The Message to the Church in Smyrna


(Revelation 2:8-11)


By  B. W. Newton * 


[* Published in Watching And Waiting” (January/March, 2005.)]


(These 'Messages to the Churches' in the ‘Patmos' series were not published by Mr Newton but were printed after his home call. We understand that they were based on notes of his addresses).


It has been supposed, and I believe most generally by those who have sought to interpret these chapters, that the successive Churches here mentioned are intended to represent successive periods in the history of professing Christianity; as though the professing Christian Church successively passed through these various phases.  Now, nothing can be more untrue; and very often the most dangerous results arise from such an interpretation.  For example, it assumes at once that this holy CANDLESTICK CONDITION still continues.  It assumes that the Church has not practically fallen from its high position, and that it stands in unity as it once did, local and universal.  So that most plain and important truth, without which we could not judge of anything practically around us, viz., the FALL of Christianity, is at once denied.  Moreover, how can there be such a succession in the history of the Church, when we find the second and the last but one the only two that are praised without any intermingling of blame?  They only have no fault found with them, they only are regarded as practically blameless in the sight of Christ.


Now, could that be so if this were a progressive history of Christianity?  Would not the bright spot have been found only in the first of the Churches, and would there not have been in every successive period deterioration? Consequently, this strong effort could not have been made, unless the great deceiver Satan had a peculiar object to gain by it.  And he wishes to encourage believers now to take a position in the earth as if the Church had not fallen. He wishes that the high standing of power which the Church once might have taken should be taken by God’s people now.  And what is more dangerous, what more deceiving than imagined strength; imagined privilege; an imagined title to speak great things of ourselves; whereas, in reality we are only weak and feeble; and distant from the place in which Truth was once held.


So, not only is it in the professing Church, but true Christians themselves find a tendency to this.  From time to time we hear claims made of miraculous power granted to the Church.  Could that be if persons had a right understanding of what the FALL OF THE CHURCH has been?  Could we believe that a body so scattered could be accredited in the sight of the world by miraculous gifts bestowed on it from above?  Were not miraculous gifts at first intended to accredit the Church of God in the sight of men?  They were God’s mark on them; His expression that He was with them, and sanctioned them and their ways.  When ISRAEL failed, was it not withdrawn from them? and though they were faithful afterwards in the time of Nehemiah, was the GLORY ever given back to them?  And when THE CHURCH failed, it was taken away and never restored; and it never will be till the united testimony of the Millennial age begins.  Therefore, always suspect such pretensions.  About twenty years ago (preached in 1856) this claim was on every lip.  Now it is being revived.  Now again, it is said these miraculous gifts are bestowed on some: but the moment I hear that claim, I instantly suspect the deceiving power of Satan.  It is a thing of which the believing people of Christ should be warned to beware.  Remember then, whenever you hear of this assumption of ‘continuousness,’ the enemy is there.


Now let us consider the words that the Lord addresses to this Church in Smyrna.  Its condition varies in measure from that which precedes, for there are varieties of ‘grace We read of the ‘manifold’ grace of God.  Precious stones do not all shine with exactly the same lustre.  The sardius is of one colour, the jasper of another.  So it is with the ‘grace’ granted to the Churches and to individuals.  The former Church was chiefly characterised by ‘patient labour;’ a blessed characteristic.  It implied energy and exertiveness: and Christ recognised it as blessed.  But the first thing that is mentioned in this Church is ‘tribulation;’ ‘tribulation’ evidently for the TRUTH’S sake; not that ‘tribulation’ merely that must come on all.  Even men themselves are ‘born to sorrow, as the sparks fly upward’ (Job 5:7): and believers, in whatever path they tread, must meet ‘tribulation They may meet it simply as men, but how blessed when it comes on them because of fidelity to the Truth; because they have sought to love and serve Christ in His people and in His Truth.  That was evidently the character of the ‘tribulation’ here mentioned.  They had borne faithful testimony and therefore, because of that testimony, ‘tribulation’ came.


