Hang on in there! Revelation 2:8-11

One of the most famous church leaders in the second century was Polycarp of Smyrna, a city in Turkey. Polycarp was one of the three prominent Apostolic Fathers alongside Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. Polycarp had actually been a disciple of the apostle John himself and it had been John who had ordained Polycarp to be Bishop of Smyrna. It is generally agreed that Polycarp was put to death around 155 AD, just as it was recorded in a document called “The Martyrdom of Polycarp.” He was bound and burned at the stake because he refused to burn incense in worship to the Roman Emperor. When the fire did not touch him, Polycarp was then stabbed to death. At the stake he said this. “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” As he died Polycarp prayed, “I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”
Polycarp of Smyrna was one of the earliest and best-known martyrs, those inspirational believers who remained faithful to Christ even to the point of death. Half a century earlier this Letter of the Risen Christ to the church at Smyrna is in essence a call to martyrdom. It is a rebuke to naïve triumphalism and a challenge to all who dare to follow the way of the cross.
8 ‘To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
This letter is a prophetic warning of just how much it may cost to declare “Jesus is Lord” in a hostile world.
THE CERTAINTY OF PERSECUTION
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Here is the reality. Persecution is the devil’s attack on Christians and on the church. We are all in a spiritual battle. Jesus had warned his apostles that there would be fierce persecution throughout the last days.
Mark 13:9 9 ‘You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

In his Gospel, John had recorded the words which he himself had heard Jesus speaking.
John 15 18“Does the world hate you? Remember that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you like one of its own. But you do not belong to the world. I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
20“Remember the words I spoke to you. I said, ‘A servant is not more important than his master.’ If people hated me and tried to hurt me, they will do the same to you. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you like that because of my name. They do not know the One who sent me.

John himself was the only apostle to survive to an old age through the terrible times of persecution under the Emperor Nero. Now the Risen Christ gives this warning to the Church at Smyrna – a terrifying warning of imprisonment and even death. It reminds us that we are not promised an easy life as Christians. The Bible makes it clear that as we follow in the steps of the Son of God who the world hated and rejected, the world will hate and reject Christians as well. We have no right, no right at all, to expect our Christian life to be any easier than it was for those Christians at Smyrna and those martyrs like Polycarp. If we want to follow Christ, we need to take up our cross. But for any Christians experiencing suffering, here are wonderful words of comfort.
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
“I know.” “I know your afflictions.” All the pressures you are under. All the terrible experiences you are suffering. “I know” your poverty. That you are poor materially. But remember, despite that material poverty, you are rich spiritually. “I know” about the slander and the opposition from those who claim to be Jews but are actually serving Satan. “I know” everything you are going through. These are the words of the one who is the First and the Last and the living one. The one who was dead but now is alive again and hold the keys of death and Hades. And the Risen Jesus Christ says, “I know what you are going through.” Not just, “I know because I can see everything and I am watching everything that is happening.” But, more than that, “I know – because I have been there.” “I know because I have suffered just as you are suffering. And more!”

The letter to Smyrna is unique among the letters to the seven churches is one very important respect.
THERE IS NO REBUKE
We saw last week the challenge to the church at Ephesus, “Yet I have this against you. You have forsaken your first love.” Each of the other letters will also contain words of criticism and challenge. But not to Smyrna. There is absolutely nothing they are doing wrong. No failure to love God or other people. No disobedience. No compromise. They weren’t being persecuted because they weren’t walking close to God. Persecution would come precisely because they WERE close to God. But then here is another surprise.
THERE IS NO EASY WAY OUT EITHER
We might have hoped for some cheering words. Maybe, “I am with you.” Maybe even, “You will be miraculously delivered from your suffering” as the angel had brought John and Peter out of prison in Acts 5. But there is no promise of divine help here. No hope of escape at all. Just simply “grit your teeth and bear the pain.” That would be the reality of persecution for the church at Smyrna, as it has been for countless Christians through the ages and is still the experience of some of our brothers and sisters around the world even today. This is the reality of following Christ. Hang on in there! No easy way out. No encouragement in this life – just a wonderful hope.
THE PROMISE OF HEAVEN
God is not offering any way out of their suffering in this world. The only hope offered is for the next world,
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Here is the hope for Christians – Heaven is our true home. So we should fix our hopes on Heaven.
Colossians 3:1 You have been raised up with Christ. So think about things that are in heaven. That is where Christ is. He is sitting at God’s right hand. 2Think about things that are in heaven. Don’t think about things that are on earth. 3You died. Now your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4Christ is your life. When he appears again, you also will appear with him in heaven’s glory.

There are times when this world holds nothing for Christians but suffering. Maybe persecution. Maybe the ravages of illness. Times when all our eggs are in the one basket of Heaven.
11 … The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Our first death, our physical death as human beings, may be agonising. But we will not have to taste the second death. Eternal death which is the opposite of eternal life. Revelation 20 warns about the judgment of the Great White Throne and the punishment of eternal death.
Revelation 20 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
This Second Death will be the destiny of all who have not put their trust in Christ. In contrast, believers have nothing to fear.
11 … The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
The Greek here is emphatic. “Ou me.” “Will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Will certainly not be hurt.” “Not in the least.”
So the message is simple. “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.”
Do not be afraid even of death. And that message comes from a trustworthy source.
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
Echoes here of the Risen Christ who appeared to John as “One Like a Son of Man” in Revelation 1 and said this. ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
There are times when all we can do as Christians is entrust ourselves to the loving care of the One who is the first and the last and the living one. There will be times when this world holds NOTHING for us and our only hope is to look forward to the world to come.
For such times, this letter to the Church at Smyrna is A CALL TO BE FAITHFUL
V 10 . Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
“Be faithful.” This exhortation will come 8 times in the Book of Revelation. Remain faithful. Stand firm in your faith. Cling to God and put your trust in His grace. The letter to the Church at Ephesus last week talked about perseverance. Keep on keeping on. Here the call is to trust and keep on trusting. Hang on in there!
By God’s mercy we have been spared this kind of persecution. We do well to keep praying for our brothers and sisters around the world even today who are facing imprisonment and suffering and martyrdom. And we claim this promise for them.
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
The one who is victorious. The one who overcomes all the challenges of life and stays firm to the end. Every one of these 7 letters to the 7 churches ends with a wonderful promise, but in each case the promise is only for the ones who are victorious – the ones who overcome. They will share Christ’s victory! And John has spelled out in his first letter how we are victorious.
1 John 5 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
And later in Revelation John will say more about how to overcome.
Revelation 12 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Victory comes through the blood of the Lamb – the sacrifice Jesus has made for us and the sacrifices he calls us to make for Him as we follow His example. And victory comes through the words of our testimony – through the faithful witness of Christians in the face of persecution and even of death. And there is one more secret to victory.
They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
As Tertullian put it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Sometimes we can be tempted to complain about all our sufferings. Sometimes Christians stop trusting in God because life gets too hard. Sometimes we can be tempted to compromise in our witness because we are scared of being ridiculed or rejected. Any time when life gets hard through opposition or persecution, the letter to the church in Smyrna and the examples of the martyrs challenge us to hang on in there and remain faithful.
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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