THE PERSECUTED CHURCH AT SMYRNA - Revelation 2:8-11
Before we go to the second of the seven churches of Revelation, let’s review a bit. In Revelation 1:19 it states:
19 “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”
Remember, Revelation is a unique book of the Bible in that it has its own built in outline. This outline is essential to understanding this book. The built in outline is as follows:
I.) The Things Which You Have Seen – The Person of Christ – Revelation 1
Those who read and hear and put into practice the Book of Revelation will be blessed. The purpose of the book of Revelation as revealing the glorified Christ by a revelation that is from Christ. In Revelation 1 we are given a description of Jesus Christ in His glorified state.
II.) The Things Which Are – The People of Christ – Revelation 2-3
Jesus addresses the condition of the church locally, practically, historically, and prophetically.
III.) The Things Which Will Take Place After This – The Plan of Christ – Revelation 4-22
The wrath of God is poured out on a Christ-rejecting world in an effort to shake up unbelievers, wake up Israel, and make up the world to receive Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth.
- Revelation 4-5 - The Church is in heaven.
- Revelation 6-19 - The Great Tribulation
- Revelation 20 - The Millennium and Final Judgment
- Revelation 21-22 - The New Earth and the New Heaven
The things which are. We are in the section of Revelation under the heading of “The Things Which Are,” a consideration of The People of Christ or the Church age. This section consists of seven letters written by Jesus to seven churches. This section of the book of Revelation is very practical and very important. To fully understand this section, we need to see it in terms of four distinct themes:
- LOCALLY - Each of these seven churches were actual local churches.
- ECCLESIASTICALLY - The letters to the seven churches taken as a whole give a practical picture of pitfalls to be avoided by churches and practices to be followed.
- PERSONALLY - Each letter to a church closes with the phrase, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11,17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
- PROPHETICALLY - The seven churches addressed in this section address the Seven Epochs of Church History from the 1st century to the Rapture of the Church.
- EPHESUS - THE MISPLACED PASSION CHURCH - (1st Century)
- SMYRNA - THE PERSECUTED CHURCH - (A.D. 100 - 313)
- PERGAMOS - THE POLUTTED CHURCH - (A.D. 313 - 590)
- THYATIRA - THE PERVERTED CHURCH - (A.D. 590 - 1517 and beyond.)
- SARDIS - THE PERMISSIVE CHURCH - (A.D. 1517 - 1730 and beyond.)
- PHILADELPHIA - THE PERFECT CHURCH - (A.D. 1730 - 1900 and beyond.)
- LAODICEA - THE PASSIVE CHURCH - (A.D. 1900 -?)
The literary structure of Christ’s Church letters is fourfold. The letters to the churches follow a specific form with a few exceptions that we will address as we come to them. The form of the letters can be divided as follows:
- CHRIST’S IDENTIFICATION - Each letter begins with Jesus connecting an aspect of His chapter one vision of His Glorification to His introduction to the particular church.
- CHRIST’S COMMENDATION - Jesus commends (if possible) the church for proper conduct.
- CHRIST’S CORRECTION - Jesus corrects improper conduct or conditions existing in the church.
- CHRIST’S CALL - Jesus exhorts and calls those in the church to repentance.
This section tells us that the Church is important. The Church is important to Jesus. Therefore, the Church should be important to us. The Church is Jesus ordained to be part of His plan. To attack the Church is to attack Jesus. That doesn’t mean we can’t criticize and correct the Church where it has gotten off course. Jesus’ letters are proof of that. But when we address Church matters we should do so with reverence and mindful that the Church is the Bride of Christ.
