Jesus writes an encouraging letter to strengthen a church enduring intense persecution, and in the process encourages, challenges, and focuses us on what it means to be truly faithful to the Lord.
Have you heard there's a rumor going around town, there are those who are saying that the Book of Revelation is hard to understand, but no worries, say we for you see, the word revelation means that something has been revealed. That's right. If God wanted this to be hidden, he would have called it the consolation, not the revelation. What is God revealing? Well, revelation one one begins the book with the words The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
This book is a revelation of Jesus. And God wanted us to read this book so much that he promised those who would take the time to read and respond to it a special blessing. And that blessing is found in Revelation one three where it says, Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it for the time is near. Now, could you imagine God saying, I want you to hear the words that are written in this book.
I want you to understand them, and then I want you to respond to them. And if you do that, I'll bless you. But here's the catch. You will never understand this book wouldn't make any sense to believe that God would do that, but God knew there would be those who would say that revelation is hard to understand. So to make this book easy to understand, he included in it and easy to follow outline. And that outline is found in Revelation, chapter one, verse 19, where Jesus gives John these instructions.
Write the things which you have seen. What is John seen up to this point? In Chapter one, he saw the resurrected and glorified Jesus. Then Jesus tells John to also write the things which are that pertains to what we call the church age, which is laid out in chapters two and three, which we're studying today. And in these two chapters, Jesus dictates seven letters to seven churches, and in their order, they prophesy around two thousand years of church history, the entire church age with incredible precision.
Then finally, Jesus tells John to write the things which will take place after this. After what things? After the events of chapters two and three. After the church age in the original Greek. The words used for after this are the Greek words matter. Tuta that phrase next appears in Revelation Chapter four, verse one, where it marks the beginning of the third act in the Book of Revelation. Let me read Revelation for one to you after these things.
Metta Taruta. So after the events of chapters two and three after the church age, John writes, I looked and behold a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice, which I heard in Chapter one, was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up here and I will show you things which must take place after this. Or in Greek. Mata Taruta, the Holy Spirit, wanted to ensure we do not miss where that third act in the Book of Revelation begins.
So he begins revelation for one with meditator and he ends revelation for one with metter. Talita. And despite appearing over 20 times in the first three chapters of Revelation, what word never again appears in the narrative after revelation. For one, it's the word church, and we're going to learn. That's because the church is no longer on the earth after revelation. For one, the church like John will go up and when the church goes up, what comes down?
The wrath of God. We find that in Revelation six sixteen. It's the opening volley in the time period known as the Tribulation. And we're told the response of those who are on the Earth at that time. It says they said to the mountains and rocks fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne. That's God, the father and the wrath of the lamb. Who is the lamb? It's Jesus. It goes on in verse seventeen of chapter six and says that the people will cry out the great day of his wrath.
Has come and who is able to stand, there's going to be a progression will travel through 2000 years of church history, then the church goes up, wrath comes down, there's seven years of tribulation that will continue all the way up to Chapter 19, when Jesus will then return to the earth with his church. That's you and me in what is known as the second coming. And there will be even more revealed later in our study through this incredible book.
In the previous chapter in Chapter one and in our previous message, Chapter two, we began our study of the second act in the Book of Revelation, which consists of chapters two and three. We learned that in those two chapters, Jesus dictates seven letters to seven churches and each letter has four levels of application. They apply to the local church around 96 A.D., all churches, all believers. And then there's this fourth prophetic level of application to each letter.
The first letter was addressed to the church at Ephesus, which spoke prophetically of the time period from the birth of the church around 32 A.D. to around 100 A.D. And they'll be a little bit of overlap in these time periods. The second letter is addressed to the church at Smyrna. Smyrna was located around 40 miles north of Ephesus after lying in ruins for centuries, Alexander the Great had a vision to rebuild and create a glorious example of what a Greek city could be.
His plans were ultimately carried out by two of his successors, who built a city that would quickly be nicknamed The Beautiful because of its picturesque architecture. By John's day, it had grown into a full fledged metropolis and was the second largest city in the Roman province of Asia. It was the first city in the province to build a temple to Dà Roma, the spiritual goddess of Rome. That's right. They would actually worship the spirit of the city of Rome.
And Smyrna was known for being the regional headquarters of Caesar Worship, the Imperial Colts', the religious adoration of Rome and Caesar was central to the life of Smirnoff's citizens. Failing to participate in the Imperial cult would kill your chances of climbing the social or economic ladders and cause your neighbors to view you as unpatriotic. In most parts of the Roman Empire, around 96 A.D., you could worship any gods you wanted, including Jesus. However, in exchange for that religious freedom, you had to acknowledge that Caesar was also a God.
