competition for the people’s worship.  And while most of today’s Christians are relatively passive, these were life and death matters to some.  Imagine being under the rule of an Emperor who was supposed to be a god.  When we look at some of the horrible things they did to Christians, it took a great deal of courage to worship Jesus.

Without getting into the symbolism behind what’s going on in the passage below, just imagine being in the position of someone who worshipped Jesus.

The Beast out of the Earth

Rev 13:11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. Rev 13:18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

I’m writing this during the COVID-19 stay at home period.  It’s been about 8 weeks now.  We’re going crazy because we can’t have large gatherings in churches.  Somehow we think it’s unconstitutional for the government to forbid large gatherings for the health of the people.  That it supposedly prevents our ability to worship God.

I have news for you.  There weren’t any large gatherings in those days like what we have now.  And there was no constitution protecting anyone’s right to worship anything.  There was however, an obligation to worship the Roman Emperor.

I’m afraid to see what happens to many of today’s Christians when Armageddon comes, and the government says worship the beast or die.  Will we finally realize that when we have persecution our source of strength and courage is God?  Or will we continue to look to the government?

Like Ephesus and Pergamum, its sister cities with whom it engaged in an ongoing sibling rivalry, Smyrna showed significant devotion to the Roman emperors in the form of worship known as the imperial cult. This is not at all surprising for a city that prided itself on its particular loyalty to Rome and, therefore, to Rome’s rulers. It would also make the question of loyalty—of “faithfulness unto death”—a principal issue for the Christians living within its jurisdiction, as they would come more and more to be forced to choose between loyalty to Caesar and loyalty to Christ.  [6]deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna (Revelation 1:11; 2:8–11). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading

In the middle of the second century, Smyrna would become the scene of a great drama of faith as Polycarp, the elderly bishop of the Christian congregation there, was brought to trial in the arena before the provincial governor. The governor might not have known the details of Christian faith and practice, but he knew that it drew people away from giving the gods—including the emperors—their due, and that this Christ and his kingdom was a rival to Rome and her emperors. This could not be tolerated in the city of Rome’s “oldest and most faithful allies.” The governor therefore gave Polycarp an ultimatum: “Swear by Caesar’s fortune; change your mind; say, ‘Away with the atheists’,” or face death in the stadium (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.2). The local police chief urged the old man, “What harm is it to say ‘Caesar is Lord’ and to offer a sacrifice?” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 8.2). But Polycarp could not bring himself to show disloyalty to so great a benefactor as Jesus: “For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has wronged me in no way. How, then, can I revile my king, who rescued me?” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.3). As a result, the elderly bishop was burnt at the stake and, when the fires failed to do the job, stabbed to death.

Issues of loyalty to the emperor and the traditional gods were a major factor in the growing tension between Christians and the civic authorities throughout Asia Minor and its surrounding provinces—witness the famous correspondence between Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia and Pontus, and the emperor Trajan from about 110 AD (Pliny, Epistulae 10.96–97). It is likely that these would have been at the fore of the trials that the glorified Christ predicted for the near future of the Christians in late first-century Smyrna.  [7]deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna (Revelation 1:11; 2:8–11). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading

The letter to the church in Smyrna

So – let’s break down the letter to the church in Smyrna.  Please note, as referenced above, not everyone agrees on how to do this.  Some split the message between “Divine Knowledge”, the good stuff – and – the “But”, the bad stuff.

I’ve chosen to not do that.  I have nothing in the “But” section.  My main reason for doing so is the words Jesus has for this church in the “So” section.  I’ll explain more later.  However, having said that, there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing.  There are plenty of commentaries that have either of the two choices.

Tothe angel of the church in Smyrna
Fromhim who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
Divine KnowledgeI 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.
But -
So -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 the crown of life.
Hear
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To those who overcomeHe who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

The tradition To and From headings are present.

