Summary: The letter to the church of Smyrna gives us hope when persecution and suffering come our way.
Smyrna: Persecuted Church
As we continue our look at the seven churches in the book of Revelation tonight, I want us to take a look at the church of Smyrna. The church at Smyrna was a church under pressure, a suffering church, a church under tremendous persecution. The word Smyrna is translated elsewhere as Myrrh. If you recount the birth story of Jesus, you will remember the kings gave 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 anointing 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 New Testament churches. It was difficult to maintain a Christian testimony there.
So tonight I want us to see three things that the Lord Jesus Christ, says to this persecuted church.
I. Comfort (vv. 8-9)
a. Jesus literally wrote in verse 8, “I became a corpse, yet I live.”
i. This was a reference to tremendous power
ii. In spite of death, Jesus lives.
iii. He knew what they were going through because he experienced it.
b. There was not a single word of condemnation to this church from Jesus.
i. He comforted this church for what they were up against.
ii. He began by saying, “I know.”
iii. There are two words translated to “know.”
1. One means: to know by observation.
a. I know that if you miss a nail with a hammer it will hit your thumb and hurt.
2. Secondly: to know by experience
a. I know because I have hit my thumb
iv. There is a difference between observation and experience.
1. Jesus used the word to know by experience.
2. He had been through it.
3. He knew what they were experiencing.
4. Here is a word of comfort to every believer.
c. “I know the blasphemy…” in verse 9.
i. Normally, the word blasphemy refers to slander against God.
ii. But the word can be translated slander against man.
iii. That is the way it is used here.
iv. There were many vile and slanderous things said against these Christians.
v. For some reason the Jews were more hostile against the Christians at Smyrna than any other place.
vi. If the Christians acknowledge Christ, they would be fired, probably or worse.
vii. But Christ could gave them comfort here, because He had been in their shoes and is still alive today.
II. Continuation (v. 10)
a. 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.”
i. Instead he said, “Cheer up, it’s going to get worse.”
ii. There will be a continuation of persecution
b. He told them they would be cast into prison
i. That does not mean they would just be thrown into jail.
ii. The Roman’s imprisoned people for one of two reasons:
1. To await trial
2. Or execution.
iii. You did not get a 20 year sentence in the Roman Empire.
iv. You would get a fine, get exiled, or executed.
v. Jesus told them that much suffering lay ahead.
c. Why do we suffer?
i. Why does a Christian face such pressure?
ii. Jesus only gives one reason in this passage: “to test you.”
iii. In other words, the church must be tested.
iv. The chaff has to be separated from the wheat
v. The test of our faith is not what we receive when we have health, when everything is going good.
vi. The testing of our Christian character is what happens when the roof falls in, life collapses all around us, and suffering comes.
vii. What then?
A little piece of wood once complained bitterly because its owner kept whittling away at it, cutting it, and filling it with holes, but the one who was cutting it so remorselessly paid no attention to is complaining. He was making a flute out of that piece of ebony wood, and he was too wise to desist from doing so, even though the wood complained bitterly. He seemed to say, “Little piece of wood, without these holes, and all this cutting, you would be a black stick forever – just a useless piece of ebony. What I am doing now may make you think that I am destroying you, but, instead, I will change you into a flute, and your sweet music will charm the souls of men and comfort many a sorrowing heart. My cutting you is the making of you, for only thus can you be a blessing in the world.”