Once a year, every person in the Empire would have to visit their local Caesar temple or Caesar altar profess verbally Caesar as God, sprinkle a pinch of incense on the altar and speak the words Cayzer curious, Cayzer curious, meaning Caesar is Lord. In exchange for your compliance, the government would issue you a certificate that would allow you to freely worship the God or gods of your choice for the next calendar year. Things hadn't always been this way in the Empire.
Caesar worship had been optional until the late first century, when it became mandatory under Domitian. Predictably, religious Jews refused to comply and many were killed. As a result, however, the Romans had a vision of unifying and ruling over all the peoples of the Earth. And so they soon realized this narcissistic vision couldn't include the Jewish people if they were all dead. So they made a once in an empire exception, making the Jews the only people in the empire exempt from the annual pinche offering to Caesar.
For a few decades, the early church was generally viewed by the Romans as a sect of Judaism, affording Christians the same exception from the pinch offerings enjoyed by the Jews. But after those first few decades, Jewish religious leaders who hated Christianity because they considered it blasphemous began going out of their way to inform. Roman authorities that Christianity was not a Jewish sect, this shift, combined with the fact that new religions were not acceptable in the Empire, opened up Christianity to a new wave of persecution.
Many Christians now face the very real life or death dilemma of making a seemingly tiny gesture, a proverbial head nod to Caesar or holding firm the truth that there is no God but Jesus. The church at Smyrna chose the latter. They chose to stand for Jesus, and this resulted in unbelievably intense persecution in light of what she was going through around 96 A.D. and the time period of church history that she represents prophetically will call the church at Smyrna, the suffering church.
And you can write that on your outline, the suffering church, prophetically, the back half of the time period covered by ethicists. The first church coincides with the rise of Smyrna as the age of the Apostolic Church was dying down. The age of the suffering church was coming to the fore and the persecution in Smyrna was being mirrored across the empire. In 54 A.D., Caesar Nero rose to power and unleashed a wave of persecution that can only be characterized as from hell because that's literally where it originated.
It was characterized by an especially intense hatred of Christians and demonic delight at causing them pain, torment and death. Satan's fingerprints were all over it. Horrifically, Nero was just the first of 10 successive seizures who violently and passionately sought to erase all traces of Christianity from the empire, wave upon wave of persecution crash down upon the church until edicts from Emperors, Galleria's and Constantine and cineaste brought it to an end. We're talking about a wave of unimaginable persecution that lasted for around 250 seven years.
To put that in perspective, around 100 A.D., there were 195 ish million people on the earth. That number rose to around 200 million in 400 A.D. The Ten Cesar's who persecuted the church from 54 A.D. to 311 A.D. combined to Marter five to seven million Christians. That's around three percent of the earth's population during that time, if we ratio those numbers up to the population of the world today, we get an idea of the scale that we're talking about.
We'd be looking at a campaign of persecution that claimed the lives of around two hundred and thirty one million Christians over the past 257 years. Can you imagine that 231 million Christians being killed over the past two hundred and fifty seven years.
Imagine a genocide of 900000 Christians taking place every year for two hundred and fifty seven million sorry for two hundred and fifty seven years in a row. That's what it would be like today. It would be like 900000 Christians being killed every year for two hundred and fifty seven years in a row. It's unimaginable. And that's what happened to the church.
Books like Church History and Plain Language in the famous Foxes Book of Martyrs catalog the litany of horrors inflicted upon the church, which included being crucified, sewn inside animal skins and torn to pieces by wild dogs or lions, dragged to death behind wild bulls burned alive with their family inside their home or at the stake, thrown into the sea with a heavy stone around their neck. Poisoned, starved, stabbed, RACT scourged and on and on the list goes. Many times men were forced to watch their families be tortured to death before receiving the same fate.
The city of Phrygia was almost entirely Christian. So one day the whole place was burned to the ground while its citizens were forced by the military to remain in the flames.
Nero was famous for illuminating his palace gardens by tying Christians to steaks, covering them in tar or wax and lighting them on fire while screaming, Now, you truly are the light of the world. Anyone who hated Christians was welcome to walk through the gardens and take in the sick spectacle for their own entertainment. Words cannot do justice to just how difficult it was to follow Jesus in the years of the suffering church.
We know that the name of each church is location tells us something significant about them, and Smyrna simply means Mura mother. Merv was used in perfume for the religious purification of women and priestly anointing oil, but most famously. Moura is an embalming space that was and is used in wrapping bodies for burial as its beautifully fragrant aroma masks the stench of death. It's a spice made from the sap of small, thorny trees. To get it, you must disfigure the tree repeatedly by cutting through the bark and bleeding out the sap wood.
