Impact

Seven Church Conditions during the Times of the Gentiles – The Persecuted and Faithful Congregation

As we study the prophetic messages to the seven congregations in this series, we will quickly see that they follow the same well-defined structure. The Lord begins each message with a greeting that relates back to John’s vision of Jesus, the Son of Man, in the heavenly scene in the first chapter of the Revelation. In other words, Jesus greets each congregation with an aspect of His person or His title that relates who He is to their particular circumstance. Jesus then commends the congregation for the good things He can say to them. Jesus then exhorted the congregations to take the appropriate action with a promise of blessings for obedience. The believers were to overcome must be understood within the context of the struggles and temptations each congregation faced. Furthermore, the Lord connects the congregation’s spiritual condition with the city’s character and reputation in each letter. (2)

Because the believers were being persecuted, the Lord wanted to encourage them as well as challenge them in areas where they were failing to live up to their high calling. He introduced Himself as the exalted Son of Man in a way that related to their individual situations, both physically and spiritually. He gave each congregation a word of promise to the overcomers and a warning of consequences if they did not obey His instructions. It is most important that we realize His words of promise were not to those who failed to repent. The Lord only had harsh words to those who were carnal and lukewarm in their commitment. The Lord did not give any of these congregations a watered-down, seeker-friendly, entertaining message. The very survival of the Lord’s work in the city depended on the believers responding positively to what the Lord told them. He promised blessings to the overcomers but chastening to those who did not heed His message. (2)

Ancient City of Smyrna

The Congregation at Smyrna

With this introduction, let’s get some background information about Smyrna that will help us understand why the Lord said what He did to the believers in this strategic city. Then we will study this prophetic message with a view of its practical application to our world and lives today. (2)

Background

As mentioned previously, the seven congregations were located on one of the main Roman postal routes of their time. After taking John’s letter to be read at Ephesus, the courier went to Smyrna, which was about 35 miles north of Ephesus.

The name Smyrna is taken from the word myrrh. Myrrh was one of the most important spices in ancient times. It was a bittersweet gum resin that oozed from a shrub tree. While it had a bitter taste, people used it as a sweet-smelling perfumed spice or medicine. It was often used with frankincense to anoint bodies. It had preserving characteristics that slowed the corrupting process on dead bodies. (2)

In the New Testament, myrrh was connected to Jesus on three occasions. When the wise men from the East found Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus, they gave them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (1) (Matthew 2:11). When Jesus was crucified, He was offered wine mixed with myrrh (1), but He refused to drink it (see Mark 15:23). Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). (2)

Like Ephesus, Smyrna was an important seaport city on the Aegean coast. It had a protected harbor and was geographically located where the Hermes River emptied into the sea. This provided a major inland waterway, connecting the trade of goods from Greek merchant ships to Asian land merchants. The city was also located on a major trade route through the Hermes valley. As with other Greek cities, Smyrna had a large library, a public theater, and a stadium that seated about 20,000 people. (2)

Because of the advantages of its location, Smyrna was a beautiful, wealthy city and a major rival to Ephesus. When the harbor at Ephesus silted up, Smyrna became the “Beautiful Ornament of Asia.” Geographically, it was an important location for a believing community that would influence both East and West with the message of Jesus. (2)

In its earliest known history, Smyrna had been a prominent city, but due to conquests and conflicts, it was reduced to a small, insignificant village. However, when Alexander the Great conquered the area, he reestablished Smyrna, at which time Smyrna regained its prominence. In other words, Smyrna died but came back to life. Alexander’s successors greatly enhanced and enlarged it into a beautiful Greek city. (2)

Smyrna was designed in such a way that it had tier after tier of houses beginning on the low ground near the harbor and rising up the hillside to the top of a hill on which stood the main public buildings. The design of the city resembled a crown, with the very top being called the “Crown of Smyrna.” (2)

When Antiochus the Great of Syria (father of Antiochus Epiphanes) threatened to attack Smyrna, the city turned to Rome for protection. As a way of bonding with Rome, Smyrna became the first Asian city to build a temple to the goddess of Rome. Later they built a temple to Tiberius, which established the cult of emperor worship at Smyrna. There were also statues and altars to different Greek gods. Smyrna was a major center of cult worship. Scholars estimate that the population of Smyrna in the first century exceeded 100,000. (2)

