[Dec 18]—To the Church in Smyrna

               Now we come to the second church listed among the seven: Smyrna. First, some background from MacArthur: “Smyrna means ‘myrrh,’ the substance used for perfume and often for anointing a dead body for aromatic purposes. Called the crown of Asia, this ancient city (modern Izmir, Turkey) was the most beautiful in Asia Minor and a center of science and medicine. Always on the winner's side in the Roman wars, Smyrna's intense loyalty to Rome resulted in a strong emperor-worship cult. Fifty years after John's death, Polycarp, the pastor of the church in Smyrna, was burned alive at the age of 86 for refusing to worship Caesar. A large Jewish community in the city also proved hostile to the early church.”

·         Who is it who’s addressing the church here? The One “who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” This is a church who’d been persecuted, and they needed to be reminded that he’s the One who was there at the beginning of time, he’ll be there at the end of time, and thus he’s not going anywhere, and he’s not abandoning them. He’s also the One who conquered death itself, so he’s bigger than any enemy they’re facing right now, and they certainly don't have to fear the conquered enemy known as Death. Death? He literally owns the keys to that now. 
·         He knew what they were going through, and he knows what you’re going through right now as well. When you’re suffering, he suffers along with you, and at exactly the right time, he’s going to do something about it.
·         Once again we need to gain or regain the eternal perspective. Of course if you’re storing your wealth in this sand castle of a world, you might see yourself as poor. But if you’re the co-heir of Christ (which every believer is), you’re unfathomably rich!
·         If you’re a follower of Jesus, you should take it as a given that you’re going to be slandered. Surprise, surprise, the world system--which is controlled by our Enemy--is not going to give you a fair hearing! Quite frankly, if the vast majority of non-Christians think well of us, we need to take a close look at ourselves to make sure we’re not screwing up. Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean that something’s wrong with us, but it might be a warning signal. If you’re being lied about, then keep in mind that you’re in the very best of company.
·         I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating. This is one of the most encouraging things we see in Job chapters one and two: Satan is kept on God’s leash. Our Enemy is bound by strict limits set by our Father. He won’t even be able to approach us, much less touch us, without our Lord’s explicit consent. Jesus says that they’ll be undergoing a period of serious persecution for ten days. Not one second longer, and no one second less. He knows what each of us can take, and he’ll never take us past that point.
·         The “victor’s crown” that he promises to the faithful isn’t a king’s crown; it’s a victor’s wreath that an athlete wore when he won in a contest. But of course, unlike an Olympic wreath which lasted a few days at most (and the fame just a little longer than that), our victor’s wreath will last forever.
               Let’s spend a moment on the word “victorious.” Jesus makes a promise at the end of each of these short letters to those who’re “victorious,” or who “overcomes” (per the NASB). For example, today’s reading promised that the one who’s victorious will “not be hurt by the second death.” Yesterday’s passage said that they’ll have “the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” To whom is this referring? Well, both of those promises seem to be referring to eternal life, not a reward for our work: The “second death” is eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire, and the Tree of Life is open to everyone in the New Jerusalem. So is this contradicting the message of salvation by grace through faith? Of course not. God’s word doesn’t contradict itself. What’s the magic word, the word that unlocks the Bible for us, which makes clear so many verses which are hard to understand? Context context context. 1 John says that “everyone born of God overcomes the world.” Yes, it’s the same Greek word. If you’re “born of God,” if you’re redeemed by him, if you belong to Christ, you’ve already won the most important battle you’ll ever face. Of course, technically your Lord won it for you, but his victory is yours. So if you’re a believer and see the word “victorious” or “overcome” in the next couple of chapters (and each letter to a church has this word), keep in mind that this applies to you.
               As the saying goes, you’re either going through a rough time right now, or you’re going to be soon. When you’re going through the darkness, especially if you’re being oppressed by someone bigger than you, then please listen to what his Spirit is saying right now. Hear his words of comfort, and trust him.

The Lord (who’s the First and the Last) is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord (who died and came to life again), is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

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