The professing church had fallen from its first position of grace. It did not stay in the original blessings of God. Through the responsibility of men, the church world was now on a course of decline and decay. It had fallen from God’s expectations for it. It was to be a bright light and pure testimony for Him to the darkness of this world. When the corporate body was asked by the Lord to repent and return to its first position, she would not respond. The course was set. This decline and failure in Ephesus opened the door for trials and persecutions in the time of Smyrna that followed. The experience in Smyrna was a consequence of Ephesus losing its first love and falling.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: (9) “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (10) Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
(11) “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’
The professing church had lost its love and affections for Christ. Jesus loved the church and had given His life for her. It was reasonable for Him to expect her constant love and affections in return. But that state was short-lived in the early church. If it had fallen from true affection for Christ, its attention was being turned elsewhere. The professing church was in the world and the world itself was becoming an attraction.
God’s use of Evil to bring Blessing
Ephesus, no doubt, was a time of great growth in numbers for the professing church. The crop had been enlarged and multiplied in the field of the world. There were far more churches in the world than the seven mentioned here. There was the natural tendency to rest and be satisfied with the results produced, instead of continual dependence on the Lord. The Lord loves the church too much to allow this to go on without a response from Him.
What we should understand is that God is willing to use Satan to accomplish certain results. His response to professing Christianity’s departure is to use the persecution from the world to draw her back to Christ and to teach His lessons. Satan’s power, acting through the hatred and ungodliness of the world, is used by God for two specific outcomes:
- First, to exercise divine grace in the saints in the corporate body of Christendom
- Second, to hinder the corporate body from departing any further from the Lord, and to separate it from the evil around
Sufferings used to bring out Grace
In the first point above the life of Jesus becomes our great example. His entire life on earth was filled with trials and sufferings leading to the cross – His redemptive sufferings and death. It wasn’t that there were impurities and evil in His person that needed to be atoned for, but as the Scriptures declare, “…He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb. 2:9-10) This isn’t speaking of imperfection in the Son of God. As God alone He would not have the experiences He gained as coming in the likeness of human flesh. Making the author of salvation perfect though sufferings speaks of the experience that He could not have in His divinity. So also the Scriptures say, “And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8) Again, even though being in the form of God and equal with God, in human flesh He showed obedience. This is His perfection through sufferings.
1 Peter 2:21-25
“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
(22) “Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
(23) who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; (24) who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. (25) For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
(7) “…who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, (8) though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (9) And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”
The sufferings brought out the grace of God more fully in His life in the flesh and in the redemptive work as the Son of Man. The manifestation of all that was within Him was brought out through hardship and difficulty. The result is that there is now a Man in glory, the glorified Son of Man, who is the author of the only eternal salvation that is available for men. Having been perfected through sufferings, and having learned obedience as the Son of Man, He became the Author, as well as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.
Sufferings to hinder further Decline
The second effect of God’s use of Satan in persecution is to separate the church from evil and to hinder the church from further decline and decay. There is a tendency for us to rest in worldly success and prosperous times. Professing Christianity had grown – by the grace of God, by the devil planting tares, and by man busy building in responsibility. The flesh naturally turns to what is agreeable in the world, and this wars against the Spirit within. The flesh desires to find rest in the world. The same is true for the house of God built on the earth, the habitation of God in the Spirit. Accommodating what the flesh finds rest in, leads to decay (Micah 2:10).
Persecution is the church’s promised portion while on the earth and in the world (John 16:33). When the church world is beginning to rest in human endeavor, failing to even notice it has left its love for Christ as its motive, God brings in tribulation. It is opposition from outside, Satan using the world to bring trials and persecutions. But God allows it and uses it to bring out grace in the corporate body, to separate her from evil and to hinder her decay. God uses Satan as an instrument to bring out blessing for the church.
“He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”
The saint’s portion is to suffer and endure the continuance of evil, even its prospering for the time (Matt. 5:38-48). God permits evil in this age, even power given to it. This will not be true in the following dispensation. However, at this time the saints must not seek to avenge themselves or they will suffer the consequences of their actions. Patient suffering is the saint’s place, like Christ when He walked in the flesh. Once Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. But later he would write, “But when you do well and suffer for it, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” (I Pet. 2:20) Vengeance is the Lord’s. He will repay (Rev. 13:10).
I know that the above sounds strange and isn’t taught much in Christian circles. God using Satan as an instrument would be denied and labeled blasphemous by many. But we should learn the wisdom of God from the Scriptures, and be taught of the Spirit. There are a number of elements that lead to this conclusion for Smyrna, which are important to keep in mind.
