Smyrna - the Rich Poor Church

Rev 2:8-11

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:

9 "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

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 tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."' (NKJ)

"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,

It was the loveliest of all the cities and was sometimes called "the Ornament of Asia," "the Crown of Asia," or sometimes "the Flower of Asia." It was beautifully situated. It stood at the end of a road that journeyed westward across the lands of Lydia (western Asia Minor) and Phrygia (a land in the center of Asia Minor, our modern Turkey) and traveled out to the east.

In relation to the sea, it stood at the end of a long arm of the sea which ended in a small land-locked harbor in the very heart of the city making it one of the safest harbors. It controlled the trade of the rich Hermus Valley and was a great, wealthy, and important city.

The city itself began at the harbor and traversed the narrow foothills. Behind the city rose a hill covered with temples and noble buildings which encircled a hill named the Pagos, but the hill was also called the "the Crown of Smyrna" because of the way the buildings formed a crown around the hill. J. Hampton Keathley III Studies in Revelation

The city of Smyrna received its name from one of its principal commercial products, namely, myrrh. For many centuries it was notably a prosperous seaport city, the port of myrrh. It was situated about forty miles north of Ephesus.

The Greek word Smyrna is actually a word of Semitic origin, the Hebrew root meaning "bitter." It was a gum resin taken from a shrubby tree and had a bitter taste. It was used as an ingredient in making perfume (Psalm 45:8); as one of the ingredients of the holy anointing oil for the priests (Exodus 30:23); for the purification of women (Esther 2:12); and for embalming (John 19:39). It is most significant that our Lord spoke as He did to the assembly at Smyrna, for this church was in the midst of bitter sorrow and suffering. Lehman Strauss The Book of Revelation

Smyrna was a proud and beautiful city. Three to four hundred years after it had been destroyed by Alyattes, king of Lydia, it was rebuilt in 290 BC by Lysimachus and Antigonus as a model city. It boasted a famous stadium, library, and public theater (the largest in Asia). It claimed to be the birthplace of the great epic poet Homer. A famous thoroughfare called the Street of Gold curved around Mt. Pagus (which rose over 500 feet from the harbor) like a necklace on the statue of a goddess. At either end was a temple, one to a local variety of Cybele, known as Sipylene Mother (a patron divinity), and the other to Zeus. The acropolis on Mt. Pagus was called the crown or garland of Smyrna. In NT times the population may have been about 200,000. Coins describe the city as "First of Asia in beauty and size." Robert H. Mounce The Book of Revelation

Smyrna sustained a special relationship to Rome and the imperial cult. During the period when Rome was engaged in a struggle for supremacy against the Carthaginian empire (roughly 265--146 BC) Smyrna had placed itself on the side of the Romans, and in 195 BC it became the first city in the ancient world to build a temple in honor of Dea Roma. Later, in 23 BC, Smyrna won permission (over ten other Asian cities) to build a temple to the emperor Tiberius (Tacitus, Ann. iv.55--56). This strong allegiance to Rome plus a large Jewish population which was actively hostile to the Christians made it exceptionally difficult to live as a Christian in Smyrna. Robert H. Mounce The Book of Revelation

The city of Smyrna is today called Izmir with a population of 300,000. Even in New Testament times it had a population of about 100,000. It stands on a bay of the Aegean Sea with an excellent harbor. The city date back to 3000 B.C. About 900 B.C., according to Herodotus, the are fell into the hands of the Ionians from Colophon and there commenced the most glorious phase of Smyrna's history. During this period the poet Homer was born, lived and died at Smyrna. The city was destroyed several times. In the 4th century B.C. it was rebuilt as it stood during the days of the apostles. At Smyrna there was also a large Jewish community which would become a help in persecuting the Christians. The city was filled with idols to the various Greek gods and goddesses. They were also vary favorable to empower worship. Fredk A. Tatford The Patmos Letters

The word Smyrna is related to the word [myrrh], which in turn is symbolic of death. Smyrna's history has been one of successive sackings, fires, destructions. Polycarp, one of the most famous of the earlier martyrs, was Bishop of Smyrna. This city is the only one of the seven still in flourishing condition. (from Wycliffe Commentary)

