Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered April 12, 2003 by Pastor Donald J. Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Smyrna: The Poor Little Rich Church

Revelation 2:8-11

You know, if Chattanooga and Knoxville were just 35 miles apart I can imagine there would be a lot of friendly competition. Which of these is the greatest? That's what they had. Two of the seven churches of Revelation were in a similar situation. Ephesus was a great city but so was Smyrna. Ephesus always considered it was number one in all of Asia. Each city was zealous for first place. But, Smyrna printed on their coins: "First in Asia in size and beauty." So what a friendly competition there. So, we're going to talk about church number two today. When we finally finish and Dr. Bauer winds this up, he will be talking about Laodicea, we'll have all these candles lit. And they're not candles, they are floating on oil. Little wicks like they did in Bible times.

Smyrna was a beautiful city. It had a really nice harbor. The harbor was deeper than the harbor of Ephesus. It wasn't all choked up with silt like their's was. And it had a narrow entrance that in time of war they could stretch a great chain across the entrance to that harbor and protect it. I think sometimes we need a chain across our great mouth occasionally.

Smyrna was situated at the foot of Mt. Pagus, a low hill, on top of which was a famous temple, the temple of Zeus. A street of "gold" wound its way up the slopes much like a lovely necklace. So, this was a beautiful city. Almost 200,000 people lived in Smyrna in Jesus' day. Today there may be 700,000 in that city. This city is not called Smyrna anymore, it's called Izmir by the Turks. Of the seven churches listed here in Revelation, only Smyrna remains today. The others are mostly ruins. For years, even in modern times this city had more Christians than any other city in Turkey. So, this is a famous church.

So, let's come now to Revelation 2:8. It says, "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him Who is the First and Last, Who died and came to life again. Did you know the church in Smyrna had its own angel? Is there an angel of the church of McDonald Road? Actually it means "messenger." Really, it's referring to the pastor, the minister, or to the church itself because we are all messengers of Jesus Christ.

And so, Jesus said that this fine city, which was first in Asia, was not first, because He goes on. "These are the words of Him who is the First "Your city is not first, Chattanooga doesn't mean anything. Jesus means everything. He is first." So, here we get our first lesson. And what a beautiful one: Jesus Christ needs to be first.

Jesus says, Him who is the first and the Last, who died and came to life again." That is significant. And, it's only significant if you really know the problems that Smyrna faced. They faced persecution. And, many of them had died. Jesus is saying, "I am the one who died and came back to life again." In fact, Jesus says in John 11:25, "I am the resurrection and the life." "I became dead, and I became alive."

Did you realize that Jesus had a part in His resurrection Himself? Did you knowthat? Did you think it was an angel who resurrected Him? No! Can angels give life? Was it the Father Who resurrected Jesus? Well, probalby He had a part. I think Jesus' resurrection was much like it was at Creation. Jesus had a part, the Father had a part, and so did the Holy Spirit. All Three worked together for jesus' resurrection. Well, look over here at John in your Bible. These are the words of Jesus. John 10:17,18. The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life--only to take it up again." Who took it up again? He did. "No one takes it from Me," You see, nobody killed Jesus on the cross, did they. Jesus was never killed. He gave His life. "Nobody takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from the Father." So, He with the Father and the Holy Spirit raised Him.

And, because He is the resurrection and the life, He can raise you to life if you were to die. And this was very significant to Smyrna because many of the Smyrnites had been killed. Many families had lost, so you can see how special Jesus is to this church. He was the One who was dead, just like many of them were. And yet, He is alive, a symbol of what would happen to faithful Christians. Jesus beat death. He beat death hands down. He conquered the greatest that we will ever face and so you can trust in Him.

To understand the deep meaning of this second thumbnail sketch of Jesus you would have to know something of the problems in Smyrna. Persecution was terrible in the early Christian church. And so, persecution. Persecution is terrible. We learned in Sabbath School that between fifty million and maybe one hundred million people have been persecuted as martyrs and losing their lives. It was bad in those days. From the year 100 to the year 313, a terrible persecution. There were ten major persecutions against Christians during this time. And the worst was the persecution of Diocletian.

