Monday, August 12, 2019

“Sardis: The Dead Church” (Pt. 2) (Aug. 12, 2019)


Allen Raynor Weblog: “Sardis: The Dead Church” (Pt. 2)
(Aug. 12, 2019)

          In Sardis, as in any other church characterized by deadness, the faithful remnant needed to wake up!  There was no time for indifference in Sardis and there is no time for indifference right now, right here!  Sin and error need confronted head-on.  Spiritual laziness needs to be addressed.  The remnant in Sardis needed to strengthen the things that remain which were about to die.  The Lord basically was encouraging the true Christians at Sardis to fan into flames the dying embers of the remaining spiritual graces in their church.  Further, the faithful remnant needed to “remember what they had received and heard.”  In other words, they needed to get back to the basics/fundamentals when it came to the truth of God’s Word.  These were the teachings of the Apostles; Paul’s letters which had been circulated among the churches; the Gospel of Christ Himself.  Also, after going back to the truths of Scripture, they needed to “keep” them.  Finally, they needed to repent.  With sorrow and remorse, the believers at Sardis were to confess their sins and turn away from them.  This would be true revival. 
          The consequences for them, if repentance did not come would be severe.  He warns them “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”  This idea of “coming as a thief” carries with it the idea of imminent judgment.  For Sardis or for any other church or any individual believer to escape the stricter judgment of God is to repent and follow God’s truth.
          The white garments the Lord promises to clothe them with symbolizes their Godly character and faithful service.  White represents purity and holiness.   He further promises “He will not erase/blot out his name from the book of life, but will confess his name before the Father and before His angels.”  This is much more of a promise than a threat.  The “book of life” is a register of all living.  In John’s day rulers kept a register of the citizens of a city.  If someone died or committed a serious crime, their name was erased from that register.  Christ here, is promising to never erase a true Christian’s name from the roll of those whose names were “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” (13:8)  Rather, Christ will confess every believer’s name before God the Father and before His angels.” 
          Like the other letters to the churches, this letter to Sardis ends with the exhortation “He who has ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  What then happened to Sardis?  It was strongly argued by Melito, a prominent man who served as bishop at Sardis several decades after John wrote, that at least some revival did take place in Sardis.  Until Christ returns it is not too late for churches and individuals to repent and turn to Christ!
          The church of the twenty-first century is in need of revival more than anything else.  Although, by looking around these days it would seem that “innovation” is the key to success; or at least that is what is most commonly believed.  Many believe with the right music, the right atmosphere, the right style of preaching, the right programs, etc. you can build a church.  It is true you can use technique to draw a crowd; however drawing a crowd and building a healthy New Testament Church are two very different things.  One of the things that leads to deadness in a church is when the crowd of today decays into dead church members tomorrow.  Those made  alive by the Spirit of our God shines brightly for Jesus.  It is essential we be honest with people and encourage them to count the cost just as Jesus encouraged them to do. 

In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

“Sardis: The Dead Church” (Pt. 1) (August 7, 2019)


Allen Raynor Weblog: “Sardis: The Dead Church” (Pt. 1)

(Aug. 7, 2019)

 

          Space is almost incomprehensible to our minds.  The nearest stars to the earth are trillions of miles away.  These vast distances forced astronomers to come up with a  new term – “light year.”  It is the distance light travels in the span of one year.  One light year is 6 trillion miles!  If a star thirty light years away from the earth exploded and died five years ago, we could not be able to tell by looking at it for another 25 years!  Though no longer in existence, the light from that star would go on shining as if nothing had changed.  The light at the church of Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) appeared to be shining, but the church was dead.

