The Martyred Christians of Smyrna
July 23rd, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
THE MARTYRED CHRISTIANS OF SMYRNA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-23-61 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled The Martyred Christians of Smyrna. In our preaching through the Bible, we are in the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, and this is the letter of our Lord to the angel of the church in Smyrna:
These things saith the First and the Last, which was dead, and is alive;
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into the prison, that you may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
[Revelation 2: 8-11]
That word "Smyrna" is translated three times in the Testament before the Revelation, by the word "myrrh." In the second chapter of the First Gospel, the wise men, the magi, came from afar, and worshipping before the young Child, the Lord Jesus, offered unto Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and smyrna, translated "myrrh" [Matthew 2:1, 11]. In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, as our Savior suffered on the cross, they offered to Him an antiseptic, wine mingled with smyrna, translated "myrrh" [Mark 15:23]. In the nineteenth chapter of the Fourth Gospel, after the death of our Lord, they carefully took His body down from the cross. And Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea wrapped it in a long winding sheet of linen. And in the folds of the linen, Nicodemus placed an hundred pounds of aloes and smyrna, translated "myrrh" [John 19:38-39].
Smyrna, or myrrh, is a spice, and it was used in the embalming of the dead. And this is the church of Smyrna. It is the church of myrrh. It is the church of suffering, and of sacrifice, and of sorrow, and of persecution unto death.
Out of the seven churches of Asia, our Lord had words of condemnation and complaint against every one, except this one. In His letter to the church at Myrrh there was nothing but commendation and encouragement [Revelation 2:9-11]. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" [Psalm 116:15].
We’re told here in the letter why the sorrows that faced the Christians in Smyrna. The Lord says, "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, and the blasphemia of them who are false Jews" [Revelation 2:9].
So, they faced three things that brought them great sorrow; first, their thlipsis, tribulation. Our English word "tribulation" has the background of, and has a picture of, a Roman scourge, that heavy Roman thong that so destroyed those who were afflicted with it. But this word is altogether different. The Greek word thlipsis, it’s a strong word and it’s seldom used. Literally, it means "pressure." And in classical Greek it is never used in any other way except in that sense of pressure.
"I know thy thlipsis," the pressure of persecution unto death. It’s the same thing as if a man, in his execution, had a great boulder placed upon him and the weight of the rock gradually crushed out his life. That is the word that has in it the meaning of the grinding of a millstone that turned wheat into flour or that crushes the blood out of the grapes.
"I know thy tribulation" [Revelation 2:9]. I know the sorrow and the pressure that you bear unto death. "And I know thy poverty" [Revelation 2:9]. There are two words in the Greek language for poverty. One is penia, from which we get the English word penury. And that word penia refers to the poverty of a man who has to work. He has no superfluity in life. There is nothing supercilious to him. Everything is a necessity for him, and he just barely makes a living. Used mostly in the idea of a plutocrat, or the rich or of the aristocrat or of the plebtrician who did not have to work, who lived upon the affluence of the land, so a penia referred to the poverty of the man who had to work.
Now that’s not the word used here. For the word used here is ptocheia, which refers to beggary, to absolute and utter desolation and want. They couldn’t get a job. Nobody would hire them. He was a hated Christian and the trades unions would not accept him. And that’s the word here used to describe the poverty, the destitution of the Smyrnan Christians. Nobody would give them an opportunity to work, and they were despoiled and pillaged in their houses and in their homes. And they lived in beggary, in rags, in hunger, and in want. "I know thy poverty" [Revelation 2:9].
And then the third thing they faced: not only the pressure of persecution unto death [Revelation 2:10], and the despoiling of their homes and their beggary, but "I know the blasphemia of them that say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan [Revelation 2:9]. The word blasphemia, "blasphemy" – the word blasphemia here refers to slander: the things that were said about those Christians.
One of the darkest things on the pages of history are the things that pertain to religious coercion and religious persecution. We have it today in anti-Semitism such as you find in Nazi Germany, when the Jews were so greatly despoiled of their property and persecuted. But here in this day, it was the other way around. The rich, influential Jews of the Roman Empire had the ear of the Roman authorities, and they sought to blot out that infant church. And because of it, this sorrow came, and especially to the Christians of Smyrna.
