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Jan 27, 2019

Jesus' Last Message to Suffering Saints

Passage: Revelation 2:8-11

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Churches of Revelation

Keywords: church, churches of revelation, eternal life, faith, meaning, pain, satan, suffering, testing, trials

Summary:

The second church in Revelation 2 was one of the few not to be chastised for anything. Instead they are applauded by the Lord and prepared for their future--suffering. These are Jesus' last recorded words to the church about suffering and what to know and do in it.

Detail:

Smyrna: Jesus’ Last Message to Suffering Saints

#4 in Churches of Revelation Series

Revelation 2:8-11

January 27, 2019

INTRO:  One of life’s most troubling questions for both Christians and non-Christ-followers has to do with suffering in life. I think we can all agree that everyone suffers in life, right?  Nobody gets out of life without suffering…nobody!

            Lots of non-Christ-followers throw out suffering as one of the reasons they can’t or won’t believe in a good, just, loving and all-powerful God.  They can’t wrap their brains around a God who would create a world that has the potential for such horrible suffering as we see around us and still be loving or kind.  Or at least He must not be powerful enough to stop or limit suffering to something less than we see in human history.

If you haven’t wrestled with that problem to some degree in your belief about God, then go watch a Schindler’s List (about the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany) or some documentary on war or African famines or American slavery or the genocides of Cambodia or China or Uganda or Stalinist Ukraine. Or just visit a pediatric cancer ward for 5 days straight and sit with parents who are watching their children suffer life-taking disease and treatments. Suffering will move from academic to existential.   

Today’s message isn’t about answering all those questions or satisfying the moral itch we seem to have about suffering.  But let me just say that, in my opinion, the Bible and Christianity itself have THE best, most logical, most coherent and, to some degree, the most satisfying if not compelling answers to the existence of suffering than any other philosophy or religion or branch of science. 

But today’s passage of Scripture in Revelation 2:8-11 is all about suffering in the life of a Christ-follower.  Just like nobody lives or dies without suffering in this world, so no believer in Jesus lives or dies without suffering…sometimes more suffering precisely because we are a Christ-follower. 

From the 1st century of the church until Jesus returns some day, we as God’s people will be called upon to not only develop a theology of suffering; we will be called on to live out our theology of suffering IN whatever suffering God allows us to undergo.  Our questions about God and suffering may actually intensify as a Christian.  But if we arrive at some of the realities and counsel God gives us about suffering such as the passage today, we will find that suffering will move us closer to Christ and prepare us better for eternity than it will drive us from God or undermine our trust in Him.

So let’s read the four verses in Revelation 2 that deal with the only one of the 7 churches in the last book of the Bible that didn’t receive some sort of rebuke from the Lord of the Church, Jesus. 

By the way, that in and of itself, should speak volumes to us about suffering.  The one city-body of God’s people in the first century that seems to have been suffering the most was the most spot-on when it came to actual spirituality and walk with God.  So here, perhaps, is the first reality to remember in suffering: 

  • suffering has a purifying potential like nothing else for Christ-followers.
  • Or put slightly differently, our growth in Jesus is most often directly related to our suffering in life.
  • Or put yet another way, those who grow more in Christ suffer much while those who suffer little in Christ grow less.

So if you’re making a list of the good things that can come to us through suffering, you might want to start that list with this truth:  Suffering has the potential to grow us in Jesus in ways lack of suffering never will.

Revelation 2:  “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 about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 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 life as your victor’s crown.

11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Important Context for Smyrna: 

  • Name: It’s name is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew O.T.) as the word used for myrrh.  Myrrh is a fragrant perfume that was used both for the living (Mt. 2:11) and in the burial of the dead (Jn. 19:39).  It is produced by crushing a fragrant plant.  As such it is a great illustration of the crushing process of suffering and persecution that these people of God were going through.  What better place to talk about the crushing experience of suffering that can bring glory to God and remind people about how different Christ and His followers are from everyone else when they are persecuted?
  • Location: a city about 35 miles north of Ephesus, the church Jesse taught about last week in the previous paragraph.  It was, at the time, a city of a couple hundred-thousand people.  It’s about the same size today:  275,000.  It is the only one of the seven cities of Revelation 2-3 that is still flourishing today.  It is still an important sea port for what is not Izmir, Turkey. 
  • Status: It was the loveliest of all the cities talked about in Revelation.  And it was exceptionally wealthy.  It is nowhere else mentioned in Scripture and we assume that it was founded by Paul or some of his early disciples from Ephesus where he spent 2 years ministering.   Spiritually speaking, it was a typical pagan Roman city that embraced a host of gods and, as we shall see, had room for even the Emperor of Rome as a god but not Jesus Christ as THE God. 