- In the first three churches the messages are addressed to Christendom as a recognized corporate entity having testimony for the Lord. When the Lord says, I know your works, tribulation, and poverty…” he is not speaking to individuals, but to the external church body. The persecution is of the corporate entity and it is widespread, and would last, off and on, for a few hundred years. It was the existing Roman Empire, the Roman beast holding the throne of Satan in the world, which the devil was using.
- While the church is on the earth, Paul describes its experience as “…if indeed we suffer with Him…the sufferings of this present time…” (Rom. 8:17-18) The professing church is on a walk in the wilderness. What professing Christianity seeks in the wilderness of the world is one thing. What the true church and true believers are to have is another. The history of Christendom has been the acquiring of earthly riches, power, and status. It is a history of seeking pleasure, vanity, and ambition. This is a relationship with the world (I John 2:15-17). Does that resemble Christ? Is that what He had on the earth? Riches, power, and a name? Are we not to walk as He walked? (I John 1:6) If indeed we are suffering with Him? The proper portion of the true church in this world is hatred (John 15:18-19). The proper portion of the true church in this world is tribulation (John 16:33). The proper portion of the true church in this world is sufferings (Rom. 8:18). The only way to avoid this is to become like the world.
- In the last four churches Christ doesn’t recognize the corporate entity of Christendom and He alone knows those that are His. What I mean by this is that at that time only God can see the true body of Christ on the earth. Man no longer can see it. What the world recognizes is all of Christendom as the church. True believers try to have some vague acknowledgement of the body of Christ, but this vision is full of suppositions and judgments. Today the persecution of Christians is individual and associated with certain places in the world. It is not of the entire corporate entity as it is referenced with Smyrna.
- We have many examples in Scripture where God will use Satan or evil men as a rod of correction and chastisement for His people – the Assyrian, Nebuchadnezzar, and the Romans were all different groups or men used as a rod in judgment.
Scriptural Examples of God’s use of the devil
Let us consider the example of Job. God used Satan in this case to bring circumstances and trials into his life. By these, God teaches Job the lessons he needed to learn, and in result, to bless him. It is God who initiates the conversation with Satan and asks him, “Have you considered my servant Job…?” God knows what He is doing by drawing the devil’s attention to him. Satan is ready to act and bring trials, but by these actions God reveals the evil in Job’s heart. Self-righteousness was creeping in and Job needed to learn what he really was in the presence of God. Job would not have learned this knowledge and lesson any other way. The goodness of God does not pass over iniquity, but will show us what we are and what we have done. Professing Christianity had left her first love and God would not overlook this, even if it meant using the trials and adversities of Satan.
Look at the example of Paul. He had spiritual experiences beyond everyone else. He was even taken up into the third heaven. In the Paradise of God he is prepared for the special ministry he would have for the church. He is given a revelation of Jesus Christ in glory that formed the gospel of the glory of Christ that he preached (II Cor. 4:3-7). He was fortified by the grace of Christ residing within, which sustained him through his many trials and persecutions (II Cor. 4:7-11) and energized him in his ministry. In the heavens he received an abundance of revelations (II Cor. 12:1).
A Messenger of Satan
Now Paul was just a man. His flesh would want to exalt itself over such things. There was a real danger for Paul, because of the abundance of the revelations, to be puffed up in human pride (II Cor. 12:7). God knew this, and so He gives Paul a thorn in the flesh. God uses a messenger from Satan to buffet Paul, to keep him humble. Paul’s flesh doesn’t like this, so he inquires of the Lord three times to have the thorn removed. God would not. Paul had to learn the lesson that he was nothing and that Christ and the grace of Christ was everything. It would have to be God working in him by God’s strength, not Paul’s. So he learns to glory, not in the confidences of the flesh, but in the weakness of the flesh, so that the grace of Christ is the only strength he has to rely on (II Cor. 12:7-9).
2 Corinthians 12:10
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When Paul learned his own self, his own flesh in weakness, then Christ was the strength and power that rested upon him. God used a messenger of Satan to buffet him in order to get him to depend on Christ’s grace and strength, and not in himself.