To:

Obviously, it’s to the church in Smyrna.  As we saw in the letter to the Ephesian church, it’s most likely not to an actual Heavenly angel.  Rather it’s probably to someone, probably of a high position, within the church.  To that end, Young’s Literal Translation says:

‘To the messenger of the Ephesian assembly write:  [8]Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 2:1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

From:

This letter is from him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.  This doesn’t seem to be an introduction to bad news like most of the other letters have.  It’s two very straightforward statements of who Jesus is.

who is the First and the Last

There are three times in Revelation where Jesus refers to Himself as the Alpha and the Omega.  The first and the last – for those that aren’t up on their Greek alphabet.

Of course, the Jewish audience, whether they had any knowledge of Greek or not, would recognize the concept of the first and the last.  For instance, take this exchange between Moses and God at the burning bush in Exodus.

Moses and the Burning Bush

Ex 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Ex 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Ex 3:13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

Ex 3:14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

Ex 3:15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

And then there’s the verses below, from a Psalm written by none other than Moses:

Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses the man of God.

Ps 90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Ps 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

So there is ample reason for Jesus’ audience to know exactly what He meant when saying He is the First and the Last.  Including the part from Ex 3:15: This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

However, just in case that wasn’t enough reason to recognize what Jesus said, there’s also this from Isaiah.

Since it’s a passage that I don’t remember getting a lot of attention, I’m including the whole thing.  For purposes of being first and last – verse 6 obviously applies.

However, given the culture in Smyrna, we’ll see that the entire passage is applicable.  One question for this study as a whole – is this passage included as a reminder to the people in the church in Smyrna?  Or is it more ominous?  Is it a warning of impending doom?

The LORD, Not Idols

Isa 44:6 “This is what the LORD says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Isa 44:7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let him foretell what will come. Isa 44:8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

Isa 44:9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Isa 44:10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? Isa 44:11 He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.

Isa 44:12 The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. Isa 44:13 The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. Isa 44:14 He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. Isa 44:15 It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Isa 44:16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” Isa 44:17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” Isa 44:18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. Isa 44:19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” Isa 44:20 He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie? ”

Isa 44:21 “Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. Isa 44:22 I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Isa 44:23 Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.

The last verse is a foretelling of what awaits “those who overcome“.

who died and came to life again

This could be regarded as simply identifying Jesus as the One who died on the cross and was resurrected on the third day.  However, as is generally the case in Revelation – there’s more to it.  Remember, this is the persecuted church.  What better reminder could they possibly have than the resurrection of Jesus – the one because of whom they’re being persecuted?

So what does the From part mean?

Both of the references Jesus uses to identify Himself to the church in Smyrna are to give hope and strength to the people.  I don’t view them as the dire warnings that were so obvious in the Ephesian church.

Divine Knowledge of the church in Smyrna

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!

OK – we most likely assume the rich part has to do with spiritual richness / maturity.  But what are the afflictions and the poverty really about.  It’s only by knowing what they are that we can begin to see and learn the lessons of success from the church in Smyrna.

Think back to how Jesus referred to Himself

When Jesus described Himself, He said: who died and came to life again.  Add the meaning of Smyrna, and we see that once again, the situation in the church is directly related to Jesus’ description.

Note how each description of Christ goes back to the picture in 1:13–16, and how each one meets the special need of that church. Smyrna was the persecuted church, so Christ reminds them of His own suffering, death, and resurrection (2:8). Smyrna means “bitter” and is related to the word “myrrh.” One thinks of fragrance released because of crushing persecution. The church has always been the purest and the most fragrant when it was going through times of suffering. [9]Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 802). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books

Now, take that last sentence and remember what we just saw about how many Christian churches today feel about their alleged persecution during this COVID-19 virus situation.  What’s happening now isn’t even persecution of Christians – it’s something being applied to all large gatherings.

Ultimately, how do we think God might view our handling of things?  Pure and sweet?  Or something else?