The name "smyrna" comes from the word myrrh. Myrrh was a fragrant spice which was used in Israel's rituals. This spice had to be crushed or beaten small before it gave off its fragrance. So was it with the church at Smyrna, and so is it with all believers in Christ. The best Christians are those who have gone through the fires of affliction. J. Willard Willis The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The church of Smyrna was singled out by our Lord for the second of the seven letters. If one traveled from Ephesus to Smyrna, he would cover a distance of about thirty-five miles to the north, entering Smyrna by what was called the "Ephesian Gate." Smyrna was a wealthy city, second only to Ephesus in the entire area and, like Ephesus, a seaport. Unlike Ephesus, which today is uninhabited, Smyrna is still a large city and contains a Christian church. Unger states,

Anciently it was one of the finest cities of Asia, and was called "The lovely--the crown of Ionia--the ornament of Asia." It is now the chief city of Anatolia, with a mixed population of 200,000 people, one- third of whom are Christians. Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary, p. 1033.

In this large and flourishing commercial center was the little church to which this message was sent. Smyrna is mentioned only here in Scripture, but from other literature it is evident that this city was noted for its wickedness and opposition to the Christian gospel in the first century. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:

These things saith the first and the last, who became dead, and lived (literal translation). How fitting a title! The church at Smyrna was troubled, poor, and blasphemed by false Jews, and some were to be martyred. But Christ speaks as having endured the same thing and risen triumphant over all, even death itself! William R. Newell Revelation

"Who became dead, and lived" has a real message for martyrs. His experience with death identified Him with the five million who were martyred during this period. (According to Fox's Book of Martyrs, five million believers died for Christ during this period.) Christ was triumphant over death and can save to the uttermost those who are enduring persecution and martyrdom. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary

These features of the person and work of Christ are especially adapted to constitute words of encouragement to the church at Smyrna which was undergoing great trial and affliction. The word Smyrna itself means "myrrh," a sweet perfume used in embalming dead bodies, and included in the holy anointing oil used in the Tabernacle worship in the Old Testament (Exodus 30:23). It was also a common perfume and is mentioned as used by the bridegroom in the Song of Solomon 3:6 where the question is asked, "Who is this that cometh out of the wilder ness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchants?" Likewise in Psalm 45:8, the heavenly Bridegroom is described as using myrrh as perfume: "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad." The fragrance of Christ as the bridegroom is thus represented typically by the myrrh. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

He thus reveals Himself to them in the way best suited to comfort them in their sorrow and to encourage them in their sufferings. He would console them by reminding them that He had passed through suffering and death and had triumphed over it. ... Having been tempted and tried in all points as they were, He was now their Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:15-16). Lehman Strauss The Book of Revelation

"I know your works, tribulation, and poverty

Afflictions - (actually thlipsis is singular), which means serious trouble, the burden that crushes. Leon Morris Revelation

TRIBULATION (Gr thlipsis, a word that conveys the idea of pressing grapes until the juice comes forth). Christ has gone to the utmost depths of suffering and death. He sometimes permits trials in order to rekindle lost first love (Ps 119:67). KJV Bible commentary

Poverty - John uses the strong word ptocheia, which Trench distinguishes from penia: 'The penes has nothing superfluous, the ptochos nothing at all.' The poverty of the Smyrneans was extreme. Yet Christ can say you are rich (contrast 3:17). Leon Morris Revelation

The men of this church loved their wives and children even as we love our families. I'm sure that they could have provided well for them if they would have denied their Lord. However, they would not do so seeing that their love looked beyond the present. They were aware that only that which was done for Christ would last. They knew that the day would soon be gone and the night would come when no man could work; therefore, it was far more important that little Johnnie and little Mary be filled with the Spirit rather than food. It was far more important that they be covered with the blood of Christ rather than covered with a roof over their heads. We who live nearly two thousand years this side of these people know that they chose wisely and well. We know that they put first things first. J. Willard Willis The Revelation of Jesus Christ

If the world does not persecute the church, it is either because it has corrupted her so far that her testimony does not seriously interfere with its more refined indulgences, or because it regards her as too powerless to be worthy of her notice. James Ramsey The Book of Revelation

(but you are rich);

There were many reasons for our Lord's declaring this church to be rich: namely, the blood of Jesus Christ had cleansed them from all sin (I Peter 1:18-19); they had peace (Col. 1:20); the Lord had no charge against them (Rom. 5:9); they were rich because they were being slandered (Mt. 5:10-12). These people were very rich because they were storing up treasures in heaven (Mt. 6:19-20). J. Willard Willis The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Christian who is laying up treasure in Heaven is rich indeed (Matthew 6:19-21). The poverty of those early saints was a part of their tribulation, but they knew that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).