There is no such thing as a rugged individualist or privatized Christian. Nowhere in Scripture do we see people being saved separate from some kind of church related activity. If a missionary is sent out, it is to win the lost to Jesus and plant a church of believers where discipleship can take place. When Christians are not a part of a church it is the exception. Persecution may keep people from forming a church publicly. But the underground secret church in persecuted areas is where persecuted believers find fellowship and support for their plight.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray He taught them to pray with a church community or plural mindset (Luke 11:2-4) The New Testament emphasizes the creating of churches. Throughout Acts we see missionary journeys where people are won to Christ and then a church is formed. People are saved and then plugged into a church where they are discipled and edified to do the work of ministry (e.g. Eph. 4:11-12). We shouldn’t neglect the gathering together of believers (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Jesus reveals Himself to the world through the Church. Jesus directs ministry toward the Church (Rev. 1:11). Jesus stands in the midst of the Church to make His presence known (Rev. 1:13 and 20). The Church is essential to spiritual growth. The Church itself is a mission field; people in the Church need to be ministered to. The Church is a factory that produces disciples who then go out to disciple the world (Matthew 28:18-20).
The Church is not perfect. Even by the end of the first century the letter of Jesus to the church in Ephesus shows that the Church had problems. The church at Ephesus was very busy doing ministry, but they had left their first love Jesus. By the end of the first century the Church had misplaced her passion for Jesus and replaced it with a passion to minister. Jesus said when this happens it requires us to remember from where we had fallen, repent and redo the first things. We need to always keep Jesus first.
As we study the churches of Revelation we will see that the church is not perfect. And because of that, while Jesus loves His Bride the Church, she must bow to His word as the primary authority for life and practice. Church traditions are not our prime authority. Church traditions are only as good as they are supported by scripture. The Bible, because it is God’s inspired word, is the primary and only true authority for the Christian. The Church is right only to the extent it ministers God’s Holy Word.
Smyrna - The Persecuted Church
The church at Smyrna is the first of the two churches addressed by Jesus that does not receive any correction from Jesus.
Revelation 2:8a - 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
The name “Smyrna” comes from another word, myrrh. Myrrh is a perfume whose fragrance is released when it is crushed. When we look at the occurrences of myrrh in the Old Testament we see it was used as a holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-25), it was associated with the anointing of royalty (Psalm 45:8), it was a fragrance of romance used to typify God’s love for His people (Song of Solomon 1:13; 3:6; 4:6, 14; 5:1, 5, and 13), it was used in the purification and beautification of women (Esther 2:12). In the New Testament myrrh was one of the gifts brought by the Wise Men to Jesus at His birth (Matthew 2:11). It was offered to Jesus on the cross as a pain killer (Mark 15:23). And it was used in embalming (John 19:39). Myrrh was believed to prevent rapid decomposition. Because the fragrance of myrrh was released by crushing, it was associated with bitterness. There is a lesson here; sweet smells come from sorrowful times.
The city of Smyrna is located in what is modern day Turkey (now named Izmur). It is located 35 miles north from Ephesus. In Biblical times it was second only to Ephesus in wealth. Smyrna is a seaport city like Ephesus. Modern day Izmur is the third largest city in Turkey. 
Smyrna is mentioned only here in the Bible. It was founded by Alexander the Great and is claimed to be the birthplace of Homer. It was considered the most beautiful city in Asia. When eleven cities competed to be the spot of a temple to Tiberius Caesar, Smyrna was elected by the Roman Senate.
The main pagan God of this city was Dionysus. Dionysus was a god of nature whose powers were manifested in agrarian productivity and intoxication. Smyrna was said to bear fruit twice a year because of this god. Dionysus was believed to bring joy and fertility and to alleviate sorrow and anxiety. Dionysus was mythically believed to have died and resurrected which gives added meaning to Jesus’ identification as the One “who was dead and came to life.” A drama was acted out concerning Dionysus and the presiding temple priests who took a crown in a ceremony. This may be why Jesus comments to the church in Smyrna to “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” 2:10). Earthquakes, fires, and pestilences were common in this part of the world. 
Smyrna was popular for its libraries, temples, sacred festivals and sports. The origins of the church in Smyrna are not known. Polycarp (AD 69-156), a disciple of the Apostle John and an early church father, was the primary pastor of this church. The church father Irenaeus studied in this city. More importantly, Polycarp was martyred on mount Pagus of this city.