There is SO much here that can help us in suffering.  But to sort of organize it in a somewhat memorable way, I want to give you…

5 Realities to Remember & Grow With in Suffering:

Vs. 8 brings us the first and probably most important reality to fix in our minds and hearts when we’re suffering.  It is this:

#1.  OUR ULTIMATE VICTOR IS JESUS

            “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”

            Andrew reminded me this week that every one of these letters to these churches starts out by talking again about Jesus.  And everything John says about Jesus was talked about in Chapter 1’s vision of him.  This suffering group of saints needed to fix this Jesus in their vision and their hearts. 

Q:  Looking at this verse, what does it tell you about Jesus?

A.)  We have a Savior who SPEAKS to us…gives us His word… even in the midst of our suffering.  It’s hard to hear God when you’re suffering!  It’s really easy to believe that God is silent or disinterested or uncaring.  But we need to hear God speak to us IN our suffering, during our suffering.  Don’t believe the lie that suffering has to silence the voice of God.  If anything, as C.S. Lewis said,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

If we don’t think we are hearing God’s voice in suffering, we might do well to ask the Holy Spirit which of the following reasons is why we don’t think we’re hearing Him:

  • Has He already spoken about it to us (usually in His Word; often by His Spirit)?
  • Am I not attuned to how God is speaking to me?
  • Am I unwilling to accept what He’s already said to me? Is God being silent because I’ve decided to be disobedient to what He’s already told me?   

God is not silent when I am suffering.  That’s why those 3 questions matter. 

B.) We have a Savior who absolutely over, around, above and sovereign in time and events for us. 

“…him who is the First and the Last,….”

That phrase is a phrase of absolute sovereignty, absolute authority, absolute power.  Jesus is before time and after time, in time and outside of time.  He is first in rank and power and position and ability and authority in and over this universe He created.  He had the first word and will have the last word. Nobody and nothing is greater than Him.  If you just read through Revelation with a mind to get a mental picture of the resurrected Jesus in heaven, it is THE most awesome, fearsome, powerful, authoritative, striking image of God in all of the Bible.  You will not want to be on His bad side after you read this book.  And you will not fear the power of people when you really see the power of the Lamb!

When Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was being stoned to death in Jerusalem in Acts 7 (and the future Apostle Paul was standing there leading the lynching), he had a vision of Jesus, didn’t he?  What was that vision? (Heaven open… Jesus standing at the right hand of God himself.) 

Was Jesus wringing his hands in despair?  Have a worried look on his face?  Pleading with the Father to “do something!”???  NO! 

Being “at the right hand” of an authority, a king…God… meant that you had that person’s power and authority.  Stephen saw Jesus as God!  And he said so to the people who were questioning him.  And that is why they dragged him out of town and stoned him to death!  Stephen could face the experience of death by stoning with calm, forgiveness and boldness because he literally saw his Savior in His exalted, true, glorious, powerful, sovereign state in heaven… overseeing his very suffering and death.  And when he saw Jesus that way, he didn’t want to plead for the suffering or the stoning to stop; he just entrusted his life (and death) and spirit to God…and embraced death for the sake of Christ. 

C.) We have a Savior who has walked into death on our behalf and come out the other side resurrected (body, soul and spirit) just as we will at the resurrection. 

  • I Peter 3:18 tells us that Christ suffered once for all for all our sin, the righteous for us the unrighteous, to bring US to God—body, soul and spirit. His physical suffering and death produced spiritual realities and certainties that could never have happened any other way.  And, the subtle implication of this passage is, our physical and emotional and mental suffering in this world as His followers is going to somehow bring continued blessings to those around us.  Add that to your list of WHY God allows suffering:  to save you and me forever…and to bring blessings to others that would never come if they didn’t see us suffer.  (ILL:  Video about Richard Wormbrand we saw recently in a service who was beaten over and over and over again in a Romanian prison under communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu…but continued to pray for his captors!)

