18 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Today we are looking at the letter to the Church in Smyrna. God constantly looks for those who are willing to stand for Him, serve Him and even to suffer for Him. It is one thing to accept the Lord, but is very difficult to follow Him fully. Many will accept Christ as Saviour, but not as their Lord and Master. When He is Lord and Master, He will have control over our lives, and this is what the people of the Church in Smyrna did.
The apostle Paul, writing to his young protege Timothy, said, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings - what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:10-13)
Many serve the Lord when all is well, but when suffering and persecution come, they leave Him. This is the way it was for many who followed Jesus. In John 6 Jesus had been teaching His disciples about the hardships they would experience in following Him. He had proclaimed Himself as the Bread of Life, and the only means of salvation, but many of them struggled with this truth. “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:66-69)
We’ve just heard the words of Jesus in John 15: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
It is not easy to stand up for what is true for right when many oppose you. However, when you do stand for the truth, you do not stand alone, as Jesus stands with you.
The city of Smyrna was north of Ephesus, and like Ephesus, it was on the coast of the Aegean Sea. Its harbour was an important part of the city, as it was on the trade route from India and Persia to Rome.
So the people of Smyrna understood that so long as the Roman Empire was strong, they would remain an important part of the empire. This meant that they were patriotic to Rome. Each year every Roman citizen had to burn incense at the Roman temple and say, “Caesar is Lord.”
Because the Christians in Smyrna refuse to participate in this idolatry, they suffered tremendous persecution. Smyrna also had a large population of apostate Jews, who didn’t practice their faith and hated the Christians.
The main export of the city was myrrh, a spice used in embalming and perfumes. This seems significant because the Church was persecuted for their faith, some even to death.
Smyrna was also known as a religious centre. There were various temples to the Greek gods. It was a city of wealth and culture. The Church was persecuted because of their opposition to the sin and idolatry. This sounds a lot like the world we live in today. Speak out against sin and idolatry, and you can be guaranteed that you will face opposition and persecution.
Jesus, in dictating his letter to John introduces Himself as “Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”
What He was doing here was reminding the Church in Smyrna that He is the First and Last. Jesus introduced Himself as the one that spoke the world into creation and that He will still be their God for all of eternity. Jesus is also assuring them that He did die on the cross for their sins, but also rose on the third day and He sits at the right hand of God the Father. This is not only a message of comfort to the Church in Smyrna, but also to us. You’ll remember from Revelation 1 that Jesus is the one who still walks among the lampstands. He remains active in His Church today.
So what did He write to the faithful Church in Smyrna?
Jesus was telling them that He knew that they were being persecuted and that they were very poor. The Christians were being thrown into prison and even killed because they refused to worship Caesar.
One of the side effects of their refusal to obey the Roman laws was that the local businesses would not employ them. They were unable to find decent paying jobs to support their families, which meant they were in extreme poverty.
God has never promised riches and wealth to those who follow Him, and the faithful Christians at Smyrna would have been painfully aware of this, yet even though they were in poverty, Jesus said they were rich.
You can have all the money in the world and be the most popular and most famous person in the world, but without Christ you are nothing - you remain dead in your trespasses and sins.
Having Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is greater than any riches that we could ever hope for. If you have confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord and you are living a life in submission and obedience to Him, you are the richest person in the world.
We may feel at times that we are alone, but Jesus knows those who are His. He was aware of the work of the Church in Smyrna, and He is just as aware of the work we do for the Kingdom today.
We might not see the fruits of our labours here and now, but we are to remain faithful to Him.
Just keep working for the Lord. Keep pressing on.
The persecution the Christians faced in Smyrna was not only from the Romans. The non-believing Jews were also persecuting them. The apostate Jews would spread slanderous lies about them which would result in them being thrown into prison or even executed. These Jews in Smyrna were not practicing the true Jewish faith, because they were also worshipping Caesar, which is why Jesus called them a synagogue of Satan. The faithful faced persecution from all sides, yet they did not turn away from their faith.
Satan wants nothing more than to have a Christian reject their faith and turn away from God.
It’s a great sadness, but it is something we still see today, but the Christians of Smyrna stood firm no matter what Satan threw at them.
Along with the Church in Philadelphia, which we are due to look at in a few weeks, the Church of Smyrna were not criticised by Jesus. Five of the seven Churches were warned and chastised for one reason or another, but Smyrna was not one of them.
They must have been doing something right even in their trials and tribulation.
Instead of condemnation, Jesus encouraged them by saying, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
Jesus makes three promises to these Christians.
Firstly He tells them that they are going to suffer. Trouble is ahead. He does not say that He will deliver them from trouble, but He would deliver them through trouble.
In John 16:33 He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” It is a promise that we will have trouble in his life. Following Christ is not always a bed of roses.
Next He says that they will have the final victory. “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” You cannot defeat God’s people. They may have trouble, but that trouble will be followed by ultimate victory and reward in Heaven.
The third promise Jesus makes is those who overcome will not have to face the second death.
Someone once said that if you are born twice, you will only die once, but if you are born once only, you will die twice.
The second death is hell, but Christians have been delivered from eternal punishment.