The martyrdom of Polycarp had such a strong impact on the church in Smyrna that shortly after his death 1500 and then 800 Christians were willing to suffer martyrdom on two subsequent occasions. Historians state, “He pastored in a very dangerous period, but he was faithful in teaching the truths of the gospel which had been passed on to him. When he was finally martyred by the Romans, he refused to save his life by denouncing Christ. Then the Christ-rejecting Jews of Smyrna broke the Sabbath in order to bring the wood needed to burn him to death (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 13).” 
The Christian presence in this city remains to this day even though in recent times persecution against Christians has been on the rise. In 2007 two Turkish Christians and a German citizen were attacked and tortured and brutally murdered while working in a Christian publishing house in this city. Christians living in Turkey today, a predominantly Muslim County, live under the constant threat of persecution.
Revelation 8b - ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:
As we noted in Revelation chapter one, the reference to Jesus as “the First and the Last,” is meant to communicate His deity and eternal nature. Here Jesus adds, “who was dead, and came to life.” Jesus is reminding the Smyrneans that He is familiar with suffering; He submitted to persecution and rejection of people, even unto death. Jesus is in a position to empathize with those going through difficulty (cf. Hebrews 4:15).
God doesn’t love us any less when suffering is a part of His plan for us. Jesus was loved by the Father. God’s plans for Jesus involved suffering. This itself is evidence that God doesn’t love us any less when we suffer or are persecuted. Jesus is establishing this truth right from the start.
Suffering is sometimes a necessary part of God’s plan. Sometimes we associate difficulty and persecution with the disfavor of God. While sin has consequences, even consequences for our sins are rooted in God’s love. God disciplines those He loves (cf. Hebrews 12:1-10). But sometimes persecution and suffering are part of God’s will for us (e.g. 1 Peter 4:19). Sometimes, in order for God’s eternal plan to be fulfilled, temporary suffering is required. We may not always understand this, but we must trust God nonetheless. God is faithful and true and desires none to perish (2 Peter 3:9). If temporal suffering is the price of eternal life for others, God judges it a necessary price to be paid.
Revelation 2:9a - 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich);
Jesus knows about our sufferings. The church in Smyrna was suffering persecution. Their persecution had apparently resulted in loss of property. Jesus comforts them in telling them that even though they had been made poor by persecution, they were actually enriched by what they had received in exchange.
God in His word does not sugar coat the cost of following Him. Jesus said we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him; we must count the cost of following Him (Luke 9:23-26; 14:28-33). Jesus said that in the world we would face tribulations but we should trust Him to help us overcome them (John 16:33). The apostles travelled from church to church warning, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22). Paul specifically stated, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Persecution of Christians is a reality today. For the last two years Christians have been the most persecuted group in the world. A Fox News article earlier this year stated the following:
Christians continued to be the most persecuted group across the globe in 2016, according to a study.
The upcoming report from Italian-based Center for Studies on New Religions, determined that 90,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs worldwide last year and nearly a third were at the hands of Islamic extremists like ISIS. Others were killed by state and non-state persecution, including in places like North Korea.
“U.S. policy has not had a strategy for specifically addressing the persecution of Christians,” Ryan Mauro, national security analyst for the Clarion Project, told FoxNews.com “For example, very few people are even aware that Iraqi Christians began organizing to defend themselves and needed our help."
The study also found that as many as 600 million Christians were prevented from practicing their faith in 2016.
The findings continue a disturbing trend from the previous year in which Christians around the world endured horrific acts of persecution, including imprisonment and beheadings.
“These numbers underscore what we already know," Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project said to Foxnews.com. "There are many places on earth where being a Christian is the most dangerous thing you can be.
"Those who think of Christianity as a religion of the powerful need to see that in many places it’s a religion of the powerless. And the powerless deserve to be protected.”