          Scripture teaches that sinful mankind, apart from Christ, is dead in trespasses and in sins (Eph. 2).  That same passage also teaches us that God is the one who has “made alive” all those who are spiritually living.  Sometimes the things that appear alive are really dead.  In other words we, as human beings can be fooled.  But, God does not judge things by the way they look on the outside.  He looks at the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7b says “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”  When the Lord looked at the “heart” of the church at Sardis, He apparently saw a church that was comfortable, content, cold, and coasting.  It was a church that had reputation without reality.  In America today about 80 percent claim to be believers, but the reality of that claim is nowhere to be found.  Jesus, the Great Physician takes the pulse of the church at Sardis and finds none.

           Sardis was located 30 miles southeast of Thyatira.  It had been a capital city (of Lydia).  An emperor worship cult was very active there.  Also, was worship of Artemis, the goddess of fertility.  Sardis was a very wealthy city, as gold was refined from the nearby Pactolus River.  It’s location made it almost impervious to being conquered by an outside force.  Probably the wealth and strength of the city led to complacency and ultimately its downfall.  The church was probably founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry (Acts 19:10).  Christ is described to this church as “He Who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.”  The “seven Spirits” may be reference to the Holy Spirit (7 being a number signifying completeness).  This would perhaps be another way of saying “The Holy Spirit is His total completeness.”  The 7 stars are “the angels of the 7 churches,” which is most likely the pastors of the seven churches.  Jesus sought to remind the Sardis church that they were lacking the Spirit and without the Holy Spirit of God, the church was dead.

          Jesus has no good words to give the whole church; however He does single out a few as being genuine and sincere.  Even in the worst of situations, and even in the most unfaithful churches, there seem to always be a few that are faithful.  A small remnant in Sardis had overcome sin and had demonstrated a true righteousness.  There were a few who had not had their garments soiled/stained with sin.  The Lord Jesus promises these people they will “walk with Him in white, because they are worthy.”

          Through its outward appearance, this church may have fooled many people into thinking it was alive, but they could not fool the Lord.  MacArthur says “Like so many churches today it was defiled by the world, characterized by inward decay, and populated by unredeemed people playing church.” (John MacArthur; MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Revelation Vol. 1; 111)  Spiritual death in the New Testament is always connected with its cause – Sin!  Ephesians 2:1 describes unsaved mankind as those “Who were dead in trespasses and sins.”  The church at Sardis was merely performing deeds; they were going through the motions.  The deeds they did were apparently enough to fool other people, but not enough to fool God.

          Samson, one of the Old Testament Judges, provides a good illustration of the situation in Sardis.  Samson had been empowered by God with great strength to be used for God’s glory.  But Delilah pressed him daily (Judg. 16:16) to reveal the secret of his strength.  Eventually he told her.  She cut his hair and he lost his great strength; not because of getting a haircut, but because of the disobedience to God.  Then the Philistines came to seize Samson; he tried to stop them but they captured him, tied him up, and put out his eyes.  Sadly vs. 20 sums up the tragedy of Samson’s disobedience.  He said “I will go out as before at other times, and shake myself free!’  But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” (Judg. 16:20)  Although Samson was the same man with the same name; his power was gone.  Although Sardis was the same church with the same name; its power was gone.

 

In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Monday, July 29, 2019

“Thyatira: The Corrupt Church” (Pt. 2) (July 29, 2019)


Allen Raynor Weblog: “Thyatira: The Corrupt Church” (Pt. 2)

(July 29, 2019)

 

          There is always hope with the Lord if people will only repent.  But, stubborn human pride works so hard to keep people from doing so.  Satan deceives people into thinking they do not need to repent.  In Asia Minor, there was considerable satanic influence going on.  Satan was not only wishing the church to fail, he was actively working to cause it to fail. 

          In 1 Corinthians 2:10 we read about “The deep things of God.”  Contrast that with the phrase “The depths of Satan” found here in this address to Thyatira.  The issues with the wicked woman Jesus calls “Jezebel” is not a minor thing.  It was utterly Satanic in nature.  In some twisted delusion they evidently thought they could be free to explore the Satanic realm and then come and worship God!  It was an ugly tragic attempt at synchronizing two things which were totally incompatible.  Jesus tells them simply to “hold fast” to what they have and what they know to be right until He comes.  This is His message for every church in every age, to “hold fast” to what is right until He comes.

