Revelation: The Beginning of the End?

Apatheists (Manuscript)

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Thank you for joining us this morning in our study of Revelation:  The Beginning of the End.  We have been studying the letters that are directed at seven churches, which were actual churches, historical churches in actual cities in Asia Minor which today is Western Turkey.  These churches transcend time and space to become model letters for the church age This morning we will be skipping over the church of Sardis and Philadelphia and will be looking at those churches in the next two weeks.  But today we are focusing on the last church, and its the church of Laodicea.  Even today, they still have a reputation of being the church that made the Lord Jesus Christ sickthe lukewarm church. 

Jesus warns us that He is sick of spiritual complacency and indifference on the part of believers in the church.  If you noticed the title of the message this morning it might have had you scratching your head.  What is an Apatheists?  Pastor Ken, this sounds like a made up word and you know what?  Youre right.  But let me explain.  Most people profess belief in God, meaning they are theists.  True atheism is a rarity.  Recently, however, it has been suggested that we need a new term for the multitude who are theists but are indifferent to God in daily living.  The word apatheists is built on the noun apathy, which means indifference,” a sort of sluggish unconcern.  And sadly, whatever belief an individual professes, he may be living as an apatheists.  His faith may make only a minimal difference in his/her behavior.  So the message is for each one of us today who profess faith in Jesus to be either hot or cold not lukewarm.  Are you lukewarm?  You might be thinking well, I pray,” but is our praying a mere obligation?  Im here at church arent I?”  But is it just a matter of routine, like brushing your teeth or cleaning your house?  Have we lost our first love, the zeal that we should have in our spiritual journey?  Today, lets make the psalmist prayer our own:  Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? (Psalm 85:6).   

Prayer: 

All of us know that if we have a doctor that we trust and he gives us a diagnosis and then the prescription for the cure, we most assuredly should take his recommendation.  But of course if youre self-absorbed or if youre prideful and think, Well, I know better than my doctor,” and you try to figure out your own self-diagnosis and cure for the pain or illness and not the doctors, it could result in disaster for you.   Jesus is the great physician of the soul and He has so much to say to us in His Word and so lets look together at Revelation, chapter 3, and verses 14-22 to see the seriousness of His words for us today.  And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write.  Notice this time  Jesus’ says, And to the angel of the church Of the Laodiceans instead of  And to the angel of the church IN Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, or Philadelphia,” because this self-sufficient church was run by the Laodiceans and not by the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23).  Subtle, but very alarming and lets us in on our number one spiritual battleour pride.  Lets keep reading, “‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: (15) I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I could wish you were cold or hot. (16) So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. (17) Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked(18) I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (19) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.  Therefore be zealous and repent. (20) Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (21) To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. (22) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’”  

Let me ask you, when does a person who claims to be a believer start drifting away from the Lord?  Or when does a person just get the spiritual blahs?  Or when does the person who says he loves Christ get apathetic or indifferent to the things of the Lord?  Is it not when you take your eyes off the Lord who is the Head of the church?  We are in this series of What God thinks of His Church.  Our assignment has been that as we go through the study of these seven churches that we examine what church best represents Brookside Baptist Church?  And what church best represents you and me?  Possibly you see characteristics both good and bad from all seven different churches here at Brookside or in your own life.  But the minute you and I lose that love and zeal for the Lordwatch out.  When you can take or leave spiritual things and its no real big deal to yoube careful.  Remember, none of these churches are around today.   

Laodicea has the grim distinction of being the only assembly of the seven that the Lord of the church did not commend in some way.  The church of Laodicea is unfortunately todays most prevalent church type.  As we read these nine verses what a sad commentary of a group of believers in the body of the church.  Youre thinking, yes, absolutely terrible but listen to some statistics of a study of the church today I came across:  Ten percent of all church members cannot be found; twenty percent never pray; thirty percent never attend church; forty percent never give to any cause; fifty percent never go to Sunday school; sixty percent never go to church on Sunday evening; seventy percent never give to missions; eighty percent never go to prayer meeting; ninety percent never have family devotions; ninety-five percent have never been involved in seeing a soul come to Jesus.  Ladies and gentlemen these are the kind of statistics that break Gods heart and makes Jesus sick.  The spiritual battle Laodicea ignored is ours to fight. . .or else. 

Jesus, the Creator, is making the diagnosis and He will give us the cure from being Apatheism and a promise for being sanctified, passionate and refreshing followers of Christ.   

