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Smyrna (Reading Revelation- 9)

Shawn Boonstra

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I've heard a lot of modern western Christians complain about persecution, but honestly I still tend to think that we live in the freest society in the history of the world. Today Shawn looks at a time when persecution was very real and then he's going to look at what Jesus said to those persecuted believers.

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Shawn Boonstra

Speaker/Director for the Voice of Prophecy media ministry.

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  • December 19, 2015
    11:30 AM
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I've heard a lot of modern Western Christians complain about persecution. But honestly. I still tend to think that we live in the free society in the history of the world. Now. That doesn't mean that popular culture doesn't dislike biblical Christianity but. That's always been the case. Today on the force of prophecy. We're going to look at a time when persecution was very real. And then we'll look at what Jesus said to those persecuted believers. Welcome to another edition of The Voice of prophecy. Where today. We're going to continue our series on The Book of Revelation. And right now we're partway into chapter two and we're looking at Christ's message to the believers in Smyrna. Now if you're just joining us if you haven't been following along then what you might want to do is visit the Web site V.O.P. dot com. And listen to the previous episodes will help you understand what we're doing is reading the entire book of Revelation essentially verse by verse. And as you can imagine that's a pretty big project so we're doing it in bite sized pieces and. Kind of an on again off again fashion. And right now we're looking at the seven messages Jesus gave to the seven churches of Asia Minor. You've got F. assists Myrna. Pergamos Thyatira Sardis Philadelphia and. Laodicea. Now. Those were not the only. Churches in Asia Minor not even by a long shot. But they were seven churches that were located along a key in that Roman province. A road that was kind of shaped like an upside down you or a horseshoe on the bottom left of the horseshoe if you can imagine it you've got the city of F.S.S.. And then you make your way. A north to Smyrna and Pergamos and eventually you head east and. Downward again until you end in. Laodicea. It's an upside down. Horseshoe. Now in all likelihood. When John wrote the book of Revelation it was first read out loud to the congregation F.S.S.. And then it was sent along the road to the next of the seven churches. And it went to all of them in the order that they're listed. But you'll notice that there are several key churches that were there in the first century in that same province and they're not. On the list. For example. There was a thriving church in the city of colossi which is the congregation Paul wrote to in his letter to the kolache and so there's no question. Those were key players in the development of first century Christianity but they're not in the list of seven churches. This is just one more reason that students of Bible Prophecy have come to the conclusion that the seven churches represent more than just. Literal churches from the first century. Any time you have seven of something in Bible prophecy it's a pretty strong indicator that the items in the list. Have a deeper. Symbolic meaning. Seven. Is the number of completeness and perfection. It's considered to be God's. Number the number of hold us. So the seven churches point to a complete set of something. And Bible Students have long recognized that they represent the entire span of Christian history all the way from the first century church. Down to the second coming of Christ. So while these letters addressed very real issues in very real churches two thousand years ago. They were also prophetic. And they pointed forward to different phases the Christian church would pass through. As it waited for Christ to return. So last time we met. We looked at the message to the believers in Africa which also turned out to be a description of Christianity right back at the starting line. It was describing. The first century church. Now we're going to look at. God's message. To Smyrna which begins in Revelation. Two am for. Eight. So if you have your bible handy go ahead and open it there to the Book of Revelation Revelation two verse eight. And let's get started. Here's what it says. And to the Angel. Of the church in Smyrna right. These things. Says the first and the last who was dead and came to life. Now you'll remember in every one of these letters Jesus starts out by identifying himself. With some of the symbols used in Revelation Chapter one. To the church in F.S.S. he was the one who walks among the candlesticks. And to the church in Smyrna. He's the one who died and came back to life. The resurrection of Christ was particularly meaningful to the Christians who lived in the second phase of Christian history because the wrath of the Roman Empire started to turn against them. This is the phase of history that people are talking about when they mention Christians being thrown to the lions. At first the Roman Empire really had no problem with Christianity day just thought of it as another Jewish sect. And the Jewish nation had some special protections under the Roman Empire. They were exempt from having to recognize the Roman emperor as a god. Because of the assistance they once gave to Julius Caesar. While. Other nations