          In verses 26-29 there is a promise to overcomers as opposed to those who were falling prey to immorality.  The promise is to give them great power.  True believers will exercise authority over the nations, ruling with a rod of iron.  This authority comes from the Father.  The value of this privilege is inestimable. 

          The “Morning Star” refers to Christ Himself.  For the overcoming believer, Christ’s presence is the light in the dark and difficult times before the Son’s coming.  Things may seem bad now, in this world and in terms of persecution, but it will be ramped up even more on the church with each day that draws closer to the end of time and Christ’s return.  It is impossible to know just how bad things might get before the rapture takes place.  But, we do know that the Lord will rescue us out of this world and we will not perish with it.  God is never early and never late.  He is always on time.  He is perfect in all things.  To those who “have ears to hear” let us/them hear what the Lord is saying to the churches and to us today.

          As we move closer and closer to that day, more and more people, churches, and denominations are compromising on issues to which the Bible speaks clearly.  Growing number of Christians, for the first time in the history of the church, are becoming accepting of premarital and extramarital sex, homosexuality, cohabitation, recreational drug use, abortion, obscene language, and subtle, yet very real, forms of idolatry such as the worship of sports, possessions, careers, social status, money, and a variety of things money can buy.  Many social ills can be linked back to corruption and compromise within the church with full understanding the church is made up of people who have sinful natures and often engage in sinful behavior.

          At a time when the need is greater for biblical truth, fewer churches are preaching it without compromise and even in the places where it is being faithfully proclaimed, vast numbers of people are absent in their attendance, hearing only a message here and there with no consistency.  We live in a day and time where the majority of people on the church rolls break the first four of The Ten Commandments on a regular basis with little concern about doing so.  It is little wonder the church is viewed as increasingly impotent in public discourse.  Our doctrine says God is important, but our behavior says He is not important.  Nothing distinguishes a corrupt church any more than behaviorally choosing the world over and above God with little or no shame in doing so.  The portrait of God shown to the world by the modern church is often a false one but it is the perfect depiction Satan wants on display.

          Satan, and the world will lose in the end, but right now they are growing stronger and stronger with a lot of help from the modern church.  Satan is empowered by corruption and compromise within the church.  Every church member must decide who they are going to put first.  It is not only awkward to try and put God and Satan first, but it is impossible.  You must love the one and hate the other or hate the one and love the other.

 

In Christ,

 

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

"Thyatira: The Corrupt Church" (Part 1) (July 24, 2019)


Allen Raynor Weblog: “Thyatira: The Corrupt Church” (Pt. 1)

(July 24, 2019)

 

          Many problems get kicked down the road like the proverbial can because they are not easy to correct.  Many of those same problems are destructive and cost more in the end when it is determined they must be fixed.  The strange noise your car is making can be ignored, but it should not be.  Evidence of termite infestation can be ignored but should not be.  Dizzy spells and headaches can be ignored but should not be.  The rising national debt can be ignored but should not be.

          Sin is caustic and it eats away at people’s lives and it eats away at churches.  Just like with many problems in our own lives, it never seems like the most urgent matter to deal with at the moment.  We feel like we can always deal with it on another day; at another time.  When it comes to compromising with sin, the devil will tell us anything we want to hear.  This was exactly what was going on at the church at Thyatira.  They had a long series of compromises that had ultimately led them to the place of corruption.

          In Revelation 2:18-29 Jesus addresses the church of Thyatira.  It is unknown when this church was founded, but many believe it was when Lydia was converted under Paul’s ministry (Acts 16) and went back to her home city.  She may have spread the word and the church was somehow founded through her witness.  From Pergamos, the northernmost of the 7 cities, the Roman Road curved east and then southeast in Thyatira, approximately 40 miles away.  Thyatira was the most insignificant city among the 7 churches addressed by the Lord.  It was basically a place of industry and production, mainly wool and dyed goods especially purple goods dyed with purple extracted from a certain type of root called “madder.”

