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Letter to Smyrna

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The Message to the Church in Smyrna
8 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:
9 “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. 10 Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.
11 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.
Smyrna is the next most important city to Ephesus—and far more beautiful (2:8–11). It is a wealthy city, thanks to its trade, safe harbour, fertile valley and major road to the Far East. Today Smyrna is Izmir, the thriving city of Turkey.
Founded by the Greeks in 1000 bc, Smyrna was destroyed by invaders in 500 bc. It was reborn around 200 bc as a well-planned modern city with a famous street of gold running between the temple of Zeus and the temple of Cybele.
Smyrna’s Jewish community is implacably opposed to Christianity. When Polycarp dies, it will be the Jews who fetch stacks of wood to burn him at the stake. As Jesus Christ looks at the situation of his church, he sees that a ‘synagogue of Satan’, who are spurious Jews, will inflict great suffering on his people. Christians will be imprisoned and even killed, but Christ will give them victory. Like the city in which they live, they will rise again!
Smyrna, the Crowned Church ()
The name Smyrna means “bitter” and is related to the word myrrh. The assembly at Smyrna was persecuted for the faith, which explains why the Lord emphasized His death and resurrection as He opened His message. No matter what experiences God’s people may have, their Lord identifies with them.
Let’s see what God has to say to this faithful church.
I. The Description of Christ - Look at verse 8 -
A large Jewish community also thrived in Smyrna. The Jews, of course, did not have to patronize the imperial cult since their religion was accepted by Rome; but they certainly would not cooperate with the Christian faith. So, from both Jews and Gentiles, the Christians in Smyrna received slander and suffering.
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. The city of Smyrna was a center for Emperor worship. Everyone in the city worshiped Caesar as supreme. But as Jesus comes with a message to the church, he reminds them that HE alone is supreme. In the words of - This is what the LORD says--Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Now it wasn’t very politically correct to hold to this view. In fact, it went against everything people in Smyrna said they believed. But these Christians at Smyrna were willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of the TRUTH.
But they were rich! They lived for eternal values that would never change, riches that could never be taken away. “As poor, yet making many rich” (; ). In fact, their suffering for Christ only increased their riches.
We live in a culture where we want to believe everyone is right. Even though we might disagree, society tells us we are all right. After all, truth, they say, is whatever you believe to be true. Our culture does not like to face up to the idea of one, absolute truth. But these Christians at Smyrna were willing to give their lives to say, Caesar is NOT God! Jesus had reminded them that HE alone was the almighty, the first and the last.
He also reminds them, He is the one who died and came to life again. To a people facing death for taking a stand, Christ encourages them with the hope of the resurrection. This life is NOT the end, but only the beginning.
Our struggles are not with flesh and blood, but with the enemy, Satan, who uses people to accomplish his purposes. The Jewish synagogue was actually a synagogue of Satan. A true Jew is not one physically or racially, but spiritually (). Any religious group, Jewish or Gentile, that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as God’s Son is certainly acting contrary to God’s will.
To a people who are crushed with persecution, Christ offers hope. We also see here,
Admonition (vv. 10–11). No words of accusation are given to the congregation in Smyrna! They may not have enjoyed the approval of men, but they certainly received the praise of God. However, the Lord did give them solemn words of admonition as they faced increased suffering: “Don’t be afraid!”
II. The Description of the Church - Look at verse 9 -
He assured them that He knew the devil’s plans and was in complete control of the situation. Some of the believers would be imprisoned and tried as traitors to Rome. Yet their tribulation would not be long; in the Bible, ten days signifies “a brief time” (; ). The important thing was faithfulness, standing true to Christ no matter what the government might threaten to do.
