“Message to Smyrna: Comfort to a Suffering Church Part 2”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Revelation 2.8-11 Part 2
Revelation 2. The author of the book of Revelation is the apostle John. One of the apostle John’s disciples was Polycarp.
Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, the very city to whom the letter in vv. 8-11 was written. Polycarp would’ve been young when this letter was written.
Nevertheless, Polycarp is an example of what we’re discussing today: Polycarp was not afraid of suffering and was faithful until death. RA Torrey recounts Polycarp’s final moments…
Polycarp not afraid:
Long, long years ago over in Western Asia, there was an old man ninety-five years of age (Polycarp) with long beard hanging down upon his bosom, and long white hair hanging down upon his neck. A new Roman governor came to Smyrna who bitterly hated Christianity and determined to stamp it out of his province. His councillors said to him, “If you are going to stamp out Christianity, you would better deal with Polycarp, for he is the best and most influential Christian in Smyrna.” Polycarp was away from Smyrna in the country at the time but the governor sent for him and had him dragged to Smyrna. When Polycarp was brought before the governor, he said to him, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes, I am a follower of Jesus.” “But,” said the governor, “you must renounce Jesus and sacrifice to the idols or I will throw you to the lions and they will tear you limb from limb.” But Polycarp refused saying, “Bring them.”
The governor grew more angry and said, “Unless you renounce Jesus, I will have them burn you at the stake.” Polycarp replied, ‘You threaten me with a fire that burns for an hour and is speedily quenched; so you know nothing of the fire of the judgement to come and of the eternal punishment which is reserved for the wicked. Why delay? Give your orders.”
Polycarp also said…
“These eighty and six years have I served my Lord and He never did me any harm, and I cannot deny my Lord and Master now.”
They took old Polycarp out and tied him to the stake. They piled the wood around him and they came with a torch and touched the light to the wood. Hotter and hotter grew the flames and Polycarp’s flesh began to burn, but the aged saint stood there triumphant, rejoicing to suffer for the name of Jesus.
Christ’s letter to Smyrna predicted the suffering of those in Smyrna. We can picture a young Polycarp receiving this letter’s counsel: do not be afraid of suffering, be faithful until death.
Revelation 2:8–11 8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. 11 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.
Do not be afraid of suffering, be faithful until death.
Last time we discussed how to find comfort in suffering.
Know Jesus’ character…he is eternal. Verse 8, “These things saith the first and the last.” Know Jesus’ character. But also to find comfort in suffering…
Know Jesus’ works. Verse 8 … “These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive. Ironically, the eternal one dies.
By mentioning His death, Jesus identifies with His suffering people. He cares!
By mentioning His resurrection, we identify with His promise to resurrect us. He’ll raise His suffering people from the dead.
And …to find comfort in suffering…
Know Jesus knows…
Revelation 2:9 9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
He knows the believers’ poverty, spiritual riches, and any slander you experience from lost people because you’re a Christian. He knows if others are telling lies about you because you’re Christian.
So in order to find comfort in trials and in suffering, especially those suffering as Christians, you need to know Jesus is eternal, you need to know and deeply understand his death and resurrection and you need to know that Jesus knows.
That Jesus’ counsel to suffering servants.
If you’re suffering and you don’t take his counsel, your choice.
But don’t complain if you think that God hasn’t given you comfort in your suffering.
This morning, the focus is the two commands in verse 10.
“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer.” Do not fear suffering.
Last part of the verse, “Be faithful unto death.”
TRANS: Jesus comforts His suffering servants… why? So we don’t have to fear suffering…
Do not fear suffering (2:10a)
Revelation 2:10 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: …
Through Jesus’ comfort, we do not have to fear.
Jesus comforting his suffering people helps us not to fear.
They has already been suffering persecution, slander, poverty and now there’s more….pressures just keep coming, they don’t stop. But fear none of them!
EXP: What are they about to experience?
Prison and tribulation. Verse 10… behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days
So not only are they suffering persecution slander and poverty, now Jesus is telling them that some of them will be thrown into prison and it will be a very difficult time for 10 literal days.
The devil is the one who is behind persecution. “The devil will throw some of you into prison.” This says very clearly that the devil, Satan is active in persecution.
Satan is active in persecution .
That’s very clear in the next letter, in Christ’s letter to Pergamum in Revelation 2:13. Jesus tells them…
Revelation 2:13 13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
Antipas was a faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where was that? Where Satan lives.
The implication seems to be that Satan is active in persecuting his people.
