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The Book of Revelation – Write Number Four

editor - 29 January 2020

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:8-10

The name Smyrna contains the notion of bitter. Smyrna means myrrh, which was used in the form of powder when embalming dead bodies. This happened to Jesus as well. John 19:38-40 “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”

Life for the church in Smyrna was bitter, and many people died during the history of this church. One of the most famous was Polycarp. His death as a martyr is described in an early Christian document belonging to the ‘The Apostolic Fathers’ manuscripts from the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century.

It is called the ‘Martyrdom of Polycarp’ and contains an account of Polycarp’s glorious martyrdom at the age of 86. This work is the first known description of a martyrdom outside of the New Testament. Another manuscript carrying the name of Polycarp is: ‘Epistle of Polycarp’. It contains a letter from Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna and future martyr, to the Philippian church, which many scholars believe to be a cover-letter sent with Polycarp’s collection of the letters of Ignatius, although it deals primarily with other subjects, such as praise for the Apostle Paul and an exhortation against heresy.

The term “Apostolic Fathers,” has been used since the seventeenth century to emphasize that these authors were thought of as being of the generation that had personal contact with some of the Twelve Apostles.

The term also refers to the collection of Christian writings attributed to these men from the late first century A.D. and the first half of the second century A.D. Thus they provide a link between the Twelve Apostles who knew Jesus of Nazareth and the later generation of Christian apologists and defenders of orthodox authority known as the ‘Church Fathers’. The authors are traditionally acknowledged as leaders in the early church. Their writings, though widely circulated in Early Christianity, were not included in the canon of the New Testament. Many of the writings derive from the time period and geographical location a little after the time of the of the early Christian written books that came to be part of the New Testament.

According to Irenaeus, Polycarp probably had a close relationship with the Apostle John. He was the bishop of Smyrna, who was born around the year 80, and died the death of a martyr, burned at the stake, probably in the year 167. They could indeed have met and enjoyed each other’s company when John was old and Polycarp young.

“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

Jesus had appeared to His old friend the Apostle John, who writes about this in Revelation 1:17-19 “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” Jesus Christ is alive, risen from the dead, with an incredible resurrection body.

Luke 24:33-43 “And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them.”

What a comfort! Jesus says: ‘I have been dead and I have been raised back to life. Death is not the end. Whoever believes in Me has eternal life.’  He says this specifically with a view to mortal danger, the reality of persecution and suffering a martyr’s death. He wants us to know that He is the First and the Last, the beginning (and the principle) of Creation, Who holds everything together by the Word of His power, and Who will complete Creation and bring it to its glorious final goal. This is how He has revealed Himself to John,  and He now refers back to this when He speaks to His persecuted church: “I know your tribulations and afflictions.”  See also for this Greek word ‘tribulation’: Revelation 2:10, 22; 7:14 and also Matthew 24:9, 21, 29; Acts 14:22 and Colossians 1:24. Jesus knows exactly what kind of persecution and tribulations He is referring to. He knows about this from personal experience.

In Colossians 1:24-27 the Apostle Paul writes: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Paul says and writes that he is filling up in his flesh what is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church. Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” The battle between light and darkness, such as Christ had to wage, is to be continued—unabated—in His children. In Galatians 6:17 Paul says: “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.”

Jesus speaks about our sufferings for His name sake. Literally John recorded in John 15:18-21 that Jesus said: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake…”

The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:12-14: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of Glory and of God rests on you.”

Jesus says to His church in Smyrna: ‘I know precisely what kind of senseless and brutal hatred you are subjected to. They hated Me and they will hate you.’  Nothing strange is happening here. There is nothing He does not know about the sufferings we sometimes are experiencing. The Lord says, “Yes, you may be poor. Yes, your money and possessions will be often taken away from you as part of persecution. Yes, you will feel the heat of the day and the coldness of the night. But I will be your light and your strength. You are in fact immensely rich. An incredible eternal and everlasting inheritance is awaiting you. Everlasting Glory in Heaven and one-day the glorious resurrection of the body – when we shall not just see Him like He is, but even be like Him.

John writes in 1 John 3:1-3 “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” We are in this world but not of this world.

It will be exactly the opposite in Laodicea which was rich and wealthy and suffered no persecution because they simply joined the way of life of their city, as we hear in Revelation 3:17-18 “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” ‘Laodicea’ was and is a church that claimed to be very rich, but in fact was spiritually very poor.

The plundering of property was a part of the persecution of Christians. In Hebrews 10:32-35 it is written: “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”

But the worst thing they had to endure was slander, however. They were being falsely accused of all kinds of wrongdoings. Their accusers include some ‘Jews’. The word ‘Jew’ means: ‘lover of God’. Here it refers to people who claim to be ‘lovers of God’ but in fact are not. By the way: the word ‘synagogue’ means ‘public gathering’. I do not know of Christian persecutions and flogging or scourging having taken place in Jewish Synagogues. But persecutions and executions of true Christian believers and also of Jews – even by official Christianity – were sometimes done publicly. In public meetings – ‘synagogues’ – like town-squares, in front of churches or town-halls. So persecution could and can come from religious people who claimed to be ‘lovers of God’, but in fact were and are not.

Jesus says: ‘I have been dead and I have been raised back to life. Death is not the end. Whoever believes in Me has eternal life.’

Therefore Matthew 10:17 had better be translated in a different way. It says now in Matthew 10:16-18: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.” The word ‘synagogue’ should be translated ‘public gatherings’.

Jesus knew this from personal experience. In Matthew 26:59–68 it is written: “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The High Priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the High Priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus *said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven.” Then the High Priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!”

Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, “Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?”

The Jewish Christians experienced the same things. The Apostle Paul and his companion Silas were accused of causing an uproar in the city and of turning the world upside down and defying Caesar’s decrees by saying that there was another King.  Acts 16:19–24 “…they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks…

And 17:6–8: “When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.

You cannot defend yourself against false accusations and slander. So Jesus remained silent, not giving any answer to defend Himself before His accusers.

Although the Greek word ‘blasphemia’ has gained the meaning of ‘slandering God’ in our use of language, ‘blasphemy’ as it appears in several places in the Bible simply means slander, gossip, slanderous little expressions, and false accusations of people.

The word ‘Jew’ literally means: God-lover. Some of these ‘Jews’ then and also some  ‘Christians’ during the 2000 years of Church history do not love God, however. Maybe they still confess the Christian doctrines with their lips, maybe indeed with outward obedience to the Law, or adhering to official Christian statements of faith, but not with their heart. Christianity at large needs a deep conversion and changing of age-old theologies. Jesus spoke to some Jewish spiritual leaders with very harsh words: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Read for yourself Matthew 23. He tried to reach their hearts, even by shocking language.

But He felt compassion for the multitudes of Jewish people. ‘Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.’ Matthew 9:36, 14:14.

A ‘synagogue’—public gathering, religious centre, gathering of people who stick to their rules, regulations and dogmas—can become a ‘synagogue of Satan’ if they do not truly love God. Just as Jerusalem, the city of God, is able to become Sodom. As Revelation 11:7- 8 says: “When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”

And the Apostle Paul – being a Jewish believer himself – writes to the church of Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”

That danger is threatening Judaism as well as Christianity. Jesus warns us all for that danger. Outward religion can be the strongest opponent of true faith.

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