THE greatest need…THE issue of first importance…and thus THE first thing given in this letter to a suffering people of God is an accurate and exalted vision of our Savior and Shepherd, Jesus.  Jesus is our ultimate victor.  Jesus is simply THE ULTIMATE!  Find and take his hand in any valley of suffering.  He’ll see you through!

The second reality to remember when you are going through suffering is…

#2.) OUR ULTIMATE TEST IS SUFFERING

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 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….

            This passage reminds us that we have a Savior who KNOWS a lot about us and our suffering.  In terms of this city-church of people, what does Jesus specifically say He is aware of about their situation and suffering?

  • Affliction
  • Poverty
  • Real wealth
  • Slander they endure
  • Satan’s attacks
  • Their future suffering/testing…increased suffering
  • Upcoming imprisonment
  • Persecution to come—duration and type
  • Death of some due to persecution

One of the challenges about suffering is that, no matter what kind of suffering it is, it makes us feel very alone.  How many times have you asked yourself, “Does anyone notice or know how painful this thing I’m going through right now is?”  Suffering often causes us to withdraw into our own world, to withdraw from people spatially or conversationally.  Others watching us suffer and not knowing how to help or alleviate that suffering often pull away from us when we are suffering.  Just having someone who will lean in to relationship with us and try to simply understand our suffering is a healing and helping sort of thing. 

            In every one of these letters or messages to different city-churches, Jesus uses the same words, “I know.”  There is great comfort in suffering knowing that Jesus knows everything about this experience.  He know exactly what you are going through, how painful it is, how confused we may be, how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking. 

Turning that truth into prayer can help us with suffering:  “Lord, you know the pain I’m in.  You know how I got here and what is causing it.  You know how long it will last and how deep it will go.  You see and understand how hard it is.  I worship You, the only being who knows me and my suffering.” 

Let’s unpack some of these words and phrases to see just how suffering is an ultimate test for us as saints/Christ-followers.

Vs. 9—“I know your afflictions and your poverty….”

A.)  Afflictions (NIV)/Tribulations (NASB & ESV)—

This is a strong word that can mean “pressure” in the literal sense like heavy rock on your chest…or it can refer to suffering and tribulation that come from others in life who are mistreating us or simply life itself in this fallen world.

            There are at least 3 kids of suffering addressed here:

1.)  Suffering through persecution from people.

2.)  Suffering through poverty.

3.)  Suffering through prison.

1.)  PERSECUTION:  For the believers in Smyrna, they were under constant pressure from 3 different groups of people.  First was the HOSTILE GOVERNMENT. 

Smyrna was a very patriotic city.  The strong Roman government had protected them. While early Roman emperors didn’t want to be worshiped, by the time we get to Domitian, he had made it mandatory that all citizens would worship the emperor or face death.  All his subjects had to do was once a year burn a pinch of incense to the gods and say “Caesar is lord.” 

            So Christians, who of course held fast to the lordship of Jesus Christ alone, were viewed as unpatriotic traitors.  The first three centuries of Christian history is full of Christ-followers being persecuted to the death.  They were placed on the rack and tortured.  They were boiled alive in oil.  Others were covered with hot tar and made to be human torches in the streets.  Some were crucified as was Christ.  Others were roasted alive.  Others were fed to the lions…all for simply refusing to worship Caesar. 

Second, another kind of persecution and pressure came from the PAGAN CULTURE.  Roman society and Smyrna in particular was to worship many gods or goddesses.  In Smyrna, much of the social live revolved around pagan worship.  Christians were viewed as antisocial elitists for refusing to participate in the worship of multiple gods.  “Oh, you’re too good for us, huh?”  “These Christians, they are so narrow minded.  They’re actually bigots, trying to tell everyone else what they can’t do.  How dare they not support what we are doing.” 

APP:  The world has always been fine with people worshiping a host of false gods.  What they are not fine with is Christ-followers worshiping only One God, Jesus Christ.

  • They are fine telling you human nature is completely fluid and that any human being can choose what sex, what gender, what sexual orientation, what definition of personhood you want… except if we claim that God has already made us a certain way (male and female), that He has already stamped in our very DNA and body parts the direction He created us to follow. How dare we restrict their supposed “absolute freedom”. 
  • The world is fine telling us we can practice our religion as we see fit, just so long as it doesn’t make any claims on us or them about what a human life is, when it begins and how it should or shouldn’t end. How dare we oppose their sacrifice of human beings to the gods of “choice” and “reproductive rights.”  These are our modern day fertility cults…and they will hate us for worshiping the God who claims ultimate authority over human morality. 