Paul is the greatest example of the sovereign work of God in a human being. He was made by God to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands. I do not see God asking Saul for permission to do the things that He does in him. The words spoken to Ananias by the Lord at Paul’s conversion speak volumes;
“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
On the earth and in this world, Paul, the apostle of the glory of Christ, must suffer many things for the name of Jesus Christ. He was an elect vessel used by God. But in looking after this chosen instrument of His, God sees fit to give Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. Partly because of the things he suffered, his flesh and pride were humbled so that the power and grace of Christ would be upon him.
Present Sufferings, Future Glory
Paul’s walk of responsibility on the earth becomes an example for all believers to emulate (Phil 3:15-17). His example teaches valuable principles to be learned and embraced by all Christians. He would only glory in the weaknesses of the flesh – in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses (II Cor. 12:9-10). This was so the power and grace of Christ would be active in him. His thorn in the flesh taught him to glory only in the weakness of the flesh. All hisconfidences of the flesh he discards and leaves behind. The grace and power of Christ would never rest on these.
This is played out for us in the third chapter of Philippians. Paul says he cannot have any form of any of the confidences of the flesh, but these things are rubbish and dung and only fit for discarding (Phil. 3:3-9). He does this for the sole reason of gaining the knowledge and relationship of a person, Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:7-8). And he does nothing but press forward (Phil. 3:12-14). He purposely has no memory of things behind him. He has one calling, and it is upward and heavenly. This is all he knows! This is the only thing that is worth anything – “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) Paul knows how this will be accomplished by God – “…if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:11) What was always before Paul, and that which motivated him so that he always was pressing forward, was the heavenly calling, the glory, and the resurrection as the means of getting there. All his pressing forward has the singular purpose of getting to where Jesus is, in the heavens. Then we find this statement:
“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”
Knowing the power of His resurrection is the rapture of the church and the fulfillment of our heavenly calling (please see Eph. 1:18-23). But until then Paul is always pressing toward it. This is his responsibility and this is his walk while still on this earth. Not that he has already attained, or is already perfected in his walk (Phil. 3:12). This can never happen on the earth and in this flesh, but perfection can only be attained through Christ’s resurrection.
What is the believer’s portion on the earth while we press on towards the heavenly calling? Is it not the fellowship of His sufferings? Should we not, in our walk in the wilderness, exhibit a certain ‘conforming to His death’?
2 Corinthians 4:7-14
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (8) We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;(9) persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— (10) always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (11) For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (12) So then death is working in us, but life in you.
(13) And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, (14) knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.”
The Believer’s Portion
This is so similar to the teaching from Philippians. In our walk we are earthen vessels in which the grace and power of God is contained. We already have been given eternal life. However our walk in this world is not the time in which the excellency of God’s power and life will break out in open results. Notice how Paul speaks of the believer’s portion in this present time as suffering, and always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. It is so that in this same body of flesh the life of Jesus may be shown forth to the world.
We should know there is a profound difference between the life of Jesus contained in a body of mortal flesh and this same life of Jesus in a body glorified by resurrection. We have the same spirit of faith that Paul had, and so our faith, like his, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things yet to be seen (II Cor. 4:18). What are these things the believer hopes for? Well, it is glory – Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). It is the heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. It is the glorified body through resurrection or change – either way it is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe (Eph. 1:19, I Cor. 15:50-53, John 11:25-26). Isn’t this how the above passage ends? God raises us up with Jesus to be presented before Him (II Cor. 4:14). This presentation is in glory and after resurrection. To verify this understanding examine the passage that follows (II Cor. 5:1-7). It is all about resurrection, or the change that the life of Jesus will have on our mortality.
2 Corinthians 4:17
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Here is the pattern and principle for the true believer that has been repeated in the previous passages. In this time of our walk on the earth our proper portion is to endure sufferings and afflictions. The Scriptures speak of persecutions and tribulations in the world. It speaks of suffering with Christ and for Christ, and filling up the measure of His sufferings. There are the trials of our faith and withstanding the wiles of the devil, quenching all his fiery darts. At this time we are to carry about in the body the dying of the Lord (II Cor. 4:10), being conformed to His death – the practical results and reality of that aspect of our redemption in Christ known as deliverance (Rom. 6:1-11). This allows the life of Jesus to be displayed in our walk of faith. The believer’s portion now is to glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope (Rom. 5:3-4). After this it will be the exceeding and eternal weight of glory. The believer’s hopes are sure and steadfast, and have entered in behind the veil (Heb. 6:19). They are based upon a God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:17-18). Therefore, we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2), while we presently endure sufferings (I Peter 4:13, 5:10). This is the pattern and principle; this is the believer’s portion.