  1. The Creator - v. 14 And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’”  So, the reason we need to pay careful attention to the text is because Jesus is omniscient and He can see right through us.  We cannot fool Him.  But here we are given the  identity of Jesus Christ and His identity reminds us that we are to trust Him fully and depend on Him completely which the church at Laodicea was not doing.  We are given a two-fold description of Jesus. 
  • You can trust what He says - We read the Amen.” Usually when we hear the word Amen,” it means lets eat.”  It is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for certainty or truth.”  In the New Testament, the Lord often began by saying, Verily, verily,” or literally, Amen, amen. . .”  In other words, What Im about to say to you is the final wordthe word of certainty and truth.  So, when you Amen,” you are effectively saying to the preacher, Youre telling the truth and Im committed to following it.”  So, be careful when you say it.  Jesus with this descriptive title tell us that His word in final; its fixed; its unchangeable.  Were told that He is the Faithful and True witness.” Here Jesus repeats his description that we saw in verse 5, of chapter 1.  In other words, Jesus is saying, What Im about to tell you is the truth because I only tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  You can trust what Jesus says every time. 
  • You can trust what He starts - the Beginning of the creation of God.”  This is a favorite verse of those riding bicycles, who come knocking on your door wearing white shirts.  They interpret this verse to say that Christ is the beginning of Gods creation.  He was the first created being.  Sometimes the English translation can be unclear and can be misleading.  However, the Greek word for beginning” is the word arche which could be translated originator” or creator.”  Colossians chapter 1 informs us that it was Jesus who was actually doing the creating.  Listen, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All thing were created through and for Him” (Col. 1:15-16).  He is first in time and position.  The Colossians believers were evidently stumbling over the deity of Jesus that He is God and eternal.  They received their letter from Paul, who told the Colossian believers to pass it on toguess who?the church in Laodicea.  Paul wrote in Colossians 4:16, Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans. . . . 
  1. The diagnosis - vv. 15-16 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I could wish you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.  Ouch!  In order to understand Jesus’ diagnosis, though, we need to understand some of the background of this city.  Its interesting that most of the things that the Lord says to the church at Laodicea, as in the other letters, come directly out of the situation, and culture, and background of the day.  If you had lived in the cities around the Mediterranean Sea two thousand years ago, and someone told you they were going on vacation and had found the perfect resort for relaxation in natural hot springs, shopping in designer label stores, gambling in busy casinos, watching professional sporting events, and attending the theater for award winning plays, you would have immediately known that there was one city like this where you could have it all.  The city was named after the wife of its founding emperor.  Her name was Laodice, and the citys name was Laodicea.  The city was the Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, and Chase Manhattan Bank all rolled into one.  It wasnt just for Gentiles either.  In fact, the Jews in Jerusalem had complained about the number of their kinsmen who had forsaken Israel for the luxuries and the baths of this region.  Laodicea was the garment capitol of the world with sheep that were renowned for having a glossy, black, almost violet-colored wool.  Everyone in Rome wanted the garments made in Laodicea.  Laodicea was also known as a medical center and had one of the largest schools of ophthalmology.  They had created a tablet that when crushed and mixed with water would create a paste that was rubbed into the eyes and was reported to cure a variety of eye problems.  The city was also the banking center of Asia Minor.  In fact, the citizens of Laodicea were by large so well off that when the earthquake of 60 AD destroyed the city, they actually declined financial help from Rome to help rebuild it, saying they didnt need any assistance.  The city was also consumed with physical fitness since many of the athletic competition took place there.                                   The city was in a Tri-City area in the beautiful Lycus River Valley (map) and was surrounded by the mountains of Western Turkey.  The city of Laodicea was bordered on the north about six miles by the city of Hieropolis, a city that was famous for its hot springs.  The springs had a high mineral content and a great medicinal value.  A little to the east of Laodicea was the city of Colossae, known for its cold, clear, refreshing waters.  Hot springs to the north.  Cold waters to the east.  It seems that Laodicea received water from a remarkable aqueduct system of stone pipes.  Archaeological evidence indicates that the waters around Laodicea were infused with a calcium carbonate content that resulted in the waters being lukewarm, impure and emeticso that is, if swallowed caused vomiting.       

      This text has been misinterpreted in my opinion more often 

      than not.  Many good men believe the cold represents 

      unsaved people and stand in opposition to Christ and the 

      lukewarm are carnal Christians or possibly not Christians at 

      all.  Remember, Jesus is writing this letter to a church.  Some 

      even believe the cold represent believers who stand in 

      opposition to Christ.  However, to me it is hardly conceivable 

      that Jesus would say to His church be cold and oppose Me. 