were on more than one occasion required to offer a pinch of incense to the Caesar an act of worship. The Jews had an exception. They only had to promise to pray for the Emperor. So in the beginning when the Christian church was largely a movement centered in Jerusalem an organized around the teachings of a Jewish founder. The Romans didn't really make a difference they didn't distinguish them from the Jews. But later on. Especially as the animosity between Jews and Christians grew. The Romans did make a distinction. And the Christians didn't have the same exemption. They were not a national state religion like the Jews now they were viewed as just a religious sect and they were perceived as a threat. A possible threat to the unity of the whole empire. This is a period of. History that really begins around the end of the first century and gets worse and worse until it culminates with a specific and brutal. Ten year persecution of Christians. Under the Emperor Diocletian. Now that happened at the beginning of the fourth century So really the time period represented by the letter to Smyrna is from about the end of the first century to the beginning of the fourth. If you were a Christian during that period of history. You might pay for it with your life. So. Jesus approaches this group of believers by clearly identifying with them. I understand persecution he said. Because I'm the one who went to a Roman cross. But I came back from the grave so don't worry about what's going to happen. I know this isn't easy but at the end of the probe there will be a crown waiting for you. Just take a look down at verse ten. Do not fear. Any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed. The devil is about to throw some of you went to 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. Now. In Bible prophecy. A day is often used to represent a year. That's why Bible scholars see the four hundred ninety days. Of Daniel Chapter nine as four hundred ninety. Literal years. Generally speaking in prophecy. It said day representing a year or so. When Jesus says there will be a tribulation that lasts for ten days. It actually fits exactly. With the ten years of harsh persecution. Under Diocletian. Diocletian. Essentially outlawed Christianity in three zero zero three A D.. And he kept it up until Constantine reversed the policy of persecuting Christians. With the Edict of Milan in three thirteen. Exactly ten years. It was the worst period of Christian persecution. In all of history. And it was predicted in Revelation more than two hundred years before it happened. Be faithful. Until Death. Jesus says. And I will give you the crown of life. And do I know that I can give you a crown. How do I know that I can reward you. Well the whole universe is mine Jesus is saying I'm the first and the last I'm the one who died on a Roman cross. And the grave couldn't hold me and I'm alive so. Trust me with your future. I know what you're facing. And I promise you it will be worth it. You know. That's a far cry from the prosperity gospel you hear so much from modern day Christians. There is no promise here look at it. There's no promise that Christians will be richer or that life will be smooth. Instead it. Virtually guarantees that the world will reject. Genuine Biblical Christianity. And a passage. Like this one. The letter to Smyrna should set off alarm bells for people who have been taught that Christianity is a guaranteed ticket to easy street. That's just not true. We have two thousand years of faithful Christians who did not have a ticket to easy street. Now. I'm up against a break so I'm going to have to defer to the break. But when I come back we'll back up and look at verse nine so keep your Bible open here to Revelation two I'm coming right back. Hello I'm Jim do you feel as if you have more questions than answers in your life. Are you searching for answers to some of life's biggest questions. Well the Discover Bible guides can help you find the answers you are looking for Visit us at Bible studies dot com or call us at eight eight eight. Four five six seven nine three three. For your FREE. Discovered by the guides. Visit by the study stop come. And begin your journey today. To discover. Answers to life's deepest questions. And we are back from our break so I hope you have your bible open to Revelation Chapter two in verse nine. He hears what it says. We're partway through this letter to Smyrna. Verse nine. I know your works. Tribulation and poverty. But you are rich. And I know. Blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not. But are a synagogue of Satan. Now here's what you need to remember. This whole letter to Smyrna is written in the context of fierce persecution. This is describing that period of history. After the Romans caught on that Christians were not really Jews. And they started to apply pressure on the Christian church. In fact. The name Smyrna. Is a derivative of the word. Mer. A sweet smelling perfume and it was very valuable. You might remember the wise men who came to visit Jesus said His birthday brought three valuable gifts gold frankincense and myrrh. Now. Here's the thing about murder. Not only was it sweet smelling. But it was also one of the key spices. Ancient people used to involve the dead. So it fits right in with the whole motif of dying for your faith. But the only way you could get murder. As a perf human was to crush a murderer plant. And the juice that ran out of the plant was very bitter to the taste like persecution. Is very bitter but at the same time. It smells. Amazing. What God is describing