Bryan Jones |

Jesus commends the church in Smyrna for their faithfulness in difficult times and encourages them that suffering is temporary and to remember what awaits.

Jesus at the Center of the Church
Suffering • Message 2
Bryan Jones
August 20, 2023

A. Introduction

Characteristic of Jesus

Today we are continuing in week 2 of Jesus at the Center of the Church and we are looking at the church in Smyrna. The church is facing hardship and suffering.

I wanted to show you a video of one of our students, Lydia Owens. She spoke at her graduation and her speech went viral, and I wanted to show you a part of it…

What I love is how God used the suffering and hardships in her life to bring something good and transformative. Another thing I love is she is currently teaching our middle school students down at the South Campus this morning.

I want you to know if you are facing something, that some of the setbacks in your life that you are facing are setups to some of God’s richest works in your life WHEN YOU KEEP JESUS AT THE CENTER. Those bad things become some of the biggest ways God brings power and maturity in your life when He’s at the center.

This is part of what we see with this church in Smyrna.

It’s interesting, the name Smyrna comes from the word myrrh which was a sweet-smelling perfume used to embalm dead bodies… and Smyrna’s faith was a sweet smell to Jesus when they experienced suffering hardship.

Also, Smyrna was deserted for 300 years, it was called old Smyrna and then Alexander the Great came in, rebuilt it and brought it back to life. So, Jesus is saying what was once dead was brought back to life, of course referencing Himself and Smyrna

Revelation 2:8 (NLT)
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the One Who is the First and the Last, Who was dead but is now alive:”

Angel = pastor or the leader of the church… he would have been the one to read this letter to the church.

First and last, this is a reference to Jesus as enteral… He has no begging and no end.

Dead and alive refers to the fact that they served the risen Lord. And this is important because many of the people in Smyrna are facing persecution and many would have to give up their lives to follow Jesus. So, it’s Jesus’ way of saying, keep Me at the center.


The ancient city of Smyrna became today’s modern İzmir (Ees-meer), the third largest city in Turkey. Smyrna and Ephesus were both port cities, they were coastal cities.

This was a large, beautiful and proud city. It was a center of learning and culture. It claimed to be the Glory of Asia. Smyrna was a great trade city. It had an especially rich trade in wines. Smyrna, like Ephesus, was a city of wealth and commercial greatness.

During the time of this letter, Domitian was the emperor, and he was a brutal man. He wanted to be called Lord and God, and he hated Christians and wanted them to be persecuted. The church at Smyrna faced even more opposition than most, due to the strong influence of emperor worship in the city, which at that time was required by law and punishable by imprisonment or death.

The Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) was the first to demand worship under the title Lord from the people of the Roman Empire as a test of political loyalty. 

Roman worship was a part of the culture but for a while it was optional, however, in Smyrna, it later became a requirement.

In fact, in A.D. 23 Smyrna won the privilege (over 11 other cities) to build the first temple to worship Emperor Tiberius Caesar. Smyrna was a leading city in the Roman cult of Emperor worship.

All that the Christians had to do was to burn a small amount of incense, say Kaiser Kurios – which means Caesar is Lord, receive their certificate, and go away and worship as they pleased. THEY WERE TRYING to put Caesar at the center.

Jesus spends time commending and correcting churches in His letters, but the church of Smyrna and the church of Philadelphia are the two churches that He doesn’t correct, He only commends… and He’s going to be really commending/encouraging one thing…

B. Commends… (Revelation 2:9-10. C/R: James 1:2-4)

1. Faithful in the difficult times.

Sometimes people say things they think are helpful, but they aren’t…

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
There are other fish in the sea.
One day you’ll thank me for this.
It’s not you, it’s me.

Revelation 2:9 (NLT)
“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! ...” 

That word for suffering literally means pressure… it’s the idea of olive being pressed to produce oil…

It’s like Jesus goes, hey I know you’ve lost everything… but you are rich… this is outlandish because God knows you cannot fully grow or mature without trials or tests.

Following Jesus cost something to these people… they had their possessions taken and they were suffering…

A theologian said In Smyrna above all places, for a man to enter the Christian Church was literally to take his life in his hands. In Smyrna the church was a place for heroes.

Their faith cost them something and they didn’t give up in the difficult times… they didn’t start questioning God they entered in…

The devil wanted to destroy them… notice it says,

Revelation 2:9b-10 (NLT)
“… I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

Some think the reference to Satan’s synagogue is a reference to emperor worship. Regardless Satan was trying to destroy their faith… but God was going to deliver them through the difficult time…

But this is what’s so important that Jesus says and most of us won’t like it… Jesus knows you cannot grow your faith without trials.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Notice when we say it’s tested, we say we serve God, we want to grow, we want more…we’ve sung about it, we’ve proclaimed it, we’ve read about it. This is the test. See, testing calls our faith to the witness stand.