The Trying of the Faith
It may be strange to contemplate, especially in the light of contemporary Christian teaching, that God would use Satan as an instrument of trial for the saints and the church. He does so without interfering or delivering. Christ will not prevent the believer from suffering. It is our portion on the earth. We must make up our minds to accept this in our walk. The Son of Man says to Smyrna, “Do not fear any of those things you are about to suffer. Indeed the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested…” God could have stepped in and stopped this, however the trial was necessary. Ephesus had fallen. In the wisdom of God, Smyrna would be placed in persecution and tribulation to learn to be more dependent on Christ. There was still the possibility of the professing church returning to her first position.
Let us look at Peter’s example. The Lord says to him, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you…” He does not pray to stop Satan from testing Peter, for God knew that Peter needed to be sifted. Peter had a great confidence in the flesh (Luke 22:33, Matt. 26:33). He could not believe he was capable of denying he knew the Lord three times. But the Lord had prayed for him that he would be sustained after his betrayal, and that his faith should not fail. Peter’s heart had a hold on the Lord, but his confidence in himself often got in his way. God allowed Satan to sift him, but it proved a blessing to Peter, and by it God used him to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:31-34). When confidence in self was broken down, Peter could be effective in God’s grace. Peter eventually wrote:
1 Peter 1:6-7
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The World becomes an Attraction
When the professing church was walking in its first love, she had no desire for the world. But later on, other objects of attraction begin to hold power over the professing church, and Christ was no longer the center. The intentions of the heart no longer had Christ as their sole motivation, but she began to align with the course of this world. The flesh rose up and became interested in the evil world around it. She had to be put in tribulation. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but you are rich.” She was placed in the furnace of trials to keep her from joining to the world.
When the church is poor and insignificant, her spiritual reality is that she is rich beyond compare. In this state she is heavenly minded and has laid up divine treasures there. She is not to be resting in a false ease and pleasure in the world. She is not to be enticed by the allurements and trappings of the world. God would allow her to find sorrow in trials and persecutions. In poverty and weakness she would be dependent on Christ alone, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Cor. 12:9)
The professing church has been left in this world and on this earth. She was not left here to build a habitation and dwelling place for herself and become a dweller of the earth. She is on a walk in the wilderness of this world, and is a pilgrim and stranger here. She should be a strange thing to the world and the world should be a strange place to her. However, what we will find as we progress through the seven prophetic messages is how the professing church is increasingly enticed into relationship and union with the world. In Ephesus, the professing church had left Christ, its first love. She embarked on a course toward the world. Her responsibility was to be God’s shining light to the darkness of the world while she was here. As she becomes worldly over time, the light of the candlestick is diminished. She will no longer hold this position as the witness of God on the earth. In the time of Laodicea in the end, the character of Christ is that He alone is the Faithful and True Witness (Rev. 3:14). What Christendom should have been in witness and testimony all along, Christ takes back from her. The candlestick is removed (Rev. 3:16).
The Character of Christ for Smyrna
The character of Christ for the church world in this time of persecution is not only His divinity, but also as the One ‘who was dead and came to life’. His character presented applies to the circumstances found at that time in the professing church. There would be much martyrdom at this time, and His character and His words encourage them, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:8) All our blessings and privileges are with Christ, and He is not to be found in this world. He is not of this world. He is the Son of Man glorified to the right hand of God, and our relationships and life are only found there.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. (2) Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (3) For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
As believers, we cannot be looking to the world. You will soon be part of the world when you do. You will have left your first love, and you will not be looking at Christ. Christ is above, sitting at the right hand of God. Our mind must be set on things above. Christ is there. Our life is there. Our relationships are there. Our citizenship is there. Our inheritance and Christian hopes are there. Our God and Father is there. So then the Spirit tells us:
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (21) who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”
Where we are to look – at Christ at the right hand of God – is from where He will come for us. He will conform these lowly bodies of ours to be like Him, conformed into the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29-30). Then He will take us into the heavens.
The persecution and tribulation allowed in Smyrna was to stop the professing church from being conformed to the world. Not only should we not cleave to the world, but we should not allow the world to cleave to us. There is always a pressure that the world exerts from without, to conform the believer into its image (Rom. 12:1-2). Often it is not a conscious decision the believer makes, but rather innocently, or by resting and letting our guard down. We start enjoying the world, its comforts and interests, and try to justify our actions. It is easy to rationalize the things we do in our own eyes, but God knows the motive and intentions of the heart. God knows the truth, even if we hide it from ourselves or make excuses.
