Introduction: New series entitled, “Can you hear me?” (Revelation 1:1-3)
The series subtitle, Letters from God, refers to Jesus’ letters to the 7 churches. (Revelation 2-3).
- Today’s title is God’s Letter to the Suffering.
- Theme verse: 2 Timothy 3:12 (NLT)— Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
- Revelation 1:1–2 tells us that Jesus communicated this revelation to John on the island of Patmos (in the Aegean Sea; Revelation 1:9) through an angel.
- Revelation 1:3 (NLT)—God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and He blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.
- Jesus warned the churches about coming destruction, which occurred during Passover in 70 A.D., when Roman general Titus destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including the temple, slaughtered 1.1 million people and enslaved 97,000 people (Matthew 24).
- This description of 70 A.D. destruction foreshadows the devastation of Jesus’ 2nd
- Jesus, through John, exposed the errors, sins and weaknesses in these congregations, located in what was referred to then as Asia Minor (a Roman province, today western Turkey) and encouraged preparation for suffering through authentic faith.
The Message to the Church in Smyrna: (Revelation 2:8-11)
#1 – Greeting: (Revelation 2:8; C/R: John 11:25–26; Romans 6:9; Hebrews 2:14–15)
- Revelation 2:8a (NLT)—“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna.”
- The Greek word translated ‘Smyrna’ (lit., “bitter”) was used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the Hebrew word for myrrh, a resinous substance used as a perfume for the living (Matthew 2:11) and anointing the dead (John 19:39).
- Myrrh is produced by crushing the fragrant plant; the church at Smyrna, crushed by persecution, gave off a fragrant aroma of faithfulness to God.
- Smyrna was a seaport city about fifty miles north of Ephesus, the second largest city in Asia minor (after Ephesus) with a population of 200,000, and was which was regarded as the most beautiful city in Asia Minor.
- It exists today as the Turkish city of Izmir, with a population of approximately 4 million.
- Scripture does not provide information about the founding of this church, but it was likely established by Paul’s converts during his ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).
- A strong ally of Rome, the city was a center for emperor worship, which caused persecution, even death, when Christians refused to declare “Caesar is Lord” and offer a yearly sacrifice of incense to the Roman ruler.
- : Last week’s Soul Training was to hear and record your own Letter from God.
- The first assignment was to discover the way God addresses you, which could be your name or some other phrase He uses to identify you.
- : God calls me, “His son,” which is particularly meaningful to me, because I have never had a close, or even a positive, relationship with my own father.
- This is important because the core issue for many of us, that leads to mistakes and misdirection in our lives, is that we don’t know who we are in God’s eyes.
- God must tell us who we are to Him—which is our true identity—so we must learn how to listen—and hear!(This is a process; it takes practice: ask, listen, write response.)
- Revelation 2:8b (NLT)—“This is the message from the One who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:” [Repeat of what John heard in the vision of Revelation 1:12-20.](Romans 6:9; John 11:25–26; Hebrews 2:14–15)
- It was customary in ancient letters for the writer to identify Himself at the beginning of a letter, instead of signing his name at the end.
- The First and the Last is an Old Testament title for God (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12), so it affirms Jesus’ equality with God as eternal, infinite, God who existed before all things were created, and will continue to exist after all of creation is destroyed.
- The phrase, who was dead but is now alive, refers to Jesus’ sacrificial death after becoming human, then being resurrected to an unending life.
- This statement communicates comfort to Christians at Smyrna, who were being persecuted, even unto death, because Jesus had experienced and prevailed, over death.
In this letter, Jesus offers an…
#2 – Affirmation: (Revelation 2:9; C/R: John 15:20; Romans 2:28–29; 2 Corinthians 8:9; James 2:5)
- Revelation 2:9a (NLT)—“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! …” [John 15:20; 2 Corinthians 8:9; James 2:5]
- The church at Smyrna faced intense pressure because of their faithfulness to Jesus.