The church in Smyrna was poor – but rich

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!

Persecution often goes hand in hand with having possessions taken away.  For instance, see what the author of Hebrews wrote regarding perseverance.  While the original intended audience for the book of Hebrews was not today’s Christians, there are many things in it that are very relevant.  Just to provide background, here’s who may have been the intended audience when it was written.

There are seven things about the readers that can be deduced from the epistle.

First, according to Hebrews 2:3–4, they, like the author, were second-generation believers. The readers and the author are united by the us in verse 3 and distinguished from those who were eyewitnesses.

Second, they were Jewish. Since the readers were respectful of Old Testament authority, the writer heavily quotes the Old Testament. The quotation from the Old Testament settles the argument, which indeed it would do for a Jewish audience.

Third, the readers were Jewish believers. The main danger the author warns against is that of going back into Judaism. This would not have been a temptation for Gentile believers. The entire backdrop and frame of reference from which the author writes are Jewish history and the Jewish religion. Some commentators believe the people in the audience to whom the author is writing are not believers because of statements he makes here and there, but he clearly treats them as believers. 

Fourth, as stated in verse 12, the readers have been believers for a long time and they should now be teachers of the Word (5:11–14).

Fifth, although they have been believers for a long time, they have remained spiritually immature and have not progressed in the faith (5:11–14).

Sixth, the readers are wavering in their faith because of persecution (10:32–38).

Seventh, they are readers who know the author (13:19, 23).  [10]Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (2005). The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude (1st ed., pp. 2–4). Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.

So – while the entire passage may not be relevant to the church in Hebrews, or to the entire Christian church today, I include all of it in the hopes that it will help the self-evaluation part of what we’re doing here.  Apply the parts that relate to the church in Smyrna and the parts that apply to each of you, as appropriate.

The need to persevere

See the underlined verses for situations like what was happening in the church in Smyrna specifically.

A Call to Persevere

Heb 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These verses are important for anyone going through persecution to remember.  If it’s an entire church going through persecution, it’s important for the people in it to help keep others on the narrow path Jesus spoke of.  Small groups, church-wide prayers, even two or three together can help.

Heb 10:26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

While tribulation, persecution and suffering are hard enough to go through, think about the alternative.  With God’s help, we can get through the temporary troubles.  But when it’s God Himself who judges us and finds us guilty, who can help us when we fall into the hands of the living God?  The answer, of course, is no one can help.

Heb 10:32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

Sympathizing with someone going through persecution or other troubles is one thing.  But when it’s us in prison and having our things taken away – does that change things?  Do we go from sympathy to anger?

Heb 10:35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.

For the church in Smyrna, the promise is: He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.  A very appropriate promise for this church.  One undergoing intense persecution and having so much taken away from them, that they are now poor in a city that was generally prosperous.  But for them, if they maintain their faith and love for Jesus, the end for them will the beginning of eternal life with Jesus.

Heb 10:38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

That last part sounds like courage.  Courage in the face of adversity.

If that sounds familiar, it should.  Let’s look at something from the book of Acts.  The scenario could have been possible for someone in the church in Smyrna.  But not anymore.  Obviously, we’re not going to stand before the Sanhedrin today.  And yet, regardless of what the group is called, the issues and the adversity is still relevant today and will be during the Tribulation.  So it’s worth looking at while examining the church in Smryna, and while examining ourselves.

An example of persevering

Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin

Ac 4:1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

No, we’re not likely to be put in jail here in the U.S.  Not yet.  But there are many places in the world where that really does happen today.  Some places where the penalty for doing what Peter and John did where the penalty is death.  Death – just like what’s coming in the Tribulation.  For more on the current state of persecution, please see Persecution of Christians around the world and Chinese Religious Regulations on my other site.

The reason I point this out so clearly here has to do with what’s happening now, in COVID-19 stay at home times.  I know lots of people in the U.S. and other western countries call it “lock-down”.  But it’s not.  It’s not lock-down in the sense like what’s happening in China.  And we call the inability to meet in church unconstitutional.

