Lesson 4 - The Church at Smyrna

Lesson 4 - The Church at Smyrna

(Revelation 2:8-11)

Jesus Christ opened each message with a description of Himself in His exalted position at the right hand of God the Father.  He declared Himself to be the “First and the Last, Who was dead and is alive.”  This statement speaks to the eternality of Jesus Christ as deity and to Jesus Christ as glorified humanity in one Person forever.  There was not a time when Jesus Christ did not exist as God, nor will there be a time in the future when He will not exist as God.  He was in the beginning with God the Father and with God the Holy Spirit.  Jesus Christ is the Self-Existent One, Almighty God.  (John 1:1-5)

Smyrna was a city north of Ephesus and was an important seaport.  Like Ephesus, Smyrna was a prosperous city.  Within the city there was a large Jewish population, a temple dedicated to the Roman emperor and temples for the worship of the pagan gods, Cybele, Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Bacchus and others.  It was therefore a very spiritually-corrupt city and a very dangerous place for Christians to live.  Christians were constantly being persecuted and killed for their faith.  Their property was often confiscated by the Romans because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Roman emperor by confessing, “Caesar is Lord.”  In spite of the danger, a local church had been established within this city (by whom we are not sure, probably the Apostle Paul).

Interestingly, Jesus Christ had no criticism of this church.  The church at Smyrna is often referred to as the “suffering church” or the “church of martyrdom” for obvious reasons.  The construction of verse 9 in Greek seems to lend itself to the following: “I know your works and tribulation, even your poverty and the blasphemy of them…”  The point is that tribulation is described by the words poverty and blasphemy.   The Greek word for tribulation is “thlipsin” and means affliction.  The Greek word for poverty is “ptocheian” and means destitute of material goods.  It is unlikely that these believers were always poor, since they lived in a very prosperous city and the context indicates that the poverty was due to affliction caused by unbelievers.   Jesus also added the phrase, “but you are rich).  This is an obvious reference to their spiritual wealth. 

The Greek word for blasphemy is “blasphemian” meaning slander.  The tribulation (affliction) that these believers were facing was poverty and slander by a group who said they were Jews, but were not. The slander must stay with the context, which would indicate that the slander that was leveled at these believers was political disloyalty to Rome (i.e. cast you into prison to be tried).  (Hebrews 10:34)

Jesus said that this group, who said they were Jews, was actually the “synagogue of Satan.” In this passage they claim to be Jews, but are not.  This could mean they were born Jews, as descendents of Abraham, but had not accepted the Messiah, Jesus Christ and were therefore the “gathering place” for Satan.  In other words, they were allowing Satan to indwell or to influence them because of their rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah.  There is a distinction in the Word of God between physical Israel and spiritual Israel. (Romans 2:28-29)

Revelation 2:10 is the encouragement verse from the Lord Jesus Christ to this church.  The suffering that this church was undergoing from the Jews and Romans in Smyrna was undeserved.  God allows undeserved suffering for many reasons:

  1. To develop faith - I Peter 1:6-7; Romans 5:3; II Corinthians 10:13
  2. To glorify God - Book of Job; I Peter 4
  3. To witness for Christ - II Timothy 2:8-10
  4. To manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit - II Corinthians 4:8-11
  5. To teach patience - Romans 5:3
  6. To teach obedience - Hebrews 5:8
  7. To give attention to our spiritual health - I Peter 4
  8. To demonstrate the power of God - II Corinthians 11:24-33,12:7-10
  9. So that we can comfort others - II Corinthians 1:3-6
  10. To give us a hunger for Heaven - II Corinthians 5:1-6

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.”  (I Peter 4:12)  The Word of God is very clear that all believers will, at some point in their lifetime, suffer.  This may come in the form of people-testing, disaster-testing or World System-testing.  Whichever you encounter, don’t be surprised or think that it is strange, it happens to all of us. (I Corinthians 10:13)

“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”. (I Peter 4:13)  In contrast to shock or surprise, a believer should have inner happiness in the midst of suffering. (Philippians 4:4; James 1:2)  We should have inner happiness because we are “partakers” of His sufferings.  Though our sufferings are not comparable to the suffering of Christ on the cross, they are comparable to His sufferings during His ministry.  If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was maligned and persecuted, we will be also.  (John 13:16; 15:20; 16:33)

The Crown of Life is reserved for all believers who pass the test of undeserved suffering.  This crown is attained by remaining faithful, even unto death, if necessary.  Only by using Bible doctrine and applying it to your experience, while in the midst of suffering, can you remain faithful.  Remember that all suffering is not divine discipline.  Some suffering is designed for our growth or in this case for eternal reward.  (James 1:12)

The writers of Scripture were very familiar with the Roman system of rewards for both the military and for athletic competition.  These are primarily the illustrations used throughout the New Testament to represent our eternal rewards as believers.  For example, the crowns of the King James English are actually wreaths. Some wreaths were worn on the head like a crown.  Some were battle medals or medals for winners in athletic competition worn on the uniform.  Both were for accomplishments at the maximum level.  Both carried with them immense honor and wealth.  Some were given land, some were made rulers over cities or estates, some received cash, but all were exempt from paying income taxes for life.  So, I believe it is easy to see why the writers used these wreaths to represent our eternal rewards. 

Jesus told these believers to fear none of things, which they were going to suffer. Everyone is susceptible to fear, even the mature believer. Fear is a mental attitude sin that shuts down thinking and makes application of Bible doctrine impossible.  When fear catches us off guard, it is important to know the correct recovery procedure or technique to stop fear in its tracks.

This technique is called faith-rest and involves claiming a Bible promise, applying a doctrinal rationale and reaching a doctrinal conclusion.  This is the reason it is so important that we all learn theology.  The nice stories and Christian principles will not sustain us in time of extreme difficulty or disaster.  We need Bible doctrine residing in our souls.  (Hebrews 4:9-16; Matthew 6:25-33; Philippians 4:6-9)

We cannot apply what we do not know.  Therefore, we need to be consistent in our intake of accurate Bible doctrine for the purpose of spiritual growth.  The results of studying and applying accurate Bible doctrine are:

  1. Confidence in our salvation - I John 2:3, 5:13, Isaiah 33:6
  2. Knowledge of God’s plan for our lives - John 7:17; John 15:7
  3. Stability in our Christian life - Isaiah 33:6; Ephesians 4:14
  4. Divine Viewpoint Thinking - Romans 12:1-2
  5. Hope (absolute confidence) for the future - Colossians 1:27; Titus 3:7
  6. Spiritual maturity - II Timothy 3:16-17, Ephesians 4:12-15
  7. Personal love for God - I John 4:7-21
  8. Impersonal love for all mankind - John 15:12-17
  9. Sharing the happiness of God - John 15:10-11
  10. Occupation with Jesus Christ - Hebrews 12:1-2; Ephesians 3:19
  11. Grace orientation - Ephesians 2:8-10; James 4:6

In Revelation 2:11 Jesus tells us that these messages are for all the churches and come with a promise.  The promise in this verse is directed toward the one who overcomes, which we have learned is the person who believes in Jesus Christ as Savior. (I John 5:4-5) The promise is that the believer will not experience the “second death.”  The second death is identified later in Revelation 20:14 and 21:8 as the eternal Lake of Fire of which the believer will have no part.  The Lake of Fire is eternal not only in its duration, but also in its punishment according to Revelation 19:10.  The Lake of Fire is the final abode of the Beast, the False Prophet, Satan, demons and all unbelievers.  (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 19:20, 20:10-15)