Thursday, 10 September 2020
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2:9
Like the previous letter to those at Ephesus, immediately after the short description of Himself, Jesus begins his evaluation of the church at Smyrna with, “I know your works.” In this case, the beginning of the evaluation is positive, just as it was for the Ephesians. As noted then, the word “works” simply speaks of actions that carry out a desire or purpose. The Lord is fully aware of the works of His people. His having this knowledge should make those at Smyrna conscious of the fact that the Lord is always evaluating them.
Jesus next says, “tribulation.” The word is thlipsis. It is variously translated as persecution, tribulation, affliction, distress, and so on. It signifies pressure. It is as if one is in a narrow place, hemmed in and feeling confined, and thus without options. One might say, “There is no way to escape.” In this case, it is probably referring to persecution, oppression, and so on. Whatever they were facing, the Lord was fully aware of it.
After this, the Lord adds in, “and poverty.” Not only did they have tribulations, but they were poor to begin with. As this condition is unique to the seven letters, it is probably that they were exceedingly poor. It was an obvious characteristic that anyone would agree with. However, the Lord adds in a note to tell them that such poverty was actually only an external perception that hid a greater truth. He says, “but you are rich.”
Despite being in poverty, the church at Smyrna held the greatest treasure of all – salvation through the blood of Christ. It is what Paul refers to in his second letter to the Corinthians –
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9
James also speaks of this in his epistle –
“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James 2:5
Jesus’ words are a word of encouragement that what their earthy existence consists of is nothing in comparison to the spiritual treasure they actually possess. With that understood, He then turns to an obvious condition that existed in their area and which certainly caused confusion among the brethren. He says, “and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews.”
The Jewish problem, meaning Jews pitting their Jewishness against Gentiles, is one that infected churches then, and it is one that infects churches today. This doesn’t signify anything wrong with being Jewish, but in being Jewish in relation to the law and in relation to Christ Jesus who is the fulfillment of the law.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians addresses this issue in great detail. Jews had come into the church at Galatia and had marred the purity of the gospel. Instead of accepting salvation by grace through faith, they insisted that the believers had to observe the law. This is addressed by Paul in other epistles as well, and it is referred to in some detail in Acts.
Further, it appears by the use of the word “blasphemy” that Jesus is referring not just to Judaizers of the faith, but to Jews who rejected the faith. They would blasphemously revile the name of Christ Jesus, having rejected Him as their Messiah. But Paul explains what that then means –
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28, 29
Paul’s words form a pun based on the word “Jew.” That word comes from the tribe of Judah. The word “Judah” means “praise.” Thus, Paul is saying that being a true Jew does not come from culture, lineage, or the rite of circumcision. It comes from a right heart attitude towards God. These Jews had rejected God’s Messiah, and thus they were not true Jews. Instead, Jesus says they “are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
In the Greek, the word synagogue is used only one time when speaking of a congregation of believers in the Messiah. That is found in James 2:2. James’ epistle is specifically addressed to Jewish believers. Here in Revelation, Jesus uses the term ekklésia, or a called-out assembly, when referring to the churches. Jesus is clearly identifying non-believing Jewish synagogues with Satan. This was true then, and it is true today.
This does not mean that they actively worship Satan, but that in having rejected Christ, the incarnate Lord (Yehovah), the Lord is not among them. Without Christ, they then – by default – belong to the devil. That is explicitly stated by Jesus in John 8:44 –
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
Unfortunately, Jesus’ words in this verse have been misapplied to false Christians, heretical denominations, etc. However, it isn’t referring to any of those. Instead, it is referring to Christ-rejecting Jews. A Jew is a Jew and a Gentile is a Gentile. Gentiles do not become Jews when they accept Christ. The words of the Lord are directed solely to Jewish non-believers.
Life application: Like faithful Christians throughout the ages, the church at Smyrna remained steadfast in their loyalty and devotion to Jesus Christ, despite their poverty. It is a sad state of affairs when Christians expect blessings and miracles, riches and ease because of their faith in Christ. Such is a false gospel that provides false earthly hope. The Bible never promises these things. Those in Smyrna understood this.
Being rich or poor is no indication of divine favor. The Bible makes this abundantly clear. The “prosperity gospel” is not simply bad doctrine; it is heresy. The gospel is laid out by the Lord and cannot be amended. It is to be proclaimed without any additional promises of material blessing. This is one of the devil’s greatest tools against true faith and a Christ-honoring church. True believers have treasure stored up in heaven where moth and rust can never destroy.
All people are either in Christ or they are of the devil. Accepting a false gospel, or simply rejecting the true gospel, means that individual remains in Adam and of the devil. This is true for both Jew and Gentile. Be sure to get Jesus right – to the glory of God the Father.
Lord Jesus, thank You for faithful believers in churches around the world – some of whom have nothing but poverty and trouble, but who remain steadfast in their love of You. Even if earthly riches are lacking, those who are Yours are the richest people of all. They have a heavenly hope and the surety of eternal life in Your glorious presence. No matter what our earthly state is, how great it is to be called Your servant! Amen.