Revelation 008 – Reward Through Suffering

Revelation 008 – Reward Through Suffering
Revelation 2:8-11 • Dr. Andy Woods • July 22, 2018 • Revelation


Andy Woods

Reward Through Suffering   7-22-18

Revelation 2:8-11

Lesson 8

Good morning everybody.  If we could take our Bibles and open them to the Book of Revelation, chapter 2; as God allows it trying to cover verses 8-11 today.  The title of our message is Reward Through Suffering.  If you’ve been tracking with us through the Book of Revelation we’ve covered some introductory issues to the book.  We finished the prologue to the book and from there we moved on into the first major section of the book where John is told in a vision to write down the things that he has seen.  And that’s where he gives us a tremendous picture of the glorified Christ in chapter 1.  But then John is told to write down the things that are. The things that are is the second major section, chapters 2 and 3, the seven letters to the seven churches that are going to be addressed in this section.  And each letter to each church follows this pattern, and I’ll be making a reference to this pattern, there’s about eight parts to it, as we progress from church to church in these various letters.

We saw last week, at least we finished last week the church at Ephesus, a church that really had a great history, a great origin, a great founding, a lot of wonderful things were happening in that church but over time this is a church that allowed activity for Christ to somehow replace intimacy with Christ.  And we’ve seen the very severe exhortation that Jesus gave to that church, including the removal of that church’s lampstand, which we know historically happened.

So we move away from Ephesus to the next of the seven churches, church number 2 in our list of seven.  This is the church at Smyrna, the suffering church.  The church at Smyrna that probable we here in the United States are less likely to identify with because as we’ll be explaining this church was undergoing great duress, great persecution from the outside.

Here is our outline for those three verses, looking at the eight characteristics of these letters.  Notice if  you will first of all the destination.  Take a look at Revelation 2, notice if you will verse 8.  It says, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:’”  The angel over the church at Smyrna, as we’ve tried to articulate in prior sermons, is the angel over all of these churches, which would be the angelos or the messenger, or the preacher, or the pastor to each church, the pastor being sort of the gateway, if you will, into the life of a local congregation.  This is one of the reasons why pastors are  under attack today.  As your Bible says, “Strike the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered.”

[Zechariah 13:7b, “”Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones.”  Mark 24:7, “And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP SHALL BE SCATTERED.’”  Matthew 26:31, “Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’”]

That’s why the moment you put yourself in the position, or follow God’s calling as a pastor come the onslaught of attacks from the evil one because the pastor is the gateway to the congregation.  Satan will understand that if a pastor can kind of go off the rails it can damage an entire flock.  This is why you need to pray for your pastor and not just for me but really pastors around the country, pastors around the world for that matter.

So the letter goes, first of all to the angelos, messenger, or the pastor of this church.  The church was located in Smyrna.  Smyrna would be about 35 miles north of Ephesus.  It today exists, the area of Smyrna, as Izmir, in what is called modern day Turkey.  And we really don’t read a lot about Smyrna in the Bible, the church that is.  In fact, to my knowledge this is the only place in the Bible that the church at Smyrna is even mentioned.  But what a mention it is and the information we’re given is just stunning, about this particular church.  How did this church start?   Well, it started with the ministry of the Apostle Paul on the third missionary journey where, according to Acts 19:10 all through Paul’s ministry there in Ephesus, located nearby, “all in Asia heard the Word of the Lord.”  And this is likely how all of these churches in that particular part of the world started back in the first century.  [Acts 19:10, “This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”]

The word “Smyrna” comes from the word myrrh; myrrh was what this city was known for.  It was something that was created for the purpose of embalming the dead; that’s what myrrh is.  And what a tremendous description of what was happening in this city, in this area, because as we’re going to see here Christians were called upon by Christ to be faithful unto death; the name Smyrna actually having its roots in the whole concept of death.

You might remember what the wise men from Babylon brought to the Lord, the infant Christ child.  According to Matthew 2:11” they presented to Him gifts of  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  This is what was being manufactured in this part of the world.  [Matthew 2:11, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”]  Some have seen in myrrh there a type, if you will, of the death that Messiah would die, a well-known ingredient used to embalm the dead.  So that’s a little bit of background, if you will, on the church at Smyrna.

Something else to understand about Smyrna is Smyrna was one of those places which we would call the center of Caesar worship.  You see, the Roman governors, the Roman emperors were sort of deified, if you will, in that particular culture.  And people were constantly called upon to swear allegiance to Caesar because Caesar was looked at not just as a political ruler but he was looked at as a deity.

And the Christian church could have gotten along very well with that crowd if they had just shifted a word or two around in their theology.  Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.”  If they had just switched the definite article from “Me” to “a” making Jesus say I am a way, a truth, they could have merged on into Roman polytheism and probably gotten along very well with the Roman system.  But you see, the early church wouldn’t do that; they were what you would call fundamentalists.  They were literalists, they didn’t see themselves in a position to change anything that Jesus Christ Himself said and they kept insisting that He is THE way, and consequently they would not, many of them, swear allegiance to the Roman Caesar polytheistic system.  And Smyrna was a place where people had to make a decision.  You’re either going to follow Christ or you’re going to follow man.  And this decision was so severe that many of them had to  pay with their own lives.  This is the church that Jesus is addressing here at the end of the first century.

