Posts Tagged ‘persecution’

I have been sharing with you off and on, some stories of real Christians who lived after Bible times who exemplify faithfulness to Jesus, to encourage us and to challenge us to be faithful in our own life situations. Today I am sharing with you about a married couple who faithfully served the Lord – it’s the story of Michael and Margaretha Sattler.

Their story takes place in Europe in the early 1500’s. During their lives the Protestant reformation began and many Christians were seeking to follow Jesus in ways that went beyond what they had been taught.

Let’s begin with –

Michael and Margaretha’s background

Not much is known of Michael’s early life. He was born in Staufen, Germany, just south of Freiburg.

Sattler map

At some point Michael entered St. Peter’s Benedictine monastery.

st peter's'

St. Peter’s

He attained the status of Prior in the monastery, which made him second-in-charge. He was thus considered a part of the upper class of his day; a “lord.” He had status and respect.

From what we know, he was a serious and devout monk who took part in a spiritual renewal at his monastery (the inter-Benedictine Bursfeld reformation). He might have even been in charge of this.

Even less is known about Margaretha. She is said to have been a Beguine, a semi-monastic group of women who worked with the poor. She was described by one person as “a refined and comely (pretty) little woman.” (p. 80)

Some key transitions

In mid-1525 Michael left the monastery. It had been captured by Protestant-ish  peasant revolutionaries, some of whom were Anabaptists, that is, people who rejected infant baptism. They were demanding economic justice from their lords for over-taxation and oppression and were doing so on the basis of a call to live by what the Scriptures teach. It’s possible that Sattler, as Prior, was the one these revolutionaries presented their claims to. He must have become a sympathizer to their cause, because after leaving the monastery, he shows up again in the Waldshut area, where many of these revolutionaries came from.

Sometime between May 1525 and May 1526 he and Margaretha were married. We don’t know how they met, but she may have already been a part of an Anabaptist group.He learned the trade of weaving to support them in their new life together.

In November of 1525 he attended the famous infant baptism disputation in Zurich (November 6-8). He most likely went simply to hear the arguments on this topic. He was eventually arrested by the Protestant Zurich authorities who opposed Anabaptists. They perhaps knew that he was sympathetic to them. He was released on November 18th after he swore to leave the region.

By June 1526 he was baptized as a believer, instead of simply being infant baptized.

Michael’s ministry

 Sattler ministry map

Not long after his baptism he began a ministry of evangelizing in the area north of Zurich.

Then in late 1526 he spent time in Strasbourg. He met with various Anabaptist groups and also with the local Protestant reformers there (Capito and Bucer). Protestants at this time despised Anabaptists because of their views, and because most were uneducated and unsophisticated. Michael, however was on their social level and they came to respect him. He called on them to release the Anabaptists they had imprisoned.

Next he went to Lahr, north of Freiburg, to evangelize (January-February 1527).

Then he went to Schleitheim for an important meeting, and then he went to Horb to be the pastor of the Anabaptist congregation there.



The Schleitheim meeting – February 24, 1527

Because of disagreements among the Swiss brethren Anabaptists and because so many of the early leaders were dead, (the average lifespan of a leader was two years because of fierce persecution) they met together secretly in the village of Schleitheim.



Sattler book

Book containing an early copy of the Schleitheim confession

Michael gave leadership to this important meeting. He wrote the Confession of faith that summarized what these Anabaptists had come to an agreement on relating to baptism, church discipline, the Lord’s Supper, separation from the world, calling pastors, loving enemies, and swearing oaths.

This document, the Schleitheim confession, has had enormous influence on Anabaptists and Mennonite even to this day, as well as other Baptist groups.

After the meeting Sattler was active in the town of Horb giving leadership to an Anabaptist congregation there.

Arrest, trial and death

In March 1527 Michael and Margaretha were arrested in Horb just a short time after the Schleitheim meeting, along with some others. They were moved to Binsdorf to the prison tower. Here Michael wrote a letter to his congregation that was  shaken and afraid of persecution – reminding them to be faithful and not give up.

The trial took place in Rottenburg on May 17-18. They were charged with holding various Anabaptist ideas: For instance that only believers who choose faith for themselves should be baptized; the Lord’s supper is a symbolic meal shared among believers; and not resisting evildoer or swearing oaths as Jesus taught in Matthew 5.

Michael spoke for all the prisoners. He appealed to the Scriptures. He invited teachers to come and said, “If they show us with Holy Scripture that we are in error and wrong, we will gladly retract and recant . . .. But if we cannot be proved in error, I hope to God that you will repent and let yourselves be taught.” (p. 73) The prosecutor responded – “the hangman will dispute with you.” (p. 73)

Rottenburg square

Town square of Rottenburg

When some in the crowed jeered him and asked why he didn’t remain a lord in the monastery, he said, “According to the flesh I would be a lord, but it is better as it is.” (p. 74)

The sentence was given – “Michael Sattler should be given into the hands of the hangman, who shall lead him to the square and then cut off his tongue; then chain him to a wagon, there tear his body twice with red hot tongs; and again when he is brought before the gate, five more times.” (p. 75) After this torture, he was burned alive at the stake on May 20th.

Others among the group recanted. But Margaretha remained steadfast and was drowned in the Neckar river two days later, refusing to recant or even to receive a pardon from a powerful woman.

Neckar river

The Neckar river

Sattler memorial

This a memorial stone in memory of their lives just outside Rottenburg. It says, “they died for their faith.”

They had only been married for, at most, two years, maybe just one. He was a leader and pastor for less than a year.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

– from their lives.