1 Pet. 5:8-9 is even more clear…
1 Peter 5:8–9 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
And you also remember Satan was active in torturing Job. Likewise Paul the apostle had a thorn in the flesh which he called the “messenger of Satan.”
Satan is also active in accusing, slandering his people
Revelation 12:10 10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
And you remember that Satan entered into Judas in order to persecute Jesus.
So clearly, Satan is active in the persecution of God’s people. God’s people may experience anything from slander and lies and false accusation to physical torture, imprisonment, or even death.
TRANS: But … One day, Satan himself will be bound in prison.
One day Satan himself will be bound in prison (rev. 20)
Revelation 20:2 2 And [an angel from heaven] laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
TRANS: …So don’t fear! Satan will suffer defeat!
Do not fear it.
EXP: But concerning physical suffering, it is very easy to be afraid. No one likes to receive a needle or surgery but so often these things are good for us. Like that, suffering is good for Christians.
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus learned obedience through the things that he suffered. And it was good!
Job learned endurance in suffering.
God is disciplining us during suffering so that we can share in his holiness. Because it is clear from the Bible that the Lord disciplines the one that he loves. So we grow to be more like Jesus through suffering and that’s because that in suffering, we are taught to obey the word of God Psalm 119 verse 67 says.
Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.
James 1:2-4 tells us that trials produce endurance. And so Paul can even say that we can rejoice in sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope, that is confidence about the future because of God’s promises.
And if you are suffering, God has comfort for you. And if you receive God’s comfort, he will help you comfort others who are suffering any trouble with the same comfort that he comforted you with, just as 2 Corinthians 1:4 says. And of course suffering helps you not to trust in yourself, but to rely upon God 2 Corinthians 1:9.
And so if you are suffering these are the meditations from Scripture that will teach you to suffer properly. Suffering is not a bad thing, although it is unpleasant.
EXP: and so it is very clear that we are not to fear suffering.
Again, Jesus tells the suffering Christians in Smyrna, “fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer.”
If you are called upon not to fear suffering, of course that means that you ought not fear lesser things.
ILL: There are some strange phobias out there. There are common ones like called claustrophobia (the fear of tight places), and Acrophobia is an excessive fear of heights. Anthrophobia, the fear of flowers, Arithmophobia the fear of numbers,
Cyberphobia – Fear of computers
Chronophobia – Fear of Time
Genuphobia – Fear of knees
Ornithophobia – fear of birds
Scolionophobia – Fear of school
… my kids probably suffer from that one.
But Christians should not even fear suffering, let alone these things.
ILL: I used to think and pray, “Lord make me like Christ, but please just use the Bible!” No, suffering is part of it! Do not fear it!
So we need to be prepared to suffer not only the normal things of life, but also suffer persecution. We are in a little window of time in our little neck of the woods in Western culture where right now at least we don’t have much persecution. We do have some mocking and that is becoming more and more commonplace.
And even that, the Lord does not overlook
Matthew 5:11 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
We need to be ready for persecution to increase; may God give us men in pulpits willing to take a stand, and to receive the worst of the devil. And may God give people in the pew who stand with them and are willing to serve Christ no matter the cost.
That’s what it’s going to take in coming generations, unless the Lord brings revival.
TRANS: We are not to fear, instead be faithful in the test.
Be faithful in the test (2:10b)
Revelation 2:10 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
This is a trial. It’s a test. Suffering is meant to test us. Satan is active in persecution but God controls and ordains. Satan can only do what God has determined and it is not God who does it but it is Satan.
Satan is on a tight leash. And God will use Satan to bring about results that are glorifying to him. And one day the trial from Satan will be over…
John will write later…
Revelation 12:10–11 10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
TRANS: And so we are called upon to be faithful in the face of death.
EXP: Faithfulness is the desire thing in the midst of persecution. To stand true to Christ in the midst of difficulties, sufferings, and persecution. This is the need of the hour.
This is the prayer request of God’s people when they began to be persecuted early on, soon after the day of Pentecost. Peter has healed a man and is proclaiming Christ boldly and he is brought before the Jewish authorities. And they command him not to preach in the name of Jesus anymore.
And all of God’s people recognized that they were being persecuted. And finding comfort from the Scriptures that this was prophesied back in Psalm 2 through David they prayed to the Lord, “Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ”
and they also prayed…
Acts 4:29…29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word…
They were not asking for comfort, they were not asking for a “good day,” they were not asking for health… No, their primary concern was to be faithful. They wanted boldness to speak the word of God.