In fact, there was a man that was the pastor of this particular church; his name was Polycarp.  Polycarp pastored the church at Smyrna; Polycarp was a direct disciple of John, the apostle himself, the man who had this revelation and recorded it.  I found some information this week on Polycarp and how he died.  The aged pastor of Smyrna, Polycarp, a convert and a pupil of John was burned at the stake in A.D. 168, which would be a few decades into the second century after this letter was written.  He was burned at the stake in that city because he would not renounce his faith in Christ.

The Roman proconsul counseled him or promised him swear by Caesar and I will release thee; revile Christ.  As recounted in the oldest written account of a Christian martyrdom outside of the New Testament itself, entitled (and you can find this online) The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp.  The serene Polycarp replied, as he was being led away to the stake to be burned, quote: “Eighty-six years I have served Him” that’s Jesus, “and He never did me any wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me.  I am a Christian.”  Those, of course, were the final words of Polycarp before the flames engulfed his body.

This is the type of situation, this is the type of scenario that Jesus Christ is addressing through John at the end of the first century in Smyrna.  Notice how Jesus describes Himself there in verse 8.  He describes Himself two ways, “I am the first and the last, I was dead and have come back to life.”   You’ll recall that in this section of each letter Jesus goes back into information about Himself as revealed in Revelation 1 in the vision that He gave to John concerning Himself.  And Jesus will surface information from that initial vision and He will surface things about Himself, not just to give them random information but things about Himself that pertain to their own circumstances and what they’re going through.

Jesus says two things about Himself.  Number one, “I am the first,” the protos, “and the last.”  What Jesus said about Himself back in chapter 1, verse 17.  [Revelation 1:17, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last,’”]  It reminds me of what Christ said of Himself back in chapter 1, verse 8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” Alpha being the first letter in the Greek alphabet, Omega being the last letter in the Greek alphabet.  I am the beginning and the end.   [Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”    Revelation 12:6, “Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end….”  Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”]

I am history’s creator, redeemer, sustainer and coming ruler.  And what a thing to understand, that Jesus is the point of history.  Jesus is what it’s all about; history, as we have said, is His story.  Life is about Christ. If you go through your life without Christ you miss the point of being alive, since He is the point of history.  What a thing to have in your mind as you’re facing death for Christ, seeing it as not something in vain because Jesus, of course, is the point of history itself.

He also describes Himself, chapter 2 and verse 8, as one who was dead and has come back to life, obviously referring to the resurrection, information that Jesus disclosed about Himself back in chapter 2 and verse 18.  [Revelation 1:18, “and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”  Revelation 2:8, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life.”]

The resurrection of Jesus is Christ’s victory over the grave.  What does that mean?  Many people will sort of argue that the point of it is to prove Jesus is God and that of course is true.  The empty tomb is one of the great evidences that Christianity is correct.  All of the other graves of all of the other religious leaders of the world are occupied.  Christ’s tomb is empty, praise the Lord for that!  But there’s a lot more to it than simply proving that Jesus Christ is God; there’s a lot more to it than simply using this as a key piece of evidence to support the truth of Christianity.

The truth of the matter is you, I, we, are united to Him by way of faith.  If He will conquer the grave then who else will conquer the grave.  So will we.  That’s why we’re called in these letters over­comers.  And one of the great purposes for Jesus Christ coming to the earth, Hebrews 2:15 is to remove the fear of death.  Hebrews 2:15 says, “and He might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”  One of the things that you run into in pastoral ministry is people that are looking at death right in the eye, either because of medical circumstances, health circumstances, doctor’s reports.  In fact, all of us, the last time I checked the mortality rate is still 100%.  If we’re not the rapture generation, which I hope we are, I can’t promise that, then every single person within the sound of my voice will die because of original sin.  “The wages of sin is death.”   [Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”]

You see, death for the Christian is not just martyrdom happening in other parts of the world; it relates to what people in this flock right now are facing.  And if you’re not immediately facing death no doubt you know someone in your family tree, your family line, your circle of friends, that is dealing with this prospect.  And when you look death right in the eye, how important it is to remember that you are connected to the one who conquered the grave.  If He conquered the grave you, by way of faith in Him will conquer the grave as well.

This is why Paul says, “For I am convinced” talking about all of the things that cannot separate  us from the love of God, “For I am convinced” and what’s the very first thing he mentions, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, not things to come,” you know the rest of these verses.  Death itself cannot separate us from the love of God.  I mean, no wonder Polycarp could look death right in the eye and with the opportunity to renounce Christ did not renounce Christ but was loyal to Christ until the end.  What a word of comfort this would be to a flock of people facing death because of the reality of Caesar worship and having to make a stand for Christ that could be quite costly.

