Why Christians Suffer

Wim Malgo (1922-1992)

An interpretation of the last book of the Bible. Part 20. Revelation 2:9-11.

The attitude of the church in Smyrna corresponds to the attitude and disposition of the Lord Jesus. As a result, they had exactly the same enemies as the Lord Jesus, had to endure exactly the same opposition He did, from exactly the same sort of people: “…the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9). 

These purportedly faithful Jews told the Christians in Smyrna, “We have the true religion, not you.” This isn’t about Jews in general but about a specific Jewish synagogue, with a specific attitude toward a specific Christian church. So, it’s fundamentally wrong to condemn Judaism universally, because this would turn the persecuted into persecutors. The Jews in this case, who say they are the real Jews (but the Lord says they aren’t), are prototypes of the religious without Christ. Such false believers have always existed, and they’re visible in our day as well. That’s the difference between religion and following Jesus!

The world’s persecution isn’t as bad as persecution from those who say they are right, but aren’t; who mock the children of God and say, “We are the true church,” even though it’s a “synagogue of Satan” where the Bible’s infallibility is called into question. These people gather under the banner of the Antichrist. Paul says that they have “a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof” (2 Tim 3:5).

Pay close attention to what 2 Timothy 3:12 says: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” There’s no other way: just the one that Jesus followed. But if you walk it, the crown of life beckons you; the Lord Jesus Himself awaits you on the other bank. He’s calling to you now, His afflicted child: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer…be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev 2:10).

Being faithful to Jesus is being “faithful unto death.” In Revelation 1:5, Jesus is called the “faithful witness.” Faithfulness isn’t just remaining a believer until the moment of death, but also remaining a witness in word and nature: clinging steadfastly to Jesus’ victory. Many in our day are falling away from this living testimony, because they’re afraid of suffering the way Jesus did. Then one ends up trying to conform to society’s norms, rather than giving of oneself.

It’s true: suffering apart from Christ, without vicarious effect, is a hostile force; it doesn’t belong to man because God didn’t ordain it for him. That’s why Revelation 21:4 tells of glory that will have no more suffering in it. But we are only one with Jesus Christ’s nature, way, and glory through the fellowship of His suffering (both internal and external), which is sanctified and which He took upon Himself for our sake.

Now we’ve arrived at a crossroads: do we want to follow the path of self-renunciation for Jesus’ sake? In that case, there will be abundant comfort and wonderful glory. But if we follow the path of self-assertion and so-called “self-actualization,” we will die spiritually and live without consolation.

Smyrna had that consolation fully. The ears of these believers were wide open to hear the Lord speak. The fact that the promise to overcomers with respect to Smyrna is so short—“He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Rev 2:11b)—confirms that this is a church of overcomers, who already have the fullness of the Godhead in Jesus Christ.

One great danger of suffering is that the soul withers away. It’s the same in other areas: poverty can very easily make you miserable; being hated makes you hateful, and being beaten down makes you cynical—unless you overcome! It’s so important that we have victory in tribulation and overcome it, because then the second death will not harm us. There are two kinds of death: bodily death and the “other,” spiritual death. Whoever is born once must die twice; whoever is born twice must die once.

The person who receives only a bodily life (from his or her mother), who is born only once, dies twice: bodily death, and then the “other” death; namely, the death that doesn’t kill. That person is separated from the living God for all eternity. But whoever is born twice (bodily and then spiritually, or “born again” through faith in Christ Jesus) receives eternal life, and therefore only dies once. So, this singular death is basically not dying at all, but going home. The “other” death can do no harm to an overcomer, because it has already been overcome through Jesus’ death.

Midnight Call - 06/2021

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