And has it ever been otherwise where there has really been earnestness and zeal on account of the Truth of Christ? Is there nothing to be sacrificed; nothing to be given up; nothing to be left behind?  True indeed in an hour like this, when the energy of Truth is so feeble even in Christ’s people: when indifference and carelessness - Gallio-like carelessness - is found in the world, and the conflict is more feeble between Truth and falsehood; yet, have we not found that, just in proportion as we know the difference between Truth and falsehood, it has involved a certain conflict and trial?  Here it involved ‘poverty Not riches: not aggrandisement, not that which established them in anything that nature desired; but, the reverse.  They became poor ‘for Christ's sake We read of some who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had ‘in heaven a better and an enduring substance’ (Hebrews 10:34): and of Moses, who despised the riches of Pharaoh’s house and cared not to be called ‘the son of Pharaoh's daughter,’ but chose ‘rather to suffer affliction with the people of God' (Hebrews 11:24-25). This involved ‘tribulation:’ it involved ‘poverty;’ and so it must always be when the path of faithfulness is trodden.


But then, observe the words of Christ, ‘thou art rich ‘What, though thou art poor in these outward things - stripped of what otherwise would have surrounded thee - thou art rich in heaven Just as Moses felt.  Remembering ‘the recompense of the reward’ (Hebrews 11:26) he looked for riches in heaven, but no doubt this word ‘rich’ would include the being ‘rich’ in present grace; ‘rich’ in that sense ‘toward God


There are three senses in which we may use the word ‘rich’ of believers.  First there is a sense in which we may use it of all believers, even the feeblest; yea, even wandering believers.  Were not the Corinthians who were wandering yet ‘rich’ in Christ?  Were they not ‘blessed with all heavenly blessings in Him’?  So that is one sense in which the feeblest and most unworthy believer is ‘rich’ in his heavenly Head.


But there is another sense in which the word ‘rich’ may be applied to believers.  They may be ‘rich' in personal grace; endowed with many of those things of which Christ said that they were ‘blessed ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit ‘Blessed are the meek,’ etc.  Now where these things are, there are present practical ‘riches;’ ‘riches’ in them personally; ‘riches’ in their hearts: ‘riches’ too that have this characteristic, that they may become increased; for they always lead to augmentation.


And there is another sense in which we may use the word ‘rich ‘Riches laid up in heaven:’ for is not a book of God’s remembrance kept?  Does not God note down in that book the actions of the people that please Him; from the act of an apostle, down to that of one who gives a cup of cold water in His Name?  Will not every one of those actions be recorded and rewarded?  Yes, every one.  He also ‘puts their tears into His bottle’ - their tears of sorrow and trial - notes those things that they do in faith to please Him; and not one of them will be forgotten.  So that is another sense in which believers may be ‘rich towards God The first is true of all; the last, true only of those who walk in faith before Him.


Now in this passage He especially refers to the last two; and it is generally so where there is anything like the endurance of tribulation or poverty for the Truth's sake.  I say generally, because it is not always so; inasmuch as, the apostle supposes (1 Corinthians 13), that there might be zeal unaccompanied with ‘love’ - that chiefest of all graces - that a person might give his body to be burned, and yet ‘be nothing’ because of the deficiency in ‘love He might do it on the spring of some mere fleshly element that would cause a kind of apparent devotedness: but which would have no value before God if love were absent from the soul.  Now this was evidently not the case with the Church in Smyrna.  There was something there that Christ could pronounce ‘true riches


Then He speaks of that with which they had to conflict.  ‘I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan’ (verse 9).  This was a claim which was often put forward by those who surrounded the early Churches.  The conflict was between those who were really the Israel of God and those who trusted in ceremonial religion: and we know in every age what the terrible power of mere ceremonial religion has been in those who trusted in mere outward forms and asserted that they and they alone were the ‘Israel of God Of course the outward Jews did, but others beside; others had deceived the Galatian believers who did indeed acknowledge the Name of Jesus, saying that, beside faith in Jesus, other things - rites and ceremonies - were necessary in order to enter the Kingdom of God!


