Satan in the Sanctuary

Revelation Discipleship - Letter to Smyrna

I see it every day. Someone on social media posting “It’s like we’re living in the book of Revelation. Be prepared, this is the last days”.

There are days I feel that way, for sure. It’s not like living in the middle of a global pandemic while nations seem on the brink of civil war is our norm. Oh, and the murder hornets that came one day and mysteriously disappeared. Can't forget them! Although I can’t blame them, it’s like they showed up, backed away slowly, and said, “We’ll come back later!”

To be fair, EVERY DAY is one day closer to the LAST DAYS. So, whether they are right or wrong they have a point about one thing - we need to be prepared. And the best way to be prepared is to study the words of Jesus.

Jesus' letter to Smyrna sends us a message that makes us uncomfortable in our Western world where we enjoy riches and comfort that we don’t even recognize anymore. Our abundance makes us like a fish not understanding what water is because he’s been surrounded by it his whole life. 

Smyrna was a thriving seaport city. It was a center of commerce, wealth and architectural beauty located about 40 miles north of Ephesus. It is set apart from the other six churches in several ways. One way is that it still exists. The city of Smyrna is now Called Izmir and is the third largest city in Turkey. The church of Jesus is still a presence in the city (though a small one) even today. So we know they persevered!

Another way they were set apart is that there is no reprimand in Jesus’ letter to them. All the other letters have a reprimand of some sort, but in this letter Jesus is exhorting, not disciplining. 

Let’s go through the steps of studying God’s word. 

What does it say?

"To the angel of the church of Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death." Revelation 2:8-11

What does it mean?

I don’t know about you, but the very first verse of this passage gives me a lot of reassurance in the middle of the chaos in our world right now. “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” Rev 2:8 

“In saying that he is ‘the first and the last,’ Jesus is telling the disciples in Smyrna, and you and me, that our lives are bracketed, or boundaried, not by the decisions and actions of Caesar not by the rise and fall of Rome, nor by the rise and fall of the United States. Our lives are boundaried by him, ‘the first and last’” (Discipleship on the Edge)

Trump or Trudeau do not have ultimate control. Thank you, Jesus!

“I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich!” Being a Christian in a city that is meant to worship only Caesar didn’t only make them social outcasts, but business ones as well. There was a level of poverty that ran among the Christians in Smyrna because of persecution from the citizens. They were ostracized and boycotted. But they were rich in what mattered, faith in Jesus!

It wasn’t just non-Christians that they suffered persecution from, it came from the Jews as well. Because Christianity wasn’t well-understood yet, they were thought of as a sect of the Jews. So when the Christians would refuse to worship Caesar it made the Jews nervous that they would be lumped in together with them. Because of this, the Jews would show their loyalty to Rome by informing on the Christians. 

For Jews who would treat their brothers and sisters that way, that meant they were no longer under the influence of God, but the enemy. Thus “the Synagogue of Satan”. 

"Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer." What a statement! He’s been telling them all along: I’m here among you, I see your hardship, I know the pressure, I’m with you, but you are about to suffer. Don’t be afraid. Persevere to the end. Many of them died. They would not deny Christ and bow to Caesar, so they died for their convictions.

But the one who is faithful to the end will receive the victor’s crown! They would suffer no fear of the second death, the one where not just the body dies, but the soul is cast into eternity, an eternity separated from God-Hell.

What does it mean for us?

The hard message to Smyrna and the hard message for us is that we can do everything right, and still suffer greatly, even to the point of being imprisoned and murdered. I think in our Western mindset there are a few essential elements of living a life for Christ that we forget. 

We forget a life with Christ does not mean everything will be perfect. I don’t know where this mindset originated, but it abounds in the mindset of the current Western Church. We do not expect suffering, we expect blessing. When suffering comes we assume it’s because someone has sinned. But the truth is, we suffer because we live in a broken world governed by a defeated enemy who will do anything to destroy the Church. 

We forget about our enemy. C.S. Lewis has a famous quote that sums it up nicely

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

Satan doesn’t care if you believe in him. In fact, he probably has more power to sway you, as a Christian, if you don’t. Think about that. 

Another C.S. Lewis quote that sums up quite nicely what Jesus is saying to Smyrna is:

“Of all the bad men, religious bad men are the worst.”

Jesus couldn’t have been more harsh calling the religious leaders who were informing on the Christians a “Synagogue of Satan”. The language seems shocking and over the top, but Jesus isn’t using hyperbole. The same dark spiritual forces that motivated his torture and murder are still at work in the world, seeking to inflict pain on Jesus by hurting His body, which is the Church.

Let’s get real for a minute. There are agents of the enemy in our churches. Always. Jesus defeated Satan, and he knows he’s been defeated, so now the only thing he can do to try to hurt Jesus is to hurt his bride, the Church. 

There is always a Judas among us; those that appear to be aligned with Jesus but are secretly working to undermine the work of God. The most effective tactic for Satan is not attacking from without, but infiltrating and attacking from within. Friendly fire is unfortunately not uncommon in many Churches. We attack each other in the name of serving God. 

In our world today there are sanctuaries of Satan--places of worship that appear Christian but have been invaded and co-opted by the Enemy. Satan has infiltrated the highest levels of leadership and is actively seeking to undermine the work of God in the name of Christ. 

It is subtle but insidious.

It’s secret but malicious.

Every Church needs to regularly evaluate their spiritual vital signs and expose and expel the counterfeits. In Revelation 2:2, Jesus commends them for not “tolerating evil people” and they examined those that claim to be leaders but found them to be liars.

We must prepare for persecution. 

When we know a storm is approaching we make the necessary preparations and so when it hits we are as ready as possible. Meteorologists give us storm warnings and in the same way prophets give us warnings of the gathering storm of persecution so that we can be prepared for what’s coming. 

The enemy is hard at work weakening the Church from within so that it will be susceptible to the storms. We must reinforce our faith while reassessing our leadership.

Ultimately, we must embrace authentic faith so that we can escape the “second death.”

They can take away our rights.

They can restrict our careers.

They can hurt our loved ones.

They can kill our bodies.

But they can never touch what matters the most, they can never touch our souls.

It is this blessed hope that fuels our perseverance through every heartache!

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