One of the people who suffered the most was a pastor of the Smyrna church. His name was Polycarp. Have you ever heard of Polycarp? Polycarp was eighty-six years old. He was the pastor of that church. He had pastored the Smyrna church for forty years. I think, "Well, I've been here a long time. He's got my record beat." Forty years! And they came to get him one Friday night and he was murdered the very next day on Sabbath, February 23, 155 AD Poor Polycarp. A disciple of John. Martyred.

He was arrested on Friday night. They came and he said, "Are you hungry?" And they said, "Yes." "Let me have a meal cooked for you." So he had wonderful meal for them. And Polycarp spent his last hour in prayer. Then they took him. They took him to the great amphitheater where he met the governor. I love the governor's name: Status Quadratus. I kind of like that. The man was impressed with Polycarp. But he said, "All you have to do to save your life is just curse Christ. That's all. And we won't do anything to you." Polycarp said, "Eighty-six years I have served Him, and H never once wronged me. How then shall I blaspheme my King who has saved me?"

You know, we need Christians who would rather die than lie, Christians that would rather die than steal, that would rather die than hurt, who would rather die than commit adultery, or swear, or break the Sabbath, or hurt somebody else. Jesus wants the lampstand to be pure. He wants the flame to be clear and bright. He wants people who would rather die than sin.

As Polycarp entered the arena he heard a voice from heaven saying: "Be strong." And he was strong. The crowd shouted for him to be fed to the lions but they were already gorged from eating other folks and they weren't hungry for Polycarp. Some people said, "Let's burn him at the stake." Well, it was the Sabbath and you know you can't wait. If you are an Orthodox Jew you can't light a fire on the Sabbath. So because the Jews hated this Christian pastor so much they made the fire ready. They hated the good that Christians believed in. So, they gathered the wood on the Sabbath. They carried it and made the fire ready. As they were about to bind him to the stake Poly carp said, "Please don't tie me up. He who gives me the power to endure the fire will also grant me to remain in the flame." And so they didn't tie him up, and he stood there.

And they lit the fire. Folklore tells us that the flames parted around him like a tent. And he was protected. Finally the authorities had to thrust him through with their spears to kill him. It's an amazing story. Obviously it was no easy job to be a Christian in Smyrna. I'm glad to live in Tennessee. Jesus felt close to this poor suffering church.

Why were they persecuted in Smyrna? Because they would not compromise. They would not curse Jesus. They would not compromise the truth. Never, ever compromise the truth. If you know something is right, stand for it though the heavens fall. So they tried to root out this church. The Romans rigorously rooted out the hated sect, but the more they did it the number of Christians grew. They tried to exterminate the Christians. They tried to torture them. They tried to feed them to the lions, to burn them at the stake. They savagely mistreated the Christians. They broke into the homes of the Christians and vandalized their homes. And yet, the church grew.

At the very time when most of the church members faced torture, persecution or death here comes Jesus as the One Who was dead and lives again. Isn't that significant? Doesn't that give them hope? That ought to give us hope. We serve a Savior Who has experienced what we must endure.

Jesus is the first and last. He knows the first and the last of our life. He knows the ins and the outs of all that we face. If you suffer with excruciating pain, Jesus understands because He suffered severe pain. I know that many of you have suffered a lot. You've lost loved ones, you've experienced divorce, you've suffer terrible heartache. Let me tell you that Jesus has already walked the path you travel, or one that was even worse.

Jesus comes as the One who came back to life again! - Revelation 2:8. Because He lives, you will also live again. Your family who were killed by some wicked evil men or your son who lost his life in some tragedy will be raised back to life and if you are faithful to Jesus you will see them in newness of life some day soon. I Thessalonians 4:16-17. They will be brought back to life. You will see them again.

I can imagine that the message of Jesus to Smyrna will also apply to God's people in the last days who also go through the time of trouble.

