“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
An exhortation addressed to the Church of Smyrna!
Smyrna, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom the Seer of Patmos was directed to send epistles, one of the seven that existed historically at that time in that region. But more importantly, she served as a type of the church throughout this dispensation. Of all the seven, Smyrna, along with the Church at Philadelphia, was most outstanding. She suffered no rebuke of the Lord, as was the case with the others. She receives all praise and encouragement!
Smyrna was the type of the church in suffering and tribulation! Mostly of those which say they are Jews, and are not, was this persecution brought upon the church. The Lord calls them a synagogue of Satan! This prince of darkness, this slanderer, was their chief, who inspired them in all they did. As the opponent of Christ, and the great adversary of God’s church in the world, he moved these Jews to slander and reproach the flock of Christ. The lie he moved them to speak was that they, the Jews, were the only people of God, while the Christians were impostors, a dangerous sect. And whereas the faithful church had always suffered, the Lord predicts that their persecution would be intensified, though it would be brief.
In the face of this tribulation, the church is exhorted in the text to be faithful, faithful unto death!
Indeed, the church is delivered in principle. Her Saviour has come to save her. To her He speaks the Word of salvation in the gospel. And He applies that salvation to her heart. Nevertheless, the church is still, in the world of tribulation. She is not yet perfectly delivered. She has a period of testing to endure!
Hence, to her the exhortation is most necessary.
Be thou faithful unto death!
The necessary requirement! Be faithful! That means, to live the life of faith! Not merely does this mean to be true: like we say: the dog was faithful to his master; or, the man was faithful to his boss; or, the wife was faithful to her husband. No, it means much more than that. It means to live out of faith. It means to walk by faith. And that, too, according to the covenant relation! That .is, that relation which God in Christ has laid between Himself and His people! To live the life which that relation requires, is to be faithful. It means to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and to do that always, and in every circumstance and department of life!
That is; unto physical death! Unto the death of our body! Until we enter the sphere of the dead! Unto the end of life’s pathway here below!
For Christ’s sake!
O, yes, all men must suffer physical death! This is quite natural. It is the result of sin and the curse. But Jesus is speaking here of death in an altogether particular sense! It is not only: Be faithful until we die; but it is: Be so faithful to Him that you are prepared to die for His sake if that is necessary. Be so faithful, that your faithfulness will bring death upon you!
How necessary this requirement is when considered in the light of the condition of the Church of Smyrna, which is the type of the church as you may find her at any time in the midst of the world! In general her condition is described as being in tribulation. She is pressed on every side. The attempt is made to give her no room in the world. Not only is she partaker with the world in all the common afflictions of life, but added to her suffering is the trouble she endures because she is identified with Christ. She is slandered by the synagogue of Satan. The faith of Christ is ridiculed in His church. The very blood by which the church is purchased is trampled under foot. Her justification in His blood is denied. And because the church is faithful, being unwilling to compromise with evil, she is poor. Socially and economically she is ostracized by the world. Under the influence of evil men she is denied many of the common privileges. Her membership could do no business. They were deprived of their property. They could not provide for the common necessities of life. This church probably experienced a foretaste of the power of Antichrist. Because they refused to receive the mark of the beast, they could neither buy nor sell. In particular, more tribulation was coming. The trouble would worsen. Social and economic boycott cannot be the end. Satan, and his consorts can never be satisfied until they have put an end to all the work of Christ. And so the Lord forewarns of the things the church must expect, which she must yet suffer. The Devil will have many cast into prison. Many of the faithful will be put to death!
Under these conditions the church is required to be faithful, faithful unto death!
Under Satan’s oppression, whose purpose is to destroy you, if he does not succeed in drawing you away from the truth.
Under God’s testing! For back of all the tribulation and suffering stands God; And He will test us in the fire as silver is tried!
Will the church be able to endure such testing? Will she survive in such a furnace of tribulation?