But our Lord knew their poverty as something that He Himself had experienced. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). He was born in a borrowed stable, and early in His ministry He said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests: but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20). Those poor saints in Smyrna were comforted by His words.

However, this church was rich despite her poverty, for Christ added, "but thou art rich." Here is one of the many paradoxes in the Bible. Paul expressed it, "as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:10). Peter demonstrated the "riches in rags" paradox when he said to the lame man at the gate of the temple, 'Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6). The trusting child of God is never alarmed over the seeming inequality in material things between the righteous and the wicked. The word rich (Gr. plousios) is the source of our English word "plutocrat." Christians are the Lord's plutocrats, many of whom have little or no money in the banks of this world, but an abundance of treasure in Heaven. They are rich in their possession of a Saviour, the Scriptures, and the bright and blessed prospect of an eternal home in Heaven.

We cannot leave this parenthesis in Revelation 2:9 without comparing it with the church of Laodicea. ... What a striking contrast between these two churches! Christ designates Smyrna the poor rich church and Laodicea the rich poor church. There is a poverty which is riches and a wealth which is poverty. Lehman Strauss The Book of Revelation

and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

With the "synagogue of Satan" here, co pare "the throne of Satan" (chap. ii. 13), " the depths of Satan" (chap. ii. 24). C.J. Ellicott The Revelation

When we were children, most of our mothers taught us not to call names. In recent years the academy, the media and the church have taken our mothers' places by urging us to be always polite and politically correct in language we use about various religious or ethnic groups. Yet the Bible is sometimes far from politically correct! There is a considerable amount of name calling, or labeling, in Jesus' teaching and in early Christianity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the book of Revelation. The message to Smyrna assumes that the congregation will soon face an outbreak of persecution, linked to a group labeled a synagogue of Satan (v. 9) and composed of those who say they are Jews and are not. Like the "false apostles" who had come to Ephesus, these bogus Jews are liars (compare 3:9) in claiming to be something other than what they are. Most commentators (for example, Beasley-Murray 1974:82; Wall 1991:73) identify this group as actual Jews in Smyrna who refused to accept Jesus as Messiah (compare Paul's distinction between those who are Jews "outwardly" and those who are Jews "inwardly.., by the Spirit, not by the written code," Rom 2:28-29). The assumption is that Christians, even Gentile Christians, by the end of the first century were regarding themselves as the true "Jews," and the actual ethnic Jews as no Jews at all.

It is true that many Jews in Smyrna were deeply hostile to Christianity, at least by the mid-second century, and eagerly joined with the Romans in consigning Polycarp to the flames (Martyrdom of Polycarp 11.2; 12.1). Still, when the message to Smyrna speaks of those who say they are Jews and are not (v. 9), it is safer to take the words literally. Do we really want to put John (much less the risen Jesus) in the position of claiming that when a Jew calls himself a Jew, he is lying? Even the fine art of name calling requires fair play!

A better interpretation is that the synagogue of Satan consisted of Gentile Christians who had "Judaized," that is, who adopted Jewish ways or even converted to Judaism, perhaps in order to avoid persecution by the Romans (Wilson 1992:613-15). Judaism was an ancient religion, largely tolerated in Roman Asia, while Christianity, being relatively new, was regarded with suspicion by many Asians as an erratic and possibly subversive cult. Judaism may have seemed to some Christians in Smyrna a tempting haven of safety. Ignatius commented in the second century that "it is absurd to talk of Jesus Christ and practice Judaism, for Christianity did not develop into faith in Judaism, but Judaism into faith in Christianity, in which people of every language who believed in God were brought together" (To the Magnesians 10.3; Grant 1966:64). He also warned that "if anyone interprets Judaism to you, do not listen to him. For it is better to hear Christianity from a man who has received circumcision than Judaism from one who has not" (To the Philadelphians 6.1; Grant 1966:103). Such parallels from the Asian cities support the view that the label synagogue of Satan was directed not at Jews, but at Judaizing Gentiles. Some in the Jewish community may even have agreed with this judgment! J. Ramsey Michaels Revelation

