Don’t be Afraid When you Suffer

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The Lord of glory has a message for his church today: A church is spiritually rich when is perseveres over persecution.

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Text: Revelation 2:8-11
Theme: The Lord of glory has a message for his church today: A church is spiritually rich when is perseveres over persecution.
I have always wondered ... how do Prosperity Preachers deal with texts like Revelation 2:8-11? The Health and Wealth message is a belief among some Christians — actually millions of Christians — who insist that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive confession, and donations to their favorite prosperity preacher will increase their material wealth. It’s the belief that if Christians have faith in God, we are entitled to security and prosperity. If only the believers in Smyrna had read Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential maybe, just maybe they wouldn’t have experienced the afflictions or poverty or persecution from the Synagogue of Satan. It’s obvious that the saints at Smyrna simply did not realize that they were born to win; that they were born for greatness; that they were created to be a champion in life. Some of today’s prosperity preachers actually teach that hardship and poverty are proof of a believer’s faithlessness.
Tell that to the Christians at Smyrna. Tells that to the Christian who died as human torches in Nero’s palace garden. Tell that to the 360 million Christians right now who live in places where they experience high levels of persecution, just for following Jesus. 360 million — that’s 1 in 7 believers, worldwide. Christian persecution around the world is one of the biggest human rights issues of this era.
Did the Christians at Smyrna simply not have enough faith? Was their positive confession not sincere enough? Did they not give enough seed money to some preacher’s ministry? Was their visualization lacking?
For those who may not be aware, the 1st Sunday of November is a day to remember the Persecuted Church around the world. There are hundreds of millions of believers living in places where it is difficult and dangerous to live out one’s faith. The Lord’s message to the Church at Smyrna is a message for such believers. It’s a message for the persecuted church and for persecuted Christians.
What is the Lord’s message to them?


“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life." (Revelation 2:8, ESV)
1. Scripture tells us very little about the Church at Smyrna — in fact, this passage is the only place in the New Testament where this congregation is mentioned
a. Smyrna was about 40 miles north of Ephesus, and these two cities vied with each other as the most important city in Asia
b. Smyrna was celebrated for its schools of science and medicine, and for it’s beautiful natural setting
c. it was an exceedingly wealthy city, with ornate public buildings which one poet referred to as “Smyrna’s Crown”
1) the city’s main thoroughfare was call the Street of Gold
2. like other Asian cities, Smyrna was probably evangelized as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus
a. but it was difficult and dangerous to be a Christian in Smyrna
1) the city was a center for Roman Emperor Worship
a) in fact, its citizens were so infatuated with Rome that in 195 B.C. they built a temple in which the city of Rome itself was worshiped
2) there were major temples to Cybele, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and Asklepious
3) and we also know that the Jews in the city were especially hostile toward believers
3. the letter to the believers at Smyrna is not from the apostle John, but the Lord Jesus Christ
a. when the Lord speaks to His people, we’d better listen
b. what’s the message?


1. Jesus proclaims that he is the "First" and the "Last"
a. speaking to a persecuted church Jesus reminds them that he is aware of their situation — “I know,” Jesus says, “your afflictions and your poverty” —
b. I know, and I empathize with you ...
1) because I was afflicted ...
2) because I was impoverished
3) because I also faced a dark hour of trial
c. Jesus tells this afflicted congregation, “I know ... I sympathize ... I understand ... and I’m standing by you in this hour of trouble.”
2. the Christ who empathizes with them is the beginning and ending of all things — seen and unseen ... the creator of all things — seen and unseen ... the sustainer of all things — seen and unseen
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell," (Colossians 1:15-19, ESV)
a. Jesus is the preexistent one — he was before all things, and he will be the consummation of all things
b. Jesus is the eternal infinite One — the second Person of the Trinity — who existed when all things were created and remaining after all things are destroyed
1) He is the first ... when other things were not, he was
2) He is the last ... when others things cease, he will not
3) he transcends time, and space, and creation
c. Jesus is the resurrected one, who was dead, but is now alive — come see the place where his body laid
1) here is the great paradox of all paradoxes
a) how can the eternally living God who is above time, above space, above history ... how can he die?
b) because he came in the flesh as God incarnate, and as mortal man, he entered into time, space and history for the very purpose of dying for sinners
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
2) this is the heart of the Gospel
3. the one who died and came to life again, is the one who knows what this congregation at Smyrna is going through
ILLUS. Jesus knows what every church in the world is going through. He sees his church in America at ease in Zion, and he sees his church in Ukraine bearing each other’s burdens, and he even see his church in North Korea, brutalized for my name’s sake.
a. these are comforting words to a church which is facing persecution
“I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich! ... ” (Revelation 2:9, NIV84)
... The Church Can Have Confidence in the Eternal Christ’s Presence