While the situation is most dire in the Middle East, Christianity is under assault in Africa and Asia, too, according to an Aid to the Church in Need study of incidents in 2015. It cited persecution at the hands of Islamist terror groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and other extremists in Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and other parts of the continent.
Asia's Christians have been targeted by nationalist religious movements -- Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist -- in such countries as Pakistan, India and Myanmar. Many of these groups increasingly view Christianity as a foreign, "colonial" import, and believe its practitioners are doing the bidding of the West, say experts.
While Christians continue to be under siege from ISIS radicals in Syria and Iraq, the religion is being targeted throughout the region with members of the faith also under increasing pressure in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.
The Christian population in Iraq alone has plummeted from 1.5 million in 2003 to current estimates of 275,000 and could be gone for good within just a few years, according to activists. The dwindling numbers are due to genocide, refugees fleeing to other countries, those who are internally displaced, and others hiding in plain sight and not allowing their faith to be publicly known.
Despite these issues, experts like Mauro say that the faith has continued to flourish despite growing opposition.
“The persecution of Christians has failed to suppress the faith,” he said to FoxNews.com. “On the contrary, Christianity appears to be rapidly growing beneath the surface. Persecution will increase as Islamists see Christianity as an increasing problem for them.”
It can be a dangerous thing to be a Christian.
Satan is behind all persecution of God’s people. When we look in the Bible we see very clearly that Satan and his minions are the ones behind persecution of God’s people. Here are a few scriptural examples:
- Job 2:4–5 (NKJV) - 4 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
- Luke 22:31–32 (NKJV) - 31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
- Ephesians 6:10–12 (NKJV) - 10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
- 1 Peter 5:8–9 (NKJV) - 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.
- Revelation 2:10 (NKJV) - 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
- Revelation 13:5–7 (NKJV) - 5 And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. 6 Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. 7 It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Does persecution serve any purpose? The answer is “Yes!” While God takes no pleasure in suffering, He does allow it. God is able to bring good even from suffering (Romans 8:28). Nothing happens without God allowing it to happen. God is always in control. Why does God allow suffering; what purpose does it serve?
First, persecution purifies and enriches faith. The early church father Tertullian (AD 160-230) once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Jesus states that the persecuted Smyrneans were “rich.” The word “rich” (Greek plousios) refers to being wealthy, abounding with something. It is a word use figuratively to point to a wealth or abundance of virtues and eternal possessions. The Smyrneans were persecuted for their faith, but God has used it to enrich their faith (e.g. James 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:10).
Bible teacher Raul Ries makes the following comment in his book Hear What the Spirit is Saying about persecuted Christians in the early church:
When people appeared before Nero, they were required to kneel, bow, and confess, ‘Caesar is Lord.’ If they refused, they were tortured and killed. The moment a person became a Christian in Smyrna, he lost his job, was stripped of all his wealth, and was considered dead by his family. In modern terms he would have become a street person. Imagine the great temptation in those days not to become a Christian! There were very few insincere Christians during that time because a person could lose his life for committing himself to Christ. . .. There was not much sin in the church of Smyrna, however, since the believers spent most of their time on their knees asking God to help them through their present trials and tribulations. They learned quickly that sin separated them from their Lord and Savior, and they could not afford to neglect or ignore precious time of fellowship with Him. 
Second, persecution, as a trial experienced, is used by God to mature our faith. Suffering in its various forms, including persecution, brings believers from shallow faith to substantial faith. When we suffer and lean on Jesus, it has a maturing effect on our faith. James and Peter both testified to this truth:
- James 1:2–4, and 12 (NKJV) - 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. . . . 12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
- 1 Peter 1:6–7 (NKJV) - 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
Suffering is the proving grounds for faith. When we encounter persecution or hardship and our faith is proven true and real, our faith matures and becomes wiser.
