7 Letters – 2 – Smyrna

Smyrna

This is the second letter from Jesus to the churches. In this series of essays the words of Jesus are pondered with a goal of maintaining the concepts that Jesus developed as documented in the Gospel of Matthew: the concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is the third essay in the series. The first essay covers some important concepts. It is suggested to read the first essay before reading this one.

Smyrna means sweet-smelling; myrrh (burial oil).

Revelation 2:8-11 Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna: The First and the Last the One who was dead and came to life, says: I know your affliction and poverty, yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor will never be harmed by the second death.

Unlike the other Letters, Jesus does not have correction for Smyrna, but only encouragement to hold on while she goes through persecution to the point of death.

Identity

Jesus reminds them that he has been through death. He is speaking to them from the other side of the trauma they are experiencing. He is the resurrection and the life. By identifying himself in this way, he brings focus on the only true Hope, the blessed Hope as Paul writes about in his second letter to the church at Corinth. In that letter, Paul describes how he has learned to bring comfort to those in dire situations. Paul describes the depths of hopelessness he experienced: in chapter 1 he says “pressed far beyond our ability to endure so that we despaired of life itself”. Then he builds up to describing the Blessed Hope, his complete assurance that he, and we, will soon exchange these bodies and this difficult life for new bodies and the glorious Life. A Hope based on the identity of Jesus the Christ alone.

This same Jesus is here beckoning to the spirit of his bride, who is known by Smyrna, myrrh, burial oil. He says: Endure, I have been through it and am on the other side. His words can lift the eyes of the soul above the surrounding darkness, filled with writhing horror, to the light on the horizon. With faith, the light can spill into the soul.

Encouragement

Jesus knows the “bad things” (slander or blasphemy) people say.

Blasphemy is one of a set of words that are not commonly translated into non-religious language. The Greek word is simply translated as slander. There are several places in the New Testament where the various translators do choose to translate it directly. This reference in Revelation is one of those, where some of the translations use the English word slander.

Slander is to speak in such a way as to dismantle a person’s reputation.

In Matthew 12, Jesus again states one of the concepts that is a basis, a foundation. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, breaking the Law as interpreted by the Law experts. So the religious leaders set a goal to destroy him – the Living God.

Then he healed many more, telling the people to not talk about it, maybe because he wanted more time to walk among his people, which he had not done much since the Garden. This fulfilled one of the many prophecies about him.

Then he removes some demons from a man, enabling the man to see and speak. This type of healing was among the signs expected from the Messiah, the Christ. This causes a surge of attention from the people, so the pure Law leaders are forced to expose how they understand this Jesus. In their concepts Jesus is not the Christ, but a minion of Satan.

Jesus uses the opportunity to illuminate the core issue and further refine the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here in this essay, I am referencing this passage from Matthew, but the context of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew is of vital importance. If you have not grasped that you really should stop here and study that. There is another essay that can offer some assistance, but the Gospel of Matthew is your study guide and the Holy Spirit is your teacher.

In the Matthew 12 account, Jesus explains: Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters. Because of this, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come.

Note the translators choosing to translate the word for slander as “blasphemy” and Jesus changing to use a different word to clarify: “speaks against”. He uses both in the same context and restates the same contrast. Jesus is God and one of the first Commandments given Moses was to not slander (blaspheme) God. Here in Matthew Jesus says every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, and he says whoever speaks against the Son will be forgiven. And Jesus says that blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven and Jesus says whoever speaks against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

Keep in mind that Mark, when writing his more succinct Gospel, references this same event, but adds the clarification that Jesus said this because the religious leaders were saying he was using the power of demons. Just in case the reader lost track of that fact while reading Matthew.

Speaking blasphemy against God is punishable by death in the Law, but Jesus specifically includes it in the “all manner of sin” to be forgiven, only speaking to destroy the work of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. The primary role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal and exalt the Son.

This may seem to be contradictory or may seem to lead to a strange understanding of the nature of God. But it fits with the message of the Gospel, which is clearly explained in the scriptures, and with the nature of God, which is explained as well as humans can understand it.

The statement that slander against God, the giver of the Law, is not the same as slander against the Holy Spirit appears to be a contradiction from one view of the nature of God. God is one, yet we see clear references to three identifiers (Father, Son and Spirit). Jesus, the Son, chose in Matthew 12 to refer to the only unforgiveable sin as slander against the Spirit. I perceive that he chose this identifier to create specific distance from the commandment from the Law and to illuminate the nature of salvation. The role associated with the identifier of God we call the Spirit is to reveal and exalt the identifier of the Son. God is one, and the Son is the identifier of God that conceives the concept of salvation in our beings. Slandering the Spirit includes differentiating the identifiers and choosing to reject the separate role of the Spirit, intrinsically including rejection of the Son.