"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." (Revelation 2:10, ESV)
1. whether that persecuted church is in the 1st century Roman Empire or in 21st century China, a church that is faithful to Jesus will frequently be attacked by the enemies of the cross
2. the persecution faced by the Christians at Smyrna was only a foretaste of the persecution the church would experience over the next 2,000 years
a. it has been estimated that between 64 A.D. when Paul was executed by Nero and 325 A.D. when Christianity was legalized some 2,000,000 believers were martyred for their faith
b. it is estimated that 100,000 believers will be martyred for their faith this year alone
ILLUS. Martin Luther said that “Suffering is one of the marks of the true church.” The Anabaptists of the 16th century spoke of three baptisms: 1) The Baptism of the Spirit which brings a person into a relationship with Christ, 2) The Baptism of Water which becomes the sign or symbol of one’s discipleship, and lastly, 3) The Baptism of Blood, which marks one who follows Christ, and is martyred for it.
3. Jesus sees and knows the condition of every single body of believers
a. the persecution and mistreatment of Christians at Smyrna did not take Jesus by surprise


1. the consequences of this congregation’s faithfulness was three-fold
2. 1st, the Result of Their Faithfulness Was Tribulation
a. the word tribulation means to experience pressure as in being pressed from all sides by a crowd of people (think Time’s Square NYC on New Year’s Eve)
b. these Christians were under constant pressure to give up their faith and to compromise their beliefs
3. 2nd, the Result of Their Faithfulness Was Poverty
a. for the 1st century Christian, affliction and poverty often went hand-in-hand
b. the Smyrnean Christians were poor because of the confiscation of property, looting by hostile mobs, and difficulty of earning a living in a hostile environment
ILLUS. One of the new ways of persecution we’re beginning to see in the West is the denial of professional licensesure by professional licencing boards. In Canada, a Medical Doctor who professes Christ may not receive his license to practice medicine if he does not agree to perform doctor assisted suicides. A Christian may graduate law school, but if he isn’t supportive of the LGBTQ agenda, there’s a good possibility that law school graduate may not receive a license to practice law. In 2019, the Canadian province of Quebec enacted a law that bans public employees – including teachers, police officers and judges – from wearing religious symbols in the workplace. What happens in Canada will not stay in Canada. And lest you think this hostility toward all things Christian remains north of the boarder, in the United States city and county ordinances are becoming the weapon of choice against the Christian community. Earlier this year the West Lafayette, Indiana town council attempted to pass an ordinance that would have banned unlicensed counselors from offering any counseling or Biblical advice the city council deemed “conversion therapy” — even if the person dealing with gender dysphoria wanted the therapy. The ordinance was aimed at the biblical counseling ministry of Faith West Church in that community. The ordinance would even bar parents from counseling their own children in matters of sexuality. “That’s nuts.” For now the ordinance has been tabled.
1) this is the form of persecution taking place in an increasingly secular society — acquiesce to our secular ideology or we will cancel you or we will destroy your business or we will make it impossible for you to work in your profession
c. the letter to the Hebrews refers to this kind of persecution
"But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." (Hebrews 10:32-35, ESV)
4. 3rd, the Result of Their Faithfulness Was Slander
a. the enemies of the cross embarked on an active smear campaign against the church and its members
b. in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about the face of persecution — it included slander
1) slander is making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation
ILLUS. In the early days of Christianity the believers were falsely accused of all kinds of things. They were called atheists by their neighbors because they would not worship the pagan gods. They were called immoral because they would frequently meet in secret places where who-knows-what would take place during their "love feasts" — today we now it as The Lord's Supper. They were called unpatriotic because they confessed loyalty to Christ as Lord and refused to confess that Caesar was Lord. They were called cannibals because they "ate the body" and "drank the blood" of Jesus.
ILLUS. There are lots of folks in our culture who believe, like the pagans of old, that Christians, and Christianity are the problem in America, and not the answer. William B. Turner, an author who describes himself as an “uppity gay Buddhist” bluntly writes, “The history of Christianity in “the Americas” is one of unremitting violence and oppression.” Joe Omundson, a blogger on an influential website called Medium, writes “As an American, Christianity is the single biggest regressive force in my home country.”
2) both of these slanders are demonstrably false, but opponents of Christianity continue to propagate them


