THE peculiarity of the Church of Smyrna is that it preserved its character before God. There is something very blessed in the state indicated. The end signifies that they would be able to go through death for Christ's sake; and therefore the promise is that they should not be "hurt of the second death," but have "a crown of life." The character in which Christ comes to them is remarkably blessed. There is none so high as that of the "First and the Last," because it is that which is connected with the person of the Lord. His title of Alpha and Omega is connected with testimony, the expression of the Word which was "made flesh," etc. The "Beginning and the Ending;" is connected with His human character; but the "First and the Last" implies something before there was a beginning, and after there is an ending. Christ comes to this Church in this divine character, the "First and the Last," because the Church is looked at as divine. The heavenly character of the Church is another thing, contrasted with the earthly dealing with the Jews not brought out until Christ has taken His place at God's right hand. There is another thing also connected with this. The Church is more than heavenly, it is divine -- the mystery, His body -- and it shows forth thus what Christ has been. It is a brighter thing to be able to say, "I am a member of His body," than to say, "I am of the heavenlies." So here Christ as the "First and the Last" connects Himself with the Church as Son of God.
The Church in the glory that is to come will have all the glories of Christ laid open to her. There will be no distinction between Christ and God,* for it is the "throne of God and the Lamb." All the glories, all the relations between them, will be open to the Church, for she is with Him there as His bride.
*This statement is left, but it may be questioned if it is scripturally correct, -- ED.
The earthly people who behold Jehovah in the temple will not know the Lord as Bridegroom in the heavens, which is a higher thing. The Smyrnian Church is recognized as in a position to see the blessedness of this, and thus the character in which Christ comes to them is perfectly moral and spiritual. They were brought into sorrow, humiliation, but they are in a state capable of having sympathy with the mind of Christ. Taste for truth depends upon the state of your own soul. There are some states in which the circumstances connected with Christ take most hold of the soul, and others in which the person of Christ has most attraction. The calibre of a person's soul may be, known by what he most delights in of Christ. The Laodicean state of the Church is met by the promise of sitting on Christ's throne to those who overcome. Christ speaks of Himself to John as the "First and the Last," who was dead but alive; so here to Smyrna. What was comfort to John would be comfort to them. There is an answer in the person of Christ to all the circumstances. There might be many an aching heart in Smyrna breaking about the state of things; but it would be great comfort to the saints to realize, whatever circumstances they are in, "Christ has passed through it all before." Look at Christ's humiliation! And Paul, in all his tribulations, could always say, "Christ went lower down than this, and He could always commit Himself to God as to a 'faithful Creator.'"
There are other things in which Christ's sympathy was expressed in a different way. Christ never sinned, never had a fretful will, etc., but He tasted all the bitterness of its judgment when He bore our sins upon the cross. I must realize the cross to understand His sympathy in this. It was when He passed through death for it, and now He can say, "I am He which was dead but am alive." In coming to the church at Ephesus, the Lord was coveting fruit from them. It was a thing He desired to find. To Smyrna He says, "I know thy works;" and what follows? There was what God saw in them, and what Satan could see in them -- "tribulation, poverty (but thou art rich)." The saint is often most spiritual when in the most humbling circumstances, and the reverse. When David was on the top of the tree, his will was breaking out; never was he so near God as in his adversity. We ought to be able to pass through prosperity without loss, being instructed, like Paul, "to be full and to be empty, to abound, to suffer need." Paul goes right through to the end of his course, and the end was lost in brightness. We should look to be able to do so too; but generally it is easier to go through the afflictions, tribulations, etc., with the soul right with God, than through prosperity.
"I know the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and are not." Here is the old tale again at Smyrna. Profession without reality -- saying they are Jews when they are not so -- and the effect of their wishing to get a place brings in trial for Smyrna. If a person begins doing things for his own honour, professing it to be for God, it will be sure to end in casting off God altogether. If he begins with God, he will end with God. We have need to be jealous over ourselves, whether what we hang outside be according to the expression inside. The spiritual energy of Paul was such that what came outside was what was within, and nothing more came out than was inside. Walking with God is the only safeguard of a saved sinner. The great thing is to walk in the same Spirit as Christ walked;. and He, said, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me." Take God's will and suffer in it, that is the happy way. The most precious part of Paul's service was in suffering, not in doing. So also Christ's when He went to the cross. Those who are seen by no one, but suffering God's will, may be doing much more than where there is much to attract with "see here or see there."
The contrast in verse 10, is between the ten days' tribulation and the "crown of life;" the second death has no power over the overcomer. The Scripture is very much handled according to the state of mind a person is in. Some would dwell upon the "ten days." Then the Lord would have them see they are little compared with the "crown of life" at the end -- "Our light affliction which is but for a moment," etc. You may have got all this tribulation, affliction, etc., and they are as a crucible. What effect has the crucible on you? If you are dwelling on the things, you will find the crucible affect you much; but if your mind is on what is beyond, you will pass easily through it. Observe, God measures things by days, months, years; there is a limitation. How many? Only "ten days." "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther." What are they contrasted with? The "crown of life." Suffering here is connected with the outshining of the life. Look at Christ; "He endured the cross, despising the shame," etc.; but what glory is like His? It is one thing to have life, and another thing to be marked there, having the crown of life. The contrast in Hebrews 12: 4, 5, is between the little afflictions of the Hebrews and the great afflictions of Christ. We think much of a little suffering; but if it cripples my fleshly energy, breaks my will, and in the glory I have a crown of life, I may rejoice in it. We must remember, too, that flesh takes hold of suffering as well as doing. If doing is the expression of self-will, it is out of place; but if God is sending it me, and I bow down to His will and suffer it, that is another thing.
"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." There is a curtain hanging before you in your path; come up to that, and you will see the end. "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." That is in danger of being clouded by our carnal thoughts; but the sense of it is, "Do not be afraid of death; the second death cannot touch you." If your soul goes out of your body by their taking away your life, they cannot take the spirit out of your soul. "Overcomers" is the character of all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Who is he that overcometh but he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ? The gospel is a gospel of life, not strivings. The character of these Smymese is peculiarly beautiful; they are a set of pilgrims -- Nazarites cast out. They could not say, "The temple of the Lord are we." They are in affliction, and the Lord's words would flow out from Him for their comfort. We can never remember too much as regards testimony for whom the testimony is, and to whom it is; and the thought that God. is the Judge of. all that is done is the great comfort. I have no doubt that we shall find, as things advance (and perhaps days of persecution may come), that the real bond of union will be willingness to do God's will independent of measures of light. Unity in the Spirit is the great power of fellowship. It is often heart-breaking to look round and see how little one can really do now; but it is our comfort to find little things owned by God; as in Zechariah, the people who took up the first thing that came to hand and did it were approved, while those who would do some great thing were turned away.