There was a large Jewish population in that mercantile and flourishing city on the coast of Asia. And these Jews, Jesus said, are not real Jews. They belong to the "synagogue of Satan" [Revelation 2:9]. Paul closed the second chapter of Romans with these immortal words:
For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly; nor is circumcision that of the flesh.
But he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is not of the flesh, but of the heart, and of the Spirit: whose praise is not of men, but of God.
[Romans 2:28, 29]
And that little Christian band, with their houses despoiled and their lives pressed in agony unto death [Revelation 2:10], and in beggary and in want, they were accused by this large Jewish population to the Roman authorities, and, as such, fell into one agony after another.
At the instigation of the great Jewish population in Smyrna, there came about one of the famous martyrdoms of all history: the martyrdom of Polycarp. There are many who think, and I think it, that this letter addressed unto the angel of the church in Smyrna [Revelation 2:8] was addressed to the pastor: to Polycarp, the pastor of the church in Smyrna.
This is a high festival day. It is a day when the crowds, the great throngs of people, were easily excitable and inflammable. And the Jewish population, taking advantage of that volatile group, accused the Christians, and led them to Polycarp with the cry, "This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of the gods, who teaches neither to offer sacrifice nor to worship."
And when the vast throngs around him accused him before the Roman proconsul in Smyrna, the proconsul gave to Polycarp the choice, "If you will say kaisar kuriae, you can have your liberty. But if you say Iesous Kuriae, it means death. If you will say ‘Caesar is Lord,’ you can have your life. But if you say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ it means death."
Polycarp refused to say kaisar kuriae, "Caesar is Lord." They brought him to the stadium, the great hippodrome, and the proconsul urged him there, saying, "Swear and I will set thee at liberty. Reproach Christ." And Polycarp answered – this is one of the famous sayings and answers in all history – "Eighty and six years have I served Him. And He never did me harm. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" When the proconsul again tested, the aged pastor answered, "Since thou art vainly urgent that I should swear by the fortune of Caesar and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian!"
He was then over a hundred years old. "I am a Christian." Then later in the proceedings, the proconsul answered, "I have wild beasts at hand. To thee will I cast, to them will I cast thee, except thou change." A little later on in the proceedings, the proconsul said, "I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou will not change." And Polycarp said, "Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour and, after a little, is extinguished. But thou art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou will."
And so the people, led by the Jews – and it was on the Sabbath day, and in contradistinction, and in contradiction to their commandment – they gathered wood, and they piled it around Polycarp. And, as they burned him, this is the famous and great prayer that he said, "I thank Thee that Thou has graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour. And that I may receive a portion in the number of Thy martyrs in the cup of Thy Christ." So died the pastor of the church at Smyrna.
"I know thy tribulation, thy pressure unto death, and thy beggary, and thy destitution, but thou art rich [Revelation 2:9]. And I know the blasphemia of them that say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan" [Revelation 2:9]. Now, His words of encouragement: "These things saith He that is the First and the Last, who was dead, and is alive. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; the devil shall cast you into prison, and you will be tried: ye shall have tribulation ten days: but be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" [Revelation 2:8, 10].
He comforts them, first, by the words of introduction He says about Himself: "I am the First and the Last" [Revelation 2:8]. Before the days of trial began, and throughout the days of this furious, furious burning and beyond, "I am the First and the Last," through it all, through it all, their living Lord and ours; "I am the First and the Last," with you all the way through.
In these ancient days, when most of the world was unexplored and lands of mystery were beyond every horizon, those ancient map makers used to write in an unknown land words like this: "Here be dragons." Then, in another unknown land: "Here be fiery and burning sand." And in another unknown land: "Here be the abyss." The Christian takes the map of the life in this world and in the life that is to come, things unknown and unseen, and he writes in every part of it: "Here is Christ. And there is my Lord. And here is my Redeemer."
"I am the First and the Last, and I am He who was dead," egeneto nekros, I became dead, and ezesen I am alive, translated here: "I am He which was dead and is alive" [Revelation 2:8], as if it were in the present tense. It’s a Greek aorist, ezesen, and it refers to one great event in the life of our Lord. It refers to His death [Matthew 27:45-50], and His resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7]. "I have been through all of this. I have been through it all. I know what it is to be slandered. And I know what it is to die [Matthew 27:45-50]. And I know what it is to be buried [Matthew 28:59-60]. But I also know what it is to be triumphant over the Grave; was dead and conquered Death" [1 Corinthians 15:55-57].