And parents, sadly, I can tell you right now that your public schools are going to require that your children accept and respect the new Washington State standards about gender fluidity, about gender “reassignment”, about sexual orientation and activity, about masculinity and femininity ALL being a matter of merely personal choice, and certainly not something God-given or pre-determined in any way by God or His word. I’m telling you, parents and students, if you decide that boundaries around human sexuality is part of God’s call on your life as a Christ-follower, you will suffer persecution.  But if you’re willing to surrender those realities and divine truths to the gods of our day, you’ll be able to avoid that persecution.  But you will trade that for closeness to Christ, for truth that truly liberates and for sexuality that is a blessing rather than a curse and source of great sorrow. 

            The last group specifically mentioned as persecuting Christ-followers in Smyrna was Jews living in Smyrna.  This was OTHER RELIGIONS.  Jesus states it this way:

“I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” 

The term for “slander” is also used in Scripture for “blasphemy.”  In the O.T. it was used of verbal attacks on YHWH himself.  But in this context it was speaking of the Jewish religionists in Smyrna who claimed to know God but obviously really didn’t as they were rejecting God-in-human-flesh in Jesus Christ as well as the presence of Christ in Christ-followers living in their city.  These are religious and racial Jews claiming to be God’s people when in actuality they are the persecutors of God’s people. 

            Let me be as clear as possible about this.  This is NOT anti-Semitism.  Jesus, the one speaking, chose to be incarnated as a Jew.  Good luck claiming He is an anti-Semite!  Therefore, racism has NO PLACE in this world and particularly in the life of a Christ-follower.  In fact, when we encounter it, it is our duty to step in and confront it, taking up the side and case and suffering of those who would hate anyone because of the shade of their skin or the country of their origin. 

            But neither is our God a universalists, i.e. telling us that “everyone is a child of God.”  Everyone is created in God’s image.  That’s why every human being, regardless of race, regardless of their mental capability/disabilities, regardless of their size (including embryos or those with dwarfism or little children), regardless of their physical abilities/disabilities, etc. is made in the image of God and has, by nature of their existence, THE most fundamental right necessary, that of a right to life—to be cared for when weak, to be protected when vulnerable, to be cherished when they can do nothing to win love or merit life.    

But back to this text.  Jesus, God himself, is explicitly telling us that not everyone is a child of God or going to enjoy his presence in heaven forever.  Those who come against Christ-followers in the name of any religion are of the synagogue or the mosque or the church of temple of Satan.

That doesn’t mean we hate or abuse them.  It means we pray for, evangelize, and sometimes simply endure them.  People who love their religion and the pride it gives them are some of the worst offenders against God and His people that there are.

  In the first few centuries of the church, non-believers “slandered” and “blasphemed” the name of Jesus by reporting false allegations, being false witnesses against believers. 

  • They said they practiced cannibalism because of partaking of the Lord’s Supper—eating His body and drinking His blood.
  • They accused Christians of sexual immorality because they greeted one another with a holy kiss.
  • They made up whatever they could so they could get the authorities to arrest Christians and throw them in prison.

They were doing Satan’s work in their city. 

APP:  Who around you is giving you grief about being a public, active follower of Jesus?  Welcome to suffering Christ sees!  And start or continue to pray for those who persecute you.  This is only the beginning.  It will get worse in our lifetime in this country.

2.)  Suffering through poverty.

Vs. 9—“I know your afflictions and your poverty….” 

Apparently the Christians in Smyrna, a very prosperous and wealthy city, were suffering boycotts of their businesses, loss of jobs and employment, unwillingness of others to sell to them, probably discrimination in housing.  Many may have lacked adequate food or sufficient clothing.  Their faith in Jesus was costing them dearly both financially and economically. 

            There are 2 words used for “poverty” in the N.T.  One means a general sort of poverty.  The other, the word used here, means an absolute poverty, possessing virtually nothing. 

2 Cor. 8:9—It’s the kind of poverty Christ experienced when he left all the unimaginable glory, honor, power and majesty He had in heaven as God and became a poor baby with a feed trough for a crib, rags for baby clothes and eventually a man without a home or place to lay his head or even a burial plot to call his own.