1. They lived their lives by the simple words and example of Jesus.

In Matthew 28:20 Jesus said to the apostles “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” They sought to be true to this word of Jesus to observe all that he had commanded them.

  • they had a ministry of preaching the gospel and evangelizing, as Jesus commanded. Even though this could get you killed in their day.
  • they helped build and lead a church made up of believers, as Jesus commanded. And they did this even though this could get you killed in their day.
  • and they loved their enemies as Jesus commanded, even though they were trying to kill them, and eventually did.

They didn’t listen to fancy explanations about how Jesus didn’t really mean what he said; explanations that were given to make people’s lives easier in this world. They were focused on the world to come.

At their trial they asked to be shown from the Scriptures where they were wrong in all this.  The Scriptures guided their lives.

Do you live by the simple words and example of Jesus? Even when it makes you stand out or not fit in?

2. They took up their cross and followed Jesus.

In Mark 8:34 Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” They gave up everything to follow Jesus.

He gave up his status as a lord. They gave up their comfortable lives to serve Jesus; to be in constant danger, on the run and in hiding. They gave up their life together as a married couple. They could have gone off and hid and lived long lives. But they felt compelled to serve Jesus and teach his way.

What have you given up to follow Jesus? How have you denied yourself? How have you sacrificed and accepted suffering to follow him?

3. They faithfully bore witness before hostile authorities.

In Luke 21:12-13 Jesus said, “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.”

Much effort was put into getting them to recant, and many who were with them did. But they remained faithful. They saw their imprisonment as an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus with their words and with their blood.

How are you bearing witness for Jesus? Are you doing this in your much easier circumstances of life? If they can do this while suffering death, can we be more bold when the most that will happen to us is that people will make fun of us?

(I am indebted to The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler, by Arnold Snyder; Quotes come from The Legacy of Michael Sattler, by John H. Yoder)

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This morning we are looking at another story of faithfulness, in this case, the life an ancient believer whose life and faith I believe should be an encouragement to us in our Christian lives. Justin is his name, and he illustrates for us some specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus which I will highlight at the end.

Some basics on Justin

He was born near Shechem, Samaria around 100 AD (A1-1) so he is a very early Christian. He was born just 30 years after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and around 70 years after Jesus had his conversation with the Samaritan woman not far from Shechem.

He was not a Samaritan, or a Jew however (D – 28). He was born to a pagan family (A1-1) so he had no Christian influence growing up.

As a young man he gave himself to the study of Philosophy, going through several different schools of thought seeking after a knowledge of God. (D-2)

Justin’s conversion

Around 130 AD he had a conversation that changed his life. He most likely lived in Ephesus at this time. And as was his custom, when he wanted to get away to think, he went to a field by the sea where he could be alone.

But this time he met an old man there who challenged him to rethink his search after God.After pointing out several shortcomings in his thinking he led him to the Hebrew prophets as reliable teachers about God and his Son, the Christ. These were those who didn’t just think about God, but saw and knew God. And the man admonished him to pray that God would open his heart and mind to receive the truth of God. (D-7)

As Justin testified, “a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those people who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and while revolving his word in my mind – I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.” (D-8). He had been prepared for this encounter beforehand by seeing and admiring the courage of Christians as they faced death in times of persecution (A2-12)

Justin’s ministry

Justin MartyrHe continued on in the role of a philosopher, complete with dressing in the traditional cloak (tribon) of a philosopher (D–1); but as a Christian who encouraged the study and practice of the teachings of Jesus (D-8). He was a scholar and a teacher.

And he used this role as an opportunity to share the gospel with others. An example of this comes from his Dialogue with Trypho,who was a Jewish philosopher. He he wrote an account of and it can still be read. As he said to Trypho early on in this conversation, “If then you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God . . . you may become acquainted with the Christ of God (through the Scriptures), and, after being initiated live a happy life.” (D-8)

Later he moved to Rome and started a school. While he was in Rome he wrote two defenses of the Christian faith. One was written to Emperor Antonius Pius, the other to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These can also still be read. In these he stood up for believers who were being persecuted and killed for their faith, often based on rumors and baseless objections to Christianity.

Here’s an example – many thought Christians had no morals. For instance, since Christians celebrated a love feast (the Lord’s supper), called each other brother and sister and met in private for this – they thought they were promiscuous or even incestuous. (A1-29). So Justin repeatedly emphasized the values and morals that Christians believed and practiced. In one passage he says, “we who formerly delighted in sexual immorality – now embrace sexual purity alone . . .”

He goes on, “we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring back what we have into a common fund and give to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account  of their different culture would not live with people of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ live in relationship with them and pray for our enemies . . .” (A1-14)

Christians were also despised as atheists because they did not worship the gods or offer sacrifices to them. Justin explains, “what sober minded person then will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe and declaring . . . that he has no need” of sacrifices. (A1-13).

This brings us to –

Justin’s death

Although it was illegal to be a Christian at this time, the Roman government didn’t usually seek Christians out to persecute them. If, however, they were exposed by others and didn’t recant they would be condemned. So, if you had a neighbor who didn’t like you; or a business competitor that wanted to get rid of you; or an enemy that wanted you dead – all they had to do was accuse you of being a Christian to the government. And once the charge was made persecution and often death followed.

Well he had enemies. One was a philosopher named Crescens. He and Justin had held public debates before about Christianity. As Justin said at one point, “I . . . expect to be plotted against and crucified . . . perhaps by Crescens . . ..” (A2-3). Tatian, a student of Justin, said that Crescens had indeed sought to kill them both at one point (Address to the Greeks). Whether it was Crescens or someone else, eventually he was arrested along with several of his students, including a woman named Charito.