As Christ has a church in the world, the spiritual Israel of God, so the devil has his synagogue. Those assemblies which are set up in opposition to the truths of the gospel, and which promote and propagate damnable errors,-- those which are set up in opposition to the purity and spirituality of gospel worship, and which promote and propagate the vain inventions of men and rites and ceremonies which never entered into the thoughts of God,-- these are all synagogues of Satan: he presides over them, he works in them, his interests are served by them, and he receives a horrid homage and honour from them. For the synagogues of Satan to give themselves out to be the church or Israel of God is no less than blasphemy. God is greatly dishonoured when his name is made use of to promote and patronize the interests of Satan; and he has a high resentment of this blasphemy, and will take a just revenge on those who persist in it. (from Matthew Henry's Commentary)

These Jews, no doubt, prided themselves for being the seed of Abraham and they reverenced their synagogue, considering it God's dwelling place. However, God's thoughts were vastly different from theirs, for He labeled their synagogue as the "synagogue of Satan." Furthermore, these Jews felt that they were doing God a service by abusing and making light of the dear saints at Smyrna, but God branded their action as "blasphemy." J. Willard Willis The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Jews who blasphemed, however, were not real Jews. This should be taken in the sense of Romans 2:28--29, where Paul says that "he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly... [but]. .. he is a Jew who is one inwardly. Robert H. Mounce The Book of Revelation

The reference is not to the Jewish nation in general. What is meant is the legalizing, Judaizing movement of the early Christian era. It was Galatianism which made its appearance in the apostolic and sub-apostolic age, because men tried to dilute the grace of God with legalism and ceremonialism. Satan's synagogue is in opposition here to the church of God. Satan attacked this church from without by persecution and from within by perversion of doctrine. The evil had evidently not made inroads into this church, for there is no censure or command to repent. KJV Bible commentary

These are actual Jews and only Jews, not Christians. (from Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament)

Actually Jews by birth, but not spiritually. The title is not given them by the Spirit, nor by the seer, but by themselves; and none would use that title except such as were Jews by birth and by religion. The enmity of the Jews against Christians is a familiar fact to all readers of the book of Acts; and it is a matter of history that their malignity was especially displayed toward the Church of Smyrna.(from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

Christ is also aware of the slanderous accusations directed against the believers by the Jewish population at Smyrna. The Martyrdom of Polycarp documents this hostility most clearly. After the venerable Polycarp confessed that he was a Christian, "the multitude of heathen and Jews living in Smyrna cried out with uncontrollable wrath" (Mart. Pol. xii.2; italics added). They then joined (although it was the Sabbath) with the mob in gathering wood to bum Polycarp alive (Mart. Pol. xiii. 1) Robert H. Mounce The Book of Revelation

But it is not merely the world as such, in its professed neglect of the gospel and opposition to its claims, that hates the true and faithful church. Its most bitter enemies and fiercest persecutors, as here foreshadowed, have been false and apostate churches, who retained the name, the forms, and a certain outward succession, and therefore claimed to be the only chosen people of God, like these persecutors of Smyrna, who said they were Jews and were not, but were the synagogue of Satan. James Ramsey The Book of Revelation

"Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.

Though Christ proclaimed His yoke to be easy, He also said that His followers must expect tribulation (John xvi. 33). He never conceals the difficulties or dangers of His service. (See Matt. x. 16--31; Acts ix. 16.) C.J. Ellicott The Revelation

Alford confirms this interpretation by the account of the martyrdom of Polycarp in which the Jews were active." Thus it has always been in the church; false religion has been most zealous in opposing that which is true. The Smyrna Christians found few friends in the hostile world around them. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Many times it is difficult to understand why God should allow His people to undergo such great sufferings. Walvoord lists several of which the last two are included here.

Suffering is also represented in Scripture as teaching the child of God what could otherwise remain unlearned. Even Christ is said to have "learned . . . obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8), and for Christians in general the experience of suffering is educative. Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Still a further reason for suffering is found in the fact that Christians through suffering can often bear a better testimony for Christ. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

It seems inevitable that America will suffer the same. That there is a present application here, none can deny. Both our Lord and the Apostle Paul wrote of impending tribulation that would arise during the Church Age (John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12). Lehman Strauss The Book of Revelation

Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested,

The LXX. translation gives this name to Satan, regarding him as the "accuser." (See Job i. 6 ; Zech. 1, 2 ; and comp. Rev. xii. 10, where he is described as the "accuser of the brethren.") C.J. Ellicott The Revelation

It is interesting that there is no word that the Smyrnans would escape their suffering. But even more, they are told their trials would be increased. They were tortured, exposed to wild bulls and lions that tore them to pieces. In the Roman Empire, imprisonment was not a form of punishment as today, because the government was not willing to support a multitude of prisoners. A man in prison was either awaiting his trial or death. KJV Bible commentary

It is noteworthy that the word of Christ to the church of Smyrna contains no word of rebuke. The very trials that afflicted them assured them of deliverance from any lack of fervency for the Lord and kept them from any impurity or compromise with evil. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

and you will have tribulation ten days.

