[SW128] 2/14/14 message notes by Rev. Susan J. Wynn ©2014
“Jesus’ Letter to Smyrna”
Smyrna is persecuted by Romans and Jews, and some will soon die for their faith. Even more so today, true Christians are persecuted and martyred around the world.
Jesus encourages all who are His!
While the Apostle John is exiled on the island of Patmos (to the east of Greece), Jesus Christ gives him a revelation — an unveiling — of Himself, and what is to come.
The unveiling of Himself:
When John sees Jesus Christ as He is now — Judge, Lord of lords, and King of kings — here’s what happens:
Revelation 1:17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19 “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”
What is to come:
Before He unveils what is to come, the Lord Jesus speaks to seven churches through their messengers (pastors). He is the one that walks among (5281 in the middle of) the seven golden lamp stands like candelabra (the churches).
Why does He speak to them? To encourage them, to exhort them, to correct them, to convict them regarding sin and righteousness and judgment. He commands five of the seven churches to repent.
Background on the church at Smyrna:
The church at Smyrna is one of the two who are not commanded by Jesus to repent. His letter is entirely for their encouragement.
Smyrna is “smurnah (4666), which means myrrh, an ointment used for embalming. This was a church whose members were persecuted even to death.
It is located in what is now Turkey. The city was headquarters for the Roman empire’s cult of emperor worship. Christians were persecuted there by Romans and Jews. Both claimed Christians blasphemed:
— Romans, because the Christians refused to renounce Jesus and worship the emperor as god
—Those who call themselves Jews, but because they do not believe in their Messiah, Jesus Christ, they are sons of their father, the devil (John 8:44). So they are a synagogue of Satan.
They accuse the church at Smyrna of blasphemy because Christians believe Jesus Christ is deity, God the Son, and they call God their Father, just as Jesus did (see John 20:17 — “My Father and your Father, and My God and your God”).
Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John and the leader of the church at Smyrna, was martyred when he was very old . . . 86 years, or 106, depending on how you read the historical account. After he openly confessed Jesus while standing before them, the Romans and the Jews were furious, seized him, and church history records that he was bound to a stake and the fire lit, but micaculously, it did not touch him. He was then stabbed to death by his persecutors.
The content and portent of Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna:
Jesus identifies Himself differently to this church, compared with Ephesus. To Ephesus, He said he held the seven stars (messengers/pastors) and walked among the lamp stands (the churches). His titles to them indicated of His concerns about that church.
But to this church, He speaks of His deity and resurrection. He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who knows the end from the beginning. He existed prior to creation, and lives eternally.
He is the one who was dead and rose again. So they serve a living Savior and Lord, God the Son, and because He was resurrected, they will be, too.
And He fully knows what they are going through — tribulation (anguish, trouble, persecution) and poverty (because they were shunned and therefore could not find work). This word means extreme poverty, downright destitution!
But they are spiritually rich, in Him! They have the riches Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:20 — treasures in heaven. And they have the riches Jesus spoke of in Acts 1:5 and 1:8 — baptized with the Holy Spirit and power, they are His witnesses even to the ends of the earth.
In Verse 10, Jesus warns them that they are about to suffer (3958, experience the sensation of pain).
Their tribulation/persecution is about to go beyond shunning and poverty and accusation and interrogation. But He says, “Do not fear!”
Some of them are about to be thrown into prison, to await torture and then death by a myriad of horrible means — burned at the stake, torn to pieces by lions, to name but two.
They will be tested (3985 enticed, tempted). They must remain steadfast in their faith in Jesus Christ, even though some will be captured, threatened with death and will indeed die.
But, “Be faithful until death,” He commands, “and I will give you the crown [victor’s wreath or garland] of life” — eternal life in Him, because they refuse to renounce Jesus Christ.
[NOTE: I will speak of the “overcomers” for all seven churches after I have spoken on Laodicea.]
How does all of this apply today?
In other countries — including Indonesia, India, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq — Christians are literally persecuted and killed in the same way as some of those at Smyrna.
More Christians have been martyred in the 20th and 21st centuries than in all of the previous years the church has existed.
Here in the U.S., we may say there is no persecution, but there ought to be.
Jesus warns His disciples to expect it in John 15:18-25. Why?
Because the world hates us. If we are like the world, they will love us. If we are not like the world, we will be persecuted, just as Christ was persecuted.
They will persecute us if we claim the name of Jesus (for His name’s sake) and live as He did.
The world sins, but no longer has an excuse because He has come. If they see and hate Jesus who is in us, they also see and hate the Father. They will hate us without a cause.
But today’s church in America seems to want the world to love them.
They want to be admired and respected in the community as a benevolent organization that feeds and clothes the poor, and that helps people meet their own “felt needs.” A humanistic (God is here to serve humans) gospel!
God help us! The world loves us! We must repent!
If not, we will continue to look like the world and act like the world (the human-centered gospel), and therefore make it evident that we love the world.
We will blend in quite nicely.
But we will make it evident that, despite our confession of faith, we do not love God.
We will speak of the church at Laodicea last, but the American church bears an eerie resemblance to it. And those, unless they repent, He will vomit from His mouth. They will no longer be “in Christ.”
If you are His and live as He did in the world, prepare for greater persecution in this country.
His name is defamed on everything from the morning shows to the evening news to The Weather Channel.
Expect the same and greater, but rejoice, because even if you are shunned, tortured and martyred for your faith, you will be given the crown of eternal life! Take courage in Peter’s words:
1Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.