Smyrna: Poor Yet Rich

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
18 June 2017
Revelation 2:8-11
Ordinary Time

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“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. 10 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. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Intro – Cultural Context of Smyrna

Timothy George — “At issue [in Smyrna] was the requirement for Christians to take part in the religious veneration of the emperor, to place a pinch of incense on the altar of the imperial deity. The emperor cult was especially strong here in Smyrna, where a temple to the emperor Tiberius had been built a generation before Polycarp was born.

Around the time the Book of Revelation was written, the emperor Domitian had his likeness stamped on a Roman coin with the words [“Lord and God.” But Christians refused to call the emperor “Lord and God” or confess “Caesar is Lord.”] To be a baptized Christian was to have made this commitment, and there was no going back.

This was not revolutionary in the usual sense of that word, but it was subversive. For it was a way of saying that Caesar is not everything.”

More on this in a moment.

Jesus Considers the Church — vs 8

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 

resurrection = hopeful realism in the face of death

Jesus Commends the Church — vs 9

“‘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.

Jesus knows-by-experience what our suffering and poverty and slander are like.

See Phil. 2:5-11 – Form of God – emptied – Form of Man // descended as a suffering servant = savior // humiliation before exaltation

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

attacked, accused, arrested, abused by his own people — synagogue of Satan

synagogue of satan = unbelieving Jews // enemies of the cross =Phil. 3:18-21

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

By experiencing these things, the church at Smyrna is identifying with Christ and participating in his sufferings.

See Philippians – we are united to Christ; we descend and ascend in union with Christ; we  die and rise, and serve and reign, in union with him.

1:21 purpose – to live is Christ, to die is gain

2:5 perspective – mindset / attitude / worldview /

3:8-11 prize – Christ is our prize — everything else is just a steamy pile (Stanley Hauerwas).

4:11-13 power – contentment no matter what

Jesus Confronts the Church — n/a

not critique / complaint

Jesus Counsels the Church — vs 10

10 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.

suffering as a gift of grace? = Phil 1:27-29

stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake

ten days = OT connection / Daniel 1:11-15

11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.

humiliation before exaltation

Be faithful unto death

more than one way to die —

= martyrdom // common in the early church / see Polycarp below; also common in middle east

= death comes to us all in different — death of a ministry, a church plant, a dream?

= faithfulness not “fruitfulness” is what Jesus desires and requires

crown of life = the wreath given to winners of contests / those who finish, not those who quit

To be faithful unto death requires you to know that there is more than one way to die. Martyrdom was common in the early church just as it is common in the Middle East. But it is not common here. Still, death comes to us all, only in different shapes and sizes. To be faithful until death — even the death of a ministry, a church plant, or a congregation — results in victory not defeat. Why? Faithfulness, not just “fruitfulness, is what Jesus desires and demands of us. The ones who finish, not the ones who quit, receive the victor’s crown.

Jesus Comforts the Church — vs 11

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

comfort = the Spirit and his word

second death = the lake of fire, the place of judgment // “where do bad folks go when they die? they go the lake of fire and fry…” (Nirvana / unplugged in NY)

Conclusion:

[ Note: In my study I saw / heard echoes between the Letter to the church at Smyrna and the Letter to the Philippians. (See notes above). While exploring the significance of the phrase “faithful unto death” I came across this piece by Dr Timothy George on First Things (9.22.14). To my surpise and joy the author also points out some interesting connections between the letters to the churches at Philippi and Smyrna and the ministries of John and Paul as well. ]

Just a few years after John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, an old Christian pastor named Polycarp was sentenced to death in Smyrna for refusing to offer incense to the emperor and confess Caesar is Lord. Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John.

Timothy George does a fine job telling the story of Polycarp. He says,

In Polycarp’s day, there was an easy way out of this dilemma [of offering incense to Caesar and confessing him as Lord and God]. There is always an easy way out…everyone has a price for which he will sell his soul—if not money or pleasure, then for titles, women, brick and mortar, there is always something.

For eighty-six-year-old Polycarp, on Sunday, February 23, in the year 155, it was simple: The proconsul offered him a way out. “Just take a pinch of incense and place it on the altar of the imperial deity. A simple gesture. Symbolic, that’s all. Then you can go on worshiping Jesus all you like. We’ll check you off our list.”

It was game day in Smyrna, a holiday, and twenty thousand bloodthirsty fans of torture and violence had turned out to see the shows. Smyrna was the epicenter of Roman spectacles. There was a school for training gladiators at Pergamon, just north of the city. The program of the day went like this: In the morning, wild animals had been set loose in the arena and then systematically hunted down and killed. Later in the day, the gladiators would fight. But in the afternoon, with the sun high in the sky, it was time for the execution of criminals. They were slaves, war captives, arsonists, murderers, and those, like Polycarp, who had committed sacrilege by refusing to honor the godhead of Caesar and who would not take the easy way out.

The proconsul said to Polycarp: “Take the oath, and I will let you go. Revile Christ.” But Polycarp said: “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I now blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp offered a prayer in the name of the triune God, and then he was bound. The faggots [pile of sticks] were lit. Like Jesus, who was crucified naked, Polycarp entered the flames without his clothes, but when they saw that his body could not be consumed by fire the executioner was ordered to stab him with a dagger. And so the ground of Smyrna was made holy by the blood of the martyr.

He was faithful unto death and he was not hurt at all by the lake of fire.

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