"To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich.
I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are of the synagogue of Satan. |
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.
I tell you the devil will put some of you in prison to test you and you will suffer persecution for ten days.
Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.
He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
It was natural that the letter to Smyrna would follow the letter to Ephesus for Smyrna was located
only 40 miles up the coast from Ephesus.
The city was second only to Ephesus in position and importance.
Smyrna was known as "The Beauty of Asia."
It was wealthy, prosperous and famous as a center of emperor worship.
The large number of Jews living there were bitter opponents of Christianity.
The church of Smyrna was known as the "suffering church."
The message is a word of encourage from the Lord who has triumphed over death and the grave.
The Lord assures them that He is aware of their condition.
"I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them
that say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan."
Their "tribulation" is severe and it probably produced their poverty.
Their tribulation was accompanied by slander and vilification.
This type of blasphemy was coming from the Jews, who were Jews in name only.
This group was the instrument of Satan.
And they were to suffer even worse trials:
"The devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried;
and ye shall have tribulation ten days."
They will move from tribulation to martyrdom.
Jesus says, "Be thou faithful unto death."
The assurance that the Christians of Smyrna needed is the same assurance that we need today.
Here is the assurance that God knows what we are facing.
In all their distress and all of ours we have the companionship of a living and sympathetic Savior.
He says; "I know thy tribulation."
Then He reminds them that their poverty is not real, because all who belong to Christ possess true riches.
We have spiritual treasures that no one can take away.
We can take comfort in knowing that God's estimate reverses the false claims of men.
The real people of God are not those who are Jews by birth or by name.
The church is the true heir of His great promises.
There is also the assurance that a definite limit is set to the suffering of those true Christians.
It may seem long, but it will only last for "ten days."
This indicated "a short time."
You may be going through suffering,
Your suffering may be known only by you and God.
Jesus says to you:
"I am God, and I know about your suffering and I can enable you to overcome."
Nothing escapes Christ's attention.
He can say also to us, "I know about your afflictions."
"Afflictions" means intense pressure or persecution.
There was no way for those Christians in Smyrna to hide their Christianity.
They were either for Christ or for the emperor.
When they attended a prayer meeting others knew what they were doing.
And sooner or later someone would turn them in to the authorities and their persecution would follow.
Many believers died for their faith in the city of Smyrna.
One of the most popular and famous Christian leaders was Polycarp, who later became
the bishop of Smyrna and was martyred for his faith.
He was burned at the stake.
Barclay's commentary on the Revelation of John tells us of his martyrdom:
"Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was martyred on Saturday 23rd, February, A.D. 155.
It was the time of the public games; the city was crowded, and the crowds were excited.
Suddenly the shout went up: " Away with the atheists; let Polycarp be a searched for."
No doubt Polycarp could have escaped; but already he had had a dream vision
in which he saw the pillow under his head burning with fire
and he had awakened to tell his disciples: " I must be burnt alive."
His whereabouts was betrayed by a slave who collapsed under torture.
They came to arrest him.
He ordered that they should be given a meal and provided with all they wished,
while he asked for himself the privilege of one last hour in prayer.
Not even the police captain wished to see Polycarp die.
On the brief journey to the city, he pleaded with the old man,
" What harm is it to say, ' Caesar is Lord, ' and to offer sacrifice and be saved? "
but Polycarp was adamant that for him only Jesus Christ was Lord.
When he entered the arena there came a voice from heaven saying:
" Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man."
The proconsul gave him the choice of cursing the name of Christ and making sacrifice to Caesar or death.
" Eighty and six years have I served Him," said Polycarp,
" and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? "
The proconsul threatened him with burning, and Polycarp replied:
" You threaten me with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched,
for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come
and in everlasting punishment.
Why are you waiting? Come, do what you will."
And the proconsul did just that!
The people of the city went out and gathered wood and sticks and built a huge funeral pyre;
and it is Polycarp was burned at the stake.
It is also recorded that he insisted that he not be tied tightly to that stake, for he said,
"The God who brought me this far will enable me to stand and stay in the flames!"
And he died for his faith in God.
At the turn of the first century the persecution of the church was beginning.
Smyrna could anticipate severe affliction.
Jesus says, " I know your affliction and I know your poverty."
Some Christians were slaves to other citizens of Smyrna.
Many would have had their possessions confiscated.
They were refused business by the pagan citizens around them.
The word that's used here means, poverty to the point of beggarliness.
They walked the streets to beg for their food.
It cost to be a Christian in Smyrna.
It will cost you to be a Christian if wealth is your goal.
You will turn down shady deals and quick profits made at the expense of others.
You will not cut corners on your work.
You will give a full days work for a full day's wages.
Do the right thing can be expensive and painful.
Many false accusations were made against the the believers in Smyrna.
Here are some of them:
I am glad that I didn't live in first century Smyrna.
Could our nation become like Smyrna?
Jesus says "I will give you the crown of life."
"He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."
The person who suffers martyrdom for Christ fulfills God's higher purpose of demonstrating
to an unbelieving world the reality of the Christian faith.
The one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.
In Revelation 20:11-15:
"I saw the dead great and small standing before the throne and books were opened.
Another book was opened which is the Book of Life, the dead were judged according to what
they had done as recorded in the books.
The sea gave up the dead that were in it.
And death and hades gave up the dead that were in them.
And each person was judged according to what he had done.
Then death and hades were thrown into the Lake of Fire.
The Lake of Fire is the second death; and if anyone's name was not found written
in the book of life he was thrown into the Lake of Fire."
Jesus was telling the church at Smyrna that he who overcomes,
will not be touched by that second death.
Here is the ultimate contrast: eternal life versus eternal death, and a heavenly reward with God
versus everlasting separation from Him in the fires of Hell.
We can trust God when we suffer for He will work all things for our good.
We are not alone in our sufferings.
Jesus will be with us and lead us beside the still waters.
"It will be worth it all
When we see Jesus
Life's trials will seem so small
When we see Christ
One glimpse of His dear face
All sorrow will erase
So bravely run the race
Till we see Christ! "
Sermon by Dr. White