It makes me wonder. How are we ever going to be able to deal with the Tribulation and what’s coming later, according to Revelation?

  It seems like Christians, of all people, should realize the difference between the two.  But it feels like, in general, we don’t.

That doesn’t bode well for anyone who might want to become a Christian in the future.  Rather than the courageous leaders in the early church, we have, well – we have what we have.  It’s worrisome.

Ac 4:5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Will we have the courage to answer this question as Peter did?  It’s an extremely difficult question to answer.  During the Tribulation, would we be willing to answer – and then die for that answer?

Ac 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is “ ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

This is a far cry from the cowardice that Peter showed when Jesus was arrested.  No denials.  No hiding.  No fear.

Ac 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

This won’t happen during the Tribulation.  There won’t be any counter-offers of negotiation.  There will be death.  Period.  No discussion.  If we are alive then, are we ready?  If we’re raptured, but our families, friends and other relatives are still there, have we done anything to get them ready?

Ac 4:18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Talk about courage.  Peter and John turned down the offer.  Refused to be silent.  But still they were set free.  Again, that’s not going to be the case during the Tribulation.  Are we ready?

Ac 4:21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

And that’s part of the reason why it’s not going to happen.  because all the people were praising God for what had happened.  A whole bunch of people praising God isn’t going to happen either.  Not unless there’s a mass slaughter right afterwards.

We probably can’t imagine that happening.  At least not those of us in a “civilized” western-style country.  But as Christians, we should know the Bible says it’s coming.  We should believe it.  And we should be prepared ourselves.  And, we should be preparing people we love and care about.  Oh – by the way – isn’t that supposed to be, literally, everyone?

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!

So we’ve looked at the afflictions – the persecution.

How was the church in Smyrna rich?

The poverty was exactly what it sounds like – poor in a city that was rather wealthy.

The riches?  Spiritual.

Treasures in Heaven

6:22, 23 pp — Lk 11:34-36

Mt 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Mt 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

A church like Smyrna, poor in economic terms, but rich in spiritual terms, is being praised by Jesus.  This is the kind of church that can survive the Tribulation.  Their treasure and their hearts were in Heaven.

Can we say the same thing?

Smyrna is the only city still remaining of the seven who received letters in Revelation.  It’s in Turkey, although it has a new name: Izmir.

Philadelphia no longer has a major city, although there is still a small church in existence in the location.

One other note to remember for later in the series. The church in Smyrna received some of the same words as the Laodicean church – although in a different order.  Smyrna was poor – but rich.  Laodicea was rich – but poor.  Yet more reason for self-examination.

The synagogue of Satan in Smyrna

I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

As in the case of the Philadelphian church (3:9), the troublers of the church in Smyrna were those who say they are Jews and are not (v. 9)—in other words, unbelieving Jews, whom Jesus here considers to be a synagogue of Satan (c.f. John 8:44). Smyrna had the largest Jewish population of any Asian city. If this was written prior to a.d. 70, then it was a period in which the main adversaries of Christianity were the Jews. The church there was understandably harassed more than most.[11]

Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: a parallel commentary (p. 67). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.

It’s like, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Seven Woes

23:1-7 pp — Mk 12:38, 39; Lk 20:45, 46 23:37-39 pp — Lk 13:34, 35

Mt 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Mt 23:5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

Mt 23:8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Mt 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

[Mt 23:14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”]  Is not included in the NIV, but is in some other translations.  It would, of course, make eight woes. [12]New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 23:14). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Mt 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Today’s church enemies aren’t limited to the ones Jesus spoke of.  For instance, if you checked out any of the stuff on Chinese regulations on the Christian Church – China is literally re-writing the Bible.  And they’re changing the teachings of the church.