1. Jesus is very clear, their faithfulness is going to bring a short period of great difficulty
“I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9, NIV84)
2. the Christian’s chief opponents in Smyrna were those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan
a. how it must have pained the Apostle John to write this about his fellow Jews
1) it’s one of the harshest statements we find in all the Scriptures made about the Jewish people, and it comes from the lips of our Savior
b. but Jesus had been equally harsh during his earthly ministry
“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the things your own father does.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:39–44, NIV84)
1) the Apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Roman Christians that true Jews are not Jews by ethnicity, but by faith in the promised Anointed One — the One who is the first and the last, who died and came to life
3. these are ethnic Jews, who were long-time, influential residents of Smyrna and had developed a particular hostility for Christians
ILLUS. One of the most famous of ancient martyrdoms took place in Smynra not long after this letter is delivered. Fifty years after John wrote the Book of Revelation the Jews of Smyrna stirred up a mob and called for the death of the pastor of the church. His name was Polycarp. He had been a friend and disciple of the Apostle John. Polycarp was burned at the stake for his refusal to renounce Christ and offer incense to Caesar. At his trial the mob shouted, he is the " ... destroyer of our gods ... " Polycarp was unfazed by it all, and he carried on a witty dialogue with his interrogator until the local proconsul lost his temper and threatened Polycarp: he'd be thrown to wild beasts, he'd be burned at the stake, and so on. Polycarp just told the proconsul that while the proconsul's fire lasts but a little while, the fires of judgment ("reserved for the ungodly,") cannot be quenched. When his executioners gave him one last chance to recant his faith, Polycarp answered, "Eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me" It was the Jews who gleefully gathered the wood for the fire, and afterwards kept the Christians from gathering Polycarp’s ashes for burial. For decades afterwards, Christians celebrated the anniversary of his death by worshiping and celebrating communion at his grave site. That eventually morphed into a yearly observance that celebrated the lives of all martyrs. Finally, Pope Gregory III established November 1 as All Saints' Day, also known as All Hallows' Day, as a day to honor all saints of the church that have attained heaven. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows' Eve (Halloween) when worshipers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.
c. we’re certainly not to worship the saints who have gone on before us, but we certainly need to remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone on before us — especially those who have died martyr’s deaths
ILLUS. Second century Church Father, Tertullian wrote that "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church", implying that the willing sacrificing of the martyrs lives leads to the conversion of many more. Church scholars estimate that since the day Stephen (Acts 7) was stoned to death in Jerusalem in AD 36 the total number of Christian martyrs since then is 70 million — 65% of them martyred in the 20th century — mostly by totalitarian governments.
3. this was the kind of affliction that the Christians at Smyrna endured
a. they endured it faithfully — they persevered
b. because of that Jesus says you are rich
4. undoubtedly the Christians at Smyrna were at times tempted to give up and yield to the pressure to surrender up their faith
a. they never did
b. their faith persevered
c. they were faithful even to the point of death
... the Church Can Have Confidence That it Will Be Persecuted



