A Changed Heart

“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”
Romans 2:28-29 NLT

The writer of the Roman letter, Saul of Tarsus, later to be called Paul, had a change of heart one day. It was a dramatic, cataclysmic event that totally changed his life. But it wasn’t just his heart that was changed. The narrative starts in Acts 8, with a mention of a man called Saul witnessing the murder of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. And Saul was so incensed by what he perceived as a dangerous threat, posed by the early Christians who were referred to as “the Way”, to the sanctity of the Jewish religion, that he started to persecute them. We read in Acts 8:3, “But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison”. Dramatic stuff. The story continues in the next chapter. We read in Acts 9:1, “Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest”. Equipped with letters of authority, Saul headed off to Damascus to create mayhem there. But on the Damascus Road, something even more dramatic happened. We read in Acts 9:3-5, “As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” Blinded by the light in his vision, and after a few days, Saul was baptised, publicly declaring his conversion to become a follower of Jesus. That encounter with the risen Jesus totally upended Saul’s life. But then something equally as dramatic occurred. We read in Acts 9:19b-20, “… Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”” A “change of heart“? I would say so!

For us pilgrims, we too had a “change of heart“. It may not have been so dramatic as Saul’s, on that Damascus Road. But it would have been real nevertheless. That point in our lives when we turned around, from a life of evil and wickedness, and instead turned towards Jesus, bringing our sins to the foot of His cross at Calvary. And there we received the forgiveness that our spirits yearned for. Through God’s on-going grace and mercy, the offer remains.

But following his “change of heart”, Saul became Paul and one of the most effective evangelists this world has ever seen. We too have a mission. The manifestation of God’s grace through Jesus in our lives cannot be suppressed within us. We have to shout it out. Especially in these last days as the persecution of Christians increases day by day, drip by drip. We may feel that there is no persecution of Christians in our Western societies, but just this week the Scottish Government approved legislation allowing 16-year olds to self-certify which gender they wanted to adopt, in the process cutting right across the God-given order of gender and sexuality. That’s persecution. And in another instance, a woman was arrested in England this week for silently praying outside a closed abortion clinic. It appear that she was not allowed to think her prayers. That’s persecution. 

The early Christians didn’t care about persecution and neither must we. In these dark days we can only keep praying for those in our families and communities, that they too may experience a “change of heart” assuring and ensuring their salvation. And we pray too for our countries. Please join me in praying for Scotland, and particularly for those who have been badly let down by deluded Scottish politicians who, rather than help young people face their challenges with compassion, instead enable them, even encourage them, to embark on a ruinous journey of personal confusion that will not end well before God’s throne.

Father God. We ask for forgiveness for all those who are intent on disrupting Your ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Sickle

“Then I saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was someone like the Son of Man. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came from the Temple and shouted to the one sitting on the cloud, “Swing the sickle, for the time of harvest has come; the crop on earth is ripe.” So the one sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the whole earth was harvested.”‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭14:14-16 ‭NLT

In this next scene in John’s vision, Jesus appears. The Son of Man, the Son of God. We gaze, together with John, with a feeling that the time has finally arrived. The time for dealing with the peoples of the world and their sin and wickedness. John saw that Jesus was wearing a golden crown. This wasn’t just some ornamental piece of headgear. This was a crown won in battle. The crown worn by the Overcomer, the defeater of the devil and all his minions. We remember poignantly the last time the world saw Jesus. He was wearing a crown of thorns. Cruel spikes piercing the skin around His scalp. At a time when the devil and his helpers thought they had defeated God’s own Son. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. Jesus, and His father, were graciously playing the long game. They could see down the millennia to the time when the harvest was ripe. Sin and wickedness had run its course. There would be no more.

Jesus was seated on a cloud and he was carrying a “sharp sickle” in His hand. This was an implement used before the age of farm machinery, and skilled harvesters used it cut the fields of wheat and other cereal crops, before it was gathered in and threshed and winnowed and ground, to provide a staple diet for peoples everywhere. An ubiquitous tool, but here, in John’s vision, it had a special role, before it was finally discarded. After this harvest there would be no need for such an implement.