      It is better, I believe, to interpret the statement against the 

      historical and geographical background of Laodicea.  Hot, 

      medicinal waters bubbled up at nearby Hierapolis, while cold, 

      pure waters flowed at Colossae.   In fact the Greek word for 

      cold here is the word psychros which is equivalent to the  

      Hebrew word for qar where we see in Proverbs 25:25, As 

      cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far 

      country.”  So, maybe our Lords point, then, is that the cold 

      and hot references are both positive qualities.  If thats the 

      case, and I believe it is, then you are either providing 

      refreshment for the spiritually thirsty or healing for the 

      spiritually sick.  If not, then youre not making a difference 

      and youre lukewarm.  This indifference and complacency is 

      what Christ hates.  Thus you can either be hot and 

      passionate or you can be cool and refreshing and able to 

      take people in their time of need and invigorate them or 

      youre not.  We should all as believers be refreshing and 

      passionate in our love for the Lord, like we heard yesterday at 

      the funeral of Rachelle Bergeron-Hammerling who was used 

      of the Lord in a great way on the Micronesian island of Yap. 

      Let me ask, can people read your social media statements 

      and be refreshed and encouraged in a biblical way?  Do you 

      invigorate people to passionately serve the Lord with all their 

      heart, soul, and mind?  You may not care about your 

      spiritually lukewarm status but the Lord says, I do and I 

      will not tolerate you.”  You are flat and unsavory.  You have 

      sat, soaked and soured and are content to be lukewarm. 

      If you havent noticed, lukewarmness to Jesus is tepid and  

      He says, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”  Friends, 

      lukewarmness is present all about us.  The problem wasnt 

      unique with Laodicea.  Today lukewarmness exhibits itself in 

      several ways:  A lukewarm Christian never declares, This 

      Bible is my sole reason for spiritual existence.”  He never 

      sees missions to be a serious business.  He never allows 

      Scripture to serve as His guide for the handling of his home 

      and professional life.  Lukewarmness is the diagnosis that 

     Jesus reveals. 

Transition:  In the light of what Jesus is saying here, take inventory and face up to your true spiritual condition.  See the cure for your apatheism.  Isnt it wonderful that Jesus doesnt leave us with no cure? 

  1. The Cure - vv. 15-19As many as I love, I rebuke and 

     chasten.  Therefore be zealous and repent. 

  • Repent of any spiritual neutrality - vv. 15-16 Spiritual neutrality is when we stop aggressively resisting the world.  We are not cold and refreshing like the springs of cool water that were enjoyed in Colosse; nor hot and therapeutic like the thermal springs of Hieropolis.  Living the Christian life is resisting the pressure of the world that is constantly squeezing us into just going along with things, not discipling ourselves for godliness, and instead just pleasing ourselves.  We need to be a thermostat” and set the spiritual temperature in our homes, and not be just a thermometer” that moves up and down with society.  Spiritual neutrality is when we say that it no longer matters that every part of our life come under Christs control.  Paul stated in I Corinthians 6:19-20, Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”  Paul says our bodies are reserved.  We are owned by God, inhabited by the Spirit, and no longer solely ours.  Therefore because of the purchase of God look at verse 20, For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are Gods.”  The word glorify” is in the imperative mode of the verb that means, valuing God for who He really is,” or giving God the credit for what belongs to Him.”   
  • Repent of any spiritual self-sufficiency - v. 17a Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.”  Spiritual self-sufficiency is when we think we are making it on our own, and dont need the Lords power, guidance, and presence.  We stop seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” in our lives and thus slowly begin to drift from His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).  These believers were self-enamored, self-absorbed, anemic people who had no interest in providing either comfort or refreshment to those around them.  Notice the difference between who they thought they were and who Christ said they were.  If you ask the average Bible student what is wrong with the church at Laodicea, they very often will say, It was because they were lukewarm.  That is not the worst problem of the church at Laodicea.  Lukewarmness was not the worst problem and I will tell you why.  Theres a good cure for lukewarmness and its called repentance.  That can be taken care of quickly.  There was a much more serious problem at Laodicea.  It was that they were lukewarm but they thought they were hot!  The greatest problem is this misperception of who they were in Gods presence.  Thats why so many Christians believe they are okay, but really they are indifferent and have no idea of how they are perceived by the Lord Himself.   
  • Repent of any spiritual insensitivity - v. 17b and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”  Notice the words You say and “You are in verse 17.  Jesus is saying to the Laodiceans, You say you have everything, but youre spiritually poverty stricken.”  Smyrna was the rich poor church, but Laodicea is the poor rich church.  Because they are insensitive, they are deceived Christians.  They could not have been more off base in who they thought they were.  They were: 
  • Wretched - unfortunate, devastated, afflicted 
  • Miserable - the object of extreme pity and compassion 
  • Poor - poor as a beggar; a slap at a city that bragged about its wealth and banking industry 
  • Blind - again a slap at a city that prided itself on its ophthalmology school and famous eye salve 
  • Naked - a slap at a city that boasted of its famous designer clothing 

