THE MASTER’S VESSEL MINISTRIES, HOUSTON, TEXAS
Preacher: Pastor Uche Emenike
Topic: The Messages to the churches
Text: Revelations 1:9-11; 2:1-7
Letter to Smyrna
- This is a letter addressed to a church under persecution. Smyrna was a wealthy city, thirty-five miles north of Ephesus. It was also a seaport.
- The city still exists today in Turkey by name Izmir. It is the third largest city in Turkey after Istanbul and Ankara. In the first century, this city was noted for its wickedness and opposition to the gospel. A well-known believer killed in this city was Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna who was burned at the stake and then stabbed to death when the fire ignited failed to consume him.
- This is one of the churches that Jesus had no word of condemnation (Philadelphia is the other one). Later, we shall find out why this was so.
- In v. 8, Jesus identifies Himself as One who lived in eternity past and still living; and also, One who died in the hands of men and rose again. This is said as an encouragement to this church undergoing persecution to let them know that even He Himself was subject to such persecution of men, but He overcame. The suffering church in Smyrna will also overcome and experience the ultimate victory.
- Over the centuries, the church has experienced persecutions from the hands of men; but while the church has survived according to Matt. 16:18, such men and empires have gone into oblivion.
- Note that the word, Smyrna means “Myrrh.” It is a sweet perfume used for the embalming of dead bodies. It was also part of the anointing oil used in the tabernacle worship in the Old Testament – see Exo. 30:23. Also in Ps. 45:8, the clothes of the heavenly Bridegroom (Christ) is described as scented with Myrrh (which implies persecution and death). As the body of Christ, we exude this fragrance which makes us candidates for persecution – see II Cor. 2:14-16 and Matt. 10:24-25.
- In v. 9, Jesus commends the church for her faithfulness in the midst of trial. This church may have been poor materially, but there is also the possibility that the brethren have had their earthly possessions seized because of their faith thus reducing them to poverty.
- It is worthwhile to note that Peter also wrote to the church in Asia encouraging them to be steadfast in the time of suffering because of the hope they had – I Pet. 1:6-7. Though the brethren may be poor materially, they are rich in faith and in heavenly riches.
- Note that it is possible in this modern culture for our stand for righteousness to cost us our businesses, our jobs, opportunities, and even friends. The case of the baker in Colorado comes to mind.
- Those that persecuted the Christians of Smyrna may also have been people who professed knowledge of the Messiah but were fake. Jesus spoke of them as claiming to be Jews, but they were not real Jews. In fact, according to Ryrie, when this same Polycarp mentioned earlier was about to be burned at the stake, some Jews actually helped by gathering wood to be used at the stake on the Sabbath day!
- The great lesson here is for believers to be mindful of the causes that they support. When the ungodly are in joint opposition to a cause (especially one that affects your faith), be skeptical. Saul, before he became Paul, fell into this trap and this led to the killing of Stephen.
- In v. 10, Jesus told this church that their present persecution was only the beginning. More would come as the devil’s aim is to stamp out every vestige of Christianity in the land, just like Ahab and Jezebel tried to do in I Kings. Some of the believers would be put in prison, while others will be tested for their faith. If he does not succeed in wiping out Christianity from Smyrna, he will diminish their testimony. Recently in America, a church leader was accused of following somebody on Twitter that another person did not like because of the political divide in the country right now. That made the church leader a “bigot” and a “racist.” The church leader did no wrong and I believe that accusations like this are meant to diminish the testimony of the church. Unfortunately, the church leader caved in and apologized but we are going to see more of this in the future.
- We do not know the significance of the ten days of tribulation that Jesus mentioned but it could be 1. Ten literal days 2. It could represent the period that the church existed. Remember that Christians suffered immense persecution under the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. 3. It could also mean a short period of time – see Gen. 24:55 and Acts 25:6. No matter the time, expect more persecution but expect blessings from God when your time of trial is over.
- There is a big lesson to be learned here. If God is all powerful, why does He allow His people to go through persecution and suffering? While we believe that God is sovereign and will do what He wants to do, we can attempt certain explanations from scripture:
- To shake us up from our lethargy as in the case of the early church that were dispersed, and the gospel began to take root in other cities – Acts 8.
- To discipline us – see the church in Corinth in I Cor. 11:30-32, Heb. 12:3-13.
- To teach us obedience – see Rom. 5:3-5 and Heb. 5:8. In I Sam. 13:9, Saul failed the test of obedience because of mounting pressure from the Philistinian build-up at his border.
- John Walvoord adds that so that we can bear a better testimony for Christ – Acts 9:16. Recount also that the Apostles went home from the presence of the Council rejoicing after being flogged for preaching the Gospel. They rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ – Acts 5:41.
- To sift the wheat from the chaff. During the great persecution in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, many people that professed faith in Christ lapsed and the true believers stood.
- Whatever the persecution, God is still in control and these things are designed for the good of the church. No wonder Jesus told them, “Do not fear….” Their present troubles would not rob them of their reward.
- They should also be faithful even if they had to die for their faith. Bishop Polycarp was a prime example. When asked to renounce Christ to live, he answered, “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord, and He never wronged me: How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?” The crown of life which is eternal life itself awaits every believer who endures till the end.
- In v. 11, Jesus assures the church in Smyrna that every overcomer will not face the second death which is eternal suffering in Hell, and which will be the fate of everyone that rejects Jesus Christ as they pass through the White Throne Judgment in Rev. 20:11-15.
- It was noted earlier that the church in Smyrna did not receive any condemnation.
- The Ephesian church was rebuked for their lethargy and other churches as we shall see later. However, the fires of persecution kept this church at her feet, and she had no time for the bickering and un-seriousness pervasive in many congregations. Therefore, her testimony shined brighter than others.
- In our modern world, we see the churches in China, Iran, and these other countries where they are restricted doing more than us that have all the freedoms of this world. That is why some congregations here can hardly pass as churches of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- I believe that the Lord is stirring us to get up from our complacency or else He could use the medium of persecution to wake us up.