“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: “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. 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.
“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.” ’
Located roughly 40 miles north of Ephesus, between Aeolis to the north and Ionia to the south, you’ll find the port city of Smyrna. “Smyrna was destroyed c. 580 BC, but c. 290 BC Lysimachus ( a general under Alexander the Great) rebuilt it to a comprehensive plan”.
Smyrna, which is known today as the Turkish city of Izmir, was a thriving community with a large and diverse population of about half a million people. Within that number, you’d find Romans, Jews and Christians living in a rather tense relationship. We’ll talk about some of that.
Throughout the Roman period, Smyrna was a hub for medical and scientific advancement. It’s crowning achievement though, was its selection as the “temple warden” after beating out six other cities for the right to build a temple to the emperor Tiberius in AD 29. Emperor worship was a major part of the culture and it contributed to the bad blood between Gentiles, Jews and Christians at the time.
According to Chuck Swindoll,
“Christians in Smyrna would have been pressured by two forces. On the one hand, the Gentiles in Smyrna were devoted to the cult of emperor worship. On the other hand, the city also had a large Jewish population committed to the traditions of their elders (Mt. 15:2-9; Mark 7:3-13). The Romans persecuted believers because they refused to worship the emperor Domitian, and Jewish synagogues rejected them worshipping Jesus as the Son of God”.
Smyrna was one of seven cities to whom the apostle John wrote letters following the command of Jesus. Of those seven cities Smyrna (Izmir) is the only one still standing today. Also, of the seven churches to whom John wrote, Smyrna is one of only two churches who received no call to repent. Philadelphia was the other.
As we read what Jesus writes to the church at Smyrna, take note of how this letter is structured. First, Jesus introduces Himself again (2:8). His reintroduction has great direct significance for this church. Second, He tells them the things that He already knows about them (2:9). Third, He tells them what He wants them to know (2:10). And finally He assures them that there is an unending reward for faithfulness (2:11).
Now, let’s take a closer look at these verses from Revelation 2:8-11.
“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:
Deity of Christ
This letter opens up with a great reminder for the church at Smyrna and a great reminder for us today. Looking back at chapter 1:8 we find these words from Jesus,
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
In scripture we do not see these words used for anyone else but the God of Israel.
Listen to Isaiah 44:6
?“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
And again in Isaiah 48:12
“Listen to Me, O Jacob,
And Israel, My called:
I am He, I am the First,
I am also the Last.
John tells us in Revelation 1:17 that when he saw Jesus, he dropped dead at his feet. And when Jesus went to comfort John He placed His hand on Him and introduced Himself as the First and the Last. He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
Jesus the Christ, the visible image of the invisible God, is the eternal God of all creation. He is the protos and the eschatos. There was nothing before Him and there will be nothing to outlast Him. By Him and through Him all things were created. He is before all things and everything consists in Him. He is the firstborn from the dead that in all things He would have supremacy (Col. 1:15-18).
If this description of Jesus as the First and the Last is meant to draw our attention to His eternality, to His divinity, then it stands to reason that the next description is meant to draw our attention to His humanity.
Humanity of Christ
One of the major distinctives of the Christian faith is the teaching that the Great God and Creator of all things willingly clothes Himself in the sinful flesh of humanity – Emmanuel, God with us. This is a doctrine that is exclusive to Christianity. It is this teaching that separates us from Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and yes even many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. While all of these folks may believe in a man inspired by God – a prophet of sorts, they do not believe in a God who has become sin in order for us to become righteous. A God who has actually become man.
In 451 A.D., the Council of Chalcedon issued a formula which the church accepted as the orthodox statement about the person of Jesus. The formula says that Jesus is ‘one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-Begotten, made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union [of the divine and the human].” What they eventually came to agree upon is that Jesus is the God-Man. 100% divine and simultaneously 100% human.
Why does it even matter if we believe this doctrine concerning the dual nature of Jesus?
Chuck Swindoll says that
“If Christ were only God, He might have remained aloof, separated from our human experiences of suffering and unable to understand or relate to our desperate plight. If Christ were only man, His death would have been just another martyrdom of a good man, nothing more. He would have been a weak victim of human tragedy, unable to conquer death, powerless to triumph over the grave”.
