Adversity and Spiritual Growth; Revelation 2:9-11
Revelation 2:9, "…I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, but are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." The reason it is designated a blasphemy is because they were rejecting the claims of deity of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Some people think that this means that they were Gentiles who were masquerading as Jews, but that is not what this means. This is referring to the fact that a true Jew is not simply a Jew outwardly in terms of his physical descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but is one who is a Jew inwardly. This is demonstrated in Romans 2:28-29, "For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly; nor is that circumcision, that which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, by means of the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God." So Paul draws a distinction between the physical Jew and the true Jew, and true Jewishness is based on regeneration, not simply on physical descent. The Jewish race was grounded on regeneration. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all regenerate. They were the patriarchs of the Jewish race, and you are not a Jew if you are simply a descendant of Abraham. Many Arabs are descendants of Abraham but that does not make them Jews. A true Jew is one who follows in the footsteps of Abraham in terms of his faith, his trust in God and his belief which resulted in his justification. In the church age Jews are not true Jews, not part of the remnant, as Paul says in Romans 11:5, unless they have put their faith alone in Christ alone. So apparently the Jews in this synagogue were operating on arrogance and assuming that they were the remnant. What the Lord is saying here is, no, they are not the remnant, they are not even saved; they are, in fact, a synagogue of Satan. They are serving Satan's purposes. It does not mean that they were devil worshippers, that they were Satanists in the overt sense of practicing occult ritual or practices. What we see here is that the Scripture clearly recognizes that anyone in any organization that is not operating on biblical truth is operating on human viewpoint and false doctrine. And thus, in their falsehood they become a tool of Satan within the cosmic system. Satan is the architect of the cosmic system, which is an organized system of thought that is in opposition to the divine viewpoint that is expressed in Scripture. Divine viewpoint as expressed in Scripture for the individual begins with regeneration. An unbeliever can recognize a certain amount the validity of certain things in Scripture—a lot of the morality that underlies the Mosaic law and some of the principles of the New Testament—but it is still human good. And really the unbeliever, because he is unregenerate, is simply taking biblical truth selectively and he is absorbing that and bringing it into his own system of thought.
Revelation 2:10, "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer: indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have adversity ten days: be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life."
Fear should never be a characteristic of the believer's mindset. No matter what you may be anticipating you have to rely on promises, such as Isaiah 41:10. That promise in context was given to the Jews with reference to the adversity that they were facing during the Babylonian captivity. The word for "suffer" in Revelation 2:10 is the present active infinitive of PASCHO [pasxw] which simply has to do with either physical suffering, or it can deal with mental suffering or anxiety. It can cover a range of things. Then he says, "indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison." So at this point we learn that there is in fact physical suffering/adversity on the horizon. The devil isn't the one who is going to come and throw them directly into prison, the Roman soldiers are. Why is it the devil? It is a recognition that behind the whole system of opposition to the expansion of the gospel, opposition to Christianity, opposition to the church, is the world's cosmic system, and at the head of the cosmic system is Satan. Satan works intermediately through various agencies, demonic and human, so it is fair and accurate to say the devil is behind it. As Paul says in Ephesians chapter six, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers. In other words, the ultimate battle isn't with human beings. Behind those physical opponents is a spiritual reality, and it is a recognition of the angelic conflict and demonic opposition against every believer and against the expansion of the church and of the gospel.
The reek word for "tested" in "that you may be tested" is PEIRAZW [peirazw], second person plural, aorist passive subjunctive. This indicates the potential in testing. Every believer is going to go through various tests. Tests are the ways that God uses to advance believers through an opportunity to apply doctrine. There are various tests that we see in Scripture. There was the test in the garden of Eden, the test of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Are Adam and Eve going to eat or not eat? They failed the test.
The next mention of a test is that God is going to test Abraham in Genesis chapter 22, which means He is going to evaluate Abraham's faith. He tells Abraham to take his only son to Mount Moriah and to sacrifice him to God. That was just a test of his faith. The epistle to the Hebrews tells us that he trusted God that if Isaac died He was also able to bring him back to life. That shows that Abraham has a tremendous amount of doctrine in his soul so that he knows what God has promised him regarding the seed and regarding Isaac, that it was through Isaac that the seed would be developed. He knew that God would be faithful to His promise and would have to bring Isaac back to life in order to fulfill His promise. So Abraham trusted God. That was the test.