"Fear not, fear not" [Revelation 2:10]. Isn’t that an unusual thing? I would suppose that, when He wrote the letter to the church at Smyrna, and they were in such sorrow and such trial and such persecution and such poverty and want, I would have supposed He would have written to them a solution for their peril and their pain. Surely, He will say, "Fear not. I will destroy the enemies who waste you." Surely, He will say, "Fear not. This trial is but for a moment, and it will soon be past." Surely, He will say, "Fear not, for these great things beyond suffering will be upon you."
No, He does not say anything like that. The only thing that He says is that more of the same thing awaits you: "Fear none of these things. Behold, the devil shall cast you into prison – that is ahead. And you will be tried by Satan and that is ahead. And ye shall have tribulation ten days, and that is ahead" [Revelation 2:10].
That word "ten days" – do you remember the sermon on the use of numerals in the Bible? Ten refers here to intensity, like forty is the intensification of four, seventy is the intensification of seven. Ten is the fierceness of its intensity, like the ten plagues in Egypt [Exodus 7:14-12:30]. "Ten days"; that is what He offers them, just more, only worse [Revelation 2:10]. Isn’t that an astonishing, astounding, and inexplicable thing about the Christian faith? And that’s what the Lord always promised, always promised.
When [James] and John came to Him and said, "In the great and glorious kingdom, may I sit, me on Your right hand and my brother on Your left hand?" [Mark 10:37].
And the Lord said, "You do not know what you ask. We are not going into any political kingdom on a wave of popularity and affluence and acclamation and shouting and flag waving and trumpet blowing! Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink of? And can you be baptized with the baptism I am getting baptized with?"
And they said: "We can" [from Mark 10:37-39].
How little they thought, and how little they knew, and how littley they realized. For James, that meant his martyrdom at the sword of Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1-2]. And John, here, is on the lonely isle of Patmos, sent there to die of exposure and privation [Revelation 1:9].
That’s what He said to Simon Peter: "Follow thou Me unto crucifixion and unto death"; prophesied that he should die by the outstretched hands, that is, by crucifixion [John 21:18-19]. And that’s what He said to the apostle Paul: "I will show him how great things thou must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16].
Isn’t that an unusual thing? "Follow Me," says the Lord, "and take up a cross" [Mark 10:21]. "Follow Me," says the Lord, "and the devil will cast you into prison [Revelation 2:10]. Follow Me," says Christ, "and you shall have thlipsis, pressure unto death, ten days [Revelation 2:10]. Follow Me, and I will show you how great things you must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16].
I thought to be a Christian was to have all of the problems in life settled. And I thought to be a Christian was to be affluent and to get rich. And I thought to be a Christian was to live in absolute peace and harmony and quiet. And I thought to be a Christian was immediately to settle all of the wars that rage in our soul and all of the pressure of circumstance that surrounds us on every side. That is, everybody’s told me that is what it was to be a Christian.
But you didn’t read it in the Book. And you didn’t get it from the Bible. And you never heard it from the words of Christ or from the lips of Jesus. "You follow Me," says the Lord. "You follow Me, and I will show you what it is to die, and to suffer, and to be persecuted, and to be cast out: to be unwanted. You follow Me, I will show you what it is to be cast into prison, and to be tried, and to suffer thlipsis, pressure, ten days": the intensity of the life [Revelation 2:10].
"Yea," said the apostle Paul, "all who will live godly in this life shall suffer persecution" [2 Timothy 3:12]. And if you haven’t done it, the reason you haven’t is you live in compromise in the world. They like you. They like you. You fit. You’re one of them. You belong to them.
For a Christian is different. He pulls out of the world, and its glamour and its fashion and its glitter and its tinfoil and its cheap rewards are nothing to entice the Christian. Yet our young people by the thousands had rather be acceptable than to follow Jesus. And our men in business had rather get along, compromise, than to stand up before the boss and say, "I just don’t do certain things."
Love to be accepted by him more than to love Christ. Love to be received by the world, patted on the back and cajoled and accepted. He’s a good scout. He’s one of us, and he sure is. Out there, what they’re doing, you’re doing. And out there, all of the things they follow, you follow. And they like you because you fit.
