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”.
In our first study of the seven churches we examined the church at Ephesus, the fallen church, this afternoon, we leave Ephesus behind and travel about forty miles North up the coast of modern Turkey where we come to the ancient city of Smyrna which is now known as Izmir. Forty miles is like from our church to Donner Lake or Lake Tahoe. Which are both around forty miles travel mark or maybe more.
As cities go Smyrna was one of the most beautiful of the ancient world, with wonderful physical features and magnificent architecture. Ancient Smyrna was the Paris of its day. Wealthy, stylish, and everything was measured by the standard of wealth, everyone was after symbols of status.
Like all Roman cities Smyrna was saturated with paganism. At the foot of Mount Pagos stood the temple of Zeus the father of the gods, along the Golden Street were shrines to Apollo, the sun god, and Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty.
Commercially, the city of Smyrna was most famous for one product… Myrrh. Indeed, so synonymous was the city with myrrh that it drew its name from the product Smyrna meaning bitter. Myrrh is a resin which is harvested from a tree and had a bitter taste. It is associated with suffering and sorrow, and that is fitting for the church at Smyrna, because it was also called a “suffering church”.
When it comes to the life of our Lord Jesus, Myrrh…seems to always be in the picture. For example: Every Christmas and we are reminded of the gifts given to the Christ child. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. On the cross Christ was offered to drink “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23) After His death He was embalmed with “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” (John 19:39).
At His birth, death and burial myrrh features, but not at His coming again for Isaiah tells us that when the Lord returns in glory, He will be presented with gold and frankincense but no myrrh “They shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:6). When He comes again the Lord Jesus comes as Sovereign and not as Sufferer therefore there is no more mention of Myrrh.
Now, let’s talk about this church at Smyrna. Who started it no one knows, but we do know from church history that its Pastor at the time of this letter was Polycarp. You will never see the church of Smyrna mentioned anywhere in the book of Acts, when the Apostles started planting churches. Not much was mentioned about this church, except from this passage of scripture.
Smyrna was a suffering church, constantly subjected to persecution by the pagan people because of their resistance to idols by the Romans, because they refused to acknowledge the Emperor as a god, and by the Jews who were constantly stirring trouble for the Christians there. There are great lessons for churches in this passage concerning tribulation and trial, and there is much we can learn from it.
“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.
Jesus addresses the believer of Smyrna and reminds them of Him (Jesus) being the “First and the Last”. What was Jesus trying to say to this church by His comment of being the “First and the Last”? It is not without reason that the Lord addresses them in this way. After all, this city was full of paganism, citizens of Smyrna worshipped many gods.
Basically, Jesus was telling them that there was no other God…there is no true God but Him.
He was the First, there was no one else who came after, and He would be the Last. There would be no other God than Jesus, Himself.
“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.
“Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called:
I am He; I am the First and I am the Last.
Throughout the book of Revelations, Jesus will also be mentioned as…
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Basically, Jesus remind them that He alone is God, and there will be no other. All the other gods that this city was worshipping meant nothing, they were a bunch of nobody’s claiming to be some sort of a god!
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.
If last weeks message is still fresh in your head, Jesus said the exact same opening, as He did with the church of Ephesus, “I know your works”. Like I had mentioned last week, God knows the heart of every creation. God knows whether you are for real or not! “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19) You can fool everyone around you, but not God.
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich) This passage is filled with the sorrow and sufferings of the saints at Smyrna. As nice and as glamorous as this city was, this church had no part of that. They did not join in…in what this city was all about. They separated themselves from every false beliefs. They didn’t do what the rest of the world was doing, it didn’t matter to them if they were not popular… in the sense of fame. They stood firm in the Lord. Did you notice, there was no condemnation to this church as the Ephesian church did?
The Lord Jesus sees every sorrow, His heart feels every pain. He counts every tear, He senses the oppression of their grief’s. He felt the full weight of their burdens. Not a trial had passed unnoticed, not a difficulty unobserved. Church, the Lord Jesus knows all about it. He knows every sadness, trials, pressures we endure.
This church is not much different than the churches we see today. There are so many churches today, and each and every one are claiming that they are the right church. Every other church are all false. But, search for the Truth. See with the eyes of your heart whether or not its Jesus who runs the church as the Head of that church. If not…then the second part of this verse comes in…
“I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan”. There in Smyrna was a large Jewish community and a well-established synagogue.
