Revelation 2:8-11

Wednesday Night Bible Study

December 18, 1996

Introduction

As we've seen, there's an outline given to us about this book:

John was to write down things in three categories: (1:19)

1) The things which thou hast seen (ch.1) - the vision of Jesus

2) The things which are (chs.2-3) - things which pertain to current history, the times of the church.

3) The things which shall be hereafter (chs.4-22) - the prophetic portion of the book.

We now dive into the second portion of the book - the "things which are", dealing with issues about the church, and the age of the church on earth.

Introduction to the Letters

As we've seen, each letter, written to a different church, has things in common with the letters written to the other churches.

Seven common characteristics (nice number, huh?)

1) They are all addressed to the "angel" over each church.

2) They all contain a brief description of Jesus, pulled from John's vision of Jesus in chapter 1.

3) Each letter (almost) has a section of "commendation", what they are doing good.

4) Each letter (almost) has a "rebuke", what they're doing wrong.

5) Each letter has an "exhortation", the solution to their sin.

6) Each letter has a suggestion to "listen", or, "for those with ears to hear ..."

7) Each letter has a "promise", a specific reward for those in the church who "overcome" the problems.

How do we take these letters?

1) They are written to real, historical churches that existed in AD 95.

2) As a whole

Because there are seven letters, the number of "completion", the letters are applicable to the "complete" church. In a sense, there are the same seven churches in existence today, just as their have been throughout history.

3) Individually

Each letter applies to each individual church today. Jesus says in each letter: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; - and in this sense, each letter also applies to each of us, as individuals.

4) Prophetically

The flow of the church through history is amazingly parallel to the flow of issues from church to church.

The church of Ephesus was a picture of the church during the time of the apostles, through John's death, around A.D. 100.

:8-11 Letter to Smyrna

:8 the church in Smyrna

About the city itself

Smyrna (modern Izmir) was the probable birthplace of Homer and possibly the most beautiful city in Asia.

It was a seaport city about 35 mi (56 km) N of Ephesus.

The famous golden street which began at the seaside ran upward, culminating on Mount Pagos.

Along the way, one passed an imposing array of pagan temples to Cybele, Apollo, Aesculapius, Aphrodite, and Zeus.

Smyrna was the center of Caesar-worship for Asia.

The picture of myrrh

The name "Smyrna" signifies "myrrh"

It was used one of the ingredients in the anointing oil of the high priests, as well as that used in the burial of dead bodies.

Though it's taste was bitter, it gave off a fragrant smell.

It's a beautiful picture of persecution, which is bitter to us as we go through it, but to God, our sufferings that we go through in the name of Jesus, being persecuted for following after Him, it is a beautiful fragrance.

Even the way myrrh was made is a picture of persecution.

Myrrh was made from the gummy sap of the Commiphora myrrha tree.

The sap would be collected by slashing a branch or the trunk of the small tree, and then the gum hardened into a solid resin.

The resin would then be pounded and ground up, to be mixed with oil, forming a perfume.

So it is with us, as we are cut and slashed by the word, then ground into teeny bits, as we are mixed with the oil of the Holy Spirit, it becomes a beautiful fragrance to God.

Lesson:

Your suffering is precious to the Lord.

When you choose to endure sufferings for the sake of being a Christian, it is very, very precious to the Lord.

It is a sacrifice that brings a pleasing aroma before the Lord.

Look at Moses' example:

(Heb 11:24-27 KJV) By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; {25} Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; {26} Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. {27} By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

Moses demonstrated his faith in the Lord by choosing to suffer affliction with God's people, rather than choosing the pleasures of sin for a season.

And when we demonstrate faith, we are pleasing to God:

(Heb 11:6 KJV) But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Paul looked at his own suffering as a type of offering to the Lord:

Php 2:17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (NAS)

2Ti 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. (NAS)

Illustration:

The legend is told of a desert wanderer who found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness. The water was so pure he decided to bring some to his king. Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the clear liquid and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace. When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his sovereign, the water had become stale and rank due to the old container in which it had been stored. But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use. He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and sent away the loyal heart filled with gladness. After he had gone, others sampled it and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it. "Ah!" said he, "it was not the water he tasted, but the love that prompted the offering." Many times our service is marked by multiplied imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives and says "It is good."

Historically

Ephesus was the church during the time of the apostles, up to the death of John, about A.D. 100

Smyrna fits the time of church history of the 2nd to 4th centuries, a time of great persecution from the Roman government.

It is thought that perhaps as many as six million Christians were martyred for their faith during the Roman government's attempt to wipe out Christianity.

:8 unto the angel of the church in Smyrna

If the "angel" referred to the local pastor of the church, the pastor of the church at Smyrna was a man named Polycarp, who was a disciple of John.

Polycarp was martyred in his 90's.

We'll read more about this later.