Third, persecution is often the means God uses to build confident faith as He reveals the truth, reality, and reliability that His grace is sufficient. Paul said his imprisonment that his testimony through it was used by the Lord to help other believers be confident in their faith (Phil. 1:14). Paul commended the faith of the Thessalonians during persecution and stated it was an encouragement and confidence builder for other Christians (2 Thess. 1:3-4). Paul testified to the Corinthians that he prayed three times for a “thorn” to be removed from him. Commentators differ about what that “thorn” was, a physical ailment or some relational problem Paul was encountering in ministry. But whatever it was, God’s grace was proven sufficient for the task and Paul rejoiced in this (2 Cor. 12:8-10; cf. also 2 Cor. 11:23-33). When we see the spiritual strength of others it leads to confidence God will do the same for us in similar circumstances.
Fourth, persecution and suffering can be a means of God’s discipline. Suffering persecution can serve to humble us (2 Cor. 12:7). Suffering persecution can be a tool of God to teach us something (Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 5:8). If discipline is a part of discipleship, then suffering persecution teaches us about Jesus as we suffer in says similar to His suffering. God disciplines those He loves because He knows our greatest fulfillment and joy comes from knowing more and more of Christ (Heb. 12:1-13). Persecution brings us into an experience with Jesus that almost know other experience can.
Fifth, persecution allows us to experience God’s true and real joy. When the apostles were persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders it states that when they were released, “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). When we are persecuted we learn firsthand of the reality of Gods steadying and sustaining joy (e.g. Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 16:9-10). Truly a faith untested cannot be trusted; an untested faith remains only faith in theory. But a faith that is tested, and proven true, shows itself to be real and genuine and true. Paul was able to write his epistle of joy to the Philippians from a prison cell! That is something to rejoice about.
Sixth, persecution unites believers through mutual encouragement. Nothing unites believers more than trials and persecutions. There is a commonness experienced in hardship. In persecution we learn to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Mutual encouragement in the face of persecution was the testimony of the early church. When Christians are persecuted they find encouragement in uniting together (e.g. Acts 14:19-22; 1 Thess. 2:14).
Seventh, persecution provides opportunities to be generous. When one part of the Church is persecuted it provides other non-persecuted parts fo the church to generously support them (2 Cor. 8:1-5). Paul took offerings from other churches to support those segments of the church which were suffering persecution. He commended the generosity of churches that gave to help persecuted brethren.
Eighth, persecution provides an opportunity to witness. When Jesus sent out His first disciples into the world to witness He told them they would be persecuted. He explained that the persecution they encountered would provide them with an opportunity to share the reality of their faith.
- Matthew 10:16–20 (NKJV) - 16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. 18 You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
A strong witness or declaration of faith in the face of persecution is a powerful tool in showing the lost the reality of Jesus in our lives. When we face persecution Jesus said not to worry about what to say, the Holy Spirit would give us the appropriate words to share at that time.
Ninth, persecution is instrumental to the spread of the Gospel. When we look in the book of Acts we see that some of the greatest movements of the Spirit to spread the Gospel and build the church came on the heels of persecution (Acts 8:3-4; 11:19-21). That’s because, “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” What Satan means to destroy believers and the church, God uses to build them up. What Satan means to discourage, only serves as an opportunity for God’s encouragement.
Revelation 2:9b - and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
There is a very important truth to take from these words of Jesus. Those who act contrary to God’s intended purposes place themselves in the hands of Satan to be used for his purposes. Historically we know that there was a large Jewish community at Smyrna. We also know that this Jewish community instigated the persecution of Christians. Henry Morris writes:
There was, indeed, a very large community of Jews in Smyrna, and these strongly opposed the church and the gospel. They were directly instrumental in persuading the Roman officials of the city to execute Polycarp [bishop of Smyrna]. The records say they even carried logs to the pyre on which he was burned. 
There is only one way to eternal life and that way is through Jesus. There is not a separate or different way for Jews to be forgiven their sins and receive eternal life. This is made very clear in the following account found in John’s gospel:
- John 8:39–47 (NKJV) - 39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. 41 You do the deeds of your father.”
Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
The Bible states clearly that for a Jew to find their true fulfillment as a Jew it can only be found in being born again through faith in Jesus (e.g. Romans 2:28-29; 9:6-8; Phil. 3).
This truth has been wrongfully used by “Christians” and “the Church” historically to persecute Jews. This too puts such “Christians” and segments of “the Church” in the camp of Satan not the Lord. Under the banner of the cross the Crusaders committed genocide and rape against those who would not bow the knee to Jesus. God desires all people to be saved, but He does not endorse genocide and rape as a means to that end! The Church stops being the Church when it acts apart from the nature of Jesus just as much as Jews stop being truly Jewish when they fail to see Jesus as their Messiah. These are controversial words in our day of political correctness. But this is true nonetheless.
Revelation 2:10a - 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.
The word “fear” (Greek phobeo) means to frighten, to be alarmed, to be afraid, to be put to flight by something terrifying, to scare away. Part of fear involves being surprised or having something strike unexpectedly. Jesus is taking the power out of fear by warning ahead of time these Christians.
Jesus encourages the believers in Smyrna to not fear what lay ahead for them. Jesus can do this because present suffering can’t be compared with the superior blessing of God in our future (Romans 8:18). Suffering now pays dividends later in glory (2 Cor. 4:17). And there is nothing now that can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39). No amount of persecution can pry us from God’s loving embrace.
Jesus says this while not diluting the fact that there was persecution they were “about to suffer.” Jesus prepares us for what lays ahead. Fears are fed by the surprise nature of them. Therefore, Jesus takes the steam out of potential fear by warning them ahead of time about it. His prophetic word is meant to warn us and help us be prepared for what the future holds. In that prophetic word is the encouraging and comforting truth that in the end God wins! And if God wins, we who belong to Him win too.
Revelation 2:10b - Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.
After having encouraged the believers to not fear in the face of impending persecution, Jesus shares with them some of the details and nature of what they would suffer. Jesus identifies the devil as the culprit behind this persecution. He tells them this persecution will “test” them. “Test” (Greek peiradzo) means to test, to scrutinize, to prove, to examine, to try. This persecution from the devil is meant to try them in the court of public opinion. As we mentioned earlier, persecution provides a means to witness and share the gospel.
Jesus specifies this testing persecution will involve, “you will have tribulation ten days.” This is an apparent word of prophecy from Jesus as there were Ten Period of Persecution to follow historically during which some 6 million Christians would die for their faith.
There were ten Roman Emperors that persecuted the Church:
- Nero (AD 54-68) – Nero was responsible for beheading the apostle Paul and crucifying the apostle Peter upside down (at Peter’s own request). Historical records indicate that the centurions who brought Paul before the executioner became Christians as a result of Paul’s witness to the very end. These centurion converts were then also martyred.
- Domitian (AD 90-96) – Legend has it that Domitian attempted to execute the apostle John by placing him in a cauldron of burning oil. God faithfully preserved John from this execution. Domitian then out of frustration exiled John to the Isle of Patmos.
- Trajan (AD 98-117) – Trajan burned Ignatius at the stake.
- Hadrian (AD 117-138) – Hadrian killed Telesphorus.
- Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180) – He killed Justin Martyr.
- Septimus Severus (AD 202-211) – Killed Iranaeus.
- Maximanus (AD 235-236) – Killed Ursula and Hippolytus.
- Decius (AD 249-251) – He began the first empire wide persecution and killed Alexander of Jerusalem.
- Valerian (AD 257-260) – Killed Origen.
- Diocletian (AD 303-311) – He was one of the worst persecutors of Christians. He destroyed churches, burned scriptures and required everyone to sacrifice to pagan gods.
Revelation 2:10c - Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t say He will prevent their death. No, He tells them to be faithful until death. That is true for all of us. Sometimes it is the will of God that we experience difficulties and hardships, even death.