1. here is where we need to be brutally honest with ourselves — this is something much of the church in America has forgotten
a. too many Christians, and too many congregations of Christians are more concerned with their popularity in the community than by their faithfulness to the Gospel and the Christ of the Gospel
ILLUS. In November 2016 this startling headline appeared in The Telegraph newspaper of London. “Parents Fear That Religion Will Make Their Children Outcasts.” The article stated that “Almost a quarter of religious parents are not passing on their faith to their children for fear they will be alienated at school.” Think about that ... Christian parents said they were not going to be passing on their religious faith to their children because, after all, that religious faith might cost their children. It might even mean that they will be alienated at school. In previous generations, people gained social status — it’s otherwise known as social capital — by identifying with Christianity. Being a member in good standing in a local church was considered respectable — even advantagious. Now, British parents are concerned that their child’s faith, and faithfulness to Christ, will be too costly socially for their children.
2. there once was a day when Christian parents understood that it was their responsibility to raise their children to be martyrs if necessary, to die for the faith as well as to live for Christ
a. now we’ve reached the point that at least a quarter of those who responded to this study in the United Kingdom, identifying themselves as religious in themselves, had decided not only that they’re unwilling for their children to pay an ultimate price for their faith, they don’t even want them to have to pay in terms of a loss of social status
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11, NIV84)


1. the spiritual condition of the Smyrnean church stands in sharp contrast to their economic condition
a. materially these Christians were poor, but spiritually they were rich
1) they had holiness, they had spiritual power, they had love, they had joy, they had grace, they had peace, they had fellowship with the Savior and with each other
b. they were rich because despite persecution they had remained faithful to the Lord
2. could it be that the Body of Christ in America is more concerned with the spoils of faith rather than the Spirit of Christ
a. could it be that too many Christians are more concerned with the pleasures of life, than with a piety of character
b. could it be that the world has influenced us more than we've influenced the world
c. could it be that too many churches have become Showboats instead of Lifeboats
3. what are the Prosperity Preachers doing to theologically and spiritually prepare their congregations and TV listeners for the coming tribulation of the Church
a. what will happen when millions of Christians who have been repeatedly promised their best life now, find themselves facing affliction, and slander, and poverty
b. trials and persecution strengthen and refine genuine saving faith, but uncover and destroy false faith
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11, NIV84)


1. how sobering to receive a personal message from Jesus requesting we remain faithful to the point of death!
a. he Who knows all things is asking these believers at Smyrna to prepare for the ultimate witness!
b. our community and our nation needs men and women, teenagers and even boys and girls who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for biblical truth and to stand for Jesus even when it is unpopular
"for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God," (2 Timothy 1:7-8, ESV)
2. Christ himself encourages his people to remain faithful at all costs
a. the Risen Christ Is One Who Has Experienced the Worst That Life Could Do to Him
1) no matter then what might happen to the Christians at Smyrna or to us, our Savior has experienced the worst life can bring
2) as such, He is one who feels for us in our suffering with special love and compassion and is ever present to come to our aid and comfort
b. the Risen Christ Has Conquered the Worst That Life Can Do
1) he triumphed over pain, the cross, the devil, sin, and death
2) he defeated all the enemies and He offers victory and the conqueror's crown to all who faithfully follow him
The believers at Smyrna needed to understand that death would be merely a transition for them. An exit from this world and an entry into His presence where all suffering is behind.
One of my favorite texts is found in the Book of Hebrews. It’s in what we call the Hall of Faith listing ... chapter 11. The author tells us of the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. All of these people were still living by faith when they died. Then he tells us about the faith of Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Moses, and Rahab. In moments of great testing they exercised faith. He lists faithful Judges, and faithful Kings, and faithful Prophets. Then he begins to list some of the afflictions these people of faith went through: “quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 ... wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:34–38, ESV).
But my favorite part of that passage is vs. 38 ... “the world was not worthy of them. ... “ (Hebrews 11:38a, NIV84).
He is the great truth of the passage. The world my hard press God’s people, it may even kill some of us. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer ... because the world is not worthy of you. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11, NIV84)
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