13) Faithfulness: The Fruit of Faith (Revelation 2:10)
To whom do you look for strength when life is on the verge of imploding and there seems to be no avenue of escape? In what do you place your trust? On what beliefs have you staked your future? How do you persevere?
Unless you’ve experienced an incredibly insulated life, these are questions that cannot be avoided. They were certainly questions racing through the minds of the believers in Smyrna. Their past had been painful and their immediate future didn’t look promising. They had been slandered. Their reputation was shot, at least so far as the world was concerned. They’d suffered loss of home and property. What could possibly come next? Well, imprisonment and death to start with (or rather, to end with!).
Jesus calls for our faithfulness in such circumstances no less than he called for theirs (v. 10). But it’s not automatic. Endurance doesn’t “just happen”. Faithfulness is the fruit of faith. In other words, there are truths we must embrace if we are to endure. Unbelief leads to bitterness and despair. Although Jesus chose not to intervene and deliver the Smyrneans from suffering, he by no means abandoned them. Look with me again at his words of counsel, for in them are the power to persevere. There are three things to note.
First, I’ve already had occasion to mention how his knowledge of our situation is a source of strength (“I know your tribulation and your poverty,” v. 9a). Our knowledge of his knowledge of us is a powerful incentive to remain faithful when the world, flesh, and the devil conspire to yell “Quit!” But there’s more.
Second, observe closely that there are divinely imposed limits on how far Satan can go in his efforts to destroy us. For the Christians at Smyrna, not unlike the situation with Job, the enemy is given a long leash. But he can only go so far as God permits. Satan is unable to act outside the parameters established by the will of his Creator. In this case, he will instigate their incarceration, but only for “ten days” (v. 10).
“Wait a minute! How can you say that Satan is limited in what he can do if some of those he throws into prison end up getting killed?” That’s a good question. Here’s my answer.
Just as there was a divinely imposed limitation on what Satan could perpetrate, there was a divinely ordained purpose for it: to “test” them (v. 10). In giving them over to the Devil for imprisonment, and for some, death, God had not forsaken his people. This was not a sign of his disdain or rejection, but a means by which to test and try and refine and purify their trust in Christ.
I find it incredibly instructive that what Satan intended for their destruction, God designed for their spiritual growth! Satan’s intent was to undermine their faith, not to “test” it. Yet God orchestrated the entire scenario as a way of honing and stabilizing and solidifying the faith of the church in Smyrna.
We see much the same principle in Luke 22:31, where Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7). Satan evidently obtained permission to tempt all of the disciples, for the “you” in v. 31 is plural. Whatever he had in mind for the others, his intent in "sifting" Peter in particular was obviously malicious, as he aimed to destroy the apostle by inciting him to deny Jesus. Perhaps he thought that the ensuing guilt and shame would paralyze Peter and disqualify him from ministry.
But God's goal was altogether different. His purposes with Peter were to instruct him, humble him, perhaps discipline him, and certainly to use him as an example to others of both human arrogance and the possibility of forgiveness and restoration. The point is simply that often we cannot easily say "Satan did it" or "God did it". In cases such as this, both are true (with the understanding that God's will is sovereign, supreme, and overriding), but their respective goals are clearly opposite. Sydney Page's comments concerning this incident are important:
"Luke 22:31-32 reveals that Satan can subject the loyalty of the followers of Jesus to severe tests that are designed to produce failure. So intense are the pressures to which Satan is able to subject believers that the faith of even the most courageous may be found wanting. Satan is, however, limited in what he can do by what God permits and by the intercession of Jesus on behalf of his own [cf. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1]. Furthermore, those who temporarily falter can be restored and, like Peter, can even resume positions of leadership. It is implied that Satan cannot gain ultimate victory over those for whom Jesus intercedes" (124).
The third encouraging thing for us to note is that the death Satan inflicts issues in life for the believer! In v. 10b Jesus encourages the Smyrneans to remain faithful unto (physical) death and he will give them “the crown of life.” Jesus reminds them of this because he knows that the power to persevere comes from a vibrant faith in the certainty of God’s promised reward. Those who do not love “their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11) are granted a “life” that infinitely transcends anything this earthly existence could ever afford. Jesus does not call for faithfulness unto death without reminding us that there awaits us in the future a quality and depth of true and unending life that far outweighs whatever sacrifice is made in the present.
This is precisely the point Paul made in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. He refused to “lose heart” because he knew that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Among the countless “unseen things” on which Paul fixed his faith was undoubtedly the certainty of “the crown of life” given to all who know Jesus. There is power to persevere in the promise of reward. We must intentionally lay hold of the future and impose it on the present. May God give us eyes to behold what we cannot see that we may hold fast to the faith and enter into life that is life indeed.