At the trial the Roman Prefect demanded that Justin offer up a sacrifice to the gods. He asked, “Are you not then a Christian?” Justin answered, “Yes, I am a Christian.” The Prefect, contemplating Justin’s death asked, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.”

The Prefect demanded that they all offer sacrifices to the gods. Justin said, “No right minded person falls away from true belief to false.” The others said, “Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols.”

The Prefect announced the sentence, they were to be scourged and then beheaded. Justin, and the others, remained faithful and were killed for their faith. Later, a group of Christians secretly obtained their bodies and gave them a proper burial.

This happened in 165 AD, so Justin was around 65 years old. This is also how Justin came by the name that he now bears – Justin “Martyr.” He was a true witness to Jesus, which is what the word martyr actually means, in his case, he was a witness even unto death.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

 1. He was a faithful teacher and wise man. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:34 – “I send you (that is unbelieving Jews) prophets and wise men and scribes . . .” (although he was sent to the Gentiles primarily)

And just as the parable of the talents teaches us in Mathew 25:14-30 we have all been given tasks to do for God as we serve him in our earthly lives. What ministry has God called you to and how is it going? Justin was faithful to his calling in a time when being faithful was dangerous. Are you faithful to your task in our time?

2. He bore witness before the authorities. Jesus said in Luke 21:12-15 – “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to witness. . . . I will give you  a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”

He argued effectively in writing and in person in debates and conversations and when he was on trial before the Roman Prefect. We are called to bear witness before others as well, even if they are less intense situations. But God will also be with us as we speak to give us wisdom. Do you have the courage to speak out and trust God for the right words?

3. Justin confessed Christ under persecution. Jesus said in Matthew 10:32 – “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

Justin confessed Christ when he life was on the line and died for it. And so we can be sure that he did and will receive a blessing from God, even as he said in faith that he would before the Prefect. Do we identify with Jesus and confess him in front of others? Or are we ashamed of him and hide our faith because it is a socially awkward situation or because it might affect our social standing or reputation? Don’t think that you can be ashamed of Jesus in these “little” ways and that when more serious persecution comes and your life is on the line that you will suddenly confess Jesus. All these lesser situations are practice for the more serious. It is those who are trained to identify with Jesus in everyday life who will confess him with boldness when their lives are on the line.

A1 = First Apology

A2 = Second Apology

D = Dialogue with Trypho

The other numbers refer to the sections of each work.


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I have started sharing with you the stories of faithful Christians from time to time, people who lived after the time of the Bible. I am doing this to point out that we can be radical followers of Jesus in whatever context we find ourselves in, not just in Bible times. And I am doing this to encourage us to live more radical, faithful lives as Christians. And to that end, in each case, I want to highlight how their lives embody specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus from the Scriptures.

So far we have looked at Perpetua, who lived in Carthage, North Africa in the 200’s; Felix Mantz, who lived in Zurich, Switzerland in the 1500’s; and today we look at a man named –


He was from Lyon France and lived  from around 1140-1206.  This is a statue of Waldo, in Worms Germany. Of course, no one knows what he actually looked like.


Much about Waldo’s story is shrouded in mystery, coming from his enemies or from later legends about him. I will try to give you some basics.

1. His name was Valdesius, which is Latin, but has come into English, whether correctly or not, as Waldo.

He is usually called Peter Waldo, but it is not at all clear that his name was Peter. All we know for sure is his Latin name Valdesius which he signed in one instance. His name in the local language was probably Vaudes. We’ll call him Waldo.

2. He was a wealthy merchant. The merchant class was emerging at this time and gaining social and economic power, and Lyon was a real commercial center. It is possible that he handled the investments for the archbishopric, which was suspected of charging interest on the poor. If true, he was involved in oppressing the poor to make himself rich.

In terms of real estate he is said to have owned “ponds, groves and fields, houses, rents, vineyards, mills, and fishing rights.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html This doesn’t include his bank account. He had some serious wealth in a time when most were dirt poor.

3. He gave up his wealth to preach the gospel. He was already concerned for his soul regarding his wealth, and then he heard the story of the rich young ruler and how Jesus called him to give up all his wealth and to come follow him. And he was disturbed that Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:24). (Which, by the way, doesn’t refer to a small gate in the wall of Jerusalem).

Waldo heard in all this Jesus calling him to give up all his wealth so that he could preach the gospel, and this is what he did.

Regarding his preaching, one source gives this account of what sounds like his first public pronouncement.

He cried, “No man can serve two masters, God and mammon.” Then his fellow-citizens ran up, thinking he had lost his mind. But going on to a higher place, he said. “My fellow-citizens and friends, I am not insane, as you think, but I am avenging myself on my enemies, who made me a slave, so that I was always more careful of money than of God, and served the creature rather than the Creator.

I know that many will blame me that I act thus openly. But I do it both on my own account and on yours; on my own, so that those who see me henceforth possessing any money may say that I am mad, and on yours, that you may learn to place hope in God and not in riches.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html

He also criticized the church’s accumulated wealth and how many of its officials lived in luxury.

4. He had portions of Scripture translated so that people could hear and understand them. It’s not clear when this happened, but he hired two clergy to do this. This book was called the Sententiae and apparently focused especially on the Gospels. (There were also other portions of Scripture and some sayings of the church fathers as well.)

You have to understand that Scripture was in Latin, which the common person didn’t know. So people were completely dependent on what the church taught them.He brought the Scriptures into the common person’s language so that they could hear them for themselves. He is said to have memorized this book.

