Smyrna: Maturity Through Adversity; Revelation 2:8-11
Revelation 2:8, "…who was dead, and came to life." The word that is translated "was" here is the verb GINOMAI [ginomai] plus the noun for "dead." GINOMAI is an aorist passive indicative. The significance of this is that the aorist tense is understood as a culminative aorist. The aorist simply summarizes the past action as something that happened in the past, but it can have three different emphases. It can either indicate the beginning of the past action, it can simply summarize the past action, or it can use the past action as being complete. The culminative aorist emphasizes the completion of the action. So the way the title should be translated is "the one who became dead." GINOMAI isn't the verb to be, it is a word that means to come into existence or that something happened. This is a passive voice, indicating that He received the action of the verb; He received death. This reinforces what Jesus said on the cross, that he did not die from the suffering, he did not die from torture, He didn't die from the crucifixion itself; He gave up His spirit when he had completed the work of salvation. Then He is the one who "came to life." This is the verb ZAO [zaw], in the aorist active indicative. It means to live or to have life. It is a culminative aorist indicating completed action in past time. So there are two titles here for the Lord Jesus Christ. The first emphasizes His infinity. He is infinite with respect to time, power and knowledge. The second title indicates that He is one who has gone through extreme adversity and suffering Himself. He is a God who is touched by the same adversities that we go through.
Revelation 2:9, the basis commendation. "I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." The words, "your works" is in the majority text and should be in the translation. The term "works" (production) is not specific, it is a general term, simply a summation of their production in the Christian life. Jesus Christ is viewing them as the priest-judge of the church and He is saying: "I know everything that is going on in your church." The verb OIDA [o)ida] indicates complete knowledge. It is not an acquired knowledge but an intuitive knowledge based on His omniscience. He knows immediately and completely everything that has gone on in the congregation.
This is followed in the text by the Greek conjunction KAI [kai], which in most translations as a simple conjunction: "and your tribulation," and that has missed the point of the text. There is a use of KAI that is prevalent in Revelation and John's writings which is called the ascensive use of KAI, and it fits this kind of construction. "I know your works/production," and then he is going to explain which works/production he is emphasizing. So it should be translated, "I know your works, even your tribulation and poverty." The word for Tribulation is the Greek word THLIPSIS [qliyij] which means to crush, to press, to compress, to squeeze. Hence, it is translated various ways, as tribulation—but not the Tribulation. He is talking about the adversity or the affliction that these believers were enduring, about the negative external pressures and circumstances of life, whatever they may be.
What we see at the end of this verses is that there were two areas where they were coming under opposition. One area came from the political system of Rome because of their failure to bow their heads in allegiance to Caesar as god, the other came from the large Jewish community that had existed in Smyrna since at least the second century BC. This large Jewish community was very much opposed to the Christians and in many cases it was the Jews who were stirring up the Roman political power to oppress and persecute the Christians. The word for "poverty" here is PTOCHEIA [ptwxeia]. This is talking about people who have lost everything. They don't have a home or material possessions at all. The only thing they have is the clothes on their back, and this is the result of the persecution and oppression that they were enduring. They have lost everything because they were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and had refused to deny Him.
When the Lord says, "I know your tribulation," we should be reminded of a few verses. John 16:33, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." That is, as you are living in the cosmic system, surrounded by those who are politically opposed to Christianity, surrounded by those ho have rejected God, you will constantly come under opposition, persecution and adversity. However, "in me you shall have peace." It is a subjunctive mood in the verb there, indicating that it is potential and is dependent on the believer's volition as to whether or not he is applying doctrine in order to have peace. Then the Lord concludes, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Jesus Christ overcame the world. This is the same verb NIKAO [nikaw] that we have in the overcomer or victorious passages at the end of each of the Revelation letters, meaning that we overcome the cosmic system as advance and mature in the Christian life. As we apply doctrine we learn to have peace even in the midst of all of the things that Satan throws at us via the world system. That doesn't mean that Satan is personally attacking, but Satan is the head of the cosmic system and he has developed many different ways to attack the thinking of humanity in order to blind us to the truth of the gospel and in order to distract Christians from advance in the spiritual life. So the Lord reminds the disciples, "in the world you will have tribulation"—THLIPSIS, adversity; "but be of good cheer," i.e. the inner happiness that we share with the Lord Jesus Christ as we apply doctrine, "I have overcome the world."
In Romans 5:3 we understand some of the dynamics of adversity in the Christian life. "And not only that, but we [maturing believers] glory in tribulations [adversities] also: because know that tribulation [adversity] produces perseverance…" Adversity is that which the Lord uses to give us the opportunities to trust Him, to see Him work, to see Him supply our needs in the midst of the most egregious circumstances, and through tat the Holy Spirit produces spiritual growth and maturity in our lives. This prepares us so that when the kingdoms we will rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the other reasons that we go through this kind of adversity is so that we can comfort other believers. As we go through certain kinds of adversity in life, and as we mature and get up into our fifties or sixties, and we have gone through this using the Word of God and applying the faith-rest drill and all the problem-solving devices, that gives us an opportunity for when we see the same kind of thing happening to some younger believers we can be an encouragement to them.
