Sun, Jan 30, 2000

The Persecuted Church: Revelation 2:8-11

Ministry of Pastor Joe Guglielmo teachings through the Bible, verse by verse for a better understanding of Gods Word.
Text Print read

THE PERSECUTED CHURCH

REVELATION 2:8-11

Few men of this [past] century have understood better the inevitability of suffering than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He seems never to have wavered in his Christian antagonism to the Nazi regime, although it meant for him imprisonment, the threat of torture, danger to his own family, and finally death. He was executed by the direct order of Heinrich Himmler in April 1945, in the Flossenburg concentration camp, only a few days before it was liberated. It was the fulfillment of what he had always believed and taught: "Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means Passio Passiva suffering because we have to suffer. That is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church, and one of the memoranda drawn up in preparation for the Augsburg Confession similarly defines the Church as the community of those ‘who are persecuted and martyred for the gospel’s sake’...Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer."

- John R. Stott, Christian Counter Culture

As we study the letter Jesus wrote to the church of Smyrna, that is the thought, the church under fire or the persecuted church. So let’s read through this letter and see what the Lord has for us this morning. (Read Revelation 2:8-11).

As in the letter to the Ephesian church, we are going to be looking at 7 key principles or elements. First of all the DESTINATION, or the church that is being addressed. The second is the TITLE or the DESCRIPTION OF JESUS that is given to each of these churches that comes out of chapter 1. The third is the COMMENDATION to each of these churches, except for Laodicea. The fourth is REBUKE to each of these churches, except for Smyrna and Philadelphia. The fifth is a EXHORTATION. The sixth is a WARNING if you don’t obey the Lord, except for Smyrna and Philadelphia. And the seventh is a PROMISE to those who listen and are obedient to the commands of Jesus.

And so, with that in mind, let’s jump into this second letter that Jesus wrote, found in Revelation chapter 2, beginning in verse 8.

REVELATION 2

VERSE 8

The DESTINATION of this letter was Smyrna. And this city was located some 35 miles to the north of Ephesus, and like Ephesus, it too was a seaport city. It was a beautiful city that was filled with all kinds of pagan worship. The most famous of all the streets was the Street of Gold, which began with the Temple of Zeus and ended with the Temple of Cybele. Other temples they had were the temple of Apollo, Nemeseis, Aphrodite, and to Asclepius. Not only that, it was also the center of Emperor worship. Once a year each citizen was required to burn incense on the altar to the godhead of Caesar and say the phrase, "Caesar is lord!" If you refused you could be financially bankrupt, left destitute, or you could even be put to death.

Interestingly enough, the name "Smyrna" means "myrrh" and carries with it the idea of suffering. Myrrh was used in the embalming of the dead, and it gave off a sweet smell. But before that smell could be released, it had to be crushed, and that is what we will see happen with this church. As they are crushed, they radiated the fragrance of Jesus!

Remember last week with the church of Ephesus. Jesus told them to return to their first love; to remember, repent and repeat or He would remove their light, their witness. They refused and Ephesus is no longer in existence, its light went out. But the church of Smyrna, this persecuted church still remains today. Their witness still remains. The city itself is called by its Turkish name, Izmir, and has a population of over 200,000 people. In the church there are some 1,500 people, their light still shines bright in a dark nation. You see, there still is persecution going on there, this time by the hands of the Muslims!

Now the DESCRIPTION OF JESUS that is taken from Revelation chapter 1, is that Jesus is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the one who has conquered death. How important those words must have been to this church that had and still was suffering so much persecution. Some 5 to 6 million Christians were put to death by Rome for their faith in Jesus Christ in just over 200 years. And for this city of Smyrna, they too were feeling the pressure immensely! And to hear that Jesus conquered death and the eternal God is extending that gift to His children, was of great comfort and hope to these people. It is as Jesus said in John 14:19, "A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also." And in John 11:25-26 we read "Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die..." Words of hope, words of comfort!

VERSE 9

God not only knows the work we do for Him, but He knows exactly what we are going through. He is fully aware of the difficult times that come across our path. And if you ever think you are getting more than you can handle, look at what the church of Smyrna was going through.

Foxe’s Book Of Martyr’s speaks of Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John and the Bishop or the senior pastor of the church in Smyrna. He was their pastor for some 50 years. And the Proconsul gave Polycarp the choice of cursing the name of Jesus and making a sacrifice unto Caesar, to call Caesar "Lord!" or death. Polycarp responded by saying "Eighty and six years I have served Him and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

They then threatened to burn him alive, and he once again responded by saying, "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 in everlasting punishment. Why are you waiting? Come, do what you will."

And on February 23, 155 AD, at the age of around 86, they brought him to the stake to be tied, but he refused the ropes. He was willing to stand in the flames for Christ. And as they lit the fire, the fire encircled Polycarp but it did not touch him. And out of frustration the executioner took a spear and thrust in into the chest of Polycarp, puncturing his heart, and killing him. And the blood that flowed out of him put out the flames!