Let us note the words, "Ye shall have tribulation ten days." There were exactly ten Roman edicts issued during the second and third centuries which had as their object the wiping out of every Christian. It cost something to be a Christian in those days. Many were put to death in the arena; some were forced to fight with the gladiators, torn to pieces by lions, or tied to ants nests after their bodies had been covered with honey. Others were tied to stakes around Nero's gardens, and at night the darkness was pierced by the flames which blazed from their martyred bodies, veritable human torches! Ah yes, it cost something to be a Christian then! Louis T. Talbot The Revelation of Jesus Christ

J. J. Van Gorder in ABC's of the Revelation lists the ten edicts of ten pagan Roman rulers and their approximate dates:

Nero A.D. 54 Domitian A.D. 81

Trojan A.D. 98 Antoninus A.D. 117

Severus A.D. 195

Maximim A.D. 235

Decius A.D. 249

Valerian A.D. 254

Aurelian A.D. 270

Diocletian A.D. 284 Lehman Strauss The Book of Revelation

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Yet as the time approached, believers needed to be admonished lest the threat of martyrdom would cause the fainthearted to relinquish their hold on Christ. They must recognize that while the persecution would be carried out by Roman authorities, it was in reality the devil himself who was responsible for their plight. He is the one who would try their faith through imprisonment and tribulation. Most commentators note that in the ancient world prison was a place where the accused awaited execution. ... The church is to continue faithful even though it may lead to death (cf. Rev 12:11; Heb 12:4). The reward for faithfulness is the crown of life. It is not the royal crown (the diadema) which is promised, but the wreath or garland (the stephanos) which was awarded to the victor at the games. According to Pausanias, Smyrna was famous for its games (vi. 14.3). With others, Bruce thinks that the imagery is suggested by the circle of colonnaded buildings on the crest of Mt. Pagos called the crown of Smyrna (p. 638). Robert H. Mounce The Book of Revelation

A crown was given to the priest who presided at the Dionysian Mysteries, which were celebrated with great pomp at Smyrna. A crown was also given at the Olympian Games, which were held at Smyrna. If there is any allusion to either of these, the latter would be the most natural. Some hold, however, the crown-- though the word is stephanos, not diadema--is rather that of royalty than of victory. It is interesting to note that the narrative which tells of the death of Polycarp closes with words which it is difficult not to believe to be an allusion to this promise--" By his patience he overcame the unrighteous ruler, and received the crown of immortality" (Smyrn. Ep.'). C.J. Ellicott The Revelation

Christ Himself, with His own nail' pierced hands, will place upon the heads of those "faithful unto death" a crown of life as a reward for their faithfulness. Satan may kill the physical body, but "he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death," which is "the lake of fire" (2:11; 20:14).

The crown of life is apparently the crown of eternal life. The glories of life eternal stand in contrast to the trials of martyrdom and erase the dark shadows of persecution and death. The crown of life may be contrasted to the other crowns promised the child of God: the crown of righteousness for a godly life (II Tim. 4:8), the crown of glory for faithful shepherds (I Peter 5:4), the crown of gold, the evidence of our redemption (Rev. 4:4), the crown of rejoicing (I Thess. 2:19), believers in heaven won by Paul, and the incorruptible crown (I Cor. 9:25) for self-control in the race of life. The crown follows the cross. Some would limit the crown of life to martyrs, however, as a crown of abundant blessing--a crown of "royal environment," a "symbol of victory," and a "crown of joy."' John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Christ Himself, with His own nail' pierced hands, will place upon the heads of those "faithful unto death" a crown of life as a reward for their faithfulness. Satan may kill the physical body, but "he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death," which is "the lake of fire" (2:11; 20:14). Louis T. Talbot The Revelation of Jesus Christ

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."'