- When Christians who refused to burn incense and declare, “Caesar is Lord,” they were persecuted by Rome and attacked by other citizens of Smyrna.
- Their refusal to worship the emperor resulted in, not only imprisonment, but also having their possessions confiscated, not being employed by other Rome-supporting merchants, and, not being allowed to sell what they produced, so they suffered, not only physically, but also financially, so they experienced extreme poverty.
- These Christians also refused to worship of any of the Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Asklepios, and Cybele, the local goddess and protector of the city.
- Because they worshiped an invisible God, these believers were denounced as atheists and rejected from Smyrna’s business and social life, which revolved around devotion to these Greek idols.
- APP: What are our culture’s idols? Are you excluded from business opportunities because of your rigid integrity? Are you left off of invitation lists because you refuse to laugh at immorality? How are you treated when you refuse to worship cultural idols?
- Revelation 2:9b (NLT)—“… I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.”
- In Smyrna, the Jewish religion was accepted by Rome and did not have to worship the emperor, but still, the large Jewish community rejected and opposed Christians there.
- Jews who rejected Jesus were guilty of blasphemy (speaking evil against God)—and in their harsh treatment of Christians and opposing Jesus—were following Satan, as much as the idol worshipers. (John 8:42-44; Romans 2:28–29).
- Jews accused Christians of cannibalism (because of the Lord’s Supper), immorality (because of the holy kiss greeting; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26), and breaking up homes (when one spouse converted and other did not; Luke 12:51-53).
- Any religion that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as God’s Son is acting contrary to God’s will; there’s no middle ground! (1 John 4:2-3)
- Despite their suffering and material poverty, Jesus referred to these people as rich because they received salvation, holiness, grace, comfort and peace through the Spirit.
- : When I am struggling, do I see myself as poor or rich, blessed or cursed? A victim of circumstances or a victor through Christ?
In this letter, Jesus issues a…
#3 – Challenge: (Revelation 2:10a; C/R: Psalm 56:11; John 16:33; James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 4:12–14)
- Revelation 2:10a (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.”
- Some of these believers would be imprisoned and tried as traitors to Rome, but their trial would not last long. [Ten days signifies “a brief time;” Genesis 24:55; Acts 25:6]
- Jesus knew what His people were facing and He would enable them to endure it.
- By successfully enduring that trial, these believers would prove the reality of their faith, be strengthened—and prove once again that Satan cannot destroy genuine saving faith.
- It has always been Satan’s plan to attack God’s children and to attempt to destroy their faith, but he will never succeed. (Psalm 56:11; John 16:33; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-14)
- If we are true born-again believers, we have been changed, transformed; we can’t deny who we are!
- God’s Spirit will strengthen, sustain, and comfort us during any and every trial!
- : Do you gripe and complain or seek God—and find peace—when suffering?
In this letter, Jesus promises…
#4 – Rewards: (Revelation 2:10b-11; C/R: 2 Corinthians 4:16–18; James 1:12; Revelation 20:6.14-15)
- Jesus did not criticize this church at all; He closed this letter with words of encouragement and a reminder of reward.
- Revelation 2:10b (NLT)—"But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”
- The reward for faithfulness in the face of oppression is eternal life.
- Perseverance in the midst of suffering proves the genuineness of faith.
- Revelation 2:11a (NLT)—“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches. …”
- This phrase, which closes all 7 of Jesus’ letters to the churches, stresses our need to hear and obey what God says to us individually or through the Bible.
- Revelation 2:11b (NLT)—“…Whoever is victorious [overcomers, all Christians] will not be harmed by the second death.” [2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Revelation 20:6,14-15]
- Persecuted believers may suffer the first (physical) death, but they will never experience the second death (eternal damnation, separation from God in hell)—and they will be rewarded by God upon reaching heaven!
- : Are you comforted when experiencing difficulties because you know what awaits you in heaven? (James 1:12)