We’d call this, “dirt poor.” Poverty is its own form of suffering.  

ILL:  My experience in Manila, walking home every night past a family of 5 living in a burned out car in a small vacant lot about a block from where I lived.  

Many of you here at Mosaic are well acquainted with the suffering that financial poverty brings. 

***APP:  Could we be honest and humble and transparent enough to hear from those of you who either are in or have been at some point in your life real poverty, specifically what that suffering feels like and how it presses you down spiritually or emotionally or relationally or mentally?  [Sharing.]   

            Now look at what Jesus says about these poverty-stricken Christians:  I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! 

God is not ignorant nor indifferent about our physical lack and needs.  But neither is He bound to the view of poverty that our world is.  In fact, to the church in Laodicea in Rev. 3 that was materially wealthy, God judged them for not even being aware of how “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” they were (3:17).  God simply doesn’t look at “wealth” the same as we do. 

  • A soul full of the Spirit counts much more on his scale of wealth than a bank account full of money.
  • A life filled daily with faith in Him ends up with a much bigger and eternal “portfolio” than a daily life filled with chasing the almighty dollar.

Here’s the reality:  material poverty has a much greater chance of leading us to spiritual wealth than material wealth does. 

            Don’t believe the lie of our culture that says you are a failure if you don’t have a lot of money.  God doesn’t buy that.  Neither do we.  

James 2:5 tells us that worldly poverty can actually make us rich in far more important ways than money can.  Material poverty for the child of God can lead us to spiritual wealth in faith and in the inheritance we are going to be give by God himself in heaven. 

Q:  Tell me, would you rather grow up in a poor family for the first 18 years of your life but one that launched you into amazing wealth on the level of a Bill Gates or Paul Allen or Jeff Bezos for the remaining 60 or 70 years of your life…OR would you rather live in a middle class family growing up and struggle to stay in that middle class niche for the remaining 60 or 70 years of life?

            Certainly poverty isn’t wonderful and virtuous in and of itself.  It’s hard, exhausting and difficult.  But something really profound and really profoundly lasting can and often does happen to people who are not distracted with all the stuff of this life that comes with wealth.  Simplicity in life has a capacity to draw us into Christ in a way that wealth simply cannot and often works against. 

3.)  Suffering through prison & death.

Vs. 10—“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….”

This was the final type of suffering mentioned.  This very day and hour, some of our brothers and sisters in places like China and N. Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and other nations have been “put in prison” by the devil working through abusive and spiritually corrupt governments. 

The devil wants to use trouble, suffering and persecution to destroy our faith.  He hates us and he hates the work of God in us. 

But God allows suffering, trouble, persecution and even death by martyrdom to strengthen our faith. He knows amazing good can come out of such terrible evil.   (Which is another reason you can add to your list of why God would allow suffering in his world.)

Which actually brings us to another reality to fix well in our minds when suffering but which I won’t say much about today: 

#3.)  OUR ULTIMATE ENEMY IS SATAN

He is very real, very much alive, very powerful and on a very long leash right not.  But He is NOT God…not even close!  What he would like to do, however, when we are suffering is to get us to think that God is our enemy, not him.  God is never the one inflicting suffering on his saints though He will allow Satan to do so. We’re tempted to shout out, “What’s the difference?”  It’s big!  ILL:  It’s the difference between a parent who tries to shelter and protect their children for their entire lives from the harsh realities of living in a fallen world AND the parent who, at the appropriate times and in the appropriate ways lets their child move out into the world, feel some of the harsh realities, pick up a few bumps and bruises, knowing that they will be better able to succeed and triumph in that reality than were they to protect them from all of it.

#4.) OUR ULTIMATE WEAPON IS FAITH 

Vs. 10 has a command against something that is really a command for something.  It reads, “10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” 

Faith is the antidote to fear. It is what pushes fear out of our lives.  You can’t be dominated by fear and be walking in faith.  The longer I live, the more I’m convinced that fear is a very bad basis for making decisions.  Decisions I’ve made out of fear usually don’t turn out well.  But decisions I base on faith in God…on who God is and what He has promised…while they haven’t always made life easier, I do think they have made life richer. 