There is no such thing as a man being a follower of Christ and not know what it is to cross swords with the world! There’s no such a thing. There are lots of things that the world does that a Christian does not do. He just doesn’t. There are many places the world goes, the Christian doesn’t go. And there are many compromises the man of the world makes that the Christian does not make. "Here I stand, so help me, God, I can do none other" [Martin Luther].
Well, preacher, then shouldn’t my life be filled with agony and fear and trembling before this devil and this world and these who press me on every side? Ah, that’s the second thing that Christ gives. He gives three things. First, first, He gives suffering. Second, He gives fearlessness [Revelation 2:10].
I saw the martyr at the stake,
The flames could not his courage shake
Nor death his soul appall.
I asked him whence his strength was given.
He looked triumphantly to heaven
And said, "Christ is all."
["Christ Is All," W.A. Williams]
Unafraid fearlessness, absolute fearlessness. "Why tarriest thou?" says Polycarp. "You say, ‘Feed me to the lions.’ Feed me to the beasts. You say, ‘Burn me at the stake.’ Burn me at the stake. Why tarriest thou?" Absolutely unafraid; that was the second thing He gives us [Revelation 2:10].
And the third thing He gives us: He gives us delirious, absurd joy [John 15:11]. Why should a man be happy when the flames are burning his flesh? And why should a man say, who’s in the depth of a dungeon in shackles and stocks in this chains – why should a man praise God when his life is wasted away in poverty and destitution and beggary and want? That’s the third thing Christ gives the Christian who follows Him; an expressible, delirious, absurdly precious joy.
Oh, who’s a Christian? When you get to thinking about it, I just wonder if ever I saw one in my life. Maybe there never was but one. And they nailed Him to a cross. "Fear not, fear not, don’t you be afraid" [Revelation 2:10].
And then the incomparable and precious promise: you be faithful unto death. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" [Revelation 2:10].
Every once in a while, you’ll find somebody translate that, "You stay with it and you’ll be saved." These people who are persuaded of Arminian theology: that I’ve got to hang on, and I got to work it out, and I got to save myself, and if I don’t hang on and if I don’t work it out, I’ll be lost, looking to themselves for their salvation – they think that means: "Be thou faithful unto death, stay with it. Hang on and you’ll be saved by and by, if you’re able to hang on." Listen, there’s no syllable of that in the Bible. There’s no intimation of that in the New Testament. And that’s diametrically the opposite of what the passage means here.
What the passage means here is: "Be thou faithful in this tribulation and poverty and want and pressure of persecution, and in the world that bounds you on every side. Be thou faithful, and I will give thee the crown, the reward of life" [Revelation 2:10].
You’ve already got life everlasting when you believe in Jesus [John 3:16, 10:26-30]. And if our salvation depends upon us, brother, we’re all going to be damned, every one of us. We are all going to be lost, every one of us. And if it depends upon our holding on to Jesus, we’re all going to sink into the pit, for we are saved by Jesus staying with us, by the grip that never fails; His hand holding us.
It’s His advocacy and His mediatorship, and it’s His love and mercy and grace that saves us: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy," His goodness, His love for us, "He saves us" [Titus 3:5]. He does the saving. I just do the letting.
But what Jesus speaks of here is: "In this pilgrimage and in the world that presses us from every side, be true to Me. Be faithful unto death [Revelation 2:10]. Be faithful, even if it costs your life. Be faithful, even unto death. Be faithful in the poverty, unto persecution, unto sorrow. Be faithful unto death, even if it costs your life, and I will give you the crown, the reward in glory for it" [Revelation 2:10].
Now, let’s look at this word. You know, there are two words said here in the Bible for crown. One is a diadem, diadema. And that’s the crown that’s referred to in the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, in the twelfth verse, on the head of the Lord Jesus: the crown, the King’s crown, on Jesus [Revelation 19:12].
Now, there’s another Greek word for crown: stephanos. Whenever you see a boy named Stephen, that’s the Greek word for crown: stephanos, Stephen. And that’s the crown that is used here. "Be thou faithful even if it costs you your life, and I will give you the crown," this stephanos [Revelation 2:10].
Well, the great word stephanos referred to three things, and especially here in Smyrna. One, it was the victor’s crown when they ran the races: the laurel wreath. And as the runner stretched forth his utmost, reaching out for victory, if he won the prize, he was given a stephanos, a crown: the victor’s crown [Revelation 4:4].