5. A movement began – the poor of Lyon, or the poor of Christ. People responded to his preaching. A number gathered around him and also gave up their wealth and began to preach. This would have been around 1170-1175.

They would go out two by two, as in the Gospels. They would share from the Scriptures and call people to repentance. Both men and women went out to preach. They lived off of the support of those who heard and received their message.

As one enemy wrote, they “went from village to village, going into people’s homes and preaching in public squares and even in churches . . .” (Bernard Gui). But this was a real problem because only trained clergy were allowed to preach, and then only under the supervision of the local Bishop.

This is the key that led to their –


In 1179 some of his followers appeared before the Third Lateran Council. They sought the approval of their movement by the church.They showed them their Bible translation. There was some openness to them, but they were also ridiculed for their perceived ignorance of theology.

In 1180 Waldo signed a confession of faith to establish that he was orthodox. But they were still eventually forbidden to preach. In 1184 the Council of Verona made excommunication the punishment for those who persisted in preaching. Waldo and his followers were excommunicated and expelled from Lyon.

It is said that Waldo responded to all this by saying, “We must obey God rather than man”quoting Acts 5:29 and Peter’s words to the religious authorities of his day who told him to stop preaching.

Waldo died, apparently of natural causes, somewhere around 1206.

waldensiansLater persecution of the movement

 The poor of Lyon or the Waldensians, spread all throughout Europe with many thousands of adherents. They were also harshly persecuted. Many faced the inquisition. Many
were killed. They were forced to flee into the Alps to find refuge. This is a picture of the burning to death of some of them in  Toulouse in the 1200’s.

From 1487-1489 a Crusade of 18,000 troops was sent against them, to persecute and kill them.



I want to highlight – 

Several characteristics of faithfulness from Waldo’s life

But first let me say, you don’t have to die to be faithful. I don’t want to give the wrong impression with these stories of faithfulness. We all have to lose our lives in this world in various ways by giving them up to follow Jesus. But not all will be killed for their commitment. Waldo died a natural death.

Regarding his faithfulness, 1. His fearless preaching of the Gospel stands out. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . ..” In a time when it was assumed that everyone was a Christian, he preached and called all people to repentance. And when some tried to stop him, he accepted rejection and persecution to continue to do this. He is a model for us of zeal to reach out and share our faith in our much, much easier set of circumstances, where the biggest issues for us are shame, laziness or making time in our busy lives.

2. His rejection of wealth. Jesus doesn’t call all people to give up all their wealth like the rich young ruler or Waldo. But he does call all of us to reject wealth as the source of our security and comfort. This is God’s role in our lives. As Waldo quoted Jesus from Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters . . .You cannot serve God and money.”

Jesus also tells us all in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” We should all give of what God has blesses us with to help those who have needs. And we can also give sacrificially, even cutting into what we need (Mark 12:41-44). 

3. He obeyed Jesus simply and radically. It is Jesus’ purpose that we do everything that he teaches. As he said in Matthew 28:19, everyone who is baptized is “to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, all that he taught the apostles. As he says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” We are called to obedience.

Waldo heard what Jesus said, he listened to the Spirit and he acted. He did not need any fancy explanations or pressure, or an inspiring message to act. And he certainly didn’t listen to any who would explain away what Jesus said. He read it and he acted on all that Jesus said.

And he obeyed Jesus even when it was very difficult, giving up everything he had and living off of the charity of others; even when  the authorities, even the church authorities, told him not to; even when it brought him persecution.

Let me end with a call to commitment. We all only have one life to live. Why not give it to Jesus fully and radically? Why not give it as a monument of your love and devotion to him? Why use it up on the mundane things of this world, especially accumulating wealth and trying to live comfortably? Don’t waste your life. It is a gift from God. Don’t let the distractions of this world and earthly pursuits take up your life so that you wake up one day and you are old and you haven’t served or loved God in dramatic ways. What will any of this life’s comforts mean in the context of the final day? Why not choose to do something great for God? Lift up your eyes to see greater things than just living life like everyone else is, or just being a nominal Christian. What is God calling you to do? Do you have the courage to follow him? It is never too late.

[A note: If Waldo did leave his wife behind and put his children in a convent, then this is problematic. Neither Luke 14:26, nor Matthew 8:18-22 condone functionally divorcing one’s wife and orphaning one’s children. Even though he provided for them financially he was bound by his marriage covenant to be with his wife (Matthew 19:4-6; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5) and as a father to raise his children. Although perhaps it is possible that he maintained some contact with his wife and children.]

*I have relied on Gabriel Audisio’s The Waldensian Dissent, and also John Driver’s Radical Faith, who in turn draws on Amedeo Molnar’s work.

William Higgins


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carthageI want to do something a bit different today. I want to tell you the story of a Christian who’s example can both teach us and encourage us to live more faithfully ourselves. And then at the end I will highlight some specific points of  faithfulness in our story from the Scriptures.

Our story takes place in Carthage, North Africa in the early 200’s. So this was 1,800 years ago. Carthage was a part of the Roman empire. It is now in modern day Tunisia.

At this time it was not legal to be a Christian. Now the authorities didn’t usually seek Christians out, but nevertheless if they became known they would try to force them to renounce their faith and to offer up worship to the Roman emperor. But this appears to be an unusual case of when the authorities were actually looking for Christians to persecute.

Several young people, who were being prepared for baptism were caught by the Roman authorities. One of these was a woman named Perpetua. She was 22, well-educated and had an infant son. (Her husband is never mentioned, so perhaps she was a widow.)