ILL: Sandy and I just returned from some time with about half our family vacationing in Hawaii.  Honestly, it was a beautiful place to vacation and a wonderful time with family.  The only drawback for me this time was my own mental and emotional state.  God made me face the unfortunate reality that I use work in my life to deaden and ignore the pain I feel when I’m not working.  That pain is usually related to unrealized desires for success, unmet hunger for recognition and, in many ways, unhealthy longings for achievement.  Those longings or “lusts” of my flesh can be very hard task masters.  And God has, my entire work life, been seeking to free me from slavery to them. 

            So this vacation, I started feeling the pain again—pain of feeling like a failure in several different areas of life.  I’ll give you one example.  Long story short, all I have to show for 35 years of full-time ministry is a very, very small nest egg of retirement.  Now, I believe that God has and will continue to care for us when we get to those years where we can’t work.  But from just about anyone’s perspective, I’ve not watched over nor advocated very well for my own retirement. 

            I was sharing that with the family the last night we were on vacation and trying to apologize for not being the best of company during our vacation because of the processing I was doing about that and some other things. 

After I was done, one of our sons spoke up and said something like, “Dad, you may not see yourself as a very big success.  But look around the table.  Every one of your children respects you.  If you ever needed to, every one of your kids would love to have you and Mom live with us in your retirement years. [That’s when I should have reached for the tape recorder! J] We’ve watched you step out in faith rather than play it safe in ministry. And we would far rather have experienced that up close and in person than to watch you chase a secure retirement.”

I needed my son to remind me again that fear is a bad basis for decision making and faith always triumphs over fear in the end.  I would never trade the kind of children I have nor the relationships they have with God themselves for any amount of retirement [not that it has to be either-or to be godly].  My ultimate weapon is faith. 

APP:  So where in life are you having to choose between faith and fear?  Find God’s promises that will help you make the choice for faith!

#5.) OUR  ULTIMATE REWARD IS ETERNAL LIFE

This is how this passage ends in vss. 10-11.  I’m quoting from the New American Standard Bible because it gives a more faithful and literal translation to this important passage.  “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 will not be hurt by the second death.’

            First, the “crown of life” is different from what is being talked about concerning “he who overcomes” who “will not be hurt by the second death.”  Not everyone receives this “crown of life,” whatever that may actually be.  Since Revelation is what we call apocalyptic literature, it is sometimes difficult to know whether a word or phrase should be taken strictly literally or as symbolic of something bigger. 

[Another example of that would be the “10 days” that Jesus prophesied some in Smyrna would suffer persecution.  Was that a literal 10 days or symbolic of a set period of time or symbolic of the 10 periods of persecution under 10 different Roman emperors?]

            The “crown of life” is apparently a special reward given to those who are faithful in this life until death and possibly through death as a martyr.  James talks about  “the crown of life” in 1:12 when he says, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (NASB)  Here we have persevering under intense trials/suffering also associated with this “crown of life.” 

            But notice what “crowns” that saints have are used for in heaven. They aren’t so you can walk around heaven comparing crowns…or feeling better than those who may not have that crown.   Rev. 4:10 tells us what crowns help God’s children do.

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

Q:  So what good are these “crowns” in eternity, in heaven? 

A:  To better worship and give glory to our amazing Savior Jesus.

Somehow, saints who persevere under suffering, sometimes life-taking suffering, will have some special and increased capacity with which to worship our amazing God in eternity. 

ILL:  Some martyr for the faith who was beheaded this year in Saudi Arabia or Yemen or stoned to death in Iran or Indonesia is going to have a worship capacity in heaven that I have not yet achieved.  We’ll both be in heaven, loving the experience of being in the presence of God.  But what he or she is able to offer in worship may be different than what I will offer precisely because of this “crown of life.” 

            But that is an overlapping category of people from what vs. 11 says-- He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’   Eight times in Revelation this phrase “he who overcomes” is used.  And EVERY time it describes someone who is simply a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. 

            The Apostle John, the one who recorded this Revelation, wrote in I John 5:5—“Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  True believers in Jesus Christ are “overcomers.”  Our job is to put our faith in Christ.  God’s job is to make us into people who overcome this world, its sufferings and the devil, Satan, who tries to turn us away from Christ through suffering.

APP:  Are you a person God is going to be able to say, “That’s one of my overcomers!  She lived life putting her faith in Jesus, my Son.  He lived life believing in my Son Jesus Christ.”  Will that be you?  Not because you’ve been perfect at suffering or always faithful daily to Christ but because you have definitively believed in Jesus by surrendering your life to Him, now and forever? 