The second way that word is used in this Bible here is a festive crown. Like in a marriage or in a beautiful and happy occasion, God says there is a joy that is assigned to the Christian who wins. There’s a happiness. There’s a gladness. There’s a glory. There’s a reward all its own awaiting the true follower of Jesus [1 Thessalonians 2:19].
And then the third way that word is used is especially here in Smyrna. In Smyrna, you will find it on their coins. A man who was a magistrate, who had done great service to the city, he was given a crown. And on the coins of Smyrna, you’ll see pictures of those magistrates with garlands around their brow.
And that’s the way the Lord means it here. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the garland that belongs to the victor, that belongs to the one on the glad and high and preciously beautiful and glorious occasion. And I will give thee the reward of a service and of a ministry well done" [Revelation 2:10]. Not here. There.
And this final promise: "And he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" [Revelation 2:11]. Oh, oh, that’s why a Christian who believes; that’s why he weeps over the world, for most of this world lives to die. There’s nothing beyond, nothing but judgment, nothing but loss and lack. Most of this world seeks for, works for, hopes for the rewards in this life. And when they amass them, and leave them, they’ve lost all, everything.
I read this week about a rich grocer, a wholesale grocer man. He had given his life amassing a vast fortune in the wholesale grocery business. Well, we all finally come to the end of the way, all of us, all of us. Like I heard a doctor Friday say in Baylor Hospital, comforting a dear mother and wife whose husband had died, he said to her, "Now, you realize that all of us come to this day." And when the doctor said that, oh, I just wondered if he knew half of it, because he hopes that most of his patients live, and they do.
But the preacher has the funeral service. And I live in a world of bereavement and age and death. Finally, finally, it comes, and it came for this rich grocer man.
And he called his partner. In the white light of eternity, things look so different, and they are different. He called for his partner: the man by whose side he had labored and worked all of his life, amassing the great fortune.
He’d never done anything for God. He’d never done anything for the church. He’d never done anything for Christ. He’d never done anything for anybody. He had just built this great fortune in the wholesale grocery business.
And he called for his partner. And after speaking to his partner about the emptiness and the vanity and the futility and the destitution of his life – not his bank account or his business, but his life – he finally said to his partner, as he held his hand, he said, "Write this on the tombstone: Born July 7 a human being. Died, and put the date, a wholesale grocer."
Ah, oh, that man last,
But never lives
Who much receives
And nothing gives.
Whom none can love.
Whom none can thank.
Creation’s blot, creation’s blank.
But he who marks from day-to-day
By generous acts his life pathway
Treads the way the Savior trod.
The path to glory and to God.
Why not? You tell me, why do men put their lives in this world? Live for this world? Think for this world? Amass every hope and vision in this world? Am I the only one who ever attends a funeral service? Am I the only one who ever looks upon a tombstone? Am I the only one who ever goes to a cemetery? Am I the only one who ever sees families weep? Am I the only one who ever stands by an open grave? Don’t the world know these things? You tell me, why spend our lives down here, our hopes, our visions, our dreams, everything we love and have down here? And then the inevitable hour comes. Write it down: Born July 7 a human being. Died, such and such date, a grocer man, or a banker or a lawyer or a doctor or a rich man or a poor man and nothing else, just that. And go out for all of the eternity to come empty-handed. Meet the Savior, nothing, just leaves futility, vanity. Beyond this life, there is another one. And that’s what our Lord says: "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" [Revelation 2:11].
The man of the world lives to die. But the man of Christ dies to live. The glory of the reward and the crown of Jesus is in His blessed hands.
May be trouble here, may be sorrow here, may be pain and disappointment here, may be pressed on every side here, may know suffering and old age here, may die here; to Jesus, these things are incidentals. They are inconsequential. They are minutiae. They’re not to be mentioned. They’re not even to be referred to. They are just passing incidents in the glorious life of the triumphant Christian who beyond this veil of tears lifts up his eyes in the glory that is yet to come.
And that’s what Jesus promised, "Maybe not here, but certainly there. Maybe a long weary road here, but a happy, glad forever eternity there" [John 3:16, 10:26-30]. Isn’t it worth it? Don’t you think?