There is a double negative in the Greek-- "not at all be injured." The saints may have to bow their heads to those who execute the first death--who "kill the body"; but over these, we read, "the second death hath no authority" (Revelation 20 :6). William R. Newell Revelation

"The second death." Dwight L. Moody put it like this: "He who is born once will die twice; he who is born twice will die once." J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary

Conclusion

Just as the church at Ephesus in large measure is representative of the spiritual state of the church of Jesus Christ in the world at the close of the first century, the fruit of apostolic ministry and faithful labor, so the trials of the church in Smyrna symbolize the persecution and trials the early church endured until the time of Constantine in the beginning of the fourth century. Though beset by many foes and without the power of wealth which characterized the later church, these years witnessed to the purity and fidelity of those who represented Christ. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Prophetically, Smyrna sets forth that age or stage in Church history when the Church was persecuted beneath the iron heel of pagan Rome. The persecution had begun in John's day, thus in a primary sense the message applied locally. But the prophetic era extended to about A.D. 312. Lehman Strauss The Book of Revelation

 

Smyrna - the Rich Poor Church

Rev 2:8-11

 

Rev 2:8-11

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:

9 "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

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 tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."' (NKJ)

In our message last week we looked at the church at Ephesus. This week we move about 40 miles to the north northwest. The city was beautiful as it set on the coast of the Aegean Sea. Behind the city away from the sea was a hill that rose about 500 foot and the city temples were arranged on the side to the hill to form what appeared to be a crown. The city was even called the crown of Asia. But these temples were temples to the pagan gods. There was also here a temple to the Emperor.

We are also told that during this time there was a large Jewish community at Smyrna. They were opposed to the Christians as always.

Also among this beautiful but wicked city there had been formed a church of Jesus Christ probably about the time of Paul's stay for three years at Ephesus. We know almost nothing about the church from the New Testament as this is the only mention of it we have.

This church represents the period of imperial persecution. It began about 67 A.D. and continued through the reign of Diocletion. In Foxes Book of Martyrs it tells us that during that period over 5,000,000,000 we tortured and killed for their faith.

But the church has never fully escaped the hand of the persecutor. Even today around the world we have accounts of Christians being persecuted for their faith. On the back of the bulletin there is a news account that happened just recently in India.

But here in America it is hard for us to identify with the persecuted church. We do not live in fear of losing our lives for our faith. We have such great freedom, such great wealth, (most of the world is not worried about retirement but supper.) But yet for all our privilege and position we have not impacted our world. We have not even impacted it as much as did these saints at Smyrna.

Let us see what there is in this passage that the Lord would have us to know.