For Catholics, somehow the Pope even became complicit in this process, when he gave the Communist government in China the right to pick Bishops for the “Chinese Catholic Church”.  Please see China appoints seven Catholic Bishops – did the Pope just sell out underground churches? for more on that development.

So much of what we read in Revelation can seem so impossible.  And yet, more and more of the things needed for the Tribulation to begin are actually happening.  Are we as ready as the church in Smyrna?  Will our loved ones be as ready as the church in Smyrna?

Will our legacy be the same as that of the church in Smyrna?  Or will we just silently pass away, literally and figuratively?

But:

As I said – I have nothing in this section for the church in Smyrna.

If you have things here — that’s fine.  The only thing I ask is that you know why you have them here – and not someplace else.  That may seem like a pointless exercise.

But I feel like it’s important.  I often write about owning our faith.  We must know why we believe what we believe.  Not knowing where to put the various parts of each letter, I believe, might mean we haven’t fully thought things out.

Remember – a large part of this process is to be sure we have learned the lessons for each of the churches.  How they applied to each church.  But also how they apply to us.  And our views will / should change over time.  Change with our hopefully growing faith.  And as our faith grows – so should our understanding.

But if we never check – what have we really learned?

So:
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.

Honestly, this statement shouldn’t be a surprise for any Christian.  But oftentimes, it is.  Even more than a surprise, it brings feelings of anger towards God.  I know, because I’ve been there.  I can say from my own experience, it was from a lack of maturity and understanding.

The graph we’re using reflects the reality that a lot of new Christians have high expectations for their newfound faith.  Not necessarily correct expectations, but expectations nonetheless.  We don’t generally get told right away that following Jesus will bring hardships.  Even though Jesus told us they would come.

For instance, take a look at the Beatitudes.  Not just the ones that we generally talk about.  But look at what’s at the end.  What comes when we actually do the first ones.

The Beatitudes – Matthew

5:3-12 pp — Lk 6:20-23

Mt 5:1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Mt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Mt 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Mt 5:3-9 sounds really good.  Life is great when we do those things.

Rejoice during persecution

But how many of us are told ahead of time about verses Mt 5:10-12?  Especially the one about how we should rejoice and be glad when persecution and other troubles come because of the actions we carry our related to our faith?

I dare say, in churches where Jesus just wants to be our “friend”, it’s not heard much.  Probably not in most kids’ programs at church either.  And when we see our Christian friends living the good life, do we really expect anything different?  Do we realize that many, but not all, of the worldly rich Christians are like one of the churches in these letters that’s getting strong warnings from Jesus?  I doubt it.

The really sad part is that, as we say in the Ephesian church, even those who once knew the truth in those last three verses lose track of that truth.  The truth that suffering does come.  And the truth that we shouldn’t fear it.  Harder still, the truth that we rejoice and be glad in the midst of it.  Why?  Because ours is the kingdom of heaven.

 I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.

This verse is interesting.  I suspect the English translation in the NIV loses something.  For instance, one Commentary says this about that verse.

he (John) spells out the nature of their on-the-horizon suffering: the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, language that is full of theological grist, even as it spells out the harsh realities of what awaits these particular believers. Not one to yell “devil” (as in “the devil made me do it”) at every occurrence of evil, John nevertheless recognizes that lying behind the evil that persists in Smyrna is “our ancient foe, who seeks to work us woe.” The nature of the persecution will be imprisonment, whatever that would have meant at that time in such a city; but its ultimate purpose from the divine perspective was to serve as a means “to test you.” That it is said this persecution will last for ten days is to be understood as indicating that it would be for a limited time only. [13]Fee, G. D. (2011). Revelation (pp. 31–32). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.

It can make it sound like the devil has the authority to put someone in prison.  Not only that, but the purpose is for the devil to test those people.