Jesus mentions the reward of “the crown of life.” There are a number of crowns the Bible mentions. They are as follows:
- The Crown of Righteousness – This crown is a reward for those who have lived a faithful life (2 Timothy 4:6-8). One can only imagine the emotions going through the mind and heat of Paul as he awaited his executioner. Islam carnally promises 70 perpetual virgins in paradise. But nothing compares to the crown of righteousness that is earned by Jesus and given to those who put their faith in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
- The Crown of Glory – This is a crown given to faithful shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4). Those who feed and care for the flock of God will receive a crown of glory that doesn’t fade away. The loving sacrifice of the pastor and selfless service he renders will not be forgotten by our Lord Jesus.
- Crown of Gold – This is evidence of our redemption (Rev. 4:4). Gold is evidence of the redemption we receive through faith in Jesus.
- Crown of Rejoicing – This crown is for those who have led others to Christ (1 Thess. 2:9). What joy we will experience when in heaven we worship side by side with those we’ve led to the Lord by the provision of God!
- Incorruptible Crown – This crown is given to those who have exhibited self-control in the race of life (1 Cor. 9:25). All the restraint and sacrifice for purities sake will be worth it when we receive this incorruptible crown.
John F. Walvoord, Bible scholar and author, once wrote, “The crown follows the cross.” The only reason we can receive a crown is because Jesus first wore the crown of thorns! (John 19:5). Because of that truth, when we get to heaven one of the most blessed times of worship will be when we lay our crowns down at the feet of Jesus (cf. Revelation 4:9-11). Don’t be caught without a crown!
Revelation 2:11 - 11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’
Jesus concludes this letter by calling for all to listen up! We need to take to heart what He is saying to these churches. There is persecution in our future for sure. You may be experiencing some degree of persecution right now. Jesus promises that for those who overcome in Him, they “shall not be hurt by the second death.”
The Second Death is final death and separation from God which will be instituted at the Great White Throne Judgment which we will study in Revelation 20:11-15. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Those are sobering words of warning. The Spirit is saying them to us. We need to listen to them and take them to heart.
In AD 155, while in his 90s Polycarp, Bishop [pastor] of Smyrna was arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Legend has it that as the wood was being placed around him the executioner said, “I hate to see and old man die. Just recant Christ and we’ll set you free. Then you can live your last days in peace.”
Polycarp’s response has gone down in the annals of history:
For 86 years I have served my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not once has He denied me. I shall not deny Him.
The executioner then said, “The fire will be hot.”
Polycarp’s response was, “Not nearly as hot as the fire [of hell] you’ll experience!”
The executioner lit the fire. The flames quickly arose but didn’t touch Polycarp’s body. Seeing this, the executioner took a spear and thrust it through Polycarp. The blood that poured out extinguished the fire! Polycarp’s body was taken by Christians and given a Christian burial.
Is it true? We can’t verify the account. But what we can verify is that Polycarp endured persecution to the glory of God through a faith tested true by trials.
There’s a poem by an unknown author that is a fitting tribute to all the Smyrneans throughout the ages:
God Knows What He’s About
When God wants to drill a man and thrill a man and skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man to play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a man that the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him, and with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks when His good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses and with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him to try His splendor out – God knows what He’s about!
 Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record, Tyndale House Pub, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois and Creation - Life Pub, San Diego, CA., 1983, p. 66.
 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press: Chicago, Illinois, 1966, p. 59.
 A. Plummer, Revelation – The pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Macdonald Pub. Com.: Mclean, Virginia, p. 59-60.
 Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, Kregel Pub.: Grand Rapids, MI, 1900, p. 57.
 Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The - The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Sigma-Omega.
 Raul Ries, Hear What the Spirit is Saying, Logos Media Group: Diamond Bar, CA, 1993, p. 39.
 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record, Tyndale House Pub.: Wheaton, IL, & Creation-Life Pub.: San Diego, CA, 1983, p.54.