That paragraph is difficult to understand, using language intended to avoid the preformed concepts in the reader’s mind. Perhaps with the preformed concepts stirred up a little, it can make sense with this next paragraph.

The work of the Spirit is to identify and exalt the work of the Son. The work of the Son was to bring the Kingdom of Heaven within reach of all people, by forgiving all sin and making reconciliation with God possible. Speaking against the Spirit is to understand the Spirit’s role and permanently believe and teach against it, just as the religious leaders were starting to do in Matthew 12.

So what does all this have to do with Jesus letter to his suffering myrrh bride? In this letter, Jesus states that he knows the slander of those who claim to be Jews but are not. These words elevate the concepts of the situation in Matthew 12. The religious leaders who claim to be Jews but are not, as explained by Paul in Romans, slander the work of the Spirit. Jesus is presenting the concept that he, Jesus, is still experiencing the rejection by those who appear good. And by making a reference to this critical Matthew 12 event that would be well known to all churches, he reaffirms the forgiveness he brings to those who are suffering and facing destruction. Once the concept of the forgiveness promised in Matthew 12 has prominence in your being, you cannot see the reference to slander, blasphemy, without remembering that Jesus brought forgiveness for all sin.

When one is suffering terribly, a constant question is like that of Job and his friends: maybe I am not good enough and God has abandoned me.

Jesus renews their concept of salvation – I have forgiven all sin, you belong to me.

Jesus continues his letter to the myrrh bride.

Satan will put some in prison to test them. Note that it is Satan who accuses them (via his people who claim holy status but are doing his work accusing) and it is Satan who will put them in prison. To test them.

This brings clearly to mind the scene in Job. Satan standing before God saying that “of course, this person loves you. You are so nice to him.” Much to our dismay, God says: “you can test him”. Then follows many chapters of some great philosophy from all parties, but all are basically saying the same thing. Both groups are saying that acceptance by God can be measured by good times vs bad times. The friends all saying that Job has done something to deserve his torment. Job saying that he has not done anything, and getting ever closer to calling God to account for his suffering.

I see God’s mercy in stepping in just as Job is calling God Most High to account. God requires that all of them repent (change their thinking). Indicating that they all had it wrong. They were making a mistake we will avoid in looking at this letter. They were viewing God Most High through concepts that obscure the mercy of God Most High.

Here in the letter to the myrrh bride, Jesus says Satan is doing what he does, accuse, imprison and torment, seeking to undermine faith in the Love of God.

Jesus speaks to them to hold on, even to the point of death. And He will give a crown. Our Good and Evil concepts tempt us to think this is saying the Crown of Life is a reward dependent on holding on to the point of death. Avoiding the error of Job, we realize it is a statement of promise. When you get past death I will give you the Crown of eternal Life. The encouragement is to hold on to that Hope. The context is Jesus saying I already walked this path and am speaking to you from the other side. I hold your crown in my hand waiting to place it on your head. There are just 10 more days to go. Hold on to Hope during your 10 days.

When you read of such things, it is easy to idolize the suffering: “Truly a great opportunity to serve”. And it is. Paul speaks of this when he says he was smashed (pressed) far beyond his ability to endure, so that he despaired of life itself.

It is agony beyond understanding to be waiting for the breath of the Spirit while all that has meaning in this life is destroyed and those whom were assumed to be brothers relentlessly destroy your character, your earthly hope, your life. As John of the Cross observes in the Dark Night of the Soul, those who are called to such a thing are to be pitied above all men. Their road is difficult far beyond your worst nightmare. Pray that the Spirit of Jesus will breathe even just a small breath of life into their spirits.

Jesus again calls all readers to learn from this letter. And states that they will not be hurt by the second death. The victor will never be harmed by the second death. When did you become born again, escaping the second death? When you came to believe the work of the Spirit, that Jesus is the Exalted Son of God that forgave all sin. That is when you became the victor.

One may be tempted by this letter to make unsupported statements about the state of purity of this church. One could assume that Jesus has no correction for them because they are perfect in regards to the Law. I think not. That would not be in alignment with what we know of the Gospel. I think that perhaps they were viewed by Jesus as perfect in their love for each other as they jointly suffered. Maybe the fullness of 1Cor13 was present and they needed no further correction.

We do not know. We can only grieve their pain and join in asking “How long, oh Lord?” Please shorten the suffering of those to whom this letter is sent today.

In this letter, we see the tender Love of Jesus as he encourages the church that is fragrant to endure the suffering. No correction, only encouragement that the time of suffering will end soon. And to cling to the Blessed Hope of Life which is rooted in the Faith that Jesus is the one the Spirit has led us to see as the Exalted Son of God who died for all sin, the direct revelation of the Father, who is God Most High, the source of Love.

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