THE RICH LITTLE POOR CHURCH Revelation 2:8-11
The city of Smyrna, was located some 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was a prosperous city with a population of over 100,000 in John’s day. That location has been inhabited for over 3,000 years and no one knows for sure who founded Smyrna or when it was founded. The city was destroyed by a massive earthquake a few years before the birth of Jesus, but the city was rebuilt and thrived. It possessed a safe harbor, where ships from all over the world came to buy and sell goods. It was called “The Crown City” because it was surrounded by hills that resembled a crown. It was also called “The Flower Of Asia.” When the city chose a motto to be imprinted on their coinage, they chose the phrase “First in Asia in Size and Beauty.”
Several characteristics made the city of special in its day. First, it was famous for the production of myrrh. This substance came from a shrub-like tree that produced a bitter gum. When the leaves of this tree were crushed, they exuded a very fragrant odor. Myrrh was used as a fragrance by the living and an embalming agent for the dead. Myrrh was mentioned in association with the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, Matt. 2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39. The word myrrh means “bitter” and it came to be associated with suffering and death.
Among the other factors that made the city of Smyrna special include the fact that it was a planned city. Most cities of that day just sprang up without design. Smyrna and its streets were planned down to the last detail. It was a very religious city with many temples dedicated to the pantheon of gods and goddesses they worshipped. In fact, there was a street that was paved with gold that ran from the temple of Zeus to the temple of Cybele. While pagan religions dominated the life of Smyrna, there was also a thriving Jewish community there.
Smyrna was a free city. They governed themselves, but were intensely loyal to Rome. In this beautiful, wealthy pagan city, existed a struggling Christian community. The church in Smyrna was undergoing intense and withering persecution. The Lord Jesus comes to them with a word of comfort for their dark days. He tells them that even though they appear to be so weak and so poor, they are, in fact, rich beyond imagination.
Prophetically, this church pictures the terrible persecution inflicted upon believers by the Roman emperors between the years of 100 AD and 312 AD. Practically and personally, there is a word here for everyone who has ever or will ever suffer for Jesus’ sake. Let’s look at our Lord’s words to this struggling little congregation to find the encouragement we need to be able to stand when everyone else is against us.
I. v. 9b-10a SMYRNA WAS A CRUSHED CHURCH
It is easy to see that this church was going through intense problems because of their testimony for the Lord Jesus. They were letting their light shine in a dark world and they were being persecuted for it.
A. They Faced Persecution – Tribulation – The word means “pressure”. It was used in that day to refer to crushing an object under the weight of very heavy stones. The word “tribulation” comes from the Latin word “tribulum”. It refers to the stone wheels that were used to crush wheat to separate the kernel from the shell. This church was paying the price for their allegiance to Jesus. The pressure was on and they were suffering.
This persecution did not come from the pagans in Smyrna alone. Verse 9 tells us that they were also suffering at the hands of the Jews. The Jews in Smyrna joined hands with the idolaters in that city to defeat and destroy the Christians by whatever means necessary. Jesus calls them “the synagogue of Satan” and accuses them of blaspheme (slander) against these believers. Why did the people of Smyrna hate the believers so? There are several reasons.
1. The Jews and the pagans accused the Christians of cannibalism. Christians kept communion and part of that observance was eating the bread and drinking from the cup. These represented the broken body and the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor. 11:24-26.
2. The Christians were hated because their beliefs and practices often split families. This was what Jesus said would happen, Matt. 10:34-36. Thus, Christians were accused of being anti-family.
3. Christians were accused of being atheists because they did not worship the many gods of the pagans and because they used no statues and icons in their own worship. So, any natural disasters other calamities were blamed on the Christians for incurring the wrath of the gods.
4. Christians were accused of being political enemies of Rome because they refused to say, “Caesar is Lord!” Every Roman citizen was required to do this every year. To fail to do so brought severe punishment and even death.
B. They Faced Poverty – poverty – This word speaks of being “absolutely destitute”. These poor people had nothing of this world’s goods because of their relationship with the Lord Jesus. They were denied jobs and promotions because of their testimony. These people had nothing in a city that possessed everything. Imagine how Satan must have mocked these people. As they passed the ornate temples and walked down that golden street, surely he said, “Serving Jesus has cost you everything!” Can you hear him whisper to them, “Look at you! You are nothing and you have nothing. Give up on Jesus. You are starving! Deny Him and prosper!”
C. They Faced Prison – In verse 10, Jesus tells them that there is more trouble ahead! They will face more persecution. The “ten days” mentioned here might refer to the ten persecutions the Christians suffered under the Romans. Or, it might simply mean that they their persecution will be sever, but brief. Either way, they are informed that more pain and suffering is coming their way.
I. Smyrna Was A Crushed Church
II. v. 9a SMYRNA WAS A CONSISTENT CHURCH
Even tough they were paying a harsh price for their faithful love and service to the Lord Jesus, these people did not back up from their profession. They stayed the course and demonstrated a faithful testimony for the glory of God. Remember that Smyrna was famous for myrrh. It was only when the leaves of the tree were crushed that their fragrance was released. These people were being crushed under the terrible and terrifying pressure of persecution and they were releasing the fragrance of love and faithful to Jesus into the atmosphere of Smyrna.