 These believers were pursuing the same dreams and the  same comforts and the same goals as the world around  them and they were content to play their little religious  games, while the world around them pursued empty  dreams.  This makes Jesus Christ sick! 

  • Repent of any spiritual wastefulness - v. 18a I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.”  The Laodiceans knew all about gold but the Bible refers often to purified faith as refined gold.  Remember Job saying, But He knows the way that I take; when He (God) has tested me, I shall come forth as gold?  Instead of floating downstream in the current of our culture, stand up for the truthlook trials of life squarely in the eye and confirm what Peter tells us, That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, who having not seen you love” (I Peter 1:7-8a)  Spiritual wastefulness is when we abandon Christ as our investment counselor and start investing our time and money in get-rich quick schemes for earth and not Heaven.  We begin to measure things by earthly and not eternal worth.  Slowly we begin to trade the precious time we have for objects that will only rust, burn, get stolen or weigh us down in life.  The Bank of Heaven gets neglected and the treasures we lay up are buried here on Earth.  
  • Repent of any spiritual neglect - v. 18b and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.”  Spiritual neglect is when we drop out of the work force and begin not to get dressed for work any more.  Jesus often told us to dress ourselves with His character, His power, and His armor.  Clothing ourselves with Christ gets neglected and finally forgotten.  Spiritual neglect is when we become more preoccupied with what we look like to men rather than to God.  We impress people outwardly rather than pleasing god inwardly.   
  • Repent of any spiritual blindness - v. 18c and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”  Laodicea was known all over the world for helping people see, but Jesus says, Youre blind.”  Spiritual blindness is just that: Blindness to things of God.  We no longer see Him in His Word.  Spiritual blindness is when we begin to stumble along, acting more and more like lost people who do not know, cannot see, and do not follow the Lord.   
  • Repent of any spiritual laxness - v. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.  Therefore be zealous and repent.   In other words, Change course, turn around, confess your sinful pride and self-centeredness and get moving.”  The Lord is writing to Christians.  He is writing to people who had become indistinguishable from the world.  Wow, what an indictment of the church in the 21st century.  We fit it.  But shouldnt we live differently?  Christ wants us to be either cold or hot.  But if we never cause anyone to get heartburn over the gospel what is that saying about us?  They did not come across as fanatics for Jesus, yet they did not act like atheists either.  Imagine getting a letter from the Lord saying, You make me sickyou think you have everything and that God is blessing you, but you are, in reality, poor and naked and blind.  Would you be devastated to know that you make God sick?  Spiritual laxness is when we drop our guard about unconfessed sins in our lives.  Spiritual laxness is when we forget how horrible sin always is to Jesus.   
  1. The promise - vv. 20-22 
  • His invitation - vv. 20, 22 - Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.  This is an invitation first and foremost to the church.  This is still a valid church.  There is still hope for this church.   Though often used as a text for an evangelistic appeal, this is an invitation from Christ to the church to let Him in to fellowship.  He is knocking.  Its in the present tense meaning Hes knocking.  In verse 22 He concludes as He has with every church, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Many can hear, but not all are listening.    
  • His promise - v. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”  Years ago, there were revivals where God did unusual things in the lives of people.  One man said, I thought it was a good thing for us to have a revival for the church,” but then he said, And then it dawned on me that I was the one who needed it.”  When we let God have all of us, its deep; its abiding; its immensely worthwhile.  Life without Christ and eternal punishment or life with Christ, sitting with Him in heaven on His throne.  You become an overcomer by confessing your sins and asking Jesus Christ to save you.  And then in Him, you and I become overcomes and will sit with Him on HIs throne.  But until then He stands at the door of your life and knocks.  Could I urge you today not to say no to that voice?  Hes not only the One who can save you and set you free.  He is the One at your door wanting to fellowship with you.    

