To the Church in Smyrna
- The city of Smyrna had a well known stadium – that is never good news to the Christians.
- The city also had a very large Jewish population.
- Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna and was persecuted and killed for his faith in Christ. All that was asked of him was to take the oath that Caesar is lord, curse Christ and he would be released, His famous calm reply was, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” And he was put to death.
- The point? – John is writing these letters and this book to them to tell them what they will be going through – what the church will be going through – then and today.
- This is the shortest letter to the seven churches.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
- So we know the speaker is Jesus – as he is in all 7 of the letters. The description comes from 1:17 – Jesus is the first and the last – eternal and unchangeable. Hebrews 13:8
- With each description we are hearing from Jesus. Luke 10:16 = “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
- When Jesus speaks, it is important that we listen. How Jesus describes himself sets the tone of the letter.
- If Jesus speaks of himself as dying and coming back to life, what does that convey – what does that make you think?
- Is it a scary picture, is it a comforting one? Is it encouraging? What does it do?
- For those in Smyrna facing death, this should be offering hope and comfort – Jesus died and Jesus came back.
9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
- We heard from John in Rev 1:9 about his tribulation – a shared tribulation.
- Now Jesus recognizes the tribulation of the church.
- Poverty – now it is possible that the Christians were just poor, or perhaps their exclusive message about Jesus got them shut out of the local economy.
- We could also be speaking of poverty in the spiritual sense which would match up with the (but you are rich) comment – rich in the eternal spiritual sense.
- Jews who “are not”. – What did Paul say in Rom 9:6-8
- Jesus, a Jew himself likens unbelieving Jews to the followers of Satan. Does this sound familiar? John 8 telling the Jews that their Father was really the devil. And who were these Jews? John 8:31”the Jews who had believed him”
- But know this, all unbelievers are the enemy of God and all are of the synagogue of Satan.
10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
- Note that Jesus tells them the future they face – note also that he does not say he will rescue them from this – in fact Jesus delivers the news that they will be executed (“be faithful unto death”). Jesus tells them how to stand.
- Jesus comforts for coming suffering – there is a coming suffering.
- What is the comfort? “Do not fear” – do not be afraid. We saw this with Jesus with his disciples in the storm tossed boat – Matt 14:27 and with the 3 disciples on the Mount of Transfigurations – Matt 17:7
- The devil cannot touch Jesus, so he goes after those Jesus loves. Whether it is the Jews or the Romans, who toss you into prison, just recognize who it really is. Who is our fight against? Ephesians 6:12
- Do we understand what is meant by “Do not fear”? Read Luke 12:4-7
- 10 days is a symbolic number and it equals a short period of time – just as in Rev 20 1,000 years equals a long period of time. If it were a literal number then what is the big deal – anyone can handle 10 days in jail.
- Whatever the actual length, it is a set time known to God.
- “That you may be tested” – this is really a gospel statement because it is not just suffering for suffering sake.
- “Be faithful …” What is the goal? What are the marching orders for this church? Be faithful until the end – persevere to the end – run the race until the end and receive your reward.
- The crown of life = a crown of thorns? That was the crown Jesus wore.
- This is not the plan for success, but the plan to be faithful – on the surface the cross was not a success.
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
- The pattern is repeated – he who has an ear. Note that the messages of Jesus are spoken to two different audiences (1) he who has an ear and (2) to those who do not have an ear.
- Those willing to listen and those who will not. Those willing to listen are those who “have and ear” and obviously those who do not listen do not.
- The 2nd death = the end of grace for the unbeliever.
- These gifts are not specific to the individual churches. You do not try to pass the Ephesus challenge to receive the tree of life and then move on to the Smyrna challenge conquer the 2nd death and then move on to…
- When you conquer, when you remain faithful, you get them all.
So what have we seen?
- The church of Smyrna seems to have been persecuted heavily but remained faithful. For this, they received only blessings from Jesus and no condemnation. They do not receive any negative words about any apparent weakness in their devotion, theology, worship, love, or service.
- This letter is filled with paradoxes. The believers in Smyrna are said to be poor yet rich. The opposition claims to be faithful Jews but were not. The path to a victor’s crown lies in death and is guaranteed by the eternal one who died.