Yes, that's really how the process is described. When that sap dries and hardens, it becomes MYR. At this time in history, Merv was literally worth more than its weight in gold and its use here in Revelation two is as a perfect metaphor for the church at Smyrna because the beautiful aroma of myrrh can only be released through the process of crushing. When you crush the hardened Merr, its beautiful fragrance is released.
During the first few centuries, A.D., if you weren't a Christian, the affection the church had for the symbol of the cross would have been puzzling to you as crucifixion was the most excruciating form of capital punishment the Romans could come up with. Imagine loving that people have pointed out that would be like a swearing in an electric chair on a necklace around our neck. And yet, ever since the resurrection of Jesus, believers have loved the cross because it's where Jesus loved us by being crushed for us.
That's why the cross is so beautiful to us in a similar manner to Jesus and murder, the beauty of Smyrna was revealed in her crushing. Jesus is writing to this church as they are going through hell on Earth. What is he going to say to them? What does he want them to know, what does he want them to most remember? Let's find out and verse 8. And to the angel, or I would say the pastor of the church in Smyrna write these things, says the first and the last who was dead and came to life, would you underline who was dead and came to life?
We know Jesus gives himself a different title in each of these seven letters. And it's always related to something the church needs to be reminded of to a church enduring unspeakable persecution. Jesus introduces himself as the first and the last. And we talked about the Old Testament connections to that title. Back in our study of Revelation, one, Jesus is drawing their attention to his eternal nature, and he's encouraging them with a reminder that suffering is temporary, but their glory is going to be eternal.
Jesus takes it a step further by reminding them that even earthly death is temporary for those who love him and calling himself the one who was dead and came to life, Jesus puts an arm around the suffering saints and says.
I know what you're going through. The suffering and death that I experienced was greater than any man ever has or ever will. Everyone thought it was over when my dead body was laid in a tomb, but today I'm alive and I'm in glory and no matter what happens to you on this earth, that's your future to. So make a note of this, Jesus's title is a reminder that death is not the end. Death is not the end.
Now, Jesus gives Smyrna their report card, starting with a commendation, what they're doing well, he says in verse nine, underlying these three things, I know your works, tribulation and poverty. I know your work's tribulation and poverty tribulation is the Greek word for Lipsius, the Lipsius, it means a pressing together or pressure. It was used to describe the process in which grapes are crushed and pressed in order to produce wine. It was used to describe the method of torture, where a man is slowly crushed to death by the weight of a large boulder.
And it was used to describe the crushing of myrrh in order to release its beautiful aroma. When used to describe a time of trouble or distress, Felipe's gas is translated into English as tribulation. Jesus commands this precious church for standing strong in the face of the crushing pressure of intense persecution. Their actions proved that they genuinely valued the kingdom of God above their earthly lives. And just to clarify, the church at Smyrna was enduring very difficult tribulation, but they were not enduring the tribulation.
That's something completely different. And we'll get into that when we reach Revelation six.
Jesus specifically commands believers in Smyrna for keeping the faith through poverty. He mentions poverty, a word that means destitution. It's a very different concept to what most of us know is poverty. In first world countries. One can live below the poverty line while still usually having electricity, indoor plumbing, a cell phone, food and more. Destitution is when poor people feel bad for you because you have absolutely nothing, no changes of clothes, no property, no food, nothing.
These faithful believers were considered subhuman for their perceived animus toward the empire much of the time whatever property they had was confiscated by the authorities or plundered by their neighbors because no one would stop them when imprisoned, they would many times have no food or clothing unless someone from the outside provided them. And if they did, they risked ending up in that same prison themselves. The writer of the Book of Hebrews, Paul, I personally suspect, speaks of believers who took such risks on his behalf.
In Hebrews 10 34, he says, You had compassion on me in my chains and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. The truth is that our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church still face similar situations and difficult decisions today.
How devoted to Jesus was the church at Smyrna? Remember, all they had to do to make this horrific suffering stop was take a short trip to their local SESAR temple or altar, sprinkle a pinch of incense and say Caesar is God to.
And in an instant, they all could have returned to hosting Bible studies, gathering for church services as free men and woman with no fear of persecution. But they didn't do that. They believed in Jesus and they believed that his name and glory. We're worth more than their lives, and they were right. Write this down, they desired the kingdom above comfort and eternal life, above earthly life, they desired the kingdom above comfort and eternal life, above earthly life.
I'd like to share an amazing story that embodies the courage and commitment of the early church during the season of historic persecution.
