“FAITHFUL TO THE END” Rev. 2:8-11
INTRO – ISIS kills Christian workers in Syria on Aug. 28 (http://www.christiantoday.com/article/isis.executes.12.christiansincluding.boy.and.2.women.who.were.raped.in.public.and.beheadedfor.refusing.to.renounce.jesus/66532.htm)
- Jesus is the author of this letter. He’s the only Person who can be called “the 1st & the last, who was dead, & has come to life.”
- The “angel” who Jesus addressed is the pastor – “Angel” means “messenger.”
- Out of the 7 letters to these churches in Rev.2-3, this letter to Smyrna is 1 of only 2 that does not contain any sort of words of rebuke or correction from Jesus. We will see why in just a few minutes.
- Smyrna – harbor city about 40 mi north of Ephesus. It is now called Izmir in modern-day Turkey. Was a beautiful city, & was known as the “Ornament of Asia.”
- The city won a competition in AD 26 to determine which Asian city would have the right to build the temple of worship of the Roman emperor. The city took great pride in its loyalty to Rome.
The Dilemma: Once a year, the citizens of Smyrna would proclaim their allegiance to the emperor by publicly declaring, “Caesar is Lord.” You can see the problem & the pressure that would be put upon the Christians in the city. No faithful Christ-follower could ever proclaim that anyone was Lord other than Jesus Christ. To stand against the lordship of Caesar in this place that was the hotbed of emperor worship put them in a very unpopular place, bringing a constant barrage of criticism, ridicule, & ostracism.
So, here they are – these faithful first-century Christ-followers standing strong in the face of opposition & persecution, setting an example for us to follow some 20 centuries later.
- They didn’t give up, they didn’t shut up, & they didn’t let up
- They didn’t back down, back away, or back off
- They wouldn’t be intimidated by those who ridiculed, silenced by those who ruled, or cower to those who reigned.
- They knew that their Savior was Lord, that His truth was life-changing, & His love was limitless.
- So they stood strong & were faithful to the end.
QUESTION: Will WE be faithful to the end? Here are 3 realities that we need to understand:
REALITY #1: SUFFERING IS GOING TO COME – v. 9. If you take a stand for Jesus, you can fully expect that hard times are going to come. Suffering & persecution are guaranteed for the faithful Christ-follower. The Christ-followers in Smyrna experienced:
“tribulation” – “afflictions” – Not your run-of-the-mill inconveniences of everyday life –
- Flat tire on the way to work
- Concert tickets that are not as close to stage as we want
- Failed a math test at school this week
- Didn’t get the promotion at work that we wanted
The tribulations that the church at Smyrna experienced were huge. The word refers to catastrophic pressure. It is used sometimes to refer to a man who is being crushed by a massive boulder.
“poverty” – That’s literally means that they were poverty-stricken due to the level of persecution they were experiencing. Lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their business associations b/c they would not make the declaration that “Caesar is Lord.” Bank accounts dried up, cupboards became bare, & hunger became a regular part of their lives & their families’ lives. BUT – Jesus said they were rich!
“blasphemy” – They were constantly reviled & slandered by their enemies. God doesn’t take it lightly when His children are attacked. He pays attention to their plight & their suffering. And those who were declaring their allegiance to the emperor were declaring their opposition to the Jesus Christ Himself. They were siding w/ Satan.
REALITY #2: SATAN IS GOING TO OPPOSE YOU – v. 10. If you take a stand for Christ, you can fully expect that Satan is going to oppose you. Jesus plainly told the believers at Smyrna that “the devil is about to cast some of you in prison” (v. 10).
Every Christian is aware of the reality of spiritual warfare. The Bible clearly teaches us many things about our enemy, the devil, diabolos – the slanderer, the false accuser:
- The devil’s schemes – We need to be aware of the crafty techniques & methods that Satan uses against us. Jesus told us in John 8:44 that Satan is a “liar & the father of lies.” He’s vicious & violent like a “roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
- The devils’ limitations – There’s nothing that the devil does to us that Jesus is not aware of. There’s nothing that the devil can do to us outside of what Jesus allows him to do. Jesus knew what the Smyrna Christians were “about to suffer.” And he knows that we are about to suffer. And the 10-day limit to the tribulation of the Smyrnans meant that there was absolutely no way that the tribulation would last any longer than that. Satan had to have God’s permission to bring afflictions into Job’s life. He also had to have Jesus’ permission to “sift Peter like wheat” – or to test him & the other apostles. God’s sovereignty overrules & overrides all of Satan’s activities.
- The devil’s doom – I just have to throw this verse in at this point as a source of encouragement & reason for rejoicing for us, & a reminder to Satan: Rev. 20:10 – “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire & brimstone, where the beast & the false prophet were also; & they will be tormented day & night forever & ever.” How many of you love that verse & that truth???
REALITY #3: THE SAVIOR IS ON YOUR SIDE – v. 10-11. Here are some “Jesus Truths” that you can count on, no matter what happens in your life:
- If Jesus says, “Do not fear,” then you can trust Him to be w/ you when the storms are raging the strongest.
- If Jesus says, “Be faithful until death,” then you can trust Him to sustain you in the face of severe persecution. Even if you lose your physical life, as believers all over the world right now, He will still be your Sustainer. He will be your Faithful Friend who will never leave your side.
- If Jesus says, “I will give you the crown of life,” then you can trust Him to give you the victory, even when it looks like defeat in the world’s eyes.
- If Jesus says, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the 2nd death,” then you can trust Him to bring you home to heaven where you will live for all eternity. If you are born only once, then you will die twice. But if you are born twice, you’ll only die once.
To put it bluntly & succinctly, b/c Jesus has won, WE WIN!
Many contemporary Christians have never heard of a man named Polycarp. The early believers knew all about him because he was one of the first well-known martyrs of the Christian faith. In his youth he was a disciple of the Apostle John. For many years he served as Bishop of the church in Smyrna. During a wave of persecution in AD 155, when a mob demanded his death, Roman officials tried to save his life by offering him repeated chances to deny his faith in Christ. He refused each time. When given one final chance to save his own life, he replied in words that echo across the centuries: “For 86 years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”
As the soldiers prepared to nail him to the stake, he refused, saying, “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” The fire was lit and Polycarp burned to death. As the flames consumed him, he was heard to pray, “I thank you, O Lord, that you have deemed me worthy this day and this hour to take up the cross of Christ with many witnesses.”
I do know that God has his Polycarps all over the world today. They are the brave men and women who will not bow the knee to Baal, who will not swear allegiance to Caesar, who will not give up their Christian faith, and who will not return to Islam.
They would rather die than surrender what Jesus has given them.
Death itself has no power over the believer who remains faithful.
We may die-indeed we will die someday! That’s not the question. Will we be faithful no matter what?
Few of us will be called upon to do what Polycarp did. For most of us the sufferings we endure will be less dramatic, the pressures more subtle, the temptations harder to spot. But the call from Jesus remains the same. Fear not! Be faithful to the end!
Thought about this hymn this week as I was working on this sermon: “Jesus Is Lord of All”
Jesus is Savior and Lord of my life, My hope, my glory, my all; Wonderful Master in joy and in strife, On Him, you too, may call.
Jesus is Lord of all, Jesus is Lord of all; Lord of my thoughts and my service each day, Jesus is Lord of all.
Blessed Redeemer, all glorious King, Worthy of reverence I pay; Tribute and praises I joyfully bring To Him, the Life, the Way.
Will you surrender your all to Him now? Follow His will and obey, Crown Him as Sovereign, before His throne bow; Give Him your heart today.