Jesus told a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the final harvest. It is recorded in Matthew 13. And to make sure His disciples understood the message, Jesus explained it to them later in the chapter. Jesus’ audience were the people of His day, and they all claimed to be Jews. But Jesus used this parable to explain that His true followers were the good seed, but the weeds were those people belonging to the evil one, the devil. Both were allowed to live together in the nations of the world. One day, on the Day of Judgement, the two would be separated. The implication is that not all who claimed to be Jews were in fact His true followers. And so it is today with our Christian communities. But God sees every heart. He knows what resides inside a person’s mind. He knows who His true followers are. In His explanation of the parable, Jesus said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:41-42‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

Christian brothers and sisters can be offended, if there is a hint of discrimination between “nominal Christians” and true followers of Christ. I have had a discussion with people who sincerely believe that if they go to church, they will be OK on Judgement Day. They may well be – I am not in a position to judge and it’s not my place – but Jesus was concerned enough to give the story of the Wheat and the Weeds, and also another parable in Matthew 25:31-46 about the Sheep and the Goats. There was even another occasion towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus defined who His true disciples were. We read in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” So we pilgrims need to know where we will stand once the sickle starts swinging.

I suppose there is always the question – what about those who died before these grim and scary days in the End Times? The impression I personally get from Scripture is that when we die, we will go to some holding place. As far as I am aware, Jesus is still preparing a place for us (John 14:3). And He said to the thief hanging next to Him at Calvary, “… I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). So I believe that Christians who die before the end times will end up in a place Jesus called Paradise. It may be Heaven by another name. But there our spirits will reside until the event described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 happens. “For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died“. For those who are not Christians, I do not know where their holding place will be, because hell hadn’t been created at this point in the End Times. All sorts of theories abound, and I particular like the fictional account by C S Lewis in his book, the Great Divorce.

But back to the sharp sickle. This marked the final days of all the peoples on Planet Earth. All those dear pilgrims who have faithfully stuck it out to the end, will be rightly rewarded. Let’s make sure we will be counted amongst them.

Dear Father God. The End Times will be hard for those still alive when it happens. So we pray for ourselves and for those still to come, that we will all stand firm to the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Patient Endurance

And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” 
Revelation 13:7-10 NLT

These last days will be an uncomfortable place for Christians to be in. In John’s vision he saw that the “beast“, the global governmental system, was “allowed to wage war” against “God’s holy people”. And, worse, Christians everywhere were to be “conquered”. What does all this look like?

First of all, God has to provide His permission to allow the devil to do any of his malevolent acts.  We see that from the story of Job. In Job 1:9-12 we read, “‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has’? ….  The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger’ …” In John 16:33 we read that Jesus said, “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’” When Jesus had been arrested and was standing before Pilate, this incredible conversation took place, “‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’” (John 19:10-11, emphasis mine). Throughout history Christians have suffered for their faith. We pilgrims were never promised an easy ride by choosing to follow Jesus. In fact being counter-cultural in a secular society will be difficult. I think there is a hint about why this should be in James 1:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

The world system was given permission to overcome Christians everywhere. And I have no doubts in my mind that this is something happening today, with increasing severity. Even in Western societies, supposedly more focused on equality and diversity, societal animosity against religions often emerges. Laws can be passed that outlaw attacks on minority groups but that does not stop the violence, verbal or otherwise, from happening. And the availability of social media provides an apparently anonymous platform for abusers to exploit. Attacks against some religious groups invokes a violent backlash, making many wary of exposing their vitriol and hatred towards them, but Christians have always been a soft target, because they adhere to a policy of non-violence and forgiveness. But in other parts of the world, persecution against Christians is extreme, to the extent that anyone professing a faith in God has to be eliminated. 

So whether we like it or not, on 21st Century Planet Earth, there is a partial global governmental system in place that is waging war on Christians. It is not yet total, but it seems as though each year sees an increase in the reach of the authorities into the lives of Christians, with increasing persecution. One day, as John saw in his vision, it will be complete. Total anti-Christian mayhem.

But what does Revelation 13:10 mean? It says, “Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” To me, this verse seems to be saying that there is a predetermined destiny for every human being, beyond their abilities to choose. In absolute terms this is true, because mankind will one day come to the end of their lives. We cannot choose not to die. But on our journeys to the tomb we do have choices, very limited for some, but less restrictive for others. The ultimate choice we make is whether or not we wish to follow God, but this will by itself bring about consequences we might not like. In the End Times, the resulting persecution of Christians may well lead to imprisonment and death, but we are reminded in John’s vision that patience and faithfulness will result in the right conclusion – eternal life with our wonderful Heavenly Father.

Dear Lord and Father, we thank You that You are always there for us. You see what we suffer and are always there to help us and strengthen us for the journey through difficult times. We praise and thank You today. Amen.

The Pursuit

“When the dragon realised that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time. Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” 
Revelation 12:13-17

John’s vision of the woman and her journey clarifies a bit and more information emerges. The dragon, or the devil as we assume, is after her. But with divine protection, he had no chance of reaching her. He did his best to drown her with “a flood of water that flowed from his mouth”. As an aside, what a strange weapon. In John’s vision, would we not have expected him to see the devil using more conventional weapons of the time? Arrows or swords perhaps? 