:8 These things saith the first and the last,

This is pointing to the eternal nature of Jesus.

He existed before all else.

He's the one who'll be there right up to the end, and beyond.

This is comforting to those going through the hardest trials.

When we're under the worst times, we can tend to start thinking that maybe God has left us, or doesn't care.

Maybe God just isn't there anymore at all.

Lesson:

God is still there.

The fact that you're going through hard times doesn't mean that He doesn't care, or somehow something got away from Him.

He just sees things from a different perspective than you or I.

Illustration:

An American couple went to Europe and England, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Both the man and the wife were connoisseurs and fanciers of pottery, antiques and China.When they came to Sussex they went into a Little China shop. Their eyes singled out a beautiful little tea cup on the top shelf.

The man said, "Can I see that, that's the most beautiful tea cup I've ever seen." And as he was holding the tea cup the tea cup begins to speak .

It said, "You don't understand, I haven't always been a tea cup. There was a time when I was red and that I was clay. My master took me and he rolled me and he patted me over and over and over. I yelled out "Let me alone " but he only smiled and said, "Not yet". And then I was placed on a spinning wheel, suddenly I was spun around and around and around. "Stop it I'm getting dizzy," I said. The master only nodded and said "Not yet" Then he put me in an oven, I'd never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me and I yelled and I knocked on the door and I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips. As he nodded his head he said "not yet." Finally the door did open "whew", and he put me on a shelf and I began to cool. "That's better" I said.

And then suddenly he grabbed me and he brushed me and he began to paint me all over. I thought I would suffocate, I thought I would gag, the fumes were horrible . And he just smiled and said, "Not yet". And then suddenly he put me back into an oven, not the first one but one twice as hot, and I knew that I was going to suffocate.And I begged and I screamed and I yelled , and all the time I could see him through the opening, smiling and nodding his head, "not yet, not yet" . And then I knew that there was no hope, I knew that I wouldn't make it . I was just ready to give up when the door opened and he took me out an he put me on a shelf .Then an hour later he came back and he handed me a mirror and he said "Look at yourself". And I did. And I said, "That can't be me, I'm beautiful ""I want you to remember," he then said, "I know that it hurt to be rolled and to be patted but if I would have left you, you would have dried out. And I know that it made you dizzy to spin you around and around on a spinning wheel but if I had stopped you would have crumbled. And I know that it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven but if I hadn't put you there you would have cracked. And I know that the fumes were oh so bad when I brushed you and when I painted you all over, but you see , if I hadn't done that you wouldn't have hardened and there would have been no color in your life. And if I hadn't put you in that second oven you wouldn't have survived for very long. The hardness would not have held. But now you are a finished product.

You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.

Don't get discouraged by the hard times, beloved.

God is at work in you, making fine china.

:8 which was dead, and is alive;

Referring to His death and resurrection.

Lesson:

Jesus understands

This is written to the persecuted church.

Jesus has been there. Done that.

He has suffered.

But He also rose from the dead, victorious over His suffering.

The writer to Hebrews says:

Heb 2:17-18 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto [his] brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things [pertaining] to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. (AV)

Heb 4:15-16 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (AV)

Because Jesus has been through everything just like us, it makes Him more "approachable".

We realize that He understands what we're going through, and that He'll help us like no one else can.

Quote:

Stephen Brown, If God Is In Charge..., p. 26.

"I believe God entered time and space to make a nonverbal statement. He didn't come to keep us from suffering; He came to suffer as we must suffer. He didn't come just to keep us from being afraid; He came to be afraid as we are afraid. He didn't come just to keep us from dying; He came to die as we must die. He didn't come to keep us from being tempted; He came to be tempted as we are tempted. "

As Greg Laurie said on the radio this morning: "Jesus is the only one who can truly say, "I feel your pain"".

:9 I know

Jesus sees.

Jesus understands.

:9 thy works,

ergon - business, employment, that which any one is occupied; an act, deed, thing done.

Same word used in Rev. 2:2 for the Ephesians.

Not the labour (hardship), but just simple works, deeds.

:9 and tribulation,

thlipsis - a pressing, pressing together, pressure; oppression, affliction

Difficult times.

Same word we looked at Sunday morning in John 16:33 "in the world ye shall have tribulation ..."

:9 and poverty, (but thou art rich)

It's kind of funny, but we certainly have a different way of looking at things from God.

We think there would be nothing greater than being rich and wealthy.

Yet Jesus said:

Mr 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (AV)

We think it is pretty bad to be poor.

Yet James writes:

Jas 2:5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (NIVUS)

This is kind of the opposite of the church at Laodicea.

They thought they were rich.

Jesus said

Re 3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (AV)

So, what is it?

Rich or poor?

:9 I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

It seems that some of the persecution these Christians faced were coming from Jewish people.

