Summary: A sobering and encouraging message the Lord gives to the church of Smyrna, a group of dispirited suffering saints that were growing weary and about to give up hope.
Comforting the Persecuted: The Church of Smyrna
Introduction: This week Assyrian Christians have been driven from their homes by ISIS and placed in refugee camps. Christians there admit they laugh when they hear their government promise aid and relief is coming. They know better and they learn quickly that you do not thrive in a refugee camp you do what you can to survive in a refugee camp. Marolin Sabri a 28 yr. old mother of three says they are only surviving by the help of NGO's and the church. There are 1.2 million refugees in Kurdish territory and that number is growing as ISIS continues its unchecked reign of terror.
We wonder why this happens? Christians just want to bless and help others and love, worship, and follow their Lord Jesus. Why would that cause any harm? We read in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” After the Supreme court put their stamp of approval on homosexual marriage. Rev. Franklin Graham warned the church that persecution wasn't far behind. That makes sense. When the true gospel church is going one direction and the culture is going the opposite direction there is bound to be conflict. One of two things will happen once the church takes a stand against the culture that it disagrees with; 1) we will either see the culture change and reflect Christ or 2) we will see the cultural resistance (Hollywood, education, legislation, pop culture, etc.) become even more hard-hearted and attack the church. If you can find any good news in persecution it would be that it fans the flame of revival and it drives away the false Christians. Hypocrites won't hang around to be persecuted.
There are only two churches out of the seven in Revelation that didn't receive a rebuke from the Lord. Smyrna and Philadelphia. Smyrna is the only city of the seven that still exists today. It's modern day Ismir, Turkey, which by the way like Smyrna, also means myrrh. Just as it was then it is valued for its trade, diversity, architecture, climate and it's beauty, because it is nestled among hills and along water. It's a port city that in biblical times was full of idolatry, cults, and commerce.
Jesus addresses them first by saying in verse 8: “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” He introduces himself as Christ the Lord to every church but in different ways considering the need of the church. Like a man who is a doctor in the hospital he introduces himself as Dr. Smith, at his child's ball game, He introduces himself as Mr. Smith, and at Church he is known as Bro. Smith. Jesus lets this church in Smyrna know that by Him all things were made, and that He was before all things were created. He was with God in the beginning and is God himself. He has the first word and he will have the last, for He is the first and the last, the eternal almighty God. Want proof? He was dead and came to life again. For a suffering church, this would be encouraging to hear. The one that they love and follow and suffer for, let's them know that He knows what its like to be beaten, abused, and mocked. He knows what it's like to be humiliated, insulted and He knows what it's like to die! And yet he still lives, and gives them instruction and encouragement.
Transition: I want to share with you four ways Christ identifies with their miserable situation: Christ comprehends their affliction, He comforts them in their attrition, He cautions their detention, and He crowns their devotion.
Christ Comprehends their affliction
“I know your afflictions and your poverty . . . I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” v. 9
He knows. We sometimes think that God forgets what we are going through. We might be tempted to believe that in governing the universe, he can't possibly see my pain nor would he care. We might believe that He has forgotten us. Nothing can be further from the truth. I have a friend who was going through a difficult time and he was becoming more and more discouraged if not depressed. If he wasn't in the middle of an emotional downward spiral, He certainly was headed there. And just like Elijah, He heard that still small voice say two powerful words that would change the direction of his mood completely. He was facing confusion, loss, demoralization and then he heard the words “He knows”. And once he heard those two words, His soul was immediately uplifted. You might ask how could those words change anything? Well I agree, and if they were spoken by anyone in the church or by his parents or by his friends, they wouldn't have meant much at all. You see it wasn't the words that encouraged him, it was the one who spoke the words that encouraged him. The fact that the Lord by the Holy Spirit, would deign to give those two words to his spirit personally, was amazing to him. He was encouraged and found renewed hope to continue on and eventually He climbed out of that gloomy state.