A. They Had A Positive Testimony – Jesus sent seven letters to seven different churches. Five of the seven churches received words of rebuke and correction. Only this church and the church at Philadelphia received no corrective words. The Lord had been observing their walk and He was pleased. They were consistent!
B. They Had A Powerful Testimony – Jesus says to them “I know thy works” – The word “works” refers to that “business which occupies a person’s life.” In spite of all the darkness around them, these people continued to be a light for Jesus in the midst of an ever darkening world. They were not intimidated by their enemies; they were not frightened by the hatred of their opponents. They proved they were genuine and that their faith was real by the way they carried themselves in that society. Their testimony was powerful because they stayed the course and stuck to the task for the glory of God! They were a consistent church!
Regardless of what comes our way, we should ask the Lord to help us be consistent and faithful to Him. When we think of all that He has done for us, He deserves at least that much from us!
I. Smyrna Was A Crushed Church
II. Smyrna Was A Consistent Church
III. v. 8-11 SMYRNA WAS A COMFORTED CHURCH
Jesus comes to this persecuted church and gives them a message of comfort they desperately needed to hear.
A. v. 9a They Had The Interest Of Heaven – Jesus says “I know thy works” – The Lord of Glory has taken a personal interest in the church in Smyrna. The word “know” means “to know by experience.” Jesus is saying, “I know you folks are having it tough; but you need to know that I am in this with you. I experience everything they do to you. When they do it to you, they do it to me!” He is telling them that what they are going through is bigger than they are. He is telling them that Satan is using the evil people of Smyrna to attack Jesus through His church. He just wants them to know that they are not alone in their struggle.
I am glad that our Lord is with us every step of the way, Heb. 13:5. When we are attacked, He knows all about it because it touches Him too, Heb. 4:15. Thank God, He can help us weather the storms and endure the pain. He is always there to help His suffering saints, Heb. 2:18; John 14:16-18.
B. v. 8 They Had The Involvement Of Heaven – When Jesus comes to this church, He comes as “the first and the last”. He comes as He “which was dead, and is alive”.
If you will remember from chapter one, the title “first and last” identifies Jesus as the “I AM”. It labels Him as the One Who is in control of all things. The people in the church in Smyrna might have thought things were out of control, but they were in the hand of the Lord. Jesus is still Sovereign! Let the devil do whatever he pleases, he controls nothing! God is the One Who calls all the shots and lets Satan have what liberty he exercises against the people of God. He is a chained lion and that is all, 1 Pet. 5:8.
The statement “which was dead, and is alive” identifies Jesus as the One Who has been there. He is telling these saints that He knows what they are facing because He has already faced it. The people hated Him. They persecuted Him. They crucified Him. They poured out all their wrath, hatred and anger upon Him; and He prevailed! Since He is the One Who has been through the trials and conquered them all, He is able to help His people when they face the fires of persecution and hatred, Heb. 2:18; John 10:29; 2 Tim. 1:12.
None of us know what we will be called on the face before we leave this world behind. But, we have the blessed assurance that no matter what comes our way, our Lord has already been there. He has already secured the victory for us and He will meet us there when we arrive at that place. We are “more than conquerors through Him that loved us”, Rom. 8:37. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place”, 2 Cor. 2:14. Glory to God, I can face anything if I know He will be with me! “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
C. v. 9b They Had Their Investment In Heaven – Jesus says, “I know…thy poverty”. They were poor beyond belief, but then He adds this statement, “but thou art rich”. They may have lacked this world’s goods, but their faith and the faithful display of their testimony had purchased them treasures in Heaven. They were poor here, but they were rich over there! The world may have taken everything they had down here, but they had treasures on the other side that were safe from the hands of any enemy, Ill. Matt. 6:19-21. These people had nothing, yet they possessed everything, 2 Cor. 6:10.p
D. v. 10b-11 They Had Their Inheritance In Heaven – Their faith had purchased for them more than just a testimony here. Their faith had purchased eternal life for them in Heaven. Jesus is telling them that while they may lose it all down here, they might even lose their lives, but they will live forever over there. They may endure Hell on earth for a while, but there will be no Hell for them in eternity. He is telling them that they can’t die but once!
He promises them “a crown of life”. That word for crown refers to the “stephanos” or the laurel crown that was given to victors in the ancient Greek games. You see, this church looked like a bunch of losers to the world around them. In reality, they were mighty victors, waging spiritual warfare in the name of Jesus Christ! The day would come when they and their faith would be vindicated!
The lost man will die twice. He will live without God in this world and he will die. After death, he will go to Hell. Then he will stand before the Lord at the Great White Throne judgment and he will be sentenced to the Lake of Fire for all eternity, Rev. 20:11-15. That is the second death. The saints of God need never fear that happening to them. They have passed from death unto life, John 5:24. Their faith has bought them eternal life and they will be crowned with victory and glory when they arrive home. Thank God, there is far more waiting on us there than we will ever have down here!