Summary: By remaining faithful even in the face of tribulation, we prove the genuineness of our faith and can be assured of eternal life, even in the face of physical death.
I’d like to begin this morning by reading a portion of an article from the January 2008 issue of “Christianity Today” titled “A Victorious Family.”
[Read first part of article].
We’ll come back and finish this account of Necati and Semse a little later, but there are some amazing parallels between the difficulty of living for Jesus in present day Izmir and what the church there in Smyrna faced at the end of the first century AD. Let’s read Jesus’ message to that church, beginning in Revelation chapter 2, verse 8:
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto 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. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
Since this message follows the same general structure as the other six, we’ll use the outline that we developed last week to examine this passage.
1. Church - Smyrna
The name of the city – Smyrna – is the same Greek word that is translated myrrh elsewhere in the New Testament. Myrrh was an aromatic substance that was taken from a thorny bush and then crushed in order to make a perfume and it was also used in the preparation of a dead body for burial. This is a perfect picture of the church there, which, as we’ll see, yielded its sweet aroma as it was being crushed.
Smyrna, which was located about 35 miles north of Ephesus, was a commercial center on the shore of the Aegean Sea. It was a proud and beautiful city who stamped their coins with the phrase “First City of Asia in Size and Beauty”. The city had been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, most recently in 290 BC and the people were proud of its “resurrection”.
Smyrna also had a long history of supporting the Roman government, becoming the first city to build a temple in honor of the goddess of Rome in 195 BC. Later, in 23 BC, they built a temple to Caesar Augustus and two years later won the right to build a temple to Tiberius, beating out seven other cities.
We know very little about how the church in Smyrna began. It is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Acts. More than likely, it was founded some time during Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus, but we can’t be sure. What little information we have about the church comes from the description here in Revelation. However, we do know that this is the only one of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 that still exists today. The city has been renamed Izmir and it is the third largest city in Turkey. And, as we saw in the article I read, there is still a faithful remnant of Christ followers there.
As He does in each of the seven messages, Jesus reveals Himself to the church in Smyrna using one of the aspects of His character from John’s vision in chapter 1. And, as is true with all seven messages, that specific aspect of His nature is intended to be directly applicable to the circumstances that the church is facing. In this case, Jesus identifies Himself as:
…the first and the last, who died and came to life…
Although we’ll able to develop the relevance of this description to the church in Smyrna in more detail as we progress through the message, we can already see how this picture of Jesus addresses the attitude of the people of Smyrna. Although they like to call themselves the “first city of Asia”, Jesus makes it clear that He is the one who is first. And the resurrection of Smyrna as a city can’t even begin to compare with the fact that Jesus became dead and is now alive forever.
But Jesus is also making another important point here. The prophet Isaiah repeatedly uses the phrase “the first and the last” as a description of God. Here is just one example:
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Isaiah 44:6 (ESV)