Now you remember how Paul withstood that most subtle form of evil, that pretended to connect the Name of Jesus with that which was after all appointed by man, not by God.  But those who did such things were high in their claims, and reviled the ‘grace’ of God, and the Lord here calls it ‘blasphemy


And is there no need still of resisting those who seek to connect the name of Jesus with that which is of man?  Is there no conflict with ceremonial Christianity?  Is it with the world as the world, or, with the world as assuming the garb and profession of Christian Truth?


The Lord says they are not ‘Jewsi.e. not Jews in the blessed sense, but, ‘the synagogue of Satan Persons, united indeed; united in testimony; presenting a united front to the world; all connected together: closely bound together. There is unity in them, but is the bond from GOD?


Is the power from HIM, or is it SATAN that has thus connected it?  Is the energy of the SPIRIT OF CHRIST there, or the energy of SATAN?  See what the Lord so distinctly says, ‘they are of the synagogue of Satan


And will not words of this kind more or less apply to any gathering together of persons or principles that are not of God, but right contrary to His Truth and subversive of His Truth?  Can we look at such in any other aspect?  Remember, it is one of the uses of the Revelation to set certain things before us in the light in which GOD views them, and there is nothing that fades so soon before us as the estimate of evil.  Slow we are in estimating good, but I doubt if we are not slower still in estimating evil.  It is the peculiar characteristic of the present day; for it is one of the great objects of Satan to hide: not to put the strong lines of evil forward, but to put forward certain things that are good in connection with it, so that evil might be sanctified by means of the good that is connected with it.  If we watch, we shall see that is the path in which the great deceiver acts.  Persons are put prominently forward in the professing Church who are very evil, and the consciences of men discern it; but suddenly, there are found connected with them others who are good; others, whom we feel we have to commend because they have manifested a certain anxiety about Truth.  THEY are put into connection, and instantly you feel a difficulty in pronouncing the sentence of condemnation because of the good that you see connected with them: and thus, those who hold Truth become blinded, and, Satan’s purpose is answered.


Under the LAW two animals of different kinds were not to be yoked together, for God well knew that the strongest would take the lead.  And where is energy now found; on the side of good or on the side of evil?  Ah! the Church is feeble and poor and weak; and Satan knows it, and therefore knows how to succeed in linking the Church of God with any of his servants.  Hence, what a disposition there is in many minds to deny the truth of ‘eternal punishment.’ How we now hear it on every side doubted and denied.  And do we not find in our own hearts a want of power to estimate that truth?  Are we not in the habit of estimating far more the reward, the rest, the glory, than we do that truth of which the Lord Jesus here speaks, ‘the second death


In encouraging these saints to meet what they had to meet, does He speak only of ‘the crown of life‘?  He speaks of that (verse 10), but immediately after He says ‘He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death Now both these things have to be regarded: sometimes the heart is most touched by one, at other times by the other. Both these things ought to be touched in the heart and made to vibrate - not only the knowledge of glory, but, of what we are ‘delivered from’ - and I repeat, there is an indisposition now to regard that.  Men seek to conceal the manner in which God regards evil and the judgment that is to fall on it: all these things are a good deal shrouded and kept out of view from the remembrance of the saints of God.


The Church in Smyrna needed a reminder as to both these things.  They were about to suffer grievous persecution for ‘ten days Not a long time, ten short days; and what are they in contrast with eternity?  They were only to have this dreadful ‘tribulation’ for ten actual days: but how Satan was able during those ten days to bring on them agony and distress to pierce the hearts of all.


