Revelation #6 End Times Dilemma: Persecution and Poverty


Revelation #6 End Times Dilemma: Persecution and Poverty


We discovered in the message Jesus sent to the church in Ephesus that you can be doctrinally correct but relationally wrong. The engine that pulls the train of orthodoxy, doctrine, social stands, policy, program, and facility, the engine is love.  Without love, you’re not going anywhere no matter how good all the other cars in the train are. Choose to be a lover who reaches out and befriends others.


John is instructed to write to the congregation located in the city of Smyrna.  Smyrna today goes by the name Izmir which you will find in Turkey, a port city on the Aegean Sea.  As it is today Smyrna was a beautiful city when John wrote. It was another trade hub, it was intensely Roman. The coins of the city were imprinted with the words “First of Asia in beauty and size.” There was a sports stadium, a library, and the largest public theater in all of Asia.  It was said to be the birthplace of the Greek poet Homer who is credited for writing the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Curving up the face of Mount Pagus was the famed street of gold that from the harbor looked like a necklace adorning the mountain. At each end of the golden road was a temple, one for the city’s patron deity and one for Zeus. The city won the right to build a temple for the emperor Tiberius, so it was also a center for the imperial cult, the worshiping of the emperor as a god. The city was also home to a large number of Jews. [Mounce, p. 91]  Smyrna is a very prosperous city.


Historians are not sure who planted the church, but given its proximity to Ephesus, about 35 miles to the south, scholars are inclined to think that the Apostle Paul had some influence in getting the church started.


The Christians in Smyrna are dealing with oppression and persecution. It’s very hard to be a believer in this city, everyone seems to be out to get you. 


Rev 2:8-11 (MSG)

8 Write this to Smyrna, to the Angel of the church. The Beginning and Ending, the First and Final One, the Once Dead and Then Come Alive, speaks:

9 "I can see your pain and poverty—constant pain, dire poverty—but I also see your wealth. And I hear the lie in the claims of those who pretend to be good Jews, who in fact belong to Satan's crowd.

10 "Fear nothing in the things you're about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won't last forever.

"Don't quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you.

11 "Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. Christ-conquerors are safe from Devil-death."


Jesus introduces Himself to the congregation as the one who is the start of all things and in which all things will find the conclusion.   Jesus is the one who was executed to complete His mission but then raised from the dead.  Here again, we have Jesus' example of tribulation leading to triumph.  Jesus endured the worst, apparent powerlessness, that resulted in the best, real power, real power that makes it possible for those who bend their knee to Jesus to be forgiven of their sins, reconciled to God, empowered to live an exemplary life, and who will follow Jesus in a resurrection from death.


This is the gospel.  Whoever believes in Jesus, that He is the way, the truth, and the life, the one who by his blood made atonement for all our sins, that we can become right with God, with Self, and with Others, that we can live our lives to the full.  The path of salvation is open to all who will bend their knee to the Lordship of Christ. Have you done so, the outsider and outcast becoming the insider and the beloved?  Have you done so, the loveless becoming the loved and lover? 


Romans 10:13 (NIV)

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.


Jesus will turn your messes into masterpieces as you determine to make His teachings the way you live your life. If you make that life-long commitment to be a disciple of Jesus, let me know, I want to encourage you in your faith.


Greetings from the Once Dead and then Alive.  This is a greeting of encouragement to people who are struggling with prejudice and bigotry. This is a greeting that reminds the reader that Jesus walked through death but overcame it, so as you follow Jesus you also will walk through death and overcome it.


Jesus is the one amid the lampstand that represents the churches, Jesus holds the angel of the churches in his right hand.  This means Jesus is intimately aware of the circumstances of His people.


"I can see your pain and poverty—constant pain, dire poverty—but I also see your wealth.


This chronic pain and poverty was because of persecution.  If we consider that when Paul first came to a city he started preaching in the synagogues it is safe to think that this also happened in Smyrna.  The proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah seemed always to meet with a mixed reception.  There would be those who believed the message, those who rejected the message, and those who said it was their duty to stamp out the message. History reveals that the Jewish community was well integrated into the Roman culture.  “We find them, for instance, contributing 10,000 denarii for the beautification of the city. [10,000 denarii is about 30,000 dollars] It is clear that in Smyrna they were especially hostile to the Christian Church, no doubt because it was from them and from those interested in Judaism that Christianity drew many of its converts”(Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT). The Jews were not only losing people to this new cult but to those opposed it, the claim that Jesus was the Messiah was blasphemy.  It was insanity to think you could find favor with God without being circumcised and keeping the rest of the Law, let alone the Jesus as Messiah not meeting with Jewish expectations. 


