All believers are called to be faithful witnesses

by Mike Ratliff

10 μηδὲν φοβοῦ ἃ μέλλεις πάσχειν. ἰδοὺ μέλλει βάλλειν ὁ διάβολος ἐξ ὑμῶν εἰς φυλακὴν ἵνα πειρασθῆτε καὶ ἕξετε θλῖψιν ἡμερῶν δέκα. γίνου πιστὸς ἄχρι θανάτου, καὶ δώσω σοι τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς. Revelation 2:10 (NA28)

10 Do not fear the things you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison that you may be tested and you will have affliction ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the Crown of Life. Revelation 2:10 (translated from the NA28 Greek text) 

Πιστὸς (pistos) is the Greek adjective translated in Revelation 2:10 (above) as “faithful.” Πιστὸς is defined as “faithful, trustworthy, reliable, dependable.” In the context of Revelation 2:10, 13, which are our Lord’s own words, to be “faithful” is to refuse to compromise the Christian faith, even in the face of persecution and martyrdom. In this day of superstar or what some call “Rock Star” Christian leaders whose popularity is based upon their willingness to dilute the Christian faith with the world and its ways or even by blending in the cultic ways of other religions, we need to have a clearer understanding of the faithfulness that is expected of the genuine Christian by our Lord. 

We will look at the Revelation 2:8-17 first then we will look Revelation 17.

8 Καὶ τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Σμύρνῃ ἐκκλησίας γράψον·
Τάδε λέγει ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος, ὃς ἐγένετο νεκρὸς καὶ ἔζησεν· 9 οἶδά σου τὴν θλῖψιν καὶ τὴν πτωχείαν, ἀλλὰ πλούσιος εἶ, καὶ τὴν βλασφημίαν ἐκ τῶν λεγόντων Ἰουδαίους εἶναι ἑαυτοὺς καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν ἀλλὰ συναγωγὴ τοῦ σατανᾶ. 10 μηδὲν φοβοῦ ἃ μέλλεις πάσχειν. ἰδοὺ μέλλει βάλλειν ὁ διάβολος ἐξ ὑμῶν εἰς φυλακὴν ἵνα πειρασθῆτε καὶ ἕξετε θλῖψιν ἡμερῶν δέκα. γίνου πιστὸς ἄχρι θανάτου, καὶ δώσω σοι τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς.
11 Ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις. Ὁ νικῶν οὐ μὴ ἀδικηθῇ ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου τοῦ δευτέρου.
12 Καὶ τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Περγάμῳ ἐκκλησίας γράψον·
Τάδε λέγει ὁ ἔχων τὴν ῥομφαίαν τὴν δίστομον τὴν ὀξεῖαν· 13 οἶδα ποῦ κατοικεῖς, ὅπου ὁ θρόνος τοῦ σατανᾶ, καὶ κρατεῖς τὸ ὄνομά μου καὶ οὐκ ἠρνήσω τὴν πίστιν μου καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἀντιπᾶς ὁ μάρτυς μου ὁ πιστός μου, ὃς ἀπεκτάνθη παρʼ ὑμῖν, ὅπου ὁ σατανᾶς κατοικεῖ. 14 ἀλλʼ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὀλίγα ὅτι ἔχεις ἐκεῖ κρατοῦντας τὴν διδαχὴν Βαλαάμ, ὃς ἐδίδασκεν τῷ Βαλὰκ βαλεῖν σκάνδαλον ἐνώπιον τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραὴλ φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα καὶ πορνεῦσαι. 15 οὕτως ἔχεις καὶ σὺ κρατοῦντας τὴν διδαχὴν [τῶν] Νικολαϊτῶν ὁμοίως. 16 μετανόησον οὖν· εἰ δὲ μή, ἔρχομαί σοι ταχὺ καὶ πολεμήσω μετʼ αὐτῶν ἐν τῇ ῥομφαίᾳ τοῦ στόματός μου. 17 Ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις. Τῷ νικῶντι δώσω αὐτῷ τοῦ μάννα τοῦ κεκρυμμένου καὶ δώσω αὐτῷ ψῆφον λευκήν, καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν ψῆφον ὄνομα καινὸν γεγραμμένον ὃ οὐδεὶς οἶδεν εἰ μὴ ὁ λαμβάνων. Revelation 2:8-17 (NA28)