Conclusion:  Let me give you the bottom line from the challenge of this letter to the church at Laodicea.  Do not settle for half-hearted complacent spiritual living.  

  • Mediocrity neutralizes our perspective 
  • Mediocrity neutralizes our motivation 
  • Mediocrity neutralizes our witness 
  • Mediocrity neutralizes our availiability.   

There is no place in the Christian life for neutral affections; or for coasting.  It is never too late to start doing right.  What pleases God is that we are either refreshing or passionate in our love and service for the Lord.      

Posted by Ken Keltner with

When Suffering Strikes (Manuscript)

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The following is an unedited manuscript.

There are two universal languages in the world:  first, music; second, suffering.  We need not understand words to understand either of these languages.  Both have ways of communicating far more deeply than verbalization ever could.  Both say more, much more, than just the sounds an ear can hear.  Back from history, the believers of Smyrna speak to us today.  Founded a full millennium before Christ walked the earth, this ancient city has a long, colorful, and suffering past.  Within our text this morning, we will look deep into a scene that dates back to the end of the first century, during a time when a pocket of believers in Smyrna endured intense affliction.  So intense was their suffering that the Lord personally sent them a letter of encouragement via the pen of John.  It was designed to help them (and us) persevere.  Follow along as I read these four verses in Revelation, chapter 2, beginning at verse 8.  And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: (9) I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (10) Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful until 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.  He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’" 

 

Friends, we learned two weeks ago with the church at Ephesus that the first mark of the New Testament church is love for the Lord Himself.  The second mark is seen in the church at Smyrna, and its the ability to suffer and endure, which is really a demonstration of how effective and strong our love for the Lord really is.  Someone once said that all believers are like spiritual teabags.  When we get dunked up and down in hot water, whatever is inside of us comes out.  This past week, if things got hot, tense, tight, and hard, what came out of your life?  Was it an aroma like Christlike myrrh?  Or was it something less than that?  Listen, suffering, persecution and martyrdom has indeed been the calling of the Church of the Lord Jesus throughout her entire history.  At one time the book Foxes Book of Martyrs was a perennial best seller cataloguing the stories of men and women who gave their life for Christ.  Today, Voice of the Martyrs magazine updates us on the persecution and sufferings of our brothers and sisters around the world.  Open Doors does the same.  Time Magazine reported the number of Christian martyrs doubled between 2010 and 2013 (Jan. 8, 2014).  Nigeria led the way in 2012.  Syria in 2013.  Iran, Rwanda, North Korea and the Sudan are not far behind.  It is estimated that 100-150 million Christians have been martyred every year in recent decades.  Some estimate that 65% of all those martyred have taken place since the dawn of the 20th century (EWTN News, 5-10-02).  My friends, the truth of the matter is that more people have died for their faith in Jesus Christ in the 20-21st centuries than all previous years of church history.  This does not take into account those imprisoned, tortured, and persecuted.  

If the Lord tarries, we here in these United States could see the hammer of persecution begin to pound us with all kinds of persecution and suffering like many believers all over the world today are experiencing.            

We need to understand what it is that keeps people faithful unto death.  In order to be faithful unto death, the knowledge of Jesus must be greater to us than the reality of death itself. 

Four impactful truths about Jesus:  Who He is (v.8), What He knows (v.9), What He commands (v.10), and What He promises (v. 11). 