Now, in Revelation 2 here in these four verses which are pertinent to Smyrna which verse contains the condemnation, the criticism that Jesus always gives to every church? Which verse is it? Do you see it there? Which verse vocalizes the faults of the Smyrna church? None! Not one. There is no criticism at all. Why not? This church was not criticized by Jesus. Do you know why? They have suffered enough already. They don't need criticism, what they need is love. And so He gives them what they need. Jesus is like that.

He come to each church with the needs of that church and provides them. So He only gives them words of praise. Only two churches of the seven have no criticism from Jesus. Smyrna and Philadelphia.

Revelation 2:9. "I know your afflictions and your poverty-- yet you are rich!" Jesus said, "I know what you're going through." Jesus knows all about us doesn't He? Some of you are going through things that are not public. Some of you are suffering some pretty private pain, some suffering that is in secret. And yet, Jesus know what you're going through. And He will help you.

Notice that the compliment Jesus has for Smyrna, the kind words that He says. It is just the opposite of His council to Laodicea. He says, "I know your poverty, and yet you are rich." For Laodicea what does He say? Laodicea claims to be rich but in reality they are poor. Smyrna seems to be poor but in reality they are rich. Jesus sees things just the opposite doesn't He? At the point in your life when you seem the poorest, you may actually be the best off. I'm glad that Jesus sees things differently than we do. You may think,"Well, I'm literally bankrupt." Jesus may say, "You know, you are at the high point in your life. You are rich in your spirituality. You're the best you've ever been. If we could just look at our life like Jesus looks at it.

James 2:5. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? There are two words for poor. You understand that, here in the Bible. One means you have just enough to get by, the other means that you are totally destitute. Which kind of "poor" is referred to here? Utterly destitute. And yet, that's exactly how Jesus came to this world. It says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, that Jesus became destitute that we might become rich. He is what we aren't.

Smyrna had the worst kind of poverty. They were checkbook-poor and spiritually wealthy. Everyone of these seven churches has, except for the two, had denunciation and discipline. And Smyrna doesn't because there is no fault. There is nothing to fix. And so you don't see anything in these verses to be fixed.

Well, let's go on with Revelation 2:9. He says, "I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." What is the synagogue of Satan? The church of Satan. Does Satan have a church? Yes! Its members are those who choose sin over choosing Jesus.

And John is saying that those who called themselves the assembly of God are actually the assembly of Satan. However, the Jews were often the instigators of false reports and slander leading to the extinction of thousands of Christians.

A lot of people get anti-Semitism from this. Shame on those people who hate the Jews. And yet, they take this very verse here and think, "Well, they are of the synagogue of Satan, so it's okay to hate them. No, it's not. Other people say that the Jews killed Jesus so it's okay to hate them. No, it's not. For us today to recycle ethnic hatred is sinful. We should never do that.

Jesus said in John 13:34, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." We're not supposed to hate anybody. And yet, the Christians were being lied about by Jews, by pagans. Do you know some of the lies that were told about them? Here are some examples of lies the Romans and Jews told about those early Christians:

Have you ever been Slandered? Your reputation gets injured when you are scandalized. When the real truth is twisted. You suffer don't you? Jesus also suffered when He was cut down by others.

Let's look at Revelation 2:10. "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days."

This is good news and bad news, isn't it. The bad news is that suffering will come. But the good news is that the dungeon experience will end. It will not go on forever but only for ten days. Normally, persecution usually ended in death, but this time it will end, and it's going to end in life, and it will be forever. Satan does have power. But Satan's reign of terror is limited, isn't it? God's power is forever! Praise God for that.

So is suffering and persecution God's will? No. The Bible says in 3 John 1:2 "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you." God desires freedom from pain for His children. But our mortal freedom brings the possibility of pain. Because of bad choices, we do suffer from wrecks, robberies, wars, burns, broken bones and broken hearts. Bad things happen to good people because of bad choices. Make sure your choices are right, that your choices honor Jesus Christ. Don't you overinflate the devil's power.

