Revelation 2:8-11 Suffering for Christ’s Sake

Revelation 2:8-11 Suffering for Christ’s Sake February 15, 2016

Revelation 2:8-11 Suffering for Christ’s Sake

When you love someone, you are willing to suffer for them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. In the earlier English version of The Cost of Discipleship, Fuller translated this famous aphorism as: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Literally, that says, “Every call of Christ leads into death.”1 Bonhoeffer is reminding us, just as Jesus reminds us that as a church, we are called as Christians to suffer for Jesus Christ.

That is the case with the most famous person associated with this church addressed by Jesus in this letter, Polycarp.

Polycarp lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the original apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers. Tradition has it that he was personally discipled by the apostle John and that he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (in modern Izmir in Turkey) by some of the original apostles.2 He was eventually captured and killed. His martyrdom was written down in detail later by some of the people of the church of Smyrna. Here is the account of his death.

But as Polycarp entered the stadium, there came a voice from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp, and act like a man.” And no one saw the speaker, but those of our people who were present heard the voice. And then, as he was brought forward, there was a great tumult when they heard that Polycarp had been arrested. Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked if he were Polycarp. And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to recant, saying, “Have respect for your age,” and other such things as they are accustomed to say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar; repent; say, ‘Away with the atheists!’” So Polycarp solemnly looked at the whole crowd of lawless heathen who were in the stadium, motioned toward them with his hand, and then (groaning as he looked up to heaven) said, “Away with the atheists!” But when the magistrate persisted and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”34

As we look at this church, we are reminded of our responsibility as a Christian. When you love someone, you will be willing to suffer for them. If you know Christ, you should be willing to suffer for Him. Let’s look at how suffering for Christ’s sake encourages us today.

SEVEN PARTS OF THE LETTER TO THE CHURCH OF SMYRNA

1. Address – to Smyrna (Revelation 2:8)

““Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna…” (Revelation 2:8, HCSB)

The name Smyrna means “bitter” and is related to the word myrrh. The word “smyrna” comes from myrrh—a fragrance released only when crushed.5

The city remains a functioning community today called Izmir. The assembly at Smyrna was persecuted for the faith, which explains why the Lord emphasized His death and resurrection as He opened His message. No matter what experiences God’s people may have, their Lord identifies with them.6

2. Depiction of Jesus – The First and the Last (Revelation 2:8)

…The First and the Last, the One who was dead and came to life, says:” (Revelation 2:8, HCSB)

With this description of Jesus, we see that He will help us with difficult times. Jesus is described here by His eternal nature. He has been there in the past. He is there today. He is there in the future. That’s why Jesus is not worried about death. He has been dead and now He is alive.

For the first time, researchers have detected the warping of space-time caused by a collision of two massive black holes – something first predicted in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity in 1915. He basically stated that gravity is a warping of spacetime by energy and mass.7 That theory states that time slows down. While some scientists believe this proves the Big Bang. I believe this proves the eternal nature of Jesus, and proof that there is a heaven. Why do I say this? Because Jesus always spoke about existing outside of time. He said that God is not the God of the dead, but the living. Jesus stated that before Abraham, “I am.” Here, he states that He is the First and the Last. Other scriptures point to the fact that God and Jesus lives outside of time:

God is said to be able to see everything at the same time:

For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that passes by, like a few hours of the night. (Psalm 90:4, HCSB)

Time slows down in God’s sight. What we can experience in a thousand years, God can experience in seconds. This means that God exists outside of time.

Peter is probably referring to this psalm when he states a similar idea:

Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8, HCSB)

God is eternal. This description is a reminder to us that Jesus is alive today. He has resurrected and He is available to help us.

3. Commendation or Praise – You are rich (Revelation 2:9)

I know your affliction and 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, HCSB)

Christians are experiencing economic persecution (e.g., loss of income and jobs, destruction of property, legal trouble), resulting in poverty. This could be related to exclusion from local trade guilds, which provided work but often promoted pagan religious activities that caused Christians to compromise their faith. Yet in spite of their material poverty, Jesus declares them spiritually rich!

During this time, the Jewish religion was tolerated. The Roman wanted to keep the peace. So they allowed the Jews to continue to practice their worship, even though it contradicted with the Roman system. Yet, since the Christians were gaining in popularity, the Jews would tell the Roman authorities that it was the Christians who were causing trouble.

The term “slander” (blasphēmia), therefore, probably refers to Jewish “accusers” who would inform the Roman authorities about Christians, thereby opening them up to persecution.8

4. Condemnation or Rebuke – None

There are no rebukes for church. When we suffer for Christ’s sake, we don’t have time to sin. So there is no condemnation for those who choose to accept suffering for Christ’s sake.

5. Exhortation – Don’t fear and be faithful until death (Revelation 2:10)

Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, HCSB)

Every Christian is going to encounter persecution of some kind. We will all have a test of difficulties. Some will have difficulty at work. Others will have family and friends who don’t understand the faith. We go through trials to produce perseverance and this perseverance gives us hope. A physical body goes through trials to make the body strong. The church (Christ’s body) also goes through trails to make the church strong.9

There are two words that Jesus gives us as a Christian today. The first is to not fear and the second is to be faithful until death.

Don’t fear

Many of us have fear. For example, even people who followed Jesus in the New Testament had fear.

