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Letter to the Church at Smyrna

24 November 2019

After discussing the church at Sardis last week, we now go to congregation number seven in our study of churches found in the New Testament and that is the church at Smyrna. Let’s not forget the purpose of our study of all these churches is to aid us in our efforts to have congregations of the Lord’s people that that will shine forth in this world of sin and be pleasing to our Heavenly Father. That means, as we have seen, a local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship, sound in doctrine and united. It must always remember its first Love, and never be lukewarm in its efforts. The Lord’s people who make up the church MUST distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ, for the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of His Will. We must also not forget that we must not run, but stay and fight, which means teaching the doctrine of Christ where we are. Which helps us to remember what we learned from the church at Philadelphia, even though they had little strength, they were able to teach greatly for God had given them an open door to spread the gospel. We add to our list to “Be Watchful” from the church at Sardis.

This week our study focuses on the church at Smyrna. The letter to the church at Smyrna is the shortest of the letters to the churches found in the book of Revelation. However, it contains one of the most encouraging messages. And if you will recall Philadelphia, like the church at Smyrna have no complaint from the Lord against them, not even a rebuke.

Traveling north from Ephesus thirty-five miles up the coast of the Agean Sea, we would arrive at Smyrna with a magnificent harbor. This was one of the greatest cities of the region; in fact, it contended with Ephesuis for the title “First of Asia.” They were both prosperous cities, each possessing active shipping trade that made them thriving centers of commerce.

Nothing is known about the founding of the church in Smyrna. However, much evidence abounds concerning the city’s love of paganism. Smyrna was one of the oldest allies of Rome, and as early as 195 B.C. a shrine to the goddess of Rome was built. In recognition of her long, established loyalty, Rome approved of Smyrna in A.D. 26 as the site for the building of a temple of honor of Tiberius, the Roman Caesar. Smyrna won out over then other Asian cities competing for approval. Quite naturally, therefore, Smyrna became a center of emperor worship. Later, when emperor worship became compulsory during the reign of Domitian, each citizen was required to burn a pinch of incense on the altar of shrine to the godhead of Caesar. Having done so, he was given a certificate to guarantee he had satisfied his duty.

Christians, who would not compromise their faith, even in a formal way, were susceptible to persecution. In the midst of wealth, pride, and paganism, the saints of Christ at Smyrna stood faithful. They would call no man “Lord,” a name they reserved only for Jesus Christ. By their uncompromising stand, they risked punishment at any time. Though persecution was not continuous, the threat of such was ever present. Evidently at Pergamos, Thyatira, and other cities many Christians weakened, but the church at Smyrna stood as one the Lord could praise.

Let’s read Revelation 2:8-11 and what Jesus says concerning the church at Smyrna, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."”

As we look closely at this section of Scripture we will notice a great commendation of Good found from the Lord to the church at Smyrna in the first part of Revelation 2:9 where Jesus says, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich);” Smyrna was a place for spiritual heroes of the Lord Jesus Christ. Try to imagine living in a city where every year every person was required to pledge allegiance to the deified “Lord Caesar”? The temptation would be great to bow to the civil authorities while holding mental reservation that there is only one spiritual Lord, Jesus the Christ.

The church in Smyrna was called “Rich”, although by human standards they were in poverty. They suffered material loss because they would not bow to a false Lord, but they were rich because they knew their need for God. According to the true standard of wealth, they had a “crown of life” for their inheritance. They were rich in what counted most, things that did not perish with physical death just as Jesus says in John 6:27, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." Let’s remember what Jesus said about covetousness in the parable of the rich man in Luke 12:15-21, “And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." 16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 "And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' 18 "So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' 21 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." It’s clear the church in Smyrna was rich toward God.

