This week, we will close out our recap on the series on Revival and the Seven Churches of Asia with our devotionals on the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia, the two churches that seemed to be revived and thriving. As last weeks was rather short, this one will be somewhat longer.
The Church at Smyrna
And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
Smyrna, a Church Under Fire
Note right away the very short nature of this particular letter. Jesus had nothing bad to say about this church. He merely had some commendation to pass along to Smyrna, as well as a warning later in the letter. He had a warning, not an admonition. In fact, only Smyrna and Philadelphia escaped without any words of critique from our Lord.
During the course of study, I read several commentators who referred to Smyrna as the “suffering church,” because apparently things were not easy for them. It seems the church at Smyrna faced trouble from two directions.
It needs to be noted that the city of Smyrna was somewhat of a leading center for the Roman practice of Emperor worship, with the Emperor of the day being Domitian. Of course, the Christian community was more than willing to obey and support the civil laws and government of the time. On the other hand, they were unwilling to extend worship to the Roman Emperor and offer sacrifices to him.
Not only was the church at Smyrna being persecuted at the hands of the Roman government itself, but they faced it as a result of the actions of the local Jewish community, which was quite large. At the time, the Jews enjoyed the protection of the Roman government, and they were not required to participate in worship or sacrifices to the Emperor. They were, however, very quick to hurl accusations at the Christian community. Jesus said, I know the blasphemy of them, indicating that He well knew the lies the local Jews were spreading about the Christians. Because they seemed to have conspired and planned out these lies in an intentional effort to erase the local Christians, Jesus referred to these Jews as the synagogue of Satan! The lies were many, ranging from cannibalism, to immorality, and oddly enough they were even accused of being atheists for not believing in the assortment of Roman Gods
The important part here is to understand why this church was undergoing persecution. Obviously, they were doing the right things; they were putting themselves out in the world clearly and definitively as what they were, and that was Christians. They were different than the world around them. As throughout the history of the church, anytime Christians do what they should and live as they should, persecution and troubles arise.
If the life our our churches is trouble free and easy, with no one questioning us or rising in opposition to us? We might be in need of revival.
A Warning for Smyrna
We have seen that this church has already suffered substantially for their faith; in fact, they had gotten a double dose of persecution. They were being persecuted by the Roman government for staying true to the Faith, as well as some claiming to be among God’s chosen people, the Jews. Life had not been easy thus far for the church at Smyrna.
Jesus did not have an admonition, or negative words for this church; He did, however have a very solemn and honest warning. Unfortunately, more and possibly worse was to come.
What is coming? Well, more tribulation is coming. Our passage teaches us that some will be jailed, and tried, possibly for exercising their faith. Let’s talk quickly about this period of ten days . Some assign very symbolic meaning to this in terms of it representing perhaps ten phases of persecution under the Romans yet to come; some say it could represent some undermined amount of time, perhaps even ten years; others say it literally means ten days. There is some credence to the idea that in other places, ten days was simply a “short time.”, signifying that this persecution would be intense yet short lived. Who knows, really?
We can absolutely conclude, however, that more was coming for these believers. God has told them it is coming; but more importantly, He has basically told them, “Do not be afraid!” They need not fear this upcoming persecution, because what awaits them in Heaven with their Savior someday is far more wonderful than anything they face here could be bad. They will receive “The crown of life.” Note the similar reference to this crown in James 1:12. Just a quick note; there is nothing in this passage which would cause us to teach that the Crown of Life represents a gift of Salvation. In other words, this church is not being taught that if they persevere through the trials they would be rewarded with eternal life. This gift is only for those who have accepted God’s gracious gift of salvation, and will then be rewarded for their perseverance, which they are capable of because of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
What’s the application for our discussion on revival here anyway? Seems an odd connection, really. Here is what I saw.
If we do what we are supposed to be doing in our world and our communities, we will suffer. If we are living live on easy street, then we may need reviving.
If we do what we are supposed to do, then God will take are of us, protect us, and ultimately reward us.
So. let’s get busy. God told Smyrna they could handle it, and He is telling us that as well.
The Church at Philadelphia
Philadelphia, A Revived Church
Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. Everybody knows that, right? The name literally means “love of the brethren,” and is simply two Greek root words combined. It comes from the word pheleo, “to love” and adelphos, “brother.” The city has borne several names throughout history, but we know it as Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, much like it’s namesake right here in the United States. Just a small tidbit of history here might be fun to note; the name of the city actually never had any roots in The Bible whatsoever. It actually comes from the story of King Attalus II whose brother, Eumemes was the King of nearby Pergamum. The love and loyalty Attalus had for his brother was so great and well known that the city was named in honor of that great love. Not necessarily relevant to our discussion, but very interesting nonetheless.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, much like the church at Smyrna, had no negative words to say to the believers in Philadelphia whatsoever. I have read of this church being referred to as “The Faithful Church,” and “The Revived Church.” Just because it seems to fit, we are going to consider Philadelphia as The Revived Church.