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus—but secretly because of his fear of the Jews—asked Pilate that he might remove Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took His body away.” (John 19:38, HCSB)

Then all the people of the Gerasene region asked Him to leave them, because they were gripped by great fear. So getting into the boat, He returned.” (Luke 8:37, HCSB)

Jesus makes many references to fear. He tells us often not to fear.

and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people!”” (Luke 5:10, HCSB)

““Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known.” (Matthew 10:26, HCSB)

So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31, HCSB)

Then Jesus came up, touched them, and said, “Get up; don’t be afraid.”” (Matthew 17:7, HCSB)

But He said to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid!”” (John 6:20, HCSB)

Fear is a challenge which every Christian must overcome. The two most difficult things we fear as Christians are suffering and death. Each of the churches had to deal with difficulties. In the church of Ephesus, the difficulty were the Nicolaitans, a group of false teachers. In the church of Smyrna, the people were challenged by religious Jews.

The Nicolaitans, endangered Christian faith from within. Religious Jews, were outsiders. They were especially strong in Smyrna, were members of a distinct religious community which persecuted Christians as outsiders.10 People who slander within the church hurts the church community. Suffering of Christians in the church from outside builds the church.

Yet, beyond persecution, the most challenging kind of fear is the fear of death. Jesus spoke about this to His disciples.

““And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” (Luke 12:4, HCSB)

Be faithful until death

The reward of perseverance is given in the middle part of the verse—the crown of life. Commentators are divided about what this means. James may be using the symbol of a crown as a picture of heaven and eternal life. Other commentators believe the “crown of life” is a special reward God will give those who persevere through adversity or persecution (Revelation 2:10).11

Jesus is showing that just as He died and then was raised to eternal life, you and I can expect the same experience.

6. Call to pay attention to the Holy Spirit (Revelation 2:11)

““Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor will never be harmed by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11, HCSB)

Again, we have a reminder to listen to the Spirit. In this case, He will help us overcome our fears and help us be faithful even if it leads to our deaths. Why? Because we will eventually overcome death.

7. Promise to the overcoming Christian – Never harmed by the second death (Revelation 2:11)

““Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor will never be harmed by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11, HCSB)

Some have argued that John is employing a figure of speech known as litotes. A litotes is an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary. A modern example would be a baseball coach’s saying to a player who just hit a grand slam, “Well, son, I guess you’re not a bad player.” The coach is simply complimenting his star player.12 This verse states that we will not be harmed by the second death. Instead, the second death will be a great thing.

Jesus said that a seed must fall to the ground and die. Only after it dies will it become the great thing God eventually intended.

““I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” (John 12:24, HCSB)

Paul compared death, the resurrection and eternal life to a seed:

Foolish one! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. But God gives it a body as He wants, and to each of the seeds its own body.” (1 Corinthians 15:36–38, HCSB)

The seed must be planted so that the real essence of that seed can come out. Just as the essence of the seed comes out to be what it is supposed to be for the rest of its time on Earth, our soul and spirit will continue after death. God will give each and every Christian a new body after death.

In The Calling, Brother Andrew writes:

We were planning to smuggle one million Bibles into China. Wanting to be sure that the believers in the country realized the immensity of the task and were willing to accept the risks, we sent Joseph, a Chinese team member, to meet with five key house-church leaders.

“Do you know how much space one million Bibles take up?” Joseph asked.

“We have already prepared storage places,” they replied.

“Do you know what could happen to you,” Joseph continued, “if you were caught with even a portion of these Bibles?”

“Joseph, all five of us have been in prison for the Lord,” they replied. “All together, we’ve spent seventy-two years in jail for Jesus. We are willing to die if it means that a million brothers and sisters can have a copy of God’s word.”

With tears in his eyes, Joseph folded up his long list of questions and put it away.

Whether it is risking our life or risking our reputation, serving the gospel requires courage. God never said his work was safe.13

Remember, when you love someone, you are willing to suffer for them.

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003). The austere German text reads: “Jeder Ruf Christi führt in den Tod.”

2 Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, “Introduction,” 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 360.

3Mart. Pol. 9.1–3. See Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 315–17.

4 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 51.

5 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1672.

6 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 573.

7Victoria Woollaston, Mark Prigg, and Ellie Zolfagharifard, “Einstein was right: Sceintists detect gravitational waves caused by two black holes colliding 1.3 billion years ago in historic experiment proving the theory of general relativity,” Daily Mail, Found at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3442022/Major-breakthrough-hunt-gravitational-waves-announced-today-Discovery-finally-prove-Einstein-s-100-year-old-theory-ripples-space-time.html, accessed on 12 February 2016.

8 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 47.

9 Jim Erwin, “Revelation 2:1-3:22 Seven Tests of a Healthy Church,” sermon, posted on http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2016/01/31/revelation-21-322-seven-tests-of-a-healthy-church/ on 31 January 2016, accessed on 03 February 2016.

10 Robert W. Wall, Revelation, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 73.

11 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2009 Edition. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, n.d.), 288.

12 Charles F. Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Oliver-Nelson Books, 1990). Zane Hodges cites Hebrews 6:10 and Revelation 2:11 as other examples of litotes. See Grace in Eclipse, pp. 109–10.

13 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 395–396.


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