The Poor But Rich Church
June 28, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
We continue our study of the Seven Churches mentioned in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Last time we looked at the church at Ephesus, which was an orthodox but loveless church. Today, we are going to look at the second church that Jesus addresses which is the church at Smyrna. This church suffered much for its faith in Christ to the extent that it became a very poor church even though it was dwelling in a very wealthy city.Most of the churches in our country are not experiencing this kind of suffering but in many parts of the world, many believers still do suffer severely because of their faith in Christ. Reports from different organizations such as Voice of Martyrs, World Evangelical Fellowship, Human Rights Without Frontiers, etc., show that Christians are still the most persecuted faith group in the 21st century. One agency reports, “approximately 10 per cent of the 2 billion Christians in the world suffer persecution which included beheadings, torture, rape, kidnappings, mass killings, forced starvation, imprisonment and even crucifixions. Last year alone, sources indicate that an estimated 165,000 Christians died because of their faith. (See http://www.saintanthonyofpadua.net/messaggero/pagina_stampa.asp?R=&ID=118).
Today we are going to see the encouragement our Lord gives to churches and individuals who continue to suffer as Christians in Smyrna did because of their faith in Him.To guide us in our study, we are going to follow an outline similar to our previous study when we looked at the letter of Christ to the church of Ephesus. First, let’s look at …
I. The church addressedThe city of Smyrna was regarded by ancient writers as the most beautiful city in Asia and one of the most prosperous also. Smyrna was also noted as a center of learning especially in science and medicine. It boasted a famous stadium, library, and public theater (the largest in Asia). Although many considered Smyrna to be the ideal city on earth, at the end of the first century, life for Christians in Smyrna was extremely difficult and dangerous. We will see why in a little while when we look at Christ’s diagnosis of the church. We do not know when the church was first founded at Smyrna because this church is never mentioned except in the book of Revelation. Probably, it was during Paul’s third missionary journey in A.D. 53-56 when it was established because in Acts 19:10, we read that "all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." Smyrna is now known by it's Turkish name, Izmir, and it still has a Chrisian church.
II. A description of ChristAs in all of Christ’s letters to the Seven Churches, Christ first gives an appropriate description of Himself before expressing His concerns about a particular church. Here we see two descriptions of Christ, which are taken from chapter 1.
- First, our Lord Jesus identifies himself as “the First and the Last.”
- Is 48:12-13 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. 13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.”
- Is 41:4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.
- Second, our Lord identifies himself also as the One who died and came to life.
III. Christ’s diagnosis of the churchAs we have seen before, nothing escapes the vision of the glorious Lord. He says, “I know.” Christ knows everything there is to know about His people in Smyrna. What strikes me about this knowledge of Christ is that although surely He also knows about all their flaws and sins of these believers in Smyrna since they were not perfect, it was so kind of our Lord not to mention them. Instead, He highlights the good things that He knew about them. He does not mention anything negative thing about them. What a gracious and merciful Savior we have. I want you to look at the word “your.” This pronoun in the Greek is singular. I think what the Lord is doing is that He is fully aware of the tribulation and poverty each Christian in Smyrna is going through. The Lord mentions three things that He fully knows.
- First, He knows their tribulation. (“I know your the tribulation.”)
- The citizens of Smyrna had been fanatically devoted to Rome. They were the first city to build a temple that was dedicated to the worship of Rome. They worshiped Dea Roma, a female deity who personified the Roman state.
- Smyrna also became the leading center for emperor worship. Under Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96), emperor worship was made compulsory for all Roman citizens. Each year every citizen had to burn incense on the altar of Caesar and say, “Caesar is Lord.” After which, he was issued a certificate. To be without a certificate, as must have been the case for Christians faithful to Christ, meant death.
- The residents of Smyrna also worshiped all sorts of gods like Zeus, Apollo, Asclepius, Aphrodite, and many more. The total rejection of the pagan idols by Christians along with their worship of the invisible God, caused them to be accused as “atheists.” Much of Smyrna’s social life revolved around pagan worship, and Christians were viewed as antisocial for refusing to participate. When bad things happened in the lives of the people or to the city, it was easy for the citizens of Smyrna to blame the Christians. The superstitious pagans thought that they were being punished by the gods who were being insulted by the Christians who refused to worship them.
- Second, our Lord also knows their “poverty.”
- Third, our Lord knows fully what their opponents were doing.
- John 8:39–44 The [Jews] answered [Jesus], “ Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “ If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “ We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father —even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “ If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
- James 3:5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
IV. Words of exhortation10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. To encourage them to persevere and to remain faithful the Lord revealed several things:
- Jesus commands them literally to, “Stop being afraid.”
- Jesus had counseled his disciples, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28).
- Yet as the time approached, believers needed to be encouraged, lest the threat of martyrdom would cause them to give up their faith in Christ.
- He encourage them by revealing to them ahead of time that some would be imprisoned because of the work of the devil.
- They are going to go through tribulation for a short time, for 10 days.
- Some of them will even have to die for their faith.
- They are to remain faithful unto death and they will receive a great reward.
V. A command to hear what the Spirit says to the churches11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. As we learned in the Lord’s command to the Ephesian church, shows that this letter is not addressed only to the congregation at Smyrna but to all the churches, so that the letter with the others is a universal message.
VI. A promise to the overcomerThe one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. ’ Overcomers are promised that they will not in any way be hurt by the second death. As we have learned before, the overcomers do not refer to a special group of people. This is not something that only the martyrs could attain to. “Overcomers” refers in general to all believers. And all believers are assured that they “will not be hurt by the second death.” To stress the point, our Lord uses the strongest negative the Greek language can express for the word translated “not.” Literally the statement reads: “The One who is overcoming not not be injured.” The first death refers to one’s physical death; the second death is to be forever separated from God and suffer never-ending punishment in the lake of fire. (Rev 20:14; 21:8)
- Rev 20:14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
- Rev 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
- Remember your great Savior.
- Christ is the first and the last. Christ will have the last word.
- Christ went through death before us and triumphed over death and came to life. So will all His people overcome death.
- Christ knows. He knows your tribulation and your poverty. He knows what your persecutors are doing to you. He is not unable to sympathize with your weakness and trouble. He is near and he knows. Be thankful that he knows and cares and carries and will save. Don't be angry at God that sometimes He will allow His children to die in the hands of their enemies. Remember what happened to Stephen. Remember what happened to all of the apostles. Remember what happened to these believers in Smyrna. But don’t forget, Christ knows. Find comfort in the fact that He is the first and the last, the one who died and rose again.
- Remember your real enemy.
- Eph 6:12-13 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
- 1Pe 5:8-9 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
- Remember your true riches.
- You are rich even in poverty or in prison, or even in death. If you are children of God, then you are heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ... the sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is about to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:15-18). You are rich!
- You will receive a crown of life. Be faithful unto death and you will receive a crown of life. (Piper said, “When the fight is fought and the race is run and you die at the finish line, the wreath that will be put on your head will be the crown of everlasting life―no more pain, nor more slander, nor more shame, no more tears, no more depression, no more frustration and discouragement. Only life and light and joy―and God forever.”)
- You will not be hurt by the second death, that is, the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). There is something worse than death, namely, the second death. God did not promise to spare us from the first death, or the pain that leads to it. But He promised to rescue us from the second death.