The Persecuted Church – Revelation 2:8-11

Throughout church history there has always been persecution. Every church of every age has suffered some form of persecution. Every church has also had their share of trials and trouble. Here in Revelation chapter two we find a church that endured through great persecution. Of all of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation, this is the only church that was not given words of condemnation. Instead, the church at Smyrna is given great encouragement in the midst of their troubled times. Smyrna is a large and wealthy city located 35 miles north of Ephesus. It is a large seaport. Unlike Ephesus, which lies in ruin, the city of Smyrna still exists with a population of over 300,000. The modern day city of Smyrna is known as Izmir located in present day Turkey. As we look at this message to the church at Smyrna, we are given some encouragement in time of trouble.

We are not alone. The first message given to this troubled church is the encouragement that they are not alone. Revelation 2:8-9 says, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” [1] A key phrase we see here is: ‘I know your tribulation.’ The Lord was letting them know that He knew what they were going through and He understands. Sometimes it is an encouragement to know that someone knows what we are going through. It is good to know that people we love and know and that they will pray for us is informed on what is going on in our lives. It is a comfort to know that they know. I grew up sort of a momma’s boy. When I had a problem, she is the one I would turn to for comfort. Even today, if I am going through a really hard time, I like for her to know. She does not have to do anything or say anything. There is a simple comfort in the fact that she knows, she understands. Children should be that way with their parents. They should be able to tell their parents anything without fear of judgment or long drawn out advice. They should be able to take comfort in their parents just simply knowing what is going on. The same is true in our relationship with God. There are times when we go through hard times that we do not really expect anything from God, but we would like for Him to know what we are going through. The good news is that He does know. He knows everything that we face. He sees every tear that falls. He knows our hearts without us even saying or doing anything. He knows our hurts and He knows our burdens and desires. When you feel down and out and depressed, take comfort in the fact that God knows. When you are going through physical pain and at times it is unbearable, take comfort in the fact that God knows. When you are burdened over a difficult situation, take comfort in that fact that God knows. When you are worried over the situations in your life or in the lives of those you love, take comfort in the fact that God knows. He knows what you are going through and He understands! There is another key phrase and that is found in verse 8, where it says, ‘these things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and come to life.’ Here we find Jesus reminding the church of who He is. He is the eternal God. He is the one who suffered the greatest persecution of all. He suffered and died on the cross and then rose again from the grave. He did that because of His great love for us. You see, Christ knows what it is like to suffer. There is not a problem that you and I go through where Jesus has not already been. He has been through the fire. He knows what it is like to suffer as a man. It is difficult to receive comfort from someone who has never gone through what you are going through. If you have just lost a loved one, it is good to be comforted by someone who has gone through the same thing. If you just lost your job, it is good to be comforted by someone who has gone through the same thing. No matter what it is you face in life, comfort is found in those who have been there. Jesus has been through it all. He knows and He understands. He understands what you are feeling right now. He understands what you are going through. Instead of wallowing in our misery, we should look to the God of all comfort. We should call on Jesus who knows and understands and has a solution to every problem that we face. No matter what we go through in life, it is good to know that we are not alone!

We are rich in spirit. In verse 9 we see that Jesus mentions that He knows and understands their ‘poverty (but you are rich).’ These are some strange words by Jesus. He tells the church that He knows of their poverty while at the same time telling them that they are rich. What did Jesus mean by this? The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “Besides suffering persecution, they were also enduring extreme poverty (ptōcheian in contrast with penia, the ordinary word for “poverty”). Though extremely poor, they were rich in the wonderful promises Christ had given them.”[2] You see, we may be poor according the world’s standards, but we are rich in Christ. You may be going through some financial trouble and it is getting you down; stop focusing on your situation and think about all the wonderful blessings of life. Think about the blessing it is to know Jesus. Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 6:10 that he was, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” I love that phrase, ‘having nothing, and yet possessing all things.’ We may have very little in this life according to the world’s standards, yet in Christ, we have all things. The older I get, the more I realize how earthly possessions are of no value. I have learned that you can live off of very little. We have many luxuries. Compared to the rest of the world, we are living in great wealth. We have nothing to complain about. Yet, none of those things bring any satisfaction. I can take it or leave it. I do not have to have the luxuries of life, all I need is Jesus. I love the words to the song by Building 429: “All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus. This is not where I belong.” None of us need the things of this world, all we need is Jesus. We are rich in Him. When you get discouraged, look up, for Jesus is there with arms wide open. When you don’t know where to turn, look to Jesus, for He is there with His arms wide open. When you are confused, look to Jesus, for He is there with His arms wide open. When you do not know what lies ahead, look to Jesus, for He is there with His arms wide open. He is all we need. We are rich in Him!