Among the Jewish people that had been scattered across the world, whenever there was enough people in a city, the Jews would form a "synagogue", a "gathering together", where they would perform worship services, like our churches.

But Jesus is saying that these Jews, who were persecuting the church and blaspheming Jesus, Jesus says that in actuality, they were not a synagogue of Yahweh, but a synagogue of Satan.

:10 the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried;

I think this is kind of interesting, especially in respect with some of the teachings going around today about spiritual warfare.

Why doesn't Jesus tell the church to just rebuke Satan?

Why doesn't Jesus command them to just "take dominion" over the situation, and bind the enemy?

And how is it that Satan can actually have a hand in putting some of them to death?

I wonder if sometimes our perspective on spiritual warfare is just way too carnal.

We tend to focus on our own "comfort".

So we rebuke the devil when we get a cold.

Instead, we need to focus on spiritual matters, the ones that God really cares about, like the salvation of those we love.

:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer:

How can we not be afraid?

All Satan can do is kill the body.

Mt 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (AV)

Jesus, on the other hand, has won the spiritual victory, and opened the way to heaven for us.

Joh 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (AV)

The early church martyrs actually looked forward to death:

From Fox's Book of Martyr's:

In this persecution ( TRAJAN, AD 108) suffered the blessed martyr, lgnatius, who is held in famous reverence among very many. This Ignatius was reappointed to the bishopric of Antioch next after Peter in succession. Some do say, that he, being sent from Syria to Rome, because he professed Christ, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured. It is also said of him, that when he passed through Asia, being under the most strict custody of his keepers, he strengthened and confirmed the churches through all the cities as he went, both with his exhortations and preaching of the Word of God. Accordingly having come to Smyrna, he wrote to, the Church at Rome, exhorting them not to use means for his deliverance from martyrdom, lest they deprive him of that which he most longed and hoped for. "Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!" And even when he was sentenced to be thrown to the beast such was the burning desire that he had to suffer, that he spake, what time he heard the lions roaring, saying. "I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread."

:10 tribulation ten days

There are two possible thoughts here:

a) There was a real persecution that lasted for a real ten days.

b) This could be referring to the ten different times of persecutions that Christians faced under the Roman empire.

The ten major Roman persecutions:

1. NERO, AD 67

2. DOMITIAN, AD 81

This was the man reigning at the time that John recorded the Revelation.

3. TRAJAN, AD 108

4. MARCUS AURELIUS ANTONINUS, AD 162

From Fox's Book of Martyrs:

Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After feasting the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place. The proconsul then urged him, saying, "Swear, and I will release thee; reproach Christ." Polycarp answered, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?" At the stake, to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him, and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished. the fire. But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the Gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it Christian burial, rejected. They nevertheless collected his bones and as much of his remains as possible, and caused them to be decently interred.

If Polycarp had been bishop at the time of John's writing (and it's possible), then this letter to the "angel (maybe the pastor) of the church of Smyrna" is interesting indeed.

5. SEVERUS, AD 192

6. MAXIMUS, AD 235

7. DECIUS AD 249

8. VALERIAN, AD 257

9. AURELIAN, AD 274

10. DIOCLETIAN, AD 303

:10 and I will give thee a crown of life.

As I was looking into the word for crown (Greek - stephanos), something caught my attention:

(Mark 15:17 KJV) And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,

Isn't it ironic that the One who suffered with a crown of thorns, would be giving the suffering church a "crown of life"?

The New Testament talks about these different kinds of "crowns" that we will receive as rewards.

A crown of righteousness:

(2 Tim 4:8 KJV) Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

A crown of glory:

(1 Pet 5:4 KJV) And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

A crown of life:

(James 1:12 KJV) Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

We even see some of these crowns in heaven:

(Rev 4:4 KJV) And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

Yet if we're like these elders, we're not going to hold on to our crowns:

(Rev 4:10-11 KJV) The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, {11} Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

When we too are in heaven, we'll understand that all the credit goes to the Lord.

:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;

As in all the letters.

Do you have an ear?

Then listen up.

This letter just might be applicable to you.

:11 He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

What's the second death?

It's the Lake of Fire, described in Rev. 20 -

(Rev 20:14 KJV) And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

The first death is what we experience when we die physically.

The second death is an eternal separation from God, in the Lake of Fire.

It never ends.

How do we overcome?

1Jo 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, [even] our faith. (AV)

What's missing?

There's something missing in this letter.

Jesus has no rebuke for the church at Smyrna.

It's not that they didn't have any problems.

After all, they were humans.

But Jesus doesn't have a single rebuke for them.

He doesn't even rebuke them for being poor! Hah!

Lesson:

Don't shoot the wounded.

But Jesus isn't one to kick someone when they're down.

He doesn't shoot the wounded.

Isa 42:3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. (AV)