  1. Notice how Jesus relates to these persecuted saints. These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life
    1. Remember that this speaks of the deity of Jesus.
      1. Isa 44:6 "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God. (NKJ)
      2. He wants them to know that the one they have aligned themselves with is none other than almighty God.
      3. Many times in our age of enlightenment we want to think only in the positive about God, but even Jesus told us that we should not fear those who could kill the body and then could do no more.
      4. He said that we should rather fear Him who could destroy both body and soul in hell.
      5. We as Christians have experienced the love and mercy of God but we must never forget that He is God and take advantage of His grace.
      6. When these early Christians were offered life if they would simply burn some incense on the altar to the Emperor they refused and chose to die instead.
      7. Today I am sure the main line churches would work out a compromise where we could please God and the emperor too.
    2. Notice also that He tells them that He was dead and lives.
      1. Vance Havner said that dead was the only thing that Jesus ever was.
      2. But the idea here is that Jesus has already traveled the road that they too must go down.
      3. He too has suffered at the hands of the same groups that would put these first century Christians to death.
      4. But the assurance He gives them is that though He was dead, yet now He lives.
      5. When they came to face death they could know that their Savior had already been there and had conquered death and the grave.
      6. Now although we might not face death in the same fashion as these early Christians yet we will face it.
      7. But do not let Satan use death against us. He know that he cannot win and that for the Christian death is very short and only leads us to eternal bliss.
  2. Notice how He commends them. I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)
    1. Their works
      1. I think that one of the things that we can see from this is that those who are facing persecution do not need to be lectured about their first love.
      2. Their works may not be like those of the rich church that has money to throw away yet like the widow who cast in only two mites had yet cast in all her livelihood.
    2. Their tribulation
      1. When they were being persecuted it was the same as if Jesus was being persecuted.
      2. We often need to know that someone cares.
      3. Well Jesus cares and never louses sight of our suffering for Him.
      4. But we should also say that Jesus knows the sufferings of all His saints weather it is from persecution of disease.
      5. We have a high priest who has been tempted in all points as we are yet without sin.
      6. He is a sympathetic high priest who is touched by our infirmities.
      7. He is able to identify with what ever it is we are called on to suffer.
    3. Their poverty
      1. Their poverty was no doubt because of the persecution.
      2. Loss of employment is just one way of persecution.
      3. I remember talking to a man who smuggled Bible into the Soviet Union before the wall came down, He told me that it was not against the law to be a Christian but it was against the law to not have ajob but they would fire you if you did not have a job.
      4. Raiders in southern Sudan regularly invade the south and steal everything of any value and burn the homes of the Christians (CBS is going to have a special on this soon).
      5. It is easy to understand how they could have nothing.
      6. As a matter of fact, Trench in his synonym studies tells us that the word used here means to have nothing. It does not simply mean to have only the bare necessities.
    4. Their wealth
      1. But they were rich.
      2. Not rich in earthy gain.
      3. Not rich in what the world values most.
      4. But rich toward God.
      5. Jesus told us to lay up treasure in heaven.
      6. He told us to not labor for the things that perish.
      7. The church of Laodicea had great wealth here on earth but poverty of spiritual things and of eternal value.
      8. After this life is done is when the wealth will be figured.
      9. He who dies with the most toys does not win if all he ever had must be left behind.
      10. These suffering saints were rich beyond their wildest dreams.
  3. Notice their situation.
    1. I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
      1. There was in Smyrna a large community of Jews.
      2. It seems that they had long ago compromised on the subject of Emperor worship.
      3. But they could not tolerate these Christians who talked of the Messiah who had come to set men free from the rigors of the law.
      4. They could tolerate the pagan feasts and pagan worship in their mist but could not tolerate a small and almost insignificant group of Christians.
      5. So they conspired with the pagans to rid the earth of the scourge of Christians.
      6. Jesus says they claim to be Jews but they are not.
      7. They are not God's but Satan's.
      8. This tells us who is really behind the persecution of the saints here and around the world; Satan.
        1. He is referred to as our accuser.
        2. As our adversary.
        3. A destroyer.
        4. Satan works through every group he can to persecute God's people.
    2. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison,
      1. Prison was only for those awaiting execution or trial.
    3. that you may be tested,
      1. We might think it strange Peter says concerning the fiery trials that we are to be tried with.
      2. 1 Pet 4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; (NKJ)
      3. James talks about the trying of our faith.
      4. Abraham's faith was tried.
      5. Satan was sure that Job would fail the test.
    4. and you will have tribulation ten days
      1. We do not know for sure what this means.
      2. But at least indicates a trial of a certain duration.
  4. Notice how He assures them.
    1. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.
      1. Notice He does not say, do not fear for you will not suffer.
      2. We live in a day and age where people think this god thing is something that we can get a benefit from and if there is not payoff then on we go to somewhere else.
      3. God does not promise us that we will never suffer but that he will give us the grace that we need to go through it.
      4. You and I will never figure out why the righteous must suffer so many things in this life.
      5. We would think that if you sign on with God that He would take care of problems like that.
      6. He hasn't promised us no problems but that He would see us through the problems.
    2. Be faithful until death,
      1. The idea here is not until you get old and die.
      2. The idea here is be faithful even though they are putting you to death.
      3. I have heard many claim that if it came to persecution they would stand fast.
      4. Well that is what Peter had hoped also.
      5. But those who cannot stand for the faith in America would have great difficultly in the Sudan.
    3. and I will give you the crown of life.
      1. The Crown of Life seems to be the martyr' crown.
      2. I think it is more than just indicating eternal life.
      3. To say that we fat and sassy Christians in America will stand in the same place as those who were called on to give their lives doesn't make sense to me.
      4. I think it is also worthy of not who will give the crown. Jesus Himself will give us such a crown.
    4. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.
      1. To die once we all can be assured of but if we have been born from above, we will never be hurt of the second death.
      2. This is a great comfort to those Christians who are facing such torture and death.
      3. That for them the pain and death will soon be done and over while those who have inflicted these things will be hurt of the second death.
      4. The second death is the lake of fire.
      5. It is an eternal separation from God.
      6. Those who wanted to live their lives without God will get their wish.

What if God called on us to suffer for Him. It could happen even in America. Is your faith strong enough to stand in the day of trial. Could you and I be faithful unto death?

Jesus will see us through if we put our trust in Him and cast all our cares upon Him for He cares for you.  

This message was preached at FBC Toulon, by Albert Harmon. See it at http://toulonbaptist.com