But we know that our God and King is no “weak victim of human tragedy”! What does He say in John 10:18 “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”” Never ever forget Revelation 1:18, [Jesus] has the keys to Hades and Death. He was dead, but praise God that yet He lives! The grave is empty and those who have entrusted their lives to Him shall live because He gives them life!
After reminding the church about Who He is, the First and the Last, once dead yet alive, Jesus tells them that He knows a couple things concerning them.
Revelation 2:9 (NKJV)
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…”
We’ve talked about the way in which the word works is used in these first few chapters. It’s a generic term used to simply say, “I know what you’ve been up to.” And what has this church in Smyrna been up to? They’ve been suffering! They’ve been under the thumb of political and religious tyrants. Their tribulation and poverty is directly connected to their ostracism because they claim Jesus as their King.
One of the clearest and most unmistakable signs of your faithfulness to Christ is your reputation outside the walls of the church. Jesus told us in John 15:18-21
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.
Both scripture and history proves to us that the church was no friend of the world. Leon Morris says that,
Christianity was not legally permitted, which made it easy for Jews or pagans to take action against believers. When Polycarp (a disciple of John) was martyred at Smyrna somewhat later, the hostility of the Jews toward the Christians came out in their zeal in setting forward the execution. Though it was the sabbath, they gathered wood for the fire in which the martyr was burnt. Such hostility may well go back to the time when John wrote.
They hated Christians so much that they broke the Sabbath in order to carry out Polycarp’s execution. But listen to what Polycarp said to his executioners:
“The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little while; for you do not know the fire of the coming judgement and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will”.
One of my favorite commentators on the book of Revelation is the late pastor J. Vernon McGee. I think that I mostly like him because of how he pronounces Revelation and Jerusalem. Here’s what our brother tells us about this suffering church in Smyrna.
“They had in their congregation slaves, exslaves, runaway slaves, poor people, and those who had lost whatever money they had when they became Christians”.
What has it cost you to follow Christ?
What price have you paid for your faithfulness??
Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5 NKJV)
The next thing that Jesus tells the church at Smyrna is that He knows about the false Jews hiding amongst them spewing blasphemy.
Revelation 2:9 “…and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
Psuedo Jews: We’re not talking about fake or false Jews in the same sense that we would refer to a Rachel Dolezal or a person who decides to identify as something other than what God has made them. Did you know that you can do that now? As a matter of fact, I’m going to start identifying as a multi-billionaire, with my own private islands, and I’m going to have long gorgeous and stately dreadlocks.
When Jesus says that these folks are not Jews, He isn’t talking about what they look like on the outside. He’s not talking about them ethnically, racially, culturally, or even religiously – He is referring to them spiritually.
Let me just say this since we are on this subject. Just as there is no special program for those who are born to Christian parents so there is no special program for Jews when it comes to salvation. According to God’s Word, this idea that all ethnic Jews will be saved some day is an argument from silence. What is absolutely clear from scripture is this:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;?.
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
So who are the Real Jews?
but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
There is no express lane for Jews or anyone else when it comes to salvation. Jesus said that if you want to get to the Father, you have to go through the Son (John 14:6). 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:5–6). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is no salvation in the name of Moses. There is no salvation in the name of Abraham or Isaac or David. The only name that guarantees salvation is the Name of Jesus and at His name alone every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess to the glory of God!
Listen, I’m not trying to be offensive for the sake of being offensive. My calling is to rightly divide the word of God. It is Jesus Christ who has died once for all that all through Him might be saved and He promises that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. That if you will confess Jesus with their mouth and believe in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead then you are guaranteed salvation. And it doesn’t matter where you come from, but you gotta go through Jesus!
?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 (Revelation 2:10).