We have no need to fear. Notice what Revelation 2:10 says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [3]The church is encouraged to not fear the suffering that they are about to endure. The literal translation here is that they need to stop being afraid. You know, God never said that He would take away the suffering in this life. Let’s face the facts, life is life. No matter who you are, you will go through times of suffering. Suffering is a part of life. The real question is; how will we respond to the suffering? Will we respond in fear and dread or will we respond in hope? There is no need to fear what life brings, for God is in control.

Trouble is temporary. It is mentioned that the church at Smyrna would go through tribulation for ten days. We should not get too hung up on what is meant by ten days. The point here is that the persecution they were to endure was only temporary. Trouble is temporary. Think about it. What we are going through right now will not last forever. It may seem like forever when you are in the middle of it, but rest assured, it will pass. Whatever you are concerned about, whatever burden, it’s only temporary. Better days are coming. Better days are waiting for us in glory. Better days are on the horizon in this life as well. Whatever you are facing, by the grace of God, you will get through it. For the Christian, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. For the troubled soul, it’s only a temporary setback. For the troubled church, it’s only a temporary setback. The trials of this life often make us stronger. Rejoice in the midst of the trial, because God is about to do something special in your life. The idea of suffering is very perplexing for the Christian. However, the Bible gives us some reasons as to why we suffer. 1. Disciplinary. Notice what 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 says, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” [4]The Corinthian church was partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner; as a result, they suffered for it. Hebrews adds to this thought in Hebrews 12:3-13 we read, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” [5]If God did not love us, He would not discipline us. There have been some times in my life in which I was disciplined by the Lord. I must say, that it was not fun going through the discipline, but when I came out on the other side, I was made stronger.  2. Preventive. Some suffering that we endure as believers is in order to prevent us from some evil. Paul experienced this in his life. 2 Corinthians 12:5-7 says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”[6] I must confess that pride is one of the most difficult temptations for a pastor. It is easy to start to think a little too highly of yourself. I, like Paul, am thankful for my weaknesses, for those weaknesses keeps me from greater sin. 3. Learning of Obedience. Sometimes, suffering is in order that we may learn a lesson in obedience.  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” [7]The sufferings of life teach us some very valuable lessons and they make us stronger. I do not believe that God will purposely give us hardships; however, He will purposely allow us to endure hardships so that we may grow. 4. The providing for a better testimony for Christ. Sometimes, God will allow suffering in our lives in order that He may be glorified and the cause of Christ may be strengthened. Acts 9:16 says, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”[8] Sometimes suffering is needed in order that the Gospel would be proclaimed. There are many reasons for suffering; however, the encouragement to the church at Smyrna is that the trouble is temporary. God has a plan. He will bring us through times of suffering and through it, make us stronger.

Be faithful. The church at Smyrna is encouraged to remain faithful in the midst of persecution. Faithfulness is the key to survival. There is something to be said about not giving up. There is something to be said about staying focused. So often we get our eyes off of what we are called to do because we are too busy looking at all the problems. Give the problems to Jesus and just be faithful. Be faithful in your devotion. Be faithful in your praying. Be faithful in your giving. Be faithful in your witnessing. Don’t give up; stay faithful to what God has called you as a believer to do.

Be an over-comer. At the end of His address to the church at Smyrna, the Lord reminds them that those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death. This is a promise given to all believers in Christ in general. The promise is that we will not suffer for eternity. We have a hope. We have a promise. We have a glorious home in heaven waiting for us!

No matter what you are going through, I encourage you, don’t give up. Be faithful. Stay true. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He will bring you through the suffering and make you stronger.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 2:8–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 935). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 2:10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Co 11:30–32). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 12:3–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 12:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 5:3–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 9:16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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