is a church that gets crushed by opposition. But because of their faithfulness in the midst of persecution they are like a sweet smelling. Perfume. Their love for God isn't spurious they are not God's fair weather friends. They stand tall in the face of everything and anything. The devil throws at them. You know there's an interesting passage in Psalm forty five that clearly points forward to Jesus Christ. And we know it points to Jesus because the book of Hebrews quotes it. When it describes him. Listen to what it says this is Psalm forty five or six. Your throne of God. Is for ever and ever. A scepter of righteousness. Is the scepter. Of your kingdom. Now let me pause for a moment. Because if you happen. Be one of those people who doubts the Bible teaches the divinity of Christ. You might want to go back and compare this saw with the first chapter of the book of Hebrews. There is no doubt the Saul missed talking about God and there is no doubt in Hebrews chapter one. That the New Testament is recognizing Jesus. In this same passage Jesus as God. All right. That was kind of a sidebar So let's let's continue in verse seven. You love righteousness this is Psalm forty five. You love righteousness and hate. Wickedness. Therefore God your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions. All your garments. Are scented. With them or according to the psalm. MER is the perfume of Jesus. Part of his beauty is the fact that he surrendered his own life. To the grave. For you. And another part of his beauty can be found in all those people who recognize the love of Christ. They have the mind of Christ. In them and they are faithful. Even to the point of death. Smyrna. Is the church. Of Mer. It's the Church of people who are crushed. For the sake of the gospel. But they don't fear death because the captain of their salvation has already gone through the grave. And he has come out the other side. Very much alive. All right. I digress a little bit. But it's kind of an interesting point. Let's go back now to Revelation. To verse nine. Here's what Jesus says. 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. Now this is kind of a problematic verse for some people because it talks about people who claim to be Jews. But are actually members of the Synagogue of Satan. And the reason that has proven problematic is because some people see this first as. Very anti-Semitic. They look at it as an attempt by Christians. To be little. Jews. But honestly. That's a gross misunderstanding of what this is actually saying. That's a twenty first century. Reading. Never forget. Jesus himself was Jewish. So were all the disciples. John the Revelator of the man who wrote this book he was Jewish. We have to understand that Christians understood themselves to be a continuation of the promises to Israel. In fact. Paul writes in Romans Chapter eleven that Gentile Christians were being grafted into the people of Israel. Romans chapter two describes all believers as spiritual Jews and. Galatians chapter three says that all believers are the seed of Abraham. So it's silly to say that this is racism. It's just not. There was growing tension between the Jews who identified with Jesus and the Jews who did not and that tension tended to grow as Gentiles were added to the church. And there did come a point when the synagogues actually implemented prayers that Christians could not reciting good faith because the wording. Be little. Jesus. It was a. Not so subtle way of routing Christian believers. Out from synagogues so. Yes there was tension but everybody was Jewish for the most part so it wasn't racist. Every time we approach Scripture we have to be careful that we don't bring twenty first century sensitivities to the text. Not when this was written back in the first century. Now. Take a look at what it actually says. It talks about people who claim to be Jews. And to second century Christians that would mean people who claim to be the seed of Abraham in other words these are people claiming to be Christians. But their actions tell a different story. This is talking about hypocrisy. It's talking about duplicity. Now. To be sure we do have historical records of. Jewish synagogues in Smyrna that went out of their way to distance themselves from this new sect of Christians. And some of them. Even turn them into the authorities. You might have heard of Polycarp. A disciple of Johns who was burned at the stake for refusing to denounce Christ. He was actually from the city of Smyrna. And historical records indicate that members of the synagogue might have turned him in. So. Historically speaking. It was true it did happen. Jews did. Persecute Christians. But then again. Christians also persecuted Jews in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. It was the official organized church that. Organized the deportation of Jews from Spain during the fourteen hundreds. So yeah it did happen. And it runs both ways and it doesn't do us any good to deny history. But the problem here in Revelation two verse nine runs. A lot deeper than just the tension between Jews and Christians in the second century. If you reach your way all the way through the New Testament you'll notice that a lot of the New Testament. Is dedicated to dealing with the problem of false teachers. Inside the Christian church. Often after an apostle left town. Or even if they were still there. These detractors would move into town to begin teaching false would often that fall so it was a mix of Christian theology. And gnosticism which was a form of ancient pagan philosophy. That's why Paul