The modern city of Izmir is located at the ruins of ancient Smyrna. Izmir is the third-largest city in Turkey with a population of approximately 2.5 million. It is also the second-largest port. Izmir is a beautiful cosmopolitan city and is considered the most westernized city of Turkey. Its main archeological sites are the Church of Polycarp, the Museum, and the Agora. It is interesting that a remnant of the “persecuted congregation” still functions today in Izmir. (2)

Map of Ancient Smyrna

The Greeting

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life: (Revelation 2:8 NET)

Addressing His letter to the leader of the congregation in Smyrna, the Lord greets them in ways that relate to the conditions of the believers in Smyrna. They are a poor, persecuted congregation enduring severe persecution and martyrdom for their faith. As noted already, in each of His greetings to the congregations, the Lord refers to the statements He made about Himself to John as recorded in the first chapter of the Revelation. In view of their difficult circumstances and suffering, the Lord speaks to their needs and refers to Himself in three ways:

  1. the First and Last
  2. who was dead, and
  3. came to life. (2)
When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! (Revelation 1:17–18 NET)

In Exodus 3:14 that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob identified Himself in this way to Moses as YHVH (1), the One who was, who is, and who is to come. He also referred to Himself as the First and the Last. (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.) The First and the Last means the same as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Jesus also refers to Himself by these phrases. (cf. Revelation 1:11; 21:6; 22:13.) (2)

These and similar phrases simply mean that God is outside of time and knows and declares the end from the beginning. (See Isaiah 46:9-10.) By appropriating these phrases to Himself, Jesus is clearly claiming to be more than just a human. He is the divine Son of God and Son of Man. He is God in human flesh. He is one with God our Father in Heaven, but also separate from Him in His divine-human nature. This should not be so hard for us to understand. A human son is one with his father because his father’s life is in him, but he is also a separate human being from his father. (2)

The God of all creation who transcends time and space is certainly able to stay in Heaven while at the same time entering the human race to perfectly reveal Himself to us and to redeem us. Jesus claims to be that perfect human who fully embodied the nature of His Father, while at the same time redeeming us from our sins. Christians do not worship three Gods. We worship the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has fully and completely revealed Himself to us through a person, Jesus of Nazareth. (2)

As I said, we should be able to understand this through the miracle of childbirth. A son usually bears a resemblance to his father. He looks and talks and acts like his father. He has the same characteristics and mannerisms as His father. He is one with his father, but separate from his father. He has his father’s DNA but he is not the same as his father. (2)

Likewise, Jesus had a miracle birth born of the seed of His Father in Heaven (1). The DNA of God was and is fully in Him. He is His Father’s Son, but He is not the Father. Since He is the Son of the Almighty, He has the same characteristics of His Father—He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. (2)

As with some in Smyrna who was martyred for the faith, Jesus also was martyred. He died. And to prove He was dead, His Father kept Him in a tomb for three days and three nights. Why was it so important that Jesus be in the tomb for a full three days and three nights? (2)

Jesus told the Scribes and Pharisees, including His disciples that were present, that He would be dead for three days and three nights to fulfill the sign of Jonah. (2)

In Matthew, Jesus says,

Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:38–40 NET)

Jesus said three days and three nights. Whenever the Bible connects days and nights with the word “and,” it means the full 24-hour period. So three days and three nights mean a 72-hour period of time (1).

In Bible times, people believed that when someone died, their spirit or soul hovered over their body for three days and three nights, deciding if it wanted to depart to the next world or return to the body. This means that in the New Testament a person (Jesus, for example) was not considered fully dead until the passing of 72 hours. From a cultural understanding, Jesus had to be in the tomb for a full 72 hours. This is the reason why Jesus delayed going to Bethany when He learned that Lazarus had died (1).