  1. Who He is - v. 8 Jesus tells John to write to the angel of the church in Smyrna.”  Now, before we get into the context of the letter, let me make a few comments about where this church ministered.  It was in the city of Smyrna, which today is modern day Izmir, in Western Turkey.  It, by the way, is the only one of the seven cities of Revelation 2-3 still in existence today.                                                                                                 Smyrna was located about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus and, as you can see in this slide, it would have been the next stop a first century postman” would make in his rounds to deliver these seven letters.  Back then the Romans called Smyrna the Beauty of Asia,” and referred to it as a city of life” and strength, possibly because it had been destroyed once and then rebuilt by Alexander the Great.  Smyrna had a stadium in which famous games were held each year.  It had a magnificent library and one of the largest theaters in Asia Minor.  Plus, it claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, yes, that Homer who wrote all those books about Greek history.  What is important to understand about Smyrna is the fact that it was a city very loyal to Rome.  Their reverence for Rome was so strong that in 195 B.C. Smyrna was the first city in the world to erect a temple to the goddess Roma” a temple for the worship of the spirit of Rome.  And then in A.D. 26, when all the cities of Asia Minor were competing for the privilege of erecting a temple to the godhead of the emperor Tiberius, Smyrna won!  And with that Smyrna overcame her greatest rival, Ephesus.                                             Now in the beginning, emperor worship was nothing more than a spontaneous demonstration of gratitude (patriotism) to Rome, but toward the end of the first century it all changed under the rule of Domitian, who was Caesar of Rome.  Domitian made Caesar worship compulsory.    Domitian made emperor worship law all over Europe and if any city was to take this kind of law seriously it would be a city like Smyrna that had such a love affair with the Roman Empire.  So, this will be important to understand in our study because once a year, every person had to burn a pinch of incense and say three words, Caesar is lord” out loud.  When they did this, they would receive a certificate, a certificate that was required to get a job and make a living.  Domitian was a murderous dictator who launched extensive persecution against the church, which reached some kind of fever pitch in the city of Smyrna for believers were unwilling to make this claim.  Can you imagine sitting among the gathering of Gods people in Smyrna on a cold Sunday morning before sunrise?  A small, lamp-lit room houses the remnant of beaten and beleaguered church members.  In the dim light the pastor unrolls a scroll and begins to read with a calm, quiet confidence.  The entire group seems to hold its breath when they hear the message comes from the risen Lord Jesus Himself.  What a letter of encouragement this would be then and now, for Jesus tells them (us) who He is.     
  • First and Last - These things says the First and the Last.”  Jesus repeats this description of Himself from Revelation 1, verse 17, The First and the Last.”  Turn to Isaiah 41 and let me show you just one verse where God calls Himself the First and the Last.  Isaiah 41:4 we read, . . .I, the Lord, am the first; and with the last I am He.”  If youre taking notes Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12 are all places where God uses this same expression to identify Himself.  Here in Revelation that same title is used to designate Jesus Christ.  Revelation 22:13, Jesus again says, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”  This is to say then that Jesus Christ is none other than God Himself.  And yet though they be One He is distinct.  Jesus is the infinite God-Man.  Do you remember what  Thomas said seeing Him resurrected for the first time?  My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).  Look at what else Jesus says:   
  • Dead and alive - Who was dead, and came to life.  What a tremendous and encouraging statement for a group of suffering believers.  Its recorded in Johns gospel that Jesus earlier had said, Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19b).  There is a song that says Because He livesI can face tomorrow.  There is nothing more powerful for us in a time of suffering than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is greater than death.  Let me tell you that by applying to our fears the knowledge that Jesus is greater than death, it will help us to be courageous and persevering.  The Lord Jesus is God and He became man, entering into time, space, and history for the very purpose of dying.  Friends, that is how much He loved us.  That is the heart of the gospel.  Jesus died as man for sin and now lives by His resurrection as the glorified God-Man.  Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness:  by whose stripes you were healed” (I Peter 2:24).        
  1. What He knows - v. 9  The Greek word for know is eido. Its the knowledge of experience.  Jesus told those of Smyrna that He was no stranger to pain.  
  • He knows our works - There is never anything that youve done for the Lord that He doesnt know about.  But so often you hear folks say how discouraged or burned out that what they do for God seems to go unnoticed.  No one seems to thank them and they feel so insignificant.  Dont get discouraged because Jesus knows what you do.    
  • He knows our tribulation - The word tribulation in Greek is thlipsis which means, trouble or pressure.”  This is a word that was used in the day for a man crushed to death by a huge boulder.  Jesus is saying, I know the crushing pressures in your life.”  Without a doubt, the pressure in the church at Smyrna was two-fold:  first, was the hatred they endured by the Jews who lived in their city.  We will see this a little later.  Secondly, the pressure of Caesar worship, which we discussed earlier was extremely difficult.  These believers refused to claim Caesar is lord.”  So, they dont get a job and they are severely persecuted.  Friends, dont miss this very important principle here:  the church that suffers persecution becomes purged, becomes pure.  Hypocrites dont stick around to be persecuted.  False Christians dont want the pain.  They dont need it.  Theyre not willing to make the sacrifice.  Persecution, trials, tribulations and suffering will always destroy false faith, but those same things will strengthen true faith.  So, we look at this church and we see a model of a suffering church.  And they are being commended by Jesus Himself for they have been faithful even unto death.  We need to know also that its inevitable that there will be some suffering for us.  II Timothy 3:12 states, Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  I found it interesting to discover the the Greek word Smyrna” means myrrh.”  Myrrh was a fragrant spice used as perfume.  It was obtained when the flowering myrrh treeor thorn bushwas crushed giving off a fragrant smell.  It was used for Jesus’ burial.  Jesus knew what it was like to live under the death sentencefor the suffering Savior would die for the sins of the world.   