had to preach the kinds of sermons you've read in Acts Chapter twenty Listen to this it says in verse twenty nine this is Paul preaching. For I know this that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you. Not sparing the flock. First thirty. Also from among yourselves men will rise up speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch. And remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone. Night and day. With tears. It's important to remember that the Christian Church was an explosive phenomenon in the first century. People could not wait to tell the world about Jesus. And of course. A defeated devil hated their enthusiasm. In Revelation twelve and will come to that in another show but in Revelation. Twelve The devil can't touch Jesus after he goes back to heaven so he turns us wrath against the church. And he uses two primary tools he uses persecution. And he uses deception. Now those have always been the Devils tools. If he can't lie to you. If you're not going to fall for deception maybe he can scare you or force you to toe the line. All through history. It's been one or the other it's either lies. Or deception. In Revelation thirteen. You get to see the devil's. End game. First he sets up a false religion based on lies. And then he threatens people with death if they don't comply. It's a game he's been playing since the beginning of time. And the early church knew the game. Well. On the one hand they had the Roman Empire breathing down their necks with persecution. And all the other hand there were these false teachers moving into the church and trying to thwart the gospel. It was a double edged sword. And Jesus tells the church he knows what they're facing. I know your works he says. And I know your tribulation. There's nobody more qualified to say those words than Jesus. Because he endured the same things. During his ministry. So now I'm up against another break but I want you to hang in there because when we come back we're going to finish this message from Jesus. To the persecuted church and then there. I'll be right back. Hello. I'm Gene. Do you feel as if you have more questions than answers in your life. Like where is God When people suffer. Or can I find real happiness. And is there any hope for our chaotic world. Are you searching for answers to these and other of life's biggest questions. Well the discover by the guides. Will help you find the answers that you're looking for Visit us at Bible studies dot com. Or give us a call at eight eight eight. Four five six seven nine three three. For your FREE. Discover Bible guides. You can choose to study in the format that's most convenient for. You hear me there do the lessons completely on line. Or have the mail to write to your home. Post options are completely free of charge. Visit Bible study stop come. And begin your journey today. To discover answers to life's deepest questions. OK We are back from the bracket you are listening to the voice of prophecy. Today were reading our way through God's letter to the church of Smyrna and Revelation Chapter two and. We've just come down to verse ten so let's read that. Do not fear. Any of those things which you are about to suffer. You know that's got to be one of the most endearing things about Jesus. Go all the way through the gospel some time read your way right through them and count how often Jesus says. Fear not. And if you look there's there's no question the human race isn't really big trouble because we've turned our backs on God. But through all the pain through all the noise in this world through all of the anxiety the voice of God son keeps saying. Fear not. I've got a plan I can save you you don't have to die in your sense. Jesus and John fourteen verse one. Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God believe also in me. God says again and again and again that you can trust him. He says I've got the future all mapped out. I'm the first in the last. And I'm the one who was actually come back from the dead what do you have to fear. Even if everything in this world falls apart I still have you. I'm still watching your back. You have nothing to fear. OK. Back to Revelation to verse to do not fear. Any of those things which you were 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 how long. Ten days there is that reference to the ten year persecution. Of Diocletian a year for a day. Be faithful until death he finishes. I will give you the crown of life. Now I know I've already said it but let me underline this one more time. The Bible does not promise a trouble free life. In fact. It doesn't even guarantee that you won't die for your faith. And just because ISIS lines up a bunch of Christians on the beaches beheads them that doesn't mean that somehow God dropped the ball. It doesn't mean that he forgot his believers. It doesn't mean that those. Believers were. God for saken anymore than the original disciples. I mean never forget this of. All the disciples. Of all of them. Only. John died of natural causes. All the rest of them died for their faith. So today when you hear people preaching that God wants everybody to be famous and rich and good looking. You've got to run the other way. I mean it's true some people do get all those things and. Some of the Bible's most notable characters were rich but that is not the essence of the gospel. That is not what it means to follow Christ. The Bible says we have to have the mind of Christ. Who completely emptied Himself for our sake. Go and read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews read it carefully. It's not