The Judaizing of the Christian Faith
There was also an increasing danger from the Judaizers to the professing church at this time. They are also known in Scripture as the Concision. In the message to Smyrna these are ‘those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Rev. 2:9)
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
The Judaizing of the Christian faith is done by mixing Judaism with Christianity. The Lord Jesus identifies this as a religious work of the devil – a synagogue of Satan. The entire book of Galatians is written by the Spirit of God to combat this evil. We also find many other passages of direct warning (Col. 2, Phil. 3). It is this leaven of false doctrine that has also morphed into Arminianism. The two are the same, for they are both religion based on what man can do. It is the doctrine of human effort, human works, and human accomplishment, to one degree or another. It is humanism – man at the center. It results in human pride and boasting and self-righteousness (Phil. 3:9), always robbing glory from God. It is not God’s work, but man’s.
Judaism – the Beggarly Elements of the World
The religion God gave to man in Adam is Judaism. It is the religion of man in the flesh, of man in Adam. It is not the religion of the second Adam – Jesus Christ. Judaism is the religion of the earth and of the world. It is a walk by sight and physical senses, and all about the confidences of the flesh (Phil. 3:3-9). “For the Jews request a sign…” (I Cor. 1:22). Judaism is not of faith (Gal. 3:12), and is not a walk of faith (II Cor. 5:7). It is concerned with foods and drinks, various external washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed (Heb. 9:10). Judaism is not according to Christ, but rather according to the traditions of men, the rudimentary principles of the world (Col. 2:8). Judaism is the handwriting of requirements that no one could profit from, now nailed to the cross of Christ (Col. 2:14).
The believer who allows his faith to be Judaized is simply not holding fast to the Head, who is Christ (Col. 2:19). He is inviting something to stand between himself and the Lord, and is entering into worldly bondage.
“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you…”
The Bondage of Judaism
The weak and beggarly elements spoken of are Judaism. These elements of the world produce bondage and slavery (Gal. 4:3). The schoolmaster was the law (Gal. 3:24), under whose tutelage the Jews were always slaves (Gal. 4:1-3). The Galatians were being enticed by Judaizers to become circumcised, keep feast days and sabbaths, and observe fleshly ordinances. This would be a turning again to the weak and beggarly elements of the worldly religion of Judaism. It would be a desire to be in bondage.
The law, the covenant from Mount Sinai, gives birth to bondage (Gal. 4:24). The Jerusalem that was then, in the time of Paul, was in bondage with her children, the Jews (Gal. 4:25). The language concerning these things couldn’t be any more direct and clear. So then the Spirit says:
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
The conclusion is obvious. Judaism brings bondage and slavery. Jesus Christ brings liberty. It is a freedom from the slavery of Judaism. The law is the yoke of bondage that believers are not to be entangled with. It was the schoolmaster that had its end when the promised Seed arrived (Gal. 3:19, 24-25, John 1:17). As a Christian, if you hold on to one observance of Judaism, you are a debtor to keep the whole law (Gal. 5:3). You are estranged from Christ and are falling from grace (Gal. 5:4). Why else would God remove Judaism and bring in Christianity? What other reason is there for His destruction of Jerusalem and its temple other than to end the practice of Judaism and to make Israel desolate? So then the Spirit warns again:
(20) “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— (21) “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”(22) which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? (23) These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
Judaism is of no value against the flesh. The law prohibited the flesh by many rules and commands. However, it never gave the individual any power to stop the flesh from acting out. Rather Judaism, the law, empowered the principle of sin in the flesh of man to act out all the more (II Cor. 15:56, Rom. 5:20, 7:7-13).
The believer has died with Christ from the basic principles of the world. In marriage we know the relationship continues until ‘by death do you part’. If you died then you no longer have a relationship with the world. The relationship continued until you died with Christ. To take up Judaism is to take up a relationship with the world again, because it is God’s religion of the world (Rom. 7:1-6). If you died with Christ, you are not of the world as He is not of the world. Then why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to the regulations of Judaism? The God intended understanding here is,“Then why, as though alive in the world…” – for the believer has actually died to the world with Christ. You cannot be alive to something when you are dead to it already. This is redemptive truth of precious value. But the improper relationship and its results spoken of in the above passage are both the Judaizing of your Christian faith and the joining again with worldly religion.