          In addressing the church at Thyatira, John writes, pointing them back to the vision of the Son of Man in Chapter 1.  Jesus is described to them as having “eyes like a flame of fire” and “feet like fine brass.”  This description is virtually word for word the description given in Daniel 10:6.  The “eyes of fire” or “eyes aflame” referred to piercing, penetrating, and burning through everything and seeing with total clarity.  “Feet like brass” refers to Jesus running through the church rapidly with judgment.  God’s judgment is never a long, drawn out process like an earthly courtroom trial.  It is swift, penetrating, accurate, and perfect!

          Everyone appreciates a compliment and Jesus was always fair in His assessments of the churches.  He gives credit where credit is due, but above all else, Jesus was honest and straightforward.  I once had a man in my congregation tell me about how he liked his new doctor because he would “look him in the eye and tell him how it was.”  No matter whether good news or bad news, many appreciate honesty.  Jesus compliments works they have done which were done for all the right reasons.  Those works were done because of love, a spirit of service, true faith, and patient expectations.  In fact, Thyatira is the only one of the 7 churches to be complimented for its love.  Not only did this church possess these qualities, but their “deeds of late” or “most recent works” were greater in number than what they were doing earlier on.  In that sense, they seemed to be growing and moving in the right direction.

          In verses 20-23 Jesus rebukes them for the sinfulness in their congregation.  Despite the compliments given to the church by the Lord, things were far from being well.  This church was guilty of serious compromise.  So severe, in fact, they were corrupted!  The indictment was, first of all, that they were “tolerating the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.”  She was teaching and seducing people.  What was she teaching?  Apparently she was teaching that engaging in sexual immorality was ok and eating things sacrificed to idols was fine also.  “Jezebel” was probably not her real name, but the Lord referred to her as “Jezebel” because she brought to mind the Old Testament Jezebel, wo was a vile woman.  She was so wicked, in fact, that 1 Kings 16:30-31 tells us that the most wicked thing Ahab ever did was marry her!  This woman that Jesus calls “Jezebel” at Thyatira had self-proclaimed herself as a “prophetess.”  Clearly Jesus is implying she is not a prophetess at all.  Saddest of all is that the church was allowing it to go on!

          The Bible teaches that true Christians can fall into sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:15-20) and idolatry (1 Cor. 10:21); but to lead other Christians into false doctrine or immoral living is a more serious sin which calls for the most severe punishment.  God is a God of grace and vs. 21 says she was given time/opportunity to repent of her wickedness and immorality, but she refused.  Her punishment was to be cast onto a “sickbed,” most likely referring to death and hell – the ultimate resting place for those who refuse to repent.  Further, those who also commit adultery with her also will suffer great tribulation/pressure.  This is unless they repent and turn from their wickedness.

          The “children” mentioned in vs. 23 are not biological children, but spiritual children/descendants.  The severe punishment promised to the false prophets and her followers reveals Christ’s passion for the doctrinal soundness of the church and the pure behavior of its members.  In Acts 5 we have the account of Ananias and his wife Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit and both being struck down dead.  Sometimes judgment for sin comes swiftly.  We can rest assured however, God is a righteous judge.  God is never fooled about motives.  His penetrating eyes see right into the heart of a person.  Here it says “He searches the minds and hearts” and He will distribute justice fairly according to the deeds done in the flesh.  Works cannot save a person but our works can certainly condemn us.  Christ knows all our works!

