EDITORIAL -- The Persecuted Church

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

In Rev. 2: 10, the apostle John wrote to the church at Smyrna, giving the following instruction: "Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer; behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." The church at Smyrna is sometimes referred to as "the persecuted church." In this passage are several bits of information pertaining to the suffering of the Christian.

Certainty of persecution. The apostle John did not paint a rosy future for the church at Smyrna. Instead he foretold for them a gory future. The Bible teaches that every Christian shall suffer persecution. Paul said, "Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). In connection with the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, Ananias the God-sent preacher is told, "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:15, 16).

Origin of persecution. John very clearly identifies the source of persecution. He states that the Devil is back of it. The Devil is the originator of sin (I Jno. 3:8). Since he is our "adversary" (I Pet. 5:8), he therefore sets himself against us in many different ways. In Smyrna, the Devil is about to cast some of them into prison. Of course, the Devil did not come and personally cast these Christians into prison. But the Devil has children (Jno. 8:44); he has his own ministers who deceitfully work (2 Cor. I 1: 14, 15); and he even has his own synagogue (Rev. 2:9) and churches." He therefore uses his cohorts and emissaries to badger and oppose God's people.



Scope of persecution. John indicates that the persecution to which he refers shall not at this time encompass the whole church. The Devil is about to cast "some of you" into prison. Apparently those best able to endure such a persecution will be called upon to do so. Paw stated, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it" (I Cor. 10: 13). Those "able to endure it" would be persecuted at Smyrna. They would be called upon to "fill up on my own that which is lacking of the affliction of Christ in my flesh" (Col. 1: 24).

Purpose of persecution. John states that the purpose of this persecution is "that ye may be tried." These Christians were going to be put to the test. God permits a Christian to he tried, but the persecuting "trial of fire" merely refines and purifies the faithful Christian (I Pet. 1:6, 7). Like in putting gold to the fire, the fires of persecution merely burn out the dross from the life of the Christian. Hence, Peter taught that "he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin" (I Pet. 4:1). Paul declared that suffering for Christ will produce steadfastness in the suffering saint (Rom. 5: 3, 4; see also Jas. 1: 2-4). Someone has said that birds sing the sweetest when in captivity, and the flower gives the sweetest fragrance when crushed. In like manner, the Christian is the noblest when he is suffering for righteousness' sake.

Duration of persecution. John teaches that the persecution to come upon Smyrna will only last "ten days." The expression "ten days" probably is a figurative term which indicates that the persecution will last a considerable time, but not forever. When compared to life everlasting, "ten days" is a very brief time. Several other passages depict the sufferings for Christ to be only of very brief duration. Paul stated that his sufferings in the flesh were but "for the moment" (2 Cor. 4:17), and only pertained to this it present time" (Rom. 8:18). Peter stated that our faith is tried by fire only for "a little while" (I Pet. 1: 6). The "sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to usward" (Rom. 8:18). What if we suffer "ten days," if at the end of this suffering endless days can be ours?

Disposition toward persecution. Fully realizing that persecution is coming, John commands "fear not." He does not merely seek to lessen their fear by referring to the glories that shall follow. He categorically commands them to "fear not." The same writer also stated that "perfect love casteth out fear" (I Jno. 4:18). The Psalmist had said, "Though I walk the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me" (Ps. 23:4). The Hebrew writer said, "with good courage we say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear: What shall man do unto me?" (Heb. 13:4). Apparently he had in mind the commandment of the Lord Jesus, "And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10: 28). In order that we might face the trials, tribulations, and persecutions of life with the proper disposition, Paul declared, "For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline" (2 Tim. 1:7). When one is tempted to lose his composure and to let fear grip his heart, he should remember Rev. 21:8: "But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Fear should he replaced by faithfulness, for John adds, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." If we bear up faithfully under the burden of persecution, we can indeed exchange the cross for a crown!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 13, pp. 3-5
February 3, 1972