You’ll notice that He goes on in verse 9 and commends this church.  Look at what he says there in Revelation 2:9, “’I know” Jesus says, “your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  It’s interesting that Jesus starts off this letter by rehearsing what He said to the church at Ephesus back in chapter 2, verse 2.  He said, “I know.”  He says, I know everything that’s happening in Ephesus, similarly I know everything that’s happening in Smyrna.  I know your ups, I know your downs.  I know your precautions, I know your insecurities, I know your moments of joy, I know your moments of weakness.  I know it all because you are My body and I am the head.

He acknowledges here three things that are happening in Smyrna, which He looks at, I think, as favorably.  Number one, he acknowledges their tribulation.  You’ll see it there in verse 9.  [Revelation 2:9, “’I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  The Greek word there is thilipsis, translated tribulation, and many people have the mistaken belief that because we teach that the church will escape THE tribulation (which it will, I’ll be explaining that as we continue on in this series) that somehow the Christian is immune from tribulations, lower case t.  And that simply is not true.

The Christian is a candidate for trials, John 16:33.  [John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”]

Man’s wrath, 2 Timothy 3:12, [2 Timothy 3:12, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” ]

Satan’s wrath, Ephesians 6:11-12, [Eph. 6:11-12, “11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”]

The world’s wrath, John 15:18-19.  They are, and will, escape THE tribulation God’s wrath.”

They are and will escape THE tribulation, God’s wrath.  Praise the Lord for that.  Amen!  But until that time comes the wear and tear of life is experiencing wrath from all of these different forms as part and parcel of the Christian life.  Jesus sees this little church going through these things and he acknowledges that, I’m aware, I know of your tribulation.  He also says I know of your poverty.  The Greek word for poverty here is {?}, which basically is in reference to the lowest level of poverty a human being can descend to.  It’s used to my knowledge only two other times in the Greek New Testament; it’s used to describe the deep poverty that the Macedonians were experiencing, 2 Corinthians 8:2.

It’s actually used,  interestingly enough, of Christ’s own poverty.  Christ was rich but he became poor for us, did He not, and He lived with human limitations.  And when that word is used in 2 Corinthians 8:9 to describe Christ’s humiliation that’s the same word that’s being used here and applied to the church at Smyrna.  [2 Corinthians 8:9, “

And yet what are we told today in so-called Christian television?  That if you’re a child of God God wants you to be wealthy, God wants you to be rich. Praise the Lord when God does make people wealthy and rich, but how in the world have we ever gotten into our minds this idea that there’s some sort of guarantee from God.  How would you explain Smyrna?  How would you explain the Macedonians?

And so these people had descended to a level of poverty that most of us in the west, most of us in North America will probably never ever see.  And yet this was what was normative, this is what was normal in Smyrna.  But did you catch the parenthetical comment there?   (9) “I know your tribulation and I know your poverty,” and here comes the parenthetical remark, “but you are rich.”  What a contradiction that is.  I mean, how could these people be poor and  yet at the same time be rich?  Well, obviously what Christ is speaking of here is their spiritual riches in Christ Jesus.

Paul, the apostle, in the Book of Ephesians, chapter 1 and verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with” how many blessings, “every,” not some, “every spiritual blessing” where, in my bank account, not necessarily, “in heavenly places.”  In other words you go to the Lord and you say Lord, I want to be blessed.  And the Lord says well what else can I do, I mean, look at your spiritual ledger, look at your spiritual bank account.  You’re maxed out!  And the problem is earthly wealth has a tendency to blind us to our true spiritual riches in Christ Jesus.  The church at Smyrna had no problem seeing it for what it was because they didn’t have any earthly riches.  Isn’t it interesting that when you don’t have any earthly riches you have a tendency to appreciate the spiritual riches that are yours in Christ Jesus, which can never be taken.  You can be rich financially one day and poor the next.  Not so with your spiritual riches.  Yes, you’re poor in man’s eyes but you’re rich in the eyes of God.

Now eventually we’ll get to the church at Laodicea, the last church that Jesus addresses, where the opposite is the problem; these people have the buildings, they have the bank accounts, they had… you name it.  And what does Jesus say about them?  Revelation 3:17, “’Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’” he’s being sarcastic with them,  you don’t need anything, “and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”  There’s a church that had the financial prosperity and yet they were blind to what true wealth is about, their riches in Christ Jesus.

And here’s a church, Smyrna, that’s very, very poor that had their eyes wide open to their spiritual riches in Christ Jesus.  You see, there’s a curse of prosperity.  Everybody thinks prosperity is some sort of blessing.  I’m not against prosperity per se but let me tell you something—earthly prosperity has a way of just getting our eyes off true wealth, wealth that counts.  Didn’t Jesus talk about that?  He talked about that over and over again.  The rich, He said, just have a hard time with the gospel.  [Matthew 19:23-24]   “Truly I say to you, it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  [24] Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’” The wealthy are at a disadvantage in terms of spiritual wealth.  Why is that?  Because they’re not used to depending upon God.  They’re used to buying their way out of their problems.  The times I have grown the most as a Christian is where God has stripped me of those things, where I have no one to trust in but God.  That was Smyrna.  And in fact, it’s your impoverished condition that’s made you aware of your lucrative position in Christ Jesus.