In Smyrna lived a man named Polycarp, he was a disciple of John the Apostle, who personally trained, ordained and loved him as a brother, Polycarp became an elder of the church and then eventually bishop of Smyrna in 115 A.D. He was widely known, loved and respected by the citizenry, Christian and non Christian alike, because he lived such an honorable life in 150 A.D.. Polycarp was around 86 years old and was still leading the church at Smyrna. Eusebius, the great Christian historian, tells us that when the local authorities received an edict to clamp down on any locals who were refusing to participate in the imperial cult, their plan was to have Polycarp do it.
First, it was a strategic decision because they assumed that if Polycarp did it, all the other Christians in Smyrna would quickly follow suit. So one Saturday evening, the Roman authorities seized Polycarp and led him to the stadium because they had had a simple conversation with him earlier in the day where they had asked him to comply and he refused. In the stadium, Eusebius records, he stepped forward and was asked by the pro council if he was really POLYCARP.
They couldn't believe he was such a small old man and they couldn't believe that this guy was still so bold and still had the reputation he did in the city. When Polycarp said, yes, I am Polycarp, the pro council urged him to deny the charge. He said, Are you a Christian? I respect your years. Why make this hard on yourself? And then he added similar appeals regularly made on such occasions.
Swear by Caesar's fortune change your attitude, Polycarp. Polycarp responded, 86 years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me? I have wild beasts, said the council, I shall throw you to them if you don't change your attitude. Call them, said the old man, we cannot change our attitude if it means a change from better to worse, but it is a splendid thing to change from cruelty to justice.
If you make light of the beasts, retorted the governor. I'll have you destroyed by fire unless you change your attitude. Polycarp answered the fire, you threatened Burns for a time and as soon extinguished. There is a fire, you know nothing about the fire of judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly. But why do you hesitate? Do what you want.
The pro counsel was amazed and sent the Krier to stand in the middle of the arena and announce three times, Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian. Then a shout went up from every throat that Polycarp must be burnt alive. The rest followed in less time than it takes to describe. Polycarp was allowed to offer one final prayer. He used it to thank God for the privilege of dying for him. His final words were, I am a Christian.
The fires were lit and he was gone. That's what it meant to pastor the church at Smyrna during a season of persecution. History records that Pollycarpus death served as an even greater witness to the church at Smyrna than his life. And it's amazing to consider the good possibility Polycarp had read the Book of Revelation and was being encouraged by Jesus's letter to the church at Smyrna, even as he faced the end of his earthly life in that very city.
After saying, I know your works, tribulation and poverty, Jesus says, but you are rich, you are rich, would you underline the word rich? These suffering believers needed to hear this because they were a lot like us in this regard. When things get difficult in our lives, we often think we must be doing something wrong.
Or perhaps God is angry with us. So Jesus lets them know that from his perspective, they're rich, they're doing great. He's proud of them and he's pleased with them. Then why are they going through all this suffering? Because while we tend to be concerned with our present quality of life. Jesus is concerned with our eternal quality of life. Write that down. While we tend to be concerned with our present quality of life. Jesus is concerned with our eternal quality of life.
Let me explain, while Jesus obviously cares about our current circumstances, he also sees everything from an eternal perspective. He sees all of time past, present and future. We can't try as we might.
The Lord knows that this life is a vapor. It's a grain of sand compared to the beach of eternity. And therefore, trading earthly suffering for eternal reward is the most profitable thing we could do with our earthly lives. It's the best thing for us, something every martyr in heaven will attest to.
In 1956, Jim Elliott flew into the remote jungle of Ecuador with four other men. Their goal was to share the gospel with a tribe completely unreached by missionaries shortly after landing men from the tribe. Killed all five men. While going through his things, his family found an old journal.
In his entry from October 28, 1949, Elliott famously wrote.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep. To gain what he cannot lose. The same passion for Jesus that was present in Jim Elliott was present at the church in Smyrna and is still present today in the hearts of all who truly love the Lord. And I encourage you to further investigate the life of Jim Elliot so that you learn what happened to that tribe in the years following his death. It's incredible.
Jesus assures the believers in Smyrna that despite their poverty and persecution, they're rich in the only way that truly matters, they're rich eternally. The heart of those in the suffering church was the exact opposite of the heart we're going to find in the last days church, the church at Laodicea, when we reach Revelation 317, Jesus will tell that church 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.
The suffering church thought they were poor, but Jesus considered them rich. The last days church will think they're rich, but Jesus will consider them poor. Continuing in verse nine, Jesus says, and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. What a strange phrase. A synagogue of Satan. The first persecution to come upon the church was driven by Jewish religious leaders in Israel, not the people, but the leaders.
The same leaders who rejected Jesus and arranged his execution at the hands of the Romans.