This is her story

1. Her arrest. When she was arrested, her father, who was not a Christian, pleaded with her to renounce her faith so that she could be freed. This is what she wrote in her diary: “’Father, do you see this vase here, for example, or water-pot or whatever?’ ‘Yes, I do’, said he. And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’ And he said: ‘No.’ ‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’”

2. Her baptism. Not long after this, while still in custody, she and the others were baptized – and she felt strengthened by the Holy Spirit to endure.

3. Life in the prison. After a few days she and the others were taken away to the prison. She wrote, “I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole. What a difficult time it was! With the crowd the heat was stifling; then there was the extortion of the soldiers; and to crown all, I was tortured with worry for my baby there.”

Two deacons from their church came and gave money to the guards, so that these young people could go for a time each day to a more pleasant part of the prison. After being separated from her son for several days, she writes, “Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else.”

4. Encounter with her father. Again, from her diary she writes, “A few days later there was a rumor that we were going to be given a hearing. My father also arrived from the city, worn with worry, and he came to see me with the idea of persuading me. ‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘have pity on my grey head – have pity on me your father. . ..  Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers, think of your mother and your aunt, think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride!. . .”

“This was the way my father spoke out of love for me, kissing my hands and throwing himself down before me. With tears in his eyes he no longer addressed me as his daughter but as a woman. I was sorry for my father’s sake, because he alone of all my kin would be unhappy to see me suffer.”

5. The trial. “One day while we were eating breakfast we were suddenly hurried off for a hearing. We arrived at the forum, and straight away the story went about the neighborhood near the forum and a huge crowd gathered. We walked up to the prisoner’s dock. All the others when questioned admitted their guilt (of being a Christian). Then, when it came my turn, my father appeared with my son, dragged me from the step, and said: Perform the sacrifice – have pity on your baby!’“

“Hilarianus the governor . . . said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’ ‘I will not’, I retorted. ‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus. And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’ . . . Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts,” which is a death sentence. She went on to write, “we returned to prison in high spirits.” This was to take place in a few days, as a part of the celebration of Caesar’s birthday.

6. Waiting for the punishment. Just after the sentence she learned that her son no longer needed to nurse, and so she was greatly relieved.

She also had a dream in which she saw herself fighting a gladiator. “Then I awoke. I realized that it was not with wild animals that I would fight but with the Devil, but I knew that I would win the victory.”

For their last meal the young people shared in the Lord’s supper together.

7. Her suffering and death. This is an account of a witness, “ . . . they marched from the prison to the amphitheater (see picture at the top of this post) joyfully as though they were going to heaven with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze.”

They tried to dress her in the garb of a pagan priestess, but she resisted and they relented. At which point she sang Psalms.

Along with the others, she was forced to run a gauntlet before the gladiators and to be whipped on her back. The narrator tells us, “And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.”

Perpetua was stripped naked, but when the crowd saw that she was so young, she was allowed her clothing. Then they unleashed a wild cow on her, and it would have had horns for sure. The animal charged and tossed her and she fell on her back. “Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.”

After this she was allowed to go back to the gate, suffering from her wounds. She spoke to some Christians nearby, “You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.”

Then they were all brought out to the middle of the arena. They gave each other the kiss of peace before they each had their throats cut. Perpetua was the last one. “She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat.” And she died.[Translation from Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford 1972)]

Now let’s look at –

Three characteristics of faithfulness

 – that stand out to me as I think of Perpetua.

1. She was not ashamed of Jesus. Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

She was fearless in her confession of her faith in Jesus. And so as Jesus said in Matthew 10:32, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” This is a promise she can certainly claim.

If she could do this in such a difficult situation, how much more should we be challenged and encouraged to have no shame of our Lord in our situations in life where there is no risk to life and limb, but rather to boldly acknowledge our faith in him to others?

2. She rejoiced in suffering. Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . .”

Her only wrong was being a Christian, but she was killed as a criminal. And yet she rejoiced after the sentence was handed down; when she was whipped she counted it joy to suffer as Jesus had; and she sang songs just before her death.

If she could do this in such a difficult situation, how much more should we be challenged and encouraged to “rejoice in the Lord always” as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, we who are not suffering such persecution? Yet how often do we complain and grumble about our comfortable lives?

3. She gave up her earthy life for Jesus. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37-39, “Whoever loves father or mother . . . son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. . . Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This is a strong theme in this story. She gave up her son. She gave up her father and family. She gave up her life. She loved Jesus more than all these. And so, as Jesus said, she will find eternal life in the age to come.

If she could do this in such a difficult situation, how much more should we be challenged and encouraged to give up our earthly lives for the cause of the kingdom, even if in much smaller ways than she did? Often our chief concern is how busy we are with the activities and the enjoyment of this earthly life. But we too are called to give up our earthly lives.


May we all be challenged and encouraged this morning to follow God with greater boldness in our faith, greater joy and thanksgiving in our lives, and greater sacrifice on our part for God’s kingdom.

William Higgins

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We are up to the sixth letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Philadelphia, and also to us.

Philadelphia was about 28 miles southeast of Sardis. It was founded the second century BC. It was called the gateway to the east. It was a conduit that helped spread Greek culture eastward. It was famous for it grapes, frequent earthquakes and volcanic soil.

The situation in Philadelphia

They are suffering. v. 8 – “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” v. 10 – “. . . you have kept my word about patient endurance.”

In these verses we see that they are marginalized. They have “little power.” “Patient endurance” speaks to persecution. This is a theme in the book of Revelation, that we must endure persecution. We also learn that they are faithful in the midst of this. Jesus says that they have “kept my word” twice, and they have “not denied my name.”

