In Matt. 16:18 the Lord uttered the greatest prophecy in the Bible, On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Immediately upon speaking of the church for the first time, declaring that He will build His church, the Lord alerted us and spoke into us a marvelous word that will eventually become precious to us: the gates of Hates will not prevail against the built up church.
This means that there’s a constant war, an unending attack upon the church; the source is the gates of Hades – the power of Satan, the authority of darkness, and in particular, the authority of death. Satan’s constant object is to bring death into the church and spread death in the church.
All throughout the ages the gates of Hades were very active to drag the church into death, shut the church into death, and hold the church in death. However, as the Lord has prophesied, this power of death will NOT prevail against the church, because the nature of the church is resurrection life itself.
The church is the Body of Christ: here we nave nothing natural! The church as the Body of Christ is constituted absolutely with the resurrection life of Christ. Satan’s greatest fear is that the church would be able to withstand his attack of death.
Hades has gates: not just one but many gates; this indicates that the enemy has many ways of trying to bring death into the church life. Almost any matter, great or small, can be used by Satan to bring in death into the church.
In Leviticus we see the command not to touch the dead carcases of the animals, and specifically, not to touch the carcass of a wild beast, a cow (mild animal), or a creepy thing. The death that attacks the church can be wild, beastly, a direct assault personally or corporately (like a wild beast), or there may be a mild disposition that would spread death in a mild way (like the mild cow), or there’s a subtle way of bringing in death.
May the Lord expose the enemy’s stratagem of bringing in death in the church, and may we realize we have the resurrection life which enables and empowers us to withstand any attack of death!
The Church in Smyrna was a Church under the Suffering of Persecution, a Suffering Church
The church in Smyrna was a church under the suffering of persecution – it was a suffering church (Rev. 2:8-11). It typifies a period in the church age when the church suffered persecution, but even today many saints suffer in a very similar way as Smyrna did, and they are empowered and go on in the Lord.
The epoch of the Roman persecutions is over, but the hatred of the enemy for the church, the saints, and the testimony of Jesus, continues, and whenever he can use the power of any government he will do it. The devil used the Roman Empire and the government to put the believers into prison, persecute them, and put them to death.
The Lord indicates that He may not always prevent this; He didn’t come to intervene when Lazarus was sick so that He may manifest the power of resurrection. We need grace never to be offended at what the Lord measures out to us or what He allows to happen to us.
The Lord clearly tells us not to fear what we are about to suffer; we can truly be fearless not because we are bold persons but because of the One who lives in us. “Smyrna” in Greek means “myrrh”, a sweet spice that, in figure, signifies suffering; the church in Smyrna was a suffering church.
However, this persecuted church suffered in the sweetness and fragrance of Christ, in the power of His resurrection.
They didn’t bear this by the strength of their character, and they would never boast over those who didn’t suffer as to demean them, thinking they themselves are heroes. Rather, the suffering church – the church in Smyrna then and all those who suffer for the Lord today – participate int he sufferings of Christ and have the sweetness and fragrance of Christ, not the aroma of strong-willed men who can withstand anything.
They suffered the slander of those who call themselves Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Rev. 2:9). The Judaizers slandered the suffering church by evilly criticizing her; they stubbornly insisted on keeping their Judaistic system, consisting of the Levitical priesthood, the sacrificial rituals, and the material temple, which were all types that had been fulfilled and replaced by Christ.
Since the church under the new covenant in God’s economy had no part in their religious practice, the Judaizers slanderously criticized her. In principle it is the same today: many religious people slander the churches in the Lord’s recovery, which seek the Lord and follow Him in spirit and in life, and do not care for the religious system.
Whenever someone seeks the Lord in purity, in spirit, and in life, he will be persecuted for the Lord’s sake not merely by those who don’t believe in Christ but even more by those who are in a religious system.
It was the religious Jews that instigated the Roman government to put the Lord to death; it was the Judaizers that instigated the Roman authorities to put the believers in prison and kill them, and today it is the religious system in Christianity and the people in it that persecute the genuine testimony of Jesus on earth.