We should not be surprised at this, there was money to be made in that city. And where there is a thriving commercial community almost invariably, as freedom allows there is a thriving Jewish community.
These Jews were guilty of the blasphemy in the Lord’s sight. These Jews were slandering the church and by their slander, and accusations they had brought misery upon God’s people.
Of course, Satan is the accuser or slanderer of the brethren, and so the Lord ties in their deeds with His and without mincing His words He calls them the “synagogue of Satan”.
When you attack the bride… you attack the groom. Slander the church, slander the Lord of the church. These Jews had made life miserable for the Smyrnian Christians and they weren’t finished yet, there was more to come. But the Lord told them not to fear.
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.
Their trial was by no means over, but the Lord was with them in it, and the very worst that could happen was for them to be transported to glory. See what the devil has in stored for them… “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison”. You know when things are difficult Satan doesn’t give up. He adds to the burden, pain, suffering, he inflicts us with greater problems, he casts his fiery darts our way. And God will allow this for every believer as way of testing, and revelation of true faith.
You may be asking, Why…was God letting the Jews at Smyrna get away with their slander? Why was He permitting Satan to afflict the church further? “that you may be tested”. You see…many false believers were lead to Christ with a promise of a good life. With Christ, you can have whatever you want, just ask and it will be given to you. Well…this church didn’t get what they wanted, they were poor, but rich. (IN HEAVEN)
I guess even the Apostles missed that promise of health, wealth and fame. They were hated, persecuted, prisoned, and put to death. So…where was that promise of a good life for the Apostles? Not here…but in heaven, for all eternity. That is why many so-called believers turn away from God when trials come. False believers will always fail the test because their strength is on their own. They never really believed in God, they just believed in what God can do! Many just wants the benefits…but never to really love God.
This trials that believers face is not just a trial of the flesh, but of faith. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life”. Do you remember what the Lord said to Peter on the night of His arrest?
31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
You see, satan was asking for Peters life, but Jesus prayed for Peter not to fail. You see, satan can only do to us, what God will allow…nothing more. And because of the strength that Jesus gave Peter…Peter became a good testimony for the church. Years later, Peter was to remind the church that they would be tried as gold by fire, but the believer’s faith is much more precious than gold that perishes.
1 Peter 1:6-7
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Is God allowing satan to test you…then “be faithful”.
“will have tribulation ten days”. Every trial has its limit. As hard as it may be to believe it when we are in the valley and there is an end in sight. We will step unto the mountain top again, There will be better days. At Smyrna the trial had only, ten more days to run and it was to be over. Much debate surrounds what is meant by ten days - but it matters little, the point is that there was to be a limit to their sufferings. The devil may well have been allowed to cast some into prison, but he could not go a day beyond the Lord’s ten days. Even when man and Satan are doing their worst - God is still in control.
There is a reward for the saints…
“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”.
Crowns meant a great deal to the people of Smyrna. Faithfulness also meant much to the Smyrnians. Now the Lord Jesus combines those concepts and say “I have a crown... the crown of life... and it is the reward of all those who remain faithful in suffering.” When you are facing suffering, the easiest thing is to compromise your faith or quit it altogether.
The Lord said, “Be faithful until death.” But what does it mean to be faithful? One must be convinced, to go through the trial…. you must be convinced of the Lord is with you through the trial.
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.
The Lord fought for them and the Lord still fights for you. even to the very last and final battle…the Lord fights for His own!
History records the last words of their Pastor Polycarp as he faced execution for His faith. When he was urged to recant, he replied “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong. How can I now speak evil of my King who has saved me?” At that they tied the old man to a stake and burned him to death. Polycarp secured the crown of life. He was not hurt of the second death.
There may be some among our number here this afternoon and you are suffering a great deal. To you the Lord says “I know all about it. I feel your hurt, I sense your need, I understand the kind of pressures you are under. To your church He says I “I know ... your discouragement, difficulties, distress.” Not only does He know & understand, but he holds out a hope, that is… that our trials will not last forever. He is Lord of our tribulations also and He has limited their duration.
To you who are hurting & suffering this afternoon, He holds out a reward that is yours, the crown of life. I expect every Christian wonders… from time to time if he or she will have any crowns. But if you are suffering and remain faithful in your suffering, rest assured there is a crown for you.
Our last verse:
“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”.
Pastor Richard Santos
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