I think we will spend some time discussing the many things this church was doing right over the course of the next few days. Ironically, the little we know about the church in Philadelphia comes from only this very short passage in God’s Word;, yet the words of praise Jesus had for this church could fill a book if expanded on fully. So, for the next few days, we will do a little filling.
Who’s In Charge Here?
What keeps a church in a revived state? That almost sounds like an oxymoron I know, as the stay in a revived state implies that one never needed reviving, but it’s the best way I could think of to ask it! But as much as anything, focus on one thing might be just the thing which keeps us in the state our Lord wishes us to be in. The state of being, not necessarily “re” vived, but simply alive and well in the first place.
This might be a little stretch with the text we are talking about, but I don’t really think so. It has to to with our focus, and our text clearly explains some things about what our focus as a church should be, and why. So, the title question remains: Who is in charge here?
Jesus Himself proclaimed Himself, when delivering these letters to the churches, and specifically the one we are addressing, to be holy. Who is holy? Well, only God is holy. One could construe this as Jesus stating quite clearly that He is also God. Being God certainly provides some credentials, some bona fides, if you will, as to His authority over the church He is addressing. He referred to Himself as he that is true. He is pointing out that He, and not any of the pantheon of false gods worshiped at the time this letter was written, is the one and True God of the universe. Again, impressive credentials for one establishing His authority over the church being addressed. He possesses the key of David. In this context, possession of a key clearly establishes authority. It is no accident that those in charge of some establishments are referred to as “key carriers.” Along with keys come authority; this is ultimate authority in fact. Authority for what? We may ask. Perhaps the door to the Kingdom? No one can enter the Kingdom unless the door is opened by Jesus Himself, and no one can be shut out from the Kingdom except by Jesus Christ Himself. Again, powerful credentials!
Colossians 1:17,18 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
So who, or what, is the head our our churches? If it’s anything other than Jesus Christ who possesses the ultimate authority which was handed to Him by God the Father, we might be in need of revival.
A Faithful Church
We are still talking about the church at Philadelphia today. As we have talked about over the last couple of days, this church was already revived, or had never had need for revival in the first place. I have also heard Philadelphia referred to as the faithful church.
First things first. Jesus Christ knows the works of our churches. We may have the most beautiful building, the biggest flashiest auditorium, and the most people; however, Jesus Christ knows the real story behind the scenes so to speak. He knew that with this church, and we know that because He told them in the letter He sent them. He knows our churches as well.
This church had only a little strength. This was in no way anything negative being said about this church. In fact, when we read on we see that this reference to their apparent lack of strength was in fact a great compliment regarding the reality of their actual great strength!
We don’t really know exactly what the problem was which caused Jesus to refer to them as having only a little strength, but we all know some things which might cause us to think that about a church we know, or even our own church. Perhaps it was small unimpressive numbers of members; perhaps they did not have a great place or fancy home to meet in; perhaps their members came from the poorer, most unfortunate sections of town. We don’t know exactly what the issue was, but we do know that, on the surface, they may have appeared to not be very strong.
We all know God had some things to say about our position of strength in Him when we ourselves are weak as we all know how Paul concluded his noted writing on his thorn in the flesh, and the conclusion he reached:
2 Corinthians 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
So, while this church was perhaps poor, small, and weak on the outside, according to our Lord, their works were strong and powerful. What was happening here? Well, later in the passage some specifics are talked about, but some we can assume. What can we assume? Certainly people were being saved, lives transformed, and the Gospel was being preached!
Are we in a place serving which seems small and of little note? Don’t be discouraged, as later we will see that Jesus made some wonderful promises to this church; these are promises he has in fact made to all of his churches which remain faithful and true to His Word and in His works.
God’s Promises to a Faithful Church
Yesterday we talked about how this church at Philadelphia may have seemed small and weak by the standards of the world around them, but how the truth was that Jesus considered them to be of great strength. Over the next day or several, we are going to talk about some of the promises God has made this church because of their faithfulness.
The first thing we see guaranteed to this church is that Jesus has set an open door before them, and no man can shut it. Previously we talked about Jesus as the one with the keys, and the fact that the keys clearly symbolize authority.
What is the open door set before this church that no man can shut? Well, there are a couple of possibilities we can see here, I think. It seems that at least on the surface, that what we see is the guarantee of security in the grace of God through Jesus Christ to the saved believers in this church. In other words, because of their status as redeemed of God, their salvation and entrance forever into the Kingdom of Heaven is promised and secure.
There is also something deeper here, having to do with things of importance right here on, this earth, in this life. Has anybody ever prayed for God to “open a door?” I think most have, it is common for many to ask The Lord to open one door and shut another, as a way to share with us what His will in a particular situation is.
So, then, what might be the door that is being opened here? The door for additional and greater service to Him of course! I have heard it said that the biggest thing we can offer God is not our ability, but our availability. Many of us dream of doing what we would call “great things” for God, and He certainly gives some the chance for that. But perhaps He also wants us to show we are willing are willing to do the small things.