Even as He is, so we are: persecuted by the religious people to be the suffering church.
Lord Jesus, we love You. The world and religion may hate us and persecute us, but we love You and we want to be one with You to be the suffering church, the continuation of the suffering Jesus. Lord, we look to You and we take You as the resurrection life in the midst of all the sufferings. Thank You for Your promise that the gates of Hades shall NOT prevail against the builded church. Strengthen all the suffering saints around the world, Lord, with Your resurrection life, that they may bear Your testimony and spread Your aroma and fragrance in their suffering!
Entering the Fellowship of the Lord’s Sufferings for the Church to be His Testimony
The apostle John didn’t refer to himself as an apostle in Rev. 1; rather, he said he’s our brother, not above us in any way, but our companion in the suffering and endurance in Jesus. How sweet it is to have such an elderly brother among us whom we honor and respect, who admits that he’s just like us!
The church in Smyrna suffered as Christ Himself did, and thereby became a continuation of His suffering (Col. 1:24). The church life in this present evil age, at least at some times, is a suffering life, and we all need to know what it is to be in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, to complete and make up what is lacking of a particular kind of suffering.
The Body of Christ will not grow or be built up unless some enter into the sufferings of Christ for His Body.
The afflictions of Christ are of two categories: those for accomplishing redemption – which have been accomplished by Christ Himself and in which we can’t take a part, and those for producing and building up the church – which need to be filled up by the apostles and the believers.
This is our responsibility today: we need to be willing to take this way, living for the building up of the church, and being willing to become a continuation of the Lord’s sufferings for the church. Christ is no longer suffering alone: the apostles and all the believers continue His suffering.
The afflictions of Christ for His Body, which is the church (Col. 1:24) must be completed by us, His followers, both individually and collectively. At times we may personally take a slow walk in the valley of death – as the Lord leads us there, being with us as resurrection life every step of the way; at other times, even the whole church may take this way.
The Lord needs some who are willing to enter into the collective continuation of the sufferings of Jesus for the producing and building up of the church. When we enter into the fellowship of the Lord’s suffering, we become a continuation of the suffering Christ, and we bear His testimony on earth (Rev. 1:2, 9; 19:10).
Religion may persecute us and the world may cause us to suffer for the Lord’s sake, but we are strengthened within by the Lord’s resurrection life to bear the testimony of Jesus as we partake of the fellowship of His sufferings.
If we are the Lord’s genuine followers and disciples, the religious people will persecute us and slander us, and the worldly leaders will be instigated by religion to persecute us and put us to death.
This is what they did to the Lord Jesus Himself, the Author of life, and this is what they did to His disciples; this is our portion today, and we need to be willing to enter into the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, filling up our part in that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ.
Lord Jesus, impress us with the need to participate in the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings for the producing and building up the church. May we be those who fill up on our part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ for the building up the church as the Body of Christ. Oh Lord, we want to know You, the power of Your resurrection, and the fellowship of Your sufferings, so that we may be conformed to Your death for Your church to be built up and become Your testimony on earth today!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother Ron K. for this week, and, The Conclusion of the New Testament, pp. 2507-2510 (by Witness Lee), as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, Returning to the Orthodoxy of the Church (2016 fall ITERO), msg. 2 (week 2), The Church in Smyrna.
- Hymns on this topic:
# Death cannot hold the resurrection life, / Though all its force against it may combine; / Death only gives it opportunity / To show the boundless pow’r of life divine. (Hymns #639)
# Then unto Smyrna, suffering, sore— / “You have been tried, but something more— / Be faithful unto death,” we’re told / (Not just of body but of soul). (Hymns #1274)
# While Christ builds His church, / Gates of Hades will / Rise up to attack us / But will never prevail. / ’Tis not what we face / But ’tis how much grace / We receive in the midst / Of our circumstances. (Song on Suffering for the Lord)
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