If we ask, ‘Why are they suffering?’ it’s the same as we saw in Smyrna, and other cities, the demands of Emperor worship. Some cities, especially in Asia Minor at this time, competed to see who was the most loyal to their government. One way to do this was to emphasize and require worship of the emperor. For instance offering up incense to the emperor and calling him a son of God; or the Lord and ruler of the world.

As we have seen, by Roman policy, Jews were exempt from this, because of their faith in one God. The early Christians saw themselves, rightly, as simply a form of Judaism. But because of conflict over the confession of Jesus as Messiah, Christians were put out of some Jewish synagogues. They were denounced, as it were, ‘you aren’t Jews,’ and so were now subject to persecution, including death, for refusing to worship the emperor.

All of this is the background to the language of Synagogue of Satan, as we saw before in Smyrna. v. 9 – “those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie . . ..” Just as some Jews had said of the Christians, ‘they say that they are Jews and are not,’ so Jesus says of them, ‘they say that they are Jews and are not, but lie.’

To be a Jew is to be on God’s side. But they are acting like God’s “adversary,” who is Satan. This is what the name Satan means. They are falsely accusing Christians and exposing them to persecution.

So the Christians in Philadelphia are in a difficult spot. They have been put out of the synagogue by unbelieving Jews, and are enduring persecution from idolatrous Gentiles.

Jesus’ message

There are no words of criticism or judgment. Rather Jesus has words of encouragement for them throughout the letter.

First of all, although they may be put out the door of the synagogue, Jesus gives them an Open door. This is the background to the key and door imagery in this letter.

v. 7 – “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” Jesus is the one who has the key of David. This comes from Isaiah 22:22, words spoken to Eliakim, the new steward of the house of David, under Hezekiah. “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” The one with the keys, has control over who gets into the king’s palace.

This is then applied to Jesus, as David’s son and the Messiah. He has authority over who is a part of the people of God and who gets into the kingdom of God, not the unbelieving Jews of the synagogue.

Jesus is saying, they put you out and marked you as excluded from God’s people, and from the blessings of the age to come. But “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” -v. 8. These are powerful words of affirmation.

Next, Jesus tells them that They will be vindicated. v. 9 – “Behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.”

This comes from several Old Testament texts that refer to the Gentiles acknowledging that Israel, the people of God, do have God’s blessing. For instance Isaiah 60:14 says, “The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

But now this gets turned around and is applied to non-believing Jews acknowledging that these Christians are a part of God’s people.

They will be vindicated in that those who humbled them will themselves be humbled. Those who marked them as rejected, will learn that Jesus accepts and loves them.

Jesus also tells them that they will be Kept from the hour of trial. v. 10 – “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” There is a word play here. Since they have kept Jesus’ word, he will keep them from trial.

Now, many want to see this as a key passage about the end times, but it’s not. This is a promise to these specific people concerning a test that will affect them, not some later time after they are dead. Perhaps this refers to new pressure to coerce worship of the emperor under Domitian? This would affect the whole known world of these believers; the Roman empire. (Colossians 1:5-6 also uses the phrase “whole world” in this way.) They have already experienced some of this and been faithful, but the worst is yet to come. And Jesus is saying that they will be kept from this.

Finally, he tells them to Remain faithful. v. 11 – “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Jesus is coming to reward them. The reward is a crown. In Greek athletic contests the winner receives a wreath or crown.

If they fail to finish the race or are found to cheat, their crown can be seized. But if they “hold fast,” if they keep enduring, they will keep their crown. They will be overcomers.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 13 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Do we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to us in this letter?

1. Rejection and ridicule (or worse) should be expected as a follower of Jesus. There was nothing wrong with these believers that they experienced this. It is because they are living faithfully. And so they are models for us.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

It should be seen as unusual not to experience some of this. What does it say about us, if we are not experiencing some ridicule and rejection for our faith?

2. If you’re faithful to Jesus, it doesn’t matter what others say about your salvation. The Christians in Philadelphia were marked as rejected by some synagogue leaders. But Jesus affirmed his acceptance of them.

In the same way, others may say you are excluded, or even act to exclude you. But this doesn’t matter. All that matters is what Jesus says. And when Jesus opens the door for us – no one can shut it!

Not only are we in – a part of God’s people and of the kingdom of God – Jesus promises that we will be like pillars in God’s temple forever in the kingdom.

3. God can spare us testing. In Smyrna, where other faithful believers were experiencing persecution, they were told to expect more testing. In Revelation 2:10 Jesus says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . for ten days you will have tribulation.” But those from Philadelphia will be spared. As Jesus says in  v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming . . ..”

So God does at times spare us from testing. And this is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one.” And we are to pray this, so that God will hear our prayer and have mercy on us.

4. You don’t have to be strong to be faithful as a Christian or as a Christian community. They weren’t from the biggest, most important town. They had “little power” as it says in v. 8. But they kept Jesus’ word. They did not deny Jesus. And they patiently endured difficulties.

And this faithfulness is acknowledged by Jesus. This is a very warm and encouraging letter, and the one in which he tells them that all will know that, “I have loved you” (v. 9).

We too may feel weak, small, insignificant. But we can still be faithful to Jesus and know his affirmation and love.


As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 12 – “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

May we be among those so blessed in the final day.

William Higgins

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We are looking again at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Pergamum – and also to us.

Pergamum was 68 miles north of Smyrna; its modern day name is Bergama. It was once the center of its own independent kingdom. It had a huge Library. At one time, it was the 2nd largest in the ancient world with 200,000 books. It was also well known for its Aesculapium, which was dedicated to the god of healing. It was a large complex. Something of a mix of a hospital and a spa. Many who were sick came here for help.