And God’s people today seem to lack boldness even the midst of freedom. And Christians are still afraid to go to church because they’ve gotten out of the habit…. But Christians in other parts of the world even today meet with God’s people and there is a mark on their backs, crosshairs on their forheads… But yet they meet with God’s people anyway.
Are we bold? Are we faithful to Christ in the midst of this apathetic society?
So we are to be faithful unto death. Not faithful until something better comes up. Not faithfulness until the football game comes on; not faithfulness until we’re afraid or tempted, faithfulness until death.
ILL: John Paton, a nineteenth-century missionary to the South Seas, met opposition to leaving his home in Scotland and going to preach to the cannibals on the New Hebrides Islands. A well-meaning church member moaned to him, “The cannibals, the cannibals! You will be eaten by the cannibals!”
Without hesitation, Paton replied, “I confess to you that if I can live and die serving my Lord Jesus Christ, it makes no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; for in that Great Day of Resurrection, my body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer!”
Faithfulness until death. Is that your standard for living? Faithfulness until death. Is that your watchword? Faithfulness until death. Is that the height of your Christian experience? Faithfulness until death. You are called upon dear Christian to be faithful until death.
ILL: People are suffering for Christ today! Graham Staines 1999, missionary to India, along with his two sons, Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6) were sleeping in a car when Hindus gathered around and light it on fire, killing all of them.
Faithful until death. What would keep you from confessing Christ? Are you ready for this? A gun to your head? What would keep you from confessing Christ? Embarrassment?
What would keep you from fellowshipping with His people… in public? The threat of the destruction of your property, your home?
Today, bad habits on Lord’s Day mornings keep Christians from fellowshipping with His people.
That’s a far cry from “faithful unto death.” No mater the cost, no matter the pain and suffering, take up your cross daily and follow Christ.
TRANS: For those who are faithful unto death, there is reward…
Revelation 2:10–11 10 …. be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto [suffering churches!]; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
Crown of life! Not hurt by the second death!
Crown of life
“be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
The crown which is life; eternal life itself is the crown, the reward for the race well run!
James 1:12 12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
Romans 8:18 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Therefore, suffering is worth it! It’s not pointless! It’s more than worth it!
In Christ, it’s not pointless suffering. No suffering is, for the lost they are being drawn to Christ. Through suffering, Christians gain reward.
And there is reward for those who are faithful in the face of death and persecution…
Revelation 6:9–11 9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until [rest until when? Until…] their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
When the last martyr is killed, then will the Lord come back at the end of the tribulation and He’ll judge and avenge the martyr’s blood.
Romans 12:19 19 …. Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
And He who will avenge is He who gives reward to those who are faithful until death: the crown of life.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Revelation 2.8-11 Part 2
And those who are Christ’s are not hurt by second death, even if they are hurt by the first, physical death!
The second death is mentioned in only a few passages: Rev. 20:6,14; 21:8
Revelation 20:6 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Revelation 20:14 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. [what is the second death? The lake of fire.]
Revelation 21:8 8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
The second death will have no power over those who are faithful to Christ unto death. The second death is also described as the lake which burns with fire, the lake of fire. And there is coming a day when death and hell will be thrown into this lake.
The lake of fire is the eternal destination of all those who reject. And that lake burns with brimstone. Brimstone is sulfur. Sulfur in its state in nature is a kind of lemon yellow but as it is heated up it turns into a dark red and finally to black at about 482°F.
Imagine a lake of at least 482°F, burning sulfur. And that is the same stuff that God used to turn Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes…
Genesis 19:24 24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
And even lost archaeologists are recognizing that something astronomical has occurred where Sodom was. Forbes magazine published an article saying that evidence points to an exploding meteor.
2 Peter 2:6 6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;
2 Peter 2:17 17 These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the black darkness is reserved for ever.
Black darkness of burning sulfur is what is reserved for lost people forever.
But not for those faithful until death. Faithful to Christ!
Do not fear!
Be faithful until death! You preach Christ, proclaim His name to those you know!
You may not and you may never experience physical persecution, but you will at least experience verbal harassment; and for those who don’t experience physical persecution ….
Hebrews 13:3 3 Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.
Remember those persecuted and ill treated.
Our time is coming, brethren. All it would take to make us suffer greatly for Christ is a majority vote: our meetings could be hindered, our friends could be in prison, our property could be destroyed, our livelihood could be taken away, or our lives also.
How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Their blood crieth from the ground for justice but their souls are rewarded in heaven: white robes were given unto every one of them.
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
Michael P. Green, ed., Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively, Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989). ↑