Instead of simply barring Christians from their synagogues, these religious leaders were violating Torah by betraying their countrymen to the Romans, resulting in their imprisonment, torture and even death. As we mentioned earlier, Jews were exempt from making the pinch, offering to Caesar. However, they went out of their way to make sure the Romans were notified if a Christian didn't perform the ritual. It was a sad situation where those who should have welcomed Jesus as their long awaited messiah not only rejected him, but actively worked to persecute his bride.
It's these Jewish religious leaders Jesus refers to as those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.
The implication being that while they claim to be serving God, their actions revealed they were in reality, serving Satan. This is the dynamic we see play out in an exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders in John eight. Would you turn there with me in your Bibles? Take a look at it in John. Chapter eight, beginning in verse 37. Jesus says this to the religious leaders. He says, I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill me because my word has no place in you.
I speak what I've seen with my father and you do what you've seen with your father. They answered him and said, Well, what do you mean? Abraham is our father. Jesus said to them, if you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham, but now you seek to kill me. A man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God, Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.
Then they said to him, we were not born of fornication. They're literally referring to the fact that Jesus was still rumored to be the offspring of his mother, Mary, and a Roman soldier.
That was still the rumor. He was rumored to be a bastard child. And so they say we were not born of fornication. We have one father, God. Jesus said to them, if God were your father, you would love me. For I proceeded forth and came from God, nor have I come of myself. But he sent me. Why do you not understand my speech? Because you're not able to listen to my word. And now Jesus gets to the point.
You are of your father, the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.
He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there's no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convict me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears God's words. Therefore you do not hear because you are not of God hears the idea.
Jews who genuinely loved God recognize Jesus as Messiah.
And those Jews were considered by God to be true Jews, true sons of Abraham when it comes to Jews who not only reject him, but also persecute those Jews who do receive him. Jesus doesn't mince words. He says your father is Satan. When Jesus refers to a synagogue of Satan, he's referring to Jewish religious leaders who persecute Jewish Christians and by extension, persecute him. Let me be clear, this is not an anti-Semitic statement. This is a judgment Jesus is making regarding Jewish religious leaders who were actively working to persecute Jewish Christians Verse 8 10.
Jesus says, do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.
Note the future tense.
Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested and you will have tribulation for 10 days, underly in 10 days, and then underline his next bit of counsel. Be faithful until death. And I will give you the crown of life. Much of this would have been difficult to hear because when you're in a trial, all you want is for it to be over. But Jesus shares that this season of persecution is going to go on for a while, 10 days, to be exact, in the original Greek, the word days can mean a day, but it can also be used in a much broader sense to refer to a period of time and age, a time, a while, years, times, or even waves.
Prophetically, it's my belief that 10 days refers to the ten waves of persecution driven by 10 successive Roman emperors from Nero to Diocletian that crashed down upon the church for around 257 years regarding its application to the literal church in Smyrna, around 96 A.D. and its application to all churches and all believers. I believe that Ten Days is a reference to the first chapter of the Old Testament Book of Daniel, where we read of four faithful Jewish men Daniel Hanania, Michail and Azariah.
Oh, you probably know them by their pagan names, Shadrack MiSeq and Abednego, who had been kidnaped and taken to Babylon, where they were to be trained as counselors to the king, the food and drink offered to them violated their religious convictions and commitments. So Daniel requested they instead be given vegetables and water. The steward in charge of them said, Guys, listen, I don't want any trouble with the king when he starts noticing you looking gaunt and malnourished.
And so Daniel's solution was to propose what Daniel one refers to as a test. A trial of how long? Ten days and in Daniel 115, we learn the outcome at the end of 10 days, their features appeared better and fatter and flesh. Then all the young men who ate the portion of the king's delicacies. I believe the parallel Jesus is drawing is this. I know you're under tremendous pressure to give in to the demands of the world and do what everybody else is doing.
And I know you're surrounded by people who are saying, listen, doing things your God's way is going to ruin you. It's going to be the death of you. But if you will remain faithful these 10 days, I promise that when they're over, you will look more glorious than those who followed the ways of the world. And if you're not convinced of the connection with the Book of Daniel yet, go and read the stories of those four men in the first half of the book of Daniel, you'll find that they all go on to endure much greater trials for their faithfulness to God and specifically their refusal to participate in the imperial cult of Babylon.
There's a lot of connections they're worth studying and exploring.
Well, not only is this persecution not going to end any time soon, but Jesus tells them that it's going to get even more intense and his exhortation to them is simply be faithful until death.
