Series on Revelation, I The Vision, D The Perseverance, 2 The Tried Church, Text: 2:8-11, Title: How to Be Rich When Poor

Introduction

The Ephesians, who had many things but lacked the vital thing, were wooed with the promise of life itself, which is only through touch with Jesus Himself. Smyrna in its suffering is cheered with the prospect of suffering no more. This is one of only two churches to which Christ speaks for which there is no condemnation at all. The other one is Philadelphia.The city of Smyrna was large with 250,000 inhabitants and commercially successful. It had a sheltered harbor that stimulated trade and commerce and along with being at the end of a major highway It was a thriving city. Politically the city sided with the Romans and became their faithful ally. Already in 195 BC it had a temple for the goddess of Rome. In AD 26 it dedicated a temple to Emperor Tiberius and boasted to be first in emperor worship gratifying the Roman administrators. This was the situation when John was writing. Along with this there was a significant population of Jews and, according to an inscription from the second century, Jews at one time donated the sum of ten thousand denarii for a project to beautify the city of Smyrna, Those Jews were free to follow their own religion by a Roman policy known as religio licita, meaning an allowed religion. This did not apply to Christians and when Christianity began to separate from its parent Judaism the persecution of Christians steadily increased. The Jews began to join in the persecution of Christians and when Polycarp, a disciple of John was martyred the record indicates that the Jews were foremost in gathering wood for the fire. Even though it was the Sabbath, they deliberately carried burdens of wood and transgressed the law. These are the people called “Jews” that Jesus condemns here in this letter. Calling people bogus Jews is not politically correct, but Jesus is the authority on politically incorrect. Thus the Christians were persecuted not only by the Jews but as you would expect by the pagan Roman citizens who were loyal to the emperor and his worship.The message to this suffering church is that Jesus continues, Jesus comprehends, Jesus cares, and Jesus challenges.

I Jesus Continues


Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And so Jesus introduces Himself as victorious over death in verse 8, To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. This is the description Jesus gave to John when he appeared to him at the beginning in chapter 1:18,  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. The claim to be the first and last is identifying Jesus with the God, the Father, as we read in Isaiah 44:6 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. The message that Jesus lives is for all of the churches in Revelation, reminding them that Jesus has conquered sin and death, but especially for this church as we see the introduction to each letter is made to fit the need. This is known as the martyr church surrendering their lives for the sake of the gospel. Later in Revelation the Antichrist, appears as a beast coming up out of the sea who had a fatal wound and yet lived. This description of the Antichrist reveals his insidious imitation of Christ’s death and resurrection, but Jesus not only died and lives again, He has the keys of death and hell. In spite of his mocking imitation of resurrection, the Antichrist is thrown into hell with the Devil and his angels by Jesus who has the keys. These believers must hear the message Jesus gave to John at the beginning, ‘Fear not.”

II Jesus Comprehends

Add to this that Jesus understands for He comprehends, He knows, their situation as he says in verse 9, I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. The believers in Smyrna were severely persecuted. Jesus reminds them that he knows and understands what they are suffering. Indeed He, Himself, was persecuted, and we read in Hebrews 2:17 and 18, And for this purpose it was necessary that in all respects He should be made to resemble His brothers, so that He might become a compassionate and faithful High Priest in things relating to God, in order to atone for the sins of the people. For inasmuch as He has Himself felt the pain of temptation and trial, He is also able instantly to help those who are tempted and tried. Jesus is intimately acquainted with their sufferings and since he endured the reproach and shame of the cross for the joy that was set before him according to Hebrews 12:2 he knows the reward for patient suffering is glorious. Paul tells us in II Corinthians 8:9 that Jesus became poor that we might be made rich. But beside comprehending their trials and tribulations Jesus also knows those who are persecuting them. He identifies them as those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. They are people with the same outlook as those who shouted crucify Him. In Matthew 12 Jesus spoke about blasphemy against himself and the Holy Spirit when He cast out a demon in a person who was blind and mute. When the man could see, hear, and speak, the people asked their spiritual leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees, whether Jesus could be the Son of David (the Messiah). But the Pharisees and teachers of the law told the crowd that “this fellow” was casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub or Satan. The clergy in Israel should have been the first to recognize the Messiah when Jesus healed a blind person because it was prophesied several times in Isaiah that Messiah would open the eyes of the blind. These Jews were not real Jews. Their synagogue did not belong to the Lord, Jahweh, but to the Devil, Satan. They were physical descendants of Abraham, but they knew nothing of Abraham’s God or Abraham’s faith. Jesus repudiated them during His ministry and here he repudiates them again.

