Revelation - 5
27th January 2008
Smyrna – 35 miles north of Ephesus.
The current city of Izmir in Turkey.
Highlights – considered to be the birthplace of Homer (Not Simpson).
23-26 BC – wanted to be the host city of the Temple to Tiberius.
Earthquake destroyed Smyrna – but they were quick to rebuild.
. 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. 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. 10 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. 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.
The shortest letter of the seven – yet, it carries significant weight – helping to define and set the pace of the rest of the letter. You see this idea of eschatology- the end times – an eschatological focus. In leadership books – you hear the quote – begin with the end in mind – that is what they are encouraged to do.
As we outline this message –
I) The characteristics of Christ
II) Their current affliction
III) Their coming affliction
IV) The challenge to overcome
Characteristics of Christ – Christ offers hope to a church under affliction.
1:17 – the introduction to the letters – 1:8 – God is called the Alpha and Omega. Near the end – Christ repeats, in triplicate – for emphasis – and adds one – The Alpha and Omega, First and Last, Beginning and End. God and Jesus are sovereign – in control. Things were bad in Smyrna – the church wasn’t bad – but the things around them were.
A lot of the phrases – a word that gets dropped may have significance to the people of that town. First and Last. Christ is in control. In Smyrna – they would have considered themselves the first in Asia. They all vied for the fame and glory and popularity. Jesus was saying – You might think you are first in Asia, but I am first in a cosmic sense.
“Who died and came to life again”
In 1:18 – Forever and Ever – Emphasis on Christ’s eternality. I think I just made up that word. It could be in reference to Smyrna’s history – destroyed in 600 BC –
Then 300 years later – Alexander the Great commissions it to be rebuilt.
Current affliction in Smyrna – what was the situation? V. 9 –
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 second death.
There are no “This I have against you”
Grant Osborne – Trinity Professor – I took a class from him in hermeneutics – What is that? How to study the Bible. He states in his commentary – It is telling that these two were also the least significant of the seven churches in terms of numbers and influence. The current preoccupation of the modern church with numbers and influence must be reexamined. It is more important to be faithful than to be powerful.
Affliction – Christ knows the circumstances – He knows their poverty “and yet, you are rich” – the emphasis – Christ is empathizing with their literal and earthly poverty – but he is praising them for their spiritual wealth.
Laodicea – it is the opposite – Wretched – poor blind – and naked. I’d rather be in Smyrna!
Emperor worship – relatively new on the religious scene, but it was huge – it quantified the Romans at this time. We see this with the temple to Tiberius. The citizens of the town would have to pay tribute to the emperor – and declare Caesar – whichever one – as lord. At some point, the Jews got an exemption. The Romans were tolerant of a monotheistic group – maybe because their religion was ancient, ethnic – and not seen as a problem. In archeology – there are records, certificates – of taxes to Caesar – tributes. But at some point, tensions rose between Jews and Christians – the synagogue leaders started to distance themselves from the Christians. Early on, the Christians had this exemption. But soon, the Christians started getting kicked out of the synagogue, and the Christians would be out of the protection and be required to pay taxes and tribute to the Caesar as lord.
Christians were a minority – and treated as such. To highlight this –
2 Cor. 8:1-4
8:1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.
We don’t usually equate terms, overflowing joy with extreme poverty
Heb. 10: 32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
Being a Christian would result in bad business ventures, unemployment, confiscation of land.
What about slander?
The word is often translated blasphemy. Malicious untruths being told about the church. When the Jews disassociated – this was part of the slander. The synagogue officials took pleasure in ratting out the Christians. This can be seen throughout the book of Acts.
If you are interested –
Acts 17:6-9, 13
Acts 18: 12-17
Those things that were going on in Smyrna can be seen throughout the New Testament history.
Synagogue of Satan –
John 8: - As it is, you were determined to kill me…
40 As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the things your own father does." "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself." 42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? 47 He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."
The slander that Smyrna was going through was intense. That was their current situation – but what about their future testing?
The devil becomes a major character in this drama.