There’s something missing, if that’s truly what is being said.  So I turned to Young’s Literal Translation, to see what it said.  Here it is:

10 ‘Be not afraid of the things that thou art about to suffer; lo, the devil is about to cast of you to prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days; [14]Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 2:10). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

So, it really does say that.

However, before we jump to any false assumptions about what’s going on, let’s apply some of the other knowledge we have.

Remember the book of Job.  And remember that, ultimately, God is in control.  The devil can do nothing without God’s permission.  Again – just reference the things Satan was allowed, and not allowed, to do to Job.

So – what we must realize is that God is allowing the devil to have some people put in prison.  And while the devil may be thinking the purpose is to test and hopefully tempt those in prison to turn away from God, there’s something else going on.

As with Job, God is allowing the testing to take place, with the knowledge that the person being tested can come through the testing spiritually intact.  More on that in a moment.

As for the ten days, we really shouldn’t take it as necessarily being a literal ten days.  Ten is often used in the Bible to represent a measure of completeness.  Whatever timeframe the testing covers, it’s the amount of time that God, not the devil, deems necessary.  And in any case, it’s temporary.  It will not last forever.

The key to all of this comes in the next sentence.

Be faithful during persecution, as God is faithful to us

 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 the crown of life.

It is our faith that can sustain us through the period of testing.  Some will make it.  But some won’t.  I believe that’s why we really need to do a better job of fulfilling the Great Commission.  All of the Great Commission.  One more time, here it is.

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If all we do is baptize people, how can they ever be ready for a time of testing?  If we don’t teach them everything Jesus taught, what hope do they have?  For that matter, if we don’t learn and follow everything Jesus taught, what hope do we have?

Do you remember when Jesus was teaching about what would come to be known as Communion?  Thousands of people were following Jesus.  Until He spoke of the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  But they didn’t have a clue what He meant.  They thought it was cannibalism.

That probably sounds so “dumb” to many Christians today.  But that’s because we know better.  We have the Holy Spirit.  However, if we stop at Baptism, don’t really teach the rest of what Jesus said – is it any wonder that some will get tested and fail?  They won’t have the strength of faith to keep them going through the testing.

Many Disciples Desert Jesus

Jn 6:60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Jn 6:61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

Jn 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Jn 6:67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Jn 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

So the question for the church in Smyrna, as well as for us, is which group will they / we be in?  Will we decide it’s too hard, and walk away?  Or will we stick around?

Truth is, we can only stick around if we’ve been discipled the way Jesus gave us to do it.  Then, and only then, will we find out it’s actually easier, in many respects, to stick around.  There’s no fear.  There’s peace.  Because there’s also the presence of God.

Based on the words Jesus gave for this letter, I believe Jesus knows this church will come out OK.  That this church will be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.  

How about you – the reader?

Hear:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

As with all the other churches, this means the letter can only be understood via the Holy Spirit.  As we saw in the letter to the Ephesian church, it goes back to a prophecy in Isaiah.  If you haven’t read it yet, it’s right here – Revelation – The letter to the loveless church in Ephesus.

The psychology of the letter to the church in Smyrna

Before we reach the conclusion, let’s return to the graph at the beginning.  After reading all this, where would you put the church in Smyrna now?  Do you still like your original positioning?  Of have you learned some things that cause you to want to put it someplace else?

Click to see my placement of the church in Smyrna along the path

church of smyrna on graph

I put the church in Smyrna right on the intersection of the curve and the red line showing a really good walk of faith with Jesus.  I feel they are very much on the narrow path that Jesus spoke of.  And that the Holy Spirit very much guides their lives.

Of course, like any spot on the curve, there are dangers.  Yes, even here.

One danger is complacency.  We saw that in the Ephesian church, where the people had lost their first love.  They lost their love for God.  And because of that they were, as one Commentary put it, the backsliding church.

Another danger with this spot, although Jesus’ letter seems to me to indicate it’s not going to happen with this church, is that Tribulation could be a new trigger event.  It could be such a shock to them, that they question their faith.  That could cause the backsliding seen in Ephesus.  It could even cause them to just drop right off the graph, because they give up on God.