            Why not make sure today?  Why not believe that Jesus is the Son of God?  Why not become a forever follower of Christ… today? 

[Prayer]

Story: Have you ever heard of a man named Polycarp?  He was one of those ancient “church fathers” of the second century.  He was also a pastor of this church at Smyrna, probably about the time this letter was written.  He was martyred for his faith in A.D. 156. 

            He fled briefly but was captured without a struggle. They took him to the amphitheater where the proconsul tried over and over to persuade him to renounce his faith. “What harm can it do? Just say Caesar is lord to save your life.” And he would not do it.

Polycarp reportedly replied, “For 86 years I have served Him and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my king and my savior?”

They threatened to bring out live beasts and he said to bring them on. They said “You make light of that? Then we will burn you at the stake!”

The Jews who hated him gathered the wood for the fire. They were going to nail him to the stake, but he said, “You do not have to nail me; I will stay.”  So they just put a rope around his hands and tied him to the stake. Before they lit the fire, he prayed, “Oh Lord, almighty God, I thank you for counting me worthy of sharing the cup of Christ among the number of your martyrs. May I be accepted this day before you as an acceptable sacrifice.”

They lit the fire, but strangely enough, the wind blew the fire away from his body so it would not touch him. Finally, one of the exasperated soldiers took his sword and thrust it through Polycarp, ending his life. He died because he knew that the ultimate reward was eternal life with Christ.  He died because he chose faith over fear.  He died because he knew his ultimate test was suffering and his ultimate victor was Jesus.  He was faithful until death.  He lost his physical life, but he gained the crown of life and joined the ranks of those who have and will overcome through all the ages of the church. 

Benediction:  Jude 1:24-25

24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

 

A 5-Day Devotional Study by Janene “Cricket” Keeth

DAY 1: THE DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST

  1. Looking to God’s Word

Read Revelation 2:8-11 (Our focus will be on verse 8 today, but read the entire letter to get an overview.)

  1. How is Jesus described in verse 8 and which attribute(s) of God does His description emphasize? (Notice the similarities to the description of Christ in 1:17-18).
  2. Why would this description of Christ be especially encouraging for this church?
  3. How do these verses affirm Christ’s equality with God?

Isaiah 41:4

Isaiah 44:6

Isaiah 48:12

  1. How do these verses help us understand the meaning of Christ as He “who was dead, and has come to life”?

Romans 6:8-9

Hebrews 2:14-15

1 Peter 3:18

  1. Looking Upward
  2. Which attributes of God most comfort you in the midst of trials and why?
  3. Have you experienced suffering in your life where it was difficult for a time to stand firm? How did you handle the situation?

III. Looking Deeper

How would these verses encourage you in the midst of tough times?

Hebrews 2:17-18

Hebrews 4:14-16

Hebrews 12:3

  1. Looking Reflectively

When fear grips the human heart, and our very life is threatened, nothing can bring tranquility like faith in Him who is both the first and the last.”3

Take some time to praise God for who He is in light of the Scripture you read today.

 

DAY 2: THE COMMENDATION

  1. Looking to God’s Word

Read Revelation 2:9

  1. What three things did Jesus mention that He was aware of concerning the church at Smyrna?
  2. What does He mean when he refers to their being rich in the midst of poverty? How does 2Corinthians 6:10; 8:9and James 2:5shed light on this?
  3. Why are these blaspheming Jews referred to as a “synagogue of Satan”? (How does Romans 2:28-29relate to this?)

Note: Jesus’ use of the strong term blasphemy, which was usually reserved for hostile words against God, indicates the slander’s wickedness, intensity, and severity.4

  1. Looking Upward
  2. In what ways are you rich in Christ? (Ephesians 1is a good reminder of our riches in Christ.)
  3. How have you seen God use trials and suffering in your life?
  4. How would you encourage someone who is being persecuted for his faith or going through a tough time?

III. Looking Deeper

Look at the conversation between Jesus and the Jews in John 8:31-47. List reasons why those Jews were not considered “real Jews” in Jesus’ eyes.

How does this compare with the strong terminology Jesus uses in Rev 2:9?

  1. Looking Reflectively

God is very much aware of all that is going on in your life and is not surprised by anything.