Can you imagine belonging to that church, that was their pastor who was just put to death for his faith in Christ! And that just tells me the only people gathering together to worship the Lord were true believers, no unbeliever or fence sitter would be willing to go through all this if they did not believe, if their faith was not real!

The COMMENDATION that Jesus gives this church is He knows their persecution and their poverty, how they are handling these difficult times. The word that Jesus uses for "tribulation" is the Greek word THLIPSIS, which speaks of the "crushing beneath a weight." This persecution came from the Roman government, and it was brutal. They would boil Christians in oil, throw them to the lions, burn them at the stake, behead them, and-so-on. It was a crushing weight upon this church. It is as Jesus said in John 15:18-20, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also." That is the reality of living for Christ!

Not only that, they also were poor. Now the Greek word that is used for "poverty" speaks of "abject poverty." Let me explain it this way. Trench makes a comparison of two Greek words that are used for poverty. He said "The penes has nothing superfluous, the ptochos nothing at all." That is the word that Jesus used, PTOCHOS, they were destitute, they had nothing at all!

You see, when these people came to Christ, they lost everything, even their jobs. And Rome had this little incentive program for turning in Christians. If you turned a Christian in you would be able to keep 10% of what they had in their possession when they were arrested. So you can see how dangerous it was to be a Christian in Smyrna.

And not only did they stand against this persecution from Rome, but also from those who called themselves Jews. In fact Jesus says they are of the "Synagogue of Satan." In other words, these Jews did not have a relationship with Jesus and they were persecuting those who did. Paul, in Romans 2:28-29 tells us what a true Jew is all about, when he says "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." You are not a Jew by the natural birth, but by the spiritual birth, being born again. The religion they followed was empty because it wasn’t based in the truth and it caused them to be angry, bitter, and even murderers!

Now people today, in looking at the church in Smyrna, would say that this church lacked faith and the power of God. This church was small, poor and many were being put to death for their faith. One faith teacher of today put it this way when he said, "Not only is worrying a sin, but being poor is a sin when God promises prosperity!" Obviously this church was unaware of those promises, or is this teacher wrong in his theology?

The best place to go for the answer to this question is Jesus. Yes some today would see this church as being poor, but Jesus see’s them as being rich! Their wealth was not physical but spiritual! Their wealth was not temporal but eternal! It is as Paul said in II Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." And as James tells us in James 2:5, "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"

Now when we come to the church of Laodicea, the lukewarm church, they had it all. They had health, wealth and prosperity. And as people looked at this church they would see them as rich, as if God was blessing them. And yet Jesus said to them in Revelation 3:17, "Because you say,‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing-- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.Man looks at the outward while God looks at the heart. He sees what is inside us. Don’t become self-sufficient, but rest in the Lord, may your sufficiency come from Him. If you do that God will see you as rich!

In America we are not forced to do things that are sinful, we still have choices. We don’t have to endure much physical suffering for Christ in this nation. The bigger issue for us is will we stand up for the truths of God found in His Word and be willing to take what comes our way, or will we hide our light under a basket, be a secret agent Christian, and not cause any trouble? I think we know what God would have us to do, to stand up for that which is right! As Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-12, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Those are the consequences for standing up for righteousness, not for acting obnoxious!

As you can see, there is no REBUKE for the church of Smyrna. Jesus has nothing against this persecuted church because persecution tends to make the church pure!

VERSE 10

Here is the EXHORTATION, Jesus tells them to "stop being afraid." He is exhorting them not to give up, to continue on in the faith, because things are going to get worse for a time before they get better. Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell them to flee, or hide, or even move to another location. He doesn’t even tell them to water down what they are saying, or compromise their faith. He does tell them to endure through these times. This persecution was a test of their faith in Christ. And it is as Job said in Job 23:10, as he speaks of allowing God’s plan and purpose to bring about good in our lives. He said "But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold."

The "ten days" of tribulation spoken of here, I believe speaks of a limited time of persecution. Some like to place the Roman Emperors in here, saying there were 10 waves of Roman persecution, but that does not seem to fit. Even if it did fit, I still think what the focus really is being spoken of is this persecution was not going to last forever. And I do believe the Scriptures support this idea. In Genesis 24:55 we read "But her brother and her mother said, ‘Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.Also, in Daniel 1:12 we read "Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink." Thus, this persecution that is coming upon this church does have an end point, it won’t continue on forever. Again, the Lord is encouraging them with these words, and these people needed to hear these things for they were facing intense persecution, even to the point of death!

Also, note who is behind this tribulation, Satan! But don’t fear. Why? Because God is in control and Satan is on a short leash, only able to do those things that God allows him to do. Thus, if Satan is behind these things, firing those fiery darts at us, what must we do? Stand strong in the Lord and put on the whole armor of God. Yes things may get rough, it my get very difficult. But listen to the words of encouragement from Paul in I Corinthians 10:13. He said, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." God does not want us to fall, He does not want us to fail, and thus, His hand is always extended to us to help us, to lift us up, to spur us on.