We’re very confused today about this issue of wealth.  Randy Alcorn, in his very good book that I’ll recommend to you, called Money, Possessions and Eternity, writes these words.  “In California a sharp looking business man, stands up at a luncheon to give his testimony.  He says, ‘Before I knew Christ I had nothing, my business was in bankruptcy, my health was ruined, I lost the respect of my community, and I almost lost my family.  Then I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord; He took me out of bankruptcy and now my business has tripled in profits in the last three years.  My blood pressure has dropped to normal, I feel better than I have felt in years and best of all my wife and children have come back to me; we are a family again.  God is good, praise the Lord!”  American Testimony.

In China an old and disheveled university professor gives his testimony.  “Before I met Christ I had everything.  I made a large salary, I lived in a nice house, enjoyed good health, I was highly respected for my credentials and profession.  I had a good marriage, I had beautiful children.  Then I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord.  As a result, I lost my post at the university, lost my beautiful house and car, spent five years in prison.  Now I work for a subsistent wage at a factory.  I live in pain from my neck that was broken in prison.  My wife rejected me because of my conversion.  She took my children away.   I have not seen her or them in ten years.  But God is good!  I praise Him for His faithfulness.”

That folks is the difference between America and the rest of the world.  That is the distinction between Laodicea and Smyrna.  This is why Jesus says to them, “I know your tribulations, I know your poverty, but you are rich.” He goes on and He says, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but a synagogue of Satan.”  The third thing he commends them for, in addition to their tribulation and poverty is their persecution.  They’re being persecuted by a group of people that say one thing but are actually the devil’s workshop, blasphemy, blasphemers, a group called the Synagogue of Satan.  We’re going to run into that crowd again in Revelation 3:9 as Jesus will deal with the church at Philadelphia.  [Revelation 3:9, “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie– I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.”]

I mean, who are these people “who say they are Jews but are not”?  I would put it this way: they are unbelieving Hebrews, unbelieving physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And such people think that somehow, because of their Jewish heritage alone they’re made right with God.  That principle contradicts what Abraham said, the very first Hebrew.  “Abraham,” Genesis 15:6 “believed God and it was credited to him unto righteousness.”

God is not interested in relationships with people on the basis of whatever nationality it may be.  Even the chosen race, even the Hebrew race, it’s not Jews and Hebrews that please God any more than it’s Americans that please God. It’s believing Hebrews, believing Jews, believing Americans, believing Baptists, believing Presbyterians, believing Bible church people.

You say well, pastor, don’t you teach this doctrine here called premillennialism, that God is going to fulfill His end time program through the nation of Israel, God has regathered the nation of Israel for the purpose of working in fulfillment of His prophetic Word.  Isn’t it true through Israel, that the kingdom is going to come to the earth?  And you bet your bottom dollar I teach that.  But here’s something to understand.  When God fulfills His covenants with the nation of Israel (and He will) it’s not going to be through Hebrews, it’s going to be through believing Hebrews.  See the difference?

John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:9 says, “and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves,” speaking to unbelieving Jews in the first century, “‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.”  God is not impressed with someone because of their Hebrew status.

Paul would write Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. [29] But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”  Physical circumcision, how much does that impress God in comparison to a circumcised heart?

This is why Paul in Romans 9:6 says, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”  I’ll tell you who God has His eye on is not Israel but the Israel of God, that smaller group within the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Believers, in the Lord, and through that smaller group, not the large group, God will fulfill every single promise He has ever made to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  In fact, if I’m reading my Bible correctly the point of the tribulation period is to break off that crowd of unbelievers.

Zechariah 13:8-9 says, ““It will come about in all the land,” Declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. [9] “And I will bring the third part through the fire,  I will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested.  They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”  What’s the whole point of the end times?  It’s to bring that remnant to faith through which God will fulfill His covenantal obligations.

Well what about the rest?  Paul tells us in Romans 11:28 that they are enemies of the church and enemies of God, “beloved for the sake of the fathers.”  [Romans 11:28, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers;”]  But for the time being they have become your enemies.

Go through the Book of Acts; study the life and the birth and the growth and the development of the early church as it moved out of Jerusalem into Asia Minor, Galatia, ultimately Europe, ultimately to Rome.  Look at who the problem people are, always, coming against the church, with very few exceptions.  Almost every town it’s the unbelieving Christ-rejecting Jews.  That’s the synagogue of Satan!  I’m not saying at all that God has severed His covenant with Israel; He has not and cannot and will not. What I’m saying is until there’s a regenerated heart such a person is not on God’s side, such a person is not on God’s team.