The Evil Doctrine grows and spreads
This problem was an incipient evil in the church in Paul’s time. In the time represented by Smyrna Judaizing had grown more widespread in the professing church. By the time Christendom progresses to the end of the age, the leaven will have saturated all of Christian teaching (Matt. 13:33). We notice that it is a subject brought up again by the Lord in a later message (Rev. 3:9). With this false doctrine so prominent in the professing church world, it may serve us well to list some of its salient characteristics and features.
- Judaizing occurs when you muddle the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity. These are two separate religions. It is true that both are from God, but one was given to man in Adam, the other was given to man in the second Adam. God’s intended purpose for Judaism was to test man in the flesh under the principle of human responsibility. This testing resulted in judgment and condemnation for man in Adam (II Cor. 3:7, 9). When this testing was complete, there was no longer a purpose for Judaism (Gal. 3:19, 23-24). God’s purpose in Christianity is to give eternal life in sovereign grace (John 17:1-3) and to bring man, in the second Adam, into the glory of God (Rom. 3:23-26).
- Judaizing occurs when you confuse or merge the clear distinctions between Israel and the church. Israel is related to Judaism. The church is related to Christianity. The promises to Israel are not the promises to the body of Christ. The teaching and instruction of Israel is not to be confounded with the epistles to the church. Messiah, the King of Israel, is a prophetic promise to Israel. Messiah is a descendent of David, Judah, and Abraham according to the flesh. The church exists in union with Jesus Christ glorified, the Son of Man at the right hand of God. This last, for the church, is not a Christ known after the flesh (II Cor. 5:16-17).
- Judaizing occurs when the two distinct callings of Israel and the church are confused or merged. Israel has a definite earthly calling, while the church has an equally distinct heavenly calling. Israel saved and restored in the land will be the center of the government of God in the kingdom of the Son of Man over the earth in the end. The church is seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus in the kingdom of our Father in the heavens. Israel will be blessed with every physical blessing on the earth. The church is blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3).
- Judaizing occurs when the principle of the law (human responsibility) is confused and mixed with the principle of sovereign grace. Biblically, these two principles are diametrically opposed and are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Suffice it to say that grace is of faith, but the law is not of faith (Gal. 3:12). Therefore the law is not of grace. The Judaizing and Arminian doctrines create a middle ground between the two principles, a mixture of grace and some level of human effort, whatever that may be. In this false system, the grace of God always becomes a response to some type of human effort or quality, a wage that God must pay because of what He saw, or sees, or will see in the man (Rom. 11:34-36, 4:1-5).
This middle ground simply does not exist. It is a creation of the human mind and thoughts. Man reasons as to what he thinks the system ought to be. He creates one in which there must be human effort, so there is a basis of boasting and receiving glory (Rom. 4:1-2). This smacks of humanism. In his reasoning, if he cannot put his finger on human effort, he points to intrinsic human value and quality as the reason God gives grace. But it remains the same evil system. This cannot be a definition of His grace. The source and cause of grace given is always from the inherent attributes of God Himself, not anything ever found in man. Grace does as it pleases in goodness, and is a reflection of the nature of Him who acts in grace. That is why any grace is always sovereign grace by definition. The middle ground does not exist!
The Arminian and Judaizing leavens are great evils readily accepted in Christian teaching in the professing church today. We have to remember that Paul said to Timothy that the professing church will not endure sound doctrine (II Tim. 4:3-4). It is false doctrine, and is an evil that will not go away. It will be part of the kingdom of heaven until the end of the age. It is the leaven that saturates the three lumps and characterizes the failure of the dispensation.
When Jesus Christ sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, the work of redemption that saves and redeems us was completed and finalized. Please see this: Any teaching requires anything else, that adds something of men to complete the work, denies the perfection of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. God has accepted the work of Christ and He will not have anything else added to it. This is verified by God raising Christ up from death. God has placed His approval and acceptance on Christ’s work by resurrection. Christ has entered the holy of holies in the heavens with His blood. God simply will have nothing else but the death and blood of Christ (Heb. 9:12, 23-26).
The First and Second Deaths
The true church in Smyrna is promised they will not be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:11). I can’t help but think that this is still related to the tribulations and martyrdom at this time. The true Christian will not be touched by the second death, which is eternal judgment and condemnation (John 5:24). The first death is still a present judgment brought in by Adam’s disobedience. It is both the power of Satan and part of the judgment of God. It was God who told Adam, “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” But Christ, through death, has destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14). This is verified by His resurrection from the dead. In the rapture, the church will experience this previously accomplished victory over the first death. The power of God to achieve this sovereign work on behalf of the church was already demonstrated in the raising of Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19-21).
