Summary: A series of messages from Jesus to the 7 churches of Revelation.
February 26, 2012
Have you ever felt that life just isn’t fair? Now, I’m not talking about what we deem unjust or unfair and undeserved illnesses and sudden deaths; or children who don’t do what is right.
I’m talking about a time when you stood up for what was right; and you became the victim. Maybe you proclaimed the message of Christ, and you lost your family and friends. What if after becoming a Christ follower, your employer said, renounce Jesus and you can keep your job, otherwise you’re fired. What if the government sent people to see who came to church on Sunday mornings, and your taxes went up because you attend church.
What if the government gave you a token, which meant you were in good standing with them, and you keep your store open, you can buy, sell and trade with others. Without the token, your store would close and you couldn’t shop in the market. What if others were telling malicious lies about you?
What if you were considering becoming a Christian and you saw this happening to friends? As a Christian, if you saw this happening in the church, what would you think about God? Would you keep the faith? Would you run from God? Would you compromise your faith to survive?
If you travel about 40 miles north of Ephesus, you will come to the city of Smyrna. Today Smyrna is called Izmir, a leading city in Turkey. Because of its beauty, Smyrna was known as the “Ornament of Asia.” In 26 AD, a competition was held to determine which city would win the right to build a temple for Caesar-worship. Smyrna won that contest and took great pride in its loyalty to Rome. There were also many temples to various pagan gods. And over time a number of Jews migrated to Smyrna and became an important part of the business scene.
Because of the prevailing paganism and the worship of the emperor, Christians in Smyrna found themselves under unrelenting pressure. The people of Smyrna were extremely loyal, and would publicly declare, “Caesar is Lord.” Christians wouldn’t do this, so the early believers found themselves in a difficult situation.
My friends, welcome to the church in Smyrna. This church was experiencing a great deal of suffering. Are you ready to join?
One last note before we jump in, Smyrna was one of only two churches in Revelation 2-3 in which Jesus didn’t have a criticism. Their suffering made them strong. It had stripped them of everything - - - except Jesus.
As we will do throughout this series, I’ll move through the scripture verse by verse. In Revelation 2:8, Jesus said, 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 back to life.
Firstly, the Jewish Christians would’ve clearly understood this because of what Isaiah wrote about God. Listen to these words ~ This is what the LORD says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
That’s pretty clear, God is the beginning and He is the end. He bookends all of life. Jesus was also telling His followers He’s been there, He’s gone through the fires of life. He’s suffered and He knows what it’s like to suffer and to die. But the good news is the fact that death couldn’t contain Him. He defeated death. He’s also the author of life, He was there at the beginning of time, and He will be there at the end of time. There is no defeating Jesus. That’s great news to start with.
Let me add this, when someone is giving you comfort and encouragement, it helps to know they’ve experienced some of what you’re going through. When someone beats cancer, when they’ve endured the punch cancer throws, their encouragement takes on life, because they’ve been through the storm. Jesus is reminding us, I’ve overcome, I’ve been through it, and so can you. Just stick with me!
Now in verse 9 - Jesus describes their problems, saying, I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich.
The word “afflictions” doesn’t describe the ordinary troubles of life. It means catastrophic pressure. It’s used to describe what happened when people were making wine and they crushed the grapes. These early believers were feeling crushed, helpless and trampled on. Jesus is reminding them, ‘I see what’s happening, I’m not oblivious to it all. I’m with you.’
Now, Jesus acknowledges their poverty. The Greek word used here literally means totally destitute or a beggar. They didn’t have enough money to buy the basics of life. Jesus knows this.
In order to do business in Smyrna, you needed to have a little token which you would receive from the government each year for proclaiming that Caesar is lord. Since the Christians didn’t proclaim Caesar as lord, they didn’t receive this token, which meant they couldn’t shop at most stores, or own their own store.