8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
‘These things says the first and the last, who became dead and came to life; 9 “’I know your affliction and poverty, but you are rich, and the slander of the ones declaring themselves to be Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
10 Do not fear the things you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison that you may be tested and you will have affliction ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the Crown of Life.
11 The one having ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one overcoming will never be hurt by the second death.’ 12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
‘These things says the one having the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “’I know where you dwell, where the throne of Satan is, and you hold fast my name and did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness who was killed among you where Satan dwells. 14 But, I have against you a few things because you have there ones holding the teaching of Balaam who was teaching Balak to put a snare before the sons of Israel to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. 15 So also you likewise have ones holding the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore, but if not, I am coming to you quickly and will war with them by sword of my mouth. 17 The one having an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one overcoming I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name has been written which no one knows except the one receiving it.’ Revelation 2:8-17 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In Smyrna we have a  persecuted church. Some of that persecution, at least, seems to be coming from the large Jewish community there. However, our Lord makes it clear that a genuine Jew is one by faith not by birth alone. Smyrna was also the site of Polycarp’s martyrdom fifty years after the Apostle John’s death. Polycarp was eighty-six yet he was burned alive for refusing to worship Caesar. However, even though poor in the eyes of the world, these believers were rich in grace and our Lord praised their faithfulness. Notice how different this message is from the Health, Wealth and Prosperity non-gospel message that is so prevalent today. Our Lord commanded them to remain faithful unto death and they would receive the Crown of Life. Genuine believers have no need to fear the second death, which is the final judgment.

What about our Lord’s message to Pergamum? The reference to Satan’s throne being at this city refers to a huge, throne-shaped altar to Zeus on the acropolis in Pergamum. This would be the headquarters of satanic opposition and a Gentile base for false religions. Wherever Christianity flourished in the Roman Empire, the pagan temples suffered and there was a huge backlash as per the riot at Ephesus, which the Apostle Paul barely escaped. Pergamum was an important religious center for the pagan cults of Athena, Askepios, Dionysius, and Zeus. It was also the first city in Asia to build a temple to Caesar in 29 B.C. and became the capital of the cult of Caesar worship.

Antipas was martyred there and the church did not fall away. He was more than likely the pastor of the church. Tradition says he was burned to death inside a brass bull. In v13 where Antipas is descrbed as our Lord’s “faithful witness,” the word “witness” translates μάρτυς (martys) which means “witness,” but is often transliterated into English as “martyr.” Because so many of the witnesses faithful to Christ were put to death, the word “martyr” developed its current definition.

However, notice that the church in Pergamum had issues. There are those who are holding to the teachings of Balaam and others holding the teaching of the Nicolaitans. These are similar in that both lead their followers into immorality and wickedness. Irenaeus writes that Nicolas, who was made a deacon in Acts 6, was a false believer who later became apostate; but because of his credentials, he was able to lead the church astray, and like Balaam, he led the people into immorality and wickedness. The Nicolaitans, followers of Nicolas, were involved in immorality and assaulted the church with sensual temptations. Clement of Alexander wrote, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” Their teaching perverted grace and replaced liberty with license.

Our Lord, however, is merciful and calls for repentance. If they do not then what will happen? He will come to them soon and war against them with the sword of his mouth. This is judgment. Think of the remnant situation we are in the church in our time my brethren. Look at the highly visible church leaders who are so obviously self-centered, shallow, and not about the glory of God at all, but about themselves. Do we ever hear the truth from these people? Is this not a famine of hearing the Word of God preached? Yes, we do hear it from the faithful, but aren’t they a scattered remnant?

Here is Chapter 17.

1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” 6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. 7 And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. 9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11 The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. 12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”
15 And he *said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18 The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:1-18 (NASB) 

Read it all very carefully, but pay special attention to v14. The mess we have going on all around us now is not forever. We may not see the end of if in our life times, but even so, let us remain faithful as we are the chosen because we are in Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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