Romans 5:1-5 says, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”
This is how the glory of the Gospel of Christ transforms us, both in this life, and in eternity.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, was once asked by a woman in his congregation why he repeated “You must be born again” so often in his preaching.
His reply to her was, “Because, madam, you must be born again!”
God gave us His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. Jesus lives and sits at the right hand of God in Heaven. He is a loving God and that is why He has made provision for our salvation, but we have to make that choice to accept that gift. We must be born again.
All you have to do is call upon the name of the Lord, repent and confess your sin. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. This is how you are brought into the Kingdom of God. This is what the new birth is all about.
You will be guaranteed eternal life in the presence of God in Heaven. What better riches can you have than this? All the money in the world cannot buy salvation. It is a free gift for the asking, but you do have to ask for it.
There has been much debate over the ten days of persecution that Jesus talks about in verse 10.
Are they ten literal days, or is this a metaphor for something else?
Most commentators believe that ten days just means a short but intense period of persecution. It’s as if all of the Church’s suffering was compressed into the shortest possible time, and in contrast to the unending joy and glory that believers will have in Christ, ten days of suffering is almost nothing.
The tribulation and persecution lasts only a short while, and it is nothing compared to the unimaginable glory of heaven or the unending misery of hell.
Satan is identified as the Church’s chief persecutor, and he remains our greatest enemy today. But he is a defeated enemy.
I know I’ve quoted this before, but it is well worth repeating. Martin Luther is regarded as the one who coined the phrase, “The dragon has been slain, but his tail still swishes.”
Satan does not hold the keys of death and hell. Jesus Christ does.
Revelation 1:18 reassures us that Jesus not only lived, died and now lives for evermore, but also that the keys of hell and death are in His hand. He alone determines our eternal destiny.
Jesus closes this letter with the one thing He requires both of the Church in Smyrna, and the Church today. Jesus did not require the Church at Smyrna to be successful, but He did require them to be faithful. “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
What does it mean to be faithful even to the point of death?
I suppose our first response would be that we must remain faithful to Christ and His Church as long as we live, and that is correct.
But we need to see that in 2:10 Jesus is actually saying, “Be faithful even if it means dying for me.” That’s a little different, isn’t it?
Jesus said, “You be faithful as long as you live. If you live out your natural life and die of old age, be faithful all of your life. But if somebody threatens you even to the extent of taking away your life, be faithful to the point of dying for me.”
I don’t think we fully understand the extent of real persecution for our faith. We’ve all lost a few friends by confessing Christ, while many others regard us as just a little strange. “Well, if it works for you, then I’m happy for you, but this whole faith thing is not really for me.”
But have a look at what is happening in the Middle East and in central Africa. Christians are being executed for their faith. We haven’t reached that point in our country, but there are no guarantees. There is a groundswell which is beginning to gain momentum against the Christian faith.
Everyone who chooses to live a holy, separated, dedicated life for Jesus Christ is going to face persecution. The Bible consistently teaches it, so it shouldn’t shock us, nor should it surprise us. Jesus said that it would be this way.
The reason the world hates Christians today is the same reason it hated Christians in the 1st century. The people of Smyrna hated the believers for just one reason: they loved Jesus, and that is why the world hates us today.
They hate us because we tell them there is only one way to God and that His name is Jesus. They hate us because we tell them that they are heading for Hell unless they repent and believe in Christ. They hate us because we are different, we are intolerant of sin and we’re not afraid to say so.
This begs the question: If we’re not hated by those who hate Christ, are we presenting a Biblically accurate picture of Him to those who do not believe?
In case you haven’t noticed, in South Africa there is an almost militant campaign by secular humanists and their twisted agendas to ostracise the Church and everything that we stand for. The opposition to the Gospel is growing, and it is going to become harder, not easier to be faithful to Jesus.
So what are we going to do when we are told that we can’t preach and proclaim the undiluted truth of God because it is a crime? What are we going to say when they tell us the Bible contains hate speech?
Are we going to stand firm, or are we going to buckle under the pressure of public opinion?
How are we going to answer Jesus when He says to us as He did to His disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
Will we be like those who fall away, or will we give the same answer as Peter did? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Before we all answer with a bold “yes,” we need to remember that later on this same Peter denied Jesus three times in one night.
Being faithful to Jesus is not easy, but we must remember that we have the Holy Spirit of God within us, urging, encouraging and equipping us for the challenges which lie ahead, whatever they may be.
Paul encouraged the Church in Rome by saying, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:12-18)
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Revelation 2:8-11
The Church in Smyrna is often called the Church of Martyrs.
How does this particular Church give us a picture of how the Church in general has suffered throughout history?
How does the way that Jesus introduces Himself in verse 8 give assurance to persecuted Christians?
Read John 15:18-25
Bearing in mind what Jesus teaches here, why do many Christians express shock and disbelief when hearing of or experiencing persecution in whatever form?
How have you personally been persecuted or ridiculed for your faith in Christ, and how did this affect your faith in Him?
How would you answer someone who says the Bible should be banned because it contains hate speech?
Discuss how the Church is being persecuted throughout the world today.
The agenda against Christ and His Church is gaining momentum in South Africa.
What can we do in order to prepare ourselves for the inevitable increase in hatred and persecution towards Christians?