Now, the second part of Revelation 2:9 we read, “and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not” The Jews rejected God by their tolerance of Caesar worship, and they slandered the name of Christ, the Son of God. At every opportunity the Jews who lived in Smyrna harassed Christians by stirring up provincial authorities against them. The truth pronounced in this letter is that these were Jews in the flesh only and not true Jews spiritually. By birth and by religion they were outwardly Jews but not inwardly. The Disciples of Christ are the true “Israel of God” as we read in Galatians 6:16, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” Membership in the covenant family of God is no longer by a fleshly birth, but those who are born again of water and the spirit are God’s covenant spiritual family as we read in John 3:3-5, “Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

The last part of Revelation 2:9 says, “but are a synagogue of Satan.” A synagogue was a gathering place for worship. These Jews were not assembling to serve God; but by their blasphemy of God, they actually worshiped Satan. Figuratively, they had become the gathering place for the service of Satan. Tradition says that in Smyrna the Jews eagerly informed the Romans where they might find Christians in order to persecute them. It was in Smyrna that Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, was put to death. Barclay states that Polycarp, at age 86, was burned at the stake on a Sabbath day. Although the Sabbath was a day when Jews were not supposed to work, the Jews at Smyrna delighted in gathering logs for the fire.

When we move on to Revelation 2:10, we read of the Lord’s warning and exhortation to the church at Smyrna. The first part says, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.” The Lord knew of their troubles, but he did not promise to remove them. He said he would help the saints bear and overcome these trials just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Smyrna was told they must endure more suffering. “Ten days” represented a full period of testing which can be measured. Or perhaps it meant that they would suffer to their full limit. The main point is that this testing would come to an end; it would not be permanent. In the modern free world it is difficult to walk in the shoes of those who first received this letter of encouragement because so few now suffer the kind of persecution endured by the early Christians as Christ says in Matthew 10:21-25, “"Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. 23 "When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 "It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!”

In the last part of Revelation 2:10 Jesus says, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” If the faith of the Christians at Smyrna was loyal even to the point of death, the Lord promised an eternal crown in honor of their triumph over tribulation and death. This is for us as well to this day. The apostle Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” The hope that we have of God’s promised inheritance of the faithful should produce in us “joy unspeakable” just as the apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:3-9, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith--the salvation of your souls.”

In the conclusion of His letter to the church at Smyrna Jesus says in Revelation 2:11, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” All men will experience the “first death” (physical death). But those who turn away from the Lord will suffer eternal separation (spiritual death) in a place described as “a lake of fire” in Revelation 20:14-15, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” This is the second death. Those who overcome persecutions and trials, who will not deny Jesus as Lord and remain faithful to the point of death, will fear neither the first death nor the “second death.” Indeed, they are the “Conquerors.”

Every congregation of the Lord’s people must always remember that without Christ and His word, we can do nothing. With Christ and his Word, we frame our own destiny. Recognizing both the admonishment and praises to the various churches in the Bible aid us in our endeavor to serve our various communities as the pillar and ground of the truth, as the Lord’s church is to be. And as we’ve learned so far from all the churches each local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship sound in doctrine and united. It must always “remember” it’s first Love and it must not be lukewarm in its efforts, but be zealous for good works. The local congregation must always distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ. Let’s not forget the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of his will. As well, the Lord’s people MUST take advantage of every opportunity afforded them to spread the Gospel of Christ no matter what “little strength” we have been given. The Lord “opens the door” for us to take advantage of, especially in this country. Local congregations of the Lord’s people are to “Be Watchful.” And now we add, “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer.” Do not fear persecution, for if we endure a crown of life awaits us!

In order for congregations of the Lord’s people to make up sound congregations it must start with every individual striving to imitate Christ in their walk in this life.

Each one of us needs to take the Word of God seriously and allow it to permeate our hearts in a way that we will make His Will our very own. Let us do as the apostle Paul explains in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”

All MUST believe Jesus Christ as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Let everyone hear the Word of God and have the faith described by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 11:1- 6 which helps us see those who were given various levels of strength or talents and they chose to live and obey as God instructed them, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

We all need to do as Peter told those to do on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

We MUST all confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God as Jesus explains in Matthew 10:32, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

 Ask yourself if your conversion or obedience to Christ is or was like that of the wonderful example of obedience found in Acts 8:36-39 where Philip has been teaching the Ethiopian eunuch, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.” The apostle Paul helps us see the importance of baptism in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” When one has been baptized, their sins are washed away and they rise a new child of God, a Christian. This is where the “walk in newness of life” begins. This new beginning requires a lifetime of service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus says in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life.”

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