a record of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Read it. It's a record of heroes of the faith. Each of them. Gave up something. In order to follow Jesus and they don't get the reward. Until the second coming. Christianity. Biblical Christianity is not about getting a crown. In this world we must never forget that Jesus actually refused. Enter a flea crown. Christianity is about the crown that's coming. And even then. The Bible says the elders in heaven take off their crowns and toss them. At the feet of God. You and I have access to the Bible because early Christians refused to give up. You and I know the story of Jesus because these people were faithful. Even if it meant their death. You and I can be counted as children of God because these people kept the gospel message alive. Even when the whole world turned against them. And you and I as Chris. Oh the next generation. Nothing less. Now I know that we're tempted to think that Christians face persecution here in North America I hear it all the time. And it is true popular culture has started to turn against Christianity. But honestly. There have only ever been a few short decades over the last two thousand years. When popular culture. Wasn't opposed to the philosophy of the Bible. We just happen to have come out of one of those periods after the middle of the twentieth century. We've just had an easy call of it. But let's be honest for the moment. You and I right now are absolutely free. We're free to share our faith. We are free to worship according to the dictates of conscience we're not really being persecuted. But the moment is coming. When real persecution. Will come back. That much is absolutely clear in Bible prophecy. And so the promise made here to Smyrna. Will also be claimed by last day Christians. The faithful. Until Death. And I will give you the crown of life. Honestly what do we have to fear. Christians follow. A risen Savior who has already defeated the Great. He who has an ear. Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. That's first eleven. He who overcomes. Shall not be hurt by the second death. The first death. Well we're all going to face that if Jesus doesn't come in our lifetimes nobody misses the first death except for. Rare exceptions like the NAACP. Or Alija. But for the rest of us. If Jesus doesn't come. We will die. The graveyards full of people who really didn't think it would happen. And it did. You and I are going to die. That's the first. Death. But the Bible describes a second death over in Revelation twenty at death that nobody ever comes back from. There will be no further resurrection after that because the second. Death is the fate of people whose names are not found in the Lamb's Book of. Life. They ultimately rejected the cross of Christ. The call of the Gospel seemed too difficult for them. They didn't want the kingdom of heaven. So God. Alternately doesn't force them but those who overcome those who cling stubbornly to Jesus. He says. I will give you the crown of life. I mean just imagine that you and I at our best. Are wretched sinners. You and I are the reason Jesus had to die. And still. He wants to give us a crown one day soon the eastern sky will light up with the glory of the risen Jesus. And you want I will step into his kingdom. Forever. You know something. At that moment. No matter what we've lived through. No matter what we've endured. I'm guessing as we walk into God's kingdom. It's going to seem like it was a real bargain. As one writer puts it when we get there. The hardship will fade into the past and will declare. Heaven is cheap enough. I'm sure been struck and you've been listening to the voice of prophecy. Hello I'm well. Just like Xan I can remember my early readings of the Book of Revelation. Met my reading created more curiosity and questions than it did answers. The language of the book can be overwhelming without a guide. And so I'm glad you've joined us as we begin to study together through the Book of Revelation. It's a message of hope from our Savior Jesus. And a promise. Of his soon return. Well if you have a lot of questions in curiosity about the Bible like I did. Then I know where you can begin to find answers. The Discover Bible guides. Will help you find the answers that you are looking for visit asset Bible study star com. Give us a call at our toll free number eight eight eight. Four five six seven nine three three. For your free to scupper Bible guides. The twenty six discover guides cover a. The range of subjects including the ones we've been talking about today. Guide number twelve. Is one of my favorite. It shares the message of Scripture that we have an ever present savior. And in guide number ten. Discover the answer to a vital question. How soon will Cheesus return. Study online at our website. Bible studies dot com or have the free guides mailed right to your home. There is never a cost or obligation. The Discover Bible guides are our free gift to you. And while you're online be sure to visit us at V.O.P.. Dot com. At V.O.P. dot com you'll find. Audio archives of this program. The latest ministry news. And resources to help you dig deeply into God's word. And did you know that you can listen to this program right from your smartphone or your tablet. Well just search for voice of prophecy in your favorite app store. And download the free app. So give us a call at eight eight eight. Four five six seven nine three three. Or visit us online. To begin your journey. To discover answers to life's deepest questions.

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