Write that down. Be faithful until death. In Romans 12 19, Paul refers to Old Testament passages when he shares this instruction with believers. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath, for it is written, vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord. When will the Lord, when will the Lord repay those who love evil? In the day of the Lord, the coming time period, which includes things like the tribulation and the Great White Throne Judgment, if you love Jesus, then justice for your sins and your wrongs was meted out upon Jesus on the cross.
Those who reject Jesus will receive justice for their sins in the coming day of the Lord. And Revelation is going to detail that coming time for us and the chapters ahead. I want us to notice, though, that there's no talk of forming a militia to combat evil on the Earth through military means. There's no talk of killing one's oppressors or plotting to overthrow the government. The message of the Bible is that vengeance belongs to the Lord, and revelation confirms that he has a plan to ensure justice is done.
Absolutely. The issue is faith. Will we trust God to be just and do what is right in his timing rather than ours? Jesus's word to you and I is the same as it was to these precious Christians in Smyrna. There's no talk in this letter of escaping trials, only holding on and staying faithful. And history tells us they did. They were faithful until death. That's why Jesus has no criticism for this church, write that down. Jesus has no criticism for this church.
Really, I mean, no issues. How is that possible?
Purifies the church. There are no casual or half hearted believers in the church when simply attending a service or a Bible study might cost you and your family everything you have, including your lives when that's the reality. The pastor doesn't ever have to preach on commitment. Persecution purifies the church.
In centuries past, gold would be purified by hand, a goldsmith would heat up a pot to incredible temperatures, then place raw gold inside of it where it would begin to melt. As the gold liquefied, the impurities would float to the surface where the goldsmith would skim them off. How did the goldsmith know when he finally had pure gold on his hands? Apparently the trade standard was for the goldsmith to be able to see his own reflection in the liquid.
That's what persecution does to the church. It purifies us and Jesus uses persecution to boil the distractions and impurities out of our lives so that we more clearly reflect him. The church at Smyrna was purified by persecution, and that's why Jesus has no criticism for them. Jesus promises those who stay faithful to him, even to death, the crown of life. This is a reward, not a salvation issue.
Salvation is the gift of God, Scripture says, and is never awarded on the basis of performance. I find it beautiful that Jesus juxtaposes death with life in his exhortation, promising those who remain faithful until death. The crown of life, he's letting them know that he can and will give them life to a degree that they cannot even fathom, what exactly is the crown of life? It's most likely a simple metaphor for eternal life, however, if these crowns are literal, we'll find out what their ultimate purpose is in Revelation Chapter four, following the structure employed in each letter, Jesus ends by reminding us there are things in here that every church and every believer in every season needs to hear in verses.
And he says he has an ear. Let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. What is the second death? Revelation 20 tells us in Revelation 2014, then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And in Revelation 21 eight, we read the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable murderers, sexually immoral, immoral sorcerers, idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake, which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
The second death is eternal death in the lake of fire, it is eternity spent in complete separation from God, the only source of anything and everything good. The second death is eternity, apart from goodness. Any trace of goodness to say it another way and you can write this down. He who was born once dies twice. He who was born twice dies once, let me explain, almost everyone will experience the first death. Which is the end of our physical lives on Earth, but the Bible says the most important part of us, our spirit, will continue to live forever.
It is eternal one way or another. It's going to live forever. We're going to live forever. Eternity will be spent in one of two conditions, eternal life or eternal death, those who belong to Jesus will experience a never ending life. Those who do not belong to Jesus will experience a never ending death. Both states will be active and ongoing for all eternity when you place your faith in Jesus and welcome them into your life as Lord, he described what takes place in your spirit as being born again.
In that moment, you receive a new spirit. His spirit, a person who's only born once, only born physically on this earth, will die at the end of their earthly life and will then die again for all eternity. A person who was born twice, both physically and spiritually, born again, will die at the end of this earthly life, but then live again forever, for all eternity. Revelation twenty six declares Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection over such the second death has no power.
He who was born once dies twice. He who was born twice dies once.
Perhaps you read Verse is 11 and got nervous because it seems to say that only those who overcome persecution, only those who stay faithful through it, will be saved. The truth is that those who are saved will overcome persecution even to death. Paul describes God's full plan for us in Romans eight versus twenty nine through 30. Let me read it to you. Paul says, For whom he four knew. He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the first born among many brethren, more over whom he predestined these.
He also called whom he called the also justified and whom he justified. These he also glorified.
I want you to notice that God knew before you and I were even born, he knew which of us would love him.
And he has a plan all the way from before we were born that ends with us being glorified.
And that's the process that Paul lays out in these verse is. And I want you to notice that no one is lost along that entire process. Those who God knew would love him will end up glorified with Jesus, that's why Paul wrote this in the very next verse. He said, What then shall we say to these things, if God is for us, who can be against us?