But according to the commentaries, the flood represents an overwhelming disaster. Think about a tsunami hitting a coastline and the resulting destruction, as we have seen in recent years. The Old Testament refers in several places to a fear of a flood, such as in Psalm 69:15, “Don’t let the floods overwhelm me, or the deep waters swallow me, or the pit of death devour me.”

As we considered recently, the woman represents the Church, or the Jewish nation, or a combination of both. Some of the old saints have suggested that the flood represents public opinion, expressing hostility to the Church as a whole. A scenario where the governments and politicians make public declarations, or pass laws, that are hostile to Christian Churches and all who worship within them. And we have seen the establishment of clandestine churches in some countries, driven underground by the actions of the country’s leadership, with the general population implementing their evil sentiments on any Christians they can find. In 21st Century Planet Earth, we see such a scenario well established in countries such as Afghanistan, North Korea, China, India and others. In these places being a follower of Christ is not a safe life choice.

In his vision, John saw the earth swallow up the flood of water, thus helping and saving the woman. Perhaps this means that the Christian Church established in countries where Christians are persecuted receives protection from God. And it is true that in some countries, Christianity, even though officially oppressed, has flourished in underground churches. China is such a country, where it has been estimated that there are ninety six million Christians, just under seven per cent of the population. Churches there are regularly shut down by the authorities and their leaders arrested, but they continue and grow anyway. 

Our verses today conclude that a very angry devil makes war on all God’s children everywhere. He fights against “all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus”. Sadly, that is so true, with persecution against Christians so prevalent all over the world. The UK charity “Open Doors” estimates that 360 million Christians worldwide are suffering persecution of one kind or another. 

So what do we pilgrims make of all this? We of course stand firm in our faith, confident that by doing so we will one day receive the reward awaiting us in Heaven. In Matthew 24 Jesus warned His disciples about what was going to happen in the End Times, and taught what they should do. We read, “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13 – emphasis mine). Our salvation is assured but the narrow road we follow will not be easy. And we read in today’s verses from Revelation, that Christians who hold the line of their faith will be constantly hassled and attacked by the devil. So we pray for our Heavenly Father’s protection, as we continue to do His will. We pray that His love and grace covers us as we live in His shadow, day by day, step by step.

Dear Lord. We praise and thank You today. Only You have the words of eternal life, there to sustain us. Please lead and guide us through the minefields of life, hedging us around with Your love and protection. Amen.

The Martyr’s Testimonies

“Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.””
Revelation‬ ‭12:10-12 NLT

The devil seems to have little going for him. Because of his sin he was thrown out of Heaven, and now on earth he is again defeated by God’s people, who have accepted the saving grace and protection of the “blood of the Lamb” and established through their testimonies the devil’s defeat.

The pilgrims who have defeated the devil in John’s vision, however, paid a heavy price. The ultimate price. They paid for their victory over the devil with their lives. In John’s vision we see that their secret weapon was their willingness to put their faith in God above personal safety. In Western societies, the battle with the devil and his minions doesn’t impact our lives directly but is waged on a different level. But in some parts of the world, the battle is generating many martyrs, people who have taken the ultimate stand against our enemy, the devil. According to “Open Doors”, an organisation in the UK that helps persecuted Christians in over sixty countries, nearly six thousand people were murdered for their faith last year. Their statistics are sobering, reporting that one in seven Christians suffer persecution of one kind or another. According to their latest information, the most life threatening countries in which to be a Christian are Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia. The strap line on the “Open Doors” web site says, “Over 360 million Christians suffer persecution and discrimination. They follow Jesus, no matter the cost”. But these are the pilgrims, our brothers and sisters, who John could see in his vision. And he went on to say that all who live in Heaven are rejoicing about them. 

Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” In Hebrews 11, that great chapter about faith, we read about Moses, “He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” (Hebrews 11:26). 

Why do Christians suffer such persecution? We are motivated by love and compassion for our fellow human beings. Christian organisations and charities everywhere work tirelessly to help those less fortunate. The drug addicts, the poor, those struggling with all sorts of issues. The list is endless. I heard recently from a Christian lady who has successfully worked for some years running a youth project in the town where she lives in Norfolk, England. The charity for which she works does much good work amongst a marginalised segment of her society. And yet Christians are reviled and persecuted, even in societies that are more peaceful and accepting. But the reason is simply that the devil hates anything to do with the One he hates the most, God Himself. God’s people can be an easy target for him.

As pilgrims, we will all, sooner or later, have to face into persecution of one type or another. But one day we know that we will join our wonderful Heavenly Father in our eternal home. And we will find there the great heroes of our faith, who have paid the price for following God and not the devil. So we pray for all those who are being persecuted, that they will stand firm, regardless of the cost.