There really is no WARNING given to this church, but a PROMISE is given to them. The promise is this, victory may come in death. Don’t give up. Fight the good fight. If you do you will obtain the crown of life. The Greek word for "crown" is not DIADEMA, which is a royal crown, the crown of a king. The word that is used here is STEPHANOS or the victors crown, or what was given out at the Olympic-like games that were played in Smyrna. And this crown that we will obtain will not parish, but it is eternal! Thus, all that are faithful will obtain this crown, this crown of eternal life that is only found in Christ!

SOME OTHER CROWNS FOUND IN THE SCRIPTURES

1. A CROWN FOR RIGHTEOUS LIVING - II TIMOTHY 4:8.

2. A CROWN FOR FAITHFUL PASTORS - I PETER 5:4.

3. A CROWN OF GOLD SPEAKING OF OUR REDEMPTION - REVELATION 4:4.

4. A CROWN OF REJOICING - I THESSALONIANS 2:19.

5. AN INCORRUPTIBLE CROWN - I CORINTHIANS 9:25.

And we should look forward to these rewards, these crowns that Christ will give us at His appearing. As we are going to see, Paul sure looked forward to them. When Paul was on death row, he wrote to a young pastor named Timothy and said "For I am already being poured outas a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, Ihave finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown ofrighteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not tome only but also to all who have loved His appearing." Now we won’t go around parading all the crowns we have, that would be obnoxious. What will we do with these crowns? I believe we will cast them at the feet of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as Revelation 4:10 seems to indicate. You see, our good works should bring glory to God!

VERSE 11

The other PROMISE we have from the Lord is that if we are faithful unto Him, we have no need to fear the second death. Yes we may experience much pain, much sorrow in this life, but in the end the second death will have no power over us. This second death, spoken of in Revelation chapter 20, is the final judgment, when God will cast those who have rejected Him into the Lake of Fire, and in this second death, their works will be judged and the degree of punishment will be issued out. You see, they were already lost by rejecting Christ, this is only the setting of the punishment they will endure for eternity. It is as D. L. Moody once said, "He who is born once will die twice, he who is born twice will die once." The first death is physical, and the second death is the death of the soul and spirit as they are cast into the Lake of Fire for eternity, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched!

We should understand that persecution is not necessarily bad, for it does get the church moving. For the people in Smyrna deliverance came many times in death. But in America we hear people in the church speak of how I can get healthy, wealthy, and more prosperous by knowing Christ. That is the driving force in their life. But for the people of Smyrna the driving force in their life was to stand faithful to the very end, till the flames of fire put out their life! And even in death to bring glory to God! You see, if you can’t live for Him now, you are not going to be able to die for Him! It is that simple. The people in Smyrna had their priorities right and it showed in how they lived and how they died, for Christ! Their faith was real, not just for show.

We as Christians need to get serious about our relationship with Christ. We many times become lazy in our relationship with Him, we can easily become spiritually out of shape because we don’t take the time to exercise our faith. And thus, when difficult times come we run away, hide ourselves, shut down, and-so-on. But Jesus is admonishing us to stand strong in the faith, even to the very end!

Corrie Ten Boom said that she was in a Russian church when soldiers came bursting in and told the people they had five minutes to renounce Christ and leave or they would all be shot. Many of the people got up and left the church, and as the last person left, as the five minutes were over, the soldiers closed the door and said to the people who remained that they too were Christians and they wanted to make sure that only Christians were in the church, it was that dangerous to be a Christian, even for these soldiers!

What would happen if something like that happened here? I can’t answer that for you, only you can. It is a personal issue between you and the Lord. And Jesus does make this very personal, because He says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches..."He is speaking to you and He is speaking to me. And think about it this way, who else has the words to eternal life? No one! Trust in Him, fight the good fight, don’t give up, for God has a crown for you!

As you read this letter, you will find that there is no condemnation for this church. No negative comments for them. No warnings to them. This persecuted church received only encouragement. We as Christians must be faithful to the end. Yes, it isn’t easy, but we are not out there alone. The Lord is with us as well as our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Persecution didn’t hurt this church, but it did purify it. As G. Campbell Morgan rightly said, "That the church of Christ persecuted has been the church of Christ pure. The church of Christ patronized has always been the church of Christ impure." And we will see that next time as we look at the church in Pergamos, as the church comes out of the catacombs and into the government. In doing so, by marrying the world, they became impure!

Let me leave you this morning with these words from Paul the apostle found in Philippians 1:19-24. He said "For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you."

May you be able to echo Paul’s words, not because they may impress people, but that it is true in your life. That God is the focus and your faith is real. If it is, you too will be able to say,"FOR TO ME, TO LIVE IS CHRIST, AND TO DIE IS GAIN!"

Audio download
Powered by: Preachitsuite