How tragic it is for people, particularly here in Texas, cultural Christians, to somehow think that they’re right with God because of church attendance or because of denominational affiliation or some kind of Sunday School certificate or their baptism, not that any of those things in and of themselves are wrong, but how foolish it is to think that that in itself gives someone standing before God.  God gives such a person no standing.  The circumcision of the flesh profits nothing, but it’s the circumcision of the heart that matters to God.  I used to think in my naivety that there were Baptist Christians and Presbyterian Christians and Methodist Christians and Roman Catholic Christians, and go through all of the denominations and then oh yeah, there’s the born again Christians too, as if being a born again Christian is some kind of segment within denominational Christendom.

The reality of the situation is there’s one type of Christian, the born again Christian!  I don’t know where you go to church, that’s never been the fundamental issue with God.  You could be a Metho-Catha-Bapterion or a Bapticostal fundamatic, or whatever you want to be but have you experienced the new birth in Christ.  THAT is the issue!  Has God dealt with your heart in such a way that you’ve seen your need to trust Christ, you’ve trusted Him for salvation and the Holy Spirit has taken residence in you?  That’s the issue.  These Jews, obviously that had not happened to them and so they’re following the marching orders of Satan himself, and Romans itself.

May God help us to understand the way He thinks and not the way the religious world thinks.  That’s who this synagogue of Satan is.  Do you know that Satan is very religious.  I mean, people would say to me, oh, Andy, you’re religious.  I’m not religious at all, the fact of the matter is I believe I’m probably one of the least religious people on planet earth.  What has religion ever accomplished for anybody?  What is religion?  It’s man trying to climb up to God.  That’s where most of the world is today, they think they can do X, Y and Z to earn their way into the presence of God.  That’s called works righteousness.  It’s what Adam and Eve were doing as early as Genesis 3:7 where they took the leaves and they clothed themselves thinking that they could erase their mistake through something that they had produced.  [Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”]

And God is very clear at the end of that chapter, when HE CLOTHED them, with animal skin. Well, where did those animal skins come from?  Obviously God killed an innocent animal right then and there.  You say well what did the animal do wrong?  Nothing, that’s the point!   God will fix sin problem through the blood of an innocent sacrifice; you will not clothe yourself, I will clothe you.  It’s the difference between religion and transferred righteousness.

But of the former I’ll tell you something, Satan will serve that up, he’s serving that up everywhere you look.  The world today is very religious; it’s been that way since the beginning.  This is the work of the devil.  This is why they’re called a “synagogue” a religious term, where Hebrews met, “a synagogue of Satan.”

[Revelation 2:9, “’I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  Revelation 3:9, “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie– I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.”]

In fact, you go through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and who does Jesus have constant problems with?  The widows and the orphans?  The prostitutes?  Never any issue with them as they reached out for His grace.  His point of contention was always with the religious crowd, organized religiosity, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, etc. etc. etc.  A synagogue of Satan!

And why is religion so appealing to people?  Why can’t they just receive and accept the grace of God?  Because it’s an appeal to pride; as long as I’m a religious person I can say look at what I have done.  Look at what I have achieved.  Look at what I have accomplished.  What does the prophet Isaiah 64:6 say, “your works of righteous,” not your unrighteousness, “your works of righteous are as” what? “filthy rags.”  [Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”  NASB]

That’s a blow to the pride of man, isn’t it, because that means I can’t strut off into heaven as proud as a peacock having somehow accomplished my own salvation.  I have to rest and trust in the grace or unmerited favor of God or I’m not going.  And you say well, I don’t like that, I’m mad about that. Well, fine, take it up with God, I don’t make the rules.  You can go sit in the corner if you want with Cain, who had a temper tantrum because he came by way of religion, his brother came the way God had ordained, faith, and Cain didn’t like it.  And  you know how that ended up.  In fact, the religious crowd has always persecuted the righteous crowd, ALWAYS, throughout history.  That’s what’s happening here as this synagogue of Satan has turned its heat up against this little tiny flock in Smyrna that was trusting in the grace of God.

And then what typically happens in a letter like this is a rebuke; the five of the seven churches is a word of correction.   You see what verse I have up there for rebuke?  There is no verse.  Why is that? Because Jesus never rebukes this crowd.  When we study the church at Philadelphia we’re going to see the same thing, no word of rebuke.  Plenty for Ephesus, plenty for Laodicea, and everybody else, but not Smyrna and not Philadelphia.  I mean, why would Jesus skip this step that He consistently applies elsewhere? The answer is very simple, a persecuted church is a pure church.  Isn’t it interesting that we have a tendency to cling to the Lord tightly during times of adversity in compared to times of prosperity.

In fact, I would say this, in your life there’s two tests.  The first test is can you walk with God in a valley?  The second test is can you walk with God in on the mountaintop.  I think the second test is much harder to pass than the first test.  You look at some of the greats at the end of their lives; look at a guy named Solomon who brought incredible prosperity to the United Kingdom.  In fact, the borders of the Solomonic empire grew to a level that the nation of Israel had never seen before and never have seen since.  I mean, not  until the millennial kingdom itself will those borders be expanded the way they were expanded under Solomon.