In Daniel 1, Daniel was tested for how many days? Ten days. Smyrna was actually tried for ten years, each day representing a year. (see Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6). We remember Constantine from the first Sunday law. But the Smyrnans hailed him a savior. Do you know what he did? One day in the fall of the year he looked up in the sky and saw a cross. And he had a dream. In this dream that he should be a Christian and so he converted to Christianity. He became a Christian. It was Constantine who ended the terrible persecution of Diocletian. So, Christians were thrilled for Constantine. "Praise God for this man! We don't have to suffer anymore." So the church grew during those persecution years.

Do you know that the blood of those martyrs was like fertilizer? Did you know that hard times are good for a church? Do you know what is bad for a church? Good times. It doesn't seem like that would be the case, but that is true. Good times are dangerous. And that's what we have now in America.

Revelation 2:10B. "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life."

In Bible times there were three kinds of crowns:

  1. A Diadem which was a royal crown,
  2. A Crown of Thorns which Jesus had. It was a mocking crown of pain.
  3. And a Victor's Crown. These were made of wreaths of olive branches, laurel, evergreens or celery. They were won by an athlete in a contest or game.
Which crown is Jesus talking about? The victor's crown! We will be classified as winners in the game of life. Never again will we face the enemy of death. Our victory is eternal. A king can only wear his crown a few short years until he stops being king. Then someone else will wear it. Our crown will belong to us forever!

Jesus does give this poor afflicted church wise words in three areas:

    We have here on our pulpit an ornate seven branch bronze candlestick. Jesus uses this very symbol to represent His seven churches, Rev 1:20. This candlestick is often called a Minora. Notice how fitting Jesus' illustration really is.
  1. Ephesus - on same branch as Laodicea. Ephesus is know for it's lovelessness, and Laodicea is known for its legalism. Similar opposing problems in these two churches.
  2. Smyrna - on same branch as Philadelphia. Both Philadelphia and Smyrna are alike. Neither of them have any criticism by Jesus. They are the only two of the seven that have no criticism. They're on the same branch connected together.
  3. Pergamum - on same branch as Sardis. These were both very bad churches. Hardly any praise. A lot of problems in these two churches. Both of them in a bad state of deterioration.
  4. Thyatira - on the center branch by itself. If you look in the Bible you can actually see that the description of Thyatira is twice as long as any of the other churches. It's in the middle. Thyatira also has two facets to it.

So, it's interesting, isn't it. They have similar problems, similar circumstances. And if you turn that minora upside down, You have this type of a shape (like a rainbow). If you were driving from Ephesus and you went to Smyrna and then you went over to Pergamum and Thyatira and Sardis and Philadelphia and Laodicea, You would be traveling in exactly that shape. This is interesting stuff. I could get into this a lot more.

I want to close by reading the last verse of the description of Smyrna. Revelation 2:11. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. None of you have even died the first death. Not one person here actually knows by experience what death is, do you? I don't believe in those experiences where the person dies and they went to heaven and an hour later they came back. I think they weren't really dead. If you really die, you are gone. And Jesus says, "If you overcome you will not be hurt at all by the second death."

What is the second death? To know what the second death is, you need to know what the first death is. The first death is what all of us face. The death that we will have to die id we live long enough. Someday, all of us will die the first death. How many of you have to die the second death? Not one of you. None of us have to die the second death because Jesus Christ has died the second death for us, hasn't He. He paid for that one. You might have to die the first death, but you don't have to die the second death as mentioned here in Revelation, because Jesus died that for you. If you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will be death-proof as far as the second death is concerned. Accept Jesus as you Savior. What a beautiful Savior we have. He is the One who died and lives again. And because of His death you can live again, eternally in heaven.

Sources:
Seven Churches by Jon Paulien
God Cares by C. Mervyn Maxwell
Unfolding Revelation by Roy Allan Andersen
The NIV Application Commentary by Graig S. Keenen
The Communicator's Commentary by Earl F. Palmer
The Revelation of John, Vol. 1 by William Barclay

Hymn of Praise: #15, My Maker and My King
Scripture: Revelation 2:8-10
Hymn of Response: #634, Come, All Christians Be Committed

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