Just as the Lord has always given his deliverance prophets and apostles the right words to say at the right time for the past 2000 years, he's given special grace to believers facing death.
If you're not sure, you could handle intense persecution. But you know you love Jesus.
You can trust that if it happens, he'll give you what you need. Our heavenly father gives us our daily bread, whether it's grace to manage stress at work, raise kids, get schoolwork done. Or die for him if you love Jesus than you are and will be an overcomer. Sadly, the church in Smyrna would not be the last church to experience persecution.
In fact, persecution has been the default state of the church for 99 percent of the last 2000 years. If you're fortunate enough to live in a country where you're free to worship Jesus, count your blessings.
Our brothers and sisters in places like Iraq, Syria, India, China and Nigeria face persecution in forms no less evil and horrifying than the church faced in the first few centuries.
A.D. The 1900 saw an average of 150000 Christians killed every year for their faith in terms of total numbers. More Christians were killed in the 1900 for their faith than in any other time period in the history of the world. And that trend has only continued and increased in the 21st century.
If you ask the average person on the street, who do you think is the most persecuted people group in the world, what kinds of answers do you think you would get?
The truth is never mentioned by mass media because the answer is Christians, Christians, and it's not even close by the way churches throughout history have needed and will continue to need the precious words of Jesus recorded in the Sleater for strength, peace and comfort. When we reach our study of the last church will find it marked by a passion for a brand of Christianity that doesn't require sacrifice. That last church will embrace pastors who say things like God's whole plan for your life is to make it amazing and wonderful because you're amazing and wonderful and God wants to use his power to fulfill your dreams and agenda.
The problem is that this letter to the church at Smyrna is in all our Bibles, and so our theology has to include room for the reality that sometimes suffering and death. Are part of God's plan for our lives. I know this is heavy, but but that's the truth. Jesus makes our lives wonderful.
But he doesn't always define wonderful the way that we usually do. From heaven's perspective, you and I, being purified and made more like Jesus is wonderful, trading earthly comfort for eternal reward is wonderful. Loving Jesus enough to share in his sufferings and death being crushed like mother is wonderful. Does your theology of the Christian life and the goodness of God? Include room for suffering. In Romans, eight, twenty eight, many of us know it, Paul declares, We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose, the good God speaks of sometimes unfolds in eternity rather than this life.
Just ask Jesus, his earthly life ended in unimaginable pain and suffering, but then he rose to life and glory that will last forever and will never fade away. God's promise to all believers, including those who died in Smyrna, is that he will do good in their lives and the good that he does will last forever. We can take comfort in knowing that we have the same promise, no matter how much it costs us to stay faithful to Jesus in this life, it is nothing.
Compared to the good that he has prepared for us in eternity, write this down our faith and theology must allow for suffering.
Our faith and theology must allow for suffering. With that in mind and with this precious church in mind, how do you think Jesus feels about churches and preachers who say things like suffering is the result of a lack of faith? Suffering is the result of a negative attitude or confession. Suffering is never God's plan.
When we reached the Church of Laticia and Revelation three, we're going to find out what Jesus thinks about that. And when we do, you'll understand why I don't want to be that kind of preacher and we don't want to be that kind of church. If you're a Christian, scripture gives you two promises that don't usually make it to coffee mugs or bumper stickers, Jesus said these things I've spoken to you that in me you may have peace in the world.
You will have tribulation, but be of good cheer.
I've overcome the world. This is a promise Jesus gives his followers because he wants them to know that they can have peace in him no matter what. And we need to know that because trials are going to come our way. When you become a believer.
Satan, who currently runs the world system, becomes your enemy and he sets all his wrath against you, he sets out to destroy you. If you've been a believer for more than a couple of years, then I know you've had to walk through some trials. We're going to have tribulation in our lives, but Jesus will be with us. That's the first promise. The second promise is telling us the same thing. And it comes to us from Paul who writes in second Timothy three 12.
Yes. And all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
The church in Smyrna and these two promises are helpful to me because they remind me, write this down.
They remind me that this isn't heaven. This life, it isn't heaven when people get mad at God and say, how could God let this happen in my life? There's a problem. Whether they're aware of it or not, they believe that following Jesus should result in a more comfortable heaven like life here on the earth. But this is not heaven. This is not heaven. We live in a fallen world, and when the bottom falls out of my life and it has and everything looks hopeless, I have no reason to be mad at God.
Instead, those moments should cause me to sigh deeply. Remember where I am?