John tells the story:

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was for two more days. (John 11:6 NET)
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been in the tomb four days already. (John 11:17 NET)
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” (John 11:39)

Without understanding the cultural background of this story when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was for two more days, we would miss the whole point of why Jesus delayed for two days, why John informs us that Lazarus had been in the tomb four days, and why Martha would say that her brother was dead. Jesus delayed resurrecting him so that everyone would know that Lazarus was really and truly dead. (2)

Jesus did this in order to prepare people for His own death, burial, and resurrection. He had to be in the tomb a full three days and three nights for everyone to understand that He was dead. He did not faint, He did not swoon, He did not lose consciousness—He died, and His body was put in a tomb. Like the myrrh of Smyrna, Jesus’ death was bittersweet. His suffering and death were certainly bitter, but His resurrection was sweet. (2)

Because Jesus had never sinned, He was not going to stay in that tomb. That is why He used a borrowed tomb—He wasn’t going to need it for very long. He did not really need 100 pounds of myrrh to slow down the corruption of His body, because His body was not going to experience corruption. (2)

Jesus knew this because His Father had written this as a prophecy through King David.

The prophecy reads:

Therefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices; my body also rests securely. For You will not abandon me to Sheol; You will not allow Your Faithful One to see decay. You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures. (Psalm 16:8–11 HCSB)

Peter during the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) quoted this same prophecy:

For David says about him, ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25–28 NET)

Paul quoted this prophecy in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia:

Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. (Acts 13:35–37 NET)

Since Jesus had never sinned, death had no claim on Him. Even as the city of Smyrna came back to life, Jesus told the believers at Smyrna that “He came to life”:

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life: (Revelation 2:8 NET)

As citizens of a resurrected city, they would understand what He meant. After He had fully fulfilled the sign of Jonah, Jesus came forth from the tomb in resurrection life and power. The timing of His death, burial, and resurrection is difficult for Western people to understand because the biblical day (the next 24-hour period) actually begins in the evening. (2)

Matthew gives the following account of Jesus’ resurrection:

Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Suddenly there was a severe earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were shaken and became like dead men because they were so afraid of him. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. (Matthew 28:1–6 NET)

Jesus not only rose from the dead, but He ascended to Heaven where He now sits in the place of power and glory as the exalted Son of Man. And because He lives, the believers at Smyrna who have been martyred, as well as God’s people throughout history who have given their lives for the faith, will also be raised from the dead and live forever with Him. (2)

Our life as believers is also bittersweet. We too experience the bitterness of suffering for our faith, but the joy of knowing and serving our God is sweet. No matter what challenges we may have in the future as believers, we will overcome satan, we will overcome sin, and we will overcome death. When we die, our bodies will also rest in the hope of being resurrected. (2)

As Paul writes:

Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11 NET)

Paul writes to the believers at Corinth:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:51–58 NET)

We also learn in Paul’s letter to the believers at Thessalonica:

Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 NET)

In a further word of comfort, Paul wrote:

For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–11 NET)

When Lazarus died, his sister came to Jesus for comfort. John recorded the following conversation:

So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary was sitting in the house.Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will grant you.” Jesus replied, “Your brother will come back to life again.”Martha said, “I know that he will come back to life again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world.” (John 11:20–27 NET)

Job expressed this hope for believers of all ages when he said:

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that as the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God,  (Job 19:25–26 NET)

The Commendation

‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NET)

Works are not Mentioned

Note that unlike the other five churches of the Revelation, Symrna’s and Pergamum’s works are not mentioned.

We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work. (John 9:4 NET)

Spiritually night had fallen on Smyrna with the Devil, Satan (1) on the scene to kill, steal and destroy. Good works were very difficult, if not impossible, in this spiritual war zone.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. (John 10:10 NET) 
Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NET)

Nevertheless, Jesus has only praise for the congregation at Smyrna. He mentions three things about their situation and encourages them by telling them that He knows these things.

