Title: WHEN SUFFERING STRIKES
Text: Revelation 2:8-11
Just as music is a universal language that communicates to every heart, so is suffering…it comes to all at some time or another. Suffering is rarely welcomed by anyone; in fact, we will go to almost any length to avoid it, and there isn’t always a way of escape. So how do we handle it when it strikes? The letter Jesus wrote to the church at Smyrna reveals some down-to-earth answers to this question.
Of the seven cities Jesus writes letters to, only Smyrna still exists today…it is the town of Izmir, one of the largest cities in Turkey. It was a center of Roman emperor worship in John’s day. Anyone who refused to publicly confess allegiance to the government was liable to be executed. Smyrna’s zealous political loyalty coupled with a small, but highly anti-Christian, Jewish population made the city an extremely dangerous place for Christians to live. In fact, evidence suggests that life in Smyrna for a faithful Christian was more dangerous than it was anywhere else in the Roman Empire.
The pastor of the church at Smyrna at this time was Polycarp, who was put to death by the enemies of Christ. He was burned alive at the stake. History records that someone said to him at the stake, “Revile Christ. Deny Him and I shall set you free.” The aged pastor replied, “Eighty-six years have I served Him; He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King and Savior who saved me?” With that, the person threw the torch onto the pile of brush. To believers who reside in this hostile city, Jesus dictated a letter of comfort and encouragement. Read Text.
1. If you were in the church at Smyrna under these circumstances, how would this letter from someone who called Himself “the First and the Last” encourage you? (God is the supreme Lord of history who is in control of all things, including what the church is going through. “No matter what they do to My Bride, we will still be here.”)
2. How much do you think God controls the events of our lives? Rom. 8:28-30; Acts 2:22-23
Definition: Predestination is the foreknowledge of God provoking the free-will response of man. It isn’t that you have no choice in the matter – it’s just that God spans eternity and knows in advance how it is going to turn out…and He has a plan in it all…and the plan ends with Him (and His children) winning!
3. What does it do for your faith when you know Jesus is the One who was dead and has come to life? (He guarantees our resurrection promise has weight behind the words!) 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 54
4. How does poverty naturally follow persecution? (Standing for your faith causes loss of job, property, economic boycott, etc.) How can Jesus say that those who are in poverty are actually rich? (The promise applies only to His children. The world may take away your resources and make you poor, but because we know Jesus, all the wealth of Heaven is ours.) Matt. 5:5, 10; Ja. 2:5
5. How does Jesus define blasphemy in verse 9? (Saying you are a believer in God when you are not.) What is another sign in our text that reveals these blasphemers were not true believers? (They persecuted the very ones who believed in God.) How does God feel about hypocrites? Matt. 23:29-33
6. Jesus says that a blasphemous hypocrite is not a believer in God, but someone else. Who? (They are of the synagogue of Satan.) If someone were truly spiritual, what would be the evidence? Jn 8:39-42;
7. Who then is the true Jew…who is a part of the true Israel? (The person who has been clothed with Christ and lives with true faith.) Rom. 9:6-9; Gal. 3:7-9, 26-29
8. Jesus said, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Wouldn’t being told that you are about to suffer cause you to fear? Then what do you think He is trying to say that’s over and above this? (What Christians go through in times like this are all part of the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan, and God will be the ultimate victor.)
Insight: Fear is the thief of peace…it stirs the waters of uncertainty…it damages the ship of courage…it drowns the sailor of faith…but trust in God overcomes fear. Fear dissipates when your eyes are fixed on the Victor’s reward.
9. If all this conflict and persecution has a part in God’s plan, what is it? (2:10 “That you may be tested.”) What is the testing for? (To reveal true believers vs. the false ones; to strengthen our faith.) What does persecution usually result in? (Purity of faith.) Job 23:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-19
10. What do you think “you shall have tribulation for ten days” means? (It’s only for a fixed, short time, and then it will be over. Ten days of tribulation is a small exchange for 1,000 years of victory with Christ.)
Insight: Unrelenting hostility can’t be compared to eternal victory with Christ. The higher your character in walking like Christ, the more likely you are going to suffer hostility. To those, Jesus intentionally and carefully pens the words of encouragement to be faithful and steadfast, even if you are called to die for bearing His blessed name.
11. What does Jesus say is required to win the crown of life? (Be faithful until death.) 2 Tim. 2:11-12;
Matt. 10:22 What is the crown of life? (Eternal life in His presence.)
Insight: Notice the significance of symbolism here. For those who endure tribulation and even face death…you do not LOSE…you WIN the victor’s crown!
12. What is the reward of the overcomer in this letter? (You will not be hurt by the second death.) What is the first death? (When we die and are separated from this world.) What is the second death? (Those who don’t know Christ are eternally separated from His presence.) Rev. 20:6, 14
Insight: Born once, die twice…born twice, die once. The one who is faithful unto death will never be banished from the presence of the Savior they embrace. Hallelujah!
You may not be in danger of losing your life today for being loyal to Jesus like those in Smyrna. It may be in the future though. But right now you may be struggling under unreasonable pressures, or fighting to keep a sinking business afloat. You may be suffering verbal jabs from an uncaring coworker or a rebellious teenager. Or you may be tottering under pressure from creditors. Regardless of your source of hurt or the intensity of your tribulation, there are three principles from God’s Word you can rely upon.
1. The Lord knows all about your circumstances.
You may feel misunderstood and abandoned, but Jesus knows your situation, and He will stay with you no matter what. You can count on that!
2. If things stay the same, Christ will be your fortress.
You have no reason to fear or run. Trust in Him completely, and He will give you the courage to face your circumstances.
3. If things get worse, the Lord will see you through.
If your situation goes from bad to worse, rest in the fact that Christ will give you the strength to endure as you depend on Him. And one day…one day very soon…in front of the vast Heavenly host…He will call you to the font and reward you with the crown of life for remaining true to Him!