Summary: In this world we will have suffering and at specific times the church will be impacted by tribulation. At such times the church needs to look to their Lord and to their future reward.
LOOKING BEYOND SUFFERING
If the first mark of a true and living church is fervent love, the second is the ability to endure suffering. Being willing to suffer or sacrifice for another proves the genuineness of love. We are willing to suffer only for those we love. Evidently Christians in Smyrna had not lost their fervent love for Christ for they were prepared to suffer for Him. Like Peter and John, they were "rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" of Christ.
The Church at Smyrna was a suffering church. They had experienced past afflictions and were going to encounter sever trials so they are encouraged to endure. A suffering church needs to look to their Lord and look to their future (CIM).
I. CHARACTERISTICS, 8.
II. COMMENDATION, 9.
III. COMMAND, 10.
IV. COMMITMENT, 10C-11.
And to the messenger of the church in Smyrna write:
First let’s look at some characteristics of the city. The city of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey) is located thirty-five miles due north up the coast from Ephesus. It would be the next city the postman reached on his circular route of the seven churches. Smyrna was a wealthy city, second only to Ephesus. It is considered by historians as the most exquisite city the Greeks ever built. It had an excellent protected natural harbor and like Ephesus a good road gave it access to the interior. It was a planned city with wide streets surrounded by hills which were topped by temples for every known heathen god. On the side of one hill was a amphitheater large enough for over 20,000 people. It was constructed for emperor worship. By the time the Book of Revelation was written, emperor worship was compulsory. The churches were persecuted because they wouldn’t bow down to Caesar and burn incense in the temple dedicated to Kaiser curios, Caesar is Lord!
Unlike Ephesus which is no more, Smyrna is still a large city grown from about 100,000 people in John’s day to about 200,000 today, amazingly one-third of which are Christians. In this large and flourishing commercial center was a small persecuted church to whom this letter was sent.
The letter to the church at Smyrna was personally written to people under pressure. Every word He speaks to this suffering body is one of appreciation. Only two of the seven churches received letters of total commendation and encouragement: Smyrna is one and Philadelphia is the other.
In the second half of verse 8 we find the titles Jesus’ uses to describe Himself the persecuted church. The First and the Last, Who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
The Lord Jesus chose these titles for Himself to inspire confidence in a threatened church. He is the First and the Last. Christ states this is His position in relation to time and eternity. He is the Eternal God who has always existed in the past and will always exist in the future. He is also the One Who Became Dead, referring to His death on the cross and the One Who Lives, referring to His resurrection as the One who conquered death.
The title is a reminder that even the divine Son of God willingly became subject to the rejection and persecution of man. The Church in Smyrna should anticipate the same ultimate victory over all foes just as Christ experienced. The grave could not hold Christ. He is the One Who Lives, symbolizing His triumph over death, rejection and persecution. They too can experience victory in His Ultimate Victory.
CHRIST, OUR PIONEER LEADER
In our western states, when men go out hunting into dense backwoods, where there are no roads or paths of any kind, they take their hatchet and cut a little chip out of the bark of the trees as they go along, and then they easily find their way by these "blazes," for they call it "blazing the trail." Christ has "blazed the trail." He has traveled the road himself, and knowing the way, He tells us to follow Him, and He will lead us safe on high.
If we will take our eyes from one another, and from sects and creeds and doctrines, and follow Jesus by abiding in His Spirit and obeying His word, we shall be led in the right way. We would be saved many distressing times, if we were only willing to walk with God, if we would let Him take us by the hand and lead us daily. What God wants us to do is to follow in His footsteps. Pioneer scouts sometimes found Indian trails consisting of only one set of footprint, appearing as if only one man had passed over the land. The chief goes before, and all the rest of the warriors follow him and put their feet into his footsteps. That is what our Chief wants us to do. He has passed through the heavens, gone up on high, and He wants us to follow no matter the obstacles.