Pergamum was long a Roman ally. It was the first city to erect a temple to a living Emperor – Augustus in 29 BC. It was a real center for Emperor worship, which we have talked about before. It was also the place where Roman judicial proceedings took place.

The situation in Pergamum

The believers here have suffered. Jesus says in v. 13, “You hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith,” talking about a time in the near past.

This language of “holding fast my name” and “not denying my faith” has to do with persecution. When they were put on the spot they did not denounce Jesus or give up their faith. They remained faithful. As Jesus talked about in Matthew 10:32-33, if we acknowledge him before others in times of persecution he will acknowledge us before the Father. But if we deny him, he will deny us.

Jesus even mentions a specific person: “Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you.” – v. 13. This word “witness” in Greek is “martyr.” He witnessed to Jesus by dying for him. He remained true unto death.

We also see that they live in a hostile environment. Jesus says in v. 13, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is . . . where Satan dwells.” This most likely refers to two realities:

1) The strong promotion of Emperor worship in Pergamum. This was required of all citizens at this time as a test of loyalty. Basically lighting incense to the genius of the Emperor and then you got a certificate. There were also games & festivities in honor of Caesar, and sacrifices and feasts from the meat of the sacrifices which were given out free by wealthy patrons. And eating meat was a rarity in that day so this would have been a real draw for poorer people.

2) Pergamum was where the Roman authorities judged cases. So if you were denounced, or exposed as a Christian; as someone who wouldn’t acknowledge Caesar as a god, but confessed Christ as the Son of God – this is where you would be taken to be judged.

So the potential for suffering here would have been great. They were living right in the shadow of the oppressive Roman persecutors. And this is the only letter that mentions someone dying for their faith – Antipas.

There is a complicating factor in the mix here, false teaching which is related to their suffering, as we will see. In v. 14 Jesus says, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.”

The story of Balaam is told in the book of Numbers. The specific story comes from Numbers 25:1-3 (also 31:16). The Moabite King Balak wanted to destroy Israel. He couldn’t get Balaam to curse them, but Balaam gave Balak the idea to cause the Israelites to stumble through sexual immorality and eating food offered to idols. In other words, Israel can’t be defeated. But if you cause them to sin, then God will reject and destroy them. And indeed, there was a great plague for their sin and many Israelites died.

Jesus says in v. 15, “So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” We encountered these in Ephesus as well. Apparently they are the same as those who hold to the teaching of Balaam.

Their teaching was that you can participate in the festivities of worship for Caesar. Their message is that it is no big deal. Maybe, this isn’t really idolatry, or maybe – the Emperor knows he isn’t a god, its just a civic ceremony. Why suffer over such a small thing? And hey, there’s free meat!

  • you can light the incense
  • you can get your certificate
  • you can eat the meat

And most importantly, you don’t have to suffer!

Jesus’ message to them

It is wrong to worship the Emperor – v. 14. If you do . . .

  • You are following a false prophet, like Balaam in the Old Testament.
  • You are stumbling. That is, sinning.
  • You are eating food sacrificed to idols which is a breaking of the first and second of the ten commandments.
  • You are practicing sexual immorality. This is most likely figurative, since there was nothing sexual involved in Emperor worship. This is a common idea in Scripture. When you worship idols, you are committing adultery by being unfaithful to God; you are playing the whore (Jeremiah 3:6).

Jesus is asking fundamentally, ‘Am I Lord, or is Caesar Lord?’ They had to decide. If Jesus is Lord, then you cannot participate in activities that proclaim someone else as Son of God and Lord.

Finally, Jesus says that such behavior will bring judgment, just as with Israel in Numbers 25 where a great plague came on the people because of their sin. He says in v. 16, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

There is sword theme in this letter. It begins in v. 12 when it describes Jesus in this way – “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” And in v. 16 it indicates that Jesus will come and judge the false teachers who lead his people astray with this sword.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 17 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Pergamum are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Don’t worship idols. We may think there aren’t any anymore, but there are lots of idols today. Jesus tells us wealth can be an idol in Matthew 6:24. And money even has images on it. In our culture we worship celebrities. We give them our money, time, and devotion. We even hang up images of them; posters and pictures.

We must remember that God is a jealous God; and Jesus is a jealous Lord. And when we inappropriately honor and serve these, we are like prostitutes, or adulterers. And we will be judged by God. As Jesus says here in v. 16, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

2. Specifically we have to beware of inappropriate demands for political allegiance. This doesn’t just happen in the Roman empire or say, Hitler’s Germany. Whenever political leaders ask us to put our trust in them for our security and peace; when they ask us to do what Jesus forbids – they place themselves as idols in opposition to God. And they force a choice upon us: Do we obey the human authority or our Lord Jesus? The answer is found in the words of Peter in Acts 5:29. “We must obey God rather than men.”

3. Don’t listen to those who tell you to just fit in with the world. It’s easier to fit in and go along with the crowed. Why cause trouble? It isn’t that bad. And so we conform to the world’s sexual practices, lack of integrity, business ethics, gossip, pride, etc..

James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Again, the image of religious adultery. A friend of the world is an adulterer and an enemy of God.

4. Sin will bring us judgment and defeat. Jesus speaks of a stumbling block here. The idea is that you are on the right path and want to stay on it, but someone puts something in your way so that you trip and fall off the path.

This is what Balaam did with ancient Israel. And this is what the Nicolaitans were doing with their teaching in Pergamum. And it is the devil’s strategy as well.