Then the Jews are tested in the wilderness. They grumbled and they griped and they complained about the food that they had. In the Gospels we read that Jesus goes out into the wilderness and fasted without any food for forty days, and the first test that comes along has to do with turning the stones into food. Then we get into Acts when the church begins to expand to the gentiles, and they are not following the dietary laws of the Jews or any of the other laws. The apostles come back to Jerusalem about the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles and there is a huge debate that goes back and forth about what they are going to do about these Gentiles. When they got right down to it and said they have to avoid sexual immorality and they couldn't eat food sacrificed to idols. So the problem with the Corinthians was that they were eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. So there is a tremendous amount of testing in the Scripture related to food because food is such a physical reality in terms of our own self-discipline and our ability to manage and control our appetite. The message seems to be if we can't manage to discipline ourselves in terms of our physical appetite in relation to our obedience to God then maybe that says something about our ability to discipline ourselves in relationship to spiritual things in other areas. There are all kinds of tests in the Scripture. Testing is crucial to our understanding of the Word.
The next clause says, "be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life." The issue is not how long their suffering happens—we know it is tens days—but in the midst of adversity, even if it costs them their life, the issue is to be faithful to the Word of God, to continue to apply the principles of the Word even if it costs everything they have; not matter what the torture may be, no matter how horrible the circumstances may become. Testing is the means of growth, James 1:2. The word there translated "[various] trials" is PERASMOS [peirasmoj], meaning "various tests." "…because you know that the testing of your faith," and there the word "faith" should be translated "doctrine," it is not the act of trusting but the doctrine that you are trusting. The Lord teaches us. This is a process of sanctification. The means of sanctification, the power of sanctification, comes from two sources: the Word of God and the Spirit of God. When we are in fellowship with God the Spirit of God is able to work with the Word of God in our life to produce spiritual growth.
We grow and mature as we are tested, and this is what the Lord Jesus Christ had to go through. Hebrews 2:10, "For it was fitting for him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory [believers in the church age], to make the captain of their salvation perfect/mature [TELEIOS/teleioj] through sufferings." The Lord Jesus Christ had to go through the same process. Sanctification is not something simply dealing with sin because the Lord Jesus Christ had to go through the process of sanctification in His humanity. So sanctification doesn't have so much to do with getting rid of the sin in our life as learning to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That is why in both the Old Testament and the New Testament the emphasis is on loving God with the entirety of our being. So that whether we are in Deuteronomy in the Mosaic law or whether we are a disciple receiving instructions from Jesus the night before he went to the cross, in both cases we are told, "If you love me, you will keep my word/commandments." So the point is we are to learn how to love God, and we do it by learning to keep His commandments. That does not necessitate the idea of sin. In the garden Adam and Eve had to grow spiritually. They had to be sanctified; they had to learn to obey the Lord. The point of testing was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord Jesus Christ is perfect, He is sinless, He is born without a sin nature, He is born without the imputation of Adam's original sin; He has to learn to obey God fully in His humanity. That is how He grew to maturity. So grows through suffering.
Hebrews 2:18, "For in that he himself has suffered [in the entirety of His life in His humanity] being tested, he is able to aid those who are tested." This word PEIRASMOS that is translated "testing" really has two connotations. It has an objective sense and it has a subjective sense. The objective sense is the idea of a test. When it is applied subjectively and it includes an inner attraction from us, that is when it has the idea of temptation. The Lord didn't have a sin nature, so there is no inner attraction to sin, just as there was with Adam. Adam had no inner attraction to sin and that is why the two tests are comparable to each other. Adam failed but the Lord in His humanity passes those tests. The problem that we have is that we have that sin nature in us that is always attracted like a magnet to iron filings. We are just always attracted to that sin, so that makes sanctification more difficult for us because we are not just dealing with the fact that we are learning how to obey God but we have this inner enemy within us that is drawing us in just the opposite direction. But the model that we have comes from the Lord in that he Himself has suffered and faced every category of adversity: "being tested he is able to aid those who are tested." This is why Hebrews 4:15 comes along and says, "For we do have not a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses; but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin." So the Lord Jesus Christ had to go through testing, pass the testing, and matured as a believer. He was made mature through suffering. We go through the same process that the Lord Jesus Christ went through, and that is what we see as the background for understanding Revelation 2:10. Just as they had adversity for maturing, so we do. But there is the promise of a reward; there is incentive there. "Be faithful until death," just as the Lord was faithful until death, "and I will give you the crown of life."