““I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.
Revelation 2:9 NLT
How do we reconcile being poor and being rich at the same time? But John was writing about two different domains – the natural and the spiritual. Just from this short verse, we can glean a picture of a church of faithful Christian people who were suffering persecution that was affecting their daily lives. I envisage a shop-keeper, a member of the church, whose business was suffering because people were avoiding him because of his faith. Perhaps there was a labourer who couldn’t find work because he was blacklisted. But I’m sure it wasn’t just their employment that was being affected. A wife and mother abused in the street as she went about her daily business. Low level anti-social behaviour directed at their properties. The children wouldn’t have escaped the persecution either. And, worse, the attacks were making them poor, financially and socially. Sadly, and depressingly, we see the same sort of persecution directed at Christians today in various parts of the world. Even here in the UK we have seen Christian businesses and individuals targeted and persecuted because they refuse to bend the knee to minority groups who are trying to force their ideologies onto the society around them.
But John commended and encouraged them because they were rich. Spiritually rich. Benefitting from Heavenly resources made available to them without limit. The Smyrnaeans knew that through their relationship with God, through their faith, through their perseverance, they were part of something far bigger and better. They knew that there were hassles to overcome before they would find themselves in a place of comfort and safety, where their persecutors would be unable to reach them anymore.
Through John, Jesus had some stern words for the Smyrnaean persecutors, the Jews from the local synagogue. He called them blasphemers. This is a very serious charge because it involves and implies a disrespectful attitude against God Himself. Here in Western society, we have become desensitised to the use of phrases and language that used the names for God as expletives. I used to work with a lady who was a self-confessed atheist but who frequently used the phrase “Oh my God” in her conversations. One day I pointed out to her that for someone who didn’t believe in God, she called on His name a lot. I never heard her use that expression again. Sadly, though, this phrase has become ubiquitous in our society, a ploy of the enemy to reduce the name of God down to the conversational gutter. Blasphemy.
Nothing is hidden from Jesus. He knew where the source of the blasphemers was. And He referred to them as “a synagogue [that] belongs to satan”. Strong words indeed. Enough to send a chill of fear down the spines of God-fearing people. That our enemy, the devil, had infiltrated into that very bastion of Jewishness, a synagogue, was a sad reflection on their spiritual state. It would never happen in our churches today. Or would it? In the early days of the Charismatic revival I experienced at first hand the animosity of other church attenders who accused those experiencing and entering into the new move of the Holy Spirit, of demonic activities. Was it blasphemy? I wouldn’t like to judge anyone, but we need to be careful that we don’t associate any move of God with an activity of the devil. Advice obviously not followed by the Jewish synagogue in Smyrna.
So what do us pilgrims make of this verse? It’s a warning that the Christian faith is counter-cultural and at times we will be persecuted for maintaining the purity of the Word and our faith. Jesus warned us that living in the “world”, the atheistic societies in which we live, will not be easy for God-followers. So, forewarned, we keep our eyes fixed on our Heavenly goal, just over the horizon, but coming closer every day. Each day, we try and bring something of Heaven into our lives and the lives of those around us. We are “salt and light” in our families and communities, standing in the gap, revealing God to a God-less world. And in the process, being aware that although we may end up in suffering and poverty, we are rich in Him who loves us.
Dear Father, thank You for being with us in our every day lives. Encouraging us. Blessing us. Equipping us. Loving us. Leading us. Enriching us. We praise and thank You today. Amen.