Smyrna: A Faithful Church
Resources: Wiersbe; Vines; Criswell; Robertson; eSword Software
This is our Lord’s second of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. In these letters we have some helpful information about the kind of church God expects us to be and the knd of church true believers ought to be a member of. Let me say once again that you’re not saved by going to church. But, going to church is part of what God intends for how believers are to grow and mature in their Christian life. The Bible is clear that your church is very important in terms of equipping and encouraging you to become everything God has saved you to become.
The church of Smyrna was located in Asia Minor. Contrary to the church at Ephesus of the first letter, we have no information about the church in Smyrna whatsoever. There is no mention of it in any other part of the New Testament. We know nothing fromt the Bible about the church of Smyrna except what we find right here.
From history we know something about the city of Smyrna itself. It was located north of Ephesus on the Aegean Sea. It was a very beautiful city. In fact, some referred to it as the “Flower of Asia.” The modern city of Smyrna is known as Izmir with a growing population exceeding two million people. In those days the city of Smyrna was very well laid out. All of the streets had been planned, and there was beauty and splendor everywhere. For instance, the street that went from the Temple of Zeus to the Temple of Cybele was inlaid with gold.
The city was located on the slope of Mount Pagos. On top of Mount Pagos there were a number temples to pagan gods. There were flowers there and all kinds of beautiful gardens. When you approached the city of Smyrna, it seemed as if you were looking upon a crown, and thus was referred to as “the crown city.” This is interesting because in the tenth verse of this chapter it says that the Lord will give them a crown of life. So in this crown city there is a church that is like a crown. A church where the Lord says I will give you a crown of life.
The city of Smyrna was known for its faithfulness to all of its treaties. If you entered into a treaty with the city of Smyrna, they would keep their part of the treaty. They were very faithful to all of their allies. If Smyrna was an ally of yours, you could depend on them in times of need.
Faithfulness and dependability are wonderful traits. It’s good for a nation to be faithful. It’s good for churches to be faithful. It is good for Christians to be faithful. It is very important to learn this wonderful characteristic of dependability.
The main product that was produced in Smyrna and sold there was a product known as myrrh. The city itself is named after myrrh. If you take the “s” off of Smyrna and look at what you have left, you’ll get the picture. It is a name that is related to myrrh. Myrrh was a substance which, when you put it under pressure and when it was crushed, it gave forth a beautiful aroma. For that reason it was very important in many perfumes and as an embalming substance as well.
As an aside, myrrh played a part in the life of Jesus. When He was born, Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. On the cross when He was dying for our sins, the Bible says that they offered Him a drink of wine mingled with myrrh, which He refused. When Jesus was buried, Nicodemus brought spices and myrrh and aloes. It was a substance when you put it under pressure, when you crushed it, it brought forth a very pleasant fragrance.
Smyrna was a church that was going through a hard time. This church knew what it was to be under pressure, to be crushed. It was a struggling church, a church going through difficulties.
We must keep in mind today that there are churches going through hard times. We must always keep in mind that some of God’s people are ministering and serving in difficult places. The same thing is true about individual Christians as well. There are Christians who are struggling and they’re having a hard time.
There may be some places that don’t want you if you’ve got problems. Let me say to you, that if you’ve got problems, you can come to our church. We welcome you. If you’re going through difficulties, if you’re having hard times with inner turmoil in your life, we welcome you here. At CSBC you can find people who are sympathetic. Here you can find help for your circumstances and for your condition.
When you read about these seven churches, you will notice that sometimes the Lord has a complaint, a negative word He gives to them. But when you read this letter to Smyrna, you will not find a single negative word. All you will find is praise and encouragement.
There are times when we need rebuke. There are times when we need that negative word and to be challenged. There are some times when we need to be encouraged too. I’m praying that many of you will be encouraged in your heart by the message of Jesus to this church under pressure, the message to the church of Smyrna. As you listen to His word, you will find that God loves you, God is interested in you, God is working with you, and God will help you through the difficulties you are going through right now. You will be encouraged when you read:
I. JESUS’ WORDS OF SOLACE
The Lord begins by giving them a word of solace, words of comfort, a soothing message for their hearts. He begins it this way in v8, “These things saith the first and the last.” This is Jesus, the ultimate solace for a church and for our individual lives is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. What Jesus is saying is that whatever you’re going through I’m at the beginning of it and when it’s all over I want you to know I’ll be at the end of it as well.
On ancient maps sometimes when they came to uncharted waters and they didn’t know what was there on those ancient maps they would put “Here be dragons.” Take the uncharted waters through which you may be going, whatever may be the uncertainties of life today, in those uncertain places you can write, “Here be Jesus.” Whatever you’re going through Jesus is right there. He’ll be with you when the trouble starts, and He’ll be with you when the trouble is over.