Is there something difficult going on in your life today? God knows and He cares for you.Hand over those difficult and overwhelming situations to the One who knows and cares. Rest in His presence. 

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.” - Psalm 37:7

 

 

 

 

DAY 3: THE ADMONITION

  1. Looking to God’s Word

Read Revelation 2:10

  1. What did the future hold for the church at Smyrna and what would be the purpose?
  2. Christians are not exempt from suffering. What are some reasons God allows suffering in our lives?

Romans 5:3-5

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Hebrews 5:8

Hebrews 12:4-11

  1. They already were in the midst of tribulation (v. 9) and Jesus had no rebuke or condemnation for them. Why would there be a need to be tested further?
  2. What do these verses imply about persecution and the believer?

John 15:20

Philippians 1:29

2 Timothy 3:12

  1. Looking Upward
  2. Why does God allow Satan to bring tribulation in our lives if God is ultimately in control? (Look also at the story of Job 1.)
  3. How do you respond to suffering and tribulation? What helps you endure?

III. Looking Deeper

How would these verses encourage you to persevere in the midst of tribulation and suffering?

2 Corinthians 4:7-10

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

1 Peter 5:10

  1. Looking Reflectively

Suffering either gives me myself or it destroys myself. If you receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.” – Oswald Chambers

As believers, we should expect persecution and suffering in this life. Allow it to deepen your relationship with Christ, not push you away from Him.

How have you “suffered” on this earth?

Spend some time thanking Jesus for what He endured for us.

DAY 4: THE INSTRUCTION

  1. Looking to God’s Word

 Read Revelation 2:10

  1. What two instructions did Jesus give them concerning the upcoming tribulation?
  2. How is it possible to not fear impending tribulation and suffering? What Scriptures come to your mind concerning this?
  3. When Jesus refers to “the crown of life,” is He referring to eternal life or to a reward for those who are faithful through tribulation on this earth? Explain your answer.
  4. What additional insight do these verses give concerning the “crown of life”?

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

James 1:12

  1. Looking Upward
  2. What does it mean to “be faithful until death”?
  3. In 1 Peter 4:12-19, what are some “lessons for life” concerning suffering?

III. Looking Deeper

The “crown of life” is one of several “crowns” mentioned in Scripture. What are the other “crowns” and to what are they referring?

1 Thessalonians 2:19

2 Timothy 4:6-8

1 Peter 5:4

Rev. 4:4

According to Revelation 4:9-11, what are “crowns” ultimately for?

  1. Looking Reflectively

Faith and fear are opposites. They cannot coexist. Faith banishes fear.”6

We are called to be faithful, even if it means death.

Is there anything in your life that is causing you to be fearful? Give it to the Lord, trust His hand, and look ahead to the blessings that await you eternally.

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 5: THE PROMISE

  1. Looking to God’s Word

Read Revelation 2:11

  1. What does He promise to the one who overcomes?
  2. According to Revelation 20:14-15and 21:8, what is the “second death” and who would experience it?
  3. What else do we learn about those over whom the second death has no power according to Revelation 20:6?
  4. Why would this promise be especially encouraging for the church at Smyrna?
  5. Looking Upward
  6. How would Jesus’ words in Luke 12:4-7encourage someone about to suffer for his faith?
  7. Do you fear God more than people? Are you a God pleaser more than a people pleaser? If so, how is that evident in your life?

III. Looking Deeper

Read 1 Peter 5:6-11

What similarities to Revelation 2:8-11 do you see in this passage?

Read Revelation 12:9-11

Satan had plans to cast some of the Smyrna church into prison. How is Satan described in this passage and how does he work against believers?

How do believers overcome him?

  1. Looking Reflectively

We can have confidence as believers that we will spend eternity with God and not face the second death.

Are you secure concerning your eternal destiny? If not, talk to your small group leader or myself, and we will be glad to answer any questions. If so, pray for those who don’t know Christ and don’t have eternal security.

You and I and our congregation may not be a Smyrna church just now. But we do experience our own pressures, suffering, and afflictions. And whenever we do, the vision of Jesus standing among us in all His glory, and the words of promise He speaks, will sustain and guide us.”

Ask God what He wants to teach you from this letter to the church at Smyrna. What is one area in your life you may want to focus on?

Found at : https://bible.org/seriespage/3-smyrna-suffering-church