• They faced Pressure - I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich! The word here for afflictions is really the word for “pressure.” They are under great pressure. They are being crushed. But lest we ever forget, pressure is NOT bad for us. Rather it brings about good. This is the same term that is used in - Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Paul says we can rejoice in sufferings: trials, tribulations, problems. God certainly knows that there are a lot of problems facing us: unemployment at a high, repossessions; uncertain financial times, not to mention all the personal issues each of us faces. But Paul says these problems can be a source of rejoicing for us. Normally when faced with a problem our first response is to say, “God, please take this away.” After all, that’s what Paul did, even Jesus prayed that way. But when God chooses to leave us to face the problem, we need to change the way we look at the problem. It can either be a stumbling-block or a stepping-stone. Don’t just look to escape the problem; look for God’s grace to carry you through. Struggle, problems, adversity, testing -- these make us stronger. God promises He will never give us more than we can bear.
Think about an athlete in training. They run miles and miles; do thousands of sit-ups and pushups; lift heavy, heavy weights - why? to be stronger, faster, to be their best. There are many who say “that’s too hard” and never work out. They’d rather sit in front of the TV with a pop in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.
We have a nation of “couch potato” Christians, who don’t want any adversity. But when we avoid adversity, we miss out on one of the greatest blessing God could bring us. Paul says that suffering produces perseverance. When we go through suffering, we learn never to give up.
James says the same thing in - Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James says we are to consider it pure joy. The term for “consider” is a word that means “let your mind lead you” - it is inductive reasoning - when you look at all the facts, all the circumstances, you come to a conclusion that every trial can be a source of JOY. It all adds up to JOY! [trial + trial + trial = JOY]
Do I want to have cancer, lose my job, lose my spouse, face financial reversal? No. I don’t WANT any of those things to happen. But when they DO - when I FALL into a trial that I was not planning on, I can STILL have JOY! What we are talking about is a joyful acceptance of what happens to you in life. Instead of blaming God and fighting against Him, we seek another alternative: JOY! We don’t need to seek to escape from what God has allowed into our life. Rather we turn TO Him at those times.
When we learn to persevere, to keep trusting God no matter what, we develop godly character. How do you develop character? Don’t give up when you face problems. Don’t say, God must not love me or He would help me. Don’t say God isn’t good. Don’t say, God doesn’t hear my prayers. Keep on trusting in the goodness and love of God.
So tribulations, afflictions, suffering, pressure - produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. When God builds character in our lives, we live in hope. What is hope? It is the confidence that God is in control. It is the certainty that God will work on our behalf based upon who He is and what He has said. The book of Hebrews tells us, We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Scripture tells us that pressure IS good for us, it builds godly character in our lives and gives us hope! Of all the 7 churches addressed, the church at Smyrna alone still exists today. Why? Their afflictions, sufferings, pressure kept them faithful. Christ said He saw their pressure. He also saw
• They faced poverty - I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich! The word used here for poverty is a word that means they had NOTHING! To us in America, often poverty means we drive a car that is over 5 years old; we can’t afford to eat at Eddie O’Flynns, so we go to Bob Evans; we only go to the movies once a week. I go visit people who have no job, living in a trailer, and they are taking money out of your wallet and mine to pay for the big 52” Plasma color TV in their living room and the new car in their driveway. We don’t understand what real poverty is all about. It means having NOTHING!
The Christians at Smyrna knew that by staying true to Christ, they might risk the forfeiture of all their property and possessions. Yet they were willing to give it all up for the sake of obedience to Christ. Yet even though they had nothing, God saw them as rich.
The “crown of life” is the winner’s crown awarded at the annual athletic games. Smyrna was a key participant in the games, so this promise would be especially meaningful to believers living there. The Lord reinforced the promise given by James () and assured His people that there was nothing to fear. Because they had trusted Him, they were overcomers—victors in the race of faith ()—and, as overcomers, they had nothing to fear. Even if they were martyred, they would be ushered into glory, wearing crowns! They would never face the awful judgment of the second death, which is the lake of fire (; ).
It costs to be a dedicated Christian, in some places more than others. As end-time pressures increase, persecution will also increase; and God’s people need to be ready (). The world may call us “poor Christians,” but in God’s sight we are rich!
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