1. He Knows their tribulation.

Jesus comforted them by telling them that He knew of their tribulation and suffering. The believers at Smyrna were being persecuted for their faith. Like the city where they lived, their lives were bittersweet. Smyrna was spiritually connected to Rome and the Roman gods. The believers were spiritually connected to Heaven and the God of Heaven. Smyrna was connected to the emperor. The believers were connected to the Messiah. There was a clash of kingdoms—the kingdom of Rome against the Kingdom of God. The government of Rome and the government of Heaven were in a battle for the soul of Smyrna, and the believers were at the heart of the struggle. Is Caesar Lord or is Jesus Lord? (2)

The believers said that Jesus is Lord, and many paid for that confession with their lives. The most famous martyr in Smyrna was Polycarp. Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle and the bishop of the congregation at Smyrna in the second century. During one of the pagan festivals, the cry went out to find Polycarp and execute him. (2)

Around A.D. 155, when he was brought before the Roman proconsul, Polycarp was given the choice of confessing Caesar and denying Jesus. His response was that he had served the Lord for 86 years and the Lord had done him no wrong, so how could he now deny Him? When the crowd heard Polycarp confess his allegiance to Jesus as opposed to Caesar, meaning Rome, they demanded that the lions be let loose to eat him. But since that part of the “entertainment” was over, they demanded that Polycarp be burned alive at the stake. When it appeared that the fire could not touch Polycarp, the executioner stabbed him to death. (3)

With his last words, Polycarp offered this prayer to God:

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Thy presence; I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of [Thy] Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Thy presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou didst prepare and reveal it beforehand, and hast accomplished it, Thou that art the faithful and true God. For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now [and ever] and for the ages to come. Amen.’

(3)

When he had offered up the Amen and finished his prayer, the firemen lighted the fire. And, a mighty flame flashing forth, we to whom it was given to see, saw a marvel, yea and we were preserved that we might relate to the rest what happened. The fire, making the appearance of a vault, like the sail of a vessel filled by the wind, made a wall round about the body of the martyr; and it was there in the midst, not like flesh burning, but like [a loaf in the oven or like] gold and silver refined in a furnace. For we perceived such a fragrant smell, as if it were the wafted odour of frankincense or some other precious spice.

So at length the lawless men, seeing that his body could not be consumed by the fire, ordered an executioner to go up to him and stab him with a dagger. And when he had done this, there came forth [a dove and] a quantity of blood, so that it extinguished the fire; and all the multitude marvelled that there should be so great a difference between the unbelievers and the elect. In the number of these was this man, the glorious martyr Polycarp, who was found an apostolic and prophetic teacher in our own time, a bishop of the holy Church which is in Smyrna. For every word which he uttered from his mouth was accomplished and will be accomplished.

(3)

John says that the persecuted believers:

But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. (Revelation 12:11 NET)

This is the testimony that millions of martyrs down through the ages have in Heaven. If required of us, may we have that same testimony. (2)

Christians living in America who have never suffered for their faith may find it difficult to empathize with these believers in Smyrna. However, the experience of the believers in Smyrna has been the norm for Christians throughout history. America has been the one exception because of our Judeo-Christian heritage. As the institutions of America grow to despise our biblical heritage, the judgments of God on our nation will become more profound and more frequent with devastating consequences for the nation. Jews and Bible-believing Christians will be blamed for our calamities, and persecution will follow. May the spirit of Polycarp rest upon us all. Amen (2)

Peter tells us how to respond:

But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken.But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14–17 NET)

We don’t normally think of suffering as a blessing (1). However, Peter explains that suffering is a blessing because it is evidence of our godly lives. And we should not be surprised, but expect it. We don’t necessarily welcome suffering; it just comes with living a righteous life. (2)

Here is how Peter says it:

Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. (1 Peter 4:12–14 NET)
So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good. (1 Peter 4:19 NET)

Peter went on to say that God uses suffering to test our faith and that it is only for a little while. It pales in comparison to the eternal glory God has reserved for us in Heaven. Peter explains:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, because you are attaining the goal of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3–9 NET)