2 Corinthians 8:2, "How that in a great trial of affliction [relating to their poverty] the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality [in reference to their giving]. They gave out of their deep poverty. They didn't have anything, nevertheless they gave in order to supply the needs of other believers in Jerusalem.
Revelation 2:10, "Do not fear…" Fear is at the core of human experience ever since the fall of Adam in the garden. When God came into the garden after they had eaten of the fruit they ran, they hid, they tried to clothe themselves. They hid because they were afraid. That was the first emotional byproduct of the sin nature; it is the basic orientation of the sin nature. We are afraid that we are not going to get anything, that we are going to lose what we already have. Fear is the sense that we will never have what we should have, that we will never be what we could be. Fear is the sense that whatever we do have we are going to lose. It is the sense that something is going to happen and we are going to be destroyed, that any number of bad things could happen to us. The thing is, we never know what will happen, there is always this underlying sense of anxiety or worry or fear about life itself, that somehow we may lose everything and we may be without any help. It generates insecurity, anxiety and, as a result, loss of confidence in life. Often it is simply the uncertainty of life that we fear. Man wants to have stability, security, a sense of significance in life; and ye, without a relationship to go, no matter how much he achieves or accomplishes there is still no certainty, because we live in a fallen world and anything could happen. So there is always this underlying note of fear in the fallen soul. We learn from Scripture that the more things we fear, the more things we will fear. Fear eats up our Christian life. The more things we give ourselves to fear, the more fear will control us. You more we are controlled by fear, the more fear will shut down our spiritual life. As we are controlled by fear and its related sins, such as worry and anxiety, and the more we are controlled by them the less we will be able to trust in God. So fear and its related sins are the most devastating assault on the faith-rest drill and on the believer's advance to spiritual maturity.
So the Lord commands and comforts them by commanding them. It is a present active imperative indicating that this should continuously characterize their life. The present imperative indicates standard operating procedure, it emphasizes an ongoing character quality in the life of the believer. "Do not fear any of those things." It is a broad category. Whatever it is that is your area of fear. "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer." This was originally directed to this congregation in Smyrna but there is clearly application there for us because we don't know what adversity we may go through or face. What the Lord says to us is, don't fear any adversity you are going to face.
Then He says, "indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison…" There will be a period of persecution, and the devil is behind it. He is not saying that Satan is going to come down and engineer this. Satan is not omnipresent. He stands in the throne room of God accusing believers, but he uses his system—the fallen angels as well as the cosmic system—to carry out his deeds. So the Bible is talking about him as the head of his entire system that is in opposition to God. The wpord "devil" is the Greek word DIABOLOS [diaboloj] which means a slanderer or accuser, one who is verbally assaulting someone. This is the Greek name for the fallen angel we call Lucifer who declared his independence from God and desired to usurp the power and the authority of God and to take to himself the prestige and position of God. This is found in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. But because he failed and was strategically defeated at the cross he seeks to attack unbelievers by blinding them to the truth and to attack believers by distracting them from dependence upon God, studying the Word, and he seeks to destroy the testimony that believers will develop against him in the angelic conflict. 1 Peter 5:8 says that he is our adversary who prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Satan is always out there through his various methods seeking to destroy the testimony of believers. But the role of the believer in the church age is to be a witness to the grace, integrity and love of God.
These believers are warned that they will be thrown into prison, "that you may be tested." The word for testing is PEIRAZO [peirazw], second person plural, "you all." So the whole congregation is going to be tested. The subjunctive mood emphasizes the possibility or the potential of testing. Every believer will go through various categories of adversity in the Christian life. PEIRAZO indicates an evaluation procedure, and testing is the means by which we are advanced in the spiritual life. We go through all kinds of tests which are related to people, to circumstances, to our own sin nature. The test is often whether we are going to control the sin nature; are we going to apply doctrine so that we don't sin as opposed to yielding to the sin nature, which is always the simplest course of action. This verb is an aorist passive subjunctive and the next verb, "and you will have," future active indicative of ECHO [e)xw] which indicates the indeterminate future but it still has a sense of immediacy, it is going to be soon. It is talking about that specific congregation; "and you will be tested and have adversity for ten days."
That has brought up a series of interpretations. What are the ten days? There are a number of different options that have been suggested. Three of these options don't hold water. These are that these ten days were ten periods of persecution. The trouble is that that kind of a breakdown doesn't fit the sense of immediacy that this passage has for that congregation. It also violates the rule of literal interpretation. When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, make no other sense. Therefore take every word at its ordinary, usual literal meaning, unless the facts of the immediate context studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise. The problem is that we can't pinpoint which ten days this was. But we don't need to. We do know that during that period of time, the period of about 86-95 AD, there were numerous outbreaks of regional persecutions. This could refer to any of those. What was going on here was simply that they were being warned that there was this tense ten-day period on the horizon. The purpose for this was testing, and testing is what the Lord uses to bring about maturity, James 1:2-4. The issue is whether we are going to look at those adversities as a challenge to the doctrine in our soul and look at it as an opportunity to apply the Word so that we can use that adversity as a springboard to spiritual growth, as a means of increasing the momentum of our spiritual advance, or whether we are going to look at that as just another obstacle that gets in the way of accomplishing our agenda in life as opposed to God's agenda.