The answer to these questions is negative if you consider the church standing by herself, and in her own strength.
But so the church of Christ may never be considered!
She is the body of Jesus Christ, of which He is the Head!
She is of the party of the living God!
And He is the faithful One!
He is that in Himself! He needs no creature to realize His faithfulness. He is in Himself a Covenant God. As Father, He is faithful Father. As Son, He is faithful Son. As Spirit, He is faithful Spirit!
He is the Rock! He cannot deny Himself. Never does the Father deny the Son or the Holy Spirit. Never does the Son deny the Father or the Holy Spirit. And never does the Holy Spirit deny the Father or the Son. Just because of this, He is the fountain of His covenant life with and for His people! His covenant in Himself is the source of His covenant with His people. His relation to His people is a relation that stems from His own covenant life of friendship and faithfulness!
Because He cannot deny Himself, He cannot deny His people! He loves them with an eternal love, a love in which He knew them and chose them. In this love He is the unchangeable One. His love is as steadfast, yea, more steadfast than the mountains. The mountains may be removed. But His love remains immovably steadfast. Nothing can destroy that love, or separate His people from it.
God is faithful to His people even unto the death of His Son! He would have His people enter into glory, the glory of His everlasting covenant! But there was no other way to accomplish this than through the death of His Son, Who Himself bore our sins in His own body to the tree of the cross. O, yes, truly, God was in Christ, faithful unto death, for us!
Living source of our faithfulness, He is!
Not just our example to follow! Not simply a model according to which we are to act! Not just an incentive to encourage us to be faithful! For how should, or could we; as we are by nature be encouraged to faithfulness? How impossible that of ourselves we should ever be faithful, and reciprocate His love!
Indeed, He is the living Source! His love is first! First it is in principle! And always first as the fountain is always there before the water can come from it. He is first in giving to His Son the Spirit of faith fulness. He is first in connecting us to this Fountain of faithfulness in His Son!
Therefore, be faithful, because you are of His party! Be a steadfast manifestation of the relation in which we stand to Him! Be faithful even if the honor of His Name requires your suffering and death!
And the crown of life I will give to thee!
Not the crown of royalty, the crown intended for princes, does the Lord have in mind. Though we shall reign with Christ, and sit upon thrones. To the faithful in the Church of Laodicea the Lord promises to them who overcome that He will grant them to sit with Him in His throne, even as He overcame, and is set down with His Father in His throne! And in Matthew 19:28, we read: “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit, upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” O, indeed, we shall sit with Royalty upon thrones! But this is not the idea of the promise in our text!
Rather, it is the wreath of victory!
Symbol of triumph!
As the runner in the race presses to the goal to receive the garland, the wreath of victory, to be placed about his neck. So the faithful unto death shall receive the crown of life!
The crown that consists in eternal life!
Life as a wreath of victory!
Notice that it is given as well as promised! You do not merit. It is given of free and sovereign grace!
By Christ, the First and the Last!
Hence, He will be the end, the victorious Last. The Alpha and Omega!
The Resurrected One!
Which was dead, and is alive. He was dead, and is alive with a new and victorious life. He was the victorious One over all the power of death. Hence, the Church whose Lord He is, has nothing to fear, not even death itself.
For the faithful! To those who overcome!
First faithful unto death—then crowned with life!
This is the order! The promise assures you that the end of faithfulness is the crown of life!
The paradox is solved when your eye is on Him Who promised!
He went through death! He broke the bands of death and the grave! The mighty Samson, Who could not be bound by death’s shackles! Who triumphantly tore them apart as slender threads!
Hence, there is a way out! Death cannot hold you its prey! Though the evil one may succeed in killing the body, he cannot kill the soul! Nor can he keep the body in its grave. Death is conquered. It is overcome!
Therefore, fear not!
But be faithful even unto death!
And through the way of faithfulness you shall receive the crown of life that fadeth not away!
Eternal life, the victor’s crown!