If you have the choice of the rich young ruler, you got the world in your heart. Give it up and follow after Me [Mark 10:17-23]. After these two thousand years, if he could go back, and if you were he, wouldn’t you say, "Lord, Lord, at any cost and at any price, to follow Thee is the life that I look for. It’s the actuality and reality of the dream of my soul. Lord, let me follow Thee. Let me follow Thee."
And, in this life, it may not be the joy of drunkenness. And it may not be the delirious reward of winning a bet. And it may not be the glad wild life of a gambler, of the dice game, or the roulette wheel. And it may not be, it may not be those times of pleasure that are dark and unseemly that the world enjoys. And it may not be whatever they find to like in the nightclub. I don’t say that it is that, and I’m not denying that they don’t have some kind of a joy out there in the world.
But I am avowing, by the Word of God, that the joy that comes from drunkenness, and the joy that comes from gambling, and the joy that comes from the dark pleasures in the nightclub, and the joy that comes from all of the other evil and darkness and sin in the world – I am avowing by the Word of God that these pleasures are nothing compared to the incomparable joy of being a Christian, of having a Christian home, of living a Christian life, of bringing little children up in the love and nurture of Christ Jesus, of teaching them to pray and to love the Bible, of dressing up on the Lord’s Day and coming to the Lord’s house, of sitting here in the congregation and singing songs of Zion and bowing our heads in prayer and listening to the preaching of the Word of God.
And I know that there is no joy comparable to the prospect of the Christian as he faces the long eternity, the vistas that are yet to come in these areas that I cannot describe. I do not know. Our Lord just says, that beyond He hath prepared some better thing for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Why, man, there’s no reward in the earth like the crown of blessing, like the infinite goodness and favor of God to the man who will turn and be a Christian, who will follow Jesus. "Lord, Lord, such as I am, here I am. Lord, bless Thou my coming." Why not? Why not?
I must close. These moments pass so rapidly. Let’s all stay for this invitation. We’ll be dismissed in a moment. Prayerfully, earnestly, as we sing this hymn, maybe somebody seated in front of you or behind you, maybe somebody ought to come. If that somebody is you, make it this morning. Make it now. "Preacher, here I am. I give you my hand. I give my heart to God and here I stand." Would you do it? I will trust Him all of the way, and here I come. Is there a family you, to put your life in the church?
THE MARTYRED CHRISTIANS OF SMYRNA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The word smyrna, translated "myrrh", used three times in New Testament(Matthew 2:11, Mark 15:23, John 19:39)
B. Myrrh is a spice used in embalming of the dead
1. This church of Smyrna, the church of myrrh, is the church of suffering, sacrifice, persecution unto death
C. Smyrna the only one of the seven churches that received only condemnation and encouragement from the Lord (Psalm 116:15)
II. The troubles the Christians had to face(Revelation 2:9)
A. Thlipsis, translated "tribulation" – strong word, seldom used, literally means "pressure"
1. Penia – refers to poverty of a man who has to work
2. Ptocheia, used here – refers to beggary, utter destitution
C. Blasphemia – refers to slander
1. Darkest pages of history pertain to religious coercion and persecution
a. Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany
2. In ancient times it was the reverse – wealthy, influential Jews had ear of the Roman authorities, sought to blot out infant church
a. Jesus said these were not real Jews(Romans 2:28-29)
3. At the instigation of Jewish population in Smyrna came about the martyrdom of Polycarp
III. The words of comfort and encouragement(Revelation 2:8, 10)
A. The way He introduces Himself
1. "The First and the Last" – with you all the way through
2. "Was dead and is alive" – He had been through it and conquered
B. Words of encouragement
1. Offers no solution to their agony
2. Does not say, "Fear not, these trials will soon be over;" but rather says there is more of the same that is coming
a. "Ten days" – ten is the fierceness of its intensity
C. Words of promise
1. Suffering and persecution (Mark 10:37-39, John 21:22, Acts 9:16, 2 Timothy 3:12)
a. Poem, "Christ is All"
3. Delirious, absurd joy
4. Those faithful unto death will receive a crown of life(Titus 3:5)
a. Diadema – the king’s crown(Revelation 19:12)
b. Stephanos refers to three things
i. The laurel wreath of the victor at the games
ii. The festal crown worn at weddings, other happy occasions
iii. In Smyrna, the reward for faithful municipal service was a laurel crown – seen depicted on their coins
5. He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death
a. The wholesale grocer
b. Poem, "Ah, oh, that man lastâ€¦"