We too can’t be defeated if we stay on the path. But if we fall into sin through stumbling blocks, we can be defeated. So Satan sends us many opportunities to stumble. And Jesus sternly warns us in Mark 9:43, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Whatever causes us to stumble, we must cut off to avoid sin and judgment.


As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 17 – “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

These are gifts that God will give us at the time of the resurrection. May God help us to be among those who overcome and thus receive these gifts.

William Higgins

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We are looking at the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus says by the Spirit to the church in Smyrna, and also to us.


This the shortest letter of the seven, only 4 verses, and it is one of two that has no negative word from Jesus (the other is Philadelphia).

Smyrna was 40 miles north of Ephesus. It still exists today as Izmir, Turkey. It was a well to do city. It had a harbor and was on a major road. It had been a loyal Roman ally from way back. It had several temples to Rome and promoted worship of the Roman emperors, as we will see below.

They were suffering persecution

In 2:9-10 Jesus says, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.”

Jesus acknowledges their persecution or “tribulation.” He also acknowledges their poverty. This is most likely connected to their persecution. It would have been hard for them to earn a good living due to their faith; being looked down on and discriminated against. Yet despite this Jesus says, “you are rich,” that is, in the things that really count.

He also tells them they will suffer more! How would you like to receive a message from Jesus, only to tell you that you will suffer more? He speaks of “what you are about to suffer;” and that some will be thrown into prison; and how “for ten days you will have tribulation,” most likely symbolic for a short or limited time of trial.

To understand what’s going on we need to be aware of some background. Worship of the Roman emperor was prevalent in Asia Minor and in the cities of the seven churches at this time. Everyone was supposed to participate.  From time to time you had to light incense and say something like, “Caesar is Lord.”

The only exception was if you were Jewish. They were recognized by the Romans as an ancient religion that only had one God. So they didn’t have to do this. The early Christians saw themselves (rightly) as simply a form of Judaism; a form of Messianic Judaism. Thus they should be exempt from persecution for refusing emperor worship as well.

But at this very time Christians were being rejected by Jewish communities. They were being put out of synagogues and in general were not viewed as real Jews by the Jewish majority. And some non-Christian Jews became informants and denounced Christians to the Roman authorities. They outed them. ‘Hey, this person isn’t really a Jew.’ This is what the word “slander” means in v. 9.

The result was that Christians were arrested and, if they refused to offer worship to Caesar, some were executed. Sixty years or so after Revelation, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was denounced in this way and executed.

This all sounds very much like what Jesus talked about in John 16:2, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” This is what was going on.

Next let me say that we need to –

Be careful with this strong language!

Jesus speaks of “Those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” – v. 9. Jesus is taking the accusation made against Christians, ‘they say they are Jews and are not’, and turning this back on the accusers, ‘they say they are Jews and are not.’ His point is that instead of being true Jews, which means that you are on God’s side, they show themselves to be of Satan, God’s adversary in denouncing Christians and causing persecution. In other words, they are a synagogue of Satan because contrary to their claim to be Jews they are acting as informers for the Romans.

But throughout the course of history this strong language has been misused to put down Jews in general and so we have to be careful to keep it in its right context. It is only spoken about those who sought to have Christians killed. This language certainly does not apply to other Jewish communities.

Now, with this background in place, lets look at what –

Jesus speaks to the church in Smyrna

1. He knows about their situation. V. 9 – “I know your tribulation and your poverty.” As chapter one symbolically portrays, Jesus is the one who walks amidst the seven lampstands, that is, the seven churches. So, Jesus knows all about their situation. They were not alone, forgotten or abandoned. Jesus is with them.

2. Jesus tells them not to be afraid. V. 10 – “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” And this includes the threat of death, for Jesus also says in v. 10, “Be faithful unto death.”

There is a real death and life theme throughout this letter to Smyrna:

  • 2:8 – “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.”
  • 2:10 – “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
  • 2:11 – “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death,” a reference to resurrection.

The point is that they need not fear even death, much less the suffering of imprisonment and torture. For Jesus has overcome death, as v. 8 says, Jesus is the one who has “died and came to life.”

This is why they can be faithful unto death. Death is not the end, but the beginning of the Christian’s true life. As v. 11 says, “they will not be hurt by the second death.”

3. Jesus tells them that they will be rewarded. He encourages them by telling them this. He says in v. 9 – “I know your tribulation and your poverty, but you are rich.” This hearkens back to Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . ..”

He also says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – v. 10. They are promised an eternal life of joy and peace in the resurrection that is to come.

Jesus speaks to us

V. 11 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna go beyond just Smyrna. They are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Jesus knows our situation. We are not in the same kind of situation as the Christians in Smyrna, and persecution is rare and certainly not as intense, but we too should hear this word of Jesus.

We too go through times of suffering and times of trial. And sometimes this includes being rejected or looked down on for our faith in Jesus.

And so we need to hear and understand that Jesus knows about our suffering. That he hasn’t abandoned us or forgotten about us. He knows all about what is going on in our lives and is indeed with us, to help us.

2. We too should not be afraid. If Jesus has overcome the worst possible thing that can happen to us – death, then we need not fear anything. Everything else pales in comparison to death – our relationship problems, our economic struggles, our experiences of being looked down on for our faith in Jesus.

Since we know that Jesus has overcome death, we know that he can cause us to overcome in these areas as well. We need not fear.

3. We too will be rewarded for faithfulness. Jesus told them to be faithful unto death, and he calls us to be faithful too.

What we need to know is that anything we give up – whether small or big (like our lives); anything we give up out of faithfulness to Jesus will be more than made up for in the rewards that are to come.


Lets end with Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness in v. 11 – “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” We will have life eternal.

William Higgins

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