But the rapture is not yet, though it is our blessed hope and constant expectation. Now the question is asked, particularly in the time of Smyrna – are Christ and His promises of future blessing and glory worth giving up all for? Even one’s own life? “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
2 Timothy 1:12
“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
Historical Note: The amount of Satan’s persecution of professing Christianity was allowed, but indeed measured by God – “…you will have tribulation ten days.” (Rev. 2:10) This may directly refer to the ten years of severe persecution of the church under the emperor Diocletian (303-313 AD). The signing of the ‘Edict of Milan’ by Constantine and Licinius in 313 seems to bring an end to the generalized persecution of the professing church, and the time of Smyrna.
Chapter 7: Endnotes
 Christendom has sought rest in the wilderness of the world. When Israel first came from Sinai to the land, God swore that many of them would not enter His rest because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:15-19). One lesson to take from this is that being in the wilderness should not be mistaken for the rest of God. But Christendom has made this mistake and seeks rest in the wilderness of the world. God does the same thing with the professing church as Israel in the wilderness. He swears in His wrath that the tares of Christendom will not enter into His rest. Their corpses will fall in the wilderness and will not enter into the glory of God (Heb. 3:17, 4:1, 3, 6, 9-11, and Matt. 13:30). It is the flesh that seeks rest in the world.
 There are many ministers today that attempt to call out to the body of Christ to do certain things that they feel are the will of God. This is especially done in America, in the attempt to rally the troops to win and save a country that is progressing in the way of this world and age (Gal. 1:4). In this thinking there is a violation of a number of biblical principles and understandings. But let us consider the one under question here. How can you look and where do you look in America to see the true corporate body of Christ in order to address it? What I see is the spoiled crop in the field and what it has become under the responsibility and efforts of men. What we see is what the kingdom of heaven is like at this time. It is, in reality, wheat and tares mixed together as the corporate body of Christendom on the earth. It is the work of God and the work of the evil one. Don’t you think that this similitude applies to Christendom in America? Only American arrogance would say that it doesn’t. Only God truly knows that which is His – this is the solid foundation of God that stands (II Tim. 2:19).
In the seven messages to the churches there is a point in the progression in which the Son of Man stops acknowledging the corporate entity of Christendom. Do we think we have the ability to see and acknowledge the corporate body of Christ in America? Even the phrase ‘the body of Christ in America’ is often not correctly thought of in a proper biblical understanding. The true body of Christ is universal and always will be; “There is one body and one Spirit…” (Eph. 4:4) There are no nations in Christ (Gal. 3:27-29, Col. 3:10-11, I Cor. 12:12-13). All the earthly attachments and connections of man to the earth and the first creation have been removed and abolished in Christ and His body, the church. This is true of all earthly associations, even the abolishing of the earthly religion of Judaism (Eph. 2:13-16). There is no America in the body of Christ! The citizenship of the entire body is elsewhere (Phil. 3:20). The church is a corporate body with a pure heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). It is not of this earth and not of this world, and never will be. Also Christianity is a heavenly religion in contrast to Judaism, because it carries the heavenly calling of the church/believer.
In the history of Christendom there are many instances of Christianity being nationalized. It was even the religion of the Roman Empire after Constantine. But professing Christianity is always the spoiled crop in the field of the world. The nationalizing of the religion afforded greater opportunities for the entrance of evil and the world, and promoted the spoiling of the crop to even greater lengths. Man was responsible for this, not God.
In the time of Smyrna, God was using persecutions and trials as the testing of the faith of the church (Jam. 1:2-4, I Pet. 1:6-7). This testing would purify the true church and have her again dependent on Christ to sustain her. The tribulations of this time actually made the true church stronger and healthier, even though in appearance to the world it looked poor and despised. The persecutions and martyrdom by the Roman Empire did not exterminate Christianity as they desired, but caused it to spread and become stronger.
When the empire was Christianized, for the most part it stopped the generalized persecution. This afforded a great opportunity for the world to enter into professing Christianity. It also motivated the church world to become interested in gaining and holding civil power. It also paved the way for Satan to bring false teachings and doctrine into the church. The contrast between Smyrna and the next church is obvious. In the time of Smyrna, Satan persecutes from without. In the time of Pergamos, Satan corrupts from within. There is no doubt the devil found a better way. If he can corrupt the church world from within and make it worldly, he does not need to expend so much energy in external persecutions by the world, especially if that wasn’t producing his desired results.