You look at the money that Solomon brought in, the construction of the temple.  All of the resources are mentioned right there, very clearly in your Bible.  And look at what he achieved, look at his success, and look at how his life deteriorated in the final third or so of his life.  Solomon may have passed test one but he sure didn’t pass test number two.

How are you doing, by the way, in those two tests?   Those are your two great ones.  May God help us understand that the trials that come into our life, not to make us bitter but to makes us better.  But then God may put you up on the mountain top, remove you from some of the limitations that you have made known that you have experienced earlier in your life, financially, health wise, power, whatever.  How are  you walking with God now?  It’s a little harder, isn’t it?

The church at Laodicea was flunking test two.  This is why Jesus will say to the church at Laodicea, not Smyrna, Laodicea, saying to them, “Because you say, ‘I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing.”’  Oh really?  “…you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”  [Revelation 3:17]

You think you’re rich but you’re poor.  Smyrna thinks they’re poor but they’re rich.  So what do you do with a wealthy church like that?  Revelation 3:18 tells you, Jesus said, “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, [and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.”]  Now, do a word study on that phrase, “gold refined by fire.”  What  you’ll discover is that is an expression used for trials.   You’ll see it there in 1 Peter 1:6-7, it mentions their various trials and analogizes trials to gold which is perishable though tested by fire.  [1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials  [7] so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;”]

What is Jesus saying to Laodicea?   You need a problem.  You need a trial.  You need adversity.  You need a setback.  You need something in your life not to work out because if I just let you go the way you’re going you’re going to end up like Solomon.  So what you need is a problem.

We look at the problems that we are in today as a church, as a nation, even as individuals. We see those as unwanted intruders.  In fact, that trial could be your very best friend.  Have you ever thought about that?  What does Paul say?  “…there was given to me,” given to me as a gift, right?  “there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan,” isn’t it interesting how Paul saw his thorn in the flesh, whatever it was, as a gift from God.  Smyrna, you have a gift from God, you’re going through suffering but it’s a gift because you’re clinging so tightly to Me   and consequently you’re rich.

He moves on in verse 10 and he gives them a word of exhortation.  Now to the other churches he says “repent”.  He doesn’t say that to this church but he does exhort them, and that exhortation is found in verse 10.  Look at what he says.  “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you in prison, so that  you will be tested, and  you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  What does he say there in the middle?  Here comes the problem, “the devil is about to cast some of you into prison so that you will be tested and  you will have tribulation for ten days.”

Isn’t it interesting that he doesn’t say Rome is your enemy.  He says the devil is your enemy. Oh, he’s using Rome, just like he’s using this synagogue of Satan, but they’re not the ultimate problem, the problem is Satan himself.  Isn’t it interesting how fast we look at people as the enemy.  Someone causes us a problem and we blame that person but the reality is your Bible says Satan is the enemy.  What did Jesus say to Peter?  “Get behind me” what? “Satan.”  It’s Satan that’s causing the problem, not individual human beings.  And isn’t it interesting how God is going to use Satan for God’s purposes.  Did you notice that?  He’s using Satan to test them as a vehicle through which they’re going to be rewarded.

I think a lot of us have a very high view of Satan… in fact, too high!  God keeps Satan around long enough to fulfill God’s purposes; once that is over he’ll be thrown into the lake of fire.  In fact, in this study, in the Book of Revelation, we’re going to learn that the antichrist and the false prophet are the first inhabitants into the lake of fire.  The devil is not even thrown into the lake of fire, he’s bound in a place called the abyss for a thousand years, but he doesn’t join his buddies in the lake of fire until a thousand years later.  Why is that?  Because God has a final purpose for Satan, to stimulate a rebellion to reveal what is happening in the hearts of the mortals in the millennial kingdom.  It’s a great lesson and God says I’m going to keep you around long enough to fulfill My purpose for you.  God uses Satan for pedagogical purposes.

Don’t get this idea that everything is out of control and somehow Satan has the upper hand.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And in fact, when you test this little church, you can  do it for ten days, not eleven days, not nine days, not fifteen days but ten days.  And you say well Pastor, what does ten days mean.  It means ten days!  Robert Thomas in his outstanding commentary on the Book of Revelation, says: “no number in Revelation is verifiably a symbolic number.” [Robert Thomas, Revelation 8 to 22: An Exegetical Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 408.]

Every number you see you can just take it for what it says… literal!  I read quite a few commentaries getting ready for this sermon and was entertained, really, by most of them because they gave these long explanations about what ten days are.  Well, ten days are ten epics or ten eras and on and on it goes.  Well, the Bible says “ten days.”  Satan is going to throw some of you into prison for ten days, kind of like how God dealt with Satan concerning Job.  Remember that?  Job 1, Job 2, do whatever you want to Job but  you can’t what?  You can’t take his life.

