Overcoming with the Lamb
The Christians in Smyrna were hurting. Poverty and persecution were ever-present problems. Things were tough for these saints in southwestern Asia Minor and it was going to get worse. Would or could these children of God maintain their faith under such trying circumstances. Yes! was the Lord’s resounding answer. With proper encouragement and instruction, He knew they could make it.
What an excitement there must have been in that congregation when word spread that a letter had arrived from the apostle John. Though we may find the Revelation mysterious and puzzling, it will aid our understanding if we can sit with the persecuted saints of Smyrna as they hear the letter being read for the first time.
Shortly Take Place
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place” (1:1). The opening line of this letter gave assurance to those at Smyrna (and Ephesus, Pergamos, et al) that the Lord saw their plight and intended to act on it in the near future. For us to understand Revelation, we must recognize that this message was intended to strengthen those persecuted Christians living at the end of the first century.
As the Lord’s words turned directly to them and their situation (2:8-11), it had to have been encouraging to know that the crown of life would be theirs even if the tribulation resulted in the loss of life (2:10). The Lord who had Himself suffered at Calvary did not promise an escape from physical death—but the Lord who had triumphed over death (1:18) promised them that the second death would never hurt them (2:11; 21:8).
God Is on the Throne
Having made these promises to the saints at Smyrna, God showed them a picture of heaven where He Himself was seated on the throne (ch. 4). With fierce persecutions emanating from Caesar’s throne in Rome, how encouraging it was to see God still on His throne. Approximately seven hundred years earlier Habakkuk had struggled with his doubts and fears until he remembered that the Lord was still in His holy temple (Habakkuk 2:20). Similarly the seven churches of Asia were assured that no matter what might unfold the Lord would always be on the throne, for He “was and is and is to come” (4:8).
The Enemies Cannot Endure
Imagine the horror as the disciples heard the descriptions of a fiery, red dragon; a seven-headed, ten-horned beast that appeared to be part leopard, part bear, and part lion; another beast with two horns; and a harlot who drinking the blood of God’s saints! Their mouths probably dropped open in horror and some may have wondered if they really had a chance at overcoming such powerful enemies. Imagine their relief and delight as all these enemies are overthrown by their Lord (ch. 18-20). Their enemies were mighty, but not mighty enough to overcome the Almighty or His people.
No More Death
As they sat and listened to the reading of the Revelation, they probably experienced many different emotions, but can we possibly imagine the joy they felt as the letter closed with a picture of eternal fellowship with God and Christ (ch. 21, 22)? God was allowing them to experience tribulation ten days (2:10; may have signified a limited time—JRG), but He had plans for an eternity without pain, sorrow, or death. They would be free of the dragon (i.e. Satan) and would dwell with God and the Lamb forever and ever.
Though the Revelation has more than its share of difficulties, its basic message was and is simple. Christians will never face an enemy mightier than God. Knowing beforehand that the Lord and His people would emerge victorious, it would have been a foolish and tragic mistake for the Christians of Asia to have given in to the devil and his agents.
When the last Amen of Revelation was read for the first time, there were probably several questions still unanswered, but did the saints at Smyrna understand the basic message of the book? Were they strengthened in their determination to be faithful no matter the cost? Did they know that victory would be theirs if they continued to follow Jesus Christ? I believe the thrust of the message was clear and the Lord had given them exactly what they needed to overcome (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:10, 11; 21:7).
Today, our circumstances may differ from theirs and some of the enemies we face will be different, but the same God is still on the throne and He still wants us to overcome and enjoy an eternity with Him. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (12:11).
John R. Gibson
Scripture quotations from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Copyright 1994