I don’t know where you are in that situation today, but Jesus is the first and the last. He’s there at the beginning of it. He will be with you at the end of it. What a comfort to know we have Jesus who’s with us through all the storms.
Jesus said something else that is quite an encouragement. He not only said, “I’m the first and the last,” but He also said in v8, “…I was dead, and I’m alive.” Jesus died on that Roman cross, suffering for the sins of the whole world. He was buried, but we know that three days later He came out of that tomb and He is alive forevermore.
Of all of the other religions’leaders of the world, here’s what you have to say, “He was alive and he is dead.” Buddha was alive and he is dead. Mohammad was alive and he is dead. But of Jesus Christ, “He was dead and He is alive forevermore!” We have a living Savior! Because II know Jesus is alive that brings comfort, that’s solace to my heart. I have a living Savior I can come to and know that He understands and He cares. I am encourageded by His words of solace and:
II. JESUS’ WORDS ABOUT SUFFERING.
In v9 Jesus says, “I know thy works…” In other words Jesus knows all about it. Isn’t that good to know today? But notice He says, “I know thy works, and tribulation…” What Jesus is saying to the church here is, “I know the pressure you’re going through.”
The word “tribulation” is a word that means pressing together. It was used sometimes of the pressure of stones grinding grain into flour. Sometimes it was used of the press crushing grapes so the juice might flow. Sometimes it was used of a crushing weight that was put upon someone. Jesus said, “I know your tribulation. I know the pressure. I know you’re going through the mill.” This church and these believers were going through the mill.
You may be having pressure on the job and it’s weighing down on you. There may be the pressures of family problems that seem to nearly crush you. There may be inner pressures and turmoil that you are struggling with in your own life. Jesus says, “I want you to know that I know the pressure you’re under.”
Jesus not only says, “I know your tribulation.” He also says, “I know your poverty.” There were two words in the Greek language for poverty. One meant not to have all of the necessities you need. The other word is used here, and it means absolute, utter destitution. Not only to lack the necessities but to be totally destitute.
Jesus is saying to these believers in Smyrna, “I know the utter destitution you’re going through in your church in Smyrna.” Around that city were all of those magnificent temples where pagan gods were worshipped, all of the religions of those days with all of their luxury, and there on the on the other side of the tracks was the little congregation of Smyrna. They didn’t have anything. They were an utterly destitute, poor, congregation.
Today’s prosperity gospel probably wouldn’t have been real popular there. Today’s false gospel of prosperity says that if you live for Jesus, He will make you a financial success. That sounds good to people ears. They want to hear that if you’ll be the right kind of Christian that you will succeed and you’ll be prosperous in life.
That is appealing. Some people want to be a part of a church because of what they think they can get out of it. Some people say, “Go to that church. It’s good for business.” A lot of people have the idea of what they are going to get out of a church. Let me be clear to say that there is more to church than just what you get out of it. It is in and through your church that you are to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “I know your poverty.” But He goes on. He not only talks about their pressure and poverty, but He talks about their persecution. He says in v9, “I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” Did you know the Bible teaches the devil has his churches as well? He said they are the synagogue of Satan.
Evidently there in Smyrna was a group of people there who were claiming to be true followers of Jehovah God, but they were phonies. They were making fun of these humble, simple Christians in Smyrna who were faithfully living the Christian life. Do you know where most Bible believing, soul winning churches get criticism from? Normally, it’s not from the world. It’s from the religious crowd. Normally it’s those churches that don’t have any convictions about the Bible. It’s those churches that aren’t interested in winning people to the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s people are experiencing persecution in these days. During this pandemic, I believe Christians and churches are not being treated fairly. I want to be careful not to make out that we are victims. But even the Attorney General of the US has warned about encroaching of the constitutional rights of Christians and churches today.
In I Peter 4 we see what the Lord has to say about persecution in these days. Beginning in v12, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” In other words, he’s saying not to be surprised at this. V13 continues “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (14) If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. (15) But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. (16) Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” Regardless of how you are treated, don’t be ashamed of serving Jesus. Don’t be ashamed of standing up for Him. Be faithful for the Lord Jesus Christ. Let Him get Glory in your life!
He says, “I know the pressure you’re under. I know the poverty you’re experiencing. I know the persecution you’re going through.” Notice in the middle of v9. He said, “I know your works. I know your tribulation. I know you’re poverty.” And then in parentheses He says. “But thou art rich.” He just said that you are poor. You’re in poverty. Now He says, “You are rich.” He’s talking about the paradox between having very little things of the things of the world financially or materially, but being rich in spiritual things.
In II Corinthians 6:10, it says, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (Paradox).” “As poor yet making many rich (Paradox).” “As having nothing yet possessing all things.” There are riches that go beyond the material and the physical. There are riches which are in the realm of the spiritual. The Bible talks about being rich toward God. The Bible talks about being rich in faith, being rich in good works. How rich are you really? You are only as rich as you are rich in spiritual things.
