Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Revelation 2:8-11 (2)

This is the second part of my script from Sunday morning's preach at Reading Family Church. You can listen to it online here.

Verse 10 starts with Christ exhorting His followers: ‘do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer’. How comforted we are by people’s encouragement more or less depends entirely on who they are. If someone with authority tells you something then you’re more likely to believe it and be supported by it. Why shouldn’t they fear? Because the Lord of the universe, the first and last who died and came to life again tells them not to. Jesus has already over come more than they are to face, He has already over come the Devil who is afflicting them. Do not be afraid Smyrnain Christians, says Christ. So don’t be afraid.

This will be hard because there is more persecution to come. Look at the middle of verse 10 with me: ‘I tell you, the devil will put some of you into prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days’ The first thing we need to understand here is that prison then was not like prison now. You would be locked up in a cold, stone room, probably underground. There’d be no feeding system; your friends would have to risk their own lives and liberty to feed you. And, more often than not, there was only one way out of prison. Execution. Imprisonment, then, was not the primary concern Jesus was warning the Smyrnain Christians about. Death at the hands of their persecutors was the major issue. We can see this in the end of the verse when Jesus talks about ‘even to the point of death’. Things are much worse then they seem for the Christians here. First it was slander, now it’s death they have to face.

What hope are they offered to encourage them in this? What can possibly be offered to these Christians to lift their eyes away from their impending trouble? First of all they’re told that this persecution will last for ten days. That may or may nor be a literal 10 day period, they’re probably not being told that the persecution will be over by the middle of next week. But rather that it will end after a time. And how knows the time? Who is in control of the time the suffering will last? Jesus. The first and the last is in control of the time the suffering will last. It will be a short period of time. Be comforted Smyrna Christians, your persecution won’t last long.

And more significantly, there is another encouragement. ‘be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life’ The best exhortation to persevere and be faithful there is. Look at the reward that awaits them. Jesus calls it the crown of life. So what does that mean? Why is that the best reward, the best motivation there could be? The word for crown here means a wreath that is awarded to athletes at the end of a race, the reward for their efforts, something that signifies their achievement. This crown of life means eternal life. It means, ultimately, Heaven. And isn’t this an immense encouragement to Christians? To people then and to us now? That the very real pain and suffering that we go through at the moment is, in an eternal sense, brief? That those who are faithful to the end, who rely on the blood of Christ and treasure the Gospel above all else, will be greeted at the end of their lives with the crown of life?

I love how personal this verse is…how close to us Jesus is. He says ‘I will’ give you the crown of life. Heaven is not about sitting on a cloud and playing a harp, it’s about relationship with Jesus. Perfect unhindered relationship with Him. Later on in Revelation the Heavenly city is described as a cube. The only other place in the Bible where something is cube shaped is the most holy place in the Temple, where once a year the High Priest could meet with God. Heaven will be about being with Jesus. As He promises us in John 17:26 when He says ‘the love you have for me may me in them’. Now the love the Father has for the Son is perfect, infinite, unstained, joyful, white hot love that will never fade. Our love for Christ will grow for an eternity. That’s what awaits us in Heaven. Uninhibited, pure, holy joy. That’s why, Smyrnain Christians it’s worth sitting in a freezing, damp underground cell, counting the hours until you die. Because when the axe falls all that awaits you is infinite, ever growing joy in perfect relationship with Jesus. That’s why it’s worth us persevering in our faith when times are hard, because of the reward, the crown that awaits us. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8, we are pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair.

This idea is expanded in verse 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. This shows clearly that the crown of life in verse 10 refers to eternal life. Christ tells His followers that they will not be hurt at all by the second death, if they over come. That is if they refuse the temptation to compromise their beliefs with those around them. If they stand firm even to the point of death, they will not be hurt at all by the second death. The use of overcoming here refers to an ironic victory. Being burnt at the stake in front of the whole city having been locked up for the last few days of your life doesn’t look like overcoming does it? It doesn’t look like victory. But then neither did Christ, nailed to the cross at Calvary, winning the most significant victory there was to be won, look like He was overcoming. And he was. We see again how the introduction to this letter in verse 8 was such an important pattern for the original readers to follow. Christ’s death led to His resurrected life…and so will the deaths of all those who believe that He has died for their sins.

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