Summary: This is the 3rd sermon in the series "Are You Prepared".
Series: Are You Prepared? (Revelation) [#3]
Why do bad things happen to Christians? Why does evil people seem to prosper? When bad things happen is it because of something I have done wrong? I have heard these questions asked many times.
This second church in Revelations that we are studying (Smyrna) was one of the “Savior’s Best”.
Smyrna was a proud and beautiful city. Smyrna also had earned the right to be self-governing. It had a large library, stadium, and the largest public theater in Asia. A famous “Golden Street” passed through the city with a temple to Zeus at one end and a temple to a local goddess Sipylene (Cybele) at the other. Other temples to Apollo, Asclepius, and Aphrodite lined the way.
The city had become a center for the cult of emperor worship. Smyrna received permission (over several other cities who requested) to build a temple to the emperor Tiberius in 23 B.C.. Under the emperor Domitian (who ruled from A.D. 81 to 96), emperor worship was required for all Roman citizens. Those who refused could receive the death penalty. Once a year, all citizens were required to burn incense on an altar to Caesar, after which they would receive a certificate proving that they had done their civil duty. While this was more an act of political loyalty than a religious act, the citizen had to say, while burning the incense, “Caesar is lord.” Many Christians considered this act blasphemous and refused to do it.
In addition to being a center for the imperial cult, Smyrna also had a large Jewish population that opposed the Christians. The church in this city struggled against two groups: 1) Those who supported emperor worship and 2) Those Jews who strongly opposed Christians. Persecution and suffering were inevitable in that kind of environment.
I. The Pastor Of The Church
History tells us that the pastor of this church was Polycarp. Polycarp illustrates the job of a pastor well. The pastor is to love the sheep, convert the goats, and kill the wolves. When that happens there will be challenging times.
Marcus Aurelius, who hated Christians, was a brutal man when it came to the persecution of Christians. Some of the martyrs were made to walk, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc. upon their points while others were scourged until their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.
Polycarp, had heard that they were looking for him and escaped, but was discovered by a child. After the guards that had arrested Polycarp celebrated, Polycarp asked for 1 hour of prayer, which he was given. As he prayed, the guards were so burdened that they repented of what they had done. He was carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place. The proconsul offered to release him only if he would denounce Christ. Polycarp answered, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?" At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames circled his body without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire.
II. The Speaker
The speaker to the church is Jesus Christ. Christ has a very special message for the church that is suffering trouble and persecution, and His message is wrapped up in two titles.
1.Christ says that He is “the first and the last”. He is the One supreme authority and ruler over life. There may be governmental officials or people who think they hold authority over life, but they do not. They may claim to be the first and the last, to have the final word and authority, but they are deceived. There is only one first and last, only one supreme authority, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself.
2.Christ says that He is the One who “was dead and is alive again”. The word “was” in the Greek means “became”. Christ became dead. He experienced death, but death was only a passing thing for Him. He triumphed over it. The tense of the word “alive” in the Greek means a once-for-all act. Once it is done, it is done—completed, finished.
The message to the church at Smyrna is that no matter what they experience, it is a passing episode. Even if they experience death, it has been conquered. Christ has personally been there and triumphed over both pain and death. Therefore, the believer shall live forever even if he is martyred.