And long for where I one day will be, those moments should lead me to pray, Father. I am really looking forward to heaven. I cannot wait to be in the place where Jesus rules and reigns and is fully revealed, it's going to be so good. Thank you, Father, that it is not always going to be like this. This is not heaven.
And when I understand that I'm able to come to the place of peace in Jesus, where I can accept that it's OK if it doesn't all come together in this life, because I will spend eternity enjoying a life where it will all come together. In a more glorious way than I could possibly imagine. The goal is not a perfect earthly life. The goal is Jesus. And he has promised that those who desire him more than this earthly life. She'll have him.
As an aside, I want to point out that this letter also applies especially to those who will turn to Jesus after the rapture, those who find themselves on the earth during the tribulation.
And I mean, seriously, if. If you find yourself in that situation, if you find yourself listening to or watching this message and the church has left the Earth and the Rapture, read the words of this letter over and over again and read them slowly. Because they contain the path to eternal life.
I want to ask all of us to pray regularly for the persecuted church around the world, they have God's heart. An easy way to do this is by going to persecution dotcom and following their social media accounts, and then whenever one of those posts comes up in your feed, stop and pray for it.
Stop and pray for the person or the church or the country that they're highlighting even for a few seconds. And you'll soon find yourself that way in the habit of regularly praying for the persecuted church. Many of us are ready to die for Jesus, and the truth is that some days trading a bullet to the head for a free pass to heaven sounds pretty good. And that's because what's difficult for many of us.
Is dying to ourselves and living for Jesus daily. How are you doing at dying to yourself every day in your relationships and your marriage? In your family, at your place of work or school, in your finances, how are you doing at laying down your life and serving Jesus, dying to yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus by obeying him?
I know we all fall short of the glory of God, and I'm not talking about perfection. Let me make it as simple as possible.
I'm asking, is there an area of your life where you know that you're actively saying no to Jesus?
If that's you repent. Change. Say yes to the Lord, to yourself and live for him today, because the phrase no Lord is an oxymoron, you can't call him Lord and say no to him. And while not every Christian will die a martyr, every Christian is called to live as a martyr every single day. The world can change really fast, the freedoms that we currently enjoy cannot be assumed, and they are not guaranteed. Sooner or later, persecution will come and we would be wise to settle the issue of our commitment to Jesus long before it ever does.
This letter is in the Bible that we might know what it means to be faithful. It means putting Jesus first and laying down your life for him. No matter what it costs you. Lastly, let me say this as we read earlier. Revelation 20, Verse is says, blessed and holy is he who has a part in the first resurrection over such the second death has no power. If you're listening to this or if you're watching this. And you've never given your life to Jesus.
Then right now, you are on course to experience the second death. To experience eternity separated from God, the only source of everything, good eternity in the lake of fire. An eternal death. It will be worse than anything that can be imagined. Jesus died for you, he took the wrath for your sins, for everything you've done wrong.
So that you could be born again right now, so that you could receive his spirit in your life. He could become your God, your Lord, your savior, so that you could follow him and experience eternal life. And if you want to do that, I'm going to pray for you in just a moment and I'm going to ask you to agree with that. And then after we're done praying, I'm going to ask you to go to Gospel City dot seei slash gospel and just watch the gospel message on there.
Learn more about what Jesus has done for you and fill out the form there. Let's pray together. Would you buy your head and close your eyes. Jesus. Thank you for this letter to this precious church in Smyrna.
And Lord, first of all, we pray for all our brothers and sisters who make up the persecuted church today. God be gracious to them. God, strengthen them, sustain them.
Thank you that you will give them what is needed, you will empower them, you will give them your grace. A father, we pray that they would be protected, that they would be encouraged, that they would be sustained, Lord, and that the example they set would inspire others to stand strong for you. Lord, bless your church around the world, especially those who are undergoing persecution. And Lord, for all of us right now, for anyone listening or watching, may it be a settled issue for us that we're ready to die for you, but not only die for you as a one time event, we're ready to die for you today and then again tomorrow and the day after that as we lay down our lives for you day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, until you decide it's time for us to come home.
And thank you that the home you've prepared for us is is more wonderful than anything we could imagine. And then, Father, I pray right now for anyone who is saying, yeah, I want to be born again, I want to receive Jesus as my savior and as my lord. Thank you. That you promise your spirit is coming into them right now and they are being born again. They are being adopted into the family of God. Sons and daughters of the father, brothers and Sisters of Jesus, thank you that you're doing that, Lord, for anyone doing that, would you strengthen them and encourage them and connect them, Lord God, with a good church Lord and a place where they can continue to grow in their relationship with you.
We're so thankful for you, Jesus, and we're so thankful for your word. We love you. It's in your name. We pray. Amen.