INTRODUCTION:  The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John in 95 AD, on the Island of Patmos, a bare rocky Greek island in the Aegean Sea, located off the western coast of Turkey. 

All the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3 were all located in Asia Minor, Modern day Turkey.  The Apostle was banished to the Island because of his Christian faith. There the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision and dictated to him the seven letters to the seven churches.  These were not John’s letters but Christ’s letters to His churches. 

The Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church, which he purchased by His precious blood walks in and among His churches (Rev. 2:1).  He knows their works, love, faith, labour, troubles, heart etc.  These letters to the seven churches are just as relevant to each individual Christian, each local assembly, and all church ages, since the Lord Himself says repeatedly: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”  And  “To him who overcomes.”  May all followers of Christ and all local assemblies heed His word, more so, as His coming is at the very door.

The suffering church (Rev. 2:8-11).

Smyrna at the time the letter was written.

The ancient city of Smyrna wassituated on the western shore of Asia Minor, in present day Turkey, now called Izmir, which is the Turkish rendering of the Greek name. It was the most beautiful city in the Roman Empire.

Today Smyrna is the only city still existing of the 7 cities mentioned in Revelation 1 and 2.

Located 50 miles north of Ephesus, it was a powerful and wealthy trading city with a large thriving seaport and well paved streets. The city was well known for its schools of medicine, science and Olympian Games. It had a theatre that sat 20,000 people. During Apostle John’s day it had a population of about 100,000 residents.

Smyrna was a city with many pagan temples, festivals and emperor worship. The Roman emperor, Caesar was worshipped as a god. Every year, every citizen must burn incense on the altar to Caesar and say Caesar is Lord. Because Christians refused to sprinkle incense on the fire that burnt before the emperor’s statue and partake of pagan festivals they became enemies of the Roman Empire. The Roman gods had made them successful and had made them a world empire.  Any religion that does not acknowledge, or pay homage to the gods of Rome was a threat to the Empire.  This could incur the wrath of the gods and therefore must not be tolerated.

The Greco-Turkish war started in 1919 -1922.  In 1922 Turkish soldiers captured the city of Smyrna, four days later the city was set on fire, which lasted for 9 days; only the Muslim and Jewish quarters were unaffected by the great fire.  Thousands lost their lives and many survivors fled as refugees to Greece, bringing an end to Orthodox Christianity. 

Commendation, Encouragement and Promise.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, these things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” Rev. 2:8 (NKJV).

Ii know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); (vs.9).

Of the seven churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia are the only ones without reproof, or a call to repentance. Smyrna received only commendation, encouragement and promise from the Lord.

All the churches were persecuted, but that of Smyrna was the cruelest.  In spite of their severe suffering they continued to serve Him and not deny His name.  Their sufferings and pains were known to the Lord.  Today, the Lord knows all our struggles, pain and sorrows as well and He cares and is with us in all our sufferings. In difficult times, not only is the Lord with us, but He faces and goes through every phase of the difficulties with us. We are never alone.

Their loyalty to Christ and not the imperial cult (emperor worship) caused them much affliction. They suffered terribly at the hands of the Roman authorities. They were severely persecuted; they were thrown into jail, tortured and killed. Their poverty came mainly due to the loss of the means of their livelihood because of their faith.  They lost homes, businesses, properties etc., and had great difficulties in working, buying and selling. Yet they chose to suffer poverty rather than compromise, heavenly treasure instead of temporary earthly gain.

Heaven’s record quite differs from earth’s. They may be poor in the material things of this world, but they were rich in God’s eyes.  They had the true and eternal riches.  The present day Christians who are so encumbered and obsessed with materialism need to learn from this persecuted church.  Many in the church today think that material prosperity is a sign of God’s approval; how tragically wrong this is.

“As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things”.2 Cor. 6:10).

For clarity: neither is poverty a sign of God’s approval; being poor in this life is not a passport or guarantee for heaven. One must be washed by Christ’s blood and remain faithful to Him.

And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (vs.9)

The Roman Empire permitted people to keep their ancestral religion, as long as they worshipped their emperor and Roman gods.  Only the Jewish religion was exempted from this for two reasons: first, several years earlier they had helped Julius Caesar win an important battle, and second, because they worshipped only one God. Therefore, Judaism was recognized for a long time by Rome as a legal religion, allowing Jews to worship freely. So for a while Christians were tolerated as a branch of the Jewish sect by the Romans.  But later on they were seen as a threat to the empire because of their belief in only one true and living God, who alone deserves worship by all peoples, making all other gods no gods but demons. This was unacceptable to the Romans who worshipped many gods and who saw same gods under different names, for example, the Greek goddess Artemis was seen as the version of the Roman goddess Diana. Also, unlike the Jewish monotheistic religion which was restricted to a single national ethnic group the Christian religion though also monotheistic was making converts of all men.

As the Christians increased in numbers they were seen as a threat not only to the Roman Empire and the pagans around them, but also to overzealous, jealous Jews. The Jewish community denounced and spied on them; they continually slandered and reported them to the Roman authorities who already considered them a threat to their empire. They accused Christians of cannibalism, that they ate human flesh and drank human blood during the Lord’s Supper.  All these added to and brought untold hardship and suffering to them. This being the reason Jesus referred to the Jews in Smyrna as a synagogue of Satan.

Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  (vs.10).

Despite all they were already going through, much suffering was still on the way. The Lord wasn’t going to remove or stop the tribulation, rather He encourages them not to fear what they were about to suffer: imprisonment, tribulation and even death.  This was a test the Lord had permitted.

We are living in the days when the persecution of Christians is growing worldwide, especially in our nation.   Many preach a gospel that exempts Christians from suffering because they are children of God.  But Jesus and His Apostles never preached such a gospel. 

The Lord Jesus made it clear when He walked the earth that as His followers we should expect hardship, tribulations, persecutions and marginalization.  And these are plainly written in the New Testament.  I wonder why modern day preachers shy away from such Scriptures.

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (vs. 10).

He encourages them to be faithful even in the face of death.Even though they may lose their physical life for His name’s sake no one can take away the eternal life He has given them, if they remain faithful to the end.

 He promises them the crown of life. At the end of the Christian race believers will be given the crown of life, which is an incorruptible one unlike the victory wreath made of leaves, flowers and foliage given to winners of athletic contest at their Olympian Games. 1 Cor.9:25.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Matthew 9:24.

“Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” John 11:25-26.

For some it may not be physical death, it may mean standing for your conviction and not compromising your faith where ever you may find yourself, even if it may cost you your job, businesses, relationship etc. For some it may mean ostracization by family, false accusations, discrimination etc.

Compromise is denying the Lord.  Will you be faithful to Christ, even in the face of opposition, marginalization and persecutions?

To modern time’s believers the Lord tells us what He tells the Christians in Smyrna: be faithful in the face of – trials, tribulation, marginalization, suffering, even death, and I will give you the crown of life.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death (vs. 11).

“He who overcomes” – the Christian life or journey is not a continuous life of bread and butter – it is a life of overcoming trials of various sorts.

 “Consider it pure joy brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3(HCSB).

The second death is eternal separation from God in hell; those who overcome shall not be hurt by it but shall receive the crown of life and reign with Christ eternally.

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