Summary: Jesus says to Smyrna, "you think you are poor, but you are rich!" but to Laodicea he says, "You think you are rich, but you are poor!"
Revelation 2:8-11 & 3:14-22 September 28, 2003
A Tale of two Churches – Smyrna & Laodicea
To the Church in Smyrna
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. 9I 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. 10Do 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. 11He 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.
Smyrna the City
Smyrna was the other great city in Asia Minor, competitive with Ephesus. It did not have the economic or political power of Ephesus, but it was a great trading city and Lucian called it "the fairest of the cities of Iona". It had a constant west wind that kept the city cool and fresh; a land-locked harbor in the city’s heart, surrounded by rising hills upon which the city grew; and it was one of the very few planned cities in the world and had great, broad streets, magnificent temples and planned architecture. The Buildings on the top of highest hill formed what was called the Crown of Smyrna. The city, was founded in 1000 B.C.E., destroyed in 600 B.C.E. and then rebuilt as a planned city in 200 B.C.E., continuing to today as modern Izmar. The ancients would say that Smyrna had died and yet lived. It had an extremely large, vocal, and economically powerful Jewish colony.
The Image of Jesus
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
Smyrna Vied with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “First in Asia” Jesus says “I am the First, AND the Last, and I have truly died and came to life again
The Good News
9I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich!
Jesus usually begins by saying, “I know your deeds,” but here he says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty”
The church in Smyrna was beaten down – not by temptation and inner strife like the Ephesians, but by terrible persecution. Christians were taken to the arenas and ripped to pieces by wild animals for the entertainment of the cities citizens.
It’s most famous Christian was Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, by time they arrested him and tried him, the animals had been put away for the night, so they took him and burned him at the stake in 155 AD. When begged by the police captain to deny Christ, make sacrifice to Caesar, and thus live, Polycarp replied, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
Life was not easy for those who did not die in the arenas – they were kept out of the economic system either because of the hatred of the citizens or because the guilds were so connected to the worship of idols that the Christians could not in good conscience be members and get the work. They would eke out a living by living in close community with other Christians looking after each other until the knock came on the door to drag them off.
You can imagine what a terrible and lonely existence this would be, you might wonder if God noticed or even cared, but Jesus says 9I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich!
You look poor on the outside, but in Jesus’ eyes they are rich because they have remained faithful.
Jesus says in Matthew 6: 19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. … 24"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
For the Smyrnians they choice was obvious they had to decide between the treasures of heaven and the treasures of earth – they had to choose between God and money, in Smyrna you could not have both. And these Christians chose the treasures of heaven – they chose God over money.