Count it all joy my brethren when you encounter trials… notice the word brethren. He’s talking to Christians. The word perfect means mature. The goal of trials is maturity.

When a goldsmith heats up gold, do you know when he knows it’s ready? It is when he heats up the gold enough that he sees his reflection in it… and what God will do is He will allow things to come into your life… He will allow some heat to separate out the impurities and the sin so that He can see His reflection in you… trials mature us to the image of Christ.

The devil doesn’t want you to know something… see James says Count it all as joy …for you know what’s going to be produced because of the pain…

Can I say, I question anyone who says birth is beautiful? It’s awful. And after watching one birth, I can never imagine someone ever going through that again… but they do, sometimes 4-5 times. Why? Because they know that pain produces something amazing.

And Satan doesn’t want you to know the pain you are walking through produces something amazing…

Anxiety… 4th of July… I remember reading this… and going, it’s real…

If you are going through a difficult time, let me encourage you that the fact that you are here shows your faith is real.

So, James is saying you can thank God for the difficulty because God is going to produce something great.

So, these Christians in Smyrna are being persecuted and God is telling them not to be afraid… not to bow down to the pressures of the world… the pressure that we are facing.

The year after Polycarp returned from Rome, a great persecution came upon the Christians of Smyrna. His congregation urged him to leave the city until the threat blew over.

The chief of police issued a warrant for his arrest. When the soldiers found him, they were embarrassed to see that they had come to arrest such an old, frail man. They reluctantly put him on a donkey and walked him back to the city of Smyrna. The police chief and other government officials tried to persuade Polycarp to offer a pinch of incense before a statue of Caesar and simply say Caesar is Lord. That’s all he had to do, and he would be off the hook. But he refused.

The horrid games at the arena had already begun in earnest and a large, bloodthirsty mob gathered to see Christians tortured and killed. One Christian named Quintis boldly proclaimed himself a follower of Jesus and said he was willing to be martyred, but when he saw the vicious animals in the arena, he lost courage and agreed to burn the pinch of incense to Caesar as Lord. Another young man named Germanicus didn’t back down. He marched out and faced the lions and died an agonizing death for his Lord Jesus. Ten other Christians gave their lives that day, but the mob was unsatisfied. They cried out, Away with the atheists who do not worship our gods! To them, Christians were atheists because they did not recognize the traditional gods of Rome and Greece. Finally, the crowd started chanting Bring out Polycarp.

Take the oath and revile Christ [all they wanted him was to say the word. All he had to say was Kaiser Kurios – which means Caesar is Lord] and I’ll set you free!

Polycarp answered, For eighty-six years I’ve served Jesus; how dare I now revile my King? He said to his executioners, It is well. I fear not the fire that burns for a season and after a while is quenched. Why do you delay? Come, do your will.

They arranged a great pile of wood and set up a pole in the middle. As they tied Polycarp to the pole, he prayed: I thank You that You have graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour, that I may receive a portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of Your Christ. After he prayed and gave thanks to God, they set the wood ablaze. A great wall of flame shot up to the sky, but it never touched Polycarp. God set a hedge of protection between him and the fire. Seeing that he would not burn, the executioner, in a furious rage, stabbed the old man with a long spear. Immediately, streams of blood gushed from his body and seemed to extinguish the fire. When this happened, witnesses said they saw a dove fly up from the smoke into heaven. At the very same moment, a church leader in Rome named Irenaeus said he heard God say to him, Polycarp is dead. God called his servant home.

What do you do if you are going through a difficult time…

C. Encouragements in pain… (Revelation 2:10-11)

1. Suffering is TEMPORARY.

Revelation 2:10a (NLT)
“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. …”

Over 500 times it says in the Bible don’t be afraid… but why, because God is with us. Remember David says, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and let me just say this, you will get through it. Remember, if you are going through a difficult time, it’s temporary. Remember what He says, it’s 10 days… it’s not forever… and God is with you.

2. Remember what AWAITS.

Revelation 2:10 (NLT)
“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”

Only this church among the seven survives today, and it has survived through centuries of Roman and Muslim persecution.

Kaiser Kurios would have saved the people of Smyrna some pain… but it’s short-term. Jesus says to look for the bigger, better thing… When you chose to put Jesus at the center, notice what it says! But also, there is a crown of life… meaning eternity awaits for all of us. Don’t give up.

You go, how can that happen? Let me just remind you who serve… you serve a God Who is the First and Last… Who died and came to life…. He is a God Who took the cross an instrument of evil, torture and shame, and made it the greatest symbol of hope the world has ever seen!  That’s why He says to keep Jesus at the center.

[Production Note: None of the following goes on the screens.]


1. Weight of persecution.

2. Weight of life.

If you are in a season of pressure, I believe God wants to speak to you.

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