Adversity: God's Sufficient Grace; Revelation 2:8
"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things says the first and the last, who was dead, and came to life."
Two of the seven churches have no commendation because these churches are in operational carnality and they are divorced from the teaching of the Word and they have compromised with false doctrine. This is not dissimilar from many churches today. Two churches, one of them the church in Smyrna, have only commendations. They are churches that are fully squared away in terms of doctrine and are going through, in the case of the Smyrna church, an intense period of adversity that is designed to refine them in preparation for their future destiny as priests and kings for the Lord Jesus Christ. The other is the church with only commendations is at Philadelphia.
What we see here in verse 8 is the commission: "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write"; and the character reference: "These things says the first and the last, which was dead, and came to life." This is addressed to the angel. We talk about God's infinity in relationship to knowledge. This we call His omniscience; that in His omniscience He knows everything there is to know about what is going to happen in human history; He knows everything there is to know about your soul; He knows you intimately. This is brought out in Revelation 2:9 when the Lord Jesus Christ says, "I know your works." He uses the perfect tense of the verb OIDA [o)ida] which emphasizes intuitive knowledge as opposed to GINOSKO [ginwskw] which is usually learned or acquired knowledge. This emphasizes the fact that as the Lord Jesus Christ is talking to this congregation that is going to go through some tremendous adversity and suffering and persecution he is talking about how intimately he knows each and every one of them and what they are going through. They are not just left alone. They are not just left wandering around in this hostile cosmic system to have to deal with the struggles and the heartaches and the problems and the adversities all by themselves. There is an intimate knowledge based on the infinite knowledge of God.
Another aspect of His infinity is related to God in terms of space: His omnipresence. That doesn't simply mean that God is everywhere. What it means is that God is fully and totally present to every aspect of His creation at every second of the time. God is just as present to you as he is to somebody at the other side of the globe. When we think about that in terms of going through adversity, once again we recognize that not only does God know us fully, and He is fully aware of every aspect and every dimension of our own soul and everything that we are going through, but He is also fully present in the midst of that testing. Out of His infinity also flows His omnipotence, that God is able to do anything that he wants to. God is fully able to accomplish His will. So when we combine this power of God with His knowledge and with His presence, then that gives us a foundation on which to build the entire doctrine of the Scriptures. It calls it the comfort of God, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, encouragement; there are two or three different English words that we use to express that. God supplies everything that we need in order to handle any circumstance in life. He is never taken by surprise, He knew about whatever it is that we are going through in eternity past and he made a plan that was so detailed, comprehensive and sufficient that it supplies anything and everything that we need, and there is no cause for us to just throw up our hands in discouragement. Just because we don't know all that is involved doesn't mean that he doesn't know. Faith in God in the midst of adversity isn't irrationality. Irrationality throws all intellection to the wind. In trusting God we may not know everything but we know that in His omniscience He does know everything and that there is a full, rational explanation for everything. We are not living in an irrational world even though at times it may appear that way. This is just a background or framework for understanding this particular letter of evaluation.
"These things says the first and the last." These titles don't just come out of thin air. We must always interpret within the framework of context. In Revelation 1:16, Jesus in all of His glory has now appeared to John. When He speaks He utters a command: "Don't be afraid." What is the orientation of the human heart toward God in its fallen condition? It's fear. The first thing that happened when Jesus Christ came to speak to Adam and Eve in the garden after the fall was that they were afraid and hid. So the first thing the Lord says is, "Don't be afraid, I am the first and the last." What does that mean? Isaiah 41:4, where the speaker is God: "Who has performed and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he." So here is the Lord utilizing this terminology in the Old Testament. It is in a context that is emphasizing His eternality. This same phrase is used in Isaiah 44:6 where the speaker is the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ: "Thus says the LORD the King of Israel [God the Father], and his redeemer the LORD of hosts [the Lord Jesus Christ]; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God." It is clear that there are two personalities there, and both the Father and the Son are called the first and the last. So it is not a title that is unique to one person in the Trinity. Again, it indicates the eternality of the Lord. The Lord refers to Himself the same way in Isaiah 48:12: "Listen to me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last." In context there is an emphasis on His omnipotence and His being the creator. It relates to the doctrine of His infinity, and His infinity relates to His sufficiency. If He is the first and the last He is sufficient for everything.
"Who was dead, and came to life." In order to be dead you have to be alive first, so it is the Lord Jesus Christ speaking. He begins by using a title that relates to the eternality of God as applied to God the Father as well as to the Redeemer of Israel, as we saw in the Old Testament. So we see a clear statement in Scripture where Jesus is identifying Himself with God the Father, He is emphasizing His eternality and His deity.