 

In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

         

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

“Pergamos: The Compromising Church” (Pt. 2) (July 16, 2019)


Allen Raynor Weblog: “Pergamos: The Compromising Church” (Pt. 2)

(July 16, 2019)

 

          The Apostle Paul gave strong warnings about mixing the Word of God with error and entanglement with non-believers.  In 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 he writes “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?  And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For ‘you’ are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’  Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’”

          Sadly, some at the Pergamos church believed a person could attend pagan feasts, engage in debauchery and sexual immorality and still be a part of Christ’s church and worship!  But, as James 4:4 puts it “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God.  Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

          The second heresy at Pergamos, the Nicolaitans, were already mentioned when He addressed the church at Ephesus.  Nicolaitans taught that Christians could participate in pagan rituals, particularly sexual ones.  The majority of the church as Pergamos remained faithful, but still many were seduced into compromise and error.

          Jesus offers corrections by pointing them toward the one and only remedy for their condition – repentance.  The word “repent,” as it is used in Scripture, describes a change of mind that results in a change of behavior.  In our culture, compromise, tolerance, etc. is celebrated; however compromising the eternal truths and principles of God is not cause for celebration!  John MacArthur writes “Error will never be suppressed by compromising with it.  Today’s non-confrontive church is largely repeating the error of the Pergamos church on a grand scale, and faces the judgment of the Lord of the church (John MacArthur; New Testament Commentary; Revelation Vol. 1; 90)  For the unrepentant, Jesus will use His power for the purpose of judgment.

          The Lord concludes by offering encouragement to the congregation.  To overcomers He will give to eat of “the hidden manna.”  “Manna” was the honey-flavored bread God fed the Israelites with during their years of wilderness wanderings.  This was so important in Israel’s history that a jar of it was to be kept inside the ark of the Covenant as they traveled.  The “hidden manna” represents Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life who came down from Heaven (John 6:48-51).  The “white stones” Jesus spoke of refer to the Roman custom of awarding white stones to victors in athletic contests.  A white stone, inscribed with the athlete’s name served as his ticket to a special awards banquet.  So, by saying this, Christ is promising these “overcomers” entrance into the eternal victory celebration in Heaven.  The question each person must answer for themselves its “Will I be handed one of these white stones by Jesus or be given of the hidden manna to eat?”  If you truly know Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then the answer if yes, but if you do not know Him as personal Lord and Savior, then the answer is no.

          The dangerous compromises of the modern church are almost incalculable.  While the church has been arguing over minutia like paint and carpet colors, worship styles, and programs Satan has moved in and started fooling people.  When people are fooled they start compromising on the wrong things.  Not all compromise is good.  In fact, much of it is bad.  We cannot compromise on essential doctrine or we are right there with the church at Pergamos and the hard words of Jesus apply to us as well.

 

In Christ,

 

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

“Pergamos: The Compromising Church” (July 11, 2019)


Allen Raynor Weblog: “Pergamos: The Compromising Church”

(July 11, 2019)

 

          Compromise can both be positive and negative.  It is positive when we think of two people each giving up a little of what they want in order to come together for a peaceful solution.  It is negative when pure and absolute truth is given away in order to achieve harmony.  In our culture, peace/harmony/tolerance is seen as the highest good.  However, Christians hold as the highest good, the truth of God.  Many Christians, many churches, and many denominations have laid aside the explicit truths of God’s Word in favor of achieving harmony with the world around them.  Over the past few decades, we have seen churches, denominations, pastors, and other influential leaders compromising on, for instance, the issue of homosexuality.  Well known pastors such as T. D. Jakes is just the latest in a long string of those who have done so.  Compromises like this may make the world happy, and they certainly cause Satan to cheer, but they grieve the heart of God.  Some denominations have reasoned that the way to reach the world is to become more like the world and the results have been devastating.  The Episcopal church, the United Methodist church, and others have experienced sharp decline and church closures since compromising on many controversial issues of which the Scripture speaks clearly.  Unfortunately, the one word that apparently most characterized/described the church at Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17) was “compromise.”  Of all the things a church could or should be known for, compromise is not one of them.  Sadly, as we look around, in this generation, we have to conclude that the church of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is a church of compromise.

