The Church at Smyrna
Who can remember what city we studied last week? That’s right, we studied the city of Ephesus, and especially focused on what Christ had to say to that church. If you remember, Christ had several good things to say about the church in Ephesus, but unfortunately, they had lost their first love that they had for Jesus. We saw how eventually, the Ephesian church ceased to be in existence, just like Jesus warned them would happen if they did not repent of their lack of love. We saw how as a church, it is extremely important that we not only do good things for God, but we never forget that our motivation should be a pure love for God. We cannot succeed if we forget why we do the things we do. Tonight, we are going to look at the second church that Jesus talks to, and see how we can learn from their strengths. So if you are not already there, please turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter two, and we are going to read verses eight through eleven. So again, Revelation 2:8-11.
“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; ‘These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
Tonight we are going to look at how Jesus comforted the Smyrnan church by telling them that their sufferings would pay off one day, and we are going to try to apply this message to a group of Christians who have known very little in the way of physical suffering.
But before we do any of that, I want to give you a quick glimpse of the city of Smyrna. Smyrna was a city a little bit to the north of Ephesus, and it was a port city on the western coast of what we now know as the nation of Turkey. Smyrna was a very prominent city, and like Ephesus, was home to a major temple. The temple in Smyrna was the temple devoted to the worship of the Emperor Tiberius. In the Roman religious system, besides having a vast array of gods and goddesses, the Romans actually deified each of their emperors. So the city of Smyrna was a major hub of emperor worship. So, as you can imagine, a city that is devoted to worshipping a human king is not going to look too fondly on people who worship a heavenly King. So with that little bit of historical framework, let’s look at what Jesus has to say to this band of believers.
To see how Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Smyrna, we need to look at verse eight of our text again. Verse eight reads, “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; ‘These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.” When Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Smyrna, He says that He is the first and the last. Then He says that He was dead, and is now alive. Personally, I think that Jesus chose an amazing way to describe Himself to a church full of people who were suffering for their faith. Jesus identifies with their suffering by saying that He died. It is such a powerful reminder for us in the church that we can never come even close to suffering the way that Jesus Christ suffered for us on the cross. The other day I called Brother Morris, and he was in extreme pain, but he told me that he could never suffer as much as Jesus did for us. Isn’t that true? And then after Jesus said that He had died, He said that He is now alive. What a great comfort to those who are suffering for the sake of the gospel. Because Christ rose from the grave, everything about their suffering is worth it! They can be assured that heaven awaits them on the other side, because Jesus conquered sin and the grave. Praise the Lord!
And if you are here tonight, and you are suffering, I hope you are comforted by the fact that Jesus knows your needs, because He too has suffered. And no matter how bad it seems things are, it is all worth it because Jesus Christ has risen, and He has promised you heaven on the other side of your suffering.
Let’s move on to verse nine of our text. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” Jesus in this verse says that He knows about their good works, and their tribulation, and their poverty. But in the midst of all of their poverty, Jesus says that they are rich! So what is it about them that is rich in the midst of their poverty? Yes, it’s their salvation! In the midst of all of their suffering and all of their poverty, Jesus says that they are rich, because they have a treasure that the wealthy merchants can’t imagine! In the second half of the verse, Jesus says that He knows about the blasphemy of the Jews, and then He says that they aren’t even real Jews, but actually belong to the synagogue of Satan. The historical context of this verse is that in the midst of all of the persecution of the Christians, it was often the Jews that would cause them the most trouble. Some of the Jewish leaders, much like the Apostle Paul before his conversion, would hunt down Christians and turn them into the Roman authorities for not worshipping the emperor. Why in this verse does Jesus say that the Jews aren’t even really Jews? What did it mean to be a Jew anyways? Well, very often the Jewish people blurred the lines between ethnicity and religion. Whenever God set up the religion of Judaism, it was not supposed to be a one-race religion. God said that people from all nations could become Jews if they wanted to. But the Israelites loved to say that because they were Israelites, they were automatically Jews. But in this verse, Jesus says that the people that are claiming to be Jews aren’t, because even though they have the right genes, they have the entirely wrong heart. Jesus caps off His criticism of the Jews by saying that they are actually a part of the synagogue of Satan! Wow, that is really blunt!
In the first half of verse ten, look at what the Bible says would happen to the church at Smyrna. “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days.” Jesus in this verse tells them that some of them will be cast into prison so that they can be tried by the law. Then He tells them that they will have tribulation for ten days. Most interpreters agree that the ten days mentioned in this verse is a reference to a ten-year period of persecution that the Christians suffered. It is quite common for prophecies to use the word “days” when they are referring to “years.” And knowing that they are going to undergo severe persecution for a period of ten years, what does Jesus tell them at the beginning of the verse? He told them to not fear any of the things that were going to happen to them.
Why is it that we should not fear anything that man can do to us? The answer to this huge question is found in the second half of verse ten and verse eleven. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” Jesus in this verse says that the people who die for their faith will have a crown of life waiting for them in heaven. And at the end of verse eleven, He enunciates this point by saying that the victorious Christian will not be hurt by the second death. While the first statement would apply only to martyrs of the faith, it appears that the last statement applies to all believers. Jesus tells us that if we persevere in the faith until we die, then we will not face a spiritual death.
Do you remember last week what I said about the church in Ephesus in the year 2011? There are absolutely zero known Christians in that area. But Jesus commended the church in Smyrna for their ability to endure persecution, and Christ challenged them to always endure in the faith, because it was worth it in the end. And did you know that the Ottomon Empire had a nickname for the city of Smyrna? The Turks called the city “Infidel Smyrna.” Can you guess why a Muslim empire would say that a city was “infidel?” Because even today, there is a community of believers in the city of Smyrna, in the midst of a staunch Muslim country! They have hung on for more than 1900 years!
And in some ways, it is hard to apply Christ’s message to Smyrna to our lives. The chances of the American government killing Christians are virtually non-existent. But Christ challenged the believers in Smyrna to hold on until the end, because the reward was worth the cost. And tonight, I ask of you, “How much is your faith worth to you?” What would you do if the government outlawed Christianity, and being caught worshipping God was punishable by death? Would you give up, or would you hold on? Or on a more realistic note, what would you do if being a Christian meant not being able to accept that promotion because it would keep you out of church, or being a Christian meant being the butt of your friend’s jokes because you refused to go drinking at that club with them? Sometimes being a Christian is extremely costly. More and more in this world, Christianity is becoming very unpopular. As the cultural tide swings more and more against evangelical Christianity, is this church going to cave into the pressure, or is this church going to stand firm on the rock of the gospel? While each one of you must make that decision for yourself, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I pray that you will decide that serving Jesus is worth any price you may have to pay for His worthy name.
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