So even when God uses Satan for God’s purpose there’s a leash put on Satan.  We do not teach here dualism.  Remember the Rocky movies?  This I think is Rocky 2, then there was a Rocky 3, now they’ve got like Rocky 15 or 18 where their grandkids are duking it out.  But you remember the Rocky movies, I remember my dad took me to Rocky 1 and you’re kind of sitting on the edge of your seat all the way through the movie because you really don’t know who’s going to win.  And then everybody starts chanting Rocky.  I mean, is Apollo going to win?  He’s the heavy weight champ, he’s favored.  But what about this guy, this Italian from the inner city?  And you really don’t know what’s going to happen, do you?  That’s not the Bible.

Folks, this is not even a contest between God and Satan.  This is no contest.  The moment God said of Satan in Ezekiel 28:13 and verse 15 “from the day you were created is the moment you know that there is no contest here whatsoever.

[Ezekiel 28:13, “You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared.”   [15] “You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created Until unrighteousness was found in you.”]

We are dealing with an all-powerful God who has allowed Satan to come into existence as a created being.  There is no contest at all between the creature and the Creator.  It’s a done deal.  And what a foolish thing it is for people to buy into the program of Satan against God.  And how dumb is that, where you go down into the same defeat that he is going down into and God the whole time says you should have known better, he’s a creation, you should have bought in with Me, I’m the Creator.

So you’re going into this test for ten days and in the midst of this test God tells little Smyrna I want you to do two things, two commands here in the Greek.  Number 1, do not fear what you’re to suffer.  When suffering comes into your life it’s so easy to be afraid of that instrument rather than God Himself isn’t it?  A boss at work is mistreating you, threatening to lay you off, we’re more afraid of the boss than we are God who made the boss.  In fact, that boss wouldn’t even have the next breath in his body if God hadn’t allowed it.

It reminds me of the Book of Job.  Remember the leviathan in the Book of Job?  What does God say to Job?  “Does Job fear the leviathan?  Who made the leviathan?  In other words, you ought to be afraid of God.  What can man do?  Didn’t Jesus talk about this?  “Do not fear those who can kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  [Matthew 10:28]

What are people?  What are fallen human beings compared to God.  “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” and He tells them something else, verse 10, “Be faithful unto death.”  [Revelation 2:10, “’Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”]

Isn’t it interesting how much the Bible  focuses on faithfulness.  “Well done thy good and” what? “faithful servant.”  [Matthew 25:23]  I can’t find a verse that says well done thy good and successful servant.  Can  you find that verse?  I can’t find it.  We’re so focused on success and God is focused on faithfulness.  What a difference that is.

1 Corinthians 4:2 says, “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  That’s what God wants out of you; that’s what He wants out of me.  The results, the fruit, He’ll take care of that.  And then he tells them don’t just be faithful in this ten day trial but be faithful unto death itself.  Now the myrrh  Smyrna and Polycarp and that background that I tried to explain starts to make a lot more sense, doesn’t it.

And then comes the consequence.  Now this is not a negative consequence like the other churches, I’ll remove your lampstand.  This is a positive consequence.  “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”  Oh my, how we need teaching on this today, because there are people out there running around saying if you don’t stand up for Jesus you’re not a Christian.  They call the ABC method of salvation, you Admit you’re a sinner, you Believe in Christ and you Confess Christ, and if you won’t confess Christ and if you won’t walk the aisle you’re not saved.  How’s that doing for the underground church in Iran?  How much confession are they doing?  In America we can come up with these slogans but what do you do with the underground church where if someone says one peep about their newfound faith in Christ their whole family could be decapitated or tortured.

What gets a person saved.  It’s very simple; it’s faith!  “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus says, “he who hears My Word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life.”  [John 5:24]  Is that complicated to understand?  To me that’s very simple.  In fact, the great Lewis Sperry Chafer says the Bible condition is justification on faith alone 150 times???  I mean, this is so plain this shouldn’t even be debatable, should it.

And you say well, pastor, if salvation is that easy and if once always saved then why would you ever stand up for Christ publicly?  I’m glad you asked.  The issue here is a reward.  All Christians will be in heaven but not all Christians are equally rewarded in heaven.  In fact, there’s five crowns, given or not given.  One of those is the crown of life, right there in the middle, Revelation 2:10, it’s also mentioned in James 1:12 for the believer that endures trials.  .

[Revelation 2:10, “’Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  James 1:12, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”]

That’s why you stand up for Christ.  You don’t do it as some kind of work by which you think you can be saved.  You do it because the Lord told us to do it and some do and some don’t; some are obedient, some are disobedient but there’s a reward in it for the faithful Christian.  See?  You say I don’t care about rewards.  Wait till we get to chapter 4, I hope we’ll start caring because what do we do with those rewards?  It’s a form of worship, we cast them at the feet of Christ.  The stephanos crown, the crown of life for the believer that is faithful to God even in the midst of death itself.  Not a ticket to heaven, but a ticket, if you will, for a reward once in heaven.

And then you have verse 11, an exhortation to listen, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the” what?  “churches.”  In fact, I just googled this week “listen.”  How many times does the Bible say “listen”?  The number I got was 550 times.  Apparently God wants us to listen,  to take in His truth.