The Romans on the other hand would consider these Christ followers to be atheists. They didn’t believe in the gods, instead just one God.  The typical slanders thrown at believers included cannibalism, they ate the flesh and drank the blood of their savior; an accusation of lust and immorality was leveled as the Christians engaged in Love Feasts regularly, but the Love Feast was partaking in the Lord’s Supper and sharing a common meal with the congregation. The Christians were accused of breaking up families.  As we read in 1 Peter when one spouse became of believer there could be high tension in the home. The Roman citizens would have none of that.


The scholars also suggest that a majority of believers would have been slaves.  The message of the gospel gives individuals worth and dignity, it was attractive to those society had made property.


There was discrimination and bigotry.  Maged is a believer who lives in Egypt he told me that as a Christian it was very difficult to get work because of his faith.  So much more so in Smyrna.  “In an antagonistic environment it would be difficult for the Christian to make a living, and thus many were economically destitute” (Mounce, p.92).  The writer of Hebrews gives us another reason for the economic hardship:


Hebrews 10:33-34 (NIV)

 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.


Your property could be confiscated because of your belief. You could be thrown in jail because you refused to recant your faith.  These conditions make it hard to survive financially. The original language suggests that some believers were economically reduced to the begging poor.


The congregation is Symrna was materially poor but spiritually rich.  There is no way you can endure this type of abuse without being empowered by Jesus.  The Apostle James points out that it is the poor who must rely on God and each other to get by, to have a meal, and a place to sleep, because of this they draw closer to God and each other out of desperation and God blesses with the power to endure.


“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”(James 2:5 (NIV). 


There is no extra virtue in being poor.  Wealth gives you the illusion that you can take care of yourself, that’s why Jesus said it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom, poverty strips that lie away and makes you realize how much more you need God’s presence and power in your life. It's best to live in a state of dependency and when you have material blessings to praise God for them.


Jesus was rejected by His own.  Of all the people in the world, the Jews had the scripture that identified the Messiah.  But the idea of a suffering slave as Messiah didn’t meet their expectations of a conquering king in the style and might of King David from their past. In rejecting the gospel they had gone astray.  The Children of Israel are God’s people who had endured much persecution, now these same people were persecuting whom the Apostle Paul called the true children of God.


Romans 2:28-29 (MSG)

 “Don't you see: It's not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It's the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew.”

You may not be Jewish by birth, but you have been grafted into that family tree when you asked Jesus to allow you to be his slave. 


Jesus message continues:

“And I hear the lie in the claims of those who pretend to be good Jews, who in fact belong to Satan's crowd.”


These words contain an interesting argument.  It is suggested that good Jews are those who kept their doctrine and rituals intact, but having rejected the Messiah, have become adversarial to the very God they worshipped. The idea then is that they ceased to be God’s chosen people, being replaced by Christians. The Church carries on the blessings and responsibilities that were first given to the children of Israel. The disciples of Jesus became the new Israel.  Satan’s crowd contains all those who reject the Lordship of Jesus. 


The believers are being oppressed by the Jews and the ruling Romans. Many of Jesus' followers had lost their livelihoods, and their property, even reduced to begging in the streets. Jesus tells them worse is on the way.


"Fear nothing in the things you're about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won't last forever.


“The Message to the persecuted church in Smyrna could not have been welcomed.  Who wants to hear that present suffering will increase to imprisonment and perhaps death, even if it is to be for only a short time” (Carol Rotz, NBNC Revelation, A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, p. 69).  The time of testing, ten days, means that this intense persecution will only last a short time.  To endure is to validate one's loyalty to Jesus. To endure means you are tried and tested and come out 100% blood-washed.


Hear the promise of Jesus to those who endure persecution.

"Don't quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you.


A Life- Crown is eternal life.  Even though they kill you, you shall live, for Jesus will raise you on the last day.


11 "Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. Christ-conquerors are safe from Devil-death."


 Devil death refers to second-order death.  First-order death visits you when your physical body dies. Second-order death, eternal separation from God, is the destiny of all who have chosen to be an adversary of Christ.


Believers in Symrna are in a bad spot. They are dealing with intense persecution, imprisonment, and death all because they bent the knee to Jesus refusing to recant. Jesus tells the church that this tribulation will pass and that those who endure will be in the winner’s circle in life eternal.


Two things you should take to heart.


Riches and poverty are not signs of God’s blessings or curses. With riches comes increased responsibility, and with poverty increased dependence on God.   Neither are indicators of the quality of your faith.  Both stations allow testifying to the power of God.


At times life is so hard, and the adversaries so numerous, that you are tempted to quit.  Call on God to fill you with the Holy Spirit who will in turn give you the power to endure, to cope, and to shine, through you manifesting the presence of God to the people in your world. Jesus' message is don’t quit. Keep on keeping on, trial and tribulation will only last a short while, and even if they take away everything you have, everything you love, even if they kill you, Jesus will set all things right at His return.



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