Are you in a church that seems small and without much strength or power? Does it get discouraging because other churches seem more vibrant and growing? Do you dream of God doing great things in the local assembly you are part of? Perhaps He has great things planned for you, but also perhaps He just wants to see us become willing to tackle the small stuff too.
God’s Promise for Protection
As I said earlier, we are going to spend a little time talking about this church in Philadelphia. Because not only are we talking about what our churches are doing wrong these days, but when we can we will find good examples to follow as well. Philadelphia certainly provides a good example which we could all be following. They were a likely small, poor church, and yet had remained faithful and true to God’s Word and God’s work. In effect, they were a church in revival. Because of this, God had made them some promises; He makes those same promises to us today.
Again, we see this reference to those which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie;. Obviously this church, like Smyrna, was facing a similar tribulation in that they were being persecuted by those who themselves were claiming to be children of God. Again we see this reference to the Synagogue of Satan. Who were these people? I’d love to hear some views on this, as there are a couple of ways we could look at this. One thought I found that I rather liked was the idea that because of their rejection of Jesus, that He Himself regarded them as no longer being true Israel. One commenter from earlier made the point that maybe they weren’t really Jews at all, but trouble making out of towners basically come to give the Christians grief. Interesting discussion if anybody wants to have it.
Regardless of who was causing the trouble, the point really is that somebody was. This church was doing the right things and not having and easy time of it as a result. God’s promise was a long term proposition; note that He did not promise them relief from their troubles, nor did he offer them protection in the sense that we would consider it. His promise was in the future, and it was of an eternal nature. Some day, God Himself will deal with people like that, and then all will know why; all will come to know those who stay true are being rewarded, and those who do not, or reject him, will be dealt with also.
God’s word has quite a lot to say about how He will deal with the enemies of His churches, and many involve footstools. Let’s take a look.
Psalm 110:1 (A Psalm of David.) The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
That particular passage obviously means something, because it was given much mileage later in Scripture. I would venture to say it’s repeated use would be a clue this is a promise for us today.
Matthew 22:44 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
Mark 12:36 For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Luke 20:42,43 And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Acts 2:24 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
Then, of course, we see the same promise repeated to this faithful church in Philadelphia. God’s promises to us are sure, and this one seems extra sure as God seems to have offered the assurance of repeating it, as if to say, “Got that?”
If we do the right things, we won’t be treated right. If we preach God’s Word as it is written, and do God’s work as it is commanded, we won’t have it easy. The Jews in question were just an example to us; ours will be different. The point is, if we do as we should, we will get grief from somewhere. There are two ways to avoid this:
Don’t preach God’s Word
Don’t do God’s work
But, if we do what we should, troubles will come. God, however has promised us protection from that. He guarantees it.
More Promises From God
We have been talking about the church at Philadelphia, who we have referred to as the faithful church, or the revived church. As we have covered, Jesus had nothing but words of praise and commendation for this assembly of believers. We have been using them as an example of what a church in a living, vibrant state looks like. This is what our churches should look like.
God has made some promises to this church, and we are working our way through them. These folks have been faithful with a little, and now God is blessing then with a lot. He has promised them additional opportunities to serve, and protection for them if they do that. Now we see a promise to protect them from the hour of temptation.
Well here, we go, because this is a controversy just waiting to happen. Fortunately, we aren’t going to have it! It seem fairly clear that what is being referred to here is not just some local pot of trouble that these people will find themselves in, but a larger spot of trouble, involving more than just them. We see this because this is referred to as the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Here, we are seeing a trouble which will seemingly affect everyone. So, what exactly is coming?
Therein lies the controversy. It’s possible this could be referring to some coming systematic persecution by the Romans; in that day that would have certainly fit how “the world” was considered. It could also be something much bigger, involving literally the entire world, What we may be seeing here is the idea that the believers, and others, will escape the wrath of the coming Great Tribulation prophesied in Daniel. In other words, many see this as evidence of a pre tribulational rapture of the church. Others see this as evidence that, even though they think the church will be present during the Great Tribulation, that she will be protected and preserved during it.
So, again, readers feel free to come on board and talk about this, but as always be nice. This is one of those things we can diverge on and nobody is a heretic okay? Just for the record, I am a pre tribulational rapture kind of fellow.
But the point is not a debate about the end times; the point is God’s promises. Earlier we saw God had promised to protect this church from the local issues they were facing. This promise just expands on that. As a reward for their faithful keeping of God’s Word and performance of God’s work, this church will also be protected from much larger things.
We will be also. Got that? In our churches we need to stop fearing the world around us. God’s Word and God’s work has not changed; it is us who has changed. One of the main reasons we have changed is fear of the world and desire to fit in that world. We need to stop that, as God has clearly promised that if we do the right things, He will protect us.