          “Pergamos” was the ancient capital of the province of Asia.  By the time John wrote Revelation, Pergamos had been Asia’s capital for almost 250 years.  The name “Pergamos” means “citadel” in the Greek language.  It was located about 50 miles north of Smyrna, situated on a high hill overlooking the valley below.  One of the things the city was known for was its huge library, containing about 200 thousand handwritten volumes.  It was second only to the great Library of Alexandria, Egypt.  Because of its library, Pergamos was an important center for culture and learning.  The city was also the seat/center for Emperor worship, and more so than any other city in Asia, Christians were in danger from the emperor worship cult.  Therefore, in the last part of Rev. 2:12 Jesus described the church as being the one “Who has the sharp two-edged sword.”  This phrase is a reference to the Word of God.  In Eph. 6:17, Paul also uses this metaphor describing a sword as the Word.  The writer of Hebrews, in 4:12 says “Now the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.”  In Rev. 1:16 The Apostle John recorded seeing a vision of the “Son of Man” and writes “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.”  “Two-edged” pictures the potency and power of the Word.  The might and strength of Jesus is strongly reiterated to this church.

          Despite their difficult circumstances, the believers at Pergamos maintained their faith with courage.  He commends/compliments them for “holding fast” to His name, in spite of the fact they lived “where Satan’s throne is; where Satan dwells.”  The possibilities of meaning here are that 1) There was a magnificent alter in Pergamos to Zeus.  2) The Emperor cult was really big in this city.  3) Another possibility has to do with Asklepios, the god of healing.  People in the ancient world would come to Pergamos seeking healing at his shrine.  Asklepios was depicted as a snake, and non-poisonous snakes roamed freely in his temple.  Persons seeking healing would lay down on the temple floor, hoping to be touched by one of the snakes, thereby being healed.  Such symbolism, would no doubt, remind Christians of Satan.  Perhaps the combination of all 3 of these things were in view by Jesus when He gave the description. 

          Nothing is really known about “Antipas” mentioned in the text, but he was likely one of the leaders of the church at Pergamos, perhaps even the pastor.  According to tradition, he was roasted to death inside a brass bull during the persecution started by Emperor Domitian.  Antipas made the ultimate sacrifice for refusing to compromise.  He is commended by the Lord and lifted up as a good example.

          Jesus’ rebuke of the congregation comes in verses 14-15.  Some in the church were holding to what He calls “The doctrine of Balaam.”  The account of Balaam is recorded in Numbers 22-25.  He was basically a “prophet for hire” without core convictions of his own.  He performed duties based on whoever paid him the most.  Fearful of the Israelites because of what they had done to their enemies, the Amorites, Balak King of Moab hired Balaam to curse Israel.  After trying unsuccessfully 3 times to curse Israel.  Balaam came up with another plan.  His new plan was to corrupt them by teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the men.  He would try to get them to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of sexual immorality.  He plotted to use Moabite women to lure these men into ungodly behavior.  The theory was that this sinfulness would destroy Israel’s spiritual power.  His plan succeeded to a certain extent, but God intervened and stopped it and severely chastened Israel for falling into temptation by executing 24,000 people (Num. 25:9).

          Like the Israelites who were seduced by Balaam’s false teaching, some in the church at Pergamos were lured to mix Christianity with an ungodly pagan system.  Peter wrote rebuking the Balaamites in 2 Pet. 2:15-16 saying “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray; following the way of Balaam the son of Beor; who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity; a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.”  Jude, in verses 10-11 of his epistle, rebukes all who follow this error.