III Jesus Cares

In verse 10 we learn that Jesus not only knows abut their suffering, but he will reward their patient endurance, Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. The life of our Savior can be defined by two symbols, the cross and the crown. He spent his earthly sojourn looking forward to the cross and after that the crown. It was his destiny to suffer and then to reign. It is no different for us, nor was it for the believers in Smyrna. First they are told that they must suffer, and the suffering includes imprisonment and death. It will come at the hands of the Romans incited by the unbelieving Jews. They must persevere through this for a crown awaits. The period of suffering is said to be ten days, but like most numbers in Revelation this is not literal but symbolic. Hendriksen reminds us that the number ten conveys the meaning of fullness in the decimal system. It is a symbolical number to express the completeness of the period of suffering, which is neither long nor short but full, for its termination is sure. These days there are many Christians who discount the value of suffering and think only of deliverance and not perseverance. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who helped Jews escape the Nazi holocaust. She ended up in a concentration camp. Later emigrating to the United States she wrote about it. She said, “If God sends us on stony paths, he provides strong shoes.” We have  pictures of the Roman method of threshing grain in the first century. One man is stirring up the sheaves while another rides over them in a crude cart equipped with rollers instead of wheels. Sharp stones and rough bits of iron were attached to these cylinders to help separate the husks from the grain.  This simple cart was called a tribulum -- from which we get our word "tribulation."  When great affliction comes to us, we often think of ourselves as being torn to pieces under the cruel pressures of adverse circumstances. Yet as no thresher ever yoked up his tribulum for the mere purpose of tearing up his sheaves but to disclose the precious grain, so our loving Savior never puts us under the pressure of sorrow and disappointment needlessly. This is the tribulation of which Jesus speaks here. To those who patiently endure He promises a crown of life, eternal life that is. In view of Smyrna’s city layout, commentators have no problem seeing a connection between the crown of the city and the crown Christ promises because Smyrna was known as “the crown of Smyrna.” The name originated from the city’s buildings, whose symmetrical appearance was likened to a crown. But the words of Jesus are more meaningful. The phrase probably was idiomatic—it occurs also in James 1:12—and can be translated “the crown, that is, fullness of life.” It is emblematic of the “highest joy and gladness and of glory and immortality.” If the saints in Smyrna pay with their life for the testimony of Jesus, they will receive imperishable life in eternal glory. And so will you.

IV Jesus Challenges

And so our Lord closes with this challenge in verse 11, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. It  is the promise of the only One who always keeps His promises. This assurance of surviving death and entering eternal life with Christ encourages and enables every Christian to persevere through tribulation. There is a story about a political crisis in the Philippines.  A friend who knew Benigno Aquino, the late husband of Cory Aquino, relates that when Nino was doing work at Harvard, prior to his return to the Philippines and what many called his martyrdom, he encountered through Chuck Colson's Born Again a wonderful experience of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Benigno had been the primary opposition to the cruel dictator Ferdinand Marcos. When a friend plead with him not to go back to the Philippines, for fear of being assassinated, he responded simply "I must go back. Jesus Christ won His greatest victory in His death.  And perhaps that will be my story -- only God knows!" He was shot to death moments after his arrival. Later his wife and then a son became presidents of the Philippines. The Airport where he landed is now named after him. He however is enjoying his reward of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. Polycarp was a pastor in Smyrna about 150 AD. He was burned at the stake for his refusal to deny the name of Jesus. He had been the bishop of Smyrna for many years. As an elderly saint, he responded to the proconsul who gave him the choice of cursing Jesus’ name and living or confessing his name and dying: “Eighty-six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.