Now, one might think that when this church hears that Jesus has something to say to them about their suffering that He would be writing to tell them that it’s over. Or to tell them that He has come to wipe out their oppressors. However, even in the midst of their tribulation, Jesus tells them, “Don’t be afraid; be faithful.” I know that things look bad right now; be faithful. I know that it seems like the world is getting ahead while the church is falling behind; be faithful. It seems like everyone is against us; be faithful. To a church that is already suffering from persecution and struggling to make ends meet, Jesus tells them it’s about to get worse, but be faithful anyway.
Put yourselves in their place just a couple years ago when Covid came in like Miley Cyrus! You thought for sure it can’t get any worse than it is and then, what happened? The Delta variant said you ain’t seen nothing yet! We longed for an end to the pandemic, and we still do. Similarly, but more desperately, the church in Smyrna longed for an end to their struggle and instead of telling them to pack their bags, Jesus told them to buckle their seat belts. He knows that these Christians have been getting the raw end of the deal.
Daniel Akin says that
“This church was enduring economic, physical, religious, and social opposition. They were marked out and ostracized. They experienced economic boycott and were misrepresented. And they paid a price. It cost them to take a stand for Jesus. There was real sacrifice in remaining faithful to Jesus”.
Again, the clearest and most unmistakable sign of your faithfulness to Jesus is your reputation in the world.
Do not fear. Be Faithful. When tribulation and persecution comes for the word’s sake, don’t be afraid; be faithful. When you’re denied a job promotion or you’re cut out of a business deal for the word’s sake, don’t be afraid; be faithful. When your husband or wife tells you to choose between them and Jesus, don’t be afraid; be faithful. When your faith in Jesus and your obedience to His word gets you sued in court or thrown in prison, don’t be afraid; be faithful. When your stance for Jesus causes you to lose relationships or people start to mistreat you, don’t be afraid; be faithful.
Jesus said, brace yourselves because the devil, the accuser of the brothers, the enemy who prowls around like a roaring Lion, the god of this age who blinded the hearts and minds of those who do not believe, he is about to add imprisonment to your suffering!
Did you know, according to OpenDoorsUSA.org , just last year,
- Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.
Everyday another follower of Jesus is killed or tortured because they will not deny Jesus. You can’t handle wearing a mask for a few hours but you think you’d stand up under the pressure of imprisonment or torture?
- 4,761 Christians killed for their faith
- 4,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked
- 4,277 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
This was the kind of tribulation that the church at Smyrna dealt with, but thanks to the sovereign hand of God it was short lived – ten days and those who remained faithful were given a crown of eternal life. There are at least 5 crowns mentioned in scripture that are awarded to believers.
- A crown of exultation (1 Thess. 2:19) for those who win others to Christ.
- A crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8) for those who live in the expectation of Christ’s coming.
- A crown of imperishability (1 Cor. 9:25) for those who run the race of life in purity and self-control.
- A crown of glory (1 Pt. 5:4) for those who lead the church with humility.
- A crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) for those who endure persecution unto death.
Things may be bad now, it may be harder than you would like for it to be. You may feel like every ounce of your freedom is being stripped away or like you are being treated unfairly but you need to know this…it gets worse. And the worse it gets it may require your life. When that time comes, Don’t be fearful! Be faithful even if it kills you and you will receive the crown of life.
Finally, 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.” ’”
The second death is the lake of fire according to Revelation 20:14 “14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” In Revelation 21:8 we are told who the second death is reserved for. “8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”” And finally, in Revelation 20:6 “6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
Listen to what the Spirit says. Do not be afraid. Be faithful until death.
Call to Respond
Let me say this in closing.
I think that it’s time for us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable! Stop looking for your struggles in life to be over with, for life to be easier and more enjoyable. Remember, the God you serve, was hated by this world. If they hated Him surely they will hate us! They lied against Him. They accused Him of things He never did. They arrested Him and convicted Him of crimes He never committed. And in order to satisfy their own hatred they hung Him up for all to see until He took His final breath. He told us, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He was faithful until death. His poverty brought us riches. He was faithful as an example for you and for me. Do not let this world ruin the testimony of the faithfulness of our God! Stand firm and when you’ve done all that you possibly can – keep on standing for Christ!
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake… (Phil. 1:29).
Don’t be afraid! Be faithful!