 

In Christ,

 

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

“Smyrna: The Persecuted Church” (Pt. 2) (June 25, 2019)


Allen Raynor Weblog: “Smyrna: The Persecuted Church” (Pt. 2)

(June 25, 2019)

 

          In verse 9 of Revelation chapter 2 we notice the harsh words spoken by Jesus referring to “Those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  This shocking statement affirmed that those Jews who rejected Christ were just as much followers of Satan as pagan idol worshipers!  He even uses the word “blasphemy” which is a very strong term usually reserved for the very most hostile acts/words against God.  This was severe!  Unbelieving Jews were regularly known to chime right in with pagans accusing Christians of several things such as Cannibalism – based on a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus had referred to His body and His blood which they twisted to make it sound like the early Christians were engaging in grotesque acts.  The early Christians were also accused of immorality based on the perverting of the “holy kiss” believers often greeted one another with.  They were accused of breaking up homes, based on when one spouse became a Christian and the other did not it often caused great conflict in the home.  The early Christians were accused of “Atheism” because these believers rejected pagan deities and worshiped a God they could not see.  They were also accused of political disloyalty and rebellion based on the fact Christians refused to offer the required sacrifices to the emperor.

          With hopes to destroy the Christian faith altogether, some of Smyrna’s wealthy, influential Jews reported these blasphemous false allegations to the Romans.  These “haters” of the Gospel were referred to as a “Synagogue of Satan,” meaning they assembled to plan attacks on the church, thereby doing Satan’s will and work.  In Smyrna, the hostile Jewish population poisoned public opinion against the Christians.

          Persecution against the church at Smyrna reached its peak 50 or so years after this letter was written with the execution of the aged pastor of the church at Smyrna, Polycarp.  The unbelieving Jews played a big role in this.  Polycarp writes extensively about knowing the Apostle John personally, when he was a young man.  Foxes Book of Martyrs tells of how Polycarp was martyred in A.D. 155 at the age of 86.  He was brought before the Roman proconsul at Smyrna who demanded that Polycarp take an oath renouncing Christ and placing his trust in Caesar.  He refused and he famously said “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord Jesus; He has been faithful to me.  How can I now be faithless to Him and blaspheme the name of my Savior.” (Polycarp; 155 A.D.)  Even under the threat of being thrown to wild beasts, he calmly replied he would not.  Ultimately he was burned at the stake.  His dying words were “O Lord God Almighty, Father of the blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, I thank you for giving me this day and this hour, that I may be numbered among your martyrs, to share the cup of Jesus and to rise again to life everlasting.” (Polycarp [dying words]; 155 A.D.)

          This tribulation against the church went on for several decades.  The “10 days” seen in this passage is widely seen as a figurative number signifying a short period.  However, some see it more as though “10 days” refers to short pockets/periods of time; perhaps 10 outbursts of persecution that was to come upon them.  The last part of verse 10 speaks of a martyr’s crown (witness).  This is a special reward/crown received by some.  Revelation 4:10 tells of how the crowns received will be cast at the feet of Jesus, the only one who is worthy.  Verse 11 goes on to say “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created.” (Rev. 4:10)

          Jesus makes a promise to this congregation.  Faithful overcomers need not fear death because earthly death is going to happen one way or another.  Death is a doorway.  It is either the entryway to eternal bliss/comfort/joy, or to eternal misery/pain/suffering.  This is the “second death.”  This “second death” is what awaits unbelievers.  No believer will experience the second death; the overcomer will suffer no loss whatsoever.  There is a promise to the believer who is faithful even to the point of death (the promise in vs. 10).  For Christians, there is not only deliverance from the second death, but an experience of life to a rich degree.  In John 10:10 Jesus declared “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b)  Jesus offered words of encouragement to this church at Smyrna in the midst of what must have seemed like a dark and difficult time period. God’s perspective was perhaps different than their own.  Someone has said “It’s not the load you carry that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” (unknown)  Even in the darkest and most difficult hours of our life, God is still alive and well and suffering persecution of any kind is small potatoes compared to the hurt of “the second death.”  Do not waste time fearing the first death, only make sure you avoid the second death!

          God loved this church in Smyrna and He loves us so much that He offers these words of encouragement.  If we know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we have reason to be encouraged today!

 

In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor