Paying the Price

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:8-10).

To claim to be a fundamental Bible believer today often incurs the ire of religionists who accuse us of being bigoted, unloving, hateful Bible-thumpers. The word fundamentalist, too, is often connected or associated with those radical Muslim jihadists who are committing acts of terror and butchering Christians. So let us define our use of the term fundamentalist. The following description is found on the page following the Table of Contents of the book The Fight for Fundamentalism by George W. Dollar. The statement says: “Historic Fundamentalism is the literal interpretation of all the affirmations and attitudes of the Bible and the militant exposure of all non-Biblical affirmations and attitudes.” In other words, a fundamentalist is simply a biblicist who takes a stand on biblical principles and is not afraid to take a firm stand against error and wrongdoing no matter from what quarter the error comes. If this is true, then many wrongly describe themselves as “fundamentalists,” for either they do not believe the Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, or they refuse to take a stand on the issues of the day affecting churches or Christians. That brings us to the topic of this article: Are you willing to take a stand for the truth? If you say, “Yes, I am,” then be prepared to pay the price.

In Revelation chapters two and three, Jesus Christ is addressing seven particular churches. Essentially three applications can be made to these particular churches. First is the historic application: These were real, first-century churches with real problems and characteristics. Second is the prophetic application: Revelation is a prophetic book; we have here an outline of the spiritual history and progress of the professing, visible church on earth, from the days of the apostles to the condition of the church at the Lord’s return for His own. Thus, church history can be broken down into seven distinct eras or periods or dispensations. Third is the typical application, identifying what are the real characteristics of any church in any age: If you carefully read these messages you will find your church or yourself in them because these problems and struggles have always been with us.

We will focus our attention on the church at Smyrna. Smyrna means “bitterness” and comes from the root word from which we derive our word for myrrh. Myrrh was a precious ointment produced by the crushing of certain herbs. During this crushing process a fragrance was emitted. Thus, we have a very appropriate title for a church that was suffering intense persecution (and perhaps describes historically the ten fierce Roman persecutions against the early church). However, as we read the things pertaining to Smyrna, it brings to mind in a very graphic way what it may even cost us to be a Bible-believing fundamentalist today. That will be the thrust of this article: what price we might have to pay for being determined Bible-believers. Let us take a closer look at the cost of being a true fundamentalist today.

Tribulation

First, it will mean tribulation: The Lord Jesus says, “I know thy works, and tribulation.” It is a comfort to realize that our blessed Lord knows and understands all about anything we might have to experience or endure for Him in this world of darkness. The Greek word for “know” (oida) refers not just to observational or experiential knowledge but to a deeper insight—intuitive knowledge based on His omniscience. He not only knows and understands, but He has been there Himself; He has walked in our shoes and experienced every test and hardship we could ever experience. And with great compassion, omniscient wisdom, and skill, He stands ever ready to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

We must consider the word tribulation. The word refers to outside pressures, our daily circumstances, and various afflictions. Have we not been so warned by our Lord about this (see John 16:33)? For some dear saints, such “tribulation” is physical and brutal, as seen in the Middle East today at the hands of those “peaceful” Muslims. But for Christians in America, such “tribulation” is often more subtle and indirect. By virtue of the stand we take, we are not very popular in a nation that embraces the idea that you have to “go along to get along.” This leaves us open to much criticism, dislike, and disfavor. The reason for this is traceable to our uncompromising stand as it touches on the Word of God and moral issues. The forces of humanism and atheism, which have captured our educational system and government, are doing whatever possible to undermine religion in America—to dethrone the true God of the Bible. And we must not forget the increasing governmental pressures on Bible-believers resulting in threats, intimidation, and the undermining of our First Amendment rights. And besides all this, we must face the issue of internal problems in the church, which, in turn, results in confusion. Examples of this are without limit.

In addition, let us be quick to add the “tribulation” we face from personal problems and struggles: Economic pressures (work cut-backs, unemployment, increasing taxes, inflation, the cost of living, etc), personal burdens we carry, the inner struggles we have with sin and Satan, the manifold temptations that afflict us on a daily basis, the personal failures and frustrations we face—even our own families and friends can oppose us (see Luke 12:53). Many believers just cannot take it. That is why the spiritual battlefield is strewn with so many casualties. The Lord Jesus warned about such (see Mark 4:17). Many just do not want the old rugged cross. Rather, they are ready to substitute the smooth, velvety path of ease and convenience.

So first of all, a true fundamentalist must not be afraid to face tribulation if and when it comes.

Poverty

Second, it could mean poverty—personal financial loss on account of your stand for Jesus Christ. Remember the old saying, “Put up or shut up”? Many folks like to talk up a good line, but when it comes to the “bottom line,” they are unwilling to pay the price. Remember John Mark and Demas? Involuntary poverty means personal sacrifice. In this case at Smyrna their poverty came as a result of standing up for the truth. I believe many would not feel so badly if they could somehow remain financially secure and blessed materially during tribulation or hard times. But to suffer poverty along with tribulation—why, that is asking too much! Being a Bible-believing fundamentalist could result not only in persecution but also in economic loss or loss of prestige and opportunity. Putting it simply, it could mean the loss of your job, harm to your business, loss of church members, and hence a loss of income. The believers in Smyrna obviously suffered economic loss as a result of their persecution. If someone burns down your church, vandalizes your property, or sues you and takes you to court over what you have preached or taught, it would not take long to lose income. Quite frankly, what we believe and what we stand for makes us highly unattractive, humanly speaking. To the world we are nothing but a bunch of troublemakers, and we would not be missed at all if we should suddenly disappear from the earth!

But hear the Lord’s comforting words to them and to us. For taking such a strong stand for Him, no matter what, you are not poor at all, “but thou art rich.” How, you ask? You are rich in God’s grace, favor, and blessing; you are rich with stronger assurance, conviction, and knowledge of the Word; you are rich in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. See what James tells us who are truly rich: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?’’ (James 2:5). Now contrast this to the Laodicean church: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). These people were proud, self-sufficient, materialistic, and well-off financially. They felt they had “need of nothing.’’ They completely lost their sense of dependence on the Lord, yet they were poverty-stricken and did not even know it! What a contrast to these Smyrnans. They were materially impoverished in the world’s goods, yet they were rich toward God. Do we not learn a lesson here? Poverty is never a hindrance to the Lord. What we have cannot be obtained by wealth and numbers. Thus, second, if you are a true fundamentalist, also expect poverty on account of your stand for Christ.

Blasphemy

Third, we also face the ugliness of blasphemy (Rev. 2:9): “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” What is blasphemy? Literally it means to “speak injury against.” Thus, if someone should speak of the Supreme Being in terms of impious irreverence, if someone should speak reproachfully of God or the Holy Spirit, he is guilty of blasphemy. Anyone who would slander or make a false accusation of a crime or offense knowingly and maliciously to the injury of another, to provide a false representation of facts reproachful to another, either by design and with knowledge of its falsehood, is guilty of blasphemy. Thus, the blasphemer will lie about God or misrepresent Him or His Word in order to do God injury. That would be the sin of blasphemy.

Without a doubt, this kind of thing really hurts; it certainly makes us wince psychologically. What we hold dear and precious is dragged through the mud as if it were refuse. I think we would rather take a beating than see God mocked, profaned, or become the object of sacrilege. See the warning of Jude (Jude 17-18).

According to our Lord, the source of the problem were “Jews” who were said to be part of “the synagogue of Satan.” Immediately we can see that Satan has an organized religion. Question: Back in the apostle John’s day, what was the most organized and systematized religion? Answer: It was Judaism with all of its complex rituals, traditions, sacrificial system, and a myriad of man-made laws. Add to this the “synagogue” which was to the Jew what the church was to the Christian. The synagogue was the center of organized religious worship and activity. Thus, the “synagogue” was symbolic of the strength of Judaism. As a result, organized, unbelieving Judaism was the greatest source of difficulty for the Christian church back in the first century.

In the first century, part of the blasphemy the believers in Smyrna endured came from those who professed to be “Jews” but were actually part of the “synagogue of Satan.” It is evident that the great opponent of Christians was Judaism with all of its laws, traditions, rabbis, and Talmudic teachings. This statement of our Lord is so significant that it is repeated twice—here in our text and in Revelation 3:9. There is something deep and dark about this truth, and it should cause us to give prayerful reflection as to its meaning.

Without a doubt, those who are familiar with the prophetic Scriptures realize that God has a wonderful plan for believing Jews. Even in the book of Revelation we can see that God is not through with the Jews—they have a great destiny ahead. We find God raising up 144,000 fiery Jewish evangelists, 12,000 from each tribe, going about preaching the Word (see Rev. 7:4-8). The result is that multitudes will get saved during the tribulation period (see Rev. 7:9-17), both Jews and Gentiles, although they will pay a great price. In Revelation 11 we read of God’s two mighty witnesses, possibly Moses and Elijah (Rev. 11:3-7). Then we find that Satan launches a great persecution against the Jews in Revelation 12, the time of “Jacob’s trouble,” but God protects them. A remnant of Jews finally receive Christ (see Zech. 12:10), and Israel will be restored to God’s favor, blessing, and greatness upon Messiah’s return to earth, so say all the prophets. Paul discusses this at length in Romans 11, concluding, “And so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26), because the remnant of Jews will have turned to their Messiah and Savior at long last. Another blessing concerning the Jews is found in Revelation 21 where we have a description of the heavenly Jerusalem descending out of heaven. Part of that description is a statement about the twelve gates giving access to the city. We read: “And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel” (Rev. 21:12). So we discover that Israel has a great future in store.

But first, let us describe what or who are true Jews? We note that it was the Lord Jesus who told us who are true believing Jews. First, true Jews are the ones who trust Jesus Christ. They listen to and heed God’s words (Jn. 8:46-47). They believe in and accept God’s Man, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Savior (Jn. 8:45-46, 56). Second, true Jews are those who have experienced transformed lives (Rom. 2:28-29). This is another way of saying that such have experienced the “new birth.” Such have had their lives forever changed, hearts that have been circumcised or changed from within. Third, true Jews are those who have been justified by faith (Rom. 4:11-12, 16)—Abraham being the role model of all true faith, and thus he becomes our spiritual father (Gal. 3:28-29). All such have been declared righteous in Christ (Rom. 4:5). Since faith must have an object, we ask, “Faith in what?” (Rom. 3:21-24). The answer: faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ. These are true Jews, whose praise is not of men but of God.

The “Synagogue of Satan”

Having said all this, it is time to discuss the blasphemy connected with the synagogue of Satan. Consider the activity of the synagogue of Satan—that organized religion of the day without Christ. The Lord Himself accused the Jews of creating a man-made religious system based on tradition, lip service, and man-made commandments (Matt. 15:3, 6, 9). They possessed God’s Word to them but chose to follow something else. And when anyone, even Jesus, threatened to overturn that religious “apple cart,” they pounced like hungry tigers. These Pharisaic Judiacs slandered and persecuted the Lord while He was on earth. They called Him a “blasphemer” (Matt. 9:3). They called Him all sorts of names—a glutton, winebibber, one who fellowshipped with publicans and sinners (Matt. 11:19). They made accusations against Him that were not true, such as His casting out devils by the prince of devils (Matt. 9:34). And when they did that, they crossed the line. They also accused Him of being a Law-breaker and wanted to kill Him just because He healed on the Sabbath day (Jn. 5:16). They even claimed that He Himself possessed a devil (Jn. 8:52).

Notice what else this “synagogue of Satan” did. They viewed Christians as being heretics (see Acts 24:14). Christians were thus looked upon as being a dangerous sect everywhere spoken against (see Acts 28:22). They mocked believers in Christ as being followers of “the hanged one.” They consistently rejected the way of salvation (Acts 28:24-27). Hear Paul’s own testimony of his activities prior to his conversion: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (1 Tim. 1:13). He gave his voice against Christians, possibly being instrumental in the martyrdom of Stephen. He actually thought he was doing God a service by wasting the church. Now hear the apostle Paul’s lament against such unbelieving Jews: “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2:14-16). Not only were these unbelieving Jews dissatisfied with having crucified Christ, not only were they discontent with slandering and persecuting Christians, but they also did all they could to prevent the conversion of the goyim, the Gentiles, to Christ.

If we should broaden our perspective a little we can see how there are those closely allied to this “synagogue of Satan.” We could apply this synagogue into a Judaized church with teachings partially based on Law and partly based on grace, a salvation based partly on faith and partly on works (see the book of Galatians). The apostle Paul warned us about those who preached “another gospel,” which is no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-9). This sinful rejection of truth is found in modernism, liberal churches and organized denominations, and increasingly in neo-evangelicalism, which was born of compromise. In the halls of religious unbelief there is much opposition to biblical Christianity, especially those who unswervedly stand on the old King James Bible. We face today exactly the same rejection of truth and disobedience to the gospel as these early Christians did. We find that much of this “religious” activity is full of legalism—self-merit and works for salvation.

And let no one deceive you with a faulty interpretation of Scripture. The church is not Israel, and neither can the church claim Israel’s prophesied blessings for itself (Replacement theology). Beware of cultic claims of movements such as British-Israelism. Beware of the religious crowd who attempts to build the kingdom of God before Christ comes. Watch out for the popular trend concerning those who attack the apostleship of Paul and his writings. All such will turn on true Bible believers. Watch, I say, for they are nothing more than variants of “the synagogue of Satan.” Do not be surprised if all such rail against, defame, and slander your beliefs.

Our hearts reach out to the Jews, not in malice but in sincerity and truth, praying for the day that their blindness will disappear and the eyes of their understanding will be opened. Regardless of their hostility to Christ, may we deal with them in charity and compassion, willing to suffer the abuse but ever standing on the truth without compromise (2 Cor. 3:14; 4:3-4).

Imprisonment

The fourth problem indicated in Revelation 2:8-10 is the grim possibility of imprisonment. Our text tells us: “Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried.” This bleak possibility is already happening in the land of the free. You see, when the overt and covert anti-Christ opposition no longer works, the threats and intimidation soon turn into direct action. Then will come the legal action, the fines, and finally the imprisonment. All of this is intended to cause fear in the hearts and minds of true believers. Our government is largely under the control of humanists, atheists, agnostics, and socialists—all of whom are increasingly intolerant and hostile to Christians. There are so many incidents of late that indicate very clearly the trend that is taking place in our own country. And the reason is very simple: Fundamental Christianity poses a real threat to the humanistic, socialistic, and globalistic schemes that will ultimately produce the “man of sin,” the Antichrist.

The question I would ask you is this: Are you prepared to face such a threat or risk? Are you willing to pay this price? Consider the effects of imprisonment. They are truly distressing. Your public preaching and witnessing will stop; and others, out of fear and intimidation, will be put to silence. The separation from friends, loved ones, and brethren will have a psychological effect on you personally. Then you will have to deal with the isolation. Then comes the discouragement and the increased temptation to become faint of heart. Even the apostle Paul needed to be comforted by the Lord in similar situations. Then may come the public trial and further humiliation. Something like this will certainly manifest the true value of your faith in the sight of the world. This will mean a public display of your courage and conviction in the face of grave threats and public condemnation. Are you willing to pay the price?

Death

Lastly, true Bible-believers may face the threat of death. Our Lord tells us about that possibility when He says the extent we are to hold fast: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Are we not facing such an increasing risk today? We see that Christians are being put to death in the Middle East by barbaric enemies of Christ. What is to make us think this cannot happen here? In fact, notice what our dear Lord told His disciples: “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me” (Jn. 16:1-3).

In our society, violence and lawlessness abounds. Who knows what will happen when you go to meeting or when you knock on someone’s door as you visit or what the reaction might be when you hand out gospel tracts. In our political system such as it is, it may be that if “legal” restraints and imprisonment fail to shut you up, somebody might get the idea of killing you, thinking they are doing God a service. History is full of examples of this kind of thing—not just from pagans either. Consider the Roman Catholic persecution of the Waldensians, the Huguenots, the Spanish Inquisitions, the martyrs of the English Reformation, all aimed at extinguishing the lives of the “heretics.” Consider the mob actions of organized terrorists and fanatical groups just ready to take on anybody. Hence our Lord’s exhortation in verse ten: “Be thou faithful unto death.” Note carefully: not “until” death, that is, in the face of death or life-threatening situations; the Lord warns us not to recant even in the face of martyrdom but rather “be faithful.” Death is the limit of Satan’s attack, but are you willing to pay such a price? Are you ready to lay down your life for Christ who laid down His life for you? Indeed, we had better count the cost.

Let me conclude with a question: Are you willing to pay the price to be a Bible-believing fundamentalist, or are you perhaps finding the cost is just too high?

— The previous article, by Dr. Robert Garrou (1942-2016), is reproduced from Foundation magazine, Volume 38, Issue 1.