The last part of the letter is the promise to the overcomers, verse 11, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”  Who are the overcomers?  Let the Bible interpret itself.  John wrote another book, didn’t he?  1 John 5:4 and 5, he tells you exactly who the overcomers are.  [1 John 5:4, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.  [5] Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”]

Overcomers are those who have trusted in Christ.  If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you don’t have to work towards being an overcomer,  you already are an overcomer, because absent from the body is to be what?  Present with the Lord.  And resident within you is every single resource that could possibly be given to allow you to walk through life, this life, in a godly way.  You are automatically an overcomer.

And it’s so interesting how He comforts these churches with visions, if you will, of their future, all taken from Revelation 21 and 22.  Why is that?  Because if you’re thinking about your future in God your problems in this life don’t seem that bad, do they?  This is why 1 Peter 1:6 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”  What are the trials of this life?  They’re just but for an instant.  Paul would write in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”  Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the suffering of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”  Maybe this week instead of focusing on your circumstances, as difficult as they are, maybe you should focus on Revelation 21 and 22.  And see if that doesn’t give you more of an impetus and a better perspective this week as you go through life’s trials.

What does He promise these overcomers?  That they’re not going to be hurt by the second death.  Well what does that mean, “second death”?  “The wages of sin is” what? “death,” Romans 6:23.  There are three forms of death: spiritual, by the way, death means separation from God.  Phase one of death we’re spiritually separated from God.  Phase two of death, physical death, “from dust you are to dust you shall return.”  Phase three of death is the eternal death or the second death and if we allow the Bible to interpret itself you’ll see exactly what the second death is, no guess work is needed.  Jot down Revelation 20:6, 14, and chapter 21, verse 8 and you’ll see very clearly that the second death is the lake of fire.

[Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”  Revelation 20:14, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”  Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”]

What is Jesus promising the struggling church?  Yeah, man can take your life but  you’re going to have no part of the second death, the lake of fire; eternal retribution is not part of your future in Christ.  And you say well, how are you going to Segway into the gospel with this one.  It’s about the easiest job assignment I’ve ever had here, and here’s how it works.  If you’re born once you’ll die twice; if you’re born twice you’ll die once.  What in the world does that mean? If you’re born once, physically born, never spiritually born, never have trusted Christ, here’s your future—physical death and the lake of fire which is the second death.

Conversely, if you’re born twice the worst thing that can happen is you’ll die once.  If you’re born physically into this world, born spiritually again through trusting in Christ, and your body is now the residence of the Holy Spirit, the worst possible thing that can happen to you is physical death but you have no place, no part whatsoever in the lake of fire.  In fact, in Greek here, I wish I had time to go into this, it’s a double negation, absolutely 100% no way you’re going into the lake of fire.  If I was writing a Spanish version I would say “no way Hosea” are you going into the fire.

And so the question that we have as we conclude is are you in the category of being born twice; has that happened to you, whereby you’ll die once at worst?  Or are  you in the category of only being born once which means you’ll die twice.  And you can become born twice, born a second time, this time not physically, this time spiritually; this time not earthly, but this time heavenly, from above as a person trusts in Christ and Christ alone for salvation.  And the moment they place that faith in Christ is the moment, one of the greatest miracles that can ever happen to a person takes place, they become what the theologians call regenerated.  What does that mean?  Impartation of divine life.

See, flesh cannot produce that.  It’s a miracle of God.  And it’s a miracle of God conditioned on the surrender of the will to the provision of Christ.  God is not going to barrel down and force you into this.  If you want to go ahead and die into the second death and  you’re just determined to do that then you just go right ahead.  But God loves  you enough, not only to pay the price so that wouldn’t happen, but to send the Spirit of God, through conviction, where He sits there and bothers you about this over and over and over again and we say I wish God would just leave me alone.  That’s the worst thing He can do!  The words thing He can ever do is leave you alone.  That’s Romans 1 where He gave them over, that’s frightening.

But if the Spirit of God is convicting  you then that’s good news, that’s evidence He doesn’t want to leave you alone and He loves  you too much to leave you alone and so He offers you salvation and you respond by way of faith, by trusting in Christ and impartation happens; you’re born twice and therefore you’ll only die once.  Not twice, the very worst.  May God help people to receive this gift which you can do right now as I’m talking, as the Spirit places you under conviction.  You don’t have to walk an aisle, you don’t have to join a church, you don’t have to fill out a card, you don’t have to do three cartwheels.  You don’t have to go out and tell people you’re a Christian.  Now if you want a crown you’d better go out and tell people but to get to heaven  you don’t need to tell anybody anything because it’s a work of grace, unmerited favor which we would invite you to do now even as I’m speaking, in the quietness of  your own mind and heart as the Holy Spirit places you under conviction.  If it’s something you need more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk.

Shall we pray.  Father, we’re grateful for these words to this struggling church at Smyrna, the suffering they went through and the exhortation to them.  Help us to grow in these things as we walk these things out this week.  We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said…. Amen!