But again, I believe the letter indicates this won’t happen.

The thing is, with us as individuals, we don’t get letters from Jesus.  We get the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit.  A voice we can miss if we don’t listen for Him.  One we can even ignore if we choose.  It’s one more reason why we need to regular do as David did in Psalm 139.

So what about you?  Where do you see yourself, related to the contents of Psalm 139?  And if you’re not there, are you ready to pray that God will show you the way?  And as long as we’re looking at ourselves, what about our loved ones, friends, and even people we come in contact with but don’t really know?

To those who overcome:

He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

This is the third time we’re read something like this in the letter to the church in Smyrna.  To recap:

The letter is from him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.

In the “So” portion, the action section of the letter, we read Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

And now in the reward for those who overcome, we read He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

It reminds me very much of something in Hebrews.  It lays out what happens.  How to resist.  And the rewards.  Of course, it also requires faith and listening to the Holy Spirit.  Things we can best accomplish by being trained as complete disciples.

God Disciplines His Sons

Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus is the reason we suffer through tribulations.  He is also the one we must look to in order to survive them.

We might read the verse – Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart – and wonder how that’s going to help.  After all, Jesus was God.  How can we compare our ability to withstand to His?

We must remember, Jesus was fully man.  Fully God, yes, but fully man as well.  His pain and suffering was real.  Also consider something Paul wrote – that the Holy Spirit is the mind of Christ, in 1 Co 2:16.  In other words, remember that we have the Holy Spirit – the mind of Christ.

Not all of it, to be sure.  But enough.  Enough to withstand.  Enough to overcome.  If we remember.  And if we have faith.

Heb 12:4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, Heb 12:6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

There’s something in here that we have to realize as well.  These days, we tend to consider discipline as a bad thing.  Many parents are taught not to discipline their children.  They should explain things and reason with them instead.

I feel like we’ve lost track of the difference between discipline and punishment.  Both words have become almost evil.  Even when we become adults, both are seen as bad.

The thing is, in the Bible, discipline is a good thing.  It’s something we need in order to learn.  We might not like to believe that, but if we’re honest, it’s often the only way.

On the other hand, punishment is the price we pay for disobeying.  It’s become disassociated from learning.  There’s a distinction there that we must learn.  If we don’t, we’ll likely have a skewed view of God.

I recently wrote something for a class I did on Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.  We were looking at Moses as an example of someone with a pure heart, in spite of all the problems He had with God during the Exodus.

You may remember, Moses never saw the promised land.  So the question came up – Will God punish us today, like when He didn’t allow Moses to enter the Promised Land?  I invite you to check it out and see the difference in viewpoint when we use the concept of rewards rather than punishment.

Heb 12:7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

The author gives an example of parents and children.  One that, as I said, may be lost on some parents and most kids today,

Heb 12:12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

I just want to explain Make level paths for your feet.  If you’re not aware, it’s not about digging, clearing or re-routing a path.  It’s about prayer.  A prayer like what we read in Psalm 139.  One where we pray for God to examine us.  See what’s hindering our closeness with Him.  Making the paths straight is about removing the obstacles.  Not physical obstacles, but spiritual ones.  Maybe even the realization that God disciplines us for our own good.

Conclusion – The church in Smyrna

The church in Smyrna is, by all indications in the letter, doing well.  They need to stay the course.  Or, from another generation, keep on keepin’ on.  Keepin’ the Holy Spirit.  Staying on the narrow path.

How about you?

Are you there?  Are you willing to do what’s needed to get there?  And, if you can do that, will you have the strength to “keep on keepin’ on”?  You will, if you’re a true disciple and with the power of the Holy Spirit.

I pray that I will do the same.  And maybe we’ll meet one day in Heaven.


Image from Logos Bible Software, by Faithlife Corp.


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