In prison for 10 days. That intrigued me – As much as I tried to figure out the significance of 10 days, I couldn’t. There is no solid connection to any section – not even the one in Daniel. Yeah, you’ll be in prison, but not for long. It might lead to your death, but even that is not final.
Do not be afraid – be faithful.
Presently, dealing with poverty and slander.
Coming affliction – Prison and death – but don’t fear and be faithful.
Perhaps what is in the believers mind –
Ps. 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah
It is possible that the rest of Psalm 46 is alluded to throughout the rest of the book of revelation. What about this crown of life? 2 reference points. First – we have talked about this in the past – the crown that an athlete would win. Not the crown of thorns, but the wreath –
1 Cor. 9: 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
That could be the first connecting point.
2nd – The skyline of Smyrna in New Testament time – As you came into Smyrna – some of their bigger buildings – up toward the top of the hill and it looked like a crown. The Crown of Smyrna. It could be a reference to that. But Jesus is saying – His crown is better – not perishable – and more glorious than the crown of Smyrna
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.
Not be hurt by the second death. The death in v. 10 is temporal. The second death is eternal – the lake of fire –
Rev. 20: 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
Rev. 21: 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
The challenge to the church in Smyrna is to live eschatologically – even if it results in death, there is a future glory ahead.
What are the application points of this dark message? For me, something I have enjoyed doing over the years – studying those who have been martyred. We don’t understand what it means. There is a connection to some of the things we suffer – maybe being passed up for a job because we are Christians – yeah, that is a form of persecution – but nothing like those who were martyred.
Tertullian – the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
In Smyrna – several years after the letter – Polycarp was martyred – a second generation Christian (most of his earthly life was after that of the apostles) – a disciple of John. Bishop of Smyrna – Polycarp may have read the original letter to the church in Smyrna – if Revelation was written in the 90’s – but if it were written earlier as some believe –
Polycarp – lived his years serving the church. He argued with some heretics – There is a letter that he wrote to the Philippians. That is about the only extent that we have of an existing letter of Polycarp.
Through a series of events – he was lead before the proconsul –
“Away with the atheists” – rather than denouncing his faith, he called them atheists –
“Take the oath, curse Christ, and you’ll be released”
“86 years I have served Christ and He never did me wrong”
Polycarp – encased in flames – made a wall around him – like
I don’t know who is more warped, the guy writing this or me, for liking these stories.
The executioner – stabbed him with a sword – the blood came forth and extinguished the fire.
February 23 – Polycarp day on the church calendar.
It serves us well to study martyrs.
Some references – Persecution.com – Voice of the Martyrs. Profiles of those who are in prison – bios of those who are suffering for Christ.
From classic literature: Fox’s book of Martyrs. I like to call it protestant propaganda – very anti-catholic – those who were put to death by the church.
Jesus freak books – almost like devotional readings – range from Polycarp to the time the books were written.
We should live without fear – it would serve us well to study martyrs. There is a lot of talk about the economy being so bad. What will it do to our business? For small business owners – or in the private business world, this is a real fear – but if we think eschatologically, we can live without fear – something better is coming – we may experience poverty – but if we live as rich spiritually, it will go a long way.
We need to be willing to speak out for Christ. When the conversation gets off-color – “I don’t know if I am down with that.” I’d get picked on – called a holy roller – why should I be afraid of a friend calling me a name.
What about ministry? Several years ago we went to a church – and we were supposed to go out into the community to invite people to VBS – and across from the church there was a bad neighborhood – and down the road a really nice neighborhood – which should we go to? It might be dangerous to go to the bad neighborhood – but we are called to not be afraid.
Poverty is not that bad.
A few years ago, I had to move back to Ohio – I was depressed and we had nothing. We could be near family. We carried a mortgage in Colorado for 13 months after we got back. But God provided - we got into a virtually rent free situation here, thanks to family. Good thing!
Casey was able to get a job – and I mustered up the courage to write up a resume and get the job I have now. Something better awaits.
Father, help us to live with the end in mind. Our troubles – being picked on, or martyred- You are in charge of all things. The crown of life is ours. We will not be hurt by the second death.