As a nation, America goes the way of this evil age and there is really no stopping this. America is always the world from a biblical perspective. I can’t fathom how any true believer, holding to the scripture for all his thoughts, could view America any differently than this. Then we have, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” What is identified as ‘of the world’ can also easily be said to be ‘of America’? It is the same. America is part of the world and goes the way of the world and this evil age.
Jesus gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). The believer/church delivered from this evil world or age is quite a different idea than the believer/church Christianizing the world or age, turning it from evil to righteousness. One of these two thoughts is biblical truth and comes out of Scripture. The other thought is all Arminian pretention and folly, and the misuse of Scripture, if it is attempted to support such a thought.
 We must make up our minds to suffer – I’m sure many ministers would have a problem with this statement. But it simply is true that it is the true believer’s portion while here on this earth. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18) Sufferings are our share in this present time.
Are you to reign in life as a king on this earth at this present time, through Jesus Christ? Reigning as a king in this present life would not include suffering, because kings do not suffer. As I previously said, that type of understanding of Romans 5:17 couldn’t be farther from the truth. Jesus did not reign as a king in His life here on the earth. The Jews rejected Him as their King. The true believer is to walk as He walked (I John 2:6). Jesus walked as a servant. He said that in the kingdom of heaven the greatest would have to be the servant of all (Luke 22:25-27) He was among them as One who serves.
The believer will not reign in life as a king on this earth. You will have to wait for the time when Christ will get up off His Father’s throne and take up His power and return to this earth and exercise dominion over it. Then you will be a king and priest in the heavens unto His God and Father (Rev. 1:6). But this is in glory and not of this present time (Rom. 8:18). The believer will reign in ‘eternal life’ in glory – that is the meaning of Romans 5:17.
When we look at the promises to be given to the overcomers in the seven prophetic messages to the seven churches, every one of them can only be found in glory. What does that teach us? Every proper Christian hope is beyond this present time we spend on earth. All Christian hopes are in glory, and are not to be found in this world. That is truly why ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’. It is why the true believer walks by faith. And it is not faith that makes it happen now, where we see it now. It is not grace enabling us to reign as kings now in this life. The things that God has promised to us we have to wait for. But the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed…
All the Christian’s hopes are in glory because all the promises are the sovereign work of God, and according to His timing in His counsels. They are all after the rapture of the church, which will be the greatest demonstration of the sovereign power and work of God. But the professing church world doesn’t want to wait for Christian hopes. The masses in Christendom want it now. So the Arminian leaven devises a way to bring the blessings in, as a present reality. By human efforts and human accomplishment, through exercising great faith or great understandings of grace, we teach that God wants you to have these things now, that God wants you to be satisfied now, and wants you to reign as a king now. The prosperity message is about having treasure in the world, not laying it up in heaven.
The true believer has been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). It is our God and Father who has done this. But this will not do for the majority of Christendom. We cannot put our hands on spiritual blessings. We cannot fathom what that even means. We do not understand heavenly places in Christ. We want earthly places and earthly blessings. And some land might be good as well. These things are the things we can see. These things we can touch and handle. The earthly things are the things that possess our emotions and comforts. We desire them now. So our faith and teaching becomes Judaized. By it we relinquish heavenly places in Christ Jesus and spiritual blessings. We forfeit heavenly citizenship, heavenly inheritance, and the heavenly calling. We exchange it for physical and earthly blessings, and a decidedly earthly calling. We forsake our proper heavenly position and are brought down low to the earth. We follow after things on the earth and the cares of life and the world. And you think we haven’t lost our first love and fallen? Worse! The time of Ephesus has long past. Presently Christendom is committing fornication with the world.
There are some very simple but valuable Christian truths presented in the above paragraphs. When they are accepted and understood, they cut up by the roots the whole system of misguided thoughts, feelings, and judgments that so overwhelms contemporary Christian teachings and doctrine.
Here is another one of those simple truths. In the time of Ephesus the church had fallen (Rev. 2:5). They were the Lord’s own words to the professing church. As soon as the church has fallen, it no longer is a secure place for the individual believer. I say secure in the sense of the fallen church remaining an authority and guide in faith and practice. From this point on the individual is guided by the Word of God itself, taught to him by the Holy Spirit. The individual believer has to make good his own security by the Word. That is why the individual is singled out from the first message on – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”The fallen church may have this right or that right, but it no longer is an authority. If you think about it, the church never was.