  • He knows our poverty - know your poverty (and then notice this little footnote) (but you are rich).  The Greek word ptocheia happens to be the strongest word for poverty and it mean destitute.  This was no doubt owing to the fact that their jobs and homes and livelihoods had been taken away.  Many of the believers in Smyrna probably endured similar acts to that which the Jews suffered in Nazi Europe.  Their homes were vandalized in broad daylight.  Their shops were broken into and all the goods stolen.  But dont you just love the phrase Jesus gives, but you are rich?  Let me try to explain that phrase with this example.  Suppose your are a very poor person.  Some of you are probably thinking, This does not require much of an imagination.”  I mean, you have nothing in your bank account.  You do not have money for gas, food, or utilities, and the bank is going to foreclose on your home.  However, suppose I am a millionaire.  Now that will require some imagination.  I come to you and say, Listen, Hankor LauraIve been doing some research on my family tree and youll never believe this but your great-great uncle was my great-great-great grandfathers nephew.  Were actually way distant cousins.  And, as is my custom, I give every family member of mine one million dollars.  So heres your check for one million dollars.”  I hand you the check and now what do you do?  You run to the bank.  However, before you get there, let me ask, Are you poor or rich?”  Keep in mind, you have not deposited this money into your account, but youre going to the bank as fast as you can.  You would answer, Im rich!”  But oh?  All you have is a piece of paper in your hand.  Ah, but you know the signature is good and that this piece of paper is supported by the wealth of your donor.  Friends, you have a check, effectively written with your name on it.  And the riches of heaven are your inheritance.  You might be poor right now but at the same time you have the riches of God.   
  • He knows our endurance - I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  These may have been Jews as far as their racial origin is concerned but spiritually speaking they were not true Jews.  Paul brings this to light in Romans 2:28-29, For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”  These were Jews who had not accepted Christ as Messiah.  They produced a false claim and their true identity was given by Jesus, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  One of the most troubling passages of Scripture for Jewish people is right here.  To put the word synagogue with Satan is extremely hard to take, but this is what Jesus says.  He was saying in a sense, though physically Jewish, they are spiritually pagan.  Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders, You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44).  This is telling us that if you want to look for the devil, you dont find him among the alcoholics because his demons can do that work.  You wont find him among the pornographers for the demons can also do that work.  You look for the devil in the midst of religious institutions.  He loves giving people a false sense of security through his distortion of the gospel.                                                                        Jesus is saying to this church, you have endured the slander from those who claim to be religious but who use their religiosity to persecute the church.  Is this happening today?  Religion persecuting true born-again believers?  Absolutely!  In fact, this past week a sitting president for the first time ever, called on countries in the UN to put a stop to the persecution of Christians. 
  1. What He commands - vv. 10-11 
  • Call to fearlessness - Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful until death 
  • Prediction of suffering - Jesus doesnt say, It will over with soon.”  No, He doesnt say that.  He says more is coming.  But dont be afraid.  It reminds me of Psalm 56:11, In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid.”  Friends, be of good cheer for Jesus says, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Does this in some sense apply to us in America today?  The answer is unfortunately, yes.  Try giving a valedictorian address and mentioning Jesus.  
  • Person behind suffering - The devilknow your enemy.  Paul told the Thessalonians, But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one” (II Thessalonians 3:3).  Peter warned the believers, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil (adversary means enemy) walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom He may devour” (I Peter 5:8).  Make no mistake, Satan is the enemy of the believer.   
  • Purpose of suffering - Satan is always trying to destroy true faith and it doesnt matter how hard it gets for you, He cant destroy true faith.  Example:  Job, period.  He said, Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).  Sometimes God brings trials and suffering in our lives to strengthen us and to send the signal to the domain of Satan that true believers will persevere.  One pastor said to his congregation, Dont you understand that when Jesus throws you into the furnace to test you that He always keeps His hand on the thermostat.  And the heat and temperature is determined by Him.”   
  • Period of suffering - Ten days.  There are different thoughts on this statement.  Were not sure if its a literal 10 days or 10 periods of time.  But heres the point and dont miss it.  The length of time of the persecution is determined by Jesus Christ.  And if Jesus Christ says the persecution will be 10 days there is no combination of demons on earth that can make it 11.      
  • Call to faithfulness 
  • Through suffering - We will have tribulation.  Be prepared for the jarring truth that those who opposed and rejected Christianity in the first century, will be like those who are going to oppose and persecute us.  Not only will they say we are wrong, they will say we are bigoted, dangerous and evil.  We will be slandered as anti-choice, anti-diversity, anti-gay, anti-inclusive, anti-tolerant.  Our response?  Dont be afraid, stay faithful. 
  • Unto death - Be faithful unto death.”  G. Campbell Morgan, a pastor and author from a century ago, pointed out that this word faithful is from the same Greek root which means to be convinced; to be convinced in Jesus’ power and His grace and His will and His plan.  In other words, remain convinced even in the face of death that Christ is worth following and faithfully follow Him.  To illustrate the hatred that existed in this city we look no further than to the most famous martyr at this time the pastor of the church in Smyrna, Polycarp.  He had been a disciple of the apostle John.  Polycarp was taken to the arena in front of a frenzied mob and the proconsul gave him the choice of making a sacrifice to Caesar and claiming Caesar is lord,” or face death.  He then made one of the most famous statements in Church history, Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  And with that, this man in his 90s, who had been faithful to serve the Lord, was burned at the stake. 
  1. What He promises - vv. 10c-11  He promises victory! 
  • A crown of life - James 1:12 says, Blessed is the man who endures temptation [trials] for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  Whats coming for us is far better than anything experienced in this life 
  • A consequence of no consequence - No second death.  If you have been born twicephysically and spirituallyyou die once.  But for those only born once physically, the consequence of all consequences for rejecting Christ is the second death.  Revelation 20 tells us what it is.  Listen, And they [those who have rejected Christ alone for salvation] were judged, each one according to his works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:13-15).   

