Summary: Seven Letters to Seven Churches (2nd in series).
SMYRNA: PERSECUTED CHURCH
INTRO: The church at Smyrna was a church under pressure, a suffering church, a church under tremendous persecution. The word Smyrna is translated elsewhere at MYRRH. The kings gave to the infant Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Myrrh was a gum resin from a scrubby tree. Perfume was made from it. Also, oil used in anointings in religious ceremonies, and embalming fluid. It was a very bitter substance.
It is interesting that the name of the city where this church was located is Smyrna. It was a seaport city about 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was a center of the imperial cult of Rome. The very word Smyrna means bitter. Symbolic of the fact that Smyrna was a church suffering horribly. This was probably the most persecuted of the N. T. churches. It was difficult to maintain a Christian testimony there.
I. COMFORT (vv. 8-9).
To the church under pressure Jesus wrote v. 8. The original literally meant: “I became a corpse, yet I live.” It was a reference to tremendous power. In spite of death, Jesus lives. He knew what they were going through because he experienced it.
THERE WAS NOT A WORD OF CONDEMNATION TO THIS CHURCH. He comforted this church for what they were up against (v. 9). He began by saying “I know.” There are two words translated to know. One means: to know by observation. I know that if you miss a nail with a hammer it will hit your thumb and hurt. Secondly: to know by experience. I know because I have hit my thumb. There is a difference between observation and experience. Jesus used the word to know by experience. He had been through it. He knew what they were experiencing. Here is a word of comfort to every believer.
“I know the slander....” (KJV - blasphemy) (v. 9). Normally, the word blasphemy refers to slander against God. But the word can be translated slander against man. That is the way it is used here. There were many vile libelous, slanderous things said against these Christians. For some reason the Jews were more hostile against the Christians at Smyrna than any other place. If the Christians acknowledged Christ, they would be fired, etc.
II. CONTINUATION (v. 10).
You would think that after telling them he knew what they were going through he would say, “cheer up, it’s going to get better.” Instead he said, “cheer up, it’s going to get worse.” There will be a continuation of persecution.
He told them they would be cast into prison. That does not mean they would just be thrown into jail. The Roman’s imprisoned people for one of two reasons: to await a trial, or an execution. You did not get a 20 year sentence in the Roman Empire. You would get a fine, get exiled, or executed. Jesus told them that much suffering lay ahead.
Why do we suffer? Why does a Christian face such pressure? Jesus only gives one reason in this passage: “to test you.” In other words, the church must be tested. The chaff has to be separated from the wheat. The test of our faith is not what we receive when we have health, when everything is going good. The testing of our Christian character is what happens when the roof falls in, life collapses around us, and suffering comes. What then?
III. CONQUEST (vv. 10-11).
Persecution is not the end of the story. He comforts those in the midst of it, but he also calls for conquest of it. We are able to endure only through Jesus Christ. In him alone, will we get strength to survive tribulation.
Jesus is saying that the faithfulness of the saints rests on his faithfulness. We are victorious because he is victorious. We triumph because he triumphed. We shall live because he lives. He is the victory. We are called to depend upon him, to let him be our strength and courage.
“I will give you the crown of life” (v. 10). I do not believe the crowns that are given to us are crowns to be worn on our heads. According to 4:10 the crowns that are given to the Christian are crowns to be placed at the feet of Jesus for his glory and his honor.
Notice that he made no condemnation of this church. Jesus was saying to these saints that their spirit under pressure satisfied his heart. The way they had responded to the tremendous pressure, suffering and sorrow, was pleasing to him. The real strength of Christian character is revealed under pressure.