Dear God. Thank You for the opportunities we have to reach those who are less fortunate than us in our societies. Help us we pray to be salt and light in our communities, our families. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

The Locust Army

“The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads, and their faces looked like human faces. They had hair like women’s hair and teeth like the teeth of a lion. They wore armour made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. They had tails that stung like scorpions, and for five months they had the power to torment people. Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:7-11‬ ‭NLT

John’s vision continues with more information about these pesky locusts. It is almost as though John, in the vision, zoomed in to obtain a close up view of the stingers. And they were scary beasts indeed. John’s description was quite explicit. However, they seemed to be hybrid creatures, so different to ordinary locusts. The description of them had the attributes of a vicious and relentless army, equipped for battle with weapons of war. Their power was such that the people of the day had no defence against them. And what was worse, in a way, was that their weapons were to be used for torment rather than death. In the previous verses we read that the people who were stung wanted to die but couldn’t. 

In Deuteronomy 28 we read about what God said would happen to the Jewish nation if they were disobedient to His commands. Verse 20, “The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me“. Verse 38, “You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops“. So perhaps the infestation of locusts was part of the fulfilment of the Old Testament warning.

John was told that the figure behind the army of locusts was “the angel from the bottomless pit”. Who else could that have been other than the devil himself? So the picture emerges of our enemy, the devil, unleashing a terrible army to attack mankind. Some theologians think that the army represented the Roman Empire, which ruled the nations at that time with a rod of iron. But that doesn’t seem to fit the series of events laid out in John’s vision. But thankfully, Christians, God’s people, were spared, as we read in Revelation 9:4.

A pilgrim’s life in these turbulent times would have been difficult, to say the least. How would we stand firm in our faith in such times of persecution? Paul wrote an exhortation in his first letter to the Corinthians. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless“. Even in our own times of distress, the Lord’s work is there to be done. Being loving and compassionate to those less fortunate around us. Helping practically where we can, looking out for our neighbours and friends, our families and communities. Praying constantly. Encouraging one another. The list is endless.  Seeing God move in our lives, and in the lives of those around us is something that greatly surpasses anything the devil will try and throw at us.

Father God, we thank You that You have a job for us to do. Please bring our way those who need a touch of Your love and compassion, and give us the gracious words we need. Open doors we pray so that Your presence can be introduced into the homes of our friends and neighbours, through what we say and do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Fifth Seal

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:9-11‬ ‭NLT

The fifth seal was broken and John saw an altar in Heaven. It’s not clear what it looked like in detail, but one thing for sure – it was nothing like the altars we find in our churches and other religious buildings. This one had a special place underneath, and here we find the souls of the Christian martyrs. Men and women killed for nothing more than believing in the Word of God and being faithful, holding onto their beliefs and testimony in spite of threats and mistreatment. Quite rightly, they wanted to see justice, and they called out to God for Him to intervene and punish the people who had abused them. In response, they were each supplied with a white robe, but why was that? Note that this happened before the second coming of Jesus, so at this point the martyrs would not yet have received their new bodies. The martyrs would have been disembodied spirits, but because of their mortal sacrifice, they were fast tracked into Heaven. And the robes were supplied to give them substance and parity with the other Heavenly beings. They were encouraged to rest and be patient, because there were more martyrs to come. Notice that in Heaven, they straight away worshipped God, with “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true”. Their focus was on God, as it had been in their lives on earth.

Christians have been martyred almost continuously to the present day, starting with Stephen. We can read the account of his martyrdom in Acts 6 and 7. Today, with better global communications, we can discover where Christians are being killed for their faith. Open Doors, a UK-based organisation founded by Brother Andrew in 1955, regularly reports on Christian persecution, and on-line videos can be found that detail up to date topics for prayer. They reported that in 2021, 5,898 Christians were murdered because of their faith. And that’s the people they know about. 

A passage of Scripture that I find most encouraging is in Acts 4, where the early church prayed for boldness in the face of persecution. We read in verse 29, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word…”. This was the early church’s response to persecution, and the boldness they displayed in the face of persecution led to Christianity quickly spreading all over the civilised world at that time.

We pilgrims today must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. And together we must stand firm with them, also being a living testimony to our faith. Perhaps one day we will get the opportunity to talk to some of the Heavenly martyrs, finding our more about their sacrifices, but in the meantime we are encouraged by the fact that in our witnessing they are cheering us on, as we know from Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne“. 

Dear Heavenly Father, we pray together for our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution in countries like Afghanistan and North Korea, where even having a Bible in their possession can lead to incarceration and murder. Please strengthen their faith, and be with them in their times of trial. For Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Blasphemy

““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.