Application: 

  1.  My Lord knows all about me and my circumstances 
  1.  If things stay the same, stay faithful, there is no reason to 

       fear or run 

  1. If things get worse, He will see me through  

Conclusion:  As we close this morning, we need to be reminded of Jesus’ words in John 15:20, If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  Dear Friends, eternity is coming and its a long, long time.  A really long, long time. 

Maybe youve heard this story that came out of the Boxer Rebellion in China.  It was called the Boxer Rebellion because they were trying to rid China in the early 1900s of Western influence and in that rebellion many, many Christians were martyred.  It was one of the darkest moments in Asian history.  Or was it?  One incident during that terrible time, at least, shined like a beacon.  It happened at a little mission school, not long after the Boxers took over Peking which is now called Beijing.  They surrounded the little missions college and rounded up every studentChinese Christiansand they herded them into a room to wait for execution.  A few of the boxers broke into the chapel, pulled a large cross off the wall, their commander knew how to use it for his evil purpose.  He had the men throw it out into the muddy courtyard where it sank halfway into the mud.  There he gathered the horrified students together and told them that they were free to leave and that they could go back home to their friends and families if they liked.”  But he then gave one condition:  On your way out, you will have to step on that cross, trampling it into the mud.  If you do, youre free to go home.  If anyone refuses, you will be shot immediately.”  For the first eight students, it was an easy enough decision.  One by one they stepped out into the courtyard, trampled on the cross, and then walked to their freedom, while the Boxer troops laughed and cheered them on.  But things hit a snag with the ninth student who was a tiny nineteen-year-old young lady.  She had come to Christ at the mission college and she was in no way going to dishonor her Savior by stepping on that cross.  She bowed and prayed for God to give her the grace to do what she knew she should do, and she quickly walked around the cross in honor of her Savior and she was immediately shot.  After her decision, she was followed by ninety-two of her classmates who also went to their death by refusing to dishonor the cross of Jesus Christ.  Scoffers would ask, Did she win in this life?”  No, at nineteen years of age she was shot and killed.  Many would say, What a waste!”  Friends, nothing is ever wasted in Gods economy.  Martyrs have always inspired generations of Christians to live courageously for Jesus Christ even when facing death.  Because after death all we face then will be our Savior saying, Well done, [you] good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).  One courageous teen in China inspired others.  Remember the Columbine shooting?  Cassie Bernall who refused to deny Christ was shot and killed and the many she inspired to follow Christ.  

Friends, never turn down an opportunity to represent Jesus, no matter the cost, Be faithful unto death.”  Persevere until the end!  We are on the winning side! 

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