In the book of Jude the Bible talks about your soul prospering. How prosperous is your soul? How prosperous are you in the things of the spirit, in the things of the Lord? We have wonderful Christians at CSBC, some who have a lot materially, some who don’t. But whether they have a lot materially or not, there are many wonderful believers in this fellowship who are rich in the things of the Lord, in spiritual matters. All that really matters is how rich you are toward God.
I read about a man who had given large sums of money to his church, and then the depression hit and he lost everything. A friend said to him, “I guess you regret now giving all that money to your church.” The man said, “Oh, no. I don’t regret it at all. That’s really all I’ve got left.”
You can lay up treasure in heaven. You can be rich toward God. Here was this struggling church at Smyrna, and yet they were rich in the things of the Spirit. A church ought to be a place where God’s people are rich in spiritual things, rich in faith, rich in love, rich in good works.
Jesus said, “I know all that you’re going through.” In v10 He says “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer.” Notice He says, “Thou shalt suffer.” He’s saying to them that there’s more to come. He’s saying to these believers, “Fear none of those things you’re going to suffer.”
Remember this: God doesn’t always give us explanations of what’s going on. When you’re going through it, God doesn’t always explain it. God’s people don’t live by explanations, we live by promises. We have the promises of God and the explanations will come later.
He said, “Fear none of those things that thou shalt suffer.” He’s saying be fearless. Someone has said that there are 365 times in the Bible where it says, “Fear not.” Which means for every day of the year God has a “Fear not.” Whatever you’re going through, whatever you may suffer, God says that you don’t have to be afraid. “Fear none of those things.”
Some of you, Jesus says in v10, are going to be tried for ten days. From a historical point of view this was a period of time of great persecution. In those years some Christians were crucified. Some were thrown to wild dogs. On some occasions they were placed in pots of boiling oil. Sometimes they were sewn up in leather skins with poisonous snakes. The suffering that they endured was unimaginable, unbelievable. But God says, “I want you to know that you’ll be tried ten days.” What that tell us is that God puts a limit on suffering.
Whatever you’re going through God has put a limit on it. When you have been tested and God has allowed you to go through the fire and you have stayed true to the Lord Jesus Christ, God says, “That’s the end of it. No more.” He’ll take you out of it. That is a word of encouragement about suffering! To this church under pressure we find encouragement for today in Jesus’ words of solace and in His words about suffering. And finally we can find encouragement in:
III. JESUS’ WORDS ABOUT SUCCESS
At the end of v10 it says, “Be thou faithful unto death.” That’s God’s message to Christians who are going through hard times. That’s God’s message to Christians who struggle. “Be thou faithful unto…” The word “unto” means even up to the point of. Up to and all the way to death. Many of these people did die for their faith in the Lord.
You may not be called upon to die for your faith in the Lord. But you may be called upon to go through hard times for the Lord. “Be thou faithful.” Faithfulness. Look for a church where there is faithfulness. CSBC has a host of faithful, dependable people here. You can be counted on.
Faithfulness is not a glamorous characteristic. You’re not ever going to be famous by being faithful. Yet the Bible says in I Corinthians 4:2, “Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
In Matthew 25:21, Jesus says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Jesus is saying, “You be faithful. Stick and don’t stray. Be trustworthy. Be dependable.” That’s what God needs in His churches today. He needs God’s people who are faithful.
Jesus gives a word to the overcomers in v10. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” In those days when a king came to visit Smyrna, they would give him a crown. One of these days Jesus is going to come and instead of Him receiving a crown He’s going to give a crown to those who were faithful. Don’t you want the crown of faithfulness?
Then Jesus concludes this letter saying in v11, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
There was an old pastor of the church of Smyrna named Polycarp. He was a disciple of John the beloved disciple of Jesus. Polycarp was called upon to renounce his faith in Christ. He refused to do so. They tied Polycarp to the stake, and said, “If you don’t renounce the name of Christ, we’re going to light the fire and you will be burned.” Here’s what that 86-year-old pastor Polycarp said, “Eighty and six years I served my king and He has never wronged me. How then can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?” They lit the fire and he died a martyr’s death.
Did you notice that last part of v11: “Shall not be hurt of the second death.” In Revelation 20:14 it says, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” The lake of fire, hell. “Fire and brimstone” chapter 21:8, says. This is the second death.
In chapter 20:6, it says, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power.” Do you know what that’s saying? That’s saying if you are born again, if you’re saved, the second death has no power over you.
If you’re born only once, you’ll die twice. First death, second death. If you’re born twice, you’ll die only once. If all you have is a physical birth, and you are never born again, you’ll die physically and spiritually, the second death. If you are born twice, if you’re born physically and born again in Jesus Christ, you’ll die only once. You may die physically, but praise God, you’ll not be touch by the second death.
One of these days the resurrection is going to come and you’re not going down, you’re going up!