Verses about Suffering as a Believer

“A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor a slave greater than his master. It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more will they defame the members of his household! (Matthew 10:24–25 NET)
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you.Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too. (John 15:18–20 NET)
Therefore do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13 NET)
I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 NET)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48 NET)
But now I am coming to you, and I am saying these things in the world, so they may experience my joy completed in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart. “I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one—I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. (John 17:13–23 NET)
So, since Christ suffered in the flesh, you also arm yourselves with the same attitude, because the one who has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin, (1 Peter 4:1 NET)
Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name. (1 Peter 4:12–16 NET)
Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one in military service gets entangled in matters of everyday life; otherwise he will not please the one who recruited him. Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he will not be crowned as the winner unless he competes according to the rules.The farmer who works hard ought to have the first share of the crops. Think about what I am saying and the Lord will give you understanding of all this. (2 Timothy 2:3–7)
But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. (1 Peter 3:14–15 NET)
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. (Matthew 5:11–12 NET)
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject you as evil on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy, because your reward is great in heaven. For their ancestors did the same things to the prophets. (Luke 6:22–23 NET)
So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good. (1 Peter 4:19 NET)
For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing. (Philippians 1:29,30 NET)
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. (James 1:2–4 NET)
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction. (1 Thessalonians 1:6 NET)
It was good for me to suffer, so that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71 NET)
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body—for the sake of his body, the church—what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. (Colossians 1:24 NET)
From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body. (Galatians 6:17)
The godly face many dangers, but the Lord saves them from each one of them. (Psalm 34:19 NET)
so that no one would be shaken by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For in fact when we were with you, we were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction, and so it has happened, as you well know. (1 Thessalonians 3:3,4 NET)
This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering. (2 Thessalonians 1:5 NET)
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:8 NET)
Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12 NET)
The crucible is for refining silver and the furnace is for gold, likewise the Lord tests hearts. (Proverbs 17:3 NET)
Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have purified you in the furnace of misery. (Isaiah 48:10 NET)
As the crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold, so a person is proved by the praise he receives. (Proverbs 27:21 NET)
He delivers the afflicted by their afflictions, he reveals himself to them by their suffering. (Job 36:15)
They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” (Acts 14:22 NET)
When they arrived, he said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I set foot in the province of Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, and with the trials that happened to me because of the plots of the Jews. You know that I did not hold back from proclaiming to you anything that would be helpful, and from teaching you publicly and from house to house, testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus. And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:18–24 NET)
You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:5–8 NET)
This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6–7 NET)
and they summoned the apostles and had them beaten. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. So they left the council rejoicing because they had been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.And every day both in the temple courts and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 5:40–42 NET)
And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10,11 NET)
Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp. We must go out to him, then, outside the camp, bearing the abuse he experienced. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name. And do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. (Hebrews 13:12–16 NET)

2. He knows their poverty.

In addition to their persecution, the believers were also in great poverty. There was a “spy and reward” network in Smyrna that was very lucrative for those who reported the believers to the authorities. This is often the case where there is a totalitarian government that is threatened by dissent. The local “community organizers,” or spies, were given a percentage of the property and assets of those they reported to the authorities. (2)

Further contributing to their poverty was a boycott against buying goods and services from the believers. This would have greatly affected the ability of the believers to survive, much less prosper. We see this later in John’s revelation, where only those who had the “Mark of the Beast” could do business. (2)

He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number.This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is man’s number, and his number is 666. (Revelation 13:16–18 NET).

As our nation continues to crumble economically, American believers will face similar challenges from what I believe is an anti-God government. Due to hyperinflation and the devaluation of our currency, we may see the time when we have to work all day just to get enough money to buy a loaf of bread. (2)

Then when the Lamb opened the third seal I heard the third living creature saying, “Come!” So I looked, and here came a black horse! The one who rode it had a balance scale in his hand. Then I heard something like a voice from among the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat will cost a day’s pay and three quarts of barley will cost a day’s pay. But do not damage the olive oil and the wine!” (Revelation 6:5–6 NET)

Yet even in the most trying of times, the Lord promises to meet our needs:

And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NET)

The Lord’s words of comfort to the believers at Smyrna are just as relevant for us today. He reminds them that they are rich with spiritual blessings that cannot be taken from them. His Words in Matthew are appropriate for believers everywhere who have lost their finances due to their righteous witness: (2)

“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21 NET)

3. He knows those who are persecuting them.

Finally, the Son of Man says He knows those who are persecuting them. Since He knows who is persecuting them, the implication is that He will judge them in His own appointed time. Those who are being persecuted will be rewarded, while those doing the persecuting will be judged (1).