All doubtless were not made victims: all were not brought to the fires: but, for those who found their families bereaved was there no bitterness?  So, though short, yet it was a hard thing for nature to bear, even strengthened as they were. Christ would not forsake them.  Christ would not forget them in the hour of their calamity.  He would give them strength according to the hour; but still, it was his intention to exercise and prove them by means of these things.


They were not so strengthened by His strength as to be quite insensible to anything like dismay and terror: but they were to look on it and see the terror of it, and to strengthen themselves in Him: to ‘be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might It was, that He might make manifest that which was to be for praise in the Day of the glory of His Kingdom.


So we must remember the path is not unattended by sorrow and trial; and at the present moment, when we know so little of such things; when the path is so smooth as to any thing of this kind; how needful to seek to place ourselves in circumstances like these.  Will it not check any disposition to worldliness? any tendency to sink back into Egypt?  Have we not been separated from Egyptian things and brought into the wilderness, where we feel a kind of destitution and a tendency to murmur?  We all know a kind of weariness: a vacuity and want; but, when that vacuity and want are met, by seeking to be engaged in the interests and Truth of Christ, then it will not end in murmuring.


And one means of correcting it is, thinking how we should feel if again these terrors of persecution were let loose on us, if we again had to be ‘faithful unto death That hour is again coming.  This Book of the Revelation again and again reiterates the truth that there is a time coming, when believers in Jesus will have to be ‘faithful unto death,’ and not to ‘love their lives unto the death ‘Here are they’ (speaking of the depths of persecution), ‘here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus So we know the hour is drawing on; and therefore, if it should be a season when at present we feel this inclination to murmur, only let us place ourselves in the circumstances in which we may actually stand - we know not whether we may or may not, but we know there will be circumstances like these - and then see whether that thought will not lead our souls to thankfulness; to considering our mercies; counting up His benefits, and to an earnest desire that we might be found worthy to serve His Truth more, and to suffer for Him.


That, I trust, will be found in us: not a mere thankfulness for escaping from sorrow, but a desire that those principles might be nurtured in our souls that would make us ready to suffer for Him, whether actually called into the position of suffering or not, for a person may have a soldier’s heart without being actively engaged, he may stand ‘ready to serve;’ and I am sure every heart that is wise would desire to be strengthened thus for Him.


Then it is said ‘I will give thee the crown of life It does not mean that the ‘crown of life’ will not be given to everyone that ‘overcomesi.e., that holdeth fast faith to the end; for that is the definition of an ‘overcomerone who holdeth fast to the end.  The ‘crown of life’ will be given to all such; but it is the habit of Scripture, when it seeks to encourage in any peculiar season of trial and straitness, to put before it some one of those blessings that are to be given to the triumphant Church at the close and this principle is connected with it, that God is pleased in His Word to mention certain blessings to such as are found practically in a condition that suits them for the apprehension of those blessings, that though the blessing may in result be theirs, yet, He does not put it prominently before souls that are in circumstances that tend to darken their apprehension of it.  He says ‘they are occupied; there is no room in their hearts for the apprehension of this mercy:’ and so He puts it not prominently before them; but, if placed in circumstances that harmonise with the promised glory, so that they need something to stimulate and encourage, then is the time when, out of the storehouse of His mercy God unlocks these blessings. The heart feels its need and thankfully receives it, and is encouraged by it to become stronger.  It returns thanks to Him, being able in measure to appreciate the gifts of His goodness.


So here; in this condition of struggling and trial in which they were outwardly - trampled down, and not outwardly ‘overcomers’ - yet, what were they in God's sight?  Were they not ‘overcomers’?  They had not indeed ‘finished their course;’ they had not come to the very goal; yet, was it not meet that at that moment, the thought of ‘the crown of life’ should be presented to them?  And when God presented that thought to their hearts in such circumstances, did it not greatly tend to encourage them; to make them reach forward with more earnestness for 'the prize of their high calling'?


Such would be the results of these words addressed to this Church, thus kept ‘faithful’ in the hour of persecution.