Jesus says that the ones causing the believers so much grief are a group of people who say they are Jews but are not really Jews. Jesus says they are a “synagogue of Satan”:

‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NET)

Unfortunately, some Western scholars have used this Scripture to justify anti-Semitism and the following similar one as well:

Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan—who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying—Look, I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (Revelation 3:9 NET)

The traditional interpretation is that these are nonbelieving Jews. This is the explanation in the footnotes of your Bible and is one of the reasons why some believe the New Testament to be anti-Semitic. While it may be true that these are Jews, the reality is that we don’t really know who Jesus is talking about. Jesus says they claim to be Jews but are not Jews. (2)

Those who have used these Scriptures to justify anti-Semitism should reconsider their understanding of these Scriptures and repent of their anti-Semitism.

Whoever this group is, Jews or pretend Jews:

But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Then they threw dice to divide his clothes.(Luke 23:34 NET)

Exortation Sans Rebuke

Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself. (Revelation 2:10 NET) 

Jesus gives a final word of hope to the congregation at Smyrna in the form of a promise. But first He encourages them to overcome their fears because there is more persecution ahead for them. Our Lord’s words to His followers who are being persecuted are still timely for us today: (2)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NET)

Some from the congregation at Smyrna will be put in prison, some tortured, and some martyred. This is not good news. None of us likes to suffer, and believers have had their share. Unfortunately, there is more to come. But the good news is that it will be over soon. (2)

Jesus says it will last ten days, days meaning a short period of time, and ten is the number of perfection (cf. Psalms 19:7). The suffering will not be long but will be perfect suffering or suffering leading many to death.

Most of us can endure hardship if we can “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” This gives us hope that our situation is going to get better. Jesus gives Smyrna that hope—their suffering will be over soon. While we do not know what soon means in terms of time; however, sooner is better than later. (2)

Jesus identifies the real enemy—the devil. In this instance, Satan is working through the persecutors to slander the believers. It is a test of their faith, as it is easy to be a believer when there are no tests, no trials, and no tribulation. The fact that Satan is working so hard to destroy the believing community in Smyrna is a real testimony to their lives. They are making a difference. Otherwise, Satan would not be attacking them with such fierce determination. (2)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.(Matthew 5:10 NET).

This is why we can rejoice when we are persecuted for righteousness sake (1).

It is better to live for God and suffer if need be than live for ourselves in ease. If we can get this perspective, we can rejoice when we are suffering for righteous reasons. (2)

but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God.” He convinced them,and they summoned the apostles and had them beaten. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. So they left the council rejoicing because they had been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.And every day both in the temple courts and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 5:39–42 NET)

Jesus said it this way:

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. (Matthew 5:11–12 NET)

These suffering saints have a promise from the Lord. He says that those who overcome will be given the crown of life. By using the phrase “crown of life” (Revelations 2:10), Jesus is speaking in terms the believers can relate to, since every day they see the highest point in Smyrna referred to as the “Crown of Smyrna.” Whereas the Crown of Smyrna will eventually be nothing but ruins (as it is today), the crown of life lasts forever. Perhaps this is what the Lord means by their suffering lasting only a short time when compared to eternity with Jesus.

The Promise

The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:10–11 NET)

The Lord is promising them that He will raise them from the dead as He was raised from the dead, that they will reign with Him on the earth, and that they will live with Him in eternity in a New Jerusalem where there is no suffering. The same promise is for God’s people today. (2)

As we learn later in John’s apocalyptic vision:

Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4–6 NET)

In one final vision, John writes:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” And the one seated on the throne said: “Look! I am making all things new!” Then he said to me, “Write it down, because these words are reliable and true.” He also said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the one who is thirsty I will give water free of charge from the spring of the water of life. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death.” (Revelation 21:1–8 NET)

Paul’s words to the congregation in Rome have given comfort to suffering believers for centuries. May they comfort us as well:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35–39 NET)

If the Lord’s message to Smyrna applies to your organization, your ministry, or your life, let us again find comfort in the words of Jesus:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. (Matthew 5:10–12 NET)

The Invitation

We owe so much to the believers at Smyrna. When this life is over, we will meet our brothers and sisters from Smyrna who endured persecution and even martyrdom for the sake of the Lord and for us who would become believers many centuries later. May we be counted worthy of their ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. And may God forgive us for taking for granted the blessings they made possible for us, and forgive us for preaching an “easy believism,” “feel good,” “entertainment” Gospel message. (2)

Because they were suffering persecution and death for their faith, the Lord greeted them as the One who had overcome death. This is why He promised the overcomers that they would not be hurt by the second death. God would resurrect them and give them the crown of life. (2)

It is noteworthy that the Lord had no rebuke for the believers at Smyrna. There is an important lesson here for us. The believers at Smyrna were facing great persecution and poverty. As the name of their city, their life as a new community of faith in a pagan town was bittersweet. While the Lord had strong words of warning to the more prosperous congregations, He had only words of encouragement for the believers at Smyrna. What does this mean to us? (2)

When we study the history of revivals and great awakenings among God’s people, we discover that great moves of God happened in times of severe persecution. They never happened when God’s people were comfortable. This is the lesson for us to learn. We should have a serious concern when Christianity becomes popular because the message of the cross will never be popular with secular culture or with the masses. (2)

As a modern example, consider the great move of God in China. When the Gospel message first came to China, believers suffered tremendously. They were persecuted, imprisoned, and martyred. While China today is certainly more open to freedom of religion, official government-approved churches (congregations) are still controlled by the government. As long as these congregations don’t become too popular so that they threaten the government, they have relative freedom of worship. However, believers who meet in house churches (congregations) are often persecuted by the authorities. Yet, in spite of this persecution, or perhaps because of it, Christianity in China has grown faster than in any other part of the world. (2)

It is certainly not popular to be a Christian in China. Christianity is not part of the Chinese culture and is often considered a Western religion and unwanted influence and intrusion. Yet, because of the huge population of China, and due to the commitment of Chinese believers, there are more Christians in China than in America. While this may be hard to believe, China is becoming more Christian and America more pagan. I think this is happening right before our eyes as God is moving the center of Christianity from the West to the East. What will it take for God to bring a revival of holiness and the fear of the Lord to American believers? (2)

The Lord commended the believers for their works, for enduring tribulation, for their faithfulness even when it meant financial loss, and reminded them that He knew who was persecuting them. In other words, in due time, He would avenge them. As America becomes more and more anti-Judeo-Christian, we will see great persecution of Jews and Christians. Any discerning believer should see this happening. As this hatred of Jews and Christians becomes more aggressive and apparent, may the Lord be able to say the same words to us that He did to the believers at Smyrna. (2)

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star!” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. (Revelation 22:16–17 NET)
Feasts, Festivals, and Important Occasions of the Biblical Covenants Series:
– The Spring Festivals:
– Seven Church Conditions during the Times of the Gentiles:
– The Fall Festivals:
  • The Feasts of Israel – Trumpets
  • The Feasts of Israel – Atonement
  • The Feasts of Israel – Tabernacles


Shalom
(Peace, Wholeness, Success)

Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. 
(3 John 1:2 NET)


(1) Select the link to open another article in a new tab with additional information.

(2) Booker, R. (2011). The overcomers: series- understanding the book of Revelation. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image.

(3) Lightfoot, J. B., & Harmer, J. R. (1891). The Apostolic Fathers (p. 206). London: Macmillan and Co.

Hal has been teaching the Bible for over three decades. Presently, He desires to honor Jesus Christ through this Internet teaching ministry, thereby glorifying the Heavenly Father in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He believes, second to cultivating his relationship with God that raising his family unto the Lord is the most